On The Beach


During my visit, I kept flashing on the Nevil Shute novel, On The Beach and the film (not quite true to the novel) with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astair and Tony Perkins in which the characters go about their day to day activities knowing that the end of the world is nigh.

As the oil moves outward, coastal residents proceed with a combo of daily activities, some preparations (I bought a stainless steel travel thermos at 40% off from a store in Apalachicola that had discounted everything), some trepidation and a lot of disbelief. Who can believe such enormous devastation is continuing unabated and that willing and ready national and international aid has to fight red tape and bureaucracy to provide help?

As my brief visit drew to a close I looked to the everyday shoreline details.

Gulls kicking back on the sand


Willets scampering ahead of my footfall


Shells propelled by Hermit crabs


Tiny, beautiful crabs tossed up, too delicate and stinky to gather for specimens


and, always, the water at my feet.

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Deal Tract


My friend, Jean packed her dogs, Peabody and Beauregard into the pickup and took me out for a tour of the Deal Tract, an area of land donated to the State Buffer Preserve by and named for its former owner, Mr. Deal.

Mr. Deal built a bird tower 


and cement pier that extends into the foot of St. Joseph Bay.



The bay is teeming with all sorts of creatures and along the pier you can spot many including throngs of Fiddler Crabs.



The view from Mr. Deal's Bird Tower is exceptional.  Here's a more or less 180 view beginning with straight north across the bay



to the east



south to the Gulf


and west towards the mouth of the bay.


Notice the vegetation in the photos looking east and west.  You can click on the photos to enlarge. There are various grasses (critical to supporting life in the water and along shoreline) in the bay water that transition to grasses on land then a pine hammock and then, barely visible in the upper left corner, a live oak hammock that grows atop a midden or Indian mound.

Yes, this bay is host to archeological sites as well. This sign faces the bay water, designed to be read by boat.


Examples of shells from a midden.

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St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve

St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Station
Watercolor, 5 x 8 inches


Here's where I stayed while on St. Joseph Bay. A college chum who manages the preserve invited me down to stay before the oil hit. Jean is a fire ecologist but there's a lot more to managing the preserve than fire. It's a huge job. This little watercolor sketch is going off to Jean as a small thanks for hosting me.

Learn about the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve, and Aquatic Preserve —where you'll find a fabulous little video on the bay. Watch it — it's a beautiful description!

The preserve provides rooms to scientists studying various aspects of life in the Bay. The evening after my arrival, Brian, Jason and Katie came in from the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program at Mote Marine Lab to take pre-oil genetic and toxicological samples and make a count of the dolphin population in the bay. Read an Orlando Sentinel article about their work on St. Joseph Bay.

Two marine biology graduate students from University of Louisiana at Lafayette were also in house to study Ambidexter Symmetricus, a tiny shrimp that glows red at night. While I was there, another couple of grad students stayed over on their way to study a sea grass.

Staying in this study hostel on the bay was an extra-dimensional treat.

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Crab

Crab
Pen and Ink, 7 x 9 inches

It's hard to believe that just one week ago, I was draped in a big old beach towel sitting in the sand with this crab on my knee. On the other hand, my back is still in the early stages of peeling from a wicked sunburn acquired while snorkeling and I'm still shaking sand from my shoes.

By the time of this drawing, my laptop had entered its long sleep and I'd surrendered to pure beach vacation and tourist mode. After a scrumptious brunch prepared by a lovely host at a secluded residence in the dunes, I lolled in the shallow waters, hunted for shells and tried to not disturb too many sleeping rays.

Not much, this little drawing of a crab but I enjoyed it and was reminded that no matter the result, drawing is truly the way into seeing. I'll always remember the fine details and patterns of this erstwhile creature because of making the drawing.

My charming model:

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Beauty and Madness



As I walked along the beaches of the Forgotten Coast and marveled at the beauty—life! everywhere! — I picked up small pieces of plastic and water bottles, passed abandoned beach toys and furniture, crossed tire tracks in the sand, spied speeding motor boats and wave runners and thought madness —this throw-away culture. Creation eclipsed by commerce.

When I turned on the radio and caught snippets of news and conversation describing legal maneuvering by litigious parties and general political posturing around the oil catastrophe, I thought madness. All this us against them. Such childish behavior in the face of such finality.

I click over to news (less and less) and above, beside and below the oil catastrophe stories are ads for cars. Absurdity, sad irony, madness. Of course, I drove down to the Gulf of Mexico by car and filled up my tank with gasoline again and again. Are we doomed by our devilish machines? How did we ruin our beautiful life support system so quickly?

Sure, the ruin didn't start with the automobile, but I kept thinking of Joseph Cotten's monologue in Orson Welles' film adaptation of Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons.

Once, before youtube, I transcribed this monologue on the automobile. Now wondering how much of this monologue was Tarkington and how much Welles, I turned to Project Gutenberg and have excerpted below the original Tarkington text from his 1918 Pulitzer Prize novel. The film text is all Tarkington but what Welles (or the studio) left out is telling. I've bolded the excised phrases.

The set up to the monologue in the film excerpt starts at 0:34. You might want to watch and listen first and then read the original text.
"I'm not sure he's wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization—that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men's souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can't have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles 'had no business to be invented."

—Eugene Morgan monologue from The Magnificent Andersons by Booth Tarkington.
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Near and Far


Standing on the beach in front of Cape San Blas Lighthouse at the crack of dawn, I watched these Brown Pelicans coming and going.


Just behind me, a Sea Turtle nest. This is the height of Sea Turtle nesting. Good souls patrol at dawn and sometimes overnight to check for crawl marks and new nesting sites, then mark the sites like so to protect them from disturbance.


Read about Sea Turtle nesting (video clips, too).

Read about the Cape San Blas Lighthouse where you'll find a map that shows you where I stood to take these photos.

Like this stretch of beach, a large percentage of wild acreage on St. Joseph Bay is owned and protected by the Air Force. Just to the left of the viewfinder I saw my first boom.

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The Little Things


“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” — Robert Brault

Each day is composed of little moments strung together. I am reminded of this in a new way as I quickly review well over a thousand images from the last week, try to put aside any pressure to process the experience at once, and focus on and attend to the details of my work-a-day world.

Over the next week or two, I'll share some of what I captured. This is just a hello to say that I'm back to "civilization" and up and running again.

It's all one sea.


All life is related to all other life.


More soon....

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Dunes at St. Joseph

Dunes at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Watercolor sketch, 5 x 7 inches


I am surrounded by marine biologists and technicians so here is how I can describe my days and evenings: I am consumed with absorbing information, collecting data and experiencing my environment. The photos and sketches will take a lot of time to process in the lab.

Even this sketch is raw. You can see a spot where I meant to include a shrimp trawler but packed up and left before doing so. (Too bright, too hot.)

Off to see the sun set. Much more later.

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