Aug 132019
 

When I think about advice not taken, ‘don’t feed the geese’ could, under some circumstances, make the list. ‘Clean your plate.’ ‘Never burn a bridge.’ ‘Don’t make waves.’ ‘Be a good loser.’ Geese walking in the parking lot‘Don’t go out with wet hair.’ ‘Only loan books you don’t want back.’ Advice. Well-intended but not always welcome. Wanted but not always followed. Followed — but imperfectly or not under the right circumstances. You get it: advice can be a slippery slope.

You may remember my earlier goose posts: after discovering that neighbors had been running them over for sport, my husband and I made a safe place for them. In all honesty, had I foreseen the destruction of plants and the mess near our dock, I might have thought better of the plan. But here I was — sad and angry — shooting straight from a heart that still can’t understand why someone would hurt an innocent.

Why Would Someone Hurt an Innocent?

For several summers I watched them: the return, the hatchlings, the lessons. And, while I had always loved to hear them, high overhead, singing their way to the next destination, there was something about living with them. I saw their personalities and their habits, and I learned to love them.

Advice. Well-intended but not always welcome. Wanted but not always followed. Click To Tweet

I learned that they make a distinction between “people” and “our people.” And, quite by accident, I discovered I should probably do the same thing.

Canada geese are wild. They make a distinction between “people” and “our people.” Click To Tweet

Back when Favorite Husband and I were trying to decide whether we wanted to stay in New Hampshire or move to an island in northeast Florida, I learned something most of you know: Canada geese are wild.

Canada Geese Are Wild

At the time, we had a beautiful old chocolate Labrador retriever. He was, by then, severely diabetic and was almost blind as a result. As a result, when we expected to be away from the house for more than an hour, we packed the dogs into their crates so they could be with us.

On this particular occasion, Favorite Husband was practicing a martial art. I don’t remember why I needed or wanted to go along, but I had a book and my dogs. I was happy.

Eventually, I decided the old man (the dog, not the husband) needed to stretch his legs a bit. As we rounded the backside of the dojo, I was delighted to see a pair of Canada geese. I think they were my first since arriving in Florida. Seeing them, a fictional loop in my head was complete— our geese really did go south for the winter!

I decided the old man (the dog, not the husband) needed to stretch his legs a bit. Click To Tweet

The pair should have been a clue — there are very few times I ever saw a single pair of wild geese. It was rare enough that I should probably have substituted “nesting pair.” As the dog and I wandered happily toward them, they responded — not as the friends I had in my head but as someone protecting their soon-to-be babies from a home invasion. I didn’t know that old dog could still move so fast, but we made a safe escape.

And that little encounter may have something to do with my ongoing ignorance about the behavioral patterns of Canada geese in northeast Florida. For a while, I didn’t see many of them. For a while I missed them. Then I stopped thinking about them.

Don’t Forget Your Loved Ones

When someone has a place deep in your heart, it’s not wise to forget them. Last week two large families of geese wandered up our street to play in the post-downpour puddles. I was a little too glad to see them, took some pictures, and, once again, didn’t give another thought. So yesterday, while leaving the auto parts store, I was a little surprised to see seven or eight of them.

I was even more startled when they got close enough that I could hear them grunting and gurgling. They continued walking toward me. Opening the car door didn’t slow them at all — in fact, their behavior was a bit more like dogs wanting to take a ride than the standoffish Florida-Canada geese I’d come to know and avoid. And, while I’m pretty sure these aren’t our New Hampshire geese, there’s one thing I know for sure.

Somewhere on this island is another person who ignores advice: somebody is feeding the geese. And I’m delighted.

 

 

Jul 232019
 

Shrimp. Little. Puny. Insignificant. It’s enough to give a crustacean an inferiority complex.

Generally speaking, reading a list of words like that could make anyone feel insignificant. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not any of us shrimp can actually read. As you’re about to learn, at least of few of us can spin yarns and tell tall tales.

a shrimp in an aquariumOnce upon a time, a school of shrimp migrated to a small but beautiful sandbar at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Those of our ancestors brave, curious, and strong enough to travel some of the 13 miles from tip to tip made another amazing discovery: this fabulous little sandbar was bounded on two other sides by magnificent rivers. One was named Amelia, the other St. Mary. The topography proved to be an ideal shrimp habitat and our community flourished. Most of us are breeding machines; when the eggs hatch, it’s often only a matter of hours before our females are carrying a new batch of fertilized embryos.

When We Were Fossils

A healthy, thriving community of shrimp is important for several reasons — not the least of which is the fact that when school children are introduced to fossils, our great-great-great-great-too-long-ago-to-come-up-with-the-right-number-of-greats grandparents are often in the picture. Our clan has been around for a very long time: about the same amount of time as yours has been dining on us.

Shrimp. Little. Puny. Insignificant. A wordlist that could give a crustacean an inferiority complex. Click To Tweet

Although home to many colorful pirates, Amelia Islanders are not typically thought of as a bloodthirsty crowd. But, if you’re a shrimp, you’d never know it. On the one hand, we seem to have settled in a place that almost worships us and on the other? Well, just imagine how it feels to be surrounded by people who seemed so passionate about… well… us. As food. As a matter of fact, if you’re feeling feisty and want to start a fight, show up at almost any Fernandina Beach social gathering and let them know you’ve finally found the ultimate recipe for shrimp and grits. Even the nicest of church ladies will get at least a tad huffy and set about proving you wrong. What a great way to sample a lot of mouth-watering shrimp and grits.

woman's hand holding a shrimp against sky and sea in backgroundEureka! We’re Rich!

Shrimp is the single most popular seafood in the United States. The commercial shrimp industry generates in excess of $50 billion a year; of the nearly 2,000 shrimp species, fewer than 20 are commercially harvested. Unfortunately for folks not ideally located, a great deal of that is farmed and imported. And, as much as I don’t want to endanger any of my wild-caught brethren, the polite thing to say it is the flavor is ‘radically different.’

Those shrimp farms are also a factor that may make the next generation of shrimpers consider other career paths. Of course, there have been a number of coastal towns that have adopted the title of Shrimp Capital of the World, but Amelia Island’s role in developing the industry leaves little doubt.

Scavengers, Snowbirds, and Swimming

The term shrimp is used to refer to some types of decapod crustaceans and, like others of our ilk, we are scavengers. However, unlike our crab and lobster cousins (and despite all those feet) we are much better suited to swimming than walking. And this makes our capture a bit different. Actually, quite a lot different. And this part of the story touches on our love of visitors from the North, affectionately know as ‘snowbirds.’

This part of the story touches on our love of visitors from the North, affectionately know as ‘snowbirds.’ Click To Tweet

While crabs and lobsters are caught in traps, that method does not work especially well for quarry that is swimming. And, from as far back as those pictured in Egyptian tomb paintings from 3000 BC up until the early part of the 20th century, shrimpers used a seine net strung between two boats. Weighted on the bottom, with floats on the top, they moved in tandem, capturing us as they moved.

Remember those snowbirds? Well, one of them was a fisherman from Gloucester, Massachusetts — one of the great maritime communities of the Northeast. While visiting friends on the island, he saw shrimp caught with seines. He offered friends a better way: Billy Corkum invented the otter trawl net, cutting the required number of boats in half. That’s the method still in use in and around the island today, where shrimpers bring us in: pink, white, brown, rock shrimp and, of course, the royal reds.

Where Did You Get Off the Boat, Mayport?

Whatever variety they first meet, once humans taste the real deal they can get pretty feisty about making sure they don’t end up with any of the imposters. In fact, not long ago, a lady was giving one of our supermarket fishmongers a tough time. She had tasted ‘Mayport shrimp’ and refused to settle for anything else. She didn’t want to hear anything about ‘Mayport’ being a location rather than a variety. It was as if the buyer was speaking French and the seller was speaking Farsi.

Finally, in an effort to maintain their relationship, perhaps to educate without insulting the fishmonger said, “Ma’am, they’re the same shrimp — they come from the same offshore beds. Does it really matter where they got off the boat?”

She had tasted ‘Mayport shrimp’ and refused to settle for anything else. Click To Tweet

cooked shrimp on a black plate with garnishesAmelia Islanders are pretty picky about their shrimp. They might not actually worship us, but, during the first weekend in May, it sure seems that way. For three days, the population swells by about 200,000 additional souls who pump tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. In 1964, as part of the island’s Fiesta of 8 Flags, a boat race along the Amelia River provided a way for local shrimpers to have some fun and friendly competition during the offseason.  The event has since morphed into a major, regional festival using art, music, and, of course, good food — all to celebrate our relationship with the locals.

Imagine that: a parade and food and music and art — all in celebration of Amelia Island and its shrimp. Somehow that doesn’t feel either puny or insignificant!

Jul 012019
 

“Elvis has left the building.”

I was never a screaming fangirl who needed to hear those words over a PA system to know the party was over. The whole Elvis phenomenon was wasted on me for many years after his passing. Only then could I finally hear and appreciate his music without anyone trying to convince me of anything about it. But, despite his monumental talent, I’ll always remember Elvis in quite a different form.

There’s a favorite bit of family lore that focuses on a multi-generational fear of snakes. Back when Elvis was King and I was a small child, my Dad worked as a sales manager for a land company. A big project in North Carolina brought many fellow northerners to the salesforce and Dad spent a great deal of staff training time drilling about precisely what to do if they encountered a snake while showing land to prospective customers. Over and over. “No matter what, stay calm. Turn and walk in the other direction. Don’t even mention it,” he instructed.

What I didn't realize is that his aversion to snakes, if not entirely genetic, it sure does run in the family. Click To Tweet

It seemed to be a sound policy. After all, there was no point in freaking people out unnecessarily, was there? It made loads of common sense until the day Dad was walking the land, heard the grass rustle, looked down, and shrieked, “SNAKE!” at the top of his lungs as his six-foot self hurried to the relative safety of the road.

My Dad tends to be a larger-than-life figure, so I’ve always enjoyed teasing him with this story: it brings him down to earth with the rest of us. What I didn’t realize is that his aversion to snakes, if not entirely genetic, sure does run in the family. Fortunately, my interactions with the creepy crawlies have been limited by Favorite Husband who almost always runs interference for me. Almost always. Almost.

He's a southern gent; there's a lot about him that feels like a drawl. Click To Tweet

“Excitement” is not a word that should come to anyone’s mind about anything in Florida during the month of July. It’s just too damned hot. Everything unwinds slowly, with most voluntary activity taking place either very early in the morning or late at night. Life takes place in the dark and, generally speaking, it’s not a terrible time of year for my husband to travel to his annual retreat. Life gets very lazy here.

It’s odd that our dog, Alex, should work his way into this story — he doesn’t waste a lot of motion even when the weather is cool. A nearly-albino boxer, he’s deaf, an attribute that serves to enhance his extreme aptitude for lengthy naps. He’s a southern gent; there’s a lot about him that feels like a drawl. I love it.

Still, it was July. I didn’t think much of his frequent trips to the laundry room. The floor is usually a little cooler there.

As I walked in to start a load of wash, I heard a loud thump. Turning towards the sound, I was startled by a very odd motion. When I recognized the flipping creature as a snake, the scream I let out rivaled my Dad’s. It didn’t phase Alex a bit.

Alex’s deafness makes him a keen observer of his surroundings, and he is especially fascinated by snakes: this was not our first encounter. My best guess is that he frightened the thing enough that it sought refuge atop of my ironing board. My subsequent shriek scared it to safety behind the dryer. I grabbed the dog, shut the laundry room door, and started to pace. My hands were sweatier than the rest of me. Excitement. July. I was not going to be able to sleep with a snake in the house, but I had no idea how to get rid of it.

I was not going to be able to sleep with a snake in the house, but I had no idea how to get rid of it. Click To Tweet

When I took a break from hyperventilating, I remembered that one of my closest friends — the one who names every animal that has ever hopped, stepped, or slithered through her yard — was married to a former park ranger. I called. They came. I love my friends.

Of course, there was no sign of the snake. The pair went back home, and the full cycle repeated itself. This time, before leaving, my naturalist friend said, “Keep your phone in your hand. The next time you see the snake, keep your eyes on him while you call me.”

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the snake turned up again. I followed instructions. My stomach churned. Although they live within a couple of miles, I waited forever for rescue to arrive.

Armed with heavy gloves and a large, covered bucket, he cornered the thing. Sure enough, as he moved it into the bucket, the damned snake managed to bite him.

A bite from a black racer snake is far more annoying than dangerous. A little hot soapy water and a plastic bandage did the trick. With my sincere appreciation, the rescuer and his charge headed to another home in another neighborhood where his wife would gift it with a name. And, yes, as you have probably guessed: when my husband called home that evening, I was able to let him know what happened.

“Elvis has left the building.”

Jun 242019
 

As we close in on the 4th of July, I’m seeing more and more headlines and blog posts about “freedom.” It makes sense that folks are looking forward to the barbeques, parades, and fireworks that commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And I guess with the history lessons most of us received, that makes good sense. Oddly enough, that has me thinking about the bad rap social media often gets.

dissent leads to greater freedomsI recently had the privilege of facilitating a table discussion at a local “You Talk, I’ll Listen” event. The inaugural effort was deemed a success by roughly forty attendees and the biggest takeaway is that they’d like to expand the group and convene another community conversation. Another? That social media is the source of much of the nasty, narrow-minded communication we’re all faced with on a day-to-day basis. As a facilitator, it was not my job to express an opinion — that’s what a blog is for, right? So, what I want to say most of the time people are trashing social media is this: I suppose that’s true if one only chooses to follow “like-minded” individuals and if a portion of them feel OK about trashing people online.

I’ll admit that, from time to time, I’ve been one of those people — usually in response to a national-level elected official is not choosing to do his (or her) job. For example, I’m one of those people who believes that America is smart enough to do something about gun violence. Something other than the thoughts and prayers.

I'm one of those people who believes that America is smart enough to do something about gun violence. Click To Tweet

So what’s that got to do with freedom? Aside from being free to choose what we see on social media, we’re not only headed toward the 4th — we just passed Juneteenth. If you’re like me and thought that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation, you’d probably not know much about the anniversary of the day — two and a half years later — that the Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas with news of the war’s end and emancipation of enslaved African Americans. I learned about Juneteenth from Twitter.

So what's that got to do with freedom? I learned about Juneteenth from Twitter. Click To Tweet

bras on a clothesline -- a freedom women truly understandSo, sitting squarely mid-Pride and between those two other important commemorations, I decided to take a look around the interwebs to see what other significant steps toward freedom took place during June and July. The anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention is coming up, along with anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act, Title IX, and the Equal book, libraries and freedom of thoughtPay Act.

Freedom is front of mind for many right now. So, reclaiming my facilitator’s “hat,” I offer thoughts on freedom from ten others — all far wiser than I’ll ever be.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ― Thomas Jefferson

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ― Virginia Woolf Click To Tweet

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind. ― Virginia Woolf

Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility. ― Sigmund Freud

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ― Viktor Emil Frankl

My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent. ― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A right delayed is a right denied. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

I loved the feeling of freedom in running, the fresh air, the feeling that the only person I’m competing with is me. ― Wilma Rudolph

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves. ― Abraham Lincoln Click To Tweet

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. ― Audre Lorde

woman dancing with umbrella looks freeThe only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. ―Albert Camus

Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.  ― Abraham Lincoln

 

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