Travels With Oso con Migo

Sojourn In America

OAE On The Road Again, Zypherhills--northward

May 6, 1997, last letter April 6, 1997

Gentle Readers,

April 4, 1997, A Lone Star from the Lone Star State

Is There Life After Antarctica? It would seem so. As Jack Parr once said --There must be a better way of making a living than this.

He looked and came back. I am still looking.

My truck is finally a proper Texas truck. Well, almost anyhow. I never did find any barbed wire in the residential neighborhood, there were a lot of barbed cactus tho. But on this last day in the Lone Star State, in the last mile before the border a big truck passed my little truck and threw a rock at me so now my windscreen has a proper lone star. The bluebonnets and other Texas wild flowers seem to be bigger and thicker the closer I get to Louisiana but as soon as I cross the border they stop altogether.

April 6, 1997, Sunday, Hale Bopp or Hale Boggs?

About eight feet below sea level behind a floodgate in the French Quarter of Nawlins there is a square sort of like Cathedral Square in Christchurch; except that Jackson Square has no Wizard. There were instead three palm readers reaching for my hand. Two were rather portly palm readers with great turbans, flowing beards, and long robes. They looked like they'd been there a while. The third had no turban, no beard, and a newly pressed tunic, he must have been a prentice palm reader.

I'm visiting OAE Bill and he is showing me around his city. New Orleans has several casinos; we went to one Saturday and practiced reading the palm of a one-armed bandit.

We went to a casino in New Orleans. I can see how that can be very addictive. I'll bet they look at how much you deposit in the slots and adjust the odds just to keep you baited on the hook. Then there is always the feeling that the next coin you drop could be the one that wins. Well I nearly broke even--spent twenty, won seventeen. 

Did you know that this entire city is right now about fifteen feet below the surface of the Mississippi River? 747's landing at MSY don't bother lowering their landing gear, they inflate their escape chutes for flotation instead.

Along ... Canal Street? I learn that here the strip of earth, grass, gravel, that divides this way of the street from that way on the other side often separates one neighborhood from another. From long  ago what is called the median in most other places is called the neutral ground here. Everybody got along until somebody came along and started telling them they had to; now New Orleans has a higher murder rate than Miami. But then I heard on the radio that Florida has been under-reporting its crimes recently...

On Sunday morning Bill ran in the 5k Hale Boggs Bridge Run. Seventeen hundred folks ranging in age from seven to seventy showed up for this end of the running season race across a bridge normally closed to pedestrian traffic. After the race we went on down US 90 and SR 1 and  across the Big Bridge at the intersection of the Bayou Lafourche and the Intracoastal Water Way to Larose and visited North American Shipyard where the newest NSF icebreaker, Lawrence M. Gould, is under construction in a huge barn where it sits on some sort of moveable keel-way with flanged wheels on steel rails that lead out to a dry dock. The super structure is waiting outside. When the hull is complete it will be moved outside and mated with the super structure. She looks a far way from being ready for the opening Palmer station cruise in October or November.

April 7, 1997, Damn the Torpedos. Full Speed Ahead!

The Blue Rose Restaurant in Pass Christian (local pronunciation is like saying a woman's name: Christy-Ann) was closed on Monday and the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center wasn't open yet; perhaps they forgot to do the Spring Ahead thing with their clocks. I learned from a passing Sheriff that the name of this town of 5500 souls really refers to the passage between two islands close off shore, and the way into the harbour at New Orleans. As we sat window to window discussing history on the quay a local fisherman in his pickup indicated with wild gesticulation his desire to pass us. --Let's move to the boat ramp, the Sheriff said.

One of the islands is named Cat Island. The town was founded in 1699 by the French and in the War of 1812 (there have been several recordings of the overture to that war) the French employed a Spaniard named Juan De Cuevas on Cat Island to interfere with British ships trying to get through Pass Christian to New Orleans. But the sun was climbing into the morning sky and I wanted to find a more sandy and less populated beach for my afternoon nap so I said good day to this historical sheriff and went on. 

Along side the road an antenna farm crops up between the trees and I execute a two point U-turn to go back and check it out. I've never seen such an extensive collection of towers and aerials of all sorts. Radio station W L O, a little south of Bayou La Batre, has 102 aerials and uses most of them all at the same time with ship to shore communications on frequencies from "marine VHF down to 438 kilocycles". You can see the guy who was telling me that was an old- timer. I told him I remembered kilocycles.

Fort Gaines is on Dauphin Island and with Fort Morgan guards the entrance to Mobile Bay. This is one of the best such locations I have ever visited. Dauphin Island was first named Massacre Island by Pierre Le Moyne de'Iberville in 1699. The fort, in various evolutions, has seen action from pirate raids in 1711, through World War I when a Coastal Artillery unit garrison manned the disappearing guns. It is well preserved and restored by the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board but its not been sanitised like so many similar places. You can actually fall down a narrow circular stair well that has no hand rail. You can bump your head in the low dark tunnels of exquisite early 1800's brick work or twist your ankle on the uneven granite blocks that floor the ammunition room under the northwest bastion. 

One of these tunnels leads under the gun platform and earthworks to the latrine on the sea side of the fort. Some of you may appreciate my fascination with the subject of toilettes--This was not your usual outhouse. There were ten holes lined up along the foundation of the outer wall and twice a day the tide would slosh in through culverts under the rocky shore and wash the waste to the sea.

April 8, 1997, Gulf Breeze, Mirror Mirror On The Wall...

Toilettes continued... A lot of hotels seem to have great mirrors in their bathrooms positioned such that when you stand in front of the commode you can see what you're doing from a rather unusual perspective, the Holiday Inn here has a mirror where when you sit on the commode ... And to think I almost camped out last night.

April 9, 1997, Pensacola Beach? ... What Beach?

I don't see no beach! There are beach "front" houses lined up three and four deep (driveways have passing lanes). Some of the larger ones have merged into condos and then they grow into hi-rise hotels and then they merge into urban sprawl...

Then there is a line in the sand. I never thought I'd have anything good to say about the National Park Service after what I saw them do to the sand dunes of Cape Cod at Provincetown. They use to be such a great place to play in the warm spring sun after the long winter of northern New Hampster--then the National Park Service came along and turned this little known area into the Cape Cod National Seashore Park to protect it. Their protection meant installing the kind of wooden slat and twisted wire snow fence things you often see along highways to keep the snow from drifting onto the pavement. The sand dunes promptly abraded the wooden slats into punji sticks and the twisted wire into fishhooks and no sooner had the National Park Service finished installing porta-potties on their newly paved parking lots then they put chains across the entrance that said Closed For Spring Vacation Due To Over Use. But the real reason wasn't over use, it was cos it was no longer safe to run barefoot in the sand with all those sharp pointed sticks just waiting to impale you. Here at the east end of the Gulf Islands National Seashore there are no dunes to attract that sort of mismanagement. The boundary of the park is well defined by the distinct lack of construction and clutter. The place is surprisingly clean and austere--not a porta- potty in sight. This time of tight budgets may be a blessing in disguise. Well Done NPS! 

But now we leave this land of sand and sea and venture into the orange groves of F L O R I D A ... The first point of interest is Way Down Upon The Suwannee River at the rest area at Fanning Springs. I've been through here before, several times, by car and motorcycle, and never found my way beyond the bridge span that memorialises Stephen Foster's melody. Maybe its this Isuzu pickup, or maybe its Oso con Migo riding shotgun, all tangled up in his seatbelt, that has a better nose for the woods, but I went down a side road off the side road in Levy County and found a Conservation and Recreation Area that provides a home for Trichechus manatus latirostris (also known as West Indian Manatee). Manatees are an endangered species, not unlike Humans, who are often killed in collisions with power boats and from living in polluted waters among other things. I didn't see any manatees, they're probly all down river at Manatee Springs State Park or over to Homosassa Springs where tourists can look at them through glass bottomed boats. 

Beyond Homosassa, out towards the end of Yulee Road there is the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins. David Levy Yulee (1820-1886) built Florida's first cross state railroad and served as the states first senator. In 1849 he operated a mill here that supplied confederates sugar, syrop, and molasses. The sugar was moist, coarse, light brown, it says on the sign, unlike the white fine sugar we use today. Cane was grown locally and since it was not practical to ship cane long distances to processing plants each plantation had its own mill. The cane was crushed by large steel rollers driven by a horizontal cylinder steam engine. The watery sap, like maple sap, was collected in large iron kettles and heated by the same fire that drove the engine. As the sap thickened it was ladled by hand through several kettles and then the raw sugar was packed into hogsheads and left to settle until the molasses drained. In the meantime the crushed cane, bereft of its sweetness, was fed to the boiler. 

And speaking of boilers, just down the road from there is the Crystal River Energy Complex. One of the largest generating sites in the United States, producing up to 3,000 megawatts of electricity from four coal fired plants and one nuke plant. This site is one of nine operated by Florida Power but it represents about half of the utility's generating capacity. At the visitor's center I learn that the nuclear containment structure is built to withstand the impact of a 727 aircraft, a 300 mph wind, a 30 foot tidal wave, internal pressure of 55 pounds per square inch. (All at once? I wonder?) I also learn that the coolant water is discharged into the Crystal River at a temperature only slightly warmed, perfect for the manatee who are often spotted in the warm water of the discharge canal during the winter months.

April 10, 1997, Pretty Pond, Hidden Pond, Z'hills

Roger suggested I make use of a vacant bach across the street rather than having to rearrange their couch twice a day. It really is a good idea, this way I get to spread out all my junk and I get to eat all the ice cream. This afternoon Joan reminded me there was a pot luck to attend at the Pretty Pond clubhouse. There are two long tables and I was placed near the end of one with Roger and Joan to one side. Ken was across from me. I leaned toward Roger and observed --There are six places at our end of the table and only five pieces of lemon meringue pie. Now four of the slices of pie are pointed at the places they are closest to but the fifth piece, between Ken and me, is pointed towards his place but closest to my place. So, ahh, Roger, who do you think this piece of pie belongs to? Hmmm? Ken cos its pointed at him or--and Roger filled in for me--you because its closer to your place? Well, he went on, you just make a grab for it and we'll see who it belongs to.

April 12, 1997, Looking for an Orange Juice

Today I was faced with making choices at a grand food market. All I want is a tin of ground coffee. There were at least sixteen brands, each in four or five sizes, and several flavours, not to mention the single cup bags and the decaf and the recaf and the low acid and lo fat. Finally I found my old standby "Good to the last drop" Maxwell House. I'm a brand loyal shopper and "I Remember Mama" so that's usually my choice tho it is most often hidden at the bottom. Then a similar trial awaited me at the dairy section. Where the hell is the orange juice? Somehow its been moved to between the bread and the deli now and if that's not enough where there use to be a simple matter of Tropicana not from concentrate vs all the other stuff there is now seven different Tropicana Orange Juice flavours--with and without juicy bits, old style, home style, with grapefruit, with tangerine, traditional tear open the cardboard container or glass half gallons ... and of course fortified and lo-fat, I am simply overwhelmed by the choices.

We went to dinner at Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in Saint Petersburg. On the place mats it explains--The raw fish are laid on racks over a smouldering fire of red oak. Red oak, a native of Florida, is very similar to the northern hickory. The fish cook and smoke from four to six hours." See if you can find this place, its worth the trip.

April 17, 1997, Visiting Cousins

Cousin Ethel, over to Lakeland, had a bad fall--not just an inclement Autumn mind you--one of those I've fallen and I can't get up kind of falls.

April 20, 1997, Sunday, Marci's in Rome, Nancy's in Naples

Right now I am visiting with cousin David. And his wife and cats and grandkids, in Venice... Florida. I think this area must have been originally settled by a bunch of Italians; there is Venice and Naples and lots of pizza and all the palm trees lean.

Unlike the beach of several kilometers of unoccupied sand in Christchurch the one at Marco Island off Naples was wall to wall people. From beachfront to surf, except for the areas demarcated as Nesting Area for Endangered Birds, there was hardly space to lay down and certainly not enough room for proper sunning. Nancy said that all those people would go away north in a couple (probly to Revere, eh?)

Marci, who was the baker one recent winter in McMurdo, writes from Rome: ...we've spent a week in utter amazement. never have i experienced history in such a way ... perhaps it is because history itself takes on such a physical presence in Rome ...

I had a great visit with my cousin David over this past weekend. David is a month or so older than me and a grandfather recently. His grandson then is my first cousin twice removed. And I also found recently that the Joan, of Roger and Joan, my sort of adopted parents from Conway, Hiram, and now across the street here in Z'hills, shares a common ancestor with me. Joan and me are ninth cousins through Andrew Newcomb b.1640. Fascinating!

This just in from various news services, quoted here out of context for the purpose of review and editorial comment...

>   "Ozone depletion has previously been shown to harm one-celled 
>marine plants in Antarctica," Detrich said. "We've now documented 
>significant damage at a higher level of the food chain."
I wonder if any research is being funded to determine the damage caused to man in that environment. Certainly there is enough research on the damage caused by man.
>   "This is the product of many years of hard work," said Vice 
>President Al Gore. "Antarctica is a jewel and a unique resource for 
>all people  of the world.  I am proud that the United States 
>continues to be a  leader in global efforts to protect the Antarctic
How is it that Gore can consider the United States a "leader" when...
>statement that of the 26 nations that must ratify the treaty before 
>it becomes international, only Japan and Russia have yet to approve
...she is 24th of 26 in the club?

This week I'm reading a short novel about Antarctica: _At The Mountains of Madness_ by H.P.Lovecraft, ISBN 0-345-32945-7 that I recommend to all interested in this subject.

April 23, 1997, Watch out for the Dragon.

                 |  @___oo
       /\  /\   / (__,,,,|   * * * *  Gardyloo   
  /\  ) /^\) ^\/ _)
 <  > )   /^\/   _)
  ||  )   _ /  / _)
  | \ )/\/ ||  | )_)              Happy Saint George's Day
   \_____  |(,,) )__)
          /    \)___)\
      ___(      )___) )___
         _(_______;;; __;;;
Happy Big Wind Day passed with nary a ripple on the water, without the usual flurry of greetings between OO's who mark it. I let it go.

April 25, 1997, Friday, Surrounded By Sailin' Solution

On Thursday I climbed aboard the belly of a great fire-breathing cousin of Saint George's bane and rode off into the sunrise. Puerto Rico was a lot like Singapore, I never left the secure area of the aeropuerto. In one gate and out the other. Change from the big plane to the little plane between Tampa and Saint Thomas. At the snack bar there was no salsa for my nachos but at least they had some respectable beer. San Juan was a place to transfer to a smaller cousin, the wailing of the former replaced by the screeching of the latter, smokes of vapour emanate from the cabin air vents as the AC does battle with the ambient humidity as my magic carpet returns to earth on the cusp of the windward islands, this New York of the  Caribbean, a cute point of the Bermuda Triangle. It was after two days of being taxi'd about by friends of my hosts Cindy and Steven (their car is incapacitated at the moment requiring a radiator to be delivered from the mainland) when I realised as I sat in the front passenger seat of a car with no rear brakes that I was on the wrong side of the yellow line. Actually the yellow line was weaving from side to side under me as the driver deftly straightened the curves of suicide hill while he watched carefully for oncoming traffic on my side and oncoming rocks on his side. Get the picture yet? Suddenly I did. Denizens of this thirty-two square mile surrounded by sailin' solution tourist paradise drive under rules handed down from its Danish ancestry in vehicles of its American present. 

Marilyn visited Saint Thomas two years ago and took King Burger to sea. He's not returned, much to the delight of the clown, and many of the residents who thought his edifice rather ugly on the waterfront. This is Carnival Week on Saint Thomas, the thirteen mile long island is celebrating the sparkling beauty and deeply-felt cultural traditions of the lively mix of humanity that make up the community here with parades, food fairs, and other activities in Charlotte Amalie.

Friday I spent my day with Steven in the cool dry environment of the Network Operations Center of the U.S. Virgin Islands Freenet and made occasional forays out to bask in the sight and sounds of the Parade of the Children. One steel band after another drumming along the line of march tho march is hardly the right word in this case. Between the bands there were troupes of costumed children representing the Mocko Jumbi spirits and all sorts of other sprites and characters. Tomorrow  is the adult's parade and the wedding of my hosts, Wizards of the USVInet. Their home overlooks Dorethea Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on the north side of the mountainous backbone ridge of this island. While the folks of Grand Forks wish the water in their basements would go away the folks here wish there would be more rain to fill the basement cisterns they depend upon for their potable water needs. Downtown some toilets are flushed with sea water and some places have wells but most depend upon the catchment systems of their roofs. 

April 28, 1997, Monday, Back To Work

Saturday was the end of Carnival Week and Steven married Cindy whom he met on the internet a few years ago. Their wedding was on a hill overlooking the city of Charlotte Amalie on the south coast; Rian came in his Mocko Jumbi costume and added a splash of colour to the otherwise formal black and white. The wind was from the east, a gentle breeze across the yacht haven, from the West Indian Company dock, where the giant floating cities of tourists tie up for their day of shopping, blowing towards Hassel Island and Frenchtown. On a barge anchored in the bay fireworks marking the end of Carnival Week started up as the padre read wedding vows from Kahlil Gibran's _The Prophet_: You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore... But let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. 

Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

The kids sidled through the family group to turn their attention to the fireworks over the bay below our vantage in the hills. The padre pronounced Cindy and Steven man and wife and later someone hollered --Hassel Island's on fire! Sparks from the fireworks had ignited the drought-dry grass and underbrush. Hassel Island, in Charlotte Amalie harbour, once a fort and then a signal station, is to be developed as a U.S. National Park. The fire burned up from the seaward side, into the wind, to the ridge extending east-west and by late the following morning had been contained by firefighters and volunteers who had to barge and ferry their apparatus across the harbour. 

Sunday was a day of sailing. The islands and the beaches are a lot like the Bay of Islands off the North Island of New Zealand. Great snorkeling until I was attacked by a large rock. I was concerned for a while that the blood might attract a snark or something worse, like maybe a barracuda.

Now its Monday. Carnival is over, workers are tearing down the rides and rolling the tents; the kids are back to school and the adults are back to work. But the streets are still filled with tourists--in fact today there were three huge tourboats tied up at the West Indian Company dock. Across from the Virgin Islands Legislature (which building use to be a Danish school) is the Fort Christian Museum, named after King Christian V of Denmark. In 1917 America purchased the Danish West Indies for twenty-five million dollars in gold. Utilising the cell-like rooms of the fort to good advantage the museum traces the islands' history from Columbus to Clinton. At about the same time David Levy Yulee was using iron and steam to crush cane in Homosassa the folks here were using wood and draught animals. 

I've been walking around all day participating in the tourist experience, helping to improve the cash flow of the island, economy now my ankle is swollen and red--there might have been some coral on the rock, some of them are nasty.

April 30, 1997, Walpurgis Night at Zorba's Eatery

My day was mostly on the beach--"playing on the seashore, diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." Steven was working. After replacing most of the water in my daypack with coral and stone I walked back up the gat to find my hosts returned from work. We went off to the print shop to play in the darkroom for a while making the inter-negatives from artwork for the production of a booklet for David's school. 

The eve of the first of May is Walpurgis Night but the town is quiet, everyone seems partied-out after Carnival Week; at Zorba's, where Clinton had lunch a few weeks ago, the oven has been turned off for the night and we choose from among the leftovers to make a meal so I can take my antibiotic.

May 1, 1997, Thursday, Time To Fly Away North

In the news from McMurdo, my home town... My OAE correspondent on the ice reports:
>[29 April] "We had the last sunset. The Navy held the traditional 
>flag lowering, in -85f windchill I might add, and promptly put the 
>flag right back up again and will leave it there all winter I am 
>sure. [They usually do that--there is a large spotlight on the roof 
>of the Admin/Comms building that illuminates the flagstaff.] 

>The [Sunset] swim [at Scott Base] was supposed to happen Sunday but 
>was cancelled because of too much water. High tide put a foot or two 
>of water around the hole. It would have been a wading/swimming party. 
>I can see people frozen into the sea ice, resembling Lots wife 
>looking back... 

>[30 April] Big news. Chuck Gallagher is sick with some form of 
>pneumonia and the doctors want to get him outta here. Can you spell 
>Friday May 2 may see the first C-141 landing during the winter months!
>Pegasus is the intended site. And the three or four equipment ops 
>guys are working themselves silly trying to get it done by then. 

>[1st May] I have somber news. Chuck Gallagher passed away today. They 
>called a quick town meeting at 3:30pm to tell us...
Chuck Gallagher was recently one of many Navy personnel assigned to McMurdo who took retirement amidst all the cutbacks to move over to the civilian side and continue working in Antarctica.

May 2, 1997, Friday, Blinking Blue Lights Greeting

I heard on NPR news this morning that the Texas separatists who are holed up on a mountain have been given an ultimatium: Give up and be arrested or you are going to be arrested anyhow. 

What's the difference? Keith writes from Austin that the Texas Separatists don't represent anyone in Texas. They came from somewhere else " beat on their chests and say how free they were. They filed thousands of bogus liens against property they wanted or that belonged to people who opposed their philosophical slant. Then last week they took a neigbor and his wife hostage at gunpoint because he wanted them to abide by the rules of the community. They had built bunkers all over and trained with automatic weapons. They didn't pay their bills and filed liens if questioned. Kidnapping at gunpoint is a felony. The Texas Rangers had no choice but to arrest them." Interesting that none of that detail was in the in-depth reporting I've been hearing on the news. Thanks Keith.

Back from Saint Thomas. Somewhat fewer dollars, traded for more memories; and somewhat worse for the wear. My snorkling banged up leg still hurts and the swelling comes and goes--antibiotics are now a large part of my diet, more so than vegemite...

No news on the AT&T site there; it is harder to contact and get into than my host and I expected. Other than that Saint Thomas could be a nice place to live except for the hills and the traffic.

And the lack of water.

But the beaches are great! and the weather is ok. 

However my return to CONUS was not without flaw. To start with the flight was overbooked and the gate attendents asked for volunteers stay over for the next flight in return for a flight voucher and overnight accomodations. It was touch and go at the gate with attendents vascillating about who and how many would go. For a while they could not agree on the amount of the voucher either. $400 or $500. So I played the game for the voucher it offered but when all was said and done all ticketed PAX were accommodated and a few stand- bys went as well. Not only that but there were easily fifteen empty seats in the cattle cabin. I don't understand.

Nonetheless, once underway the flight went smooth, no hassels with customs or lost baggage. The weather in Tampa was comfortable upon arrival and the roads not too crowded for driving back to my temporary retirement hooch. Then when barely a half a mile from docking, only five minutes around two more corners, I am stopped by the blinking blue lights for a missing lowbeam headlamp. That results in a shudder to my automotive house of cards and a nine dollar ticket for driving at night with faulty equipment. Once again I don't understand: why is it my fault that my headlamp has gone out and there is no store open for me to buy a new one? I have no quarrel with the constable, he "cut me a break" with regard to the title-bill of sale-indeterminate-status-of-insurance. Seeing that a headlamp is out is a lot easier to quantify. 

May 5, 1997, Cinco de Mayo

Now its really time to head north. Ethel is coming along well. We went out to lunch and a pleasant walk in the park; her new hip still needs a little alignment and then she'll be able to return home. I've got all my maps and mail in order, the auto insurance issue is resolved for the time being, it remains only for me to see if I can get everything back into the boxes and back into the little truck.

Long storey run, bigger he grow, worse he smell. This Sojourn In America continues. See me or see me not, expect me.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Love, ajo

 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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