Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Chance Encounter with the Hōkūleʻa

On May 18, 2014, the Hōkūleʻa, a replica of a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, embarked from Honolulu on a three-year circumnavigation of the earth using only traditional Polynesian navigation techniques.  That means navigating the oceans without GPS or any other modern instruments. Yikes!

Tim and I just happened to be on hand to see it pass through the St. Lucie Lock near Stuart, FL.  We are in Indiantown, FL for a one-week build with Habitat for Humanity.  This afternoon we were running errands in Stuart, when we passed the brown highway sign that read St. Lucie Lock. I said to Tim, "Let's stop and see the lock."  Boy, are we glad we did!

Hōkūleʻa and its sister canoe, Hikianalia, are sailing the Earth's oceans to promote a sustainable way of life.  Check this link to see their route.  

Last week Hōkūleʻa's scheduled stop in Cuba coincided with President Obama's visit.  

Today the canoe passed in front of our very eyes.  On June 8th, the crew plans to dock in New York City where they will participate in the United Nation's World Oceans Day. Then they will cross the Atlantic a second time to visit Europe before angling back through the Panama Canal on their way home to Hawaii.  

If all goes well (i.e. no bad weather, the two dugout hulls stay lashed together with rope, steering oar doesn't snap, etc.), they'll make home port sometime in 2017.

David, a neurologist and the medical officer for  Hōkūleʻa volunteer crew members, was on shore next to us.  He gave us a brief account of what life aboard the canoe is like.  There are between 11-14 crew members on each leg of the voyage.  

They sleep head to toe underneath these canvas tarps on each hull.  Underneath the bunks is the storage area, although there isn't much room for anything except the necessities of food and water. 

Today a tow boat guided them into the lock but once both crafts reached the lower level of the St. Lucie Canal, Hōkūleʻa was on its own once again.

Hōkūleʻa will sail up the Eastern seaboard with stops (among others) at Newport News and Old Town Alexandria.  Look here for their planned stops.

This was all so interesting to us, because we only learned about the Okeechobee Waterway with its series of canals and locks during our stay in Fort Myers.  If you want to sail the Intercoastal Waterway, the Okeechobee is a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. 

On Monday before the Indiantown Habitat build began, Tim and I biked 30 miles along the berm that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, a distance of 110 miles if you circle the entire lake.  

We began our bike ride at the Port Mayaca Locks on the east side of the lake.  

The trail is not shady; nor is it very scenic but we did see our first alligator.  

When we returned, we saw a sailboat go through the lock, but we were too far away to get photos of the process. 

But this afternoon we were definitely in the right place at the right time!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sanibel Island's Sanctuary

Last Monday Tim and I drove over to Sanibel Island, a barrier island off the Gulf Coast from Fort Myers, FL.  I say we drove but perhaps I should say we crawled through the Spring Break traffic to get there; at one point, it took us 30 minutes to progress one mile.

But the drive was worth it, if only to visit the J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling was an editorial cartoonist who used his bully pulpit to draw attention to the dwindling mangrove habitats of southwestern Florida.  

"If we only had a place to stop and catch our breath!"

He won the Pulitzer Prize twice, 

Top panel--1920; Middle panel--1930; Bottom panel--Extinct American species - Wild Duck

but even more importantly, he blocked the sale of land to developers on Sanibel Island and convinced President Harry Truman to set aside the 6,400 acres as a national wildlife preserve.

The refuge consists of mangrove forests, 


submerged sea grass beds, 

See any submerged sea grass beds, Tim?

cordgrass marshes and West Indian hardwood hammocks. 

West Indian hardwood hammocks

It's an important habitat for over 220 species of birds and unknown numbers of raccoons, gopher turtles and alligators.  Thankfully, we saw no alligators as we walked the refuge's Indigo Trail.  A volunteer at the refuge told us that the alligators would lie low in their holes during the chilly, upper-60s temperature that day.

What we did see were lots of birds.  

One bird surprised us.  From its perch in a tree, it dived underneath the water where it swam submerged for quite some time.  We'd never seen anything like it.

I wish I could list the proper names of all the birds we saw but the only ones I could confidently name were the ducks.  

We walked over 9 miles through the refuge and elsewhere on the island.  

The Hirdie-Girdie Art Gallery, a local artists' cooperative, was worth a visit as was the lighthouse at the tip of the island.

We finished our day with dinner at the marina where yachts were lined up in their slips.  

Tim pointed out the one he coveted.  He dreams of one day sailing the Inter-coastal Waterway.  As for me, I'd just as soon keep my feet on terra firma.  

That's my sanctuary!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Nailed It!

That's the motto of the Fort Myers affiliate of Habitat for Humanity and that's exactly what we did during these two past weeks of working at their build site.

We nailed door frames

and baseboards 

and soffits underneath the roof.  

We installed cabinets 

And windows

and a patio sliding door. 

During our two weeks on the Fort Myers job site, a single mom Eva who has two autistic children accumulated 18 hours of sweat equity as she worked alongside us. 

Mornings were a little chilly

But once Gabe, our site manager, assigned us a job, 

We quickly warmed up!

Clockwise from upper left:  Ron, Barry and Janet

Our team was smaller this time around.  That's because there are only a few camping spots behind the Fort Myers Habitat office for RVs to park.  

But we were mighty and with the help of students on Spring Break last week, we accomplished a lot.

In fact, we nailed it!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Edison's Winter Quarters

March 6, 1885 is considered the most important date in the history of Fort Myers, FL, for it was on that day that Thomas Alva Edison landed in this sleepy Gulf coast town.  Thirty-eight-year-old Edison came on the advice of his physician who warned him that unless he left the cold winters of West Orange, NJ, he would never recover from his lung ailment.  And so he came, bringing fame and the subsequent reporters and tourists who sought him out.

Edison purchased property on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River and built his modest winter home there.  A laboratory where Edison could continue his eighteen hour workdays soon followed. 

Then he added a guest house and connected it to the original with a covered walkway. 

A swimming pool soon followed 

As well as a study,

And a caretaker's cottage with a 3-car garage.  

Why did he need a 3-car garage?  Because his next door neighbor Henry Ford periodically presented new models to him.  

Ford who resigned as chief engineer from Edison's company to start an automobile factory gave his mentor new models as they rolled off the factory line.  

He also bought the Fort Myers property next door to Edison.  

Last week a fellow Habitat volunteer Barry, Tim and I paid a visit to the estates of these two friends.  The young historian who led our tour group had plethora of facts and anecdotes to tell about both men.  

I didn't know that Edison and I share a similar affliction: we are both deaf.  When he dined at his home in Florida, he liked to sit at the head of the table facing the river so he could appreciate the view even though he couldn't follow the dinner conversation.  When he finished eating, he would abruptly rise and go on about his business, leaving his guests to fend for themselves.  He much preferred to converse with his guests one on one.  Me, too!

Not only did Ford and Edison spend winters in close proximity, they also, along with rubber tire magnate Harvey Firestone and naturalist John Burroughs, went camping together.  Calling themselves as "The Vagabonds," their first camping trip was to the Florida Everglades in 1914 and for the next 10 years their trips continued up and down the Eastern seaboard and inland as far as Tennessee.  

One of Edison's interests was botany.  He planted a botanical garden on the estate.  During World War I, he searched for a native plant that would produce rubber in the hope of easing the shortage of tires.

Edison's inventions are incorporated into his home. 

For 50 years the Edisons wintered here in Fort Myers.  A decade after his death in 1931, his widow gave the estate to the city.  

We are all the beneficiaries of that gift.