For the privilege of sharing a common favorite book and an interest in natural history with the noted British author John Fowles, I earned a book hurled at my head.
Not by Fowles!
It began with Wiwaxia and ended with the jacarandas and a cup of tea.
My aunt, I told Fowles as we walked among the beautiful jacarandas in bloom on the Chapman University campus, always had loved these trees. Although their purple flowers always draw comment and interest, their pods were what she had loved so.
The pods are like purses, or perhaps herbaceous oysters. They’re strong and durable.
Fowles’ voice was soft and he spoke carefully, with a bit of sibilant whistle with some of his “esses.” I’m sure this is a British mark of something … but he wasn’t the least bit “crusty” (as in upper-crust). He was down-to-earth and courteous.
He was curious, almost relentlessly so.
He asked about the many rabbits on campus — escaped from labs ages before.
He asked about the large flock of green parrots — escaped pets, now breeding in large numbers (as did the rabbits).
He asked about the jacarandas. I had always thought this tree was from Australia, as were the many varieties of gum and eucalyptus we see everywhere around Southern California. But it turns out that jacarandas are from Argentina and in the wild, they are regarded as a threatened species.
But they are planted as landscape trees around the world and their purple flowers rival cherry blossoms for beauty.
I’ve been going over my work today and thinking, “Fowles treated me as an equal.”
Because he was egalitarian? Perhaps. Fowles is the author of one of the least-objectionable of the “man kidnaps, rapes, and tortures young woman” books, his first bestseller, The Collector. At the time I was walking with this man on the Chapman University campus, it hadn’t yet dawned on me that this type of literary subject might represent an extreme form of toxic patriarchy and that sane people might not regard such a tale as a subject for light reading prior to bedtime.
That issue was never raised at the time, not in any seminar where I was present, and not between Fowles and me.
We talked about Wonderful Life, a mutual book favorite of ours, written by the late (both men dead, now) Stephen Jay Gould. This book tells the story of the discovery and interpretation of the Burgess Shale animals, and Fowles had just returned from a trip to Canada to see the Burgess Shale with his own eyes. He wrote about other fossils, those found on the beach at Lyme-Regis. Collecting and studying these fossils formed a significant part of the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was made into a well-received film in the 80s starting Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep.
I insisted that Hallucigenia was groovier than Wiwaxia, although now, I’m no longer sure. What do you think?
Fowles read some of my work and pronounced it good.
He spoke with me some about being a writer.
He said, “You must always do what you do for yourself first and only. Never do what others want or demand.”
He signed one of several of his first editions, and a few not-first, to me. I took those with me in my single box of books when we moved to Florida.
I’m reading something of mine today, preparing it for publication.
In book form.
And I saw something else, as well.
Via social media, a young woman asked, “Are you proud of your skin color?”
I understand the reason why the question was asked, and though my answer to that question is “No,” I ask myself the question, “Are you proud of your work?”
The work I’ve done for a lifetime.
And to this, my answer, is “Yes.”
And I think, now that I am ten years younger than the 70-year-old Fowles was when he walked with me on that long-ago day on that far-away campus,
He was right.
I’ll never know why Fowles wrote The Collector. I see some material online that says he wrote it to “Fulfill a boyish fantasy of imprisoning a woman.” I hope that’s not really the case; certainly there was little to nothing of this left in the kind, thoughtful, gentle older man I walked and talked with.
He seemed to me to have been a man who had grown tremendously throughout his life. A thoughtful man, interested in the world around him and all of its creatures. All of life.
“You must always do what you do for yourself first and only. Never do what others want or demand.”
For some weeks, I would lie alone in the quiet night, imagining what it would be to take all my walls down. So long they had been up, so tall, broad and strong. Brutal and jagged, as thick as the Berlin Wall. I’d seen a piece of the wall, put up in the center of the Chapman campus like a hideous sculpture. It’s not far from Adam Smith’s bronze head.
Students pass by this monument every day and don’t know what the ugly sculpture is, just as they do not know Adam Smith. It’s a tall hunk of dirty white concrete topped with twisted rebar, splattered with graffiti, some written in foreign tongues, most written in no language save agony.
As Temple Grandin sees her life as a series of doors that she opens and walks through, so too have I seen my life as a series of bridges. One crossed with a path to follow, and then another, and another, and another.
And this bridge, the highest, like looking down from the Golden Gate Bridge to the chill gray water below. The drop is some 270 feet, 27 storeys. Of the 2,000 people who’ve jumped off the bridge since it was built, only 33 have survived, and of those, only a handful have recovered from their injuries.
One of the survivors said, “the second my hands and feet left the rail I realized I had made a mistake, I realized how much I needed to live, or didn’t want to die.”
For me, it is not to jump off the bridge, it is to cross it without falling.
And I am so afraid.
Once when I was young, my grandmother was in a rare contemplative mood and wished to tell me of the days before my mother died. She often spoke of driving to Los Angeles from Redlands each day to see her. Well now I know such trips; when I was young I could not imagine them. But I was eager for any word about my mother.
Nana said she went in one day to find my mother out of bed and lying on the floor beside the window, unable to stand.
I immediately saw her, slim, pale arms and legs tangled, fingers reaching for the sunlight.
“I was dreaming, mother,” she said. “I dreamt I saw the most beautiful color, and I was trying to reach it. But I fell.”
I asked what the color was, though I already knew. I had dreamt of this color my entire life.
Before I could really write, I wrote about it. I told all of our stories mixed into one. Nana pointed out the old copper pot on the patio, and its patina. That was the color. It was, it is, the color of time.
These newborn eyes, the color of old copper pots which have been left in the sun. The color of a nugget of turquoise taken straight from the earth, of the sea off Laguna at sunset, of what you are moving toward, of what will be as well as what was. Your eyes. Your child’s eyes. Your mother’s eyes. Shot with time’s arrow, melted, forged into a pot.
To say that this is my favorite color is to say that I like to breathe air. It is as much a part of me as my blood, the muscles in my legs, my fingers.
I think often of the choice my mother made. I would have made the same choice. Rather than grasp for a few more miserable sick months, just let go. Give my life to my baby.
That baby was me.
I did make the same choice as was given to me and would make it ten thousand times over. But I had no real risk to my life, and instead it was the baby’s life that was taken. In terms of his eyes, they were blue. So blue.
Grief is like biting into a crab apple, over and over. Regret is a bittersweet orange bad at the heart. Loneliness the comfort of a rotten, threadbare sheet.
And how I have loved such things. My daily bread and meat. They have the comfortable familiarity of Poe lifting Virginia’s dusty white bones from her grave, gathering the bone and mold and death in a mad embrace.
And ahead, I see the color of time.
Yet I remain fearful to leave these things behind. Reluctant to cross the bridge and step into the clear blue sky. I do not wish to fall. But around me, the bridge is crumbling. The walls are cracked.
I must cross now; I have no real choice.
If I stay on the bridge, I will surely fall, and if I go back, behind the walls, I will die.
For some weeks I have been feeling the world around me more than I feel myself. First, while swimming, I felt the water about my body more than I did myself, and for the first time, swam with it. I went fast. Then walking with Gambit, his eager body pulling forth, I felt the world about my face and arms and hands, the warm sun on my cheeks.
Dancing on the patio after Jay Lake died, I said a prayer for his soul and felt the world about my hands, and I let it lift them, then felt it holding my muscles as I danced to the music of the air. The wind rushed through the trees. A bird sang, and then took flight.
Then came a bear, his black eyes flashing. A buck chasing a doe through the forest. A doe and her fawn eating calmly, no fear at all.
The sun on a high mountain rock, above the world and all its cares.
Gently, the sun touches my face, my shoulders, my back, my belly, my breasts. I am as God made me.
I already know that I will never truly live if I do not cross these steps. If I do not take his hand, if I do not truly kiss his lips, feel his blood rushing, feel his heart beating, feel his love through his hands. If I do not let this thing happen, if I do not let him feel me –
I will be ashes, clay, dust, mold, bones in a grave.
And like all things we think to be so difficult at first, the doing is as easy as slipping into warm water.
I slip from my skin into his, and he into mine.
We are the buck and the doe. We are one under the crystal blue sky. The sun is like fire; our shadows meet. My breasts reach up to meet his hungry lips.
We are as beautiful as the buck and doe. The forest is alive, and so are we. This savage black image, raw as hell, naked on the flat gray rock, is who we are.
I have crossed the great divide and have not fallen; he fell a short way, but got up again.
Yes, I have been afraid. I have shivered alone in the cold night.
But now I am warm and unafraid.
And on my finger, because we are people, and people make such things and do such things to remind themselves of eternal truth, things of which the buck and doe and bear have no need, for they never forget how to live, I wear a stone that is, improbably, impossibly, inevitably — the perfect, exact color of time.
Like so many other people, I was saddened to hear that Nichelle Nichols, one of the most positive, beloved actors I can think of, had died.
I’ve already written about how I had the privilege and honor of visiting for a short time with three “Ladies of Star Trek,” including my childhood idol and role model, Nichelle Nichols/“Lt. Uhura” from the original Star Trek series.
Idols and role models aren’t always the same thing. For a time when I was in elementary school, I would come home from school and watch Star Trek before heading to softball practice, doing yard chores, or pretending I was a wilderness explorer. Most people would have said I was a tomboy, but I liked my Barbie dolls a lot — when I wasn’t operating on them to see how their legs worked.
I’m sitting here, tears streaming down my cheeks remembering how I would model my posture gracefully after Uhura’s motions.
How I wanted beautiful nails like hers. Shining brown eyes, a soft yet strong voice, beautiful hair.
I wanted to be confident, sophisticated, strong, and wise: like Uhura.
I just loved her so much.
It never crossed my 10-year-old mind that I wasn’t supposed to idolize Nichelle Nichols and Uhura this way because she was Black.
And I was Caucasian.
Years later, I read how Nichelle had wanted to quit Star Trek to pursue other performing opportunities, but Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told her that her role was too important, and that she needed to continue. She agreed, and Lt. Uhura went on to be a role model for countless others.
I’ve written before about how when many noted women die, their obituaries refer primarily to their external appearance or their marital status. In Nichelle’s case, she was such an elegant and flawless performer, and her influence was so great, that most of her obituaries are more respectful, in-depth, and detailed.
But they still focus only on her status, similar to Jackie Robinson in Major League Baseball, as the first Black American to take a leading role in an endeavor formerly restricted only to “white” Americans. Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek was the first leading role in a U.S. television series for a Black American woman. Also at this time, Bill Cosby was on TV in his own show, after starring in I Spy.
When I was young, the almost all-white television experience of the 1950s and early 1960s was changing. Today, the official reports and obituaries about Nichelle emphasize her historic role.
But the thing is, Nichelle was a gifted performer, not just on television, but also theater, as a dancer and singer.
Because she was Black and breaking these barriers, Nichelle got so much more attention than others. The picture above also shows the basketweave blonde hair of Grace Whitney, Yeoman Janice Rand on the original Star Trek. This young blonde woman also starred in a few episodes, but I didn’t idolize her. She was just like many other blonde actresses of the day— I was even the flower girl in Susan Anton’s wedding. I had seen and been around more than a few blonde, blue-eyed female entertainers.
It’s true: just because she was Black, Nichelle Nichols drew attention.
But the inner spirit of Nichelle Nichols — her wonderful heart and soul — gave her performances their unique, spellbinding quality and kept everyone’s attention.
There is a great difficulty on the part of more privileged people to understand what it is that others who are less-privileged experience and feel.
Yes, I think I am a little bit fortunate in that it’s not as difficult for me to put myself in others’ shoes as it seems to be for so many others.
See, I’m a writer. I didn’t like this statement above when I first saw it. The statement implies that it was impossible for a Black woman to star on a network TV show, or for women in general to be part of the space program. None of those things were ever impossible: racist people were just blocking people from participating.
But now when I see it again? I guess I do find the statement acceptable, if not fully reflective of who Nichelle really was. Nichelle Nichols was so much more than just the first Black American woman to star in a national television show. She was so much more than a woman who spoke with young people and inspired them to join the U.S. space program.
That long-ago day when I had one of my only decent book signings and the “Ladies of Star Trek” were sitting nearby —
Nichelle is the one who saw me sitting alone with no people coming for autographs, and stood and gestured for me to come over and talk with them. If she hadn’t, I would never had experienced those treasured moments with her, Grace Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand), and Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi).
I only spent a few minutes with them but I could feel her life force, and it was an entirely beautiful one.
That life force came across in all of her roles, not just as Uhura on Star Trek.
I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural admiration, not appropriation.
As an adult, I can understand how Nichelle felt when she wanted to move on from Star Trek for her own career, and how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked her to continue — and she agreed. At the time, as a child, I didn’t have the context to understand why Uhura’s role was so important, and why he would have made that request.
As a selfish young child, I would just have wanted my favorite actress to continue to play my favorite part on one of my favorite shows.
And, I watched Star Trek reruns, like countless millions of others. It wasn’t just the original Star Trek show airing at night, which my cousins were old enough to stay up to watch, but I wasn’t.
I think Nichelle Nichols influenced millions of other young women (and men) not as a figurehead or a ground-breaker but because of how unique and beautiful an individual she was.
One of my spiritual children mentioned the other day that she identified as “she/her” but was no longer certain what that really meant. She calls me Xena so there’s that. Being a real woman in our times means being willing and able to whale on anyone to defend your life and family. I know a lot of people don’t believe or understand that, but take it from Xena — yes it does.
In 2004, I began a story about a couple featuring my all-purpose guy, Gary the ergonomic architect, and his wife, a short-sighted, bossy shrew loosely based on awful women I’d known. The idea was “should parents ‘improve’ their children with gene therapy — or should they let nature take its course?” I became interested in the topic because I had become unexpectedly pregnant with my son Anthony and sought genetic counseling. Talking with the counselor inspired my thoughts about the story.
I wasn’t ready to write about this, so I left the story unfinished.
In the story, Gary has interchanges with “House” — an unbranded version of Alexa or Google Home (story initially written 2004).
A slight twist on these commercial smart home devices is that Gary designed House, presumably using tech similar to Alexa — but “House” has somewhat of a personality, as well as safety and help features. House is always offering help to Gary.
When I finished this story, which my ego-mind thinks of as my “Ray Carver” story because of its compression and language (it’s exactly 5,000 words long) I knew I’d achieved many personal goals with my short fiction.
But there is a corollary and it is waiting patiently outside my office. Ah yes, I have an office now! No-fricking-way-yes-way.
Yes, even we have a robot vacuum now. This isn’t specifically an endorsement for the brand, but “Eufy” is now a member of our household. Because we have no stairs, there’s little fear that even if Eufy goes rogue in the middle of the night, he will trip Bruce, turning him into a quadriplegic like Telly Savalas in the “Living Doll” Twilight Zone episode. If you haven’t seen that — it’s basically what the Chucky movies are — let’s say — “inspired by.” Good old Talking Tina.
You know what the most awesome thing about living in our times is?
I’m pretty good about predicting the colors for next season, thinking of things that will happen next, and imagining products of the future.
You know that “sorting hat” in the Harry Potter stories? That’s the closest metaphor for what’s coming next based on genetic profiles. People have written about it in a very negative way (used for classism, “ubermensch” etc). They can f-off and by the way anybody who’d say that or think that is by definition, untermensch trash. They’re scummy crap humans.
I know a lot of people don’t want that but not wanting that is a lot like the people who don’t want others to have anything, for the sole reason they fear somebody will — heaven forbid — get some of their stuff.
Stuff is stuff. It’s sure as hell not worth fighting over. Though I have to say, “Eufy” is somewhere between “stuff” and a living thing. I know that’s controversial but I think “Robots R People too.”
The future is great as long as we make our present moments of today as wonderful as possible.
I for one am glad that “Eufy” has come to live in our home. And I’ll put my genes up against anyone’s. That’s the point. It’s not about you pieces of trash that invest every waking moment in getting over on, ripping off, exploiting, looking down on, or presenting you are “better” than others. You’re Carolyn in “Perfect Stranger.” You’re Denny, who can’t even respect his own dad. You’re Donald J. Trump even as you tell yourself how much better you are than him. F off. Go to the lonely, sad, scared place that is your withered and black tiny shriveled heart.
Live life like a human for a change. You might learn something and enjoy yourself for a moment.
At least for me, it’s hard to eat right, exercise enough, and feel good about myself if my feelings aren’t in the right place. I had an unpleasant experience recently. Years ago, events like these would have set me back for months, and maybe even years. I can still remember bad things that happened to me when I was young. These seem laughably trivial in hindsight. For example, my grandparents liked to go to Solvang, a small Danish tourist town north of Santa Barbara. There’s lots of pictures of four- or five-year-old me riding in the front of the “Danish Days” parade wearing an elaborate Danish outfit and sitting between two white-bearded elders. So, there’s not a Danish bone in my body but as a little blonde, blue-eyed girl dressed perfectly, they apparently thought I was the right kid to put in the front of the parade. Mostly I remember the beautiful horses.
That’s a good memory. But when I was about 12, I wore Danish clogs from Solvang to school and I got teased on the bus for the way my feet looked. Apparently the problem was the pale skin on the arches of my feet, and maybe their bony look or veins. Still not sure. But it made me want to wear thick socks and sneakers or boots for years. No – not socks and sandals – but it made me horribly self-conscious about my feet. I’ve got chigger bite scars persisting on my right instep right now … I was teased about my fat rear … didn’t wear a certain kind of pants for years … I was called “Blueberry” for wearing a loose dress with a belt that rode up over my stomach when I was 6 months pregnant with my daughter …
As we grow older, I think this type of incident — and we all have plenty of them to draw upon — gets less bothersome. But a couple of weeks ago, Bruce and I were on Venice Beach (FL) and he was playing his guitar. I started singing with him and this older guy sitting a few yards away gets up and moves his beach chair closer.
“Play louder,” he tells Bruce. I immediately stopped singing.
Then he says, pointing at a young family farther down the beach, “Ha ha, you know what they say, nobody’s interested in women once they get past 30.”
I turned around and looked at this joker. “Yes, I’ve heard that many times,” I said. “It’s total bullshit. My experience is the exact opposite.”
I would never use foul language under ordinary circumstances. This guy barely missed a beat. He continued with offensive comments about the young mom and started yammering at Bruce.
I know I shouldn’t let this type of thing bother me, but I was not at all patient with this situation. Afterward, I thought, why does this verbal violence continue? What would persuade a man to come up and issue a nonstop stream of verbal abuse to total strangers? Bruce told me that after I left, he began yelling at another couple, demanding they carry his cooler to his AMG Mercedes.
I estimate this unpleasant, abusive man was in his early 60s. Though he bragged about weighing himself every day at Publix, he seemed average weight, height, and fitness for his age. He was not only not a “prize,” he had no call to be commenting on anyone else’s appearance.
Didn’t stop him for a moment. And he’s far from alone — we can look at Incel message boards and see how horribly these young men who desperately want a date speak about women and other men. Despite all the body positivity out there, people continue to verbally abuse celebrities, usually women, for any and all aspects of their appearance. Lizzo makes workout videos and is immediately attacked.
From individuals we might encounter, to family members (not mine!), to what we hear in media to this day, there are a lot of mixed messages. We’re told we can continue to be active and enjoy our lives into retirement. We see messages that women can continue to be fit, active, and attractive at any age.
We see messages that wealthy and powerful older men select extremely young women as partners. Less often, we see the alternative, wealthy and powerful older women selecting younger men as partners. Or, a similar dynamic with same-sex couples. Growing older, we’re told, should be perfect, easy, and natural, with just a little help from aesthetics, cosmetic surgery, medispas, and other anti-aging treatments.
So early in 2019, I wrote about what a great thing my Fitbit was for health. Then just a few months later …
That’s right: a 10 BPM increase in my resting heart rate over 8-9 months. I was working 10-12 hour days and we were struggling to make ends meet and have a decent life in South Orange County. After 20 years of teaching at Saddleback College, it was my last semester. I was also driving down to Palomar College to teach in a supportive and positive environment, but that job was also not going to continue. Both schools were impacted by declining enrollments and state laws that were supposedly intended to help students — but in reality were cutting down available classes and reducing their opportunities for higher education. Although I’d built my writing income up a lot, it still wasn’t all I wanted it to be. And, I lacked the time to work out the way I really wanted to.
All I needed was for my hair to fall out and my spare tire to get bigger, right? Nose to the grindstone, keep going, well you didn’t really need to look and feel good, did you? Just get through to retirement and then you’ll have a blast out on that shuffleboard court.
What the heck is shuffleboard, anyway?
In December, I had an awful upper respiratory illness I contracted at school — an illness that it’s politically incorrect to indicate could potentially have been COVID-19 — but recovered.
In January, we went to Sanibel Island, and our lives changed. We decided to move to Southwest Florida. At the end of March, we did move. Six months later, everything is completely different. As has been exhaustively documented, COVID has changed everything about not just our lives, but everyone’s lives. No matter what our situation was before, it isn’t the same now. My heart goes out to those who are out of work or whose businesses are struggling, as well as to the essential workers who’ve been on the front lines during the pandemic.
I’d already learned a lot about the U.S. healthcare system, insurance system, and pharma businesses before we moved. I knew that toxic corporate food was making us fat, sick, and nearly dead. I knew that the U.S. used 80% of the opioids produced in the world as pain relief because of how easily they developed physical dependence, requiring ever-higher doses to achieve the same or even less-effective relief. What better business model for profits than selling something people have to take to get by, in ever increasing doses? What worse model for people’s health could be imagined?
So what’s the takeaway? For me? I no longer trust advertisements of any type, and I know that traditional medicine’s approach to health and weight management doesn’t work for the majority of people. People go to their checkup, the doctor tells them to lose weight, and hands them a printed diet sheet. “Don’t eat too much fat. Avoid red meat. Eat the Mediterranean diet.” On and on it goes …
And the older we get, the harder it is to stay fit, stay healthy, and stay active.
So for me, the biggest two factors in my health and lifestyle improvement have been my Fitbit (“Fitty”) and moving to Florida. Because I work at home 100% of the time and no longer teach, I can focus completely on my business consulting and writing. I can arrange my schedule to fit an hour of workouts in most days. Fruits and vegetables here are super sweet and delicious, making healthy dishes easy. There’s so much seafood that it’s also easy to eat fish often.
I’m a survivor of an eating disorder — it runs in my family. My dad told me my mom had anorexia — growing up with Nana there’s no wonder why. My grandmother’s critical nature hurt my self-esteem, but she also gave me a lifelong foundation of nutritional knowledge. It’s not hard for me to follow healthy eating habits because they were enforced on me growing up. And eating a good diet and being active while growing up also helped me build a lifelong foundation of good health and a strong interest in diet, nutrition, and food as medicine.
So, no matter where you’re starting out, if you’re 50 or over, you can totally get in shape and stay in shape. Will it be as quick or easy for you to lose weight as when you were younger? Will it be easy to build or keep muscle mass? No, it won’t. But it is possible and the alternative is not appealing. Not only does excess weight and loss of muscle as we age look unattractive, aging joints and bones don’t like it, either. The less mobile we are as we grow older, the less our potential for improving health and getting mobile again.
So, what have I been doing that has helped me out health-wise?
Since we moved to Florida, we’ve been eating almost 100% fresh, local fruits, vegetables, and protein (chicken, fish, shellfish, beef). I’ve found that if I cut out an entire food group (at one point I was dairy free, wheat free, and additive free) I can control portions and calories much better. I also do intermittent fasting and I realized that — I’ve done it my whole life. I never wanted to eat three square meals a day and most of my life, I’ve eaten only one meal a day: late lunch or dinner. I’m okay with eating breakfast only, too. I don’t drink carbonated drinks (seldom have — with the rare exception of endlessly searching for the “sweetest Coke in Redlands” when I was pregnant with Meredith) and drink only black coffee, unsweetened iced tea, and water.
Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, I recommend that everybody stop eating processed foods and consider which of the “problem” foods they most have trouble digesting or which add the least nutritional value to their meals. For me, that’s wheat-based products. I don’t eat bread or anything wheat-based. That cuts out cakes, pies, rolls, cookies, crackers, and wheat tortillas. I do eat corn tortillas but no more than once a week. I don’t use them as a bread substitute. I eat rice maybe once a week. A lot of the diets, like Paleo and Keto, eliminate processed grains and that’s a good thing. The key to having a good diet is finding a mix of whole, basic foods that works for you and planning your meals around them. Diet is about nutrition, maintaining healthy energy, and keeping your immune system strong.
Ever since the COVID crisis struck, I’ve been doing my best to keep up my immune system, so I also take supplements. Right now we are taking Vitamin A, C, D, and zinc. I also take biotin, Vitamin B, and digestive enzymes and probiotics. I have had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for a long time and eating the way I just described and the probiotics helps to ward off any IBS problems. An IBS attack can be extremely painful and last for several days, so it’s a good idea to develop an anti-IBS attack plan.
Getting enough sleep is also crucial to maintain health, energy levels, and to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And finally, it’s imperative to get sufficient cardio exercise and strength training in.
Where does Fitbit come in? OK, I’m not the fastest learner, but I think I’ve learned a lot about Fitbit and how it can benefit health. I know there’s a dizzying array of weight loss, fitness, and diet apps, along with unlimited options for exercise at home or, when they’re open, gyms and fitness centers. As an outdoor enthusiast, I’ll always choose the outdoor option if I can.
You never know who you’ll see while you’re out and about.
So, Fitbit is continuously improving its app and the information it provides. I always advise people when they start using it to focus on one thing first. So, if you’re not getting enough sleep, focus on that. Start by going to sleep at a regular time, and do as much as you can to get a quality night’s sleep. Fitbit will show you if there are any problems with your sleep. After a few nights doing your best with regular sleep and wake times, and avoiding caffeine late in the day, you can move on to another goal. In my case, I decided I’d go for the recommended “10,000 steps a day” for good health. Even though I was somewhat active back in Laguna Woods, I found 10,000 steps to be a significant goal. I felt badly when I lagged behind and fell back down to 7,000 or even 6,000 steps a day — the level I’d started with when I got my first Fitbit in December 2018.
And guess what? I started to notice that the fewer steps I had, the lower quality my sleep was. These two were interlinked. If I wanted to improve my sleep quality and restoration, I’d have to move more. After my 26,000 step day — our moving day in March — I realized it wasn’t that hard to get over 10,000 steps. I just had to devote sufficient time to it.
Sometimes my work makes it difficult for me to get up and move — I could be on the phone with a client, then need to finish written work, so I will sit in place over a whole hour when the ideal is to get up and move every hour throughout the day (at least 250 steps an hour). But no matter what, I need to get those 10,000+ steps in every day. The low step day was a day I had a dental infection treated.
I’ve been watching viral running videos and running along when I can’t get outside due to extreme weather or work requirements. There’s this guy from New Zealand who posts constant, endlessly updated videos of running through the most amazing scenery imaginable. Now I want to go to New Zealand so badly. I’ve seen so many places up close by using these virtual city or trail running videos, from Venice, Italy to Sicily, Paris, London, Angkor Wat — you name it!
You can also do online video workouts. Some of them only require a small space to move in, and give you a good 20 to 30 minute or longer workout. I realized that “Zumba” is merely the jazz dance class I used to teach years and years ago. None of it is terribly difficult and all of it is good for you. If you find a movement difficult just substitute an alternate, easier or modified version and keep going. Don’t torture yourself trying to be as perfect as the instructors. Your goal is to start moving and keep moving.
If music helps you, invest in a pair of ear buds and link to your favorite music. Start out a little more slowly, but over time you’ll want to get up to 170 or more beats per minute for running or workouts. Invest in good shoes for outside running, and in comfortable, dri-weave, loose-fitting exercise clothing. Nobody wears clothing here in SW Florida (just kidding). But it’s a much more carefree, cool, easy lifestyle and clothing than even in California.
As things begin to ease with the COVID crisis, get out and see things and do things. Staying inside for months is awful for our physical and mental health. I just took Gambit to the Farmer’s Market here in Punta Gorda and bought a new pair of earrings from a glass artist. It turns out she’s from Englewood where we’re moving, and she learned how to make her beautiful glass objects in Oregon and Hawaii before moving here.
In the past few days, I’ve met two former California natives here, after weeks and months of meeting nobody from back home. I think it’s basically, generally, healthier here in SW Florida. The food is better quality (fruits, vegetables, seafood, meats) and the environment is cleaner and healthier. It isn’t so crowded and the pace of life is much more liveable. People are also nicer. All of those things add up to a great place to get healthy and stay healthy. I think our environment and homes and neighborhoods are the biggest contribution to our health of all.
Can you get fit and stay fit after 50? 92 year old Harriette Thompson was the oldest woman to finish a marathon back in 2015, and in 2013, Fauja Singh completed the Hong Kong marathon at age 101.
Maybe I’ll write more about the benefits of Florida humidity on skin and (well if you don’t mind curly hair — hair) another time.
What does a cute dog on the phone have to do with service stations of the future? Bear with me: I hope you’ll like the journey and its destination.
I barely remember the service stations of old. I can pull up small, distant memories of 33 cent gasoline, the Sinclair dinosaur, Phillips 66 signs, and service station attendants who washed the windows, filled the tank, and helped in emergencies. I remember driving to Palm Springs with my grandmother and a sandstorm that pitted our windshield and forced us to stop at one such station in Whitewater. I recall a trim, neat guy in a white short-sleeved shirt and sharply-creased navy blue trousers helping us. His name was embroidered on the chest as I recall. Maybe it was “Joe” or “Frank.”
The gas station attendant in my memory was probably a TV guy and the real guy was grizzled and sweaty, with a pre-pop-top beer can in his hand. As a child, I was instinctively fearful of big sweaty men who reeked of beer. My grandfather Bampy was always neat and clean-shaven and kindly-eyed.
Was I wrong to think that way? Don’t judge me.
And that’s the first thing I see for the future. The judgy among us will themselves be judged. It will be for many, a sweet reckoning, like a cold, refreshing dish of berry sorbet after a long, forced, tasteless meal of their least-favorite foods.
So, about this futurism game. What is it? Is it predicting the future? Is it forecasting? Or is it driving today’s trends? Is it just all about money — or is control and power the game?
I think all of us with common sense know that to achieve an ultimate or long-term goal, vision, planning and strategy are essential. And there’s no accident the image on this post is a dog talking on an old-fashioned phone. Again — don’t judge me! It’s not like there are thousands of license-able images of dogs talking. There aren’t.
But there will be. Someday. That’s the vision. Dogs can talk and humans will have acquired the amazing superpower of listening.
So, about this future thing. Many of us have been in abusive relationships, and we’ve also endured trauma. Often, these trends occur on the job, every day. May I have a show of hands for how many of us have spent years working in jobs we hate to support our families?
OMG thank you so much! I know how you feel.
Are we the work we do, or are we who we are? What I’m talking about is the intersection between aspiration and life, and someone else’s aspirations, needs, and life. I estimate it took me about a decade to understand the true meaning of Mike Rowe’s message about the value of “dirty jobs.”
Mike says, “People who do ‘dirty jobs’ are the happiest people I’ve ever met.” Road-kill picker-uppers whistle while they work, he adds.
Many people don’t mind doing hard, dangerous, difficult jobs as long as they can have the life they want for themselves and their families. It can be rewarding to do a job where you’re not actively abused, as long as your paycheck covers what it needs to cover and you have your off-the-job time for yourself and your family and friends.
So, what’s the problem?
Paycheck doesn’t cover what it needs to cover. You don’t just have to clean other people’s feces off toilet seats, you have to run away from a sex pest boss. You don’t just have to pick up road kill, you have to avoid a psycho supervisor whose life is dedicated to creating the most miserable workplace in history.
And some jobs exist and some people do them, and do them very well, but we’d all rather that someday, they didn’t have to exist: like counselors for abused children and homicide detectives.
I woke this morning and thought about an article I recently read by this futurist guy who I don’t think has to scrub other people’s feces — and who I think gets featured by the genius mid-century smarties at Medium because he is so, so smart —
Rich People are Leaving the Cities and Isolating
So the gist of this article was that the richies are escaping crowded cities full of COVID by moving to safe places like isolated forest retreats in Switzerland or France. Or, I thought, they are constructing self-contained, gate-guarded enclaves in beautiful and unspoiled farmland like Maha in Guenoc Valley. Among this development’s many charms, it promises, “With its development, Lotusland is honoring the area’s lushness and history while infusing it with luxury.” Maha is a 22,000 acre property, located on a massive ranch formerly owned by the 19th century actress Lillie Langtry — which I suspect is a story in and of itself — approximately the same size as Disney World in Florida. Maha: Disney World for the cultured! And don’t miss its multi-million-dollar mansions, with their own power, own water and — if the plan comes to fruition — own organic, sustainably-grown food.
Yes, the wealthiest will retreat and already are retreating from the diseased, violent, rioting cities to their own special paradise, living out the lives of their dreams. They already brag of this! There are countless well-off people shaming others for leaving their homes during COVID … to bring them their specially-prepared meals of grass-fed organic beef and organic baby veggies and fruit.
And as I lay there thinking about Douglas Rushkoff’s articles and about the images and thoughts I’ve had in my head over the past year or so — images I barely have words to describe —
Science fiction and futurism is about “What if?”
And it’s happening: right now!
It’s literally a dream come true, but we’ve all been living in a nightmare so powerful that …
OK, so picture yourself — you are in an awful job working for a boss you hate or you’re in a relationship with an abusive partner who makes you feel like crap every day — just picture this for yourself, and I’m going to tell a story because I love this idea so much and I want so much for it to come true, and once you hear, I think you will, too …
When Your Prayers are Answered
Years ago I had this friend named Pat Furfari. Pat was a retired USAF master sergeant and he was my counterpart at the United Way in San Bernardino. I was the campaign and communications person at the United Way in Redlands. I was just a girl in my early 20s. Pat was old enough, obviously, to be my dad. And at first we hated each other because our United Ways were supposed to be “enemies.” And, it was mostly about money because most of the money came from Norton AFB. At the time, it was still an active base, so the CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) was big stuff. Millions of dollars.
Pat was one of the hardest-working guys I ever knew. And over time, as I got to know him, I came to respect him and started to like him, and I think he probably also liked me. Pat was honest, moral, and loyal, but his boss wasn’t. His boss, I’ll call him “Don,” was constantly stabbing Pat in the back at every opportunity. He also didn’t pay him well, and didn’t ever thank, recognize, or reward him. He actively took credit in public for work that Pat had done. Over and over again.
Oh! Did I tell you Pat was a Sicilian and a devout Catholic?
So one of the most shocking moments of my life occurred one day when Pat confided that he had prayed every day that about his bad boss “Don.”
“Every morning I light a candle,” Pat said, “and I pray that he’ll suffer a heart attack.”
His black eyes were absolutely opaque, and his voice had dropped to a low, raspy whisper. It was a moment straight out of The Godfather or Goodfellas.
Pat and I had this chat on a Thursday or Friday. When I got into my office the following Monday, my very good, wonderful boss (who had also been oppressed by “Don”) called me into his office and told me we had some campaign events to do we hadn’t planned on, because … wait for it …
“Don” was in intensive care — he had suffered a massive heart attack. His condition was “grave.”
My next conversation with Pat was something, that’s all I’ll say. And we remained friends for many years. I never wanted to do anything to offend Pat.
Can you guess the implications of this small human drama to our present circumstances and future? Whether old “Don” had a heart attack because Pat had had enough and was praying for it, or he had it because he was so old, mean, nasty, narcissistic and so much of an asshole that his coronary arteries finally clogged up with pure meanness, bile and cholesterol, will never be known, and doesn’t matter.
“Don” was out of the picture, allowing normal, decent people to go on with their lives.
Let’s Party Hearty!
To my leftist friends: why go to all the trouble and bother of guillotines if the problem people are going to self-isolate and remove themselves from society?
What if — you were in an abusive relationship or horrible job — and your abuser had a heart attack, like old “Don”? Wouldn’t that be a dream come true?
It is coming true. The rich and privileged are self-isolating and want to establish their own communities, or they want to live in isolation.
Good for them: let them go to it.
Robots Will Take Our Jobs: Awesome!
How many times have you heard, “Robots will take our jobs.” It’s like a prayer. So if this prayer comes true, so what? You mean that people actually WANT to physically clean feces off toilet seats just so they can eat and pay their bills?
Hardly. Although I do think the “Dons” of the world should do some of that for a while, like maybe six months, so they understand what it is to do a dirty job and have the opportunity to improve themselves and maybe, realize what happiness is — and that it’s not bullying or oppressing others 24-7.
Make Your Own Future
Here’s the great part about our “bad boss” problem solving itself as rich, white elites self-separate from the rest of society.
Now, this allows the rest of us to do things better. My distant memory of working with Pat Furfari was that our two fundraising organizations, instead of competing for donor dollars, started to be able to work together, since old “Don” wasn’t backstabbing and encouraging enmity. The results were not only smoother, better workdays for all of us, they included a lot more money for both of our communities.
This will happen in every field, but let’s hope that charitable fundraising will not be needed in the future, because people will have their basic needs met and lack of basics will no longer be leverage to force people to do as abusers demand.
Heretofore, we have had science done largely by people who’ve never confronted a genuinely serious personal problem in their lives. We’ve had managers directing huge staffs who were raised to bully their less-favored or female siblings and who had every conceivable thing provided to them by indulgent parents and who received top grades in school for “C” level work. We’ve had business concepts created by people whose motives are solely to acquire money and power for themselves, personally.
The learning of the future, the evolution of the future, is going to be about what people will do and how they will do it once the bad boss leaves the building.
They’re leaving right now, so what is your future dream?
Service Stations, Again, Really?
I am now about 25 businesses into my second edition of business planning and consulting. That’s not very many. But — I have not talked to a single person whose business model is “I want to make as much money for myself as possible! To h**l with everyone else!”
Everyone is concerned about sustainability for themselves, their business, their relationships with others, and about the environment and human rights. Everyone, and unlike a lot of “futurists” and “experts,” I worked before with businesses all over the world and continue to do so. I work and worked with male and female founders, and with people from many parts of the world.
Not one of them is going, “My CEO model is Jeff Bezos!” or “I want to model after Elon Musk”. I decline to work with people who want to “brand” themselves. I can’t stand marketers who think they can create a message first, then shove it down everyone’s throat.
So, why was I writing about service stations?
Well, that may be a story for another day. In rural areas, the service station is not dead.
Look – there’s even a Garden Shop!
Now I think we all know that gasoline-powered cars won’t be on the roads forever, nor will diesel-powered trucks. I’m thinking that in the future where dogs may be answering something like a phone and uttering the thoughts out loud that those of us with eyes, ears and hearts can so clearly perceive in their eyes and bodies, there will be “service stations” and there will be people who do help travelers, just like that friendly guy did many years ago, when my grandmother and I were on the way to Palm Springs. But not fill up the tank with petrol (love you, UK). Maybe a power-up, a rest, and then on your way again.
Maybe the helper at the station won’t even be a person. Maybe this will be a service station in the stars. And what sort of Garden Shop would it have?
It’s up to a future entrepreneur to decide. And let’s hope he or she is more like Pat, me, or you, than he is like old “Don” or Jeff Bezos.
There are many thousands of entrepreneurs like that right now and the bad guys’ and abuser’s time is coming to an end. They are self-separating from society and may Grace be with them.
Talking with a new friend the other day, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the Florida lifestyle and how amazing it was to be able to live outside most of the time. The air is so clean, even though many of the cars here are “super-sized” – from full-sized 4WD Ram trucks to Cadillac Escalades and Range Rovers. The incredible amount of plant life here must help to clean the air. I’m not so sure about our canals and the rivers and bays, but over time, I expect I’ll find out. There was a manatee in our canal this morning.
So, from a health and beauty perspective, it’s really easy to take care of skin here as long as you stay away from noseeums and mosquitos. The humidity may make my hair curl but I don’t care. You have to use sunscreen because the sun is so strong here, but again – it’s easy to do and worth spending what you can to get good mineral sunscreen. (Note: don’t use the cheap stuff for a lot of reasons – the chemicals are associated with cancer, they seep through your skin, and if you go in the water at all, they are toxic to fish and coral and other living creatures).
You get up and you’re sweating … you get out of the shower and you’re sweating …
LOL no! I just got in from a run.
Which brings me to clothes and makeup. You know, all sci-fi writers have abiding interests in clothing and makeup.
Welp – you don’t need many clothes here in SW Florida and there’s little point in makeup. You will sweat it off. If you put anything on that’s going to stay on, it will be so harsh and garish that it will look awful. The less, the better. Now that I have my hair back again, I am so happy. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time because, when I started, I was actually trying to save money. Then over time it became “How long can I grow it?” Of course it’s not my style. Glad to be “me” again.
So enough about me. On to the coyotes of Sanibel Island. And a story about a book I’ve looked in many times, but never read. The reason we are in Florida is that I had complained several times to Bruce how sad and depressed I was that there seemed to be no shell left on any California beach. I think it had been at least five years since I’d found any notable shell on any beach, anywhere up and down the state. Maybe in July or August of last year, we even went to Silver Strand State Beach which is south of Mission Bay and noted for shells (supposedly), and I was able to find only one sand dollar in a 3.5 mile walk. You still cannot find anyone openly discussing the lack of shells on beaches in Southern California (and Central Coast and northern beaches). It’s clearly a result of climate change. When we went fishing from Dana Point shortly before we left, the guys on the boat talked openly about how dirty the water was. Before we left, we started to see commercial fishing offshore, which hadn’t been seen close to California beaches for years. And the smog had been creeping in, stunning to see after years of cleaner air and so much effort. Environmental badness all-round.
So, in January, we flew to Sanibel Island and stayed for a week. Not only did I mail two big boxes of shells home, I left these shells with our neighbor Elizabeth when we moved. There are more than enough shells here that they seem to be an endlessly-renewable resource. Judging by spring and summer here, winter seems to be a little better shell season than these times, but I’ve picked up a few treasures. Bruce and I even got two “grandpappy” shells while touring the Everglades in January – a massive lightning whelk and a fighting conch – both at least 8-10 inches in length.
Not long after we returned to Southern California, we were looking at places to move to along the southwest Florida coast. And we left – nearly the last day that we could, I think, during the first part of the COVID-19 crisis. We drove cross-country March 26-March 30.
Sanibel and Captiva Islands are a little south of where we are now in Punta Gorda. They are world-renowned for the beauty of their shells and their preservation of unspoiled nature for wildlife. A large part of Sanibel is the J.N. “Ding” Darling Nature Preserve. Both islands have not allowed high-rise development, and there’s ample open space as well as, on Sanibel, the extensive “Ding” preserve and wildlife area. It is a haven for birds, fish, dolphin, you name it. If you have ever wanted to see a roseate spoonbill, “Ding” is one of the places to go. If you love seabirds, you will see every type you can imagine at “Ding.” Also, wear bug spray.
So, when I was growing up, my grandmother, the renowned and feared “Nana,” had a few favorite things, one of which was a slender, beautiful volume, Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Growing up, I often looked in this small book, and I suppose I read a little of it, but what I mostly did was gaze at the delicate drawings of shells which were its illustrations. I thought it was about the ocean; little did I know that now I was re-acquainted with it by a lady on Sanibel — it was about this lovely woman’s ideas of where a woman should go, and each chapter, inspired by a shell that she had found while staying on, not Sanibel, but the smaller, more northerly companion island, Captiva. Captiva is today, the demesne of rich people’s mansions, a couple of resorts, and the awesome, retro, down-to-earth Jensen’s Marina. Oh – and the beach at the end of the road is very nice – but there’s no such thing as “not a nice beach” in Southwest Florida.
Yes, I found where I should be by haphazardly visiting the island where a woman my grandmother deeply admired, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, had written a beloved book about women finding their way in life. Through shells.
We are so out of touch with nature, I think, that such things seem novel — strange — unusual. A shell seems to us to be a magical thing, but perhaps ever it was so.
So we took Gambit to one of the beaches on Sanibel last week (Algiers Beach, I think).
I think this is Stump Pass Beach but … hey … that’s the Gulf of Mexico.
Driving back, we weren’t far from the “Ding” Darling Preserve when Bruce said, “What’s that in the road? A deer?”
“It’s deer-colored,” I said. But as soon as the fairly tall, rangy animal moved, we could tell it was no deer.
Hm. What is it?? It was almost fox-like in coloring, but far too tall to be a fox.
Probably too hard to see from this sad attempt at blowing up the picture, but it was a very dark and sleek looking, tall, rangy coyote. He ran in front of our car, glancing back over his shoulder at us, then disappeared into someone’s property on the other side of the road. As soon as he looked back, I knew from his yellow-green eyes he was a coyote.
Yes, there are coyotes on Sanibel Island, between 25 and 30 of them. They have only been there since 2012, or so “reports” say.
Before we left Laguna Woods, our much smaller, sandy-colored So Cal coyotes were boldly trotting in twos and threes throughout the neighborhood, looking for stray 3 pound Yorkies or elderly cats to gobble.
With eyes and ears open here, there are so many animals to see and so many beautiful plants. Just — bug spray.
I now have a book that I need to read that I should have read years ago — it is among the hundreds I left behind or gave away before we moved. Did you know that at one point, I had 5,000 books? No? Oh, well — they are all gone to good or bad or no homes now.
Now I pick up shells on the beach, but seldom keep them. I have a tiny collection of orange and red scallops. I keep them in a tiny porcelain dish with a miniature sea turtle in it that I bought for Bruce this past Christmas. Small and light, I saw nothing wrong with taking this dish with us to Florida.
Every day it seems, comes a new revelation, a change of feeling, a different insight.
Jogging with Gambit earlier, we saw Big Boy, the massive Muscovy duck who must surely outweigh Gambit’s 11 pounds, heaving his bulk across Marion Ave. near the teenage alligator’s pond. Big Boy has improbably grown even fatter in this heat and seems to do little except shuffle between the two ponds throughout the day. He held up a number of cars on his journey, and was so lazy that as we passed, the best he could do as he lay in the damp grass under an elderly oak was mouth vague warnings through his gray/white/red mottled bill.
The evening is soft now and the westerly sun is casting its long rays through the lanai shutters. The sun stays strong here even in the late afternoon, right into sundown.
I think of the beautiful, fine-boned Mrs. Lindbergh walking along Captiva’s shores. Hurricane Charley came in 2004, one of the strongest ever to hit the U.S. So she may well have walked between Captiva and North Captiva — the hurricane cut a channel between the two islands, and North Captiva can now be reached only by boat, like a lot of places here.
I see her bend to pick up a shell; I could never associate the awkward “Sanibel Stoop” with such a lovely woman. I think of the quiet lives of the imagination these women must have lived, for I feel her in my mind as I see my grandmother, and as I see Eleanor Roosevelt. Their lives ever so much freer than so many womens’ yet still, so very unfree. From their clothing to their hair to what they could say, they held their innermost thoughts to themselves. But then shell by shell, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote her Gift from the Sea.
So many things, our culture has taken from us, from our ability to be kind to each other and accept our differences, to our ability to notice the tiny things: a shell, a dragonfly (for there are so many now, and they are as big as hummingbirds!), the tiniest flicker in the water which is a fish, the flashing ripple of a tarpon’s fin, the way the sun on the water looks like ever so many diamonds.
We are part of life, we are part of nature, and yet so many have forgotten even these, the smallest things.
I think when I am able to read Gift from the Sea, so many veils will be lifted.
Stump Pass State Park, Manasota Key, FL
How soft the Gulf is — how blue and warm and gentle.
Until there comes a storm. And so — there is. Tonight, though they say, not a bad one.
Everyone who knows me knows how I feel about wildlife and nature. I don’t support old-fashioned zoos that keep animals in cages, but I do support wildlife conservation efforts and study. I completely support organizations like the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota. The Mote says,
We are guardians of the sea and all living things that depend upon it
It’s a wonderful place, and they’ve put good procedures in place to ensure that visitors, staff, and resident sealife can continue safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors are allowed as long as they wear masks and follow safety procedures. Many “hands on” experiences are not possible at this time, but as Dr. Oliver Sacks pointed out to his friend Shane Fistell in one of the videos we used to watch in class, “We see with the eyes, but sometimes we see with the hands.” Right now for everyone’s safety, it’s important to keep “seeing with the eyes,” especially when we’re near living creatures who might get sick if we touch them.
Just like people, animals have personalities, and the personalities at Mote Aquarium are remarkable. One of the first animals I met while visiting there was a sprightly small turtle.
Very calm and interested, he swam for a bit, then settled back on a rock to watch the interesting, strange creatures peering into his home.
I’ve seen several manatee since we moved to Florida, but the Mote manatee, Hugh and Buffett, are “movie stars” compared to wild manatee. Their skin and tails are spotless and perfect. In the wild, manatee are covered by all manner of sea creatures and usually as well as sadly, many scars. Despite laws to protect them and lots of education, they are still injured by boating mishaps. They still suffer because of boating destruction of the sea grass they eat.
This is my best manatee picture from the aquarium – is it Hugh or Buffett – I don’t know!
I also had an interesting visit with one of the sea turtles that lives at the aquarium. They care for several sea turtles, all of which are rescues and which have different injuries or other circumstances that mean they won’t be able to safely return to the wild. Again, as everyone who knows me knows, sea turtles are among my favorite living creatures. One of the high points of my life was swimming alongside of one while snorkeling in Kauai.
So, here are two of the sea turtles at the Mote Aquarium, and the one on the right took an interest in me. Shortly after I took this picture, she took a swim around the tank, fixed me in her gaze, and swam swiftly back in my direction, at the last moment slapping the water with her right fin. Not only did she achieve a mighty splash, getting me and my phone wet, I’m certain she was laughing heartily in her turtle way at her excellent trick.
I understand that some people won’t like this picture, but I also have some friends who will love it. These are three Southern toads, who should be distinguished from the cane toad, which is an invasive species in South Florida. These three pals were just hanging out taking it easy when we walked by.
Have you ever seen such a large hermit crab? I haven’t, either, but a note – I’ve seen “adopt a hermit crab” displays in tourist areas recently and a word – just don’t. Leave them on the beach or in a facility like Mote Aquarium. Don’t try to take animals like this home and force them to live in painted shells.
This is a really nice, curious, and friendly cuttlefish. Not only does he share his ability to change his skin color and patterns instantly, he seems as curious about human onlookers as we are about him.
The Mote has a number of active, friendly pufferfish, so here’s a tip. YES, they can be poisonous. Do not touch them if you see them washed up on the beach. I’ve seen several and fortunately, what little common sense I have told me “Don’t touch it,” because they do contain toxins. Pufferfish can be blown ashore during storms and this just a sad fact of life.
So, of course they also have axolotls at the Mote Aquarium. And this delightful snapping turtle, ready to catch me with the lure inside his mouth.
As I was warned as a child, don’t play around with these snapping turtles: they can take your finger off.
I was talking to a native Floridian the other day and told her how sad it was the environment in California had deteriorated so much, even with so many environmental efforts and so much education. She said that Florida had also experienced severe environmental degradation, and that in recent years, things had been improving because people recognized the problems and made changes on their own. So, the beautiful environment that we enjoy so much today is the product of immense efforts on the part of many people. I think institutions like the Mote Aquarium are vital. The Aquarium educates everyone who goes, and they haven’t stopped with the COVID pandemic. They’ve added many virtual programs for all ages. They also have eco tours on the “Mote Boat.”
I’m poor at describing the deep emotion that washes over me when I’m in nature or around a large number of animals that are – for lack of a better word – happy. I know it’s not particularly sophisticated, but I have a measure to judge if a place like Mote Aquarium is “good” or “not so good.”
A couple of years ago when I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, they have an exhibit which includes hundreds of sardines swimming in a tank that encircles the viewer at eye level. The environment isn’t constructed to force the fish to confront human visitors, it’s shaped in a way that allows you to stand amid the fish in their normal behavior without disturbing them. Anyway, these hundreds of fish were doing their thing and as I stood there, I felt this overwhelming joy emanating from the hundreds and hundreds of silver, flashing, slender sardines.
I felt similar feelings from nearly all the animals at the Mote Aquarium. The Mote, and a place I’ll write about soon, Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, primarily have animals that cannot survive in the wild. They are teaching, conservation, and education institutions. They do not engage in capturing animals in the wild to force them to perform for paying customers like a sea park I won’t name. They take injured animals, rescued animals, abandoned animals, or orphaned animals and care for them. So, the animals are happy because they are cared for by people who care about them, and because they are living their lives — if not for the Mote, they would probably not survive. They also live in environments that are made as healthy as possible for them, and human visitors are constantly cautioned not to harass, bother, and certainly not harm them.
I was feeling “the feeling” of well-being at the Mote long before I met the saucy, mischievous sea turtle. When she splashed me, I knew she was living in a safe place where she could, as much as possible, be herself. There are many more special turtles that I met at Theater of the Sea — I’ll write more about them soon.
So, what happens when you take a 5th generation southern California native and uproot her 2600 miles away to the semi-tropical southwest Florida gulf coast?
Well … these are the “selected” shells. I limit myself to one handful per trip, only ones I’ve never gotten before. I now know the names of many of these. The orange ones are scallops. Like the little ones we eat.
So I really like Florida. It reminds me of when I was a kid in California. It’s not crowded like L.A. and Orange County have become. There’s still plenty of room for enthusiasm and exuberant displays of individualism.
This here is Gatorz in Port Charlotte. A homey, down to earth kind of place. This here below is a “gator” as in 6-foot alligator I saw crossing a divided 4 lane highway in Englewood. We have a small one that lives in one of our nearby ponds.
So I was driving down the highway on the way to walk around downtown Venice, FL and this car is stopped in front of me. Why is he stopped? What’s going on …
Ohhhhhhhhh. This massive gator was just completing his stroll across the busy, divided highway. I managed to get my camera out to capture him just as he hunched his massive body and started to insert his snout into the bushes by the side of this big housing development. This guy was just owning the entire road. I had only seen big gators sunning themselves before and this guy’s massive, catlike muscular movements amazed me.
So, not being an expert or anything, what I have to say is that these animals are in no way awkward, lumbering, or “slow.” No way could a person outrun a determined gator. So let ’em be. I am in awe and I learned – there are 1.25 million alligators in Florida. They are no longer endangered.
So, I see sea turtle nests on all of our beaches. Everyone who knows me knows my feelings about any type of turtle or tortoise, but I especially love sea turtles. On our honeymoon in Kauai, I got to snorkel around the island and I was able to swim right alongside a sea turtle for at least 2 minutes. They are so graceful and gentle and powerful.
So you can’t really see in this longer-distance picture, but there are sea turtle nests all along the green strip of vegetation on the beach. This is Don Pedro Island, one of the state parks you can get to only by boat.
I’m anything but an expert but one of the things that decided me about leaving California for Florida (among the many, many things) was that my impression after only a week’s visit to SW Florida was that the environment in Florida was a lot healthier than California. For someone who’s spend her whole life outside in California and seen the degradation of the 60s and 70s and the renewal of conservation and clean air efforts – whatever battle this was, is one I think that has been at least temporarily, lost. Not only is there what I glumly called “the diaper zone” in all hiking areas (a 1-2 mile radius around any parking area where you’ll find discarded diapers, beer cans, bottles, etc.), we went to Sanibel and Captiva in January because I’d finally gotten fed up with searching for the least, tiniest sea shell up and down every beach in the state at all hours of the day and night.
If people don’t think there’s something “wrong” with the fact that there are no sea shells on California’s shores – I could find no “official” information about this, and while younger people at conservation organizations would readily say they agreed with me – the shells are GONE – this isn’t something that I can currently find any information about. But trust me. Seashells were never as numerous on California beaches as they are on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but they were there. Now?
I wanted to come to Florida not just for the shells but everything else. The clean, soft white sand beaches, the kindly (at least when there’s no storm) Gulf waters, the sun (sure – it’s Skin Cancer central – what do I care?) and the incredible variety of wildlife. Not just the 1.25 million gators but the birds, the fish, the rays, the dolphins, the manatee. The little dark bunnies and the petite dark squirrels. The gopher tortoises and sea turtles.
This is the Tiki Hut white bird (great egret). There’s another one just like him who hangs out at Pinchers in Fort Myers Beach – that guy’s named Henry. This right here is Henry, waiting for his oyster. He likes shrimp and oysters — who wouldn’t?
There is an additional group of fellow residents here in Punta Gorda with whom we share the community. I haven’t gotten a good shot of the young dolphins that fish in the early morning or evening in our canal. But I have gotten some pictures of the birds. We’ve got Big Boy the massive Muscovy duck and his girlfriends (there’s another younger male whom they prefer, but Big Boy, a distinguished older gentleman, occasionally gets them back — as captured here on camera).
Big Boy was living under my Jeep for a while … but he’s moved back to a larger pond nearby.
So if you are out on the water you’ll see a lot of water birds, like this cormorant. They like to sit on the channel markers and dry their wings.
The waters are literally full of fish—all kinds of fish—all ages, all sizes, all types, from snook to snapper and grouper.
It is really hard to take a good picture of a moving animal in the surf but I was glad I got this picture of a young brown ray. I saw these guys “playing” in the surf in January and thought “they’re so active!” No doubt – these were males chasing females to catch them and mate.
Having petted any number of rays, they don’t feel anything like what you’d think. They’re warm and their skin feels like skin. You can feel how strong their muscles are. They are obviously intelligent and have very distinctive personalities.
Which brings us to — this is my best picture of a manatee. There is a large group that gathers at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva.
Manatees are exactly what people say: “the cows of the sea.” There’s obviously a strong bond between mother and calf. These animals spend most of their day grazing and they are — let’s see, how to say it politely — not the most active creatures in the world. They basically float in shallow water and eat sea grass. The rules for all the canals, marinas, docks, and intercoastal waterway anywhere around here are meant to protect the manatee from harm and preserve the sea grass they depend on. So many fish live in this seagrass, too.
In addition to these animals, we have chickens (white Ibis) which flock exactly like chickens but are Egyptian-appearing birds, and an unbelievable array of sea and shorebirds, from sanderlings to sandhill cranes.
I was walking on the beach on Manasota Key and came across a sandhill crane observing a boy of about 10 who was fishing. The crane was gauging his angle of attack if the boy had managed to catch a fish. I didn’t have my phone or I would have taken a picture of this amazing scene.
And we have many pelicans, both white and brown.
The one at the bottom left of the frame had sidled near to Bruce on the beach and was looking at him with a profoundly loving expression. He seemed like a young, naive and affectionate pelican. I hadn’t realized until I came across this friendly group on Sanibel Island how pretty pelican faces really are. They have a light covering of fur-like feathers and really gentle-looking, soft eyes.
Which brings me to dolphins. I can’t say I have any one favorite type of animal over another. To me, all animals are wonderful and I’ve even managed to overcome my instinctive dislike of horseshoe crabs. I keep telling myself, “maybe they are really nice despite the way they look.” But I really love dolphins. Those we had plenty of in So Cal. The dolphins here on the Gulf are supposedly the same common dolphin, but they seem smaller and livelier. This is my best dolphin picture, from the Everglades.
Yeah yeah I know. Well at least my thumb isn’t in the picture.
So as I noted, we have a couple of juvenile dolphin who fish in our canal in the early mornings and at dusk.
So, I have only been living in SW Florida for a little over two months and visited for a week in January and I have already got a huge number of pictures of animals and birds.
There are so many state, local, and city parks and beaches here. And they’re all free or very low cost to visit. When I first went to Sanibel, I was stunned.
“You can pick up the shells on the beach?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the ranger at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (worth a post on its own — I’ll get ’round to it). She explained anyone was welcome to collect any empty shell, but leave living animals on the beach. Having been “fooled” by at least three massive lightning whelks burrowing into the sand, it’s very possible to pick up a perfect-looking shell that looks perfect because it contains a living animal.
So every day there are hundreds of thousands of new shells on the beach. People pave with shells here. The very land of Florida is made from sea creatures (coral and shells). The mangroves and the shells make new land. That is the Everglades 10,000 Islands (where the dolphin picture was taken).
People fish here, heck they fish all day and night long and guess what? There’s fish being born and growing all the time. There are thousands of tiny sprats hiding under the docks outside our small place and this is just one dock among thousands within a mile of here.
So, you know how they talk about Florida in California and on the news. Florida is full of stupid rednecks, right? It’s full of flesh-eating bath salt maniacs and people who get DUIs on riding lawnmowers.
Well. I moved from a place that was rapidly becoming totally hostile to natural life and human life — my native born home, California.
And I don’t see any of those things here. I have yet to meet a stupid, ignorant person here in Florida and I have met a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable, and caring ones. I see nature and animals thriving here. I feel the life here.
I can’t describe this feeling adequately, but maybe you’ve felt it. I’ve felt it several times here, from the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel Island to Don Pedro Island and the Everglades. I’ve felt it driving along country highways on the way to unspoiled, uncrowded beaches. It’s a feeling of wordless, overwhelming joy in life. It’s the feeling where you know there is something more, something vastly bigger than your own small self, and that there is a force of life and nature that’s all-encompassing and so, so powerful.
I’ve felt it on Kauai too. But it had been many years since I felt it in California.
And that makes me sad. Because my former home was once one of the most beautiful and life-filled places on the planet.
I never thought I’d see a crewed rocket blast into space at Cape Canaveral, yet — here I am. I also never thought I’d live in Florida, and likely would never even visit the state, yet — here I am.
I do remember Apollo 11 landing on the moon and I remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the flag. I recall sitting on the living room floor in our house in the orange grove cross-legged, eating an Oreo and drinking a 6-oz glass of milk. The living room walls in the grove house were cedar panels. I remember Rebel sitting next to me, his big head and floppy ears resting on his big old paws. Rebel was a phlegmatic Basset hound with deep brown, mournful eyes. I had learned to walk by clinging to his ears and toddling.
It seemed very easy for these two guys to hop out of the Lunar module and caper around the moon. At age seven, I thought the big rocket was just like the small rockets one of our teachers had launched at school. In my mind, flying to the moon was maybe a little farther than flying to Paris. My child’s mind told me that the astronauts were just like The Little Prince only instead of a nice costume and scarf, they wore puffy, funny suits.
This is in my child’s mind. All through school, we drew peace symbols, stuck “ecology” stickers on our notebooks, and learned about the Apollo astronauts. I was certain that by the time we were all grown up, the world would be a beautiful, green, peaceful place, and astronauts would be flying all over the universe.
Just like Star Trek.
I was too young to be allowed to stay up and watch Star Trek. But by the time I was in third or fourth grade, it was on every day after school. Most days now, I can’t remember everything I’m supposed to do, but nearly every Star Trek episode is burned into my brain. Within 10 seconds of the show’s first scene, I can tell which episode it’s going to be, from the idiotic ones like “Space Hippies” or “Landru” to profound ones like Harlan’s episode.
So at the same time I was eating the Oreo, drinking my small glass of milk, and wondering at the stars, it was the height of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been in their graves one short year.
I didn’t know what war was. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was only a few blocks away in the waiting room of a doctor who was planning hip surgery on my beloved Bampy (my grandfather). I heard them say Bobby Kennedy had been shot on the small white radio in the waiting room, and I heard the nurses crying.
And so I never imagined I’d see two men go into space on a big rocket. But so I did.
Nothing about Cape Canaveral or Merritt Island was like what I thought it would be. One way to see the launch is to take a boat on the Banana River as close as you can get. You motor out as fast as you can and wait. The countdown you hear on TV is delayed from the real launch. So by the time those at home see the launch, the rocket has already reached the clouds.
It is not as loud as I’d imagined. The rocket looks like a small glowing needle rising through the sky.
It’s also small and frail and very human. It’s as frail as the Wright Flyer I saw over my head, and the Apollo space suit — thin white canvas — that I saw at the Air & Space Museum in 1993. Also on that trip I experienced this.
It was difficult for me to write this because there are so many feelings of hope and pride and disillusionment and grief mixed together when I think about space.
I just searched my name on Amazon to link one of my books and despite the fact I have published 40 books, it was suggesting another person’s name. I had to work very hard to find my own book.
Small and frail and like specks of dust are we all.
As we rode out (twice — the first launch was scrubbed due to late spring storms) in the boat, there were so many others on their way. This flotilla leaving Cocoa Beach was mostly small yachts, a few sailboats, several jetskis, little skiffs, and a scattering of speedboats. There were people up from Miami in the group, but most were local, aside from Bruce and me and a couple of others from Florida’s west coast. A few had also flown in from other parts of the country.
Every soul I saw save three were … hard to say it … whiter than me.
And this wonderful launch I saw had two worthy astronaut heirs to the Apollo 11 crew, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Do people even know their names like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Do people know any of the Space X astronaut names?
A lot of people know the name of the man behind this current launch: Elon Musk.
As we just moved from California, I would estimate at least 10-15% of the cars on the road back home were his vehicles. And I do give Mr. Musk credit for resurrecting the name and ideas of a once-nearly-forgotten man: Nikola Tesla.
But I bet I haven’t seen more than four Teslas on the road — including on the Space X launch days — in the 75 days I’ve been living in Florida. Dodge Boys and Carroll Shelby rule here.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Florida. I love the beauty of the sea here, the rich nature, and the incredible feeling of just being here. We are in a small town in SW Florida, Punta Gorda, and it’s very much like the small town in Southern California where I grew up in the orange grove and had my cookie and milk and watched the astronauts walk on the moon on that long-ago day. I keep wanting to take pictures for my friend Merry Mary and my friend Cathy because the City Hall is so nice here, and the houses are so much like Redlands, but tropical.
Gambit loves it here.
You see amazing things every day here.
If I can remember back to that long-ago day, over 50 years ago, I was a little girl eating a cookie, drinking cold milk, and dreaming of the stars like Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, and at the same time, there was a terrible war no one wanted or understood, there were people protesting in the streets for the most basic of rights, and my mother had died of pancreatic cancer leaving a 3 month-old baby (me) and a ten-year old son (my brother Sammy) and her husband, my father, behind.
And I think it has been so hard for me to write this because in so many ways, not because things have gotten worse, but because things have gotten easier for so many people. But in the way of the world, when the basics of our lives ease, it grows so difficult to understand the important things.
We lose track of what’s important. We trade values for money.
I see and hear the same statements today as I heard not long before that moon landing day while playing outside in the driveway as my Bampy sat on the porch with his friend from the Sheriff’s office drinking a “highball.” I never heard my Bampy’s voice raised in anger before, but I heard it this day, and stopped riding my tricycle. He stood and said loudly, “Get off my porch ___________ if you’re going to use that word. You get out and don’t come back.”
And this was the first time I had heard that word. I’m sure you can guess what that word was. The “N” word.
Maybe they were talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe they were talking about somebody else. But I do know that ______________, who had served with my grandfather in the Sheriff’s office in Redlands when he was Constable during World War II, got up and left and never came back to our house again.
My grandfather was specific in his lessons to me. He wasn’t a man of many words, but he’d often tell a brief story or two while we drove around the grove in his Rambler. I was small and couldn’t do much but felt very proud to help him open the flumes or sometimes, even lift the gates so he could light the smudge pots. That was in the days when they still smudged.
The feel of the damp sandy loam, the smell of the earth, the dark dust on the orange tree trunks and limbs, and the shiny dark green leaves and the smell of orange blossoms. I’ll never forget.
It was the same then as it is now.
When I saw the Mercury capsule that had carried John Glenn into space and back at the Air & Space Museum in 1993, I was struck speechless by how small it was. I could encompass its battered and blackened heat shield with my arms. It was barely large enough to hold his folded, strapped-in body.
They say at times the atmosphere dips so low that the peak of Everest is above it.
And sitting with my little cookie and my glass of milk, I didn’t know the difference between the air and space. I didn’t what Everest’s death zone was, nor know what it took to launch a person into space. I never wanted to be an astronaut nor thought it possible for me, but I didn’t understand the rules of society that made the Space X crew pretty much the exact same type of crew as Armstrong and Aldrin back then. I know those rules backward and forward now.
Did I know then that Gene Cernan would be the last man on the moon — to this day? Not at all. Who could have imagined what would have happened after that hopeful day of pride and achievement, July 20, 1969.
So, I think, it’s about what we imagine and wish will happen next. In this, I can’t fault Elon Musk and do not want to fault Space X as much as I dis-admire the racism and colonialism that has provided him and his company with the funds to pursue space ventures. As much as I disapprove of our government’s appalling corruption which has denied the space program the funds it needs, so that a “private business” can pursue space business and our government can declare we have a Space Force like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It stands to reason there are other life forms out there — and we are building things and approaching it as colonizing, violent ripoff artists.
Space should be for every person, not just a select few. And there are many things we need to leave behind in general, from racism and gender bias to the drive on the part of some to endlessly rob, cheat, steal, destroy and kill.
I watched every Star Trek show over and over as I grew up. Star Trek obviously didn’t include money and the “money” and greed-oriented characters (as well as gender biased) were personified by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. A dreadful man, as I recall.
It doesn’t seem like there’s much opportunity for the average person to have anything to say about the way things are going these days. All the same, to those who are continuing to treat others badly and who are so egotistical and value-impoverished, I want to stand up like my Bampy did and say “Get the hell off my porch and never come back!”
Keep going into space, by all means. But the right way, for the right reasons.