31 October 2007

Happy Halloween!

It's been a very strange day here, and a strange few weeks. We're still getting lots of strandings, though now it's marine mammals and sea turtles -- I had one today at Perdido Key. I lost my keys in the sand, nearly got in an accident, got hit in the face with some high speed black flies (courtesy of added ATV forward motion), got chased by a brown pelican, and generally, had an eerie experience in places...

This is a sad photo -- I never put strandings on here, and that seems odd as I spend so much time on them lately. This turtle had no apparent injuries or anomalies -- likely, it was just a victim of the red tide. It's a respiratory irritant for them too. This loggerhead (Caretta caretta) was about the fifth turtle in ten days.

Yesterday, we had a live stranding of a snapping turtle on the north shore at Fort Pickens. His eye was injured, and he was in too salty a place to survive, but these are hardy critters, so we just moved it to a brackish marsh near the old fort. Our fingers were the major concern -- these turtles will snap one off if you place a hand too close to it's jaws!

A great blue heron on the north shore of Perdido today had nothing better to do than pose for the camera, so I got a few good pics. They do seem to pose professionally at times.

Otherwise, life isn't very Halloweeny today...

26 October 2007

A Full Moon Morning

I slept late today -- I didn't get up til 6! It's weird to say that... Once I did finally greet the chilly day, I regreted staying abed so long -- the stars and full moon in the crisp pre-dawn air were gorgeous. I really long for my cashmere collection though -- next month, when I'm back in Delaware, I know I'll wish I was still here... Strange how I can never fully appreciate the moment I'm in. I'll have to work on that.

24 October 2007

It's Raining Sunlight

It didn't rain today, though fall arrived overnight. Temperatures dropped thirty degrees, and the high was in the 50s. Anyone who saw me on the beach must have thought I was nuts in my sweatshirt, three raincoats and borrowed winter jacket. I don't do cold well... I can take a desert in the summertime, but anything below 80 really chills my bones. Even the sky looks cold.

The red tide is still apparent, but very much lessened. I could see and breathe on the beach after six hours, though I was a little numb from the cold. There have been no new dead fish today, and only one dead dolphin yesterday. That's bound to happen for a while still as the effects make their way up the food chain. It just breaks my heart every time I have to necropsy a dead marine mammal or sea turtle. My one consolation is knowing that the person assessing them, me, is someone who really cares about the sea and the health of the animals in it.

The birds were out in full force -- it was a great day to be back on the beach, as long as you're dressed for the face-numbing north wind. Even the sanderlings were huddled together for warmth. Any venturing out on their own for a little food were fluffed up and bent over like hunchbacks, bracing against the breeze. Taking field notes with unfeeling fingers was difficult -- it's a good thing no one reads my notebook but me!

It seems odd to have autumn without the leaves changing and falling to the ground. The palm fronds simply bow to the north wind, the birds huddle for warmth and the sand and wind whip along the bay, but that's all that announces the arrival of a new season. Fall doesn't last long here in the deep south, but it's a welcome change from the red tide weather of last week!

21 October 2007


The day dawned crisp and clear, fall in Florida. It's amazing how quickly I can leave the nightmare of this past week where it belongs -- in the past. Such a strange conjunction of events! It's left me rather tired, worn out and ready for a nap. I'm enjoying just being at home, watching the wind play in the trees, the birds flit about the feeders and butterflies fluttering through on their migration. Nothing major, just a little sun, some distance from the beach, and a good cup of tea. That's what Sundays are for, right? I'm new to the whole 'weekend' thing -- we don't usually get them; as field biologists, we work 24/7, so these two days are quite a welcome habit.

I'm searching for smiles today -- a need to pick myself up from the deluge of this week. Even these straggly weeds in the yard add some sunshine to my day. How is it that I can appreciate the imperfections in nature and in others, but not in myself?

20 October 2007

No New Dead Fish!!!

How sad is that for a blog title? It's the highlight of my week though -- it was sunny and gorgeous in west Florida, and there were no new red tide casualties. Yes, I had to necropsy the Fort Pickens dolphin, but otherwise, life was good! It almost feels like fall, or what passes for fall in the sunshine state.

My writing has been so morbid lately that I feel kind of guilty. It was such a strange week. To top it off, yesterday we lost the Fort Pickens generator to a lightning strike and the computers and phones are still not functional at HQ and the fire cache. The Park has returned to earlier days without internet or telephone. It's been rather nice! Email on Tuesday might be scary though...

19 October 2007

Dead Dolphin and an Eerie Encounter

Today was another day in paradise...

After 18 inches of rain in 30 hours, I was optimistic today that the red tide may be over. Under cover of the continuing moring showers, I headed to Fort Pickens. It was quite a sight with rain water everywhere! Fresh water ponds had formed in the dunes overnight and new rivers were draining them back into the Gulf. Driving the ATV was a lot of fun as I tried to find ways around the still rushing water. The obstacle course was made more challenging because I also didn't want to hit any of the dead fish, and they were everywhere...

Once I reached the Ranger Station, I spotted something large and very white in a high tide pool. Curious, I walked up to take a look. A dolphin had washed ashore sometime over the last five days since I'd been there. Watching the playful animals in the surf is one of my favorite things about life on the beach. After a call to my boss, I moved on to check the rest of the beach -- we'd deal with the stranding in a few hours.

I had to turn around before assessing the rest of the beach as some of the new drainage 'rivers' were impassable on my new ATV. I didn't want to go for an unplanned swim in the still toxic Gulf of Mexico!

When I reached the parking at the gate, the Santa Rosa Island Authority truck had just arrived. Clad in bright yellow slickers, the small group trundled down the beach, gathering the dead fish. I stopped to ask if they had any dead turtles or marine mammals. As a National Park biologist, I would assist the city as well. They hadn't seen any, but the strangest thing happened. One of them, a gentleman I do not know, took hold of my hand. He looked deep into my eyes, his mouth hidden behind the city-issued mask, and asked my name, then said he wanted to speak with me later. I never met him again today. It sent shivers down my spine -- I don't know what was going on!

It was still several hours til my boss was due to meet me, so I drove over to the Santa Rosa area, through some rather flooded streets:

Once there, I almost enjoyed the light rain as it washed the red tide out of my eyes, and I rode my ATV down to the Navarre end of the park. I thought I'd made it through without finding anything else too upsetting, but about 200 yards from the end of the seven mile stretch, there was another dead dolphin. This was a spotted dolphin, rocking back and forth in the sea. Tears mingled with the rain on my cheeks as I called my boss to tell him we had another stranding.

As I was finally returning to the spotted dolphin to meet Mark with all the gear necessary for a field necropsy, he called with more bad news. An adult female Loggerhead turtle had washed ashore, dead, in the Perdido Key area of the park.

In the early afternoon, the sun finally came out to brighten the day. Unfortunately, the absence of rain and presence of the south wind made the red tide almost intolerable. Mark chased me off the beach quickly, which was good as I was shaking and throwing up by the time I got my ATV back to the truck. Four days of red tide exposure, and all of those dead animals were quite enough!

I know it's mother nature at work, but still, I felt knocked out at the end of the day. Tomorrow I still have to necropsy the dolphin at Fort Pickens. Can't imagine why I feel so depressed :(

18 October 2007

Tornadoes and Common Sense

I set a new mark of dedication, or insanity, at the park today. In the end, the insanity tag will win...

I arrived at Perdido Key to assess the extent of the red tide fish kill at about 7:30 this morning. After fueling the ATV, I headed to the south shore to count live birds and dead fish. Within 5 minutes, I couldn't see again because of the brevetoxin still in the air. Ten minutes later, my boots were full of water and my three (yes, 3) raincoats were soaked through. All I needed was a bottle of shampoo to recreate my morning shower ritual.

Since I already gave up once this week, I couldn't give up again: I continued down the seven mile stretch. On Perdido Key, that means I left the road and any shelter behind as I traveled down the rather flat seashore. The rain came sporadically, at times drenching. Once or twice, the sun peeked out from a cloud; I seized the opportunity to turn the ATV north, away from the wind and toxic gulf, to scribble some field notes. By the time I reached the east end of the island, I had counted over 23,000 dead fish. These counts, from yesterday and today, are severely limited by my inability to see clearly with all the salt, sand and brevetoxin in the air -- I don't ride slowly or look closely enough to count anything under about 4 inches. I just can't tolerate the red tide. As it is, I'm pushing my body to unacceptable extremes for the third day in a row.

After surveying the eastern point around the ruins near Fort MacRae, I turned to assess the north shore. A gray-black cloud hovered between me and the Perdido bridge, several miles to the west; the western fringe of the cloud seemed to start rotating slowly in the sky. I didn't see a tell-tale greenish tinge so I didn't worry. In retrospect, I think that twisting fringe was the start of the tornado.

The north shore of Perdido Key is one of my favorite places in the park -- isolated, natural, in places, reclaimed by salt marsh, tide and the elements. There are still boats in the marsh from Hurricane Ivan, three years ago. It's a place I go to relax. I leisurely headed up the north shore, stopping at Spanish Cove to talk to some fishermen, suggesting they not consume the contaminated fish they were catching. I watched some plovers playing in the pools created by the receding tide and intermittent rain. When a tourist stopped me to chat about what was killing the fish, I firmly recommended he postpone his plan for a morning swim in the bay. While the red tide was still a factor, it was a relief to be away from the exacerbating effects of the rough surf and south wind on the opposite shore.

Around 10 AM, the skies grew dark as night, and the rain came down with a vengeance. I had hoped for a better end to my run, but at least the rain kept the red tide from being as bothersome. As lightning flashed and thunder growled, I decided to do a very cursory survey, only checking for stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. The birds would have to wait for a better day.

I made it back to the buildings thirty minutes later. My colleague, Kevin, opened the garage door as he heard my ATV approach and laughed as he watched the giant puddle grow under my feet in the dry garage. The rain was menacing. After chatting with Kev, I ran to my government truck to turn on the heater full blast and try to dry a little. I stripped to my uniform and basked in the warmth, clicked on NPR and listened to that annoying blare for the 'test of the emergency broadcast system', This time, it wasn't a test - a tornado had touched down about three miles from me while I was on the beach.

I waited in the truck 'til the tornado warning was lifted. As I sat with my thoughts, it struck me that I had taken a huge risk. I knew there were tornado warnings west of us that morning, but I shrugged it off in my need to just get things done. I often do that -- take unnecessary risks. I don't have dependents, a husband, or anyone that would notice if I didn't come back from this six month stint at Gulf Islands. Maybe that gives me an element of freedom, maybe it's a ticket to the Darwin Files.

I've lived this lifestyle for a decade or so, going where I want to go, taking risks, fully living my life. I'll fly to a job in Barbados or Thailand, travel in a war-torn nation, hit the beach not knowing about a tornado three miles away. No one really knows that I do these things, or thinks much of it if I tell them, so I never mention it and soldier on. I imagine I'll have to change this behavior if I do ever find a guy who wants to marry me, but until then, I'll still be a bit of a cowboy in Manolo's -- I'll push the envelope, trying to understand the sea and save it from the destructive humans that line it's shores.

After the tornado warning lifted, I drove through an eerily quiet Pensacola. Police cruisers sat at the sides of the road, lights on with no sirens. Rooster tails sprayed over the hood of my truck as I plowed through flash floods. Traffic was non-existent for a Thursday lunch hour in a Navy town. Street lights were either black or blinking red. The railroad trestle gate was down, with no train in sight or even scheduled. I drove around the gates and crossed the tracks -- how's that for nuts? Driving further, I saw a church in ruins, homes with no roofs, a marina in disarray, stunned people. I said prayers in rapid succession, praying for these people, and those trying to help them.

As I saw all of this, I wondered what my boss would say when I returned to the office. I deserved a reprimand. I know I took a chance too many today. I was in the worst possible place when the weather turned to hell. Add the red tide for good measure, and I was more than a fool. I could easily have been badly injured or killed, and put someone else at risk as they came to find me. Sometimes, I am too focused on the goal without regard for personal safety.

I don't think of myself as stupid or dedicated or brave, or out-of-the-ordinary. I'm just a girl, trying to save the sea. Nothing gets in my way -- even common sense. Guess I never had too much of that to begin with.

My boss didn't scold me, but as I walked in, he laughed at my sodden, weary appearahce. His humor echoed through his words: "You sure can pick 'em"

17 October 2007

A Poisoned Gulf

My day started out really well -- I headed back to Santa Rosa on a cloudy morning with no rain. The wind was still from the south east, but I headed to the north shore with my back to the wind and had a great time counting birds. There were tons on the north shore as they hid from the stiff breeze, dinoflagellate outbreak and dead fish smell. I felt like a kid in a candy store after the stormy mess of yesterday. I needed the pick me up.

Then, my boss, Mark, called. After I finished the north shore, he wanted me to head to the south shore, take pictures of at least a dozen species of dead fish and try to get a good estimate of the fish kill on this seven mile section of beach. I usually love to take pictures when I'm at work, so I was happy to oblige -- I just didn't know it was going to be such a challenge.

There were some interesting fish out there... I've only seen these when diving:

There were tons of eels, remoras, stingrays, skates, guitarfish, redfish, drum, sergeant majors, lookdowns, pompano, catfish, ad infinitum, strewn from the sea to the high tide line. At first, I stopped to take photos of each new species, but that grew tiresome. A mile and a half into my survey, I had 2,000 dead fish, a runny nose and eyes that were so blurry and toxin-burnt I could hardly see. I stopped every minute or two to clear my eyes. I could barely see to drive, let alone count dead fish. I had to pry my eyes open, one at a time. I rode with one hand steering and revving the ATV, the other shielding my open eye, alternating between them. This was quite a challenge! After two miles, I thought I was going to have to stop --- I kept envisioning the road crew finding my dead body washed in the morning tide. I considered giving up two days in a row.

As I was about to call it quits and head back to the air-conditioned fire cache with my less insane colleagues, I completely lost the ability to see, even with open eyes. I was praying as I drove, hoping I could at least find the road as I didn't want to hit the Gulf of Mexico. The clear green water seemed as poisonous as anti-freeze today. As I was contemplating all of this, I noticed a steep tilt on my brand new ATV -- my left half was two feet lower than my right. In my brevetoxin blindness, I had driven off an erosion bluff from the night before. I think I actually cursed! The new Honda Rancher only had 14 hours drivetime, and I imagined Mark would kill me. Thankfully, the ATV was fine and I got a good shot of adrenaline, in addition to some emergency attention from my cadre of guardian angels -- I have dozens as I need them so often!

The adrenaline rush got me through the rest of the beach, though I learned to take breaks every mile or so to drive to the north shore, breathe a little and rinse my seething eyes with bottled water. It was a tortuous day, but I got the job done. Imagine how ticked I was when I got back to the office and they were complaining because they had a hard time walking through the humid forest! No sympathy from me on that one -- no one even asked how I was after my second day immersed in dinoflagellate sea spray and brevetoxin. Cough, cough, wheeze, wheeze. Guess I know who my friends aren't...

I'm sure I under counted tremendously due to the difficulty I had with my vision in the toxic air, but I think my estimate is at least in the right ball park -- my final tally was 22,470 dead fish.

Tomorrow is another day -- I get to count Perdido Key!

16 October 2007

Echoes of Dreams or Past Lives?

When gathering trash from the tide lines, it echoes a distant memory...

As a child, I used to get annoyed when taking walks on the beach with my grandmother. She was a dear woman, but she was concientious to a fault. She could leave no butt, cup, can, or chip bag on the beach if she passed within sight of it. That meant we'd walk from the water to the dunes to the water, in an endless zigzag, gathering all the flotsam and jetsam. As an impatient child and a impudent teen, I just wanted to get where we were going -- I admired her ethic, but didn't get why she couldn't just take a vacation!

I had a recurring dream when I was a child. In my dream, I was at the beach. The sea was very rough, and waves were crashing against a set of very steep, stone steps. The steps were almost too high for me to climb and stretched as far into the distance along the coast as I could see, though there were only a few dozen leading to the wild waves. In the waves, toys, furniture, people, the objects of everyday life, bobbed and sank. For some reason, it was my job to save everything. I maniacally swam into the sea, tossing everything a could back up the steps, back to dry ground. And now, in my adult life, I clean this refuse from the beach, as my grandmother before me.

In another frequent and terrifying dream, the sea was contained in a wood-sided house on a vast grass prarie. My sister was in the house, upstairs, watching helplessly as the water threatened to engulf and drown her. Entering the house was like walking into a coral reef -- the sight was beautiful, but my lungs are not adapted for water breathing. As the water rose higher and higher in the house, I panicked, trying desperately to find my sister before she drowned -- not a happy night's rest!

I have to wonder - what are these dreams? My friend tells me I died in Atlantis when I was hit by something when I was underwater. She tells me I have a strong connection to the sea that grows throughout the ages, that I am fulfilling my destiny with my current work and the projects that are growing from it. She says to soldier on. I'm not sure what she means, or what to believe, but I do know I have a connection to the sea. Is it metaphysical, or just intellectual? We all rely on the sea for 70% of our oxygen (from plankton), for food, for rain, for global weather patterns and the benefits of ocean currents, for so much. A healthy sea is vital for human survival, but my friend thinks there's more to it. I guess time will tell...

Red Tides and Stinging Sand

Since my first days as a sea turtle biologist on Little Cumberland Island, I've always prided myself on my ability to meet my goals, no matter what obstacles were in the way. On my first night on the nesting beach long ago, the full moon tides were so high that Nicky, Doug, Brad and I were stuck among the dead trees on the north point of the island. If we couldn't find a way through the trees, we would have to backtrack down four miles of beach, across the island and back up the west beach to finish our patrol.

My friend Nicky and I decided we were creative, intelligent women who could find a way around our dilemma. Since we couldn't drive our ATVs through the stout live oak and pine trees and we couldn't leave the ATVs to be carried away by the still rising tide, we decided to carry them over the scramble of trunks and branches. For those of you who don't know me, I'm 5 foot three inches and a hundred pounds on a heavy day, so this was not a minor task. But, I would not be defeated. As the men in our group looked at us and laughed, our summer motto was conceived: 'No Wimpy Women'.

Ever since, I haven't allowed anything to stand in my way when it comes to sea turtles. Cat 5 hurricanes don't really scare me, though clean up is a mess. I can work with a fever, or a dislocated shoulder or anything else life throws at me. This is why today was so upsetting.

Today, I left the beach. With my stubborn streak and refusal to admit defeat, I threw in the towel. I rode down Santa Rosa beach from Pensacola Beach to the Navarre gate, a total of about ten miles. The rain pierced my skin while the sand-laden wind polished my face with it's abrasive attack. Even the red tide, caused by an overload of the brevetoxin-producing dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, was no match for me. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fish lay dead along the shore line, just like these:

The brevetoxin, if ingested, can result in Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. Blowing into my face on the southeast wind as it did, it just made my eyes red, my lips and tongue burn as if I had eaten habaneros, and made me start coughing... I was glad it was raining enough to hide my runny nose. It still didn't whip me. I was on the lookout for my sea turtles and shorebirds.

Then I went to survey the north shore. Every time I turned around, I headed directly into 20 mile an hour winds, made stronger by the speed of my ATV. Normally, that's not such an issue, but when the winds are armed with coarse sand, dinoflagellates and huge raindrops, it's as if someone is sandpapering your eyes while blowing pepper spray up your nose and stabbing you with small nails. It's impossible to see, to breathe, and certainly to drive. I was sure I was going to hit one of the storm berms or one of the random heaps of asphalt still scattered about after Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. I gave up, went to the office and spent the day proofing data. Not much fun, but a necessary task. When I left the office five hours later, my hair, boots and clothes were still wet, and deeply embedded with sand, even though I had worn two rain coats and rain pants... It was not a pretty day on the beach!

Still, I can't believe I gave up!

13 October 2007

Boats and Turtles Don't Mix...

I had to necropsy a dead sea turtle today. Don't worry -- I won't share the pictures!I really don't like necropsies. A sub-adult Kemp's Ridley washed up on Perdido Key after being hit by a boat. It's so sad to see that as a turtle at this stage has already outgrown most predators and had a very good chance of reaching maturity. We need adult turtles so we can have more nests and save these species from extinction. I buried it on the beach with a small crowd watching. Unfortunately, they had never seen a live turtle, so this was their first introduction.

I spent the rest of the day counting shorebirds on the north and south shores of Perdido -- it's something we do every ten days on the north shore and sixty times a year on the south shore. It's actually a lot of fun. There are a handful of little pocket beaches amidst the salt marshes on the north shore -- no one ever goes there. There were flocks of monarchs playing in the breeze, flitting from sea oats to sea ox-eye daisy, coloring the day. I love the way the sun creates shadows in their wings.

Heading back west, I surveyed the south shore, and stopped to pick up trash. A couple saw me struggling with a huge length of wire and actually stopped to help. They restored my faith in people -- not everyone is just throwing their beer cans in the sea :) After my week at Fort Pickens, I really needed that!

I think this picture sums up how I was feeling about trash yesterday. This crab was hanging out on the south shore, just getting a little sun on a chilly Saturday morning...

12 October 2007

Mountains of Sand and Trash

When you have a place this beautiful to play -- miles of untouched beach -- how can you treat it with complete disregard? If I had these pristine beaches near my home, I know I would cherish them... I am always surprised by the way people behave when they no there is little chance they'll be caught.

We have long sections of the beach at Fort Pickens that have sandfencing to help rebuild the dunes after Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina. The fence is also meant to be a deterrent to visitors accessing the beach over new dunes. You would think this would work. While the fence does a great job catching sand and artificially recreating dunes from windblown sand, it doesn't keep people out. They just walk right over the fence! As a result, we had lots of signs printed and I spent the day posting these:

After that, I had time to do a little field work, assessing the shorebird population on the beach today. The sea turtles and shorebirds are finished nesting and hatching, so we have a lot more time for other pursuits. I had a mule with me, so I picked up a lot of trash too. By the end of the day, I we as totally depressed. I picked up a full load of trash just a few days ago, from the tides and visitors who don't use trash cans. I filled the mule again today, and I didn't even make a dent in the debris load. It would take a solid week to clean up the beach, then at least a day a week to maintain it. With staff as stretched as it is and the focus on getting the buildings reopened three years post-Ivan, there's no one to do this. If people just picked up their own trash, and maybe one or two extra pieces, this wouldn't be an issue. Finding so much trash makes me sound cranky, but I'm really not. It was nice to see I'd accomplished something at the end of the day. Knowing that I made this section of the park a more beautiful place for the animals and people that use it is a good feeling. I just wish it was easier! Check out what I picked up in less than an hour:

When I was a child, my grandparents used to take us to Crescent Beach, South Carolina. I loved playing on the wide beach at low tide, and often took walks with my grandmother. As a young child and teen, she would frustrate me with her slow pace. Grandmom insisted on walking from the sea to the dunes, picking up every bit of trash she could see, and carting it off the beach. In my impatience, all I wanted to do was play, but the lesson took hold. As I move up and down the beach now, like a shorebird bobbing for plastic food, I honor my grandmother and her lessons in stewardship and civic responsibility. Thank you, Grandmom, for being a positive role model. Wherever you are, your spirit and your legacy live on in your grandchildren.

Gopher Tortoise Hunting

Jennifer, Monica and I spent most of today hunting for gopher tortoise burrows. It's alot of tramping around in about 1400 acres of forests with scrubby sand and live oak, saw tooth palmetto and a variety of other brush looking for holes in the ground with wide aprons of sandy soil. It's even worse than looking for a needle in a haystack! It was a beautiful fall day here, though, so it was nice to be in the woods. Temperatures are only rising to the mid-80s most days, and a north breeze is keeping things cool, even in the woods. The beach in the morning is positively chilly, at least for me!

10 October 2007

Sun, Moon and Stars

In the light of recent events, I've been thinking a lot about who we are to each other, and how we see the world around us. Over the last few days, a policeman violently killed a group of young people at a party. Today, a 14 year old student shot five classmates and teachers in Ohio. It seems many among us now believe guns are a better alternative than words. How have we let this happen? Do we not notice when someone near us is in so much pain they would see shooting as a viable option? Have we become so self-involved, and blind to those around us? Are we bound by fear, too timid to try to help another? Why is this world spinning so out of control? Why isn't anyone working to fix this, instead of butting our heads into distant civil wars?

Every morning, I arrive at work an hour early. Nuts, I know, but that's another post. I like to be there, all alone, to stand in the open and look at the sky and park around me. Sometimes, the full moon is so bright that I can unlock all the gates by its light -- I think I may even be able to read if I wanted to strain my eyes a bit. With the current new moon, the abundant stars shine more brightly than normal. I walk through the woods to the office under a blanket of black velvet, pierced with starlight, and I stop to say thankyou. I try to pause, to truly see the world around me. I consider my role here and how I can improve myself enough to be worthy of all that has been given me, to be worthy of the very earth that surrounds and supports me. That, of course, isn't possible, but I can always strive to improve -- again, that's another post ;)

It makes me feel small to stand under the stars, thinking about all the energy and commotion in deep space. I know that my life, my issues, my worries are insignificant, and I try to think about the deeper meaning of life. In this life, all I can hope to be is a light of love and peace for those around me; a light I choose to reflect like the moon.

The stars shine from the heat of their own fire, the fusion of elements deep within their cores. Over great time spans, very large stars super nova, burn out and become black holes, consuming everything in the stellar neighborhood.

Our moon shines as well, but with reflected light from Solaris. The sun, which defines our days also lights our darkest nights. A medium-sized star, it will never supernova, though it may become a red giant, then a dim white dwarf. The less instense rays of this start bounce off our satellite moon and guide us through the night.

How much better to reflect the light of others than to be consumed with fire from within.

What does that mean in your life?

Harassing Plovers and Other Fun

I finally remembered to take a picture of the road, or 'corridor' as it's more properly called. I finished marking the boundaries to keep vehicles out of the new wetlands and then I moved to the west end of the Fort Pickens area to clean. People are such slobs at the beach! I got less than a mile of the beach cleaned and ended up with a full truck load, after putting much of it in the recycling bin and trash bins in the parking lot... There were toothbrushes, beer cans, gatorade jugs, oil containers, sun glasses, masks and snorkels, a new bottle of ranch dressing (in the strong Florida sun -- yuck!), a full bottle of Thai hotsauce, lots of beach toys, a dozen sneakers, the prop to a small boat, a nose cone (to a plane?) and anything and everything else you can possibly imagine. At least it was a good workout, and the beach looks a little better.

There was a large group of Snowy and Wilson's Plovers near Battery 234. I worry that I harassed them too much as I slowly moved between the surf and the dunes, bobbing up and down as I gathered random bits of plastic. They kept moving, a few feet at time, but they were letting me get really close. I finally went back to the mule for my camera and got a couple of nice shots -- I really wanted one with a snowy looking straight at me, but they didn't oblige. If only they understood English!

09 October 2007

Explosions of Color

It's back to work today after a nice weekend away. I've never really had weekends, so it's a change for me -- it's like a mini-vacation every seven days! I never know quite what to do, so I find more work though I do try to stay away from the office. Simply doing something different, like working on my book, provides a great mental break and leaves me refreshed for a new week in the field.

I spent most of the day repairing the guideposts on what passes for a road at Fort Pickens. After Hurricane Ivan, the asphalt road was replaced, and washed away again by Hurricane Dennis. Now, there are two sections that still breach with every full moon high tide, and miles that are underwater if something tropical swings within 1000 miles. The sandy corridor is impassable, even to 4WD if it's really windy, so we're the only ones with access to the park via our ATVs just after a storm. I'll try to post a picture of the road next time I'm at Fort Pickens -- I totally spaced on that today! The picture above is road on high ground that wasn't destroyed.

There are two significant gaps along our seven miles of asphalt in this section of the park. The breaks have been good for the wildlife, and the severely decreased traffic has allowed for a lot of shorebird nesting and feeding. The new wetlands are full of migrating shorebirds -- semi-palmated and piping plovers, several species of herons and egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, black terns, sandwich terns, sandpipers and peeps galore. It's a circus out there; this week, the migrating monarchs are joining in the fray.

It's great to see the animals back in the park, but the land itself is still in disarray, three years post-Ivan. Sometimes, there's an unexpected jolt of color that lifts the sombre scene. I love finding flowers like these growing in the midst of all the rubble. After a day spent staring at dusty grasses, burnt gold sea oats and grey, salt-killed trees, this impudent burst of sunlight tickles me to no end!

Here's another unexpected splash of color... Normally, I try to avoid these! They are truly graceful 'swimmers' for gelatinous water bags. They wash up with the tides from time to time and leave jelly flowers in the sand.

It's amazing how beautiful it can be out here if I just slow down and look, without being driven with an insatiable urge to get to the next task. Sometimes, I really do have to stop to smell the roses. If I don't, I'll miss the world around me and I won't know or care enough to protect the resources we all share.

08 October 2007

Writing Recommendations

How do you write a professional recommendation for a former employee who failed to make the grade? A nice young man I used to work with was my direct report. I had no issues with him, but my boss did. His attitude was horrible, he was even moodier than I am (and he doesn't have PMS!) and often dragged the rest of the division into his difficulties. He's the only one I ever had to take to HR. I left the company almost a year ago, he left this summer and wants a rec from me. How do I give him an honest review without hurting his chances?

It's supposed to be my day off, so why am I doing this?

06 October 2007

Fire Department, Navy or Army -- Who deals with this?

I ruined someone's day today... I was out on Santa Rosa, assessing the green sea turtle nest that hatched a few days ago and attempting a Piping Plover survey in the 20 mph winds (I don't recommend it...) The nest was interesting -- there was a perfectly formed, full grown albino hatchling. I couldn't tell why he/she didn't emerge, but that's the way it goes sometimes. When I got to Opal Beach, three miles west of the nest, a park visitor waved me over. Just seeing someone is unusual, so usually I avoid people -- who would walk four miles from the gate in the soft sand on a windy, gray day?

The park is usually pretty deserted. Before Hurricane Ivan hit, it was one of the top 10 parks in the US. For some reason, reopening it has not been a priority. We were near the Opal Beach pavilions, which stand in disarray, with caved in walls, tar paper rooves flapping the the breeze and shattered concrete block platforms. The area was named for the hurricane that flattened that section of the park in the 90's, and stands flattened again today... This visitor, one of only 4 I saw on the seven mile stretch, had found rusty, unexploded ordinance of some sort very close to the pavilions. There was scattered debris from others that had exploded in the area. With all the military presence in and around Pensacola, it's not surprising, but it wouldn't be a good thing for the public to find next year when this section of the park is re-opened! Law enforcement wasn't too happy with our find, but they headed out to the stormy beach to take care of it anyway...

On a happier note, I found flowers growing in the dead trees on the eastern edge of the park -- it's starting to recover! There's something about the color yellow -- like buttery sunlight sifting through the broken trees, that restores the soul. It made my day!

09 Oct Update -- I found out the bomblet is called a Mark 23 and does have live ammunition in it. It's a WWII era training device used in the Pensacola area. The bombs also have material that creates a small smoke plume on impact so the pilots can see where the bomb lands. We'll have to evacuate the beach if we find another so that EOD and the Army can remove them. Sounds like a job to do now, before the road re-opens.

International Coastal Clean-Up!

The 2008 Coastal Clean-Up on Santa Rosa Island was a great success, but we can work together to make everyday a Coastal Clean-up Day... Help us keep our beaches beautiful!

For details on the 2009 coastal clean-up efforts in Pensacola or in your area, or other ways you can help, click here.

Hello World!

Hello World!
Which way to the sea?