Thursday, October 26, 2017

Speech #I1, Carr Cabin, Local Gold

Umatilla, FL

[This is project #1 from Toastmasters, Speaking to Inform book.  The goals are: 1) Select new and useful information, 2) Organize for easy understanding, 3) Present it in a way to motivate the audience to learn.]


There's gold.  GOLD I tell you, in them thar hills.  No, not in the hills, but rather in your back yard.  But hold back the gold rush. I don't mean monetary gold.   I mean cultural gold and natural gold.  

Fellow toastmasters and honored guests:

Archie Carr was a zoologist, a conservationist and a writer.  Wikipedia said that Carr was a legend at the U of F and that students used to fight to get in on his classes.  He is honored by the Archie Carr National Wildlife refuge , and an Archie Carr sea shore in Costa Rica where he was famous for saving sea turtles.

As a writer, Carr was sort of the Henry David Thorueau of his day. He wrote about his family cabin in the scrub by Lake Nicotooon near Ocala National Forest.  So by analogy, Lake Nicotoon was the Walden Pond of Florida.

I learned this on a tour sponsored by the Florida Wildlife Festival in Umatilla last Saturday.  Let me show you the basic geography.   Ocala sits here.  Nearby Silver Springs lies on the western border of Ocala National Forest.  To the east is the Saint John's River.  To the north is Palatka.  To the south are Altoona and Umatilla.  Umatilla is my winter home, and Umatilla was Archie Carr's home.  The Carr cabin is on the southern border of the forest.

Carr's family donated the site to the forest service.  The citizens of Umatilla viewed the Carr family as their claim to fame.  Archie was the local boy who made good.  There was Archie himself. One of his sons is a naturalist.  Another is currently one of NASA's most famous scientists working on space probes like Cassini, Juno, and Galileo.  So the Umatillans banded together to accurately reconstruct and restore the Carr Family Cabin.  Today, it is open to the public.

 A forest ranger guided our tour and she was a fountain of knowledge.  I especially appreciated what she taught us about the ecology.

Florida scrub is a very unique endangered ecology endemic to Florida.  The plant life is dominated by scrub pine and scrub oak trees, not much taller than eye level. They are interspersed: pine oak pine oak. The ranger explained that this ecology depends on crowing wildfires occurring once every 30-60 years.  A crowning fire is one that reaches the tops of the tall trees and kills them. The reason those scrub trees are all the same height is that they are same age to within a week.

Then came the part that really blew me away.  Scrub pines burn readily, but scrub oaks are very fire resistant.  So, when the time comes the pines begin exude resin.  It gets on everything nearby. Those fire resistant oak trees, get completely coated with resin and that makes them explosively flammable.   In other words, the pine trees deliberately set up the right conditions for a crowning fire, then just wait for a spark.

But there's more.  After the fire, new shoots appear immediately.  But the new oaks are not grown from acorns.  Most of the oak tree lives under the sand, and after the fire it sends shoots upward.   So if you look at a stand of scrub hundreds of yards across, those are not individual oak trees, they are all shoots of a single living organism.

The ranger said that when the shoots are three years old, they produce more acorns than at any other time in their lives, and that the bounty of acorns is a favorite food for black bears and scrub Jays.  I saw bear prints in the sand.  The scrub jay is a rare bird.  Their call is heard almost every day in the scrub, but they are very difficult to see.

If you drive through the national forest, you may see ugly areas that have been clear cut.  If you are like me, you curse at the logging companies who rape the environment.  But the ranger said it is the forest service that does the clear cutting.  Clear cutting simulates the effects of a crowing fire.  They do that to provide habitat for those elusive scrub Jays.

So  If you are inclined to see this local history and local nature for yourself, I recommend contacting the local National Forest Service.  They can tell you how to get there, and if you're lucky they may even send a knowledgeable ranger to be your guide.

Thank you.
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Monday, October 09, 2017

Speech #E1: Oh No We're Gonna Die

Umatilla, Florida

[I am finished with the 10 speeches and have achieved the exalted rank of "Competent Communicator" within Toastmasters.  Next step is "Advanced Communicator Bronze" (followed by silver then gold.) with 10 more speeches.  I'll try to do the 10 before leaving for next summer.

This is project 1 from the Entertaining Speaker  series.  My goals are: 1) Entertain the audience be relating a personal experience. 2) Organize as entertaining speech for maximum impact.

Blog readers will be happy that my subject is cruising.]

Oh No, We're Gonna Die

Picture yourself in this situation. It's the middle of the night. You're out at sea 200 miles from land on a little sailboat. Your spouse is asleep, and you are all alone standing watch.

The weather is mild. The boat cuts through the waves at about 5 miles per hour. There is no moon, so it is too dark to even see the water ... except that the boat's wake stirs the water causing little creatures to glow in the dark. That leaves a streak of pale green light trailing behind us. The boat steers itself so you are free to stand your watch on the forward deck where you can walk around and have good visibility. Your primary duty is to watch out for ships that might run you over.

You stand up, spin around and look in all directions. There's nothing to see except the North Star high in the sky straight ahead. Since you're supposed to be heading north, that's good. You have radar and electronics to watch for ships, but there's nothing showing. It's hard to stay awake because you haven't slept much for 48 hours.

One more time you stand up and spin around to look out for ships. OMG What the hell is that! There a huge red light to the east. It's so big and so high in the sky that it must be a ship only 100 yards away. Oh no, we're going to die.
...
Oh wait. That's not a ship. It's the moon rising. Never mind.
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You may have heard the phrase, “hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror.” Well, its true. In twelve years, my wife Libby and I lived and sailed on our 32 foot boat for more than 60000 miles. That's nearly 3 times around the world. Our boat is sea worthy, so we were safe at all times. Nevertheless, we experienced moments of terror many times.
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OK, now we're back at sea again. Libby is on watch, while I'm asleep down below. It's the usual routine. The weather is warm and mild. Moonlight made the sea sparkle beautifully. Libby loves that. It makes her feel very alive. She's an excellent watch officer.

But this night was different. … Suddenly, a dim orange light appeared in the sky right in front of her. It wasn't the moon this time. Libby could see that a big black mass blocked her view of the stars. It was a freaking submarine. It surfaced right in front of us. But Libby didn't panic. She steered around it. She tried calling it on the radio, but she got no answer. There was no need to wake me up.

Later, I learned from a submariner friend that subs can hear motor boats with their sonar, but not sailboats.
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Normally, it's very quiet at sea. We sail, so there is no engine sound. The gentle slapping of waves against the hull is about the only sound. Of course, during storms it is violent and noisy, but we've experienced that only a few times, and those times were mistakes. Our preference is avoid bad weather and to be out at sea only when the weather is nice.

Libby has been startled by dolphins. They like to swim alongside us, but at night we can't see them. But every few seconds they come up to breath making a loud sound Whoosh-whoosh woosh-woosh. I too was startled by a dolphin. This young guy was frolicking beside the boat showing off doing somersaults. One time he misjudged and bam he ran into the side of the boat.

But I also have a confession to make. We were heading south, about 20 miles east of the Saint Johns River near Jacksonville. I was on watch, but the truth was that I was snoozing. Sleeping on watch is a capital offense, so I'm ashamed to admit it.

A man's voice woke me. “Sir, SIR, wake up SIR.” What the heck! How could there be a man's voice in the middle of the ocean. But as the fog of sleep cleared from my brain, I noticed a red blinking light. I turned around. There was a coast guard zodiac boat right beside me. A coast guardsman was saying, , “Sir. Were searching for a boat reported missing near here. Did you see anything.” Still stunned, I just shook my head no.
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The reality is that every one of us can tell stories about our own seconds of terror. But those seconds don't traumatize us or ruin our lives. On the contrary, they provide us with great stories to tell to grandchildren and to tell to fellow toastmasters.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Can't Stand It

Zebulon, NC

We can't stand it being up here instead of in Florida.  We need to volunteer to help friends and neighbors.   So we are departing today.   We travel slowly, so we won't arrive in FL until the weekend.

Meanwhile, our hearts go out to people in the Virgin Islands who are about to get slammed the second time.  OMG.

Update:  We aren't the only ones. My hear was warmed today by 4 posts on FB by people offering free equipment and labor to help others salvage their boats in Marathon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Irme Foils us Again

Zebulon, NC

We can't return to Florida yet because of Irma.  As plan B, we thought that we would return to The Blue Ridge Parkway for more camping.  But I just learned that the parkway is severely damaged.  Many sections remain closed.  Scratch Plan B.

We all hear about how bad hurricanes are.  One thing I never thought about was being on a mountain top when a hurricane passes over.

Plan C, I'm going to research the Smokey Mountain National Park.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Heart Breaking Images

Zebulon, NC

Regular readers of this blog, plus friends and family who visited us in Marathon know how much we love Boot Key Harbor.   Then you can understand how heart breaking it is to see these images after Hurricane Irma.  Deepest sympathy for those who's boats were there.  The only good news, no reports of any injuries or deaths.

We are very fortunate that neither we nor Tarwathie were in the keys on that day.

You can see every mooring here and how many boats remain.  It was reported to be full with more than 300 boats before the storm.  Click on it to zoom in.
The dinghy docks at the marina.  Familiar to our blog readers and visitors. Those motor boats probably came from houses on the other side of the harbor.


Where are the missing boats?  Some in the mangroves.
These missing boats wound up by the bridge.
Whiskey Creek, off Sisters Creek on Boot Key.  These boats went "into the mangroves" to survive.  They all appear to be OK.

Why did so many moorings fail?  A truism about hurricanes is that the biggest danger to boats is other boats.  As one boat breaks loose, it crashes into other boats, breaking them free.  It begins a chain reaction.   You can see in the first picture that the "A" row, closest to the south, and without other rows of boats upwind of them, survived best.  When we rode out hurricane Irene on Tarwathie, we anchored in a bay more than 1/4 mile away from any other boats.