coming out of my shell

coming out of my shell

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Cold, Hard Truth

It is a comfort to have friends who will always support me, always be on my side. I have only had a couple of friends like that in my life; they have been few and far between. I treasure them, those rare souls who are willing to love me without pause. We all need friends like that.  However, I also like having a few friends in my life who will tell me the cold, hard truth.

Sugarcoating the truth does not count. I am not subtle. You must be direct with me. In fact, you kind of have to hit me over the head with a fully realized idea otherwise I will probably not see through the coating. Just don't hit me too hard or I might hit back. Sorry! It is an involuntary reflex.

Like Aretha I need some respect. A
little respect goes a long way. Consequently, I prefer the cold hard truth served up with a dollop or two of pure intentions. Truth is a tricky business and is best delivered without hidden agendas or axes to grind. I wish I was better at both delivering and receiving the truth, because sometimes it can be such a gift.

I think the trick might be in leaving one's ego aside. I am not only talking about the person who is receiving the truth (that is a given), I am also talking about the person who is attempting to deliver it. Sometimes our egos get in the way of our effectiveness. 

Which brings me to George Jones singing The Cold Hard Truth. I do not usually listen to country music, but I definitely have some country favorites. When it comes to music I try to keep an open mind. Good thing, too, because otherwise I might have missed this old man singing his damn heart out:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Today I am thankful for visitors and holidays, because without them my house would never get cleaned.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who is celebrating this holiday.  A special shout out to those of you who are cooking and cleaning up a storm this morning because you have a job and could not get the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Resurrection of Lake Apopka

Florida is all about water. Being a peninsula, it is surrounded by water. The rainy season is akin to the deluge.  In fact, one-fifth of the State of Florida consists of water. There are 30,000 lakes in Florida, and about 75 of these are considered large lakes. We are lucky in that we live near a big lake and spend a lot of time biking, hiking, wildlife watching there.  If you read my earlier blog, Alligator Days, you will see photos of a very small area of this lovely lake and the canals that exist nearby.

Lake Apopka is either the third, fourth, or fifth largest lake in Florida, depending on what you read. Sorry to be so vague, but the www-based uncertainty on this subject is massive and searching for precise information has kept me frustrated for more hours than I care to admit.  I give up.  It is either #3, #4, or #5 and that is the best I can do

Lake Apopka
used to be a huge tourist attraction, famous for fishing camps and world-class bass fishing. At one time there were as many as 29 fishing camps on the lake, attracting tourists from all over the country hoping to catch trophy-sized bass. Now it has the distinction of being Florida's most polluted large lake.

Interestingly, it was once the second largest lake in Florida.  However, in 1941 a levee was built at the north end of the lake. The levee drained 20,000 acres of Lake Apopka. That reduced the size of the lake dramatically. The purpose was to add farmland, aiding in the war effort to produce more vegetables.  It was a well meaning effort that set the stage for disaster.

There are still people around who remember the lake as once so pristine you could see the bottom
, but by 1950 it was already becoming murky with algae. Phosphorous and pesticides from farms bordering the lake, especially ones on the newly drained north end, continued to seep into the water. Local communities discharged treated wastewater into the lake up until the 1980's. By the early 1960's the fish began dying. Then, in 1980 a local pesticide company illegally dumped significant amounts of toxic chemicals into Lake Apopka. 

In the early 1990's a group of environmentally minded local folks from a variety of interest groups came together to form the Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA). Their intention was to find ways to buy the drained farmland and reclaim the land from the farms who were discharging phosphorus laden water into the lake basin."

The St. Johns River Water Management District "and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) purchased almost all of the farms for restoration between 1988 and 2001."  Apparently 15,000 acres of drained farmland were purchased.

What an amazing effort. Buying all that land must have cost a pretty penny. Thank you real estate interests, environmentalists, business interests, taxpayers, state and federal governments. I am not being sarcastic. I love it when people come together, step up, and do the right thing; especially when it is a very hard thing to do.

The fish were not the only creatures who died because of the lake's polluted waters. Fish eating birds did, too, even years after restoration began. At one point in the 1990's the new stewards of the lake tried flooding the drained land. "The birds returned by the thousands. Unfortunately, pesticide residue in the fish they ate killed almost a thousand white pelicans, wood storks and great blue herons, and the land was drained again."  It boggles the mind.

You find American Alligators in just about any body of water in Florida. It doesn't have to be a lake. I have seen them sunning themselves alongside man-made retention ponds in area subdivisions adjacent to the West Orange (bike) TrailHere's one I saw last week:

Alligator on lower left sunning itself beside a subdivision retention pond

Alligators in Lake Apopka are famous for having suffered reproductive abnormalities and growth defects from the polluted waters.  Fertility issues related to pesticides significantly diminished the numbers of alligators in the lake between 1980 and 1987.
Alligator at Lake Apopka, October 2015
An alarming number of farmworkers from the vegetable muck farms formerly established at the north end of the lake subsequently developed lupus.  This was likely caused by overexposure to pesticides when picking, cutting, and packaging the vegetables grown on the muck farms.  Of course, it could also be from the crop dusters that routinely flew overhead, dusting the fields and the people working in the fields with pesticides. What kind of person sprays pesticides on their employees?  

For a year and a half we have lived near this big lake. It is 12 miles long and nearly 8 miles wide. We often bike to Newton Park, a small city park on Lake Apopka just off the West Orange Trail. I have only seen a boat on the water twice. About a year ago we saw a small water management boat on the water, but just last month we saw a sailboat!  That was exciting.

Sailboat on Lake Apopka, October 2015
It is now 2015 and returning this lake to health is still an ongoing project. Although things are definitely getting better because of restoration efforts, I often wonder if it will return to full health in my lifetime. FOLA says it will. I hope they are right.

Recent news coverage said that in the 20 years already spent actively trying to bring the lake back to health “Taxpayers have dumped more than $200 million into Lake Apopka, and it’s still one of the sickest lakes in the state.”  The good news is that a new treatment is being used and it seems hopeful. The problem with the lake is that there is significant muck accumulation at the bottom of the lake (up to 15 feet deep in certain areas). The new treatment involves pumping oxygen into the water and then using bacteria to “eat” the muck. The news story quoted above indicates that if this new treatment works it might only take 20 more years before the lake is healthy again...

I am not an expert on any of these matters. I can only tell you what I have read and comment on what I have observed. If you are not the type to be moved simply by the loss of the lake's natural beauty or the loss of wildlife, then perhaps you should consider the loss to the local economy. There are no fishing camps anymore, so all those potential tourists are not coming here to spend their money in the towns surrounding the lake.

The FOLA people deserve massive kudos.  They have a respectful practicality regarding restoration and they are currently concentrating on Ecotourism. There are now at least two beautiful nature preserves carved out of the land surrounding the lake. Biking and hiking trails invite us to commune with the natural world. A new one-way, car-based drive takes people on self-driven explorations along the many canals that must have been created for the orange growing industry once prospering around the lake. I like to think of this drive as an alligator safari.  Last time we took that drive we counted 31 alligators! Native trees and other flora have been planted in a respectful effort to return the land to the way it once was. 

Perhaps we still cannot eat the fish, but at least now we can enjoy being near the lake. It is an amazingly beautiful lake to look at. That is, as long as you do not look into the dark pea green color of the water...

View from the dock at Newton Park on Lake Apopka.  The water in this picture is less than 2 feet deep but you cannot see the bottom.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Winning Personality

I have been sorting through my failures and taking inventory of my limitations now that I have the time in retirement to tackle all this self-indulgent nonsense.  I must say it is a thankless job and it is taking a whole lot longer than I thought it would. 

I guess one of my problems is I like to win.  I am trying to figure out if this is a character flaw or a virtue.  Actually, I quite like that part of myself.  I think I will keep that.

Why am I subjecting myself to this torture?  For one thing, I am trying to learn how to become more comfortable with failure because failure is often the fertilizer for new ideas. A new idea or two wouldn't kill me.

I am also trying to get to know myself at 64.  I am probably not too old to change.  If I find some qualities I really cannot stand I might try to change myself.  A little.  Just a little bit.  Yes, it is that damn change thing again!  Now I suppose I am too comfortable with change and will become addicted to it.  Sheesh.

I am pretty clear on how
we gain knowledge.  Wisdom, of course, is something else. I am not exactly sure just what wisdom is or how you become wise.  If I figure it out, I will let you know.  Or perhaps you will tell me?  Either way is fine with me.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, 13 Nov 2015

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Blaise Pascal, Pensées   

Like everyone else, I was glued to the TV and my iPad last night hoping for more information.  Hoping for clarity, I guess.  I had a hard time falling sleep, thinking hard about the families who had received the bad news that their family members would not be coming home from the concert or the restaurant.  I thought of good and evil.  I wondered about the nature of both.

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.”
Mahatma Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments With Truth

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Geraldine Page as Mrs. Ritter

I am always surprised when people assume I am a sweet old lady. No one ever mistook me for a sweet and unassuming teenager or a sweet middle aged woman.  I may look like a chubby, gray haired, little old woman now, but I am no lady. I have written about my distaste for "ladies" beforeYou really cannot make assumptions about old folks.  We are just like we were when we were young, except slower and more wrinkled.  OK, maybe we have gained some weight, too.  Oh well!

Some older women are sweet and kind.  Others are a bit like Geraldine Page's character, Mrs. Ritter, in The Pope of Greenwich Village.  You never know who we are until you take the time to get to know us.

Here's a clip from that movie with the great Ms. Page. I really love this character and this scene.  In 1984, when this movie came out, I was 33 years old.  At the time I was an employee union organizer trying to bring collective bargaining to Cornell University in order to demand some respect for women in traditionally female jobs.  I was pretty tough and sure of myself.  That is how I wanted to stay. 

You know how it is when you are young.  The thought of aging horrified meNot only did I not want my youth to fade, I did not want to become a vulnerable and sweet old lady.  That seemed to be the only older woman role model when I looked around back then.  The character of Mrs. Ritter was something of a revelation to me because, even though she was older, alone, and grieving the loss of her son, she remained a badass woman.  I love Geraldine's interpretation of this character.  A lesser actress might have made a joke out of her.  She's no joke.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

At a loss, except for words

My last post, about losing our gardenia, made me think about loss again. It is an interesting concept, loss.  I am going to chew on this for awhile.  If it bothers you then for crying out loud, please do not read it.

What is this potent euphemism, loss?  Can you really understand it if you have not had the experience of losing people, places, and things? 

It happens to everyone, I am not special in any way.  Many people have had more and worse loss than me. I am not feeling sorry for myself in writing this.  I just want to step back for a few minutes and explore this thing called loss.  Why not?

I have moved many times.  Leaving one place for another is a special kind of loss.  I am not only thinking about houses and people, I am talking about the land, the climate, the flora and fauna, the way a sofa might fit perfectly in one living room but not another.  This is the loss of the familiar.  Of course with this kind of loss (moving) you also gain something in the process, so the loss of the familiar is tempered somewhat by the excitement of the new.  There is still emotional pain, but there is also hope.  And, of course, you learn things. 

As an adult I became acquainted with death. In early-middle age it seemed like people I loved were dropping like flies.  That is when I figured if boys could condition themselves to stop crying, so could I.  And I did. It was easier than you might think.

I thought maybe I was starting to get the hang of it after awhile.  I imagined I was becoming accustomed to loss.  I distanced myself from pain. Working and being busy helped.  People in my life continued to die or move away and I handled the losses fairly well.  I started spouting the whole “death is a natural part of life” line - as if that statement isn't just the most obvious thing in the world.  I was beginning to imagine I was well-adjusted, strong even. It was great, too!  I think of those as my glory years.  Yes, I know that is a stupid thing to say, but I am not going to lie.  I am as stupid as the next person.

There are people who read this blog who only know me from that long period of my life when I did not cry and I am quite sure they found me super annoying. I was overly proud of not crying, and when you are overly proud you are kind of begging for a slap down.

Death is uncomfortably personal and indelicate; we come up with alternate words to describe it because it is frightening. It is a little like Voldemort.  We do not want to speak his name for fear that he may show up or exact revenge in unspeakable ways. We do not fully understand what he is capable of, so we fear the worst. Best to keep him at bay.

Losing someone to death begins a process for the living that is very similar to losing a place or a thing. We look for our loved ones but they are gone.  We miss them deeply.  We come to realize we will never find them again. We feel our loss and we mourn their passing. We grieve our loss.  We change. We reluctantly adjust. Truthfully, I find the whole process infuriating.  But whatayagonnado?  I guess that is why it is so fascinating to me.

Since retiring and moving to Central Florida in March 2014, I have been reacquainted with loss.  I retired and moved away, leaving my job, friends, gardens, home. I found myself missing many of the "things" I threw out or gave away when we were downsizing, preparing for the move. I lost things when we moved into our new place. I learned to live without these things and reluctantly adjusted. However, I am happy to report I finally found my black handled scissors!  At least there is that.

The first year and a half after my retirement was fun. Everything was new. I was ready for change. I was happy and energized.  I could not wipe the smile off my face.  Then in March 2015, I "lost" my mother and all bets were off. Holy shit!  Suddenly there was too much change and too much loss with too little time to process it all.  I kind of overdosed on change.  Does that make sense? 

I am reluctantly adjusting to all this change. Reluctantly is the key word, and I think it is a reasonable adverb to use here.  It kind of happens over time. It is fair to say that, more often than not, loss sucks.  Loss is that empty hole, that endless tug, the searing pain, those burning tears pooling just behind your eyes.  I hate losing people, places, and things.  I totally understand why some people become pack rats and others stay in bad relationships.  Change is a bumpy damn road.

Apparently loss must be felt if we want to be healthy minded. Or at least that is what society would have us believe. It seems to be one of those “you can run but you cannot hide” kind of things we hear so much about.  And I (reluctantly) think that is true. 

Shutting down is useful, pragmatic, and effective if you can manage to pull it off, but it is not strength. It is not that.

I never want to get too old to cultivate strength. It is a matter of principle and seems like a worthy goal, which is not to say that I AM strong.  I often fail at being strong, sometimes in notably big and sloppy ways.  I am not sure about you, but I am no Athena and I did not spring full grown from the head of Zeus.  

We all get knocked down from time to time. There is no shame in that.  Of course we all want to pull ourselves up by the count of 10.  Sometimes we can and sometimes we can't, "there's the rub!" There's the humanity.

I am beginning to see that strength comes when we are willing to feel our pain, not in the overcoming of it.  Big *$#@! surprise to me, by the way.  I am not romanticizing or promoting this crap.  I take no pleasure in thinking this is true. I take no pleasure in thinking of it at all.

Demeter, in winter


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Another one bites the dust

The other day our once beautiful gardenia succumbed to disease. We have such a hard time growing things in Central Florida. It is kind of weird. Some things we planted last spring are growing in leaps and bounds. But many other plants have died for one reason or another.

Most of our new plants were lost in the moist heat of the summer; during the 3 summer months it rains nearly every afternoon. I blame the rainy season for many of our plant deaths, but wet soil is not what killed the gardenia. It was fine during the rainy season

One thing I am learning is you cannot "baby" plants down here.
It is standing-water-wet and steaming hot in the summer, dry as a bone the rest of the year, and can generate the occasional frost overnight in the winter. Plants must be a certain kind of hardy to live in this climate and survive the extremes in moisture. I am on board with that concept in theory, I have always been a survival of the fittest kind of gardener.  I have lost plenty of plants to cold winters up north.  But in practice it is always hard when they die.

I loved the idea of having a gardenia. That is my problem, really - liking the "idea" of a plant rather than settling for a plant that will actually grow in our back yard. Still, I thought the gardenia was going to make it. There are lots of them thriving in Leu Gardens about 25 minutes from us in Orlando.

When it was still healthy our gardenia grew steadily, bloomed at the appropriate time, and was both beautiful and fragrant. Then it was attacked by scales and developed sooty mold.  It seems both are common pests with gardenias, camellias, and azaleas.  Had we noticed the scales earlier we probably could have caught it.  By the time we noticed, it was seriously infested.  We had been treating the gardenia for weeks but it did not get better, it got worse.  The scales spread to the Desert Rose Plant.  We started worrying about our camellia and azaleas.  T chopped it into pieces on Halloween and stuffed it into a garbage bag.  Big gardening sigh.

Florida can be so harsh and cruel! 

Is Central Florida someplace I would have chosen to move given free will and full choice?  Absolutely not.  I only moved here to be near my grandkids and help our daughter and son-in-law out with the occasional babysitting gig.

On the other hand, yesterday (November 3rd) we
took a dip in the pool. We are having a hot spell that is prolonging the pool season this year, much to our delight.  The water was 81 degrees (cold by our standards), but the temperature was 89 degrees outside.

Nearly e
very day throughout the year we are able to ride our bikes
and see wildlife and wildflowers, or bike downtown to mail a package or drink a latte. I never have to do any white-knuckle driving on snowy roads
People are friendly and drivers are courteous.  I see my daughter and her family on a regular basis. The grandkids will know me and have stories to tell of their old grandma. 

I am finding it
hard to stay mad at Florida for too long.