Willful Ignorance

Atlantic, North Carolina

We’ve read the stories and seen the pictures – hundreds of spring breakers congregating on the beaches and in the bars in Florida.  Partiers fill the bars in Charlotte, New York or other cities on a Saturday night.  A group of runners posts photos of their latest group run, and when someone suggests too much togetherness they shake it off with a “haha, we’re always together anyway so what difference does it make?”

Skagway, Alaska
Skagway, Alaska
Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Well, the difference it makes is that those young people are the ones who are getting sick.  A news release from Mecklenburg County Public Health indicated that nearly 50% of the 80 cases (at that time) in the county were people in the 20-39 age group, with another 33% in the 40-59 age group.  Us oldsters – once again – appear to be the wise ones, at 18%.  Huh.

Washington, North Carolina
Dominica

I get that we live in an independent society, but people seem to be more concerned about their personal inconvenience than they do about making sure they don’t get sick or transmit a virus to others.  I stood in line at the liquor store on Saturday, and no one in the line was maintaining the recommended distance.  They were talking and laughing and carrying on, no one seemed to be concerned.  I will give them credit though – they didn’t seem to be complaining and were nice to the clerks!

Friends returning just yesterday from several months in Italy remarked at the stark differences between the airport in Rome and JFK in New York.  New York is currently the epicenter of contagion in the US, and only a fraction of the people were wearing protective gear and no one was maintaining distance.  Granted, some of that may be because we were not/still are not properly prepared with adequate supplies (another contentious subject but not my bone today!), but mostly I think we (as a society) are just selfish and lazy.  Italy has a strong sense of community and is taking it very seriously, and they have still been hit hard.  Cause & effect, choice & consequence.

Charleston, West Virginia
Shelter Cove, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

I live in a neighborhood where the majority of the residents are well into their 70s all the way to their 90s.  And nearly all of them have some kind of health issue that puts them at risk.  And most of them are being sensible and staying put.  We make regular runs to the grocery store, but thankfully we have a fully stocked (except for toilet paper!) grocery store and a Walmart within sight of our neighborhood.  We go early, get out quickly, come home and wash our hands and face.  I’ve been keeping up my morning walks, and rarely see a soul.

Hippies Use Side Door sign in Fernandina Beach, Florida
My Mind Will Be Closed Today sign in Fernandina Beach, Florida
Ocracoke Island, North Carolina
Sign at a jewelry store in Estes Park, Colorado

For all we wring our hands at the stories in the news and on the internet, we don’t seem to be taking it seriously.  And that’s going to make it harder on the people who have to take care of us when we do get sick.  Those people are taking it seriously now, and we need to listen to them and do the right thing, instead of wondering if we have enough junk food and toilet paper or what’s going to happen to our summer vacation if the school year gets extended.

Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos
Please also close the other half of the grid. Thank you. St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles and French West Indies

What’s With All the Emails?

Piglet: W-w-what was that, Pooh?
Winnie the Pooh: [laughs] My tummy rumbled. Now then – come on, let’s go home.
Piglet: But Pooh, do you know the way?
Winnie the Pooh: No, Piglet, but I’ve got twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they’ve been calling to my tummy.
Piglet: They have?
Winnie the Pooh: Yes, Piglet. I couldn’t hear them before because Rabbit would talk. I think I know where they’re calling from, so come on. We’ll just follow my tummy.
From “The House at Pooh Corner”

“I couldn’t hear them before because Rabbit would talk.”

I know I’m not the only one, but over the last few weeks I’ve started getting emails from businesses and companies that I haven’t heard from in weeks, months or years.  For some reason all these people feel the need to “say something.”  Sure, for businesses it might be a winery saying that they were closing their tasting room, or the grocery store announcing shortened hours.  But if that’s all there is, that’s all they need to say!  But instead of “We’re Closed” they have to say something like “we care about our customers and understand that in this difficult time blah blah blah.”

I get that a crisis provides a good opportunity to remind customers that they are still around, but I don’t think an email from a spice shop in Blowing Rock that I’m not even sure I’ve been to is going to make me say, “honey, let’s drive up to that cute little spice shop in Blowing Rock and stock up on some of that Adobo seasoning we like.”  On the other hand, there isn’t anything else to do….

It just seems to me like a little bit of piling on.  If you want to send me an email when you open, that would be great, thanks!  But, if you happen to be having trouble with your X-Rite software, we sympathize.  If you happen to be driving through Sanibel, Florida, stop by, even though we’re only doing take out.  But no one is offering to bring me toilet paper….

I feel better now, thanks! 🙂

Oh, the photo is a series of “tree portraits” that I took in Hilton Head a few years ago.  The tree was just outside our condo, and I took multiple photos of it over the course of a week.  These 5 are printed on individual pieces of wood and hang in our bedroom.  My only “installation.” 😉

Finding Our Own Truth

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Kathy & I had friends over last night for a visit and dinner, “social distancing” be darned.  We hugged, shook hands, sat in the same room together.  It was nice.  He is an avid cyclist and nutrition geek, she is a respiratory therapist for a local hospital.  Naturally a lot of our conversation revolved around the coronavirus. Four adults having a mature, intelligent and reasoned discussion.  But four distinct points of view and varying levels of concern because of our respective temperament, background and outlook.

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

I won’t get into details of the conversation because it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post.  But suffice it to say that it reinforced for me how our own perspective influences our response to events.  This isn’t a news flash, but it seems like the larger the crisis the more it drives and exposes these differences.  In many ways our attitudes are driven by where we get our information, if we choose to get information at all.  Sometimes the ‘head in the sand with an occasional peek out’ is a sound approach.  Sometimes we want to take in everything we can, and then filter out the junk and keep what we want.  Usually it ends up being something in between.

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

I used to joke that every morning I would get up, turn on CNN, and if they weren’t talking about the end of the world I would get dressed and go to work.  These days, I get up, look at the New York Times and Washington Post websites, and they are (figuratively) talking about the end of the world.  But I get up anyway and go make coffee.  And tea for Kathy.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

I recently compared the media, meant to include all sources of information – internet, news, Twitter, Facebook, etc. – to walking into a large grocery store.  Everything in that store is something that someone wants or needs.  But not all of us visit the pet food aisle, or greeting cards or (not us!) the wine section.  Most of us visit the dairy section, the frozen food section, the canned goods section, and the meat case.  More of us should visit the produce section, but unfortunately most of us head for the junk food.  We have to choose, and the choice can be hard.  What we buy is influenced by advertising, long held habits and beliefs (like loving or hating spinach or Brussels sprouts), family preferences and diet.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Every section of the store represents a source of nutrition.  The quality of that nutrition varies widely from one department to another, but our individual choices determine what goes into our cart.  And what goes into our cart affects our diet, which in turn determines our quality of life.  The same thing applies to the media.  Everything we put into our “information cart” affects our attitudes and outlook, which in turn determines our mental outlook. It determines our truth.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

It seems weird to equate groceries to information, but I think the parallels are valid and relevant.  Just like we all have our own diets, we also all have our own truth.  The cross section in the room last night was ultimately a very narrow one compared with the rest of society as a whole.  But it illustrated to me how we all need to take responsibility for the flow of information into our lives, try to find the items that best suit us, and decide what to put into our cart based on our needs and priorities.

Biscayne National Park near Homestead, Florida

Kathy & I have adopted the mantra “day-to day, week-to-week and month-to-month.”  Take care of the immediate, think about next week but only worry about next month if you have to.  Today at least I feel like we are still on the outside looking in.  Like sitting on the beach in the sunshine but knowing that there’s a tsunami headed our way.  Our stylist (actually Kathy’s stylist but the person who cuts my hair) called this morning to say that she was closing after Saturday, and would we like to come in today.  And we said yes, because who knows what tomorrow or next week will bring.  We’re stocked up on food but will still go to the store to buy fresh stuff for as long as we can.  I’m cleaning camera gear and stacking up photography books to read.  And when the weather warms up, I’ll pressure wash the porch furniture and get ready for summer.  All of our travel plans are on hold and we’re keeping our heads down as much as we can.  Gas is below $2 a gallon but there’s nowhere to go!  Our retirement accounts have lost thousands, but we’re healthy and far from broke.  That’s my current truth.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Interesting Times

Sunbeams through the fog along the Blue Ridge Parkway near the intersection with US 23/74 near Waynesville, North Carolina

Interesting times these are.  According to Quora, the saying “May You Live in Interesting Times” is misattributed to Confucius.  It was first used by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized through a speech by Robert F Kennedy in 1966. The phrase “live in interesting times” dates at least to the late 19th century. The “Chinese curse” element was likely added by Sir Chamberlain as an (effective) embellishment. There is no evidence of a Chinese origin.

Rosebay rhododendron along Balsam Mountain Road, Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

When we’re not traveling, I’m usually content to be a homebody.  Why is it then, when I’m told not to go out, I want to go out?  When we saw Monday’s announcement that people should stop eating in restaurants, almost immediately followed by an announcement from our favorite fine dining establishment that they would be closing immediately, Kathy & I did the sensible thing and dashed out to our favorite Italian restaurant for pizza!  That’s essential travel, right? 🙂

Turk’s Cap Lilies along Balsam Mountain Road, Blue Ridge Parkway
Turk’s Cap Lilies along Balsam Mountain Road, Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

When I walked this morning, it was business as usual at our local Micky D’s and Eat Mo Chikn, but now we’re getting word that the governor has ordered all restaurants to close their dining rooms after 5:00 today – take out and drive through only.  So it’s a good thing we brought home extra pizza!  And a good thing we like to eat our own cooking!

Yellow jewelweed along the Blue Ridge Parkway Waynesville, North Carolina

The grocery stores should still be open, although there’s no telling what the shelves will look like.  Kathy & I are well stocked with vittles to get through, although we’ll continue to shop as long as we’re able to get to the store.

Wildflowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 437 near Waynesville, North Carolina

The whole thing seems like a ridiculous overreaction from here at this point, but I know that we see a very small sliver of the world, and I know that we are – for the moment – mostly out of the epicenter of the exposure to this nasty bug.  Hopefully we can keep it that way.  A reminder like this video from people in Italy helps keep the perspective.

Wildflowers along the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 437 near Waynesville, North Carolina

So we’re good for now.  We’ve got food & wine, music, internet, LOTS of photography books to look through, and several thousand photos to process if I choose to.  So I think as long as our neighbors don’t try to sing we’ll be able to get by just fine!  I told Kathy earlier that, since the economy (and our retirement fund) has gone to sh1t, we might as well do our best to stay healthy and keep ourselves occupied while it has a chance to recover.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway at MP 437 near Waynesville, North Carolina

The links are from friend and photographer Jeff Curto’s blog.  He and his wife are “stuck” in Italy (by choice – read the blog) and he has been posting about his time there.  Because Italy is a few weeks ahead of us in terms of the virus, they are experiencing what we might have to endure if things progress in this country.

Rosebay rhododendron along Balsam Mountain Road, Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

We’re also tracking the progress of some friends who have been on a world cruise.  When the cruise line decided to shut down operations and send everyone home, they started looking for a place to dock.  They are currently in the Pacific Ocean somewhere, headed to Australia, but Australia might not take them.  The good thing is that they have been sailing since early January and no one on board has been exposed, so hopefully they will be able to land somewhere!

Rosebay rhododendron along Balsam Mountain Road, Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

The photos are ones I’ve recently rediscovered from a macro workshop in 2009.  I’d forgotten about them and am having a blast with the processing, especially using software technology that didn’t exist back then.  Looking at these photos reminds me to get my macro lens back out! (And yes, a few of them have some nasty fringing from the closeup diopter I was using at the time.  Others really do have pink edges!)

Morning fog in the valley from The Orchards Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, MP 444 near Waynesville, North Carolina

Fuzzy Concepts 2

Motion Blur in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

Panning with moving objects to convey a sense of speed and motion.  I need to do more of this, although people can be weird about a guy standing on a street corner with a camera.  Maybe now that I’m older they’ll just think I’m eccentric but harmless. 😉

Motion Blur in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina
Motion Blur in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina
Motion Blur in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina
Motion Blur in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina

More From The Everglades

View from the observation tower at the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

I had always thought of the Everglades as a swamp, but it’s not.  While there are swamp areas in and around the park, the Everglades per-se is actually a 60-mile wide freshwater river, running from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is only a few feet deep in most places.  Because the water flows across a limestone shelf, there is little or no silt or sediment, so the water is remarkably clear.  The flow of water has been greatly impacted over the years by development and diversion of the water to major cities, but recent efforts to stem the loss of wetlands has at least slowed the loss of this ecosystem.

Observation platform on the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park

For our visit, we wanted to see as much of the park as possible, so we didn’t really spend a lot of time in any one place.  It would be possible to spend weeks in any one area, but to get a good overview we concentrated on three main areas.  We stayed in south Miami near Homestead, so we had a good bit of driving to do to get anywhere, especially the second and third areas mentioned below.

Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
The Gumbo Limbo Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida
Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park, Florida

The southernmost part of the park starts near Homestead and stretches from the Ernest Coe Visitor Center down SR-9336 to the Flamingo Visitor Center.  We spent time on the Anhinga Trail, which is an easy 0.8-mile path and boardwalk through an area that is home of a large number of wildlife.

Baby alligators along the trail from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park
Tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades National Park

The section that is probably most familiar to visitors to south Florida is the section that is bisected by US-41, known as the Tamiami Trail.  Because the Tamiami Trail only borders the National Park on the south side, and only in a relatively small section, this is the place where all the air boat rides, ‘gator rasslin’ places and trinket shops are located.  The Shark Valley visit center is probably the most visited center in the park, and unfortunately has the smallest parking lot.  It’s not unusual to have to endure long waits to get into the parking lot, with the alternative of parking on the road and walking about a half mile in to the visitor center.  That wouldn’t be bad in February, but I wouldn’t want to do that in August!  Then again, I want very little to do with south Florida in August!

We were fortunate to have only a relatively short wait to park, then lucked into a tram tour that left about an hour after we arrived.  The “loop road” that goes to an observation tower is a 15-mile round trip.  Walking it would be the ideal way to experience the trail and the wildlife, but 15-miles is a long way!  It’s also possible to bicycle the trail, and it’s possible to rent bikes there.  But the tram tour goes slowly enough and stops whenever wildlife is encountered, so for tourists like us it’s a pretty good way to get around.

White Pelican and Cormorants during our Everglades National Park
Historic Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island, Florida

The third area, which is probably more a sub-area of the second, is the area around the towns of Everglades City and Chokoloskee.  From Chokoloskee we took a boat tour through the Chokoloskee Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico.  We opted for a tour in a small motor boat rather than an airboat, since the motor boat is slower and quieter I think we were able to see a lot more wildlife.  Airboats are not allowed in the National Park, so any of the airboat companies up along the Tamiami Trail don’t actually take you into the National Park.  Not a big deal, but I wanted to experience the park proper, not just the Everglades in general.  We lucked out and only had 4 people on our tour plus the guide.  Compared to the option of the airboat I think we made the right choice.  I’d love to take an airboat ride sometime, but I think of it as more of a thrill ride than a way to see wildlife up close.

Everglades National Park contains a number of these shell islands that were constructed by the Calusa Indians using only shells. The shell layers are visible along the edges of the water.
Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours
Dolphins during our Everglades National Park boat cruise with Everglades Area Tours

I’ve got plans for a few more posts detailing some of the highlights from these various areas.  I didn’t want to clutter this post up with too many more words or photos, so those will come later.

Thoughts on Three Cruises In Four Weeks

Brilliance of the Seas docked next to Liberty of the Seas in Cozumel

We didn’t set out to book three cruises, honest!  It just sorta…happened. 🙂

Carnival Breeze in San Juan, Puerto Rico

We had previously booked two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) Freedom of the Seas out of San Juan in January.  The ship was scheduled to go to drydock for extended renovations the week after we were due to get off.  But due to lots of reasons irrelevant to my post, Royal Caribbean needed to move the drydock back one week and cancelled the second of the two weeks.  We didn’t want to travel all the way to Puerto Rico for just a week (our preference – lots of people do it), so we decided to cancel the first week, too.  We re-used the plane tickets to go to San Juan this past November instead.

Norwegian Dawn in Roatan, Honduras

Because of the cancellation of the first week, we ended up with a credit that needed to be used by February, so we found a 5-night cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, another RCCL ship sailing out of Tampa.  We had never sailed out of Tampa before, and figured with our credit that this would be an inexpensive way to take a short cruise and check out Tampa.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Meanwhile, friends of ours had booked a Carnival cruise out of Port Canaveral for the following week and “suggested” that we might want to go along.  It doesn’t take much “suggestion” to get us interested in a cruise!  So, we booked a cruise on that ship for the next week.

Aboard Brilliance of the Seas

Our son Kevin likes to cruise also, and he has been sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).  He mentioned that he wanted to take a cruise in February and suggested (there’s that word again!) that it might be fun if we went together.  So we checked around and found a cruise on Norwegian Dawn out of Tampa.  But the catch was that there was a week’s gap between the two cruises, so we would need to find something to do for a week.  In Florida, in February?  Not hard to do.

Schooner Bar aboard Brilliance of the Seas

We have been working on visiting different National Parks, and had never been to The Everglades.  So we decided to find a place to stay in South Florida for a week, where we visited Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and drove through some of the Florida Keys.  More on those later.  Then we drove back to Tampa to meet our son and take the third cruise.  When it was all done we had logged about 3,000 car miles, who knows how many cruise miles, and about 4,000 photos!

Grand Atrium aboard Norwegian Dawn

A few thoughts:

– People ask us about the different cruise lines, and although it sounds like a cop-out, they are all good.  Different lines tend to cater to slightly different demographics, but things like ship size, home port and cruise length tend to make a bigger difference than the name of the cruise line.

– We tend to prefer smaller ships and this was borne out on these cruises.  The RCCL and NCL ships were each about the same size – approximately 2,000 passengers, while the Carnival ship was about 4,000 passengers.

– We’ve always assumed that shorter cruises would attract more of a party crowd, but the 5-night RCCL cruise was one of the most laid-back we’ve done, and seemed to have a very high number of repeat cruisers.  The Diamond Club, a lounge for passengers with a certain level of cruises with the line, had so many people that it overflowed into an adjacent lounge.  The Carnival and Norwegian cruises each had a high number of first-timers – a very interesting contrast.

– Cruise line food is very good regardless of the line.  Dining choices are either fixed, with the same table and waiter at the same time each night, or flexible, where you eat where ever you want each night, but with a different waiter and different table each time.  We have always preferred fixed seating, as we like to establish a relationship with our waiter.  But one of the disadvantages of fixed seating is that a lot of the food has to be prepared at once and can sometimes be overdone.  Flexible seating tends to be more cook-to-order, so the food is often fresher, hotter and usually properly done.  This is especially important with fish!

– We really liked cruising out of Tampa and did it twice.  The city is nice – much like Charlotte in terms of age and size, but on the water.  The port is very easy to get in and out of, and parking is a snap.

Sunrise aboard Brilliance of the Seas enroute to Tampa, Florida

I’m sure that’s more than anyone wants to read about my vacation, so I’ll leave it at that for now!

Big A$$ Yachts

Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St Thomas, USVI

One of the things I enjoy while cruising is checking out the huge yachts that appear in Caribbean ports.  They can be seen year-around, but mostly during the winter when it’s too cold for the French Riviera or Monaco, I guess.  They seem to gravitate toward St. Thomas, St. Martin and San Juan, probably because they have harbors and marinas large enough to handle ships their size, and airports to handle the private jets of the owners.  My understanding is that the owners don’t actually sail on them, they just have crew to take the ship to whatever port they wish to sail from, then the owners hop in on the private jet for a long weekend or a week.

Here are two of the notable spottings from our recent cruise.

Yacht “Eclipse” in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

From Wikipedia: M/Y Eclipse is a superyacht built by Blohm+Voss of Hamburg, Germany. Her exterior and interior were designed by Terence Disdale. The yacht was delivered to Russian businessman Roman Abramovich on 9 December 2010. At 162.5 metres (533 ft 2 in) long Eclipse was the world’s largest private yacht until the Azzam was launched in April 2013, which was 17.3 metres (56 ft 9 in) longer. The yacht’s cost has been estimated at €340 million. (Note: the Carnival ship we were on was 306 meters or 1004 feet long, but carried 4000 passengers and 1400 crew!)

Yacht “Excellence” in St Thomas, USVI

From Wikipedia: The 80m Excellence yacht was built in 2019 by Abeking & Rasmussen. She features an exterior design by Winch and an interior by Winch. She cruises at 14 knots and reaches a top speed of 17.0 kn. She can sleep up to 14 guests taken care of by a crew of 20.

Oh, and while not exactly a superyacht, a properly-equipped catamaran is always a pleasant sight. 🙂

St Thomas, USVI

Photographs and stuff!