With apologies to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
We hope for the best.
And prepare for the worst.
Canadians think Americans are loopy anyway. But if you really want to evoke eye-rolling and dark mutterings from our northern neighbors try saying this to a Canadian:
“I’m from Florida and I’m here for the snow.”
In December. In Ottawa.
And we’re not talking about skiing. I ski. I fall down. I break something. That way lies disaster.
No, I just love the snow. I like to walk in it. To savor its fresh, sharp scent and biting touch. It’s a walk on the wild side. I’m a stranger in a strange land.
Once my backpacking group, the Shining Rock Orienteering Society (AKA Old Florida Guys In Hot Pursuit Of Their Lost Youth) were hiking in snowy Rocky Mountain National Park. People kept looking at us funny because my fellow Orienteer, Louis Kalivoda, was wearing shorts. It’s just Florida Man folks, nothing to be alarmed about.
It is true that I have lived in Florida for more than 60 years. But the first seven years of my life was spent in Pennsylvania. And I still have memories of waking up on winter mornings and discovering that the world outside had turned white and magical.
Listen, to this day I can’t watch “Christmas Story” without tearing up.
The best day I ever spent in New York City happened because there was a blizzard and my flight home got canceled. I went for a long walk through Central Park in a driving snowfall (listening to Sinatra on a Walkman) and had the time of my life. I had lunch at Tavern On The Green and later went to the Algonquin Hotel for scotch. Move over Dorothy Parker.
So here I am at the age of 72, and a confirmed denizen of the Sunshine State. But there is nothing for it. Every now and then I’ve simply got to go looking for snow. Which is why Canadians find me such an odd duck. But there it is.
I’m a bizarre example of rare reverse tourism. The Air Canada plane headed north had quite a few empty seats. On the return trip to Orlando (aka Land Of The Mouse) it was full up.
Ottawa is one of my favorite cities. I have ridden bicycles there and walked for miles around Parliament Hill and along the Ottawa River. But always in the summer or fall. This time we arrived just in time to take in the Christmas Lights Up Canada festival in Confederation Park. They handed us lighted candles and we walked in a snowfall among gaily lighted trees and sculptures.
The next day I walked along the celebrated Rideau Canal locks. The last time I was here it was crawling with tourists and boaters who were patiently waiting out the long lift up or down. Now I had the place to myself.
Strolling along the Ottawa River was a bleak experience…all whites and browns and grays. Then I came upon a spot where someone had left flowers next to a small plaque of an angelic figure and another that said “Peace And Grace.” I know there’s a story there.
Had tea with the suffragettes near Parliament. Still waiting patiently for Hell to freeze over.
The last time I visited Maj. Hill’s Park we laid down in the soft green grass and took in the sunshine. Things change.
And the snow leaves room for interpretation.
The mutant spider at the National Gallery was still assaulting that cathedral across the street. But it seemed to be moving more sluggishly.
We had taken a cabin on Otty Lake for the month of July. This time we had to hike in because the road was blocked.
In nearby Perth is Steward Park. When last we saw it, kids were swimming in the Tay River. Now not so much.
And downtown Perth has certainly changed.
Although we did meet a woman who was shoveling snow off the sidewalk and told us “It’s very mild today.” I love that sort of optimism.
I’m only saying that if you decide to cross that bridge, the snow presents new and infinite possibilities.
So don’t be a grump. Enjoy the moment. Just be sure to dress appropriately.
It’s a wonderful life. Get out in it. And leave footprints.
I’m a Floridian but I love the snow. So sue me, Canada.
Plus, I’m not the only one.
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.’” Lewis Carroll.
“A cold wind was blowing from the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things.”
“The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches.”
“With luck, it might even snow for us.”
“Well, I know now. I know a little more how much a simple thing like a snowfall can mean to a person”
“The snow began to fall again, drifting against the windows, politely begging entrance and then falling with disappointment to the ground”
“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still.
“To want to understand is an attempt to recapture something we have lost.”
Yes, we were all disappointed in the series finale of Game Of Thrones. Is that all there is?
No, actually, a sequel is in the works.
And it will be ugly. Republics will fall. The center will not hold. The new order will march in lock step. Tweets will go nuclear.
On the plus side the flag may still wave. We may still retain the illusion that life as we know goes on. We will continue to consume and twitter.
But all that will be an illusion. Winter really is coming. And the only thing that can hold it back is our collective will. And only if we care about our children and their children and our species and life as we know it.
The Republic is rotting before our very eyes. From the inside out.
We have just one year to stop the rot.
And if we don’t then we deserve what’s coming.
The winter of our discontent is near. Do we care?
If you know anything about Florida you know that we shamelessly borrow from elsewhere to sort of fill in our blanks.
Snowbirds, iguanas and Burmese pythons to name just a few of our, um, exotics.
So it should surprise no one that Florida’s official state pie isn’t a product of Florida produce at all.
But can the celebrated Key Lime Pie really be Florida if it comes with “ping-pong ball sized limes from Mexico?”
This conundrum posed by Mark Lane, who has forgotten more about all things Florida than most of us will ever know.
Turns out necessity is the mother of pies as well as invention. Our indigenous key limes having been long blown away by hurricanes.
But never mind that. What’s important is that the Key Lime Pie (aka “the pink flamingos of Florida food”) stomped both pecan and sweet potato to sit atop Florida’s confectionary food pyramid.
I didn’t know all this until I read Lane’s new book. “Roaring Reptiles, Bountiful Citrus And Neon Pies: An unofficial guide to Florida’s official symbols.” (University Press of Florida).
Mark is an old pal. A long time columnist for the Daytona Beach News Journal he looks – and rather writes – like a Mark Twain Florida clone. That’s a complement, people.
But seriously, does the world need a book about our state song (“Old Folks At Home”), bird (mocking), play (“The Cross And The Sword”), tree (Sabal Palm) soil (Myakka fine sand) and whatnot?
And, really, don’t our elected legislators have better things to do than designate Glenn Glitter our official litter control mascot?
Well, maybe yes, maybe no. But state-blessed symbolism isn’t just symbolic of idle political hands doing the marketers’ work. “These totems and mascots are our attempts to pin down who we are, to make visible previously vague feelings of common identity,” Lane posits.
Plus, there are some really quirky stories attached to the branding of all things officially Florida.
After all, who would even remember State Sen. Joseph Johnson, of Brooksville, if his death in 2009 hadn’t reminded us that he was “the father of the Sunshine State license plate”?
And remember when a disgruntled House Democrat tried to replace the alligator with party-switching turncoat Jim Smith as official state reptile?
Oh, and while Destin Republican Charlie Clary failed to make the Eocene Heart Urchin Florida’s official fossil, he did manage to get a state law named after his beloved dog Dixie Cup.
But wait, what was so objectionable about fossilized urchin carcasses anyway? Turns out that to some nervous pols, they evoked an uncomfortable association with climate change, sea level rise,”mass extinction, evolution and worse.”
And there’s this to say about Lane’s book. It’s not all key lime froth and trivia. A hard-bitten newsman, he isn’t afraid to ask the tough questions.
Like: “If the manatee is truly our state spirit-animal, why is everybody okay with letting boats run over them all the time?”
And does Florida need an official play “about a state-sponsored military expedition that brought European religious wars to the New World”?
And “How did this happen?” This in reference to a state song that contains the lyrics “Oh darkies how my heart grows weary.”
And why are Confederate Memorial Day and the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis still official Florida holidays? (Think “white nationalists with bad haircuts.”)
Good questions all, Mark.
Listen, if Florida ever needs an official Mark Twain clone, I’ve got just the guy.
Things I’ve noticed while slouching toward Bethlehem
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed
And everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity
Surely the Second Coming is at hand
Somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.
The darkness drops again
Vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
With apologies to William Butler Yeats
Of course by the time John Carter got to Mars it was already too late.
Great civilizations had crumbled. Oceans had dried up. The very atmosphere was on life support. And all that remained were red warriors, green barbarians and multi-limbed beasts to fight over the rubble.
Carter’s story was the ultimate dystopian fiction.
Ok I’ll admit it. I was seduced at a very young age by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the mad master of pulp.
Tarzan of the jungle. Carson of Venus. Innes of Pellucidar. The Moon Maid. The lost continent of Caspar…I ate it all up.
In my pre-teens I devoured his fantastical tales, overlooking the inconvenient fact that Edgar wasn’t much of a writer but a hell of a story teller.
Tarzan got all the attention (which I never understood). But John Carter, the Virginian gentleman turned gunslinger turned red world warlord was my favorite.
But of course, he got there too late.
Mars was already on life support. Literally.
If not for the forboding, fortress-like “atmosphere factory” – pumping out its life-giving air for a thousand years – all of Burroughs’ creations would have been as dead as we now know the red planet to be.
In truth, Burroughs wasn’t any keener a scientist than he was a writer. His science, noted one critic “is just enough to spark imagination, but does not quite measure up to earnest analysis.”
But of course, imagination is what sparks human creativity. Always has.
And I have to admit that, lately, I’ve been thinking about Barsoom’s atmosphere factory as a convenient literary device for putting an entire planet on life support.
Which brings me to Earth’s best known atmosphere factory.
The Amazon rain forest.
On fire now. And every burning moment releasing vast amounts of the carbon that it has been dutifully capturing and locking up for millennia.
They tell us this amazing ecosystem generates 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. Which seems like quite a lot to me.
But to be fair, it’s not like we don’ have emergency rainforest backups.
Like Tarzan’s old stomping grounds.
Which, as it turns out, has fire problems of its own.
Heck, the island of Borneo alone is legendary for its massive tree cover.
Or at least what’s left of it after all the timbering and land cleaning they’ve done for palm oil plantations.
We will be hearing a lot about Borneo in the coming months and years. Because Indonesia plans to build a brand new capital city where trees and orangutans once ruled supreme.
This because its current capital city, Jakarta, is slowly sinking into the sea under the sheer weight of its 22 million population.
But never mind all that.
The point is that, after the rainforests have been cut down, burned off and “tamed” so ranchers can raise more cattle and we can all eat more hamburgers…
…we can probably build all of the artificial atmosphere factories we’d ever need to make up our, um, oxygen deficit.
No, seriously, we can do this.
We put a man on the moon.
We invented Tang, for goodness sakes.
Maybe we haven’t figured out how to use the 9th ray of the sun to manufacture air, as the Barsoomians did.
But there are all sorts of “big ideas” to cool down our overheating planet floating around out there.
We can build giant mirrors in space.
Or lighten the very clouds themselves
Or fertilize the oceans with iron.
What could possibly go wrong?
Still, ticking off all of the heroic efforts mankind might make to compensate for the loss of earth’s, um, lung capacity notwithstanding. One question remains.
If a single nation, one intransigent regime, is determined to destroy one fifth of the Earth’s lung capacity…
…is the rest of the Earth collectively obliged to sit by idly and allow it to happen by sheer virtue of someone else’s “sovereign” privilege?
Because Edgar Rice Burroughs’ real gift from Barsoom to we mere earthlings wasn’t the hope that we might possibly, one day, in some way, be able to to build massive atmosphere factories in order to prolong our lives and our civilization.
Not at all.
Perhaps what he was really telling us is that we, as a species, do not have the luxury of merrily dancing our lives away while others interrupt “the uninterrupted working of this planet.”
It shouldn’t require a scientist, or even a great writer, to deliver, let alone understand, that message.
We spent five weeks this summer on Otty Lake, in Lanark County Ontario. And I probably took a hundred sunset photos. I could not help myself.
After the sun sinks behind the tree line on the opposite shore magical things begin to happen.
Explosions of pink, orange, blue, purple and gold light up the sky, reflect off the clouds and ripple across the water.Endless variations of hues, shades and shapes.
A work of art, really.
Electric, neon, arresting.
Jill spent a lot of time on the lake with Roman on her paddle board.
Roman is not a great admirer of sunsets.
Mostly he just wanted to bite the water.
But I kept a close eye on them from the dock.
Never letting them out of my sight.
Allowing nothing whatsoever to distract me.
Or alter my keen sense of perception.
As I contemplated life the universe and everything.
Hey, where’d they go?
They were here just a second ago.
I must have gotten distracted.
By Trump, Turkmenistan and The Times.
Maybe I should launch a search and rescue operation. Hey, anybody got a paddle?
Oh, never mind, there they are.
Not that I was worried. I had two rescue canoes.
Except you need two hands to work a paddle.
When life throws one curve balls one must, um, rise to the occasion.
This is truly a lost summer. We have been on Otty Lake, just south of Perth in Ontario, since July 5. One day seems to melt into the other. The water. The wine. The sun. These hours melting away. Most days there is a cool breeze rippling the lake. And not to mention the sunsets. Riotous splashes of pink, purple and blues and reds and golds.
Gainesville is far to the south. More a memory than a physical place. I keep in touch via the E edition of The Sun. And I find that all of the university city weirdness still remains even when I am not there to comment upon it.
I mean, some guy is running around town flushing mops into toilets. Because….Tom Petty is dead. The Gators are down but not out. But we still keep coming up with stuff to make our little college berg stand out. Harold Saive wants us to know that Mayor Lauren Poe’s recent trip to Hawaii was scandalous because….carbon footprint. And for all I know he’s right?
But never mind that. I’m on Otty Lake with the loons and the ducks and the deer flies. Here’s what passes for frenzied activity on Otty Lake.
Which is not to say that this place can’t be a beehive of activity. Just last weekend we went to the Stewart Park Festival and it was like Woodstock all over again. I kept waiting for County Joe and the Fish to appear but what we got was some alt-folk-rock band from Montreal called El. Coyote. The place was rockin’.
And that was just the adults. The kids were performing some sort of pagan ritual on the nearby River Tay. Hippy wanna-bes.
Listen, I don’t want to say that Perth is a sort of mini-Peyton Place but this town has a dark legacy involving rival law students, the love of a good school teacher, hot lead on a cold morning and death by duel. Canada’s last affair-of-honor-to-the-death match took place here in 1833, and it is so notorious that they ended up naming a beer after it. Oh the humanity.
And that’s not even to mention the Affair Of The Mammoth Cheese. But never mind that. The point is that Perth is nothing if not a simmering pot of intrigue approaching full boil. All of that friendliness and affability is just a facade. They coulda filmed “Blue Velvet” here and still not scratched the surface. We’re talking intrigue, mystery, deflection and haircuts.
But I digress. On the other hand, can we really digress? What is digression, after all, if not a escape mechanism? How deep is that?
Let’s see…where was I. Oh yes, adrift on Otty Lake. Which as we all know is fed by the Stream Of Consciousness. I’m getting drowsy.
Perth: Ontario: It was a Canadian crime of passion.
Messy and old fashion.
That’s what the people say.
How memorable is Canada’s last known duel to the death, played out on the banks of the Tay River on the dewy morning of June 13th, 1883? Just ask the proud people of Perth, this charming, and otherwise peace-loving, town south of Ottawa and north of the St. Lawrence River.
Why, they’ve got a Last Duel Park and a Last Duel Cemetery. They drink Last Duel Lager (“Raise pints not pistols”). They have a Last Duel historical marker and Last Duel downtown wall art. Indeed, the actual pistols fired are still on display in the town museum.
Listen, Perth’s Last Duel is celebrated proudly, right along with its Mammoth Cheese (“A slice of history”).
This was no gunfight at the OK Corral, but rather a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions.
We’re talking rival law students. The love of a good school teacher. And an enthusiastic second to help keep the pot a boil. Yea, an affair of honor in true Victorian fashion.
Imagine if you will John Wilson, aka, the aggrieved party of the first part (law students, remember?) Hopelessly in love with the fair Elizabeth Hughes. Besotted, infatuated, dumbstruck.
How besotted? Wilson was given to writing long, bittersweet poetic odes to the fair Elizabeth.
“What can it be that makes me sad?
“I surely can’t be turning mad.
“And yet indeed, ’tis very plain
“I am in love; let me think again.”
Then into Wilson’s subarctic Garden of Eden slinks Robert Lyon (the aggravating party of the second part).
Lyon, we are given to understand, was “a suave well-heeled young man who liked to flirt” took a fancy to the fetching Liz, and ultimately ended up bad mouthing her.
One can only imagine the bitter verbal fusillade that led to an exchange of, um, lead. Indeed, it would likely have warmed the cockles of the Bard himself.
Lyon: “This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure.”
Or words to that effect.
Wilson: “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”
Or words to that effect.
And then there was Henry Le Leivre, Wilson’s buddy and duly appointed second in this affair de honour. He was said to be a “bellicose army veteran,” who, we are told “aggravated” the dispute with fatal consequences.
Le Leivre (to Lyon): “Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch!”
Or words to that effect.
Oh the humanity! This “sorry affair” could only end one badly…at least for the party of one of the parts.
“Lyon was killed in the second exchange of shots,” we are reliably informed via historical marker, “while Wilson was acquitted on a charge of murder, married Miss Hughes, and became a member of Parliament and a Judge.”
Nonetheless, insists Perth, “theirs was not a happy union.”
Small wonder. Bloodstains on one’s dress shirt being more indelible than lipstick on one’s collar.
The people of Perth were undoubtedly shocked (shocked) by all of this. But in true Chamber of Commerce fashion they have resolved to make the most of this “harsh form of male pride, frontier justice and elite bravado.”
“Be sure to visit the Last Duel Cemetery to see the engraved marker of Robert Lyon; see Inga-Va _ the house where the couple lived; or go to the Matheson House – home of the Perth Museum where the actual pistols are on display.”
Oh, and did I mention the Last Duel Lager? Pretty tasty that.