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Friday, October 25, 2013

Writing Barely

It’s a wet heat, this rainy season in Puerto Rico.

Trade winds down.

Mosquito population up.

No air conditioning in my eco-hip house.

The tropical weather stirs up crazy thoughts that seem perfectly rational in this swelter.

Like – “Today I’m going to sit down to write with no clothes on.”

Mark Twain overlooked writers when he famously said: Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."

Good writers do indeed influence society. And many do so naked.

During his Cuba period, rugged Ernest Hemingway did much of his writing in the raw, standing, with his typewriter about waist-high.

Ernest Hemingway at his Cuba farmhouse.

Agatha Christie was another who stripped to write. 

She liked to compose while soaking in her large Victorian bathtub -- munching on apples, to boot.

Agatha Christie wrote while taking a tubby.

“Writing barely” has a long tradition.

French novelist Victor Hugo was often unclad when he wrote Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

He had his servant take his clothes away for the day, leaving Hugo with nothing else to do but write. 

Couldn’t leave the house in his birthday suit, could he?

Sans apparel, Victor Hugo’s study was his sanctuary.

Another Frenchman, Edmond Rostand, is best known for his play, Cyrano de Bergerac

He became so impatient with being interrupted by his friends that he took to working naked in his bathtub.

Edmond Rostand was another writer who toiled in the tub.

Now, looking at the photos of all these literary luminaries, the question arises: who would want to see any of these grandees in the altogether?

The obvious answer prompts me -- a man with a shaved head -- to side with Demosthenes.

This greatest of all statesmen of ancient Greece shaved only one side of his head. This ensured that he remain in the house writing and practicing his speaking skills -- instead of going out and looking daffy.

In my next blog, “The Miracle Swim Master of Sarasota, Part 1”

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dove Stew, Anyone?

I am awakened by gunshots these daysHunting season is upon us.

Gunshots continue through the day. Each one is unexpected and causes me to start. 

There is also the worry of being accidentally popped in the head – or some other precious body part -- through the totally open architecture of my house.

Plenty of open architecture to invite the errant bullet

I have no idea of the distance buckshot carries, so I queried Yahoo Answers to find out. Somebody who calls himself “Mitch 321” posted a response.

“There is actually a simple formula to work out the maximum range of shotgun pellets by using the pellet size. The smaller the pellet the less distance it will travel since as spheres get smaller their ballistic coefficient reduces.”

Thanks, Mitch. But I'm an English major. I think I’ll just keep ducking low whenever I pass a window. (And you thought NRA types are, well, dopes.)

With all the firing going on, you’d think the guys out there were hunting Bengal Tigers or something.


Fist-sized mourning doves!

You know – wee birds, coo-coo-coo, mate for life.


Viequenses pick the buckshot out of the dove meat and make stew or fry it. All this hullabaloo about rising before dawn, tramping around the dewy wilds with shotguns at the ready -- when all you have to do is buy all the Dinty Moore stew you can carry from the Morales supermarket.

The main threat to doves as a species is intense hunting.

Their diet consists almost entirely of seeds that they pluck from open ground. They usually forage in pairs or small groups – ideal targets for hunters.
Dove species range across Canada, Central America and the Caribbean. In North America alone, they are the most popular game bird. More than 20 million are taken by hunters each year, exceeding the annual kill of all other migratory game birds combined.
Birds that escape the gunfire often consume fallen shotgun pellets as they forage on the ground -- and die from lead poisoning.

As a result, they have an average life span of a year or so.
Everybody knows that doves mate for life. But if your life might be as brief as a year, you have to make the most of it, I guess.
And doves do.
They have an enviable and fecund sex life. Their love-making yields as many as six broods in a season.
And young mourning doves mature early, getting into the sex thing the same year they’re hatched.
All of which again demonstrating that for both human and dove species, the Paradise that is Vieques offers both agony and ecstasy.
In my next blog, “Writing Barely”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Peeps of Paradise: “N1DL”

My first bed-and-breakfast guest of the 2013-2014 Vieques season was once my boss … then client … now friend.

Karl Geng is hard to categorize.

He is the retired head of Siemens’ U. S. telecommunications business.

He is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Auxiliary, and retains responsibility for the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) covering Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

He speaks English and German with perfection and can get by in several other languages.

He is a skilled-enough pilot to have flown his twin-engine airplane from Boston, across the Arctic ice cap, to Munich – before GPS -- by dead reckoning.

He built a helicopter of some 20,000 parts and took it up a thousand feet to test it.

He knows poisonous mushrooms from edible … has the training to pick any lock … is SCUBA-certified. And he drives a red Ferrari.

Karl Geng, Hi-Tech Renaissance Man

How does such a man relax on vacation?

I should have been tipped off when he asked permission to bring his portable shortwave radio station – a compact suitcase that cossets enough electronics to link him to the world.

After I greeted Karl at Vieques airport and brought him to Casa Cascadas, he set up the station in his suite even before he unpacked his clothes.

Not an easy task, because my house, a minimalist, all-concrete design, is slick as a ping-pong ball – no protuberances on which to attach the length of wire Karl needed as an antenna.

So he strung the wire out his second-floor window … across our 52-foot swimming pool … to the top of the fully extended handle of the pool net, which he lashed to a deck chair … and finally to a high branch on a stand of sea grapes in the orchard. 

Extend the pool net handle, tie it to a chaise -- bingo! Antenna!

He tested this Rube Goldberg fabrication with calls to other operators not in the Vieques neighborhood – mainland U. S., for example, Canada, Guyana and St. Helena in the South Atlantic.

The next day, Karl went to a hardware store to buy more wire – and two lengths of three-quarter-inch irrigation pipes.

He secured one plastic pipe vertically to the Brooke Grant sculpture in our Meditation Garden … tied the extra wire to the top of the pipe … and ran it up to his suite.

He jury-rigged the second pipe to replace the pool net, so I could clean the pool.

He now had antenna wire running both south and north out of his bedroom windows, and by the end of the day he had talked with at least 28 countries on all seven continents. Which included his bounding out of bed at four in the morning for chats with Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

Commercial pipe and wire, a commissioned sculpture -- bingo! Australia!

There was no stopping him.

He moved from voice to Morse and then, connecting a small PC to the radio, conversed in digital modes like radio teletype and slow-scan TV.

Confession: I always thought of “ham radio” as the hobby of teenage boys.

Yes, Karl was a teenager when he became a ham operator. His son received his license at the age of 12 – and his grandson at 11.

But I stand corrected.

Our military considers shortwave a crucial backup.

MARS operators, for example, provided the only communication with the outside world in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. And Karl totes his “radio suitcase” wherever he travels, ready to provide emergency communications when all else fails.

He’s recognized as “N1DL” to thousands of shortwave operators around the world. 

And for a few days, it was his pleasure to make humble Vieques the hub of the planet.

In my next blog: "Mourning Dove Stew, anyone?"

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Trees from hell

“They know. They just know where to grow, how to dupe you, and how to camouflage themselves among the perfectly respectable plants. They just know, and, therefore, I've concluded weeds must have brains.”

When horticulturist Dianne Benson wrote those words, she must have been thinking of Black Locust trees.

Now, I’ve been called a lot of names over the years, but no one’s ever gone so far as to call me a dendrologist -- the profession that specializes in tree identification.

But I took the trouble to research the ugly and unstoppable trees that are growing tall enough to desecrate my view of Cape Cod Bay.

If I read the literature right, they are Black Locust trees, aka Robinia Pseudoacacia.

If a tree could grow in hell, it would be the Black Locust.

The name even sounds Satanic -- deriving from the Greek akris, because Black Locust pods resemble the equally hideous and invasive insect.

Although they dupe us by presenting fragrant flowers in Spring, these trees from hell have pods with seeds that are poisonous to humans. And inch-long thorns that grow in pairs on opposing sides of a branch.

They like sandy or rocky soil, could care less about drought and harsh winters, and grow fast and tall – 80 to 100 feet.

They are particularly invasive, because in addition to their seeds, Black Locusts spread by sending up shoots from stumps and roots. I have pulled up roots as long as 20 feet – running horizontally just below the surface of the ground.

Worse, they will be here long after I’m gone because they can live 100 years. Which puts me in mind of an unsettling image from Hawthorne:

“I found them growing on a grave, which bore no tombstone, nor other memorial of the dead man, save these ugly weeds. They grew out of his heart.”

An unwanted Black Locust cannot be removed easily. Chopping down the tree will not stop the roots from generating new sprouts (called “suckering”). Black Locusts sucker quite badly when cut down, and suckers from the root system can recur for years.  

Even if I could cut them down and kill them completely, I can’t.

Because most of the trees that stand between my house and Cape Cod Bay are on my neighbors’ property. Neighbors who mostly spend only a few weeks here during the summer.

But take heart, I tell myself.

Autumn has come to Paradise.

Leaves are turning.

And the magical waterscape of Cape Cod Bay will soon restore my horizon and refresh my spirit.

In my next blog, The Peeps of Paradise: "N1DL"