Here are some better photos from the game cameras:
It was bound to happen. While clearing trail –– it's on the to-do list whenever we first get to the Would-Be Farm –– we found a game camera that we'd forgotten all about...16K photos of waving grass. I guess that's why we lost track of the danged thing. I'll spare you.
Here are some better photos from the game cameras:
Some warming-up exercises from my writing day.
Story 1: Got an Eye on You
They might be watching from the most unlikely of places: from your own wristwatch, a smudge on a painted cinderblock wall, the unfurling tendril of kudzu.
If it looks like, it looks.
An eye for an eye.
You might speculate, but how will you ever know what thoughts –– or if thoughts –– drift across those observer's minds. They are made to watch, certainly, function following form, but by whom and for what possible reason?
Story 2: Fisheye Lens
Fish always look surprised when lifted from the water. Well, not all fish: Sharks aren't so much surprised as continuing to look as if they are hunting, cat eyes blank in those smooth faces. But most fish tilt a that sequin of an eye and flex a jaw, possibly astonished by the wide airy world that has taken them.
Maybe it's gravity that surprises them, even more than the suffocating air: the sense finally of the earth pulling on every cell, unsupported guts tending downward, gills crowding one another in a single direction.
Are they at the apex of surprise when hauled alongside a boat? Is there further astonishment at being unhooked and slid back into the sea? Surely even the most inexperienced of baitfish can not be surprised or outraged when the rigging hook circles a spine and the wire leader dictates their way. But no, that feels false. We all treasure secret ambitions. No baitfish knows for sure that she is bait, even when she's twitching away from the cotton net in the aerated tank.
So, okay, maybe the big raptors like Bald Eagles and Snowy Owls are more impressive, and coming eyeball-to-eyeball with a Sandhill Crane is even more alarming, but Great Blue Herons are darned impressive birds.
In my Shell Island Shuttle days, when we'd rescue birds –– mostly untangling them from fishing line, but sometimes popping them into a pet carrier and ferrying them over to the local rescue outfit –– the Great Blues were among the most challenging to help.
They are fierce, even as they are fragile. Those long legs ––! They aim those impressively big beaks RIGHT for your eye, and they have quite a reach.
They do not give up after they've been caught.
Magnificent, cranky creatures.
In a book whose heavy style I enjoyed a lot –– though, sadly, after my godfather Dan complained about the many factual errors he'd found, and I did my research, I too, became less enchanted by the novel –– here's a lovely passage including a blue heron:
In his mind, Inman likened the swirling paths of vulture flight to the coffee grounds seeking pattern in his cup. Anyone could be oracle for the random ways thing fall against each other. It was simple enough to tell fortunes if a man dedicated himself to the idea that the future will inevitably be worse than the past and that time is a path leading nowhere but a place of deep and persistent threat. The way Inman saw it, if a thing like Fredericksburg was to be used as a marker of current position, then many years hence, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be eating one another raw.
And, too, Inman guessed Swimmer’s spells were right in saying a man’s spirit could be torn apart and cease and yet his body keep on living. They could take death blows independently. He was himself a case in point, and perhaps not a rare one, for his spirit, it seemed, had been about burned out of him but he was yet walking. Feeling empty, however, as the core of big black-gum tree. Feeling strange as well, for his recent experience had led him to fear that the mere existence of the Henry repeating rifle or the éprouvette mortar made all talk of spirit immediately antique. His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs. It seemed a poor swap to find that that the only way to keep from fearing death was to act numb and set apart as if dead already, with nothing much left of yourself but a hut of bones.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, 1997. Page 16.
PS: I actually prefer Cold Mountain the movie. Exception proves the rule.
It's a beautiful world.
It's an unconscious thing, a tick. A habit. Take a phrase, parse it, divide it, recombine it, look for entertaining results.
As I beetle around trying to restore order to the large pile of salty gear, slightly used batteries, marine electronics, and ziplock bags of snacks, I find myself turning over the wordy options: The Everchallenge Glide. The Everyglades chalice. The Challenger Everglading.
The boys on Spawn –– my favorite skipper and his pal Jahn –– are never-say-diers. They keep swinging for the fences. Always aiming higher.
All sporty metaphors apply.
The additions and refinements they make to the boat are all designed to eke a bit more speed, a touch more performance, a sliver more of whatever it will take for them to get to the finish line faster.
Mr. Linton installed a system of long sweeps, racing oarlocks, and a nifty sculling seat on the original boat, and has continued to refine it as time passes.
The oars are a boon when the boat is bucking the current and needs a little extra oomph. It's also handy when navigable waters get too narrow for actual sailing.
Rowing kept Spawn out of the fog that socked in some racers farther north.
From Sanibel to Cape Romano, they'd row a mile to reach a puff, sail for a bit, and then row through another lull. Chasing zephyrs, balancing patience with strategy in connecting one patch of wind with another.
With help from the awesome Jim Signor, the boys packed Spawn onto the trailer, stowed things for highway travel, and we made our ways North. Moresailesed had a pressing engagement with the US Naval Academy, where he coaches sailing.
The Linton-mobile cantered home across Aligator Alley, meeting up with the nasty line of weather that Spawn had managed to outrun, but which lambasted the majority of the fleet.
We dodged the inexplicable traffic that plagues I75 between Fort Meyers and Sarasota and as always were grateful to arrive alive at our house. We parked and hustled bag after bag up the stairs and then stood looking at one another. Jeff spoke the immortal words, "Is it over already?"
Well, for now it is.
The middle of the state. The middle of the night. The middle of a large pile of gear.
From the middle, ground-control for my Everglades Challenge team seems like a way of life.
It's probably sleep deprivation (I write this at midnight, over a bowl of dairy-free frozen dessert, in between reloading various tracking pages and checking the social media), but here I go again, blearily worrying, along with a clan of like-minded folks as we follow the progress of the 100 or so boats as they paddle, sail, and row down the left side of the Florida peninsula.
For those who haven't been following, here's the overview: The Everglades Challenge is a 300-mile unsupported expedition race put on by a gang called the WaterTribe. Competitors get a WaterTribe name. My favorite skipper –– AKA TwoBeers –– is racing with his childhood pal, the offshore sailing coach for the Naval Academy, Jahn Tihansky (tribe name Moresailesed). They set sail on the first Saturday in March at dawn from Fort Desoto in St. Pete, aboard a boat called Spawn designed by OH Rodgers (Ninjee).
As expected, the WaterTribe tracking site is experiencing some kind of technological version of the vapors.
Raceowl.com is doing better, but it means translating four-digit numbers back into familiar names. Spawn of Frankenscot is 3092, Safety Dance is 2969, Spongebob is 3072, the German guy, Schappi, is 3068, Jarhead is 3154, Puma is 3134, SeadogRocket and BermudaBoy are 3104, Ccock 3043. Et cetera.
Yesterday started for the Spawn team at o'dark thirty, when Jeff and Jahn and I piled into Charlie Clifton's van with yet more piles of gear, and made our way to the beach at Fort Desoto. Where we were met with a whole tribe of people wearing head-lamps and lycra-enhanced fitness clothing toting bales of stuff out to their various watercraft.
The Challenge begins, fiendishly enough, with the competitors needing to push their boats from the high-tide line into the water at the signal at 7 am. Some folks have wallowed in the sand for seemingly hours. Not my fellas!
The launching of the fleet was relatively slow this year –– not much breeze. Still, the moment passes in a twinkling of the eye.
At seven, the beach is packed, by a quarter after, only a lonesome boat or two and spectators are left on the beach.
I don't know what other ground-control people do, but given that Moresailesed was shedding virus and coughing like a consumptive, I cleaned up with a vengeance. Seven loads of laundry, autoclaving the dishes, a possibly unhealthy number of Clorox wipes, followed by a quick nip around to the non-dairy frozen dessert section of my local grocery and a nice cat-nap.
My phone is buzzing more than usual: Spawn has a following, and even with the light wind there's an element of nail-biting suspense. Moresailesed send along a photo from onboard –– roughly, I am thinking, from the spot where they spent some time last year recovering from a bit of excitement.
Evidently the mosquitoes are making an appearance on board Spawn –– last year, the poor devils couldn't make headway agains the wind. Each Challenge is different, I suppose, and a new test of the competitors' varying skills.
Headline: Nearly There.
Sunrise on the first Saturday in March is less than a week away.
We've started checking the weather.
And alright, perhaps a skosh more work on the centerboard gasket.
Aaannnnd those shrouds can be refabricated. Again. Gahh.
Thank goodness for the support of Leslie and Paulie at Masthead Enterprises in St. Pete, Brian Malone at North Sails, and Derek Dudinsky at JTR Industries for helping with last-minute fixes!
Ooh, yeah, plus some food. I (WaterTribe name: BookWorm) will Betty-Jo Crocker a batch of toothsome morsels for the heroes.
....And Bookworm needs to apply a fresh bit of Sharpie-marker for the eyes of Horus* so they can keep a sharp lookout.
As in past years during the Challenge, I will be pacing about and clicking "refresh" way too often. I'll attempt to report progress and adventure and photos in as timely a fashion as possible here and on the Spawn facebook page.
Hoping for a speedy and not too adventuresome a Challenge for the entire fleet of intrepid Watertribers.
All happy families are happy in the same way, Tolstoy wrote, but every unhappy one is unique in its misery. Poke around in the high canopy of the family tree, and you see that unique as unhappiness may be –– still, patterns emerge. Familiar patterns even.
Abandonments and early deaths, illness and poverty, and of course, like smoke seeping from under the rafters, scandal.
Like this one:
My gr-gr-grandfather Newton had a bunch of siblings. I don't know much about them. It's a long time ago, and over years of research, I hadn't located half of their graves in our tiny farming hometown. But sometimes you return over and over to a stubborn nut, giving it the odd yank, and it will loosen.
One of those siblings was Cornelia Jane Newton. Born in 1837 in Dimock, Pennsylvania (about 15 miles from where I was myself born a few years later), she was buried in Nebraska in 1912.
First, okay –– Nebraska? That's worth thinking about.
Turns out she married late (at 34) to Joseph Blanding Sturdevant (another long-rooted family from that corner of Pennsylvania) and the two moved West with a group of like-minded Methodists in the early 1870s.. She and Joe had four kids (a son died at 14), and at the end of her 75 years, she was living with her daughter, Sarah Lorena Chittick.
Cornelia Jane's obituary paints a certain kind of picture of the former schoolteacher: "If sometimes in the stress of life's conflicts, the battle pressed sore, faith, courage and Christian fortitude enabled her to bear up."
So, not an easy life for Cornelia Jane, born in Dimock, died in Nebraska.
Joseph and his new bride Rosella exchanged vows in Pennsylvania and then moved to the teeming metropolis of Kansas City.
It's easy to imagine Rosella as the youthful replacement wife, possibly a hussy, and that Joseph was more than a little bit of a creeper, but that's simply too easy a story. No matter how often it happens in real life.
Like they say, when the answer is too obvious, look closer: as I compare birthdates, I see that Cornelia is 12 years Joe's senior. When they first married, he was 22 to her 34. She was a school teacher. Oh lawsie, I wonder if she was his school teacher.
Turning the tables on who's the creeper, maybe.
The imagination boggles. To divorce in 1880, and then –– a period of seeming quiescence, where Cornelia and Joseph both lived in the same small Nebraska town? Then for him to marry Rosella?
What truth could match these data points? Did somebody have a breakdown? Perhaps Rosella was the original object. Perhaps Joseph just liked the family. Perhaps Cornelia organized the hand-off. Perhaps there was a lengthy epistolary courtship with letters coming in the mail. Perhaps one or the other was merely a marriage of convenience.
I can see the new couple moving away from Nebraska. After all, Cornelia lived there, as did another older Newton sister, Catherine (and I wonder what she thought about all this), but why Kansas City?
And, finally, how would a researcher ever know? Rosella and Joseph had no children (Or did they? Joseph's youngest is named Rose Ellen, born in 1879. Though a dozen documents say otherwise, one outlying reference lists her as the daughter of Rosella, and that she was born in Pennsylvania, not Nebraska). But again, if the children were Cornelia's, the surviving generations necessarily favor Cornelia's side of the drama.
It's possible that there was no drama.
Except seriously, what happened?
Just when I think my favorite skipper is finished with his boat-building, he comes up with one more cool refinement.
Not the inexpensive solution, but Hydroturf sure looks sharp. The ocean blue might be a little warm in the sun, but it's cushy and –– so we hear –– UV resistant.
Then there's a nifty water-take-up contraption. Since the water wings act as water ballast tanks, of course, it's important to be able to fill and empty them rapidly.
When one of the Spawnsters gives the little line on the right of the tube a tug, the inner section telescopes into the water, allowing for rapid water take-up.
Stowage is a universal question. It's all well and good to pack what you need, but what if you can't find it when you need it?
In the original boat (Frankenscot, a highly modified Flying Scot), Masthead Sailing Gear fabricated some big, roomy zip bags. In combination with plastic tubs and netting hammocks, it worked pretty well.
But after last year's watery portion of the trip (Short story: they flipped and stuff floated away. Longer version: here.), one of the goals was to have more secure storage for gear. Hence, new tailored Masthead Enterprise custom bags are tucked and snapped into place between bulkheads.
With luck the snacks and electronics will not become separated from the boat. Knock wood, knock wood.
And at Moresailesaid's specific request, TwoBeers installed a special Masthead-made splash guard. Made of Mylar sailcloth, the guard is meant to deflect spray for a drier ride with better visibility.
Did I mention knock wood?
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