Taking a break from the blog, because months of planning and organizing and practicing have carried us -- like a roller coaster screeching to a halt -- to the end of February. And the start of the Everglades Challenge adventure race.
I'll be updating the Frankenscot Facebook page as frequently as I can. The Water Tribe website will track the competitors here, and Frankenscot is of course a Class 4 boat with TwoBeers and Moresailesaid as crew.
Meanwhile, hope it's a great week for everyone and that we all arrive home safe and sound at the end of it.
Every day on my way to the water last summer, I walked past this building in Castiglione in Umbria. Forgetting to ask the locals what kind of business it housed, my companions and I had a number of sinister speculations about this place.
For instance, this was the setting of one of Vincent Price's lesser-known macabre films.
It's an illustration of how romantic things can sound translated into another language, such as, "body repair shop."
It's a truth-in-advertising name for a piercing palace. Or a plastic-surgery.
This is the Casa del Family Mutilato. Only the ancient family name of this noble and brave people survives. Or, even more: the last scion of the line, tiny and bent, with a querulous and sharp voice, shuffles yet among the cardboard cartons in the upper floors of the family manse.
Or, now that I mull it over again -- wait, is that the same verb as mulled wine? -- I wonder if it's a Casa del maimed people. What used to be called "crippled children," or perhaps "unfortunates."
Heavy sigh. Well, we can take comfort in knowing that at least it's not presently in use.
When TwoBeers (the WaterTribe name for my husband) first decided to transform an elderly, mild-mannered Flying Scot sailboat into a vehicle suitable to the Everglades Challenge adventure race, he never guessed that the project would siphon up two and a half seasons' worth of fishing time.
That's a lot of weekends and evenings. While the fish have enjoyed their vacation, our house has been a hive of activity: preparing, building and rebuilding, plotting routes, and thinking about what might go wrong when pointing a small boat away from shore.
We are not the first to ponder and worry. The organizers of the Everglades Challenge have an extensive list of required safety gear -- and it includes a cell phone. (Those who know TwoBeers can take a moment to nod wisely and chuckle at the irony.) So like it or not, my favorite captain has been venturing into the 21st Century.
Although TwoBeers spent many of his childhood summers cruising the Bahamas with his pappa and brother, and he put in plenty of long-distance miles delivering boats in the years since, the Everglades Challenge IS a different kind of race.
Luckily, his crew, Moresailesed (aka Jahn "Wild Card" Tihansky), coaches the Navy off-shore team. He's also an amateur pilot. This means he practices navigation, preaches navigation, and has a keen appreciation for the value of safety gear.
So while TwoBeers has been focused on boat-speed and design, Moresailesed has been leading the charge on navigation, with EnsignRumDown (Mark Taylor) as expert IT director. On the advice of a cruising friend R, we are trying out Navionics electronic charts. We even found a folding solar charger with a pair of USB ports for charging the hand-held electronics. Frankenscot's progress will be tracked closely by satellite.
At the other end of the technology spectrum, I bring you...FIRE.
All the high-tech gadgets in the world are well and good, but if it comes to making a rough landing on a dark and cold shore, the thing that will keep a body alive is very basic indeed.
The Campmor catalog has provided a lot of cool gear (cozy sleeping bags, mylar survival blankets, water purification tablets, a snake-bite kit, and waterproof stuff-sacks), but the coolest of them all? The sheath-knife with a magnesium fire-starter stick built right into the handle.
Strike the steel blade along the magnesium and you get (kettle-drums sound off here: Dun-Dun! Dun-Dun!) fire!
Well, not quite fire: more exactly, sparks of molten magnesium at around 1200 degrees that -- after a number of practice attempts as you get the hang of it -- will create flame in a bit of tinder.
Stone Age high technology. It's our hope that Frankenscot will carry the crew safe to the finish, but they'll have a hand-line (Hey, fish, wake up!) and the means for fire, just in case.
When thwarted in her simple requests -- more biscuits, additional time to sniff that deliciously stinky spot, will everybody just sit on the couch already -- the small dog pipes up.
She has a filthy vocabulary. Swears like a sailor, which is to say that the apple does not fall too far from the tree.
Denied what's owed her, she'll snort, "Where's my #$%ing biscuit?!" Sometimes it's just, "Mother-#@#s!" when we don't -- you know -- recognize her needs.
When particularly exasperated, she does an open-mouthed loud breathing reminiscent of the non-vocal communications of teenagers.
Like a teen, she relies heavily on sarcasm. The set of her ears will proclaim, "Yeah, right," when told that we will be right back.
The small dog is a rare barker, though when she does speak, it's a deep, resonant sound for such a diminutive creature. Mostly, she uses an eloquent variety of sneezes, snorts, huffs, and sighs to communicate.
There are at least three kinds of sighs: the mild, Eeyore "How Like Them" sigh; the lengthy sigh of general acceptance when she retreats to her dogbed (usually involving a long-drawn-out curse word, "sh!#$%^*&%^!!."); and, finally, a dramatic, throbbing, eloquently tragic sigh that makes me think a little of Sarah Bernhardt.
When we return -- after five minutes or five hours, it doesn't matter -- she races around at a ridiculous rate of speed, sometimes forgetting herself so far as to leap up on a leg.
She will hunt up the biscuit she'd been saving (in case we never returned) and chew it as if gobbling up her own worry.
Sometimes, for no external reason I can figure, she'll make a querulous, yodeling cry as she dashes underfoot during the homecoming excitement. Pure emotion, but is it whining? Some variant on, "You g.d. jerks! Oh! I was so f$^*ing worried!" Is it a song of thanksgiving?
Or is it simply a new way to demand that we fork over the dog-biscuits, "Posthaste, Moth@#$$s!"?
In lieu of a wordy update about our highly modified Flying Scot and our efforts to get the boat and crew to the starting line of the 2014 Everglades Challenge, I've gathered a few video links. The race starts on March 1, so yes, things are a bit hectic around here.
Here's a look at the beach pre-start in 2013. Not exactly a Concors d'Elegance (Although, in the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle sense of "elegance" perhaps...), still, it's a scrappy line-up, full of dreamers and bold hearts.
The following video about the 2013 EC comes from one of TwoBeers's college pals, Sean Hawes (SeaDogPod), who paddled a kayak last year and who plans to windsurf the course this year. 300 miles of windsurfing, carrying a boat-load of gear!
"The Challenge" documentary by Warren Richey is a wonder -- he combines video clips from a bunch of competitors with music and a charming rhyming narrative for a thorough look at the wacky WaterTribe. Settle in with popcorn and jujubes for this one:
And aww, herewith the undersized fruits of my own GoPro Studio labors:
Just over 1200 miles north of here, snow is falling on our would-be farm. Snow again. Starting another solid month of sub-zero nights, icy wind, school cancellations, locally blizzarding conditions.
Despite my own weather –– green grass and (more or less) balmy Florida sunshine –– I'm indulging in a favorite wintery pastime of farmers since the dawn of civilization: mooning over seed catalogs.
Jeff and I hope to raise some unconventional crops on the 100 or so acres of what was once a dairy farm. (No, for cripes' sake, not weed. Weed is actually kind of conventional these days.). The land has been left fallow for decades, so I am thinking about "forest crops" like hickory nuts, filberts, mushrooms, chokeberries. And hay.
Plus apples, which is how this whole thing started -- a quest for apples (close to 100 apple-trees appeared as we explored the land last autumn, the groves emerging as the foliage dropped from the woods around them) and -- of course -- bramble berries. Blackberries grow like weeds up there. Are weeds, most of the time.
But the seed catalogues are a delicious distraction. While looking at prices of red clover (to overseed the meadows, since clover captures nitrogen and improves the quality of the ground and the hay) I think, ooh, lupines. And if lupines, then big red poppies. And that patch of torn-up clay dirt, where the neighborly guys down the road took out a few encroaching juniper trees as they mowed the meadow and cleared the path? It would be a great spot to naturalize lupines and poppies and maybe bachelor buttons and these bright young things here, which I've never grown but look really pretty in the catalogue --
With an effort, I snap out of the wishful dreams of flowerbeds yet-to-be. Flowers are not the unconventional crops I mean to cultivate. Not this year anyhow. Okay, maybe a few lupines and poppies.
Another catalogue advertises ten blueberry bushes for a mere $35. Blueberries are great. But then as I try to imagine where I could tuck a row of plants –– spaced at least four feet apart, with a different cultivar for cross-pollinization –– into well-drained acidic soil, I am reminded of the magnitude of the challenge. Blueberries require light soil with plenty of organic material and they need a watering system. They cherish a downy comforter of mulch to keep their roots cool and shaded. A raised bed would help them get what they need, most likely, if deer don't immediately mow them down. I add "watering system" and "raised bed area" to the long long list of improvements (deer fencing is already there) to ponder.
And turn contentedly back to my short stack of seed catalogues.
So much happens in the world.
My own lawn -- a flat, sandy square with sparse, seasonal grass -- is rich with drama. Lizards defending their turf, ant-lions excavating their circular traps, spiders trapeze-ing around, the odd turtle cruising through.
This week, when the sun was out, I happened upon an enormous grub crawling out of the ground. Pale, translucent, squirmy, better than two inches long. I wish I could un-see it. Why was it on the move in the middle of winter? Scientific curiosity muscled aside by revulsion, I flicked it onto the shed roof so that a mockingbird might make a meal of it.
I admit the birds' drama interests me most: the chirpy purple martins who return each year (so early! I spotted the first scouts in January), the pair of owls who invaded and occupied a squirrel's nest last year, the mob of raucous crows bedeviling the owls.
Crossing the sandy lawn, I spot a mess of feathers by the mailbox: a single flight-feather, big handful of curled coverts, and drifting snowflakes of pale down. The scene is bloodless, but it must have been a massacre. A Cooper's hawk probably, taking a mourning dove at speed.
Not to brood on the "nature red in tooth and claw"* character of wildlife, but there's this:
What manner of creature stuffed this narrow gap between two channel-markers with the dismembered wings of seagulls? A rogue osprey? An angry human? What other bird-of-prey hunts the open bay?
Was this -- like the fried chicken bones left in a pile along the sea-wall -- the remains of an alfresco picnic? Wings, after all, not being the most nutritious bit of bird?
Did someone or somebird perform the dismemberment for vengeance? A bird-feud, a bird-vendetta? Were the wings left as warning? Surely the owners of these wings did not just keel over and land there, did they?
I've never seen it a second time, but the mystery haunts me.
(*"Nature red in tooth and claw" is a quotation from Tennyson's "In Memorium," a long meditation on doubt and the afterlife.)
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