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Excursions

Travelogue - March 21, 2010
All things, once seen, they didn't just die, that couldn't be. It must be then that somewhere, searching the world, perhaps in the dripping multiboxed honeycombs where light was an amber sap stored by pollen-fired bees, or in the thirty thousand lenses of the noon drangonfly's gemmed skull you might find all the colors and sights of the world in any one year.

"Dandelion Wine" - Ray Bradbury ©1946

Our brief moment of fame

Ft Myers Beach Observer 3/3/10 We are still here at Ft. Myers Beach, Sea Gator is still on the moorings. And at long last the wind abated so that we could finally dinghy in to do laundry! As soon as we stepped through the door into the cruisers lounge/laundry-room Marty and Connie from Bullship cried "You are famous!"

We had had no idea, but sure enough, our image was in one of the paper's dozen photos comprising its coverage of the Blessing of the Fleet. Coincidentally, I had been unable to avoid taking many photos of a guy with a big camera who kept hanging around Bishop Smith, and now I know who he was. I kept thinking, "Jeez buddy, get out of my shot!" He probably thought the same thing about us before grudgingly snapping the Pulitzer prize-winner, right. You can see him in our previous travelogue, following close behind the Bishop's processional down the shrimp docks.

So here is part of a page from the Fort Myers Beach Observer, dated the week of Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

Oh my goodness, yes, Tiki carvings were also available.

Laundry was fun, too. As Marty and Connie and I visited, in came Sea Elf's crew. We had met them recently in Boca Grande as they are friends of Don's and Gillian's. Small world! Sea Elf had just arrived at the moorings - and sure enough, there they are now, just a hundred yards away from us toward the mangroves - so it was fun to fill them in on the island's happenings.

Road Trip!

On Saturday morning, the temperature inside Sea Gator was 52 degrees. Almost ready for the Men's Olympic indoor downhill! But we left our warm blankets to Goldie and piled in Bump Head. We were going on a road trip!

We swung by Little Mick as Gary and Mickey were locking up and we all rendezvoused at the dinghy dock. A moment later we had piled into their car, the heater was cranked, and we were on our way.

Old Smallwood Store We were heading for Everglades City, scene of many fine adventures from the sea. This would be Rick's and my first visit by land. It was a nice drive, past ritzy developments and trailer parks and malls too numerous to count - and too identical to differentiate. Soon we left Marco behind and the road swung eastward to become Alligator Alley. We only saw a small part of this legendary passageway, but the lush reeds and billowing grasses and abrupt glimpses of shining water were tantalizing.

The entry into Everglades City was unremarkable, although distinctly not as cluttered with sprawl as many communities. We drove through town, pointing out landmarks to each other, and headed for the Everglades National Park visitors center. There Mickey celebrated her landmark birthday by buying a Golden Age Pass! YAY!

Chokoloskee

Then we motored on down the causeway to, literally, the end of the road: Chokoloskee.

Ted Smallwood On the western edge of the Everglades, deep in the heart of the 10,000 Islands, a Calusa Indian shell mound known as Chokoloskee Island has been one of Florida's last frontiers...

We had breakfast at the Habana Cafe where they excelled at sandwiches of scrambled egg and spicy homemade sausage pressed between toasted slices of fresh Cuban bread. What makes the bread "Cuban", we asked, because it tasted like a heavy Italian bread but with a certain secret ingredient. Lard, was the unexpected answer. Oh. Well, it was delicious, and we weren't going to eat a whole loaf of the stuff, just enough for one delicious breakfast.

...White settlement in Chokoloskee Bay began near the end of the nineteenth century. Plume, hide and fur hunters were the first to visit. They were quickly followed by families who combined seasonal hunting, fishing and farming to make a living... Settlement brought a need for goods and mail...

After breakfast Gary and Mickey drove us to the very end of the road, at the southwestern-most tip of the southwestern-most inhabited island in Florida. We arrived at one of their favorite sites overlooking Chokoloskee Bay: the Smallwood Store. See its photo from Florida's state archives, above left.

Smallwood Store

Ted Smallwood (above right, ibid) carried the mail from Chokoloskee via Everglades City and then onto Marco Island three times a week from 1896 to 1897. He used a small sail boat and the run took one day up and one day back, weather permitting. In 1906 he established a frontier store, post office and trading post on the island. Smallwood's Store became the center of activity on Chokoloskee Island.

Stocked shelvesThe Trading Post served this remote area, buying hides, furs, farm produce and providing goods in return... Ted was a colorful and witty man known for his story telling... He spoke three languages including Seminole..

In 1917, he moved the enterprise to its new shore-side location, and dredged a deep water channel to his dock - a great convenience to the schooners and other trading vessels plying the route between the southwest coast and Key West. Unfortunately, the 1924 hurricane sloshed a four foot wave through the store, so Ted and his son and a Seminole friend raised the store with railroad jacks and set it up on pilings, as it is today. Storm surges from the intervening hurricanes have risen to floor level without substantially damaging the structure.

Ted was a regular fixture in the store until his death in 1951. The first road was built to the island in 1956. Ted and Mamie's daughter ran the Store after his death, and in 1974 she successfully petitioned to have the store placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The store and post office remained open and active until 1982 when she closed the door and locked it behind her. On that day, 90% of the original goods remained on the shelves.

Smallwood Store All the stuff (see more photos) was still in stock when Ted and Mamie's grandaughter reopened the store as a museum. The items on the shelves were very cool to explore: they had everything from soup to nuts, fabrics to oil cans, fishing line to galvanized sinks. I can't think of a single thing a person might need that couldn't be found on the shelves or hanging from the rafters. We recognized many of the goodies from the five-and-dime stores back in the day, or from our grandparent's homes.

A fascinating detail was the way the bases of the counters were cantilevered inward to accommodate fashion: so ladies' hoop skirts wouldn't pooch out in the back and impede traffic, we were told.

The past just isn't what it used to be

Committing to a construction technique in response to women's fashion was an interesting choice, because the "hoop" - invented in 1858 and patented in 1861, if anyone asks - had been replaced by the bustle by the 1870s, and by the end of the 19th century skirts were becoming bell-shaped and by 1917 were considerably narrower. One questions whether fashion sense in the hot, steamy, mosquito-ravaged Florida frontier was so out of date? Even if so, would women choose to maintain hoop skirts on the frontier?

Hoop skirt I doubt it - for the simple reason that an enormous skirt would impede your vision. You could step right on a 'gator or snake without even seeing him stretched out on the path in front of you. Plus the "roads" through the community were just sandy paths hacked out of the brush - you'd arrive at the store crawling with creepies you'd brushed from the scrub with your sweeping skirts.

I think it's more likely that the angled counter technique was the holdover; not the skirts themselves.

Nevertheless, the counters were surprisingly comfortable to linger on; you could belly up close and not bruise your kneecaps. Maybe that was the real secret.

Well. It was a fine expedition. Gary and Mickey are excellent adventure companions: interested, intelligent, patient and always up for an adventure. Thanks, Gary and Mickey!

And so it has come to this

We had been told about an abandoned condo building with a dock, located at the end of the canal leading to TOPPS Grocery Store. The dock was a sturdy place where Rick could drop me off for my array of social, fitness and housekeeping obligations.

The alternative was the shallow landing just a stone's throw across the canal - which required (a) wet feet and (b) a sashay through the rank and file of various rank and felonious individuals.

One day I arrived at the dock by land a few minutes before Rick arrived by Bump Head, and I loitered around waiting for him. Several men and a boy loitered at the landing opposite, their row boats and dingies tied loosely to the mangroves and within easy reach of a passed bottle among them. A couple of them glanced my way as I arrived at the dock and I called brightly "Hello!" and I gave them a little wave.

They stared and then pointedly turned their backs. Dearie me!

I have been rejected by the rejected of society. How low can I go?

Well, within a day of our decision to graciously accept permanent exile in the back 40, we received an early morning call from Gary: one of the boats near them in the front mooring field would be leaving shortly. Long story short, we scurried and hurried, and moved Sea Gator to the forward field, from which our commute to shore is considerably shorter.

No friendlier, however. The first time Rock dinghied me to the nearby boat ramp at the end of Miramar Street, just across the channel from SEA GATOR's mooring, a homeowner stepped out of his driveway to run me off. "The ramp is for street residents only," he scolded. I apologized for disturbing him but I included a stop at the Town Hall in my errands that day.

The control-freak at the Town desk gave me a map showing all legal public access points to and from the Beach and the Bay, and here it is for boaters' convenience. The dock and mangroves behind TOPPS are not included, but Miramar Street is. No dinghy parking is allowed, but drop offs are. All the other street residents have been very friendly to me at all times of the day. FYI

The Koreshan Unity Settlement

Hint #1: Never join a cult whose founder has recently named a new religion after himself.

Koreshan cabin But the 200 or so believers, who left their lives and families and all the comforts of civilization behind to follow Dr. Cyrus R. Teed ("Koresh" being the Hebrew translation of Cyrus, meaning shepherd, uh huh) to build utopia in the mosquito-and-gator infested wilderness of southwest Florida, would have disagreed.

The former wilderness is now Estero. And the former thriving colony is now Koreshan State Historic Site , a Florida State Park consisting of 305 acres and a dozen or so restored buildings. So on a breezy but sunny Saturday, we again rendezvoused at Gary and Mickey's car which they captained skillfully, piloting us all safely to our next adventure. There we learned lots of stuff.

Americans in the late 1800s were ripe pickin's for new cult-builders. The Koreshan settlement was a utopian community established in 1894 by the good doctor, who believed the world was a hollow sphere and that humans lived on the inner surface. He received the gift of this knowledge while lying unconscious on the floor after receiving an accidental jolt of electricity.

From The Cellular Cosmogony by Koresh [pseud. Cyrus Reed Teed], 1922:

Cellular Cosmogony "The sun is an invisible electromagnetic battery revolving in the universe's center on a 24-year cycle. Our visible sun is only a reflection, as is the moon, with the stars reflecting off seven mercurial discs that float in the sphere's center. Inside the earth there are three separate atmospheres: the first composed of oxygen and nitrogen and closest to the earth; the second, a hydrogen atmosphere above it; the third, an aboron (sic) atmosphere at the center. The earth's shell is one hundred miles thick and has seventeen layers. The outer seven are metallic with a gold rind on the outermost layer, the middle five are mineral and the five inward are geologic strata. Inside the shell there is life, outside a void."

On the basis of this theory - illustrated with fancy graphs and enhanced by his personal charisma - Dr. Teed was able to amass enough followers to establish a thriving town in Florida. Its citizens devoted much of their time to inventing and operating survey equipment in attempts to prove the hollow sphere theory. I imagine it absorbed a lot of their energy, for obvious reasons.

Pole bridge In their spare time they created a thriving town: they established a farm, nursery, and botanical garden. Their cultural activities included drama, art and music - and in fact on the day we visited there was a concert going on in the restored Art Hall.

The Koreshans' commercial enterprises included a cement works, power plant, and a trading post at the confluence of the Estero River and future Highway 41.

They maintained their community with its own school to which neighboring children were also welcomed, communal laundry facilities, bakery, gardens, herds, kitchen and dining hall. The community was laid out using some delightful planning tools:

The city would embrace a system of formal gardens laid out in patterns of applied geometry, based on three elements; the arc, the chord and the radius; and the principle of centrality which corresponded to the Koreshan vision of the layered and centralized property of the universe.

Conceptually, this is brilliant and it leads us to Hint #2: if you DO join a cult and are planning to carve a new utopia out of the wilderness, always start with a clear and concise concept - whatever that may be - and reinforce it every chance you get. They did that.

Planetary Court Here are Mickey and Gary and Rick, above right, availing themselves of the peep holes in a geometrically precise pole bridge crossing the Sunken Garden. A second bridge - classically white - is featured as the "thumbnail" index photo for this travelogue.

The colony was a matriarchy, directed by a council of respectable women whose numbers and heirarchy were modeled on the zodiac. Their group home, the "Planetary Court", left, is intact and restored. It is really very beautiful. Its staircase was crafted over the course of many months by a traveling shipwright.

One of these councilwomen was the last surviving community member; it was she who deeded the land to the State in 1961. It's kind of sad that she lived to see the moon walk and the photos they sent back from space. She must have been terribly disappointed, although her response was reportedly mild and philosophical. She died and was buried in the compound in the early 1980s.

Steam engine The community's large machine shop and small tool shop are virtually intact. Gary and Rick spent a lot of time examining the original steam engine, right, which provided power for all the machine shop tools and the adjacent laundry.

Rick and Gary figured out how the thing operated, where the steam went in, which pistons drove which gears and shafts, and how the engine was connected to the main shaft along the ceiling of the big machine shop. And how did the clutch work? Well, each machine was equipped with a long lever, with which one moved the tool's designated belt on and off the active shaft-driven wheel to a free-wheel, to start and stop the drill presses, lathes, circular saw and jig saw. They figured it all out.

Rick said "It was fascinating to stare at an early steam engine and kind of dissect its operation, and see how really simple early stem engines were."

That steam engine ran all the tools in the machine shop and the washers and dryers in the adjacent laundry. And we realized that the drive shaft powering the tools was the same as the setup used in Thomas Edison's lab and workshop, upriver at Ft. Myers.

Deisel engine Next, on to the big generator building, which housed a 1930, 80 hp Fairbanks Morse diesel engine, left. That monster had a 6' diameter flywheel, connected by belt to a huge alternator which provided electricity to the entire settlement and some of the neighboring community.

Rick: "The 80 hp diesel was huge, a 12" diameter exhaust stack went up the side. Its cooling tower was half again the length of the building, and worked like an early radiator. They dissipated heat by pumping water to the top and letting it trickled through a lath screen to the bottom. That was really interesting."

The engine is still functional. Its huge belts lie nearby in preparation for the following weekend's scheduled Antique Engine Show. We were bummed we missed that.

Once again, we were VERY impressed with the Florida State Park, the condition of the site and buildings, the quality of the interpretive signage and some of its volunteers.

On the way home we showed them the massive Coconut Point Mall, which Lu and I had visited in February, and they introduced us to Five Guys, a massive hamburger and fries joint. It was fun.

The Tax Collector

Two sure things: Taxes, and accidental death due to a serious shortage of sidewalks in Florida. That was meant as a joke when I first wrote it - but it's not funny anymore as four young women were plowed down by a drunken motorist at Fort Myers Beach on Saturday.

Tax man But before that happened: On a Thursday morning Rick and I caught the land-bound "trolley" and from its last stop we walked the two miles to the County tax collector's office. It was an unpleasant walk along the side of the road.

But we made it! Flushed with success, we entered a very large space and were assigned number J908. At that moment we heard the loudspeaker announce number C230. What?!? Were we behind 678 people? The man at the desk assured us that there weren't actually 678 people ahead of us.

He lied.

The diabolical masterminds at the tax office had come up with the arbitrary letter-and-number system to lull the innocent taxpayer: the citizen meekly plants himself in a folding chair among strangers - many of whom could use a kleenex and/or some sturdier foundation garments - blissfully unaware how far down the line he or she may be. The "J" designation didn't really pertain to boat payments, nor did it indicate any particularly skilled cashier, nor were the letters of the alphabet taken in order. The whole system functioned solely to keep the masses passive and hopeful, so that by the time they realized they'd been duped they would be too weak from hunger to rebel.

Duped, we waited.

Hungry, we munched and we gave one of our snack bars to the man sitting next to us.

Goldie Forty-five minutes inched by...

The repeated disappointments and the buzzing fluorescent lights sapped our wills. We settled into our seats, our butts benumbed and our minds adrift, our eyes averted from the lady across the aisle quietly muttering to herself.

An hour passed...

We became the lottery player who buys a ticket every week, knowing in his heart that it's futile but never quite giving up hope; never quite deciding to quit and regain his dignity. No, we stayed, we waited. Each time a number was called we rallied a little, wondering Who would it be? As the lucky winners gathered their jackets and paperwork and made their way gratefully to the cashier we wanted to be happy for them, we really did - but we were jealous in our hearts. We asked, bitterly, Why couldn't it be ME?

The Stockholm Syndrome

We old-timers began to look down upon the newbies coming in, with their expressions of dull amazement and their stupid questions ("Are we behind 678 people?"). Their individuality shed from them like rain. Suckers, we sneered, get to the end of the line. Others eyed them hungrily, wondering if they had perhaps brought snacks.

Lottery winner An hour and fifteen minutes...

The man next to us had perked up, energized by his protein bar - when suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, his number was called! He looked over at us and grinned, "I won!" I raised both arms in victory for him, and we rejoiced.

Well, obviously, finally, our number DID come up. We scurried to the cashier as quickly as we could, bowing and scraping lest she change her mind about helping us. In fact she was extremely nice and the transaction took less than five minutes - it took longer to freshen up in the restroom on our way out - and we were back on the street and fighting for our lives in no time.

And that's boat registration completed for this year.

Women's Day

Women's Day At 7:45 on Saturday morning I rendezvoused ashore with the wonderful Marge. She drove us to god-knows-where, but it was the right place because our tickets got us into the twentieth annual Women's Day celebrating common solutions!

Yay!

Bev had saved seats for us and for our other friends and we - along with 400 other women - enjoyed a continental breakfast, two fabulous speakers, lunch, an entertaining and original play, and much friendship.

It was a privilege to be able to spend time with those women whom I admire; to be there in a room aglow with miracles; and to be part of such an earth-changing life-affirming day.

Bev gave me a lift home and we had a long visit - mainly because traffic was backed up for miles and miles because of the tragic accident mentioned above - and she delivered me to Rick at Salty Sam's in time for a nice dinner overlooking the water, on one of the first warm days of the year.

It was a perfect day.

Stay Warm

Well, it's warming up!

Rick and Goldie had a perfect day, too. While I was at Women's Day Rick got a lot of work done: he installed snaps on the canvas cover I had made last summer for our helm instruments, he repaired some caulking on the deck, he worked hard for a new client, and he made travel arrangements for a business trip to Wisconsin in April. He also spent some quality time loitering on the deck in the sunshine with Goldie, hooray!

We hope you are safe and warm. Watch out for drivers finishing up their cocktails or talking on their cellphones, and keep all four tires, four paws, and two feet firmly on the ground.

Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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