Thursday, October 30, 2014

Food, Glorious Food; Jan, This Bird's for You; Basking In The Limelight; FilmFest or Spring Break? A Date; Parking Hall of Shame; Bad Punctuation; Fresh Beans; Ankles on Fire! Big Bird on the Prowl

I returned from my backpacking trip on Monday afternoon quite exhausted from lack of sleep due to my nocturnal visitor, and I'm not talking about Kelly Clarkson, but the bear mentioned in the previous blog post. But 24 hours after returning to the puppies, I was ready to pah-ty... I had an invitation to dinner with Lynn and Bailey Spence. Lynn is a fabulous chef, and I was determined to arrive hungry, so I skipped lunch... and I never skip a meal. Lynn didn't let me down. Her bacon-wrapped dates, Waldorf salad, roast pork, acorn squash and fried okra were just what the doctor ordered to restore me. 

Lynn also ordered an aerial display for my benefit; not the Blue Angels, but a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). I was unable to get a photo of him (her?) in flight, but the owl was kind enough to pose long enough for a still life or two...  This species has amazingly acute vision, but cannot turn its eyes like a human does; it rotates its head up to 270 degrees - in the second photo, the head is rotated about 180 degrees. (In the Navy, that's called "Check Six"... telling a fighter pilot to look directly behind his aircraft, usually because an enemy fighter is approaching in his blind spot...)

And yes, in response to a querulous reader, I did actually take these owl photos with the zoom lens on my pocket camera, a Canon PowerShot SX170IS; the critter sat on a power box for about ten minutes before flying away (he had a huge wingspan, by the way... typically 3-5 feet for mature adults).

Here are several photos from the Awakened World Film Festival in Santa Barbara, where the Messages of Hope documentary was screened on Thursday afternoon; Suzanne and filmmaker/producer Chris Lavelle are seen here quite literally "basking in the limelight"... and it is well-deserved!


Suzanne was honored to have Rev. Temple Hayes, Spiritual Leader at First Unity Church of St. Petersburg, introduce her and the Messages of Hope documentary at the Film Festival. Suzanne has spoken at First Unity on several occasions, and has been warmly welcomed and received by Temple's congregation.

An anonymous tipster sent this photo of Suzanne and Elizabeth's room in Calif. It looks marginally better than a couple of sophomore girls on Spring Break at Fort Lauderdale, but not by much....

With Suzanne on the road, I took the opportunity to go out on a date. Suzanne's mom Ruthie had never been out to eat at Brownwood, a new town center in The Villages, so we took the opportunity to try the Spanish appetizers at Las Tapas, whose chef (actually from Spain, of all places) was highly regarded. With the help of our pleasant server, Heather, we ordered mahi baked in paper with mushrooms and onions, stuffed Portabellas with spinach and Manchego cheese, shrimp with garlic aioli and chilis, and mussels with garlic, onions, parsley, cilantro and sherry. Every dish was delicious. By the way, Heather relocated to The Villages from Las Vegas, Nevada, to help care for her grandparents. Ask for her when you go out to eat in Brownwood; you won't be disappointed.

I had hoped that over the summer, drivers here in The Villages would have improved their parking skills, and I could retire the "Parking Hall of Shame". Nope, didn't happen. Look at the particularly inept/disrespectful/dumb/inconsiderate way this guy parked his truck. Unfortunately, there is no rapid reaction tow service here... and where are the cops when you need one?

Even worse, where are the English teachers when you need one? Driving over near Spanish Springs, I was behind this furniture truck - its advertisement was driving me crazy! What's so hard about learning how to use an apostrophe????

Coffee lovers, take note. I am in coffee heaven. A retired Air Force friend, Bill Bayer (the guy on the right), sent me a vacuum-packed bag of Potencianacafe roasted Arabica coffee beans from his non-profit's coffee plantation. His organization's mission is to improve the lives of young girls and women in Costa Rica through education, health care, job training and micro-enterprise initiatives. Their first harvest primarily went to Starbucks and Green Mountain, but the highly "cupped" (a rating like wines get) Potenciana will be available to consumers in the future. Get more information, and see how you can help make a difference in young peoples' lives at

This next topic was an unpleasant surprise. Two days after I returned from my hike, I started itching, and found that that I had been bitten about 70 times by chiggers, nasty little juvenile mites. I had put DEET bug repellant on my arms and legs, but these little devils got into my unsprayed socks and down my shirt. The DEET was highly effective where I used it, but the bugs were apparently smarter than this hiker... sigh. Oh, and yes, there were many areas in The Forest with mosquitoes, but the DEET kept them off my skin; they were merely an annoyance, buzzing around my head.

One of the few benefits accruing to me while My Lovely Bride is in California is that I can eat whatever I want. Dessert the other night was Breyers French Vanilla ice cream with Hershey's Chocolate Sauce, liberally applied, right out of the (near-empty) carton. "Ty, where did it all go?" "I don't know, My Dear, maybe it evaporated???"

Finally, we have a report from the Greater Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta, Metropolitan Police Department that a person dressed as Big Bird in a respirator has been terrorizing residents in that fair burgh... er, city. This photograph is being circulated so that Neighborhood Watches can report the prowler and have her arrested. (Of course, she will probably spin some yarn about being in a Halloween costume, dressed as an Ebola nurse refusing to obey quarantine orders...)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thelma and Louise Squared; Florida Trail Days Two/Three; There's a Bear!

I have received word from Suzanne out in San Jose/Santa Barbara. She, Ann Lavelle, Elizabeth Magee and Bev Garlipp have managed to stay out of trouble and have not been arrested for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace... yet. That is very encouraging. Here they are at lunch in San Jose, obviously having too much fun. They have just arrived at the Awakened World Film Festival in Santa Barbara, and so far are enjoying it a lot. The Messages of Hope documentary is being screened Thursday afternoon, and producer/director Chris Lavelle and His Lovely Bride Gina will be there for the event as well.

While the party girls are out in Central California, Your Humble Correspondent continued his hike of the Florida Trail. Before donning my pack, though, I had to see Alexander Springs, and the cold air (50F) over the warmer water (72F) had left a layer of evaporation fog on the water. It was a lovely scene, and at that hour I was the only person around to enjoy it.

I departed the crowded Alexander Springs campground and within five minutes was alone in the woods, with nothing but a few birds and squirrels for company. It was a couple of hours later during a rest stop that I saw the first human on the trail, in the form of Diane Roesch, a Florida Trail Association (FTA) volunteer who was surveying part of the trail for an upcoming work weekend, when volunteers don safety gear and head into the woods with chainsaws, shears, and bush hog mowers to clear the trail of nasty undergrowth and fallen trees. Diane said I'd probably run into her husband in the next section of the trail; they were to meet at the Highway 19 trailhead. 

I took off to the west while Diane was surveying the trail, and ran across lots of signs of bear activity, in the form of scat... the polite term for poop. The acorns throughout this specimen marked it as belonging to a black bear, and one of decent size; thankfully, there are no grizzlies in Florida, so the risk of attack was minimal, but I had thought to bring my can of bear spray, which I have never had to use. 

Just before reaching Hwy 19, I must have startled a sleeping bear near the trail, because there was a big thrashing in the bushes 15 feet away, a flash of something black, and sounds of something big moving slowly through the shrubs. It was too big and lumbering to be a deer... At the trailhead I met Diane's husband, Rollin Patrick. Blaze orange is a good color of choice, particularly during hunting season, which opens soon. Rollin's garden shears are one of the tools of the trade for trail maintainers. While we were gabbing, Diane arrived. She was only about 5 minutes behind me, and had heard the same noises just off the trail. Being nocturnal, bears don't move around during daylight much unless disturbed. We talked about bears for a bit, then I proceeded on my way, being grateful for the hard work performed by FTA volunteers. (Yes, I am a member of the FTA, and will be helping out on a future "work hike".)

The next topographical feature was Brook Pond; I could have gone down to the water's edge, shooed away a gator or two, and filled my water reservoir with a purifying filter pump, but there was another water source ahead using a pitcher pump, much less work, and without any worries about losing miscellaneous body parts to a hungry Alligator mississipiensis that might mistake me for a deer or steer. The grassy areas around ponds are called prairies, not at all like their Midwestern cousins. These areas are often full of mosquitoes, and I didn't want to linger here, although I had on a light coat of DEET repellant. 

A short time later I came upon the only recreational hiker I would meet in two days on the Florida Trail, Anthony from Queens, NY. Anthony is a financial services IT guy, in Orlando for a few days for work, and taking a Sunday hike to see something of Ocala National Forest. It was great to stop and chat about hikes in the Adirondacks and out west; he is obviously an avid runner as well as a hiker, and a nice guy to boot.  (No pun intended about hiking footwear...) 

I asked Anthony to take my picture to prove to My Lovely Bride that I wasn't hanging out at the Hooters in Paisley (I never could find it, anyway... with population 734, it must have been a tiny place). He was headed southeast, back to his car, and I was headed northwest, so after our chat and photo op, it was back to solitude. 

One of the interesting species of flora in The Forest is deer moss, or powder puff lichen (Cladina evansii), which grows in little colonies in the sandy soil common here.

I came to this notice advising hikers that the Florida Trail had been re-routed a few miles to the east; using the old trail would put the thoughtless hiker on the edge of the Pinecastle Naval Bombing Range, where aircraft drop inert and live ordnance. That navigational error would really ruin your whole day... Fortunately, the new trail was freshly blazed with orange paint, and several trees had been felled across the old trail route. You would have to really try to put yourself in the bomb range.

I had planned on camping at a Forest Service campground, Farles Lake, but arrived after a five hour, ten mile hike to find that it was only day-use until hunting season opened. A local guy out for a Sunday drive with his granddaughter offered me a lift to Juniper Springs CG, where I could get a shower. (I must have smelled pretty bad at that point.) I accepted his offer, and while we drove, he told me how much The Forest had changed since he was a kid. Lake levels were down 15-25 feet, probably due to extensive real estate development and population increases sucking down the aquifers. I guess us Villagers are partly to blame for that, but then there is the huge economic benefit to the area, so it's a trade-off. 

I checked in at almost-deserted Juniper Springs, and since it was in the high 80s, decided to go for a swim in the 72F spring. The spring is about 100 feet in diameter, and in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built the millhouse in the center of the photo; the millwheel still turns, and the sound will lull a tired hiker to sleep.

But I was here for a swim, and to cool my tired, hot feet. The relatively cold water was a bit of a shock at first, but going in a few inches at a time made it bearable, at least until the mandatory plunge. A dozen or so tiny minnows were checking out my feet looking for scraps of who knows what to nibble on.

After a nice hot shower, I began to prep for dinner. Tonight would be freeze-dried Pad Thai, but as I was getting my kitchen together, a guest arrived... an unwanted guest... in the form of an aggressive young male black bear of about 150 lbs. Not that big, but who wants to wrassle (that's a Southern word) a bear to protect your dinner? I chased him away with shouts and waving arms once, only to have him return in a few minutes, walking right toward me; at 20 feet, I gave him a shot of pepper spray, and he turned and ran into the brush. 

Unfortunately, these photos are of poor quality because when I asked him to stop and pose, he kept moving, and the light at dusk was very low, darn the bad luck. At least I saved my dinner. After a ranger came by, I found out that the previous week, he had marched right up to a picnic table while a couple was eating and started munching on their meal... how rude! Thoughtless campers and others who feed bears are doing them a serious disservice, because "problem bears" often have to be euthanized to avoid injuries to people when they become too aggressive, like "Barney" was here at Juniper Springs.

The bear returned several times during the night, to my campsite and others, judging by the shouts of "Go away, bear!" from two or three widely-spaced neighbors. I hung all my food from a 15 foot oak branch on a long nylon parachute cord, and my sturdy tent was empty of food, toothpaste, soap or anything that might tempt the bruin to interrupt my slumber in my sleeping bag. Nevertheless, it was a restless night without much sleep, and when I went to the rest room building at 0530, he was still patrolling the campground. That encounter was more than a bit unnerving, because I hadn't remembered to bring the bear repellant with me, but fortunately he kept his distance. 

Morning brought this lovely lighting to The Forest, a fitting scene to end my Florida trail hike. I considered more day-hiking until the afternoon, but decided that rest and recovery were in order. (Sometimes common sense does prevail, in spite of my best efforts to the contrary.) Bob and Jan arrived to pick me up and shuttled me back to my car, and we had a nice lunch in Umatilla before heading back to The Villages. I think Rudy and Gretchen were glad to see me, although I'm sure they had a nice mini-vacation with their aunt and uncle. It was a memorable weekend, and I hope Barney the Bear has learned not to steal food from campers...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Florida Trail Day One

Okay, with My Lovely Bride away I decided to play hookey and go for a hike. Not just any hike, but a couple of days on the Florida Trail, which runs from Big Cypress Preserve near Miami to Fort Pickens near Pensacola, about 1,100 miles. I would only do 25 miles or so, but heck, it's a start. It would also be a good opportunity to clear my mind (such as it is). I enlisted My Good Friend Bob and His Lovely Bride Jan to watch Rudy and Gretchen, and when I took our little puppies out for their last walk, discovered that the view from our front yard was blocked by this enormous RV... Rudy's aunt and uncle had brought their brand new Thor motor coach home to wash and wax. I considered asking them if I could take their coach out with me for the weekend so I could check it out, but... Naahhhhh, they'd never agree to that.

Resigned to a humble one-man tent rather than Bob and Jan's fancy new five star coach, I set off for Paisley... not the one in Renfrewshire, Scotland, but the one in Florida, population 734, because that's where the Florida Trail is, Duh... I parked my car at the trailhead at Clearwater Lake Rec Area, where it was safely guarded by the camp hosts, a nice couple who said, "We'll be looking for you to return on Monday; be careful of the bears." I thought, "Yeah, I've heard a lot about the bears, but didn't see any in the wild in Wyoming or Alberta, and this is Florida, so who cares?" Fateful words... I found the trailhead sign marking the trail, and foot followed foot for the next five hours or so...

This is what the pine forest looked like at the start of the trail. The sort of orange patch you see on the tree is an orange blaze, which marks the Florida Trail (the Appalachian Trail is white blazed). This section of the trail was pretty easy to follow, but at times it was overgrown with shrubs. Being a former Boy Scout, I relied on my compass and superb sense of direction and woodsmanship to stay heading in the right direction. (No snide comments, Bob).

After an hour or so, I found this bench, thoughtfully provided by someone to allow a comfortable resting spot to weary hikers. Attached to the underside of the bench was a geocache prize, which I didn't inspect, not being a player in that sport. (Maybe I should, though; it sounds like fun). That's my Osprey Exos 58 ultralight backpack; empty, it only weighs 2 lbs. 12 ounces... today, fully loaded, it's 32 lbs.

I came across a single gravestone in the forest, that of Jeremiah Brewer, born 1844 in Clinton County, Ohio, and died 1877 here in Florida. I researched his name, and found that he served in the 188th Ohio Infantry during the War of Northern Aggression... oh, yeah, he probably called it the Civil War. It's interesting that he moved to Florida after the war... maybe he got tired of shoveling snow back in Ohio, just like a lot of Villagers. But I did wonder what he did for a living out here in "The Forest", as locals call the Ocala.

While most of the trail was through pine and oak forest, parts of the trail in wet areas were on boardwalks, mostly covered with a screen grid to keep boots from slipping when the boards were wet. 

There hadn't been any hikers through recently, because there were lots of spiderwebs across the trail. This was the prettiest arachnid I encountered... it was also the most bizarrely colorful spider I've ever seen. It was about four inches across, but I was unable to identify it with an on-line "bugfinder"...

The trail also passed through stands of palmetto, one of the signature plants here.The trail here was easier to identify than in the pines, because the palmettos seemed to crowd out the undergrowth of bushes and vines that made the pines harder to traverse. Hey, that's not whining, but at times the vines were catching my boots and trying to make me fall flat on my face, not a pleasant occurrence with a heavy pack on your back - there was no one out here to help me up if I went face down in the dirt! In fact, on my first day of hiking, I didn't see a single soul. Eleven miles, five hours, not another soul... it was getting pretty lonely out there.

I arrived at Alexander Springs campground late in the day on  Saturday and found an almost full campground... only one site left. I had planned on stopping only for water and finding a nice spot in the woods, but it had been a very hot afternoon, and I was sweating like the proverbial pig, so decided to stay in the campground so I could take a shower. The friendly camp host, Annette, cheerfully checked me in and told me about the springs and the campground. (She also mentioned Ocala NF's bear activity... I thought, "Yeah, yeah, more bear stories...") One of the pleasures of camping is meeting interesting and friendly people, and Annette was one of them. There was a sign saying "No alcohol - we inspect coolers". I told Annette that I wasn't carrying any beer or wine in my backpack... she thought that was pretty funny.


Marching on with tired feet to my campsite, I set up my tent and prepped for dinner... gourmet freeze-dried sweet and sour pork, actually not too bad. I had just finished when my neighbors came back from walking their dog. Wendy and Pam are from St. Augustine, and have a beautiful golden retriever, Camper, that they rescued. Not only are they kind to dogs, but to tired old backpackers... they were gracious enough to offer me a glass of wine, which I cheerfully accepted. (The "No alcohol" ban is for people using the springs for swimming and canoeing,. to keep the springs and rivers clean of trash... campers are exempt from Prohibition here). They asked me about hiking the Florida Trail, and regaled me with tales of zip-lining in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We shared photos of dogs and vacations, traded stories about problems with our respective RVs, and had a splendid talk until dark. They even offered me dinner, but I was full; thankfully we didn't do a potluck - my freeze-dried sweet and sour would have been a poor entry indeed. It was a fun way to end the day, and I invited Pam and Wendy to come see us in The Villages - while they are a long way from retirement, it's still a fun place to visit... and I owe them a glass (or two?) of wine.

All in all, my first day on the Florida Trail was a resounding success. The scenery was lovely, if not mountainous like Colorado, Wyoming, Montana or Alberta, but the heat in late afternoon was as tough on my body as was the elevation in the Rockies. After a lukewarm shower (my only complaint about the campground was that the water wasn't hot enough for my liking), I crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep, with only an occasional coyote's howl and a great horned owl's hoots to break the blessed silence...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Celebration of Wolf's Message

Sunday evening found us at Temple Shalom for a very special event, A Celebration of Wolf's Message, Suzanne's latest book. It was also a celebration of love, which was the heart of Wolf's Message to humanity.


Mike and Beth Pasakarnis flew down from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for the weekend. Mike wore a wolf tie as a reminder of his son, Mike, Jr., whose nickname was Wolf.

Wolf and our daughter Susan both died from lightning strikes - Wolf in Plymouth, Mass, and Susan at Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. And both souls knew that they were going to transition to the other side. The remarkable evidence that Wolf provided before, during and after Suzanne's reading for Mike and Beth is detailed in Wolf's Message; it is a truly stunning account.

About 350 guests attended the event, which was a fundraiser for a nursing scholarship for a local single mom. Preliminary music was provided by pianist Michele Uss, musical director at Temple Shalom.

Suzanne presented a check to Brandi Stone, this year's scholarship recipient, for full tuition for her nursing program at Lake Technical College. Brandi is a hard-working student with a beautiful young daughter and is looking forward to one day becoming a certified nurse anesthetist.

Nashville songwriter/singers Karen Taylor Good and Stowe Daley sang their two popular songs, Messages of Hope and If Not For Love to an appreciative audience.

Suzanne enjoyed signing copies of Wolf's Message, and many people signed Mike and Beth's Memorial Journal to Wolf.

Many thanks to all the volunteers (parking, registration, snacks, drinks, flowers, music, sound and lights, book table, chair setup) who made this event possible, and to Diane Dean, a member of The Villages Photography Club, who took all the excellent photos you see on this page. Here is Diane transferring a memory stick with her photos to Your Faithful Correspondent.

My Lovely Bride is off to San Jose and Santa Barbara for nine days with several girlfriends, while I take care of some home projects and get in some hiking and biking. She also asked me to thank everyone who attended the Celebration of Wolf's Message for their love and support. It means so much to her.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jungle Clearing; SANDS in San Jose and a FilmFest; Morning Light; A Cold Main Course; Amelia or Alexandria? Celebration of Wolf's Message; Not Calcutta...Cohutta

One of the tactical errors I made this year was not planning on the wettest summer this part of Florida has had for decades. I had arranged regular lawn care, so why was this an error? The first photo shows what the hedges looked like at the back of the house when we arrived home last week. Yes, there is a house behind those hedges, as you can see in the "after" photo below... after filling four large lawn clipping bags with hedge detritus... I think I learned my lesson.

Now, to an important matter -  food. One of the delights of living in the USA is being able to achieve instant gratification when an uncontrollable desire strikes. I'm not talking about a thick steak, fried oysters or even a juicy cheeseburger, but the main part of the meal, dessert. After dinner the other night, we adjourned with My Good Friend Bob and His Hysterically Funny Wife Jan to PeachWave, where we indulged in (small) buckets of frozen yogurt (and no kale or quinoa pellets, thank you very much).

I was walking the puppies the other morning at dawn when I glanced onto a nearby golf course. I was reminded of a scene from North Africa, such as when I took my ship to Alexandria, Egypt, back decades ago, but the Saharan sand dunes there were far more desolate than Amelia #2... and of course, we don't have camels here, except in the pockets of a few die-hards.

We are looking forward with great anticipation to this weekend. Mike and Beth Pasakarnis, Wolf's dad and step-mom, will be visiting The Villages for Sunday evening's Celebration of Wolf's Message at Temple Shalom. Tickets are still available on Suzanne's web site, Hope you can make it, because there may be a surprise or two that no one is expecting...

Suzanne is preparing for a trip to California next week to attend the Science and Non-Duality (SANDS) Conference in San Jose and the Awakened World Film Festival in Santa Barbara, where the Messages of Hope documentary, produced by Rochester, NY, filmmaker Chris Lavelle, is being screened. She is very excited about both events, and suggested that while she is in California, I find something interesting to do. I was reading a book when I heard her say, "Ty, why don't you go to Calcutta?" I thought to myself, "Self, why is she suggesting that I fly to Calcutta, India for a week?" It's not on my Bucket List, that's for sure, although I do like Indian food, and I've always wanted to see the Himalayas. I asked her slowly and diplomatically, "My Darling, why would I want to go to Calcutta without you?" She guffawed and said, "Ty, Dearest, I was thinking about your backpacking in the Cohutta Wilderness north of Atlanta, Georgia, not Calcutta, India." Thank goodness she clarified that; it makes packing much easier. (But then, maybe I'll just sneak on a flight to Santa Barbara, one of my favorite cities in the US... it's also known as America's Riviera... who knows?)