Sunday, February 22, 2009

civil war days @ fort zachary taylor

Looking for a quiet day at the beach last week, Jazz and I stumbled upon "Key West Civil War Days" at Fort Zachary Taylor.

Built between 1845 and 1866 and named for the 12th U.S. President, who died in office during it's construction, Ft. Zac today sits within 54 acres of State ParkLand. But back in 1861, after Florida seceded from the Union, Ft. Zac (along with Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas and Fort Pickens in Pensacola) remained in Union hands throughout the war.

Although the fort never saw hostile action, it became the anchorage for Confederate ships captured by the Union blockade squadron. At some point the garrison commanders realized that although the fort was impregnable from the sea, it's back door was wide open to a possible attack by Confederate sympathizers in Key West.

So they quickly pointed ten cannons at the town and turned a section of the land access causeway into a drawbridge. But for all that, an attack from the town never came and, as far as I know, the troop transport, supply and communications rail line that connected Ft. Zac to the East and West Martello shore defenses was never interrupted.

In it's day the Ft. Zac was state-of-the-art military stuff and at any given time there might be 50 to 500 men stationed there doing a lot of thirsty work. But Key West is a "water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink" kind of place so the Ft. Zac had it's own desalinization plant to produce fresh water.

The fort's designers also came up with a tidal flush latrine system. But even though we have four tidal shifts a day here, they are very shallow; too shallow to flush the latrines effectively. So soon enough the waste collected, the water backed up, mosquitos had a new breeding ground and in 1862 Yellow Fever tore through the fort like grass through a goose, killing on average, 15 men a day.

By the time the outbreak was over, better than 300 soldiers were infected with the disease and 70 or so were dead.

At the end of the Civil War, in 1865, troop strength at Ft. Zac was temporarily drawn down only to be re-garrisoned for the Spanish-American War and World Wars I & II. (that's a lot of fighting for a "peace loving nation")

In those years, even though not a shot had been fired in anger to or from the fort, between Yellow Fever, hurricanes and "military justice" very nearly 1,000 soldiers would not be going home again. So with so many needlessly dead guys to it's credit, you might ask, "is Fort Zachary Taylor haunted?" Well I think so, but hell, I believe world peace is possible. So let's go with other folks opinions. . .

Some time in the late 1960's/early 70's a Naval Engineer named Howard England was digging around the fort for artifacts. At some point a bearded guy in a Civil War era uniform asked him, "what be you lookin' for sonny?" England answered that he was looking for guns and munitions and stuff, then asked what the soldier's name was. The soldier introduced himself as Wendell Gardner, told him to dig over here and vanished. Howard England dug over there and uncovered a gold mine of Civil War era armaments and artifacts. It was later discovered that Sgt. Wendell Gardner had indeed been garrisoned at Ft. Zac and had died there in 1862.

Another story comes from Harry Smidt, a park historian who tells of seeing a Civil War soldier while narrating a guided tour of the fort. The soldier, standing guard near a gun emplacement, was seen by everyone on the tour and Smidt stepped up to speak with him. Snapping a salute he said "report soldier" and the soldier came forward toward him. Yes, you're right, Harry had the same "holy sh*t what have I done" moment you or I would have had and quickly snapped another salute saying, "the fort is secure". The soldier halted, returned the salute, did an about face and faded from sight.

Now, I would never had gotten into the ghost thing except that while I was pouring over my pictures, I found this one. . .

Look in the orange square. I had just been around that corner to the left shooting pictures of the latrine. There was no one there but me and, I kid you not, when I shot this one of the long angle of arches (now cropped so you can see the bodily forms better) I didn't see any human shadows. But there they are and enough said. . .

Thursday, February 19, 2009

sea grapes

They don't do well in frost so it's a good thing Sea Grape Plants live in the tropics. Also known as Coccoloba uvifera, Sea Grapes prosper as shrubs or trees, mostly along shorelines. Their salt tolerant roots reach down into the sand and soil where, in return for the nutrients they need, they hold the earth together, saving it from being washed out to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
. . .Sounds like a good trade.

The leaves on a Sea Grape Plant grow as large as a grown man's hand (or at least a sandwich plate) and offer shelter and shade from the direct sun, where they love to live, for the critters and crabs that call their lower branches home.

When summer comes, Sea Grape Plants bear their fruit. Once they're red and ripe, Sea Grapes are tasty little buggers. The pits are pretty big and so there's not a lot of meat on them but if you got a healthy handful of them, I guess you could call it a free lunch.
The trouble for humans though, is that laughing gulls, iguana and, I've heard, turtles too are out and about earlier in the morning than we are so they get at the fruit first. They eat the fruit and spit the pits, poop minerals back into the planet and propagate new Sea Grape Plants.
. . .Hmmm, another good trade

But if you could harvest a bushel bucket of red ripe Sea Grapes, you'd be, in a small way, pruning the plant and encouraging it's new growth. In return, you might mash Sea Grapes into jelly, relish or, because they ferment so quickly, even cheap red wine. (I kid you not, I've seen a few recipes)
. . .So, still another good trade.

Sea Grapes. . .
Another simple but elegant example of the inter-connected-ness of all life forms.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

the mirror meditation movement!

Most of us, especially here in the Keys, shuffle through our day-to-days at an easy pace; Loving our friends and families and enjoying the nature and nonsense that define our lives in the world around us. Then, something happens. . .

Either lightening strikes or we weren't paying attention and we have a real time, in our face problem. A problem that's up so close in our face that, at first, we can't make any sense of it. Maybe we indulge ourselves in a few minute of worry and whining over it but after that, we all know the drill. . .
Take a step back, look at the problem from another angle, see it more clearly and figure out a solution to get over, under, around or through it.

Wouldn't you think the Washington whiz-kids in the House and Senate would know all that? Sure, they were all asleep at the switch when the "economic crisis" they helped create hit the fan - We can forgive that, everyone screws up. But their screw-up happened back in September and the thing WE THE PEOPLE should not forgive, is the five months of hand wringing, whining and partisan bickering they've been doing while the rest of us are left swinging in the wind because of their failure to act.

Clearly, they don't yet know what to do and, left to their own initiatives, will bumble their way into a solution to serve their own interests. They don't know (or very likely care) what your interests are, YOU DO. They don't know what my interests are, I DO. There are no layoffs in the Senate, no cut-backs in the Congress; so how can they come up with a solution that really works for us? They can't, but WE CAN. The solution begins with the face in your mirror.

I invite you all to join the Mirror Meditation Movement!
Every morning, after you've finished brushing your teeth, spent an extra 5 minute or so in front of your mirror. Look into your own eyes and think about what it's going to take to get through the day ahead. Consider the problems and how you might solve them, weigh your choices and define your concerns. Then, pick up the phone. The American Republic is a representational government. The Washington whiz-kids work for us and it's the responsibility of WE THE PEOPLE to give them direction and tell them what works best for us.

I've been doing it for a week now, a phone call every day. (not a letter or an e-mail, I want them to hear the organic, no nonsense tone of my words) Always politely, I voice my concerns and offer suggestions for what they can do to help me, personally. I figure by the end of the month I'll be on a first name basis with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But that's how it should be.

Get behind the Mirror Meditation Movement!
There are more of us than there are of them and if we get their phones "ringing for representation", all day everyday, they'll have a better understanding of who we are, what we're about and how they can best serve us.

The following two links are directories of the House and Senate where you can, very easily, find the reach information for your representatives. . .