One Wild and Wacky Job

Alligator on a lake near Tallahassee

Alligator on a lake near Tallahassee

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I hesitated to fill out an application for days after I saw the advertisement for a public relations director with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The ideal candidate’s qualifications could have been pilfered from my resume. Yet still I hesitated before I applied.

Did I really want to move from St. Augustine to Tallahassee? I wondered as I read the job description repeatedly. Yes, I did, I decided and hit the send button on the website for the state job. Only I messed up and tried again. When I went to bed that night, I wasn’t certain if the application had gone through or not.

When my phone rang the next morning and the voice on the other end said he worked for the FWC, I was certain it was to tell me my application needed to be sent again. I started to explain, until he interrupted.

“We’d like you to come up to Tallahassee for an interview,” he said.

“When?”

“Can you make it tomorrow?”

I tried not to make any assumptions about what it all meant. I’d been asked for an interview before the deadline for accepting applications. I drove the three hours from my home to the Community Relations office in Tallahassee for my interview. I was nervous, but as it turned out, the interview was the easiest one I’d done. I knew how to answer all the questions about media, writing, publishing, and news releases. I’d been on the other side for a decade, and I’d interviewed my share of state employees as an environmental writer. They hired me as soon as I passed a test to write a phony news release in thirty minutes.

wildlife biologist

FWC biologist measuring lake levels

I started in September 2007 and worked there for the next four years. I left when I moved to Pennsylvania.

During the first few months on the job, I read about wildlife, which included fact sheets on managing them and laws on regulating them. I listened to phone calls between my supervisor and journalists from state and national media sources. I observed during meetings with the agency’s director, biologists, and media personnel as  they made decisions on sensitive issues. I began writing news releases of lesser importance about openings, closings, and campaigns for wildlife license plates. I took a few calls here and there from the media. I watched and mentally took notes during crises situations as those around me scrambled to write talking points and news releases in a few minutes time.

After a few months, I was assigned to write an article for Florida wildlife magazine featuring Rodney Barreto, the chairman of the commission. He received his appointment from Gov. Charlie Crist.

After I interviewed him, I searched for quotes from others about Barreto. My boss directed me to contact the governor’s press office and ask for a written quote. Two days after I sent the email request, my phone rang in my office.

“Hello, Pat? This is Charlie Crist,” the voice on the line said.

At first, I thought some friend was playing a trick on me, but I’d met Crist at a luncheon a few months before so I recognized the voice.

“I hear you’re writing about my buddy Rodney,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you about him.”

I was scrambling on my desk for my notes for the article. Of course, the folder was nowhere to be found.

“I’m just a little nervous, Governor, so excuse me while I find my notes,” I said.

“No need to be nervous, Pat. Let’s just chat.”

So we did. He gave me my quotes, and I took notes on the back of an old news release.

“Thank you, Governor. I know you have more important things to do, such as . . . ”

My mind went blank. What issues did he have on his mind? I started again.

“I know you’re dealing with big issues with . . . water,” I finally blurted.

Water? Really? That’s the best I could muster? Florida’s surrounded on three sides by water so of course he deals with water issues, but really that’s all I could say?

Charlie Crist dealing with water

Charlie Crist dealing with water
(from PhotoBucket)

I kept my job despite my ineptitude in handling a simple call from the governor. I learned to talk to media from CNN, Time magazine, the Associated Press, Fox News, and even a representative from a Japanese reality show who wondered if manatees farted under water, and if so, could they possibly film one farting.

It became my new normal and lasted for the next four years. Stay tuned for a few of my stories to learn how some freshwater turtles made a new law and how I became known as the “python princess.”

Working in an agency that manages wildlife in a state filled with human wildlife has given me a library full of stories to tell around campfires and novels to write until my fingers cramp. My hesitation in applying was simply the quiet moment I needed before heading into one wild and wacky job.

FWC law enforcement officer assists the "human" wildlife to pull a truck out of the water

FWC law enforcement officer assists the “human” wildlife to pull a truck out of the water

New Release from P.C. Zick

New Release
from P.C. Zick

Trails in the Sand (2013) follows environmental writer, Caroline Carlisle, on a quest to save sea turtles from the BP oil spill and to save her family after she marries her dead sister’s husband.

The idea from the story came while I was working with the FWC during the oil spill crisis. I was the media director for the sea turtle nest relocation project that occurred during the summer of 2010. During the project, thousands of sea turtle eggs were moved from Panhandle beaches to the Atlantic Coast. Thousands of sea turtle hatchlings were saved from eminent death as a result of the move.

Pope with a Purpose

Pope Francis celebrates his Inauguration Mass in St. Peter's Square.

Chicago Tribune

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I’m not Catholic. The news about the old pope resigning and the hoopla about white and black smoke didn’t show up on my radar for breathtaking historical momentum. I didn’t wait anxiously for the announcement of His Holy See.

Then I heard the new pope from Argentina chose his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecology. St. Francis preached and lived a life of simplicity. Although he only lived for forty-four years, he left his mark. Now a modern-day pope has finally taken his name. Pope Francis appears to be a worthy heir to the man who followed the teachings of Jesus literally.

I visited the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy.

Front lawn of the basilica

Front lawn of the basilica

The cathedral was packed with people who were mostly silent as requested by signs. If they became noisy a loud “Shush” came over the loud speakers reminding the crowds of where they were. Perhaps they should have started reminding them outside on the plaza leading up to the cathedral where vendors hawked magnets, photos, necklaces, and T-shirts all emblazoned with renderings of St. Francis. Beneath the lower basilica, are the remains of my favorite saint. When I entered this room, I felt I was walking into the most private and painful of places as women knelt before the tomb crossing themselves and weeping for what private sorrow I know not. I only hope they received what they needed from visiting that dark room. For me, I felt the presence of St. Francis more when I wandered the paths of Tuscany with its blooming flowers and odorous herbs and melodious songs of birds.

Italian roadside poppy

Italian roadside poppy

Pope Francis can’t get away from what the Catholic Church has become, but he can attempt to make a show of his naturalness among the people and a choose simpler way to maneuver through the world.

The name of a pope is no reason to think he’ll make a difference in the world – that only makes me admire his style.

I know there are areas where he could make improvements that would please me, such as allowing women to be priests and allowing same sex marriages, but maybe we have to start at the most basic level and move our way up. His acceptance of other religions and branches of Christianity could open up dialogue in an arena that’s been responsible for too many wars and deaths to this day.

In his own words, to heads of state on the day of his installation Mass: “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another, and of the environment.”

Maybe there’s a reason and a purpose for all the hoopla. This writer woman in her little world in Pennsylvania sure hopes so. I heard on the news last night that the Catholic Church is suffering from a severe shortage of priests – so much so they’re offering up priesthoods to Anglican priests. I’ve also read about nuns and other women who are fighting for the right to be priests. Duh. . .

What am I missing? Here you go, Pope Francis. Here’s your chance to open your arms and show us that you are living up to your name and your words.

 

What is the solution? I tend to buy bottled water when I travel, but when I can I bring my stainless steel containers and fill from a gallon of bottled water. I don’t drink from the tap despite the testing. Ours damages our water faucets over time so why would I drink that? We have spring water delivered once a month to our home. I’m curious about others thoughts on this subject.

HaltonRecycles

I have always struggled with the issue of bottled water; my views of the issue change regularly.  I don’t have a definitive solution or answer to the issue, just a lot of ideas. There’s been a lot of research done recently on the water drinking habits of Canadians.

First, I think it is important to separate the issue into two parts — the package (the plastic bottle), and the product (the actual water).  Understandably, most people reject the notion of water — a basic human right — being considered a product, but just bear with me.

The Package

The vast majority of bottled water is sold in plastic bottles #1 PET (polyethylene terephthalate).  Plastic bottles #1 is one of the easiest items to recycle, with a large percentage being recycled into polyester fabric material.  These bottles are accepted in Halton’s Blue Box program.

From a recycling perspective, there is no…

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What's Green with Betsy?!?

Saturday, March 23 marks the 7th annual Earth Hour when people from around the world turn their lights out for one hour from 8:30pm – 9:30pm.   Earth Hour started with one city and has grown to over 7000, with one country to seven continents, and with two million people to hundreds of millions of people.

Earth Hour was created to:

·     “To unite people and show our desire to protect the planet.

·     To encourage and empower people to take action beyond the hour itself

·     Create an interconnected global community and build on the momentum and action for a sustainable future.”

Earth Hour “has grown to become the largest mass participation event in history.”

This Saturday, why don’t you turn off your lights and encourage your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to as well. It’s a small step with a big…

View original post 26 more words

Blowing at Windmills

Girl and WindmillBy Patricia Zick @PCZick

Even when I think I’m being reasonable and moderate, I still walk a fine line with some folks.

“What do you want us to do, blow on windmills until we have enough power to fuel all our energy needs?” my brother asked me recently.

The question came after I tried to present a reasonable answer to the question posed to me: What is fracking?

“We shouldn’t jump into any new forms of bringing fossil fuels up out of the ground without investigating first,” I said. “They moved into fracking too quickly as a result of the bad connotations given offshore oil drilling and coal mining.”

That’s when my brother posed his question as if I’d said stop drilling, blasting, pounding, breathing.

Then this morning I received an equally “off the center” email from the other side. It seems there’s a group now demanding corporation and individual divestment from fossil fuels to stop global warming.

Is there no longer a middle ground on which to stand safely without fear of being knocked off?

I hope so, but just in case, I’m going to climb on my little mound in the center of the field safe here in my small office behind an anonymous computer screen to give my spiel in the hopes someone will listen. Neither of the sides quoted here will allow me to do so.

The subject of our energy and its sources are not new to me, but I became quite embroiled in the issue while researching Trails in the Sand. One of my sources, Power Hungry – The myths of ‘green’ energy and the real fuels of the future” by Robert Bryce, addresses what I’ve surmised all along. He writes, “But the reality is that the modern world runs on oil, coal, and natural gas. And while those fuels take a toll on the environment, they are indispensable.”

And as I would explain to either side, except they’re too ready to wield an ax on my head, we must ensure we are wise stewards and bring those forms of energy to us in a safe manner that does the least harm.

We’ve no choice but to rely on regulations and laws that mandate safety for the environment and human life. It’s a sad state of affairs when the government must tell corporations to engage in certain practices so workers aren’t killed.

I’m trying to make this post as uplifting as possible, but today an article I read about natural gas mining in Wyoming discourages me. “Too deep to drink, huh? Too shallow an excuse,”  by Suzie Gilbert with shalereporter.com, writes about a situation between Wyoming’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Encana, a fracking company. The government and Encana are tossing around the concept of allowing the company to dump 750,000 gallons of fracking wastewater per day into an aquifer for fifty years. Some agencies say “no,” others say “yes,” the scientists say, “hell no,” and the argument continues.

I’m all for tossing around ideas and discussing them, but for goodness sake, this one does not take a geologist to understand that wastewater has no place in an aquifer. Period. End of discussion. If our drinking water becomes contaminated with wastewater from unsafe practices, then it really will be the end of the discussion – all discussions.

#trailsbanner3webTrails in the SandA Family Saga Filled with Love Triangles, Sea Turtles, and an Oil Spill

Using real-life events as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster. Through it all, the ancient sea turtle serves a reminder that life moves forward despite the best efforts to destroy it.

Nourishing Traditions – Learning from our Children

Capturing Our Traditions

Capturing Our Traditions

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Nothing pleases me more than when my daughter introduces me to something new. On my last visit to her home, she showed me how to use YouTube. We found some entertaining videos on subjects close to both our hearts: the preparation of food. It gave me an idea, so today I purchased a tripod so I can set my video camera on the kitchen counter while I prepare food. The idea came to me as I watched a woman demonstrate the making and canning of marinara sauce. The recipe was fine, but the methods for sterilizing and preserving the sauce were not. In fact, she gave instructions that were unsafe.

We watched another woman demonstrate how to make sauerkraut.

“That’s a recipe right out of Nourishing Traditions,” my daughter said. She pulled the book from a shelve and showed me the book. “This is actually one of my favorite cookbooks.”

The subtitle of the book is “The cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.”

When I returned home, I ordered a copy immediately, and it arrived last week. Written by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D., the book explores almost all areas of eating with exhaustive information on all food types. However, it’s so much more than that.

The book offers more information in its more than 600 pages – in a 10” x 7.5” package – than Betty Crocker could ever imagine. Acids, fats, vitamins, sugars, gluten, and dairy products receive a thorough examination.

It’s nice to have a reference book for information even though I might not reform my eating habits instantly. But I’m willing to give a few new ideas a try. For instance, this winter I developed a severe craving for sweets. I’ve kept sweets out of my life for many years, except on rare occasions. I know sugar is addictive, and I have a thing for chocolate and ice cream. I also have a slow metabolism so those additional “empty” calories go straight to my hips. I haven’t drunk pop since my teenage years, but suddenly I’m craving Vernors® ginger ale. Then I began eating frozen yogurt with strawberries on top every night. When I found myself sneaking a container of Cherry Garcia ice cream into the freezer two weeks ago, I knew I’d fallen prey to my addiction. I decided to see what my new cookbook might offer me as an alternative.

The “Desserts” chapter begins with an explanation of the sugars found in our diets. It offers tips for abating the craving, such as brushing your teeth right after your regular meal. The book suggests the sweetness of the toothpaste will keep the craving away. For me there’s something else. I don’t like to eat anything else after I’ve brushed my teeth. It’s a good helpful suggestion that benefits my health, waistline, and teeth. And so far it’s working. The book also gives some suggestions for natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup and rapadura or dehydrated cane sugar juice, which I’ll need to find someplace other than my local grocery store. I made zucchini bread this weekend using maple syrup for the sweetener as directed by their recipe. I used the lesser amount (a quarter cup), but next time I’ll increase it to ½ a cup. The bread is good, but it needs a little more sweetness. Next, I’m going to try their recipe for ginger ale using rapadura and real ginger. We shall see how that experiment works out.

I also made hummus this weekend using the recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I followed it exactly, except for the one tablespoon of “expeller-expressed flax oil.” Instead, I used olive oil expressed out of its bottle by me.

The cookbook offers recipe quizzes, “Know Your Ingredients,” on many pages. A list of ingredients is given and then the reader is asked to identify the food. The answers are given in the back of the book. Most of the recipes are common foods. It’s shocking to know what we’re eating when we buy prepared food from the store.

There are also anecdotes about food from different books and experts on some of the pages. Each time I read it, I’m amazed at the amount of information provided in such a friendly way.

When I cook, I usually look at several recipes before I start. With the hummus, I pulled out two other cookbooks, in addition to Nourishing Traditions, but I favored their recipe for its simplicity. I have a feeling I’ll be pulling this book out first when it’s time to mess up the kitchen.

Look for me on YouTube now that I have a tripod and a new inspiring cookbook. I’ll be the woman with sauce in her hair, flour on her shirt, raisins on the floor, and cookbooks scattered on the counter, all the while peering into the camera wondering how the darn thing works. And it’s all thanks to the daughter who is teaching me her own traditions.

Bon appétit!

tsWebEnter the Goodreads Giveaway from now until March 31 for a copy of my novel Tortoise Stew. Note I wrote “novel.” The book is fiction about Florida politics and developers gone wild; it’s not a cookbook!

Living with Wildlife – Florida Style

 

woodstork in the Everglades

woodstork in the Everglades

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

“Why aren’t there any mosquitoes when I visit Florida,” someone from Pittsburgh recently asked me.

“Where do you go in Florida?” I asked.

“To Disney World, Sea World – all those theme parks around Orlando.”

I wondered how to reply without bursting this man’s image of natural Florida within the gates of worlds made from the crumbs of a chopped up natural world and sculpted into the vision of a perfect living community.

The real Florida, buried under tons of asphalt in the majority of the state, does exist in random spots and clumps of preserved zones or land unfriendly to developers who have yet to figure out how to grab remaining wetlands and scrub forests to turn them into yet further replicas of what some would prefer to call natural.DSC02505

People come to the Sunshine State for a week or more to soak up the sun and ride trains through wild lands with propped and stuffed bears, panthers, and alligators. How tranquil it all appears from the seat of a train. Twenty years later, after the kids are grown, they race south and become shocked when the first mosquito stings or a coyote eats their dog.

That’s the real Florida. New subdivisions are built on the edge of raw and natural wetlands and woods. People want to view the natural world, but often don’t want to be bothered by all the creatures that inhabit the last vestiges of wild land. Often the new developments disrupted the habitat of the wildlife further confusing the natural order of things.

The Florida you visit makes the most of Florida’s attributes by creating perfect enclaves with no bugs and wildlife. If you move to Florida, expect wildlife in abundance and learn to live with it. The real Florida is mostly tropical. Mosquitoes breed in standing pools of stagnant water and multiply faster than I can type “nature.” Wildlife, from alligators to lizards, do the best to adapt and sometimes that means coming into urban areas to seek food from garbage cans or from the end of leashes.DSC02388

Without hard freezes and snow-covered ground, nonnative flora and fauna can thrive and throw ecosystems out of balance. Bears look for easy food and coyotes roam neighborhoods that once provided shelter for their young.

The “wily” coyote earned its name based on its behavior. In wide-open expanses of land, the coyote roamed and only became a menace when attacking domestic livestock. Ranchers handled the situation. When the coyote found its environment disrupted, such as in Florida, the animal adapted. Space became a problem. Subdivisions encroached on rural areas, and the wily coyote adapted to become the urban coyote.

The same thing happens wherever habitat is disrupted. The wildlife doesn’t just walk away into the sunset to find a benevolent zookeeper where the public can see wildlife behind cage bars.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

If the wildlife adapts, then so must we by respecting and enjoying wildlife from a distance. Coyotes adapted when humans fed them, which led the wild animal to associate humans with a dependable source of food, according to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The coyote became aggressive and bold and led to attacks on humans, pets – leashed and unleashed – and livestock.

If you want to minimize your contact with wildlife – from bugs to alligators – buy a condominium or rent an apartment.

If you love nature but hate buzzing mosquitoes, watch the Discovery channel. But if you understand the nuances of living with yet separately from wildlife, buy a home on the edge of wilderness and help educate others on how to live peacefully with wildlife. And don’t forget to buy a set of good binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens.

gator captured by the camera and zoom lens

gator captured by the camera and zoom lens

 

tsWebTortoise Stew by P.C. Zick

Tortoise Stew can be shelved with your Carl Hiassen books, because both authors hate the development and corruption that is making all of Florida look like Miami, and because both are great reads. -Peter Guinta, The St. Augustine Record