Florida manatees are in trouble and it’s troubling. Today, wildlife conservationists put their current census at around 6500 individuals–up from a few hundred in the 1970’s–
and have reclassified these docile creatures as “threatened.” However, the tide may be returning to “endangered,” given the increasing number of manatees at risk from boat strikes (averaging 100 every year), and the consensus that manatees are dying in unexpected numbers this year from extreme weather. Simply put, they are starving to death.
There’s a chill in the air, and the West Indian manatees of northern Florida have been scrambling to find warmer waters during winter months, where they usually huddle in large numbers, which assists in the yearly count.
Many coastal manatees migrate to Manatee Lagoon…
to bask in the warm-water discharges of FPL’s Next Generation Clean Energy Center at West Palm Beach,
while hundreds flee to Blue Springs State Park, in Orange City, Florida, where they find safe haven at a wellspring releasing 72° water year-round.
Others migrate to Silver Springs State Park,
where clear, calm, and temperate waters provide an abundance of sea grass for grazing.
But that’s not the case in many other places where manatees congregate. In recent years, massive toxic algae blooms accelerated by increased extreme weather have eliminated several hundred “sea cows” every year.
The Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic side of the state accounts for the majority of manatee losses.
According to Indian River Lagoon guide Billy Rotne:
The raw truth of the matter is due to negligence of our storm water. We’ve had continual algal blooms over the past 10 years, which blocks out seagrass and kills it…so the manatees are starving to death.
And Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club further connects the dots:
I believe that seagrass loss is making manatees travel farther to get food, often going into man-made canals where they are more exposed to boat traffic.
Manatees have no natural predators. Sharks, whales and alligators usually swim in different waters and pose no threat to them.
Only humans have the capacity to put manatees at risk, with at least 432 having already perished in the first two months of 2021, accounting for 5 times the number of deaths in recent years.
Even more disturbing, a boat charter captain trolling the Homosassa River in the western part of Florida observed a manatee with “TRUMP” etched along its back.
Perhaps we need to do a better job of protecting them, if they are going to survive our abuses.
Ever since Ron DeSantis, Trump’s toady and Florida’s Republican governor decided to ignore CDC guidelines for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s been a confusing patchwork of inefficiency for Florida’s 67 counties. Of course, first-responders, front-line healthcare workers and long-term facility residents were early targets. However, rather than vaccinate the area’s essential workers–in an effort to stem the tide of infection–DeSantis determined that Phase 1 inoculations should also be delivered to a more vulnerable and deserving population of seniors 65 and older. Rightfully, critics have accused DeSantis of politicizing the vaccine priority as a bow to those who supported his election 2 years ago.
This week, county health department officials throughout Florida received nearly 94,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, with 3,000 doses slated for St. Johns, my home county. Leah and I have been actively following the announcements through state and local websites, and wondered how this would trickle down to us. We were determined to bob and weave through the bureaucracy for a chance that whatever news we learned would lead us in a useful direction.
Yesterday, we latched onto a hotline phone number that promised to connect us to a human who’d be scheduling appointments, but no matter when we called, the line was either busy, never connected, or went to voice mail. An after-hour answering service eventually took our information, but failed to return our call.
“Hurry up!” Leah shouted, running into the bedroom. The weight of 365 days of 2020 had worn me out, and I was comfortably lounging in bed. I glanced at the night table clock. It was 8:30am.
“Let’s go!” she commanded. “The Health Department is giving out the vaccine, and cars are already lining up across the street.” Leah had been on her morning walk, when she received a call from a neighbor–who on a whim, woke early, and was now first in line since 8am.
By 8:45am, I was behind the wheel, and behind a long string of sedans and SUVs, waiting to turn the corner from US-1 onto San Sebastian View, approaching the St. John’s County Administration building.
Leah and I slowly crept forward for the next hour until we turned the corner. We were making progress.
Eventually, we arrived at the first checkpoint…
where a healthcare worker offered us a sanitized clipboard with a validation form listing cautionary medical conditions, and alerting us to potential medical risks and complications for this unapproved, albeit emergency-authorized vaccine. We were instructed to tell our vaccination provider about:
a lapsed fever
a bleeding disorder
blood thinner usage
a current or planned pregnancy
any breastfeeding activity
or if we have received any other COVID-19 vaccine.
We inched closer to the next checkpoint…
where Private Johnson, 1st Class of the U.S. Army entertained us while we waited further still. I had nothing but questions for him.
“How many shots have been given out so far, today?” I asked.
“I heard someone say 58 seniors over the past 2 hours, since opening at 9am,” he informed.
“So what happened to ‘appointments only’?” I asked.
“I really can’t answer that.” he asserted.
“But how did everyone even know about this vaccination site?” I queried.
“Beats me! Social media, most likely.” he posited. “All I know is that after 100,000 inquiries yesterday, the phones crashed, and people started showing up.”
“You mean, the Health Department was giving shots here yesterday, and there was no promotion or notification?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. So much for organization.
Our conversation was cut short when I was directed to move closer to the RN station. After two hours, Leah and I relaxed our arms, and we finally received our experimental pokes.
We were directed to a 15-minute waiting zone where EMT would monitor us for:
swelling of face or throat
a rapid heartbeat
a nasty rash all over our body
While waiting, I couldn’t help but ponder the many conspiracies spewed by Alex Jones and QAnon advocates surrounding the vaccine: No, I don’t believe that Bill Gates implanted a 5G-enabled microchip to surveil me; I don’t believe I was injected with Satan’s blood. I don’t believe my DNA was altered to turn me into a cannibal or a pedophile; and I don’t believe my immune system has now been compromised, leaving me open to greater infection.
Thankfully, after 15 minutes, Leah and I remained symptom-free.
The entire process took 2 1/2 hours, door to door. At home, I pealed the Band-aid off my left upper arm–not even a speck of blood showing.
Four weeks from now, we’ll repeat the process, as we anticipate the second dose. Perhaps by then, the roll-out will be more predictable.
But more importantly, new leadership will be moving our nation forward in a different direction, and there will be much less to fear besides COVID-19.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison–the two men are inextricably linked in so many ways that it defies kismet. Both were iconic inventors and visionaries with a twist of genius; both were titans of industry; they were best friends; they were neighbors; they were presidents of each other’s mutual admiration society; and they were both anti-Semitic.
On October 21, 1929–two days before the stock market crash–invitees arrived at Greenfield Village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the electric light, and Ford’s dedication of Greenfield Village to Edison.
The event was a who’s who of dignitaries and celebrities, with the likes of Will Rogers, Marie Curie, Charles Schwab, Adolph Ochs, Walter Chrysler, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J.P. Morgan, George Eastman and Orville Wright, etc.
All gathered inside Edison’s reconstructed Menlo Park laboratory…
to witness the symbolic relighting of an incandescent lamp made famous a half century earlier, and credited with changing the world.
Later, Ford ordered the armchair where Edison sat during the ceremony to be nailed in place for all time, and never to be sat in again.
It remains in the exact same place, today.
Greenfield Village was dedicated to Edison that evening as the Edison Institute of Technology. Henry Ford had prepared all year for this public relations bonanza by bringing Menlo Park, NJ to Dearborn, MI.
Ford incorporated Edison’s machine shop…
and years later, he built a facsimile of Edison’s first power plant.
Although Ford was 16 years Edison’s junior, and Edison had been Ford’s employer for a time, they became bossom buddies by the time World War I erupted. Ford’s acceptance of a 1914 invitation to Edison’s winter retreat in Ft. Myers sealed the deal.
Two years later, Ford purchased The Mangoes beside Edison’s SeminoleLodge, and they became Floridian neighbors.
They took public vacations together, inviting John Burroughs and Harvey Firestone along for the ride–usually to the mountains or parts of rural America. The press corps were encouraged to follow their every move, dubbing them “The Vagabonds.”
While roaming the country, Ford was always eager to share his anti-Semitic views around the campfire, blaming the Shylock bankers in Germany as the root cause of the war, and Jews in America as the source of economic anxiety–all of which was propagandized in the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper published by Ford and used to expose his “truths” about the Jewish threat.
While Edison’s anti-Semitism was never as overt as Ford, it became clear that he harbored similar sentiments, and used his motion picture company to propagate Jewish myths and stereotypes. Cohen was a recurring dislikeable character in his early short films…
While Jean Farrell Edison, the granddaughter and heiress of Thomas Edison’s fortune was funding the Institute for Historical Review (an organization that promotes Holocaust denial), Henry Ford II had distanced himself from his grandfather’s vitriol by offering philanthropic support for Detroit’s Jewish community, as well as renouncing the Arab League’s boycott of Israel after Israel achieved statehood in 1948.
And how would Henry Ford react to Mark Fields’ appointment as Ford Motor Company’s CEO in 2014, or Bill Ford’s dedication of Ford’s first technology research center opening in Tel Aviv this year?
Likewise, Edison might pale upon discovering that the motion picture industry exploded in Hollywood with studios founded by: Carl Laemmle, Sam and Jack Warner, Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer, William Fox, and Adolf Zukor.
Paradoxically, in 1997, the Israeli Postal Authority memorialized Edison with a stamp.
Yet, a bigger question remains… How is it that we live in a world that continues to embrace an ancient hatred that modern-day leaders are unwilling to disavow?
After searching for an escape from the plethora of water parks and souvenir shops in Wisconsin Dells, we settled on a hike around the quartzite cliffs overlooking Devil’s Lake. With temperatures climbing through the 90s amid an epic upper midwest heat wave, the lake was a winning getaway for hundreds of families cooling off in the water, but not for us. Reports of swimmers itch concerned us, and we scratched it off our list.
We sought hiking guidance from the Visitor’s Center, and learned of a steep trek up the southern end of the east bluff that would lead us to a flat ridge loop. The hike was demanding, stepping up and over a talus field of rock-hewn steps cut from car-sized boulders that crumbled in the wake of a glacier that shaped Wisconsin 30,000 years ago.
Miraculously, the moraine was raked and solidified by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and a trail was born.
The heat and humidity was taking its toll on us, and we were feeling our age. It was disconcerting to see millenials ambling up the bluff at twice our pace, but we perservered with patience and caution. Halfway up, our first reward was Balanced Rock…
which offered spendid views of the beach.
Continuing our climb to 500 ft above the lake, we reached a forested plateau with trails running in multiple directions. We carried on toward Devil’s Doorway, the park’s signature rock formation…
forged from Cambrian sandstone as old as 1.6 billion years,
and today, an irresistable climb for teens with mountain goat skills.
It was a mad scramble during the descent, and the perfect place for forgotten walking sticks.
Although the loop was under 2 miles, terra firma never felt better under our weary legs.
Taking nothing away from Comic Con, the assembly of tailgaters along Florida Route-401 at Port Canaveral was probably one of the largest collection of early morning geeks ever recorded. It was a carnival atmosphere, with fellow space cadets gathered from around the world to witness one of science’s greatest guilty pleasures–a space launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
But this was to be no ordinary launch. This time around, the payload carried atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket has been 60 years in the making, named for Eugene N. Parker, a pioneer astrophysicist who predicted the existence of solar winds in a 1958 paper presented to an editorial panel who flatly rejected his claim.
Four years later, NASA’s Venus probe (Mariner 2) measured interplanetary energy particles that eventually vindicated Dr. Parker’s belief.
The Parker project was conceived for NASA by engineers at John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in 2005, later amounting to costs running $1.5 billion in order to investigate the nature of our star, and gain an up-close understanding of solar winds.
Originally, Leah and I were on the fence about whether we should make the 2-hour trek from St. Augustine for the launch last night. After all, we’d been burned earlier in the year when we attempted to catch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lift-off (T Minus 3 Days and Holding) during January’s Florida freeze-out.
But this time around, it was personal. Leah’s family had traveled to Florida’s Space Coast from Albuquerque last week (Tourist Attractions) with the intention of watching the Parker Solar Probe launch, only to be disappointed when the on-again-off-again mission was scrubbed for the third time on August 4, when a loose piece of foam was discovered inside the fairing. Daniel’s family was to be NASA’s guests to acknowledge SolAero’s design and fabrication of the probe’s photovoltaic assembly. Leah and I were to be tag-alongs.
Although we had no official invitation for this morning’s event, Leah and I were still determined to bear witness as a tribute to Daniel’s work. We departed at 11:30 pm, and made easy time on I-95S, cruising down the interstate to an uncertain destination. NASA had delivered a 65-minute window for the 3:33 a.m. launch, so we would pad our arrival time in anticipation of getting situated.
We knew we had arrived when we discovered a cluttered roadside collection of vehicles illegally parked along a shoreline clearing with an ersatz view of the gantry in the far distance.
The eight miles separating us from the rocket would be as close as we could get, since access to the base was restricted and blockaded by a fleet of sheriff cars.
After a couple of runs up and down the strip, I wedged the F-150 into a narrow gap of parked cars, barely touching the inside road line, but nevertheless legitimate enough to get a pass from the deputy.
I found a vacancy among the scores of tripods already populating the tall grass beside the rocky beach, and staked my claim–although I felt totally inadequate and out-classed–while surrounded by all the super-duper telephoto lenses, and suffering from an acute case of optics envy.
In preparation of the big moment, amateurs and pros alike fussed and fawned over their equipment, changing batteries, polishing lenses, accessorizing camera bodies with autodrives and cable releases, and participating in riveting discussions on ISO vs. aperture vs. shutter speed.
Yet nothing could compare to the mobile telescope for astrophotography that occupied the largest footprint of our makeshift parking lot.
Even its imaging display seemed more complicated than it had to be.
While it was impossible to compete with all the big boys and their toys, I took a practice shot after setting up, although I knew the lighting would never compare to the day for night exposure once the rocket thrusters lit up the sky.
Zoomed to the max at 600mm, the ISO set at 200, the aperture set at ƒ/8, and a 1 second exposure, my Lumix FZ300 captured this shot of the gantry 8 miles away.
I reckon that if the atmospheric conditions had been less humid, the image would have been crisper-looking.
There was nothing more to do except wait…
The 3:48 am goal had come and passed without results.
The revised launch time was pushed to 3:53 a.m. The countdown resumed at T-minus-four, and again–for some unknown reason–the launch was suspended while engineers determined the fate of the rocket.
When NASA calculated to green-light the launch at 4:28 a.m., the buzz around us was that this would finally be the moment. Nobody would dare admit aloud or to themselves that this was just another dress rehearsal.
We mostly waited in silence for the next half-hour. The sound of jumping fish in the darkness was a pleasant distraction from the drone of distant internet reporting from a fan’s elaborate sound system.
And then the moment all of us dreaded…with under one minute before the serious countdown:
“Hold, hold, hold!” announced an engineer from Launch 37 Command Center.
The rocket’s helium pressure system had tripped an alarm, taking the launch back to T-minus-four. The 65-minute launch window was quickly closing with ten minutes left, leaving insufficient time to troubleshoot the red flag and light this candle.
The mission was aborted and a collective sigh crossed the highway.
Leah and I drove back home with the sun rising over Matanzas River as we approached St. Augustine. My sole consolation was knowing that besides driving roundtrip for a still picture of a rocket strapped to a gantry in the distance, all I had to do was unmount my camera and fold up my tripod, while somebody else had to wrap up and tow away that enormous mobile telescope.
We slept until noon.
Flight officials determined that in 24 hours they would try all over again.
And when that happens, it will be without us. Instead, I’ll be watching NASA’s live stream of the launch at 3:31 a.m. from my armchair:
…if I can keep my eyes open.
P.S. The Parker Solar probe successfully launched on time:
Long before we established Florida residency, our water bills were ridiculously high, averaging $500 per month. Leah and I immediately suspected that during our three-month absence–between closing and occupancy–the irrigation system zoned around our yard was bleeding us dry. Was this truly to be the continuing cost of keeping our flower beds wet and our lawn green? And if so, was this property threatening to become our Waterloo?
No doubt, our water usage was worthy of an investigation, but the city water department was dismissive–offering precise and up-to-date historical data of our consumption–so we turned to our long-distance neighbors for perspective and to the builder for relief, while wondering which direction to go.
A plea for answers and advice via social media prompted a measured response from Lisa and Greg, new community Facebook pals, who offered to monitor the irrigation interface over a time for evidence of any irregularities or abnormalities.
Greg’s systems check of our Rain Bird controller soon revealed a broken drip head now gushing water, and a twice-a-week watering cycle (as planned) irresponsibly programmed to repeat twice a day by the original landscapers.
Greg recommended shutting down the timer, and offered to manually manage the irrigation zones in accordance with the forecasted rainfall.
We were indebted to Greg and Lisa for their vigilance, and dutifully took over on water watch for the month of June and thereafter. A new appeal to the utility office revealed a literal disconnect between our residential meter and parallel irrigation meter, resulting in unnecessary sewer charges every time we watered our lawn. Yet despite our conservation efforts, our newest utility bill was only reduced by 10%. It was time for a new strategy; we would dig an artesian well, and feed our grass and plants with our own well water.
Of course, the process demanded that we file a permit with the city; petition the architecture committee of our Home Owners Association for permission; find a reputable well digger; wait for the job to be scheduled (weather permitting)…and continue to pay exorbitant water bills in the meantime.
Finally, three months from our earliest consideration, the drilling equipment appeared one late morning in our yard without warning.
Using the Eenie Meenie Miney Moe method, Robbie determined where to place the wellhead…
without benefit of knowing how deep or how difficult the drilling would get, although the placement of other artesian wells within our community (a retired golf course from the 1950s) informed that 250 feet was a worthy depth to plumb before groundwater made its way to the surface.
Once Eric deployed the truck jacks,
the drill mast was ready to raise.
Eric and Robbie assembled the debris pump…
and the mud tub (for lubricating the drill head) was aligned over the designated wellhead…
well ahead of tomorrow.
The generator started cranking at 9am. By 11am the drill rod had blazed through 95 feet of clay and sand.
By the end of the day, the drill had chewed through 14 feet of shell and shale (and probably some shark teeth and fossils) to a depth of 195 feet…
eventually reaching a ledge of limestone cap rock at 225 feet.
The boring rods were replaced with PVC pipe, and anchored in place with cement.
The next day saw slow but steady progress, as a slimmer rod and bit sank into the hole to chip away at the more resistant stone.
While Eric sat on a 5-gallon bucket monitoring the levels with a cigarette balanced on his lower lip,
Robbie pre-wired the pump, and cut off power to the panel at 11:15am to make the connection. I was stepping out of the shower at the time when the lights went dark, the AC had paused, and Agent Strzok’s House Inquisitors were no longer embarrassing themselves on my bedroom TV. It was eerily quiet except for the growl from a nearby generator.
It took me a moment to figure out that this was not part of a rolling blackout to cool down an overloaded town grid. Nor was it the drill guys in the yard, who would have been lit up after accidentally severing my buried power cable.
It would take three additional hours to grind through another 15 feet of compacted limestone until fresh groundwater eventually flowed to the surface. Robbie dug a trench to the pump, and tied into the irrigation backflow, protecting us against future contamination and eliminating our dependence on costly city irrigation water.
All that was left to do was pay the well digger, and put the water to good use.
Although we’ve recently received June’s water bill crediting the city’s bogus charge for superfluous sewer usage, we will anxiously await the next billing cycle, already knowing that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Every student of science, history and commerce knows the importance of Thomas Edison’s contributions (2332 worldwide patents),
and how through his imagination and industry…
he single-handedly reshaped the 20th century.
No less famous and equally as successful, Henry Ford’s lifetime commitment to automotive innovation was without peer.
Now put the two titans together…
as next-door neighbors within their Ft. Myers, FL winter compound…
beside the Caloosahatchee River…
and the sum exceeds the parts. Adding John Burroughs, the nation’s leading naturalist and conservationist of his time to the party,
resulted in the birth of the car-camping movement in America as we know it today: motoring across the country in search of fulfilling outdoor recreation and adventure.
Better known as The Vagabonds, the caravan later included tire magnate, Harvey Firestone, who would travel with the pack across America for the next ten years, taking vacations in an elaborate Packer and Ford motorcade that always included Edison’s battery of batteries to light the campsite,
a Ford chuckwagon attended by Firestone’s personal chef,
and a pack of newspapermen and paparazzi who would record The Vagabond’s every step and conversation.
Edison’s inventions are presented in historical perspective in a comprehensive on-site museum space that credits Ft. Myers as an inspirational Eden for Edison’s genius.
Additionally, by recreating his West Orange, NJ laboratory in Ft. Myers,
Edison could work uninterrupted throughout the year, never missing an opportunity to tinker or embellish on an idea, while enjoying the comforts of a home…
that he designed in 1886,
and Mina attended until his death in 1931.
Henry Ford acquired the neighboring bungalow known as The Mangoes in 1916,
and the two titans drove each other to continuing heights of excellence in achievement.
But of all their noticeable accomplishments, their mutual love of country living coupled with the enormous publicity generated by their expeditions most certainly inspired an army of auto owners and outdoor enthusiasts to follow their example.
Thus, The Vagabonds paved the way for the popularity of motor camping, and gave rise to a recreational industry that advances the dream of this sojourner’s lifestyle: where the highway is my lifeline and my Airstream is my cradle.
Note: Historic photos courtesy of Edison and Ford Winter Estates collection.
Leah and I had counted down to the last possible day when we could tour Kennedy Space Center (KSC) while still parked at Melbourne’s Land Yacht Harbor,
an Airstream-only campground (with a sprinkling of some other brands–SOBs), mostly occupied by retirees and their vintage motorhomes,
At first, the weather on the Space Coast was uncooperative–cold and rainy–but we were determined to time our visit in conjunction with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch–the first scheduled launch of the year, where the rocket’s reusable first stage would attempt a controlled landing back at Cape Canaveral Air Force base. Of course, we were departing for Playa del Carmen on Saturday, so we had also run out of time.
With a break in the weather, we would make a day of it at KSC,
and apparently, so would thousands of other visitors. With the rest of the country seemingly paralyzed by meat locker temperatures the first week of 2018, we felt fortunate to feel the sun through brisk winds and crisp air.
After mapping our itinerary for the day at the nearby Visitor Center, we filed past the admission gate…
through a labyrinth of attractions dedicated to Mars exploration…
and a dedication to fallen explorers…
in search of an Astronaut Encounter…
with Heidi Piper…
a mission specialist, credited with flights aboard Atlantis in 2006 and Endeavor in 2008 to expand the systems and living quarters aboard the International Space Station. In addition to following her career from Navy to NASA, her presentation included factoids about the Shuttle and the shittle, detailing the water-recycling and freeze-drying properties of the squateroo.
Following a profound 3D IMAX film on space exploration–as only Captain Picard, aka Sir Patrick Stewart could narrate–we gravitated to the Orbit Cafe…
where freeze-dried ice cream was not an option on the menu (albeit, available at the gift shop).
From there, it was an hour-long queue…
with enlightening graphics along the way,
for the tour bus…
that carried us to the Apollo/Saturn V Center, with drive-by glimpses of the Vehicle Assembly Building,
and a launch pad along the way.
After experiencing a multimedia simulation of the Apollo 8 lift-off,
we were giddy with excitement to witness the technology that captured Kennedy’s imagination and took us to the moon. But nothing prepared us for the enormity of the Saturn V rocket stretching across a football stadium-sized hanger.
Measuring 111m/363 ft long,
we slowly strolled the length of the boosters, making our way through the different stages suspended above our heads…
before approaching the grounded command module,
which dwarfed the Apollo 13 L.E.M. hovering above us.
Behind a bordering wall, the Apollo 14 capsule rested on a protected pedestal in a dimly lit room which seemed to heighten the drama.
We transitioned to a multi-sensory surround presentation of a space shuttle launch, culminating in a dazzling, thunderous lift-off that shook our core. When the exhaust plume cleared, the projection scrim rose for the big reveal…
giving all of us a true appreciation for the engineering wizardry that could shoot a glider strapped to a rocket into space,
and have it safely return to earth…flying a total of 33 missions and over 126,000,000 miles before retiring!
And how apropos, that the mission transport vehicle selected by NASA should feature an Airstream to introduce our astronauts into space?
Unfortunately, the SpaceX mission that we so wanted to witness was put off until Sunday, when a worthier weather window made the wonder more winsome.
This is how the launch looked to us from Mexico, where we streamed it in awe.