Where the Old People Dance

The last post asked, “What else is here that I don’t see?”

Well I saw it on Saturday night at Nokomis Beach Drum Circle.  This is an unexpected observation. I thought I caught wind of this, but I needed more time, more experience before sharing my thoughts with a wider audience.

 Here it is, today’s epiphany; A total subterranean culture exists here in Southwest Florida.  It is “Mature People” having fun, and they don’t care what anyone thinks. Life, like ice cream has many flavors.  This flavor is exquisite, and personally chosen, and lived courageously. When the crust of the body gets thin, the spirit shines through the cracks. That is a joyful event for everyone in close proximity.

 And I always thought coming to Florida was the default choice of being old and living in the cold and snowy north. Nope, this is the Spring Break of the Fall Folks.  And it is a joy to witness this freedom. Especially for someone reaching the end of Summer.Image

The Alligator in the Pond


Everyone knows there are alligators in Florida. Alligators are to Florida, what Moose are to Maine. They are apparently, everywhere. I say apparently because they are nearly impossible to see, even close up. Yes, Alligators lurk and live at the edges of beachfront, in canals, ponds, wetlands, swamps. They are not the bright green, upright icons chugging beer on a T-shirt. They are invincible archaic survivors, living in what to me, is the belly of the Underworld.

I have noticed in our time here that people in Florida seem complacent about the presence of these ancient beings.
No matter the frequent “on location” TV News reports of another 8 foot, armored, cold blooded creature showing up in the hot tub with Fifi’s pink rhinestone collar stuck between his teeth, your typical Floridian or Snowbird doesn’t seem to find their presence worrisome. Delude yourself if you must, but they are among us. More accurately we are among them; this is their swamp. And no indigenous creature does swamp better than a Florida (American) Alligator. (Alligator mississippiensis)

Let me illustrate the peaceful coexistence scenario


Our present campsite residence has a small but attractive lake fed by a meandering stream, the color and opacity of 1970’s Army fatigues. This circular lake-ette is surrounded by trails, a grassy picnic area, and a small sandy beach.

One could easily imagine colorful towels laid out amidst the palms and pines. Small children are wading in the shallow water, filling their plastic buckets and racing to the sand, while Mom chats on her iphone, watching the clouds pass. The reality is gently offered by the Parks Department with this tame and tractable cautionary sign.

How could anyone consider swimming with alligators?
I wonder if the tone of this cautionary sign would change were we to replace the word “Alligator” with:

Huge Prehistoric Carnivorous Reptile?

Be watchful for Huge Prehistoric Carnivorous Reptile, especially if no Lifeguards are present.

(Tarzan doesn’t work here.)

Report approaching Huge Prehistoric Carnivorous Reptile to Lifeguard or Park Ranger.

Never feed Huge Prehistoric Carnivorous Reptile.

Here in Florida, Alligators are the “elephant in the room” of suburban development and tourism. Along with recent additions of Pythons and Gila Monsters, Alligators are just part of the Flora and Fauna of Florida. Would someone in say, Milwaukee be OK with one of these guys, laying in the driveway or coming across the yard?

Alligators are one of the few wild creatures comfortable living in suburban and wild places to have removed themselves from the endangered-species list. They were down but they weren’t out. Once it became rude to wear them as shoes and purses they bounced back.
Or did they just come back up to the surface? Amidst the Spanish Sword Palms and the pea green water they reign supreme. Never underestimate the resilience of a prehistoric reptile species. Here’s the facts:

American Alligator
150,000,000 BC – Present
Lives in southeastern America. Usually lives for 35 to 50 years, and grows to a length of 10-15 feet during that time.

Let that sink in…150,000,000 BC – Present; and still here

35 to 50 years? The oldest alligator in captivity is 76 years old and living in Belgrade Zoo.

Length of 10-15 feet -There is a 19.5 ft alligator caught in Louisiana

Bring on the reclaimed land, ice age, gated communities and global warming; they are still here. For our Darwinian Evolution fans this might suggest that they were built correctly the first time, no need to renovate or modernize this model! Yes, there are an estimated one million alligators in Florida alone. If this estimate is as humanly biased as the facts above, we can expect there are many more. Why are the Alligators so willing to cede ownership of this vast environment to humans and their suffocating need to drain and build?

I believe it is a conspiracy by the Alligators to keep the humans oblivious and complacent until Florida can be reclaimed by the rightful owners and original inhabitants: the Reptiles.

Just kidding,. …maybe…

To a greenhorn Florida camper like me, they are the Dragons, Giants in the Wood, the Yeti on the mountain. They are the minions of Sobek, the Egyptian Croc God. http://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/sobek.html
Look that name up, it’s an interesting read, a bit too juicy and conflicted for this missive. He is a Shadow side teacher; always interesting, always treacherous.
Maybe my curiosity about human “Alligator blindness” lies in the persistent “Reptilian Brain” conversation. This Reptilian awareness ranges from alien watchers suggesting we are controlled by Reptilian races, or we ARE a Reptilian race to the more concrete and mainstream Triune Brain theory, representing the current Psychotherapeutic paradigm. Triune brain says human brains are built on a Reptilian Brain chassis, with Limbic system and NeoCortex added later. Ask any trauma survivor, the reptilian part is in charge of fear, flight and fight.  This ancient part is effective for survival, but hard to modulate and nearly impossible to turn off.
Google Reptile brain and there is everything from soup to nuts; and they are strangely all related if you step back far enough.

Whatever the reason, I intend to give them wide berth. I will treat them with deference and respect and I will stay out of their pond. It does suggest another question:

What else is here that I can’t see?

What are the rules?



Minerva and entourage are camping in the place called Florida. A place that looks feels and smells as different from the high desert of New Mexico as a mangrove swamp is from a dusty arroyo. Minerva is also the newly claimed den to two big dogs: Bear and Mac. They are as yet, unsure of their roles and assignments on this adventure.

As a collective, these two are 165 lbs of focused intent and curiosity, both tinged with a backyard dwellers innocence. Much like a teenager, visual images spawn movement, and action happens before the intellect is engaged. We can see the canine questions floating like a comic strip bubbles above their heads.

“Are we exploring? Should we hunt? Are we supposed to protect?


“Why is the inside so small and the outside so big, and why do we keep moving?

Did you HEAR that?”

“Should we keep the other people, the dogs, the wildlife out of our space? (This is a favorite activity.)

But what is our space?”

Where’s the fence that made the boundaries so clear? For a dog it is easy to know their domain; they pee their way around the area until they have a safe bubble of familiar smell. This method is bit subtle for humans. We like fences, tall walls, bad perfume or unpredictable behaviors. The result is the same. We have marked our territory and have the right to keep it safe.

As large fierce New Mexico dogs, these two are capable of maintaining their territory with a minimum of might. Just sight of them gives pause. They have unceasingly honored the “Dog’s Contract.” They are charged with monitoring intrusions and maintaining the integrity of their personal domain; the backyard. Driving out skunks and herding Bob the cat over the fence were all in a day’s work. Intimidating marauding coyotes through the wire fence was Bear’s particular strong suit.

Our boys faced this question of a nomadic canine’s assignment at Ft. DeSoto State Park Campground. The questions that had been dogging them throughout the trip walked right through their campsite at midday, in the form of a small raccoon. Disregarding the four talking adults and two playing children barely 10 feet away, the raccoon walked past the Barbie bike, over the dog leash and attempted to climb the palm tree between the two shocked frozen dogs. A few seconds later it was a fight to the death, and the raccoon lost. The dogs worked together with precision. The raccoon didn’t suffer long. Watching your fuzzy, family foot warmer kill with speed and skill is disconcerting. There is more ancient programming running in our companions than our human-centric “sit and stay.” Eons ago, dogs in all their editions made a pact with human beings that says, “If I can sit by your fire, and eat at your feet, I will protect your babies,” …and they did.

Why was a nocturnal scavenger running through campsites at midday? Ft. De Soto is a very beautiful place. It is a place that draws a packed campsite on most weekends. It is also an island. The raccoons are so overpopulated that they have made their own rules and answered their own questions. Daytime gangs of panhandling raccoons are the norm at open beachside picnic pavilions and private campsites.

But that is another post.

Cape San Blas

Cape_san_Blas_ARial_shot (1)

“In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth”
–Rachel Carson

Cape San Blas

“On the way” to family and Minerva in stasis, is Florida’s Panhandle. With the desire for our favorite vehicle for rest and reboot called “Beach,” we dropped out of the Interstate corridor for some coastline adventure. Moving South eastward, we eased our way through Panama City, one traffic light at a time. This Spring Break Mecca is an older, possibly more tired version of Ft Walton Beach. FWB being a 20- someone’s idea of “The Beach.” The string of beach towns on this corridor are a congestion of high rise hotels, Beachfront Bars, and multiple editions of bright blue beach emporiums memorable for their subtly suggestive 30 ft shark painted on the front. Beach is baudy here. It isn’t a set, or even a back drop to fun in the sun. It is a drop cloth to the uniquely human search for diversion and debauchery. I was hopeful that our destination was something completely different.


To the Real Estate hawkers, and to internet searchers such as myself it is “the Forgotten Coast.” http://www.forgottencoastline.com/ If forgotten means natural and undeveloped, let’s hope everyone not already living here, continues to have amnesia. This is not a Florida that I have ever seen. It is still alive and breathing. The sands sway on the hips of the gentle and powerful mother gulf, there is life here on the edges.

We are in a place call Cape San Blas, Florida. A thin arm of green trees and white sand sprinkled precariously in the blue water of the Gulf of Mexico facing a real small town called Port St. Joe.” Y’all have a nice day,” seems to have some meaning here. Just after Port St. Joe’s, and just before Indian Pass and Apalachicola a spit of land elbows outward and upward. This pile of sand points at such a rakish angle that movement over time and weather is virtually guaranteed. The real estate signs announce these lots as X. As in X marks the spot for the next washout. Don’t bother to call us unless you like risk, the risk of discounting the purpose of barrier beach in the natural scheme of things. There is a great deal of humor in Nature.

Apalachicola…., let that name roll off your tongue a few times. Apalachicola. It is somehow more than a name. It creates a sound that is something between a song and a sneeze. Anyplace with a name that melodic must hold some magic. This is the land of oysters and shrimp by sea and hushpuppies by land. It is impossibly white sand that is soft on the feet, small waves to watch and sunsets that delineate the days. A good place to catch up with the pieces of ourselves that we have dropped along the way.

Sunday Morning in Louisiana


Sunday morning in Louisiana

The roads are quiet, the casino parking lots on both sides of the highway are nearly empty on this day of rest. Shreveport is promoted as “Louisiana’s Other side.” Having never been to the Southeast corner where New Orleans holds sway for good times, this may well be Big Easy country style. I’m not likely to find out on this trip.
The trees are just beginning to turn,a few red sumacs and oaks with burnt orange edges. It is chilly here this morning, lots of dew making mist when the sun shines.

What do I know about Louisiana?

Not too much. We are on the Interstate, a straight leafy corridor sliding through the northern section of this Southern state. These generic roads from city to city are an interaction free zone. Interstate Highways in any state are akin to traversing the intestine of the state; we just pass through. There is some commerce between traveler and locality; a snack or some gas. But for the most part, we come in and go out unchanged; like corn.

The important facts at this moment are these: there are a lot of churches, and most with the same steeple as if there is a “steeple supply” in each town next to “Tractor Supply.” The speed limit is 70 mph, the Highway Patrol drives white SUVs, and there is a fly in the backseat. The latter is only of interest to our dog companions; Bear and Mac who are always looking for some diversion from their padded position. Yesterday’s backseat activity was picking out the sharp sticky plant travelers who hopped aboard when Mac took advantage of a slack leash and a great smell.

What is in a smell?

Smell is not only a great skill of Canine Folk, it is their great joy, their Raison d’être. On our frequent roadside stops, both dogs approach each area with dedication and delight. As Cesar Millan, http://www.cesarsway.com/ notes; “Dogs are as interested in Pee mail as we are in Email.” Noses down, sweeping the area for sign and signal from their predecessors, Bear and Mac have investigated each comfort opportunity with unlimited zest. I believe we might be STILL be waiting for the final report on our first stopping place two days ago, the grassy edge of a Valero station, had the humans not prevailed.

At the rest area of the Sticky Plant there was a special treat. Both dogs were enraptured by a smell so sweet, so persuasive, that the pull of the leash and sting of the pricker bush was not enough to dissuade his enquiring nose. Was there really a sign left for the next dog? A combo of urine and spit that said, “There is a one-day dead disemboweled rabbit over there; under the sticky bush, to the right of the tree, …Enjoy!”

I imagine in a dog consciousness there is an exhaustive catalogue of nasal experiences that are continuously revisited and enjoyed. These choice moments are constantly updated as best, unusual, extraordinary and “Holy …..!”

Not unlike humans noting the landscape on the next towel at the beach, and updating their personal library.
We travelled a 20 mile stretch of road on the edge of Tyler, Texas yesterday that had no less than 7 “Gentlemen’s Clubs.” What an antonym. In the midst of a patch of dense forest on Route 31 there are such places as “Bare Assets,” and “Time Out.” Their existence wasn’t surprising or offensive, it was the extraordinary volume and the in-congruency of their surroundings.

I wonder if people and dogs are so different. Sometimes you just want a place to do your business in peace and sometimes the smell is too much for the pull of the leash.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

― Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems


20131102-074544.jpgRoosevelt County, New Mexico

To reach this place, one travels through remote, beyond the “middle of nowhere,” and on into no man’s land. A flat, mostly straight road, shifting focus only to arc upward in order to pass over mile long trains, carrying mysterious cargo, moving West. The track and the road are laid out like a spilled liquid dripped onto the endless flat, dry Southeast New Mexico plains.

No wonder the UFOs land here in the mesquite and grass north of Roswell. Our infamous visitors from above could very well have entire communities complete with alien Walmarts, and they too would be swallowed up and invisible in this vista. This concept of SPACE is unknown to those in the east, this land is boudary-less and measured in miles. Out here every crow has their own ranchette.

A Verbal Visual

A small windowless house, set back from the road down a dirt track. A metal pole barn, empty corral, silent windmill, and 4 dead trees planted on each corner for shade. This is an an optimist’s hope of feeling rooted in this ocean of Wind. There is no graffiti on this empty house. What would be the point? There is no one here to shock or antagonize, and color is neutralized into the “Plains Beige” of mid-Fall anyways.
I’ve flown over these places many times, seen the three parallel lines of track, road and power lines, and wondered, “Why do they huddle together amidst all this space?”

It is an entirely different experience to be on the ground here. They are close together for survival, for the sanity of those that use these thoroughfares of modern transit. I wonder, how one could hold a thought here? Or a dream? Does one set out to live here ? Or do they get mesmerized until inertia sets in with the howling wind, and a horizon 50 miles away?
Anyone that believes there is human dominion over the earth needs to live here for a month or a season or a year, even a day might humble.

And into Texas

The wealthier, healthier neighbor to New Mexico meets us almost at Clovis. There was of course a detour at this state line. The road quite literally didn’t exist as if the two states couldn’t… quite… touch each other; they operate on such different states of mind. I was driving, so a detour isn’t a surprise; more an expectation. Instead of a smooth transition into this very different state, we made a 90 degree left turn, then right, over two sets of tracks, thankfully not hosting the multiple miles of trains that we wisely beat into town, and then left onto the 4 lane divided highway 84 that dives diagonally towards Lubbock and Sweetwater TX.

Two images for today will remain in my mental scrapbook. The first appeared on the range by Ft Sumner. A scene from the past and the present, a single cowboy on horseback herding a small corps of doomed cattle down a red dirt hillside to join the gathered herd. This is a classic image from the Wild West that I have never witnessed in 10 years of residency in this corner of the West. And in Texas, a modern day hero;

World Guy, http://www.worldguy.org/ walked along the side of the road with his dog, pushing a 6 foot inflatable Earth. Both brought this poem to mind;

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

On this first day, of the second part, of Minerva’s journey, I’m grateful to be here.