One Thing Leads to Another, and Another, and…

With all the world’s wickedness on display, perhaps we could use some good news today? It’s been a wonderful week, friends.

* * * * *

Brendan and Becky were in town last weekend for a beautiful wedding—and as friends on the groom’s side we made the short list of guests who could actually attend. It was a great blessing to celebrate the love of God and of two young people in a church at the end of a long week of violence and sorrow.

100991410_10222259326129831_8472946898402017280_nOn Monday, Lily, Jodi and I paraded by vehicle through the Big Woods Elementary School parking lot to cheer and be cheered by the teachers and staff. (In retrospect, Gabe should have joined; he did most to help her with distance learning these past few months.) It was a bittersweet end to the school year, capped by a tear-jerking video from Mrs. Skon to all her students later in the week. We were all blessed to have her as a teacher through these challenges—Lily most of all. Continue reading

Who Is My Family?

On Saturday our community suffered a terrible blow: we lost a beautiful, sweet young woman—a daughter, a sister, a friend—in a skiing accident. Bethany was a 2017 graduate and a member of our church’s youth core team. Her younger sister is a close friend of Emma’s, and the friend who was with her at the ski hill is Gabe’s Confirmation sponsor and a good friend of Brendan’s.

Last night the church was home to many families and teens who came to Tuesday evening Mass and stayed for an hour of Adoration afterward, praying for the repose of Bethany’s soul and peace and consolation for her family and friends.

Providentially, the gospel reading was Mark 3:31-35:

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In his homily, Fr. Richards spoke of the joys of family life—”Your family knows you…you can be yourself.”—and emphasized that, by word and deed, Jesus made all of His followers a spiritual family. Nowhere was that more evident than in the hour following Mass. Teens and children, adults young and old, prayed and praised God, wept and worried, laughed and lingered long after the Blessed Sacrament was reposed. In my mind’s eye, I saw Bethany smiling. Continue reading

Road Trip Review, Part 3: What We Saw

We saw 12 states on our road trip to and from the Keys: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas. Missouri, and Iowa. We saw mile after mile of beautiful woodlands, farmlands, and ranch lands that grew greener and greener as we travel south, and one long strip of hard gray asphalt littered with local fauna.

Most prevalent among the roadkill corpses were armadillos: we began to see them in Tennessee on the downward trip, and left off again in Missouri, I believe. Scores of dead armadillos, and nary a live one — when they venture out and whether they are overconfident in their armor or just that thickheaded, I’ll never know.

The armadillos appear to be substantially less bright than even iguanas: in the Keys we saw countless big green lizards along the highway, and only one dead: a brilliant green juvenile hit by the car in front of us. (We also saw one run across a dusty parking lot in front of a car, and if you ever see an iguana running full-tilt, its four legs windmilling from its sides, you won’t forget it!)

As a former lizard lover — I had an iguana named Ike as a teen — this was a thrill, but although we saw a couple up close, either we didn’t have a camera in hand or they were too hidden for decent shot. We also saw numerous brown anole lizards (my first lizard, Zeke, was of this variety; a family member brought him home, probably illegally, from Florida when I was in middle school) and a couple of curly-tails (my second lizard, Max, was a captive-bred curly tail) — and the kids spied a green anole outside the the Basilica of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, on Key West. (Click photos to enlarge.)

We saw countless species of palm trees. We saw the Key deer mentioned yesterday, of course, including a little velvet-antlered buck, and an endless variety of birds, from the ever-present grackles, crows, and buzzards, to a crowing parade of roosters and clucking chickens on Key West, to black-headed gulls, brown pelicans, American white ibises, and countless other sea birds. We saw endless horizons of grass and water, and signs warning us of bears and panthers crossing. We saw great everglades turtles sunning themselves on the road’s edge.

Our Everglades boat tour warrants special mention for wildlife, of course. We discussed the typical airboat tour, but the kids wanted to go whale-watching, too. Airboat rides are noisy affairs, and gators being relatively prevalent (we saw a half-dozen in the canals along the highway to Everglades City), we opted for a sunset tour with Allure Adventures through the maze of mangrove islands and out to the Gulf. It was just the three of us and Kent, our guide and captain, and before we even left the dock, he spied a manatee surfacing in the river beyond. We got three brief glimpses of the great sea cow as it moved quickly down the river — they move surprisingly fast for their bulk! As we set out on the boat, we saw an osprey eating a fish, and shortly after we emerged into the mangroves, we saw a pair of dolphins hunting in the shallows among the mangroves — again, only fleeting glimpses, as they were too focused on food to jump and play in our wake. (And again, it was amazing how quickly they could move, in this case, in water only a few feet deep.)

Captain Kent then took us to a stretch of Everglades National Park beach accessible only by boat, with the most amazing powdered white sand (a luxury for tired feet) and the rattle of thousands of seashells with every wave that touched the shore. This island was essentially a sand bar built up along a knot of mangroves, trees with aerial roots that reach down into the water, so that most such islands have no soil at all, except the sea bottom. We saw raccoon tracks in the sand: the only land animal that lives on these mangrove islands, the raccoons down there are not nocturnal, but tidal, according to Kent — they feed at low tide, whatever time of day. We also saw conch shells large and small (illegal to harvest), a horseshoe crab carapace (likely the raccoon’s meal at some point), and a couple dead starfish awash among the seashells. I stepped barefoot among the grasses growing on the island and discovered sand burs grow there, as well.

We boarded the boat again and took a winding and at times treacherous route through the channels among the mangroves, in search of more dolphins. Alas, it was not to be. Finally, toward sunset, Captain Kent followed the egrets and pelicans to their evening roosts: a squawking, croaking, clicking rookery of sea birds awaiting nightfall. Countless pelicans, cormorants, and egrets, and two roseate spoonbills made an appearance as we watched the sun drop behind a clouded horizon. On the boat ride back to the dock, we saw two osprey darkly eyeing the water. Captain Kent was a delight — knowledgeable and entertaining — and his obvious love and concern for the wildlife and ability to navigate the maze of mangroves at speed were impressive!

What else did we see? We saw Hemingway’s House on Key West, with countless artifacts and his office just as he used it — and a sun-tanned, silver-haired Hemingway lookalike on the beach before sunset. We saw the Basilica mentioned above, with doors along both sides where windows ought to be, open to the sunshine and breezes — a welcome haven from the sun and pavement of bustling Key West. We saw schooners and yachts and fishing boats, and a crew making a show of unloading their catch for the cameras of tourists. We saw kitschy souvenir shops, high-end art and fashion shops, and a funky clothing and music store called Good Day on a Happy Planet, in which a boisterous bohemian woman sold us coconut and bamboo wind chimes (for Jodi) and a nice cigar-box ukulele (for the family) — we stopped through in the morning, and when we returned for the uke in the afternoon, she actually cheered and sang to us in front of her other customers!

We saw the long and short bridges connecting the islands to the mainland. We saw people fishing, biking, tanning, swimming, and sailing. We saw glimpses of Miami and Atlanta from the freeway; the headquarters of Jodi’s former employer, Randstad, nearly overlooking the Chatahoochee; and St. Peter Catholic Church in the heart of Memphis. We saw the highest concentration of Baptist churches I could imagine in rural Alabama, and met Randy and Pat, the breeders of handsome hunting and working Airedales, distant cousins to our late Boomer. We can’t wait to get back down and come home with a pup, hopefully before snow flies!

I’m sure we saw other things — and I haven’t even touched on the food yet! — but that’s enough for today’s recollection!

Road Trip Review, Part 2: What We Did and Didn’t Do

Before we left for the Keys, I sought the advice of people I knew had been down that way, as well as the wisdom of the Web. I quickly ascertained that the further one travels toward Mile Marker 0, the more “local color” we would be likely to encounter as far as bohemian eccentricities go, and the more the spirit of carnival would take over after dark.

So despite the tradition of watching the sun got down en masse on Key West and applauding the light show as it ended, we avoided the crowds at sunset, finding a quiet strip of beach with one or two other families and lots of crabs and​ seabirds among the rocks. (Click the photos for a better view.)

To save money, we spent our two nights in the Keys in a screen tent on the beach at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge at Mile Marker 33 ($180 a night for a motel versus $50 for a tent). The weather was pleasant enough when we arrived Tuesday night, and we set up the tent in sunshine with a cooling breeze coming off the channel. We checked the weather forecast, and tossed the rain fly in the corner. 
We went to supper, and when we came back to the camp site to turn in for the night, the breeze has freshened to a steady wind, causing our dome tent (n) to lean away from the water in the fashion demonstrated below:
before dinner: n
after dinner: n
This tent, mind you, is more than 20 years old, with flexible, fiberglass poles that have split before in inclement weather and have been repaired. Yet it appeared to be holding its own, and we turned in to enjoy nature’s air conditioning and try to sleep. We lay on our cots looking through the screened portion of the dome roof at the moon and stars above. It was beautiful.
Sometime before midnight, the moon darkened behind the edge of advancing clouds. The neighbors, two sites down, had come back to their tents late and were joking and laughing. It was after “quiet time,” but the sounds were joyous, not overloud and not obscene, so I lay back and listened and smiled. Then the sound of wind changed, enough that Trevor sat up to look outside. I rose, too, to see a wall of cloud advancing across the channel and to smell rain in the air.
I checked the weather on my phone: 12 mph winds predicted, and a chance of rain. One of the neighbors had brought forth a guitar and had begun to sing. I lay back to listen.
Within about 15 minutes the wind freshened even more, pulling a stake near Emma’s cot, allowing the tent to flap noisily and rousing her. Tiny raindrops pattered against the seaward side of the tent. (Thankfully we had chosen to face the front toward the water, so the screen was on the lee of the tent, away from the wind.) I began to feel a light misting from the droplets hitting the door screen, so I zipped shut the window flap on the door. This, of course, caused the tent to catch still more wind, and I have no doubt that from the outside our tent looked like a comma, or a overfilled sail!
From the inside, we had the sensation of sailing the skies in a lightly built box kite. Nevertheless, there were no storms in sight and no perceptible danger aside from a tent collapse, so I lay down to try to sleep and urged the kids to do the same.
And we did. The wind and rain pelted the front of the tent, but never the screened-in back, and the poles bowed but did not break. Ultimately we drifted off, and the rain ceased, and the stars reappeared. In the hours before sunrise the breezes died almost completely, and we were introduced to no-see-ums. But that is another story.
We stayed at a fishing lodge, but due to time and money constraints, did not fish. We saw the endangered Key deer (a knee-high subspecies of whitetail for which Big Pine Key is famous), but did not pet them, although they were not shy. We visited Hemingway’s House and the Basilica of St. Mary, Star of the Sea. We saw the southernmost point marker (just 90 miles to Cuba), but did not wait in line for a photo. We ate great food and passed a brewery or two, but they did yet offer bottles, cans, or growlers, so we brought none back. We went on an Everglades boat tour, but not an airboat into the gator-filled grasslands.  In short, we did what you do in south Florida and the Keys, but in our own way. More to come!

Fishing Followup

It’s been quiet around here, mainly because my off-line life has been anything but. Just a quick one tonight: The long-promised group shot of the intrepid trout fishermen from our trip to Colorado. From left to right, it’s Sasquatch, the Kid, Cowboy Bob, and the Buddha. Why the Buddha? Because he smiles often and says little; you rarely know what he’s thinking, but when he speaks, it’s important. Always.