Based on a few unfortunate encounters –– oh, let's give in to the cliché and call them "run-ins*" shall we? –– a few awkward run-ins with The Law, Mr. Linton is not taking any chances with Spawn. At 22 feet in length, even sans an outboard, the boat is supposed to sport those blocky, unstylish Florida registration numbers on the bow.
The nice lady at the AAA tag-office desk provided additional pages of forms and the list: he'd be needing a title (or in this case an application for a title), as well as a Vessel Statement of Builder (q.e.d.) and –– the big one –– a Certificate of Inspection from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Any fans of Catch-22 among the audience? Joseph Heller wrote about a group of soldiers in WWII just trying to survive their time in the service. The book's title comes from an Air Force rule that says more or less that you aren't required to fly if you are crazy, but if you are attempting not to fly, you are clearly in possession of your faculties.
The phrase has come to mean a double bind. An insurmountable bureaucratic tangle.
That's what I found when turning to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission webpage. Go ahead, check it out, I double dog-fish dare you to find a way to get a Certificate of Inspection for your vessel from that site.
Using his radical skills with a phone, Captain TwoBeers did reach a human bean –– one ready to dispense advice and information. Even if the next bureaucratic step seems a little (forgive me Florida) Mickey-Mouse: Inspections are done by Fish and Wildlife Officers on their own time.
Makes one wonder if we should offer a little sweetener to the poor after-hours moonlighting-to-finish-his-own-damn-job bastid.
*The run-ins to which I refer? There have been a few.
One example? Okay, I don't want to speak unkindly of coppers, but when I got the van-and-trailer rig into the wrong lane on a Tampa Bay Lightning home game-night, one of our friendly finest threatened to put Jeff into jail for the night for moving one of the copper's orange traffic cones. For moving a traffic cone so that I could regain the correct lane –– and by the way, he put the cone back. A night in jail.
Yeah, we are still pretty sure that officer was having an irrational and irritable night. But with a badge and sidearm, bless his angry little civil servant heart.
New neural pathways, curiosity, adventure, exploration –– all kind of the same thing, right? Family stories are big in my family, but researching them has been fascinating to me lately.
I vaguely remember my grandmother Mimi talking about her uncle the soldier –– how maybe he came back from the Great War a bit shaky and how her father (the real-estate guy who used to embarrass her so by yanking up his pant-leg to show off his snake-bite scar when her friends were visiting!) got him set up in real estate...but I don't remember hearing that Uncle Robert Coburn was decorated for retrieving wounded fellow soldiers in that war under heavy machine-gun fire. Huh.
Telling stories and then trying to sell them is a little like trying to distract a toddler. You hold up a shiny toy and shake it, hoping that this will get their attention. And sometimes it does.
This one did not attract the attention of the judges, but I enjoyed writing it for a contest last spring. It's unlikely to sell elsewhere, so here you go. Free fiction.
Vernon and Jeannette loved their place in Malibu. You never knew who you’d see around town – Ali with the big sunglasses in the cereal aisle, Bo in riding breeches, Kurt and Goldie having lunch like anyone. Plus –– the house.
When taking hayseed houseguests on the grand tour, Vern would throw his arms wide and proclaim, “The sky and the water, and our neighbors the stars.” Always followed by that staccato laugh of his “Ha! Ha! Ha!” like something hard falling down three steps. The jokes never changed. Showing off their beach access, he’d add, “Watch out for that last one…it’s a doozy! Ha! Ha! Ha!” It sometimes made Jeannette gulp her Long Island iced tea a little faster.
But who could complain? Vern was steady. Not a beauty, but he made his own money and didn’t bitch about what Jeannette did with hers. No indiscretions, no cruelty. That was worth something. Seventeen years together made theirs a legacy marriage. Some friends were hammering out the details on their third and fourth divorce settlements already.
Jeanette didn’t like to judge, but –– honestly. She hated thinking about the spouses who moved away. Retreating to their flyover home-states or shifting bitterly into condos on Topango. Or Sunset, heaven forbid. It gave her a bad feeling. Not that it would be her, downsizing into something bijoux and brave, with the one good Aubusson draped over the loveseat.
No, she had every expectation of living out her years right here. She loved this view, loved the cool, dark cement tunnel that led to the beach-stair, loved the sound of the waves. When Vern predeceased her (what with his blood pressure and the bacon every morning, there was little doubt) she’d probably join the flock of rich old birds that strode along the sand early in the mornings, all skinny legs and good bone structure.
Maybe take up an eccentric hobby. Bird-watching, perhaps, or ship-spotting, something she could do from the deck between-times. No remarriage, that went without saying.
Oh, who was she kidding? The whole thing was collapsing. No amount of replenishment was going to fetch the dunes back from the surf. And she might just as easily go first. Breast cancer, probably. She wouldn’t fight it. God. She hated the quavery, courageous sound of the word “remission.”
They should sell. Cash out. As soon as the market came back a little. If it did. But it always did, right? Whenever someone admired their view – nothing but ocean all the way to Hawaii –– Vern would hitch up his pants (very community theater-esque, that bit of broad stage-business) and adopt a hick accent to say, “Ain’t nobody making waterfront any more. Ha! Ha! Ha!”
With a few breaks for national holidays and work, the Spawn program continues apace. This is, for any latecomers, a purpose-built rowing sloop that will compete in the 2016 Everglades Challenge race in March. A labor of love and an excellent way to keep a couple of fellas off the streets for months at a time, the boat was designed by O.H. Rodgers, and built by O.H. and my favorite skipper, Mr. Linton. Come March, the crew will include O.H. (Ninjee), Mr. Linton (TwoBeers), and Jahn Tihansky (Morsailesed).
In the weeks since the maiden voyage, launching the boat has become less "exciting." The boat's little tricks and ways are coming clear, and the team is taking time to short-circuit gremlins that might be lurking about.
For instance, the racks didn't hold up to the addition of a third full-grown sailor, so back they went to JTR. And it turns out that the third sailor also wants to be out on the trapeze, so that needs constructing. The inverted vang native to the Melges 20 mast didn't perform and had to be replaced. And the placement of blocks and cleats is always a source of refinement.
But good news is abounding. Spawn is a different creature than Frankenscot: less tubby, more frisky, but with a healthy dose of self-preservation built in.
When it flips, Spawn is easy to right. The addition of a bit of floatation inside the tip of the mast will not go amiss. And with break-away transom flaps, clearing the boat of water should be painless and quick.
With the centerboard and rudders kicked up, Spawn zips along like a black skimmer in shallow water. It's unsettling to look overboard and see a panicked mass of shallow-water creatures stampeding in every direction in a flurry of sand. Poor old stingrays.
Without pushing, and with hand-me-down sails, the GPS has reeled up to 17 knots, which is very heartening, especially when considering the prospect of a 300-mile sprint.
And in off chance it's less sprinty than, say, airless, Jeff is putting together Spawn's rowing gear with help from The Stewards Foundation. Onward!
We all have the one friend who appreciates fine food. The one who seeks out and enjoys beautiful meals, and then describes the food in such glowing terms that it makes a person want to try these epicurean delights.
My pal L. does this for me. Thanks to her, I have reconsidered my prejudice against casserole dishes, as well as things described by the term "fusion," along with my longstanding self-imposed prohibition against eating named internal parts of animals.
When dining with L, it's all, Truffle fries? Sure! A flight of chicken livers? Irony aside, why not! Haggis? Hmm, okay maybe I will order the nips and tatties instead, but yay!
She's a fearless and adventuresome eater who has changed my mind about ever again putting something infused with anything of a fungal nature onto my plate. (I used to be all "HECK no!" Now, it's "Maybe!"); not to mention introducing me to the wonders of caramelized onions. Yes, I am rabidly anti-onion, but L. has shown me that when sufficiently cooked, their evil nature bends a little.
L. makes me almost wish that I too could enjoy her favored dish of lobster mac and cheese. Despite the fact that only one of its ingredients is digestible to me. (Gluten me no gluten! Pasta is Italian for "good.")
She does it through pure enthusiasm and artful photography.
I call it food porn, which doesn't mean it's not tasteful and that I don't myself kind of want to post mouthwatering photos.
But I just don't really seem to have the knack.
To celebrate both the turn of the season and my own return to full ambulatory powers –– she walks![Let us pause for a moment while the saga of the putrid toe remains untold.]
Phew. Even when a thing is remarkably astonishing and revolting, it does not always need to be told in full.
Now, back to the celebration...
A beautiful day at the start of the new year, my husband and I taking a walk before breakfast in the park that recently opened its gates. It's not a "park" park, but a buffer zone for wildlife, separating coastal mangrove wetlands from the recently sprouted Homes from the $200's. There's a signboard, dirt parking, and a sandy path in the watery space between the Homes's PVC privacy fence and the big wide open.
When it's warm, the mosquitoes and gnats will pretty nearly carry a human away. Even when it's cool, bugs lurk in the lee. A cool and breezy day, like this celebratory first hike of 2016, is ideal.
Among the birds we spot right away are white pelicans all goofy and lovely, plus egrets, wood-storks, white ibis, a grumpy blue heron, a Cooper's hawk, a tough-looking shrike, an osprey, and more. Like this bald eagle, which was scrunched down in the nest, just at the end of my telephoto's range
And though there's a long list of wild Florida wildlife we didn't see, we did find evidence of what happens in these parts while we aren't looking.
After about three-quarters of a mile, the path ends and we are both ready for breakfast, so we retrace out steps, the rich, muddy-smelling air buffeting us as we go.
And the silly white pelicans –– so skittish they must have been mistaken for ducks by some hunter in 2015 –– spook again and flap noisily past.
*That quote would continue something like "...a miniature sled and eight tiny reindeer," as I am not quite over the hump of Christmas. And it's not an exact quote, but my inner pedant will have her way from time to time.
The Would-Be Farm has good bare bones: open fields for hay or grazing, a pond, neglected groves of apple trees and ground that seems to be ready to welcome new fruit saplings, plus random raspberry patches and mature stands of mixed hardwoods.
While we worked hard to start a bed of asparagus and establish new orchard plantings in the spring of 2015, we were also ready to reap rewards planted maybe fifty years ago.
I don't know if it was deliberate or just the natural progression of land converting itself back into wilderness, but dozens of big hickory trees dot the landscape.
Some of the trees are crap –– for my purposes, at least, bitter-nut hickories are on the short list for the chainsaw. I'm thinking the bitter-nut logs might make some mushroom spawn quite happy come springtime. But shagbark hickories produce nuts sweeter than pecans. And we have some hunormous shagbarks.
With their sinister tails a-twitch, a squadron of squirrels watched as we filled a bucket of the first nuts to drop from the trees. We could reach only a few nuts still on the branches: the grand-daddy trees go 100 feet, with the canopy starting 50 or 60 feet up.
If we'd been able to stay another couple of weeks, foraging every other day or so, we could probably have held off the local rodentia and harvested enough nuts to feed a big crowd. As it was, we brought home a decent haul. The squirrels' resentment was palpable.
Strange but true: hickory mast (that's the term for "the fruit of forest trees") was once a staple in American diets. Native Americans and early European settlers made a sort of nut broth that they used for soups, porridge, and the like. I imagined it would turn out something like almond milk.
I didn't have the patience or the gear (an enormous mortar and pestle system for crushing the nuts and shells is the key element) to make a traditional soup, but I was determined to try my own version. I figured I'd start by extracting the nutmeat.
The first lesson: the outer husk of the hickory nut will stain your hands (just as black walnut will). The rusty-brownish mark will persist for more than a month, Lava soap and various cleaning solutions notwithstanding. Even through gloves.
It's a labor-intensive process, but in the end, I had a bowl full of juicy nutmeat, which I puréed in as little water as possible. The result was not much like almond milk. It was a buttery, rich liquid with the consistency of heavy cream.
I used a cup or two of the hickory cream in roasted-pumpkin soup (sorry, no photos. Didn't last long enough. Nom nom nom.). I think it might be even more amazing as a base for chowder. I froze a portion of the cream after mixing it with some powdered cocoa and sugar and then used the stick blender and some of that (insipid) almond milk to make a dessert the consistency of soft-serve ice-cream...No pictures of that either; it wasn't a visual wonder, even if it was a delicious treat.
So, in all, kind of worth the effort. And the nut shells will flavor the smoke for the next batch of smoked fish.
Even if the former owners of the Farm planted those trees deliberately, I don't think he or she could have imagined how they'd be appreciated all these years later. Which is one of the lasting charms of a farm.
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