Friday, February 29, 2008

Panama Beach City. We’re right along the Florida panhandle, just before spring break. In fact students begin to arrive today for spring break, Friday, just as we are leaving. High rise condominiums are sprinkled along the beach, alternating with motels, department stores with surfing gear, and restaurants of every flavor. Construction crews are busy with road repair, and we see new buildings (and boarded up buildings) everywhere.

Yesterday we walked along an almost deserted beach, and last night we ate at Dirty Dick’s Crab House, and had another round of she-crab soup, my all-time favorite, with something vaguely Italian, crab lasagna, slathered with cream sauce and marinara. As my mother would say, “Ooofta!” How did I say no to a dessert of bread pudding with brandy sauce and vanilla ice cream? I just said no. What a decadent life we are living.

But yesterday had its moments. Allen had turned the TV on very early, so I awoke to MSNBC’s morning news program chattering softly at 6:30 am. Pat Buchannan had just pulled Dr. Samuel Johnson’s quote out of the 18th Century to say something like, “You know, Hillary’s speech is rather like Dr. Johnson’s quote: ‘A woman making a speech is rather like a dog walking. You’d find it miraculous, but you’d rather they didn’t do it.’” I rose out of bed quite angry. How could the man be so sexist? According to the newspapers, we’re now in a post-racist world, but no one is talking about hidden sexism. Add this to the voodoo doll we encountered in Tallahassie. Very ugly. But without internet access, I can’t register my protest. I’m writing to MSNBC as soon as I can. Why on earth would they let Buchanan say such absurd and hateful things that perpetuate a sexist world view? Surely management has some oversight? They need consciousness-raising!!!

On the positive side, I finished the grant application. Whew! That was tough. The guidelines were very exacting about numbers of words for each question, so there I was, laptop balanced on my knees, tucked away in the Panama Beach City library with its free wireless, chopping out words right and left. More about the Resurrection Project—Furniture Bank when we’re settled in New Orleans.

Today we hit the road again for Mobile, Alabama, perhaps to view the gardens there or visit the museum, and to enjoy a leisurely drive west. We’re one hour closer now to the west, on Central time. It feels good. Make it a good day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

High winds in Tallahassee, lots of rain, so we took an off day, did laundry, changed the oil in the car, and visited two used book stores, always a rainy day favorite. Imagine my shock when the owner of one book store asked the customers if they wanted to put a pin in the Hillary doll, a little voodoo doll he had by the cash register, stuck with plenty of pins. If it were an Obama doll, I still would be shocked.

Tonight they debate just once again, making last appeals to voters in the upcoming Tuesday's primary in four states, including the strategic Ohio and Texas. Just now on the news, an Obama supporter stabbed his brother, a Clinton supporter. Allen just told me health care costs are expected to grow by 6% a year, that's triple the estimated inflation. It's hard to feel very positive tonight. But I'm working on a grant for a friend in New Orleans to bring donated furniture to people with newly rehabbed houses. Perseverance furthers. Beth

Monday, February 25, 2008

We're moving north now, into the Florida panhandle, into cooler weather, away from high humidity and 88 degree days. But many impressions of Florida will remain unforgettable. The last several days we camped at Midway and awoke to hear a deep huff, huff, huff in the night and an answering huff, huff as alligators called to each other in a nearby channel. It's early in the mating season and the males are staking their territory out. I was relieved to learn that alligators eat only once a week.

We also took the Shark Valley tram down a 15 mile road, accompanied by a ranger-lecture, followed by a two hour drive through the nearby Loop Road. Here we could stop at any point to see alligators resting from the hot sun in murky Everglades waters, and occasional Great Blue Herons standing so still, as if they would be invisible if they didn't move. We learned that the Great Egrets, to us so easy to spot for their brilliant white color, appear as clouds to their prey, the little fishes. My favorite image is this one of the Great White Egret moving slowly into the darkening everglade, as if in a dream.

When we camped at the very southern most point of the Florida peninsula at Flamingo, facing the Florida Bay, we discovered a boat made of hardwood, most likely used by Cuban refugees who still take incredible risks to enter the US. Apparently the Immigration Service still follows "dry feet/wet feet" policies, returning illegal immigrants from Cuba only if they are intercepted in the water, and allowing them to stay if they have safely reached land.

I found an article summarizing Cuban immigration, including statistics from the 2000 Census. Most articles put the total Cuban immigration at 740,000 people from the 1960s to today, with an increase again in the 1990s.

With Castro stepping down, newspapers all over the country are full of articles calling for a closer rapprochment with Cuba, a lifting of the trade embargo and travel restructions, and a resumption of diplomatic relations, as we do with other socialist and Communistic countries. In the last Democratic debate, both Clinto and Obama favored such a move in stages; Michael Moore's must-see documentary Sicko highlights a visit to Cuba and the Cuban medical system, showing us what we cannot see for ourselves.

As we get closer to New Orleans, I'm thinking about the effects of Katrina and wondering what we will discover there. Katrina made an impact on Florida as well. We saw this at the Miami Metro Zoo where the Bengal and Siberian tiger exhibit was dedicated to a 12-year old girl who lost her life during Katrina. Katrina took the lives of 11 people here in Florida, and damages amounted to between 1-2 billion (source Accuweather). We saw this along the coast near Flamingo where park services have been cut back, water-damaged buildings left boarded up and unused, and debate continues now over how to restore this beautiful parkland, especially given the reality of continued hurricanes and the effects of global warming (see this USA Today article for some wonderful photos and the background on a 35-year restoration plan).

Sorry for the long post. Blame it on having access to internet. I still feel a sense of hope that effort and persistance can bring a better world. Make it a good week! Beth

Friday, February 22, 2008

Dreams of the African Queen, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. We saw the actual African Queen yesterday, proudly moored in Key Largo for tourists, the motor looking as battered as ever, the British flag still flying in opposition to the Nazis, a time when good and evil were more sharply defined.

We spent the day ocean fishing on the Sailor's Choice. Pelicans followed us all the way out into the Atlantic, though we stayed close to the reef. Our catch was small, just four little fish, but we got sunburned, smelled the sweet ocean air, saw gulls chasing mackerel, and, on the way back, a rainbow filled the sky. For dinner, ambrosia: She-crab soup in a French bread bowl called boule and fresh, very fresh grouper.

Just before Gordy and Lynda left for snowy Philadelphia, we wandered through the zoo here in Homestead, Florida, a balmy 78 degrees. We saw the most amazing birds in the Asian aviary, as if Florida didn't have enough exotic birds already! I'm wondering if we really are eating Mandarin Duck at Chinese restaurants; those birds are so richly colored that's hard to imagine anyone actually eating one. Another reason to be a vegetarian. But I'll never tire of seeing Florida's egrets, pelicans and ibis.

Last night, I watched the Clinton-Obama debate. What a strategic and passionate discussion! Both did well; both were eloquent. Both tried to provide more details, especially on foreign policy and health care, though the moderators had to step back and just let them talk! Both support better treatment of veterans. Though we still have months to go before the convention, if Clinton wins the nomination, I will be absolutely thrilled. If Obama wins the nomination, I believe he is capable and a good visionary leader, but I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness. He has good people around him, but so does Clinton. And then the election itself looms in November.

We're leaving this morning for three days back to camping in the northern Everglades. Ah, where's that mosquito repellent! Where's my protector against alligators? Where are Gordy and Lynda to complain about Allen's snoring? It should hit 80 today. Most likely, we'll be without internet again for awhile, but New Orleans is calling. We should be there by March 2, happy to settle for a month there. The writing goes well, and one of my short stories was accepted for publication in May. Hooray! May all go well for you! Beth

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Camping in the Everglades. Palm trees. Red mangrove hammocks. The last three days have been sunny, warm, and humid. Lots of stars at night, including a bright half-moon.

We canoed at Nine Mile Pond and saw alligators sunning themselves alongside the bank. One alligator swam pretty close to us; the ranger knocked her paddle on the side of her kayak. We all back paddled away pretty fast. But we enjoyed every moment, paddling through mangrove tunnels into open marshy areas, surprising great blue herons, wood storks and the rarer roseate spoonbill.

On our ranger-guided bird walk, we saw 27 different species of birds and several large osprey nests (see today’s photo). Since birds nest in the early spring, we were treated to the sight of fledglings clamoring for breakfast. One large white-barked tree, the gumbo limbo, excretes a bug-drawing sap that then attracts warblers, woodpeckers, mockingbirds and starlings.

This last week, far from cities, freeway traffic, internet, and even cell phones, daily newspapers, and hot showers, we can enjoy watching a red-headed woodpecker chomp his way up a palm tree. Our tent is holding up well, though one pole remains fragile, and when the wind blows, our tent has an awkward stance.

Still, some 160 days on the road, everything has its place in our car, and we’re beginning to think of the trip home, next stop, one month in New Orleans, then back up to Philadelphia by May, and across the Great Plain to the Pacific Northwest and two months in Spokane (July and August).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

We leave sometime this morning for a week long camping trip in the Everglades and the Keys with Gordy and Lynda. I'm not sure when I'll have access to internet again for awhile, but I'm still seeing mermaids everywhere. Even though my current writing project takes me far from my mermaid stories, I still see them everywhere, from a glass sculpture in a window in Old Town in St. Augustine, to a massive gold mermaid floating above the door to a bar along the River Walk here in Fort Lauderdale, to these miniatures, made in 1947, to plan a Ringling Brothers circus parade. Make it a good day! Beth

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Today it rained in Florida. Even at 78 degrees, though, as former Oregonians, we didn't suffer. So we planned indoor activities, visiting the Boca Raton Museum of Art which featured pre-Columbian, African, and contemporary American artists, colorful and abstract.

Allen did approach a museum guard to ask directions to the bathrooms; the museum guard turned out to be a VERY realistic, life-sized sculpture by Duane Hanson. Even after we knew this was a sculpture, we still were fooled.

I wasn't able to use my camera at the museum so I hope you enjoy this picture of a Great Blue Heron taken at the Merritt National Wildlife Refuge. Now, back in our rooms, we're watching primary returns and don't know whether to celebrate or mourn. Beth

Monday, February 11, 2008

We spent the day at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Cape Kennedy. The Florida birds were out in force. We saw an osprey nest, both parents in residence, and an enormous eagle nest with two fledglings. Sunning himself alongside a canal, this alligator looks to be smiling.

Snowy egrets chased fish in the shallow waters, right alongside avocets, willets, and skimmers. We then drove south to Fort Lauderdale, and after many turns and twists, found a hotel that accepted our discount coupons. We’ll fan out from here to explore those famous beaches along the Florida gold coast through the rest of this week.

We visited Mary and Alyssa staying in South Beach at a funky retro art deco hotel right on Collins Street. The traffic inched along at under 5 mph, cars bumper-to-bumper, people crossed the two-lane streets at random, lights from upscale shops glittered like Las Vegas, and music boomed out of sidewalk bistros. For dinner, delicious sweet sushi at a walk-in restaurant, the cooks chopping great slabs of raw salmon. We talked and later walked along the beach, far from the noise. The crescent moon rose above the palms, its gleaming white crescent at the bottom of the moon, so different from Oregon.

At night coming back home along the causeway, the high-rise condominiums glowed and seemed to float along the horizon, sided by ocean on one side and the intercoastal sea on the other. Most of the time, we don’t go out at night, so this world was quite different. It makes me think that our journey is inward as much as outward, and we make a quiet world wherever we go. Make it a good week.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Today we drove from St. Augustine down Highway 1 to Titusville, Florida. Along the way, we saw the space shuttle launch. We weren't close enough to see the actual lift-off at 2:45 pm, but we could see the con-trail from about 10 miles away. We were driving along Highway 1 at 70 miles per hour, listening to the NASA count down on the radio, and then that amazing white cloud trail that follows the shuttle filled the sky. Wow! Otherwise, entirely a quiet day.

Tomorrow we visit NASA's Kennedy Space Center. What a testament to hundreds and thousands of hours of creative work. When we checked into our hotel, Best Western, dubbed Space Shuttle Inn, everyone was excited the launch had gone well. The day ended with a glorious sunset. Make it a good week! Beth
Last night at O'Steens Seafoord Restaurant here in St. Augustine, Florida, packed full of seniors and international tourists, I heard Clinton and Obama's name repeatedly. I didn't write yesterday, mostly because we stayed up so late watching primary election returns. This morning, all the candidates look so exhausted, and I think it will be a long summer before the Democractic ticket is resolved.

Allen knows several men who would not vote for Hillary even though they consider her qualified. They seem angry at her but can't quite articulate why except to mention something about the health care debacle. Are people really talking about why Hillary seems unelectable?

The commentators last night suggest Obama will win in the next several primaries, reinforcing his surge. I admire his vision, charisma, and articulateness when he speaks to a large crowd. I admire the depth of her experience and her articulateness as she lays out what is possible. Both speak out against the war; both have specific plans to improve our economy.

This You Tube clip "Vote Different" shows where we're headed. Elections are emotional. But the problems we face require rationality. Allen says this clip is dirty politics. I see it as another example of sexism and manipulation. Who really put this video out? Why? How does the average Democratic voter decide between the two? By reading their official web sites of Hillary and Obama?

I'm still on the fence between the two, but ugliness in the campaign will not help either side. It shows the depth of the divide between two candidates who could be a dream ticket, at least for the Democrats. And I'm guessing there will be many, many arguments before the ticket, dream or otherwise, is resolved. Beth

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Yesterday we spent 8 hours at Epcot, walking around a lake and visiting Mexico, China, Africa, Japan, Morocco, Great Britain and Canada. Sunny and warm at 83 degrees. We saw a few birds, mostly snowbirds, a very strange looking and aggressive goose with a big brown circle on its eye, and three ibis nabbing french fries. OK, I "forgot" my camera and just relaxed (I took this photo of a 17th Century Chinese folding screen at the Prince Albert Museum in London in 2004 and still hope one day to travel to China).

Most memorable for us at Epcot was China ("knee how" means hello and "si si" means thank you). I saw a Tang Dynasty pottery sculpture of a court lady, conventionally holding a bird (similar to the Greek's ancient statues of Athena). No alligators. Lots of malls for each country. Rich pasteries in France (I don't know how we resisted). We savored a lamb dinner in an outdoor cafe in Morocco, listening to belly dance music. By the end of the day, everyone looked tired but happy. Today, we're holed up at HoJo's with a 27" TV, both of us resting up for a late night of watching election returns and hoping for some resolution for the Democrats (not likely). I'm still torn between Clinton or Obama.

The writing goes well. Most days I'm sprinting along at 500-750 words, but each day I learn something new and start noodling about some other aspect about life in the 1850s. I wonder how to reflect conflict in my writing as I tend to avoid confrontation in real life (as does Allen).

Yet is that true? This morning I stood in line, desperate for coffee, yes at Starbucks. Four women ordered every designer option provided, and I waited. Finally, they left to cluster around the additives table, and the waitress turned to the man (who was after me) to ask what he wanted. I simply said, "Black coffee to go, please." So I guess when it comes to 'fight or flight', I'm less willing to back down. Even over coffee. Allen's the nice one, though I did say please.

Have a great day, and may you not have to wait for coffee. Beth