WINTER SOLSTICE CHEER

DSC03760.JPG After spending the past five years in the north, I am happy to return to the place where I lived for so many years in north Florida. We spent some time this past weekend taking advantage of nice weather while sending some of our warm thoughts back to those of you in the throes of an early onset of winter.

Tonight, it’s a bit chilly outside, but remembering the time spent on the Wakulla River and at Wakulla Springs warms me. For the winter solstice, I hope to light a fire in the yard in a symbolic gesture for hope in 2017.

I wish you all the happiness of the season and peace in your life. Take a break from wrapping presents, baking cookies, cleaning house, and shopping to see how the “wild” side spends the holidays.

TRAILS IN THE SAND CONTINUES

 

3-D1web

Click on cover to download for FREE on Kindle December 8, 9, 10

I wrote Trails in the Sand in 2013, two years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Upper Big Branch Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia. The two events occurred within two weeks of one another and killed a total of forty men. Both tragedies could have been prevented if safety standards had been in place and enforced. The book uses both events as the backdrop to the disasters occurring in the lives of the main characters as families mourn and oil gushes from the rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Lives were lost unnecessarily and wildlife and their habitats were threatened. And are still threatened to this day.

Last week, the CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was found guilty of “conspiring to violate federal safety standards,” which led to the death of twenty-nine men. This is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum of one-year in prison. He was exonerated on three felony charges. It seems to be a ‘slap on the wrist,’ but it is the first time that a major coal executive has ever been held accountable for decisions made at the top of the chain that impacted the workers far below the earth, who put their lives in jeopardy every single day. To read more about Blankenship and his date with the jury, go to the New York Times article.

Someone needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to know that when regulations are in place, they must be followed or there are consequences. Someone must enforce the regulations.

I maintained in Trails in the Sand  that we will not be able to live without the energy and fuel from coal and petroleum, but we don’t have to retrieve them in a way that endangers human and animal life and their habitats. Yet it happens and those responsible are rarely asked to pay for their crimes.

There are forty families in the United States who will celebrate the holidays this year for the sixth time without a member of their family because of greed and the quest to bring us gas for our cars and electricity for our homes.

Here’s an excerpt from Trails in the Sand  from two different chapters – one a factual recounting of mining disasters in the U.S., and the other from the main character, as she and her husband travel to West Virginia to visit family members directly impacted by the mine disaster.

 

CHAPTER 7

History of coal mining disasters in the United States

Wildlife exhibits the first signs, acting as the harbinger of coming environment disasters. Coal miners knew it to be true. That’s why in the earliest days of coal mining, the miners would take a caged canary down into the mines with them. This small songbird could detect the smallest quantities of methane and carbon monoxide. If the canary kept singing, the mine was deemed safe. If the singing stopped, the canary keeled over, and the miners escaped.

The early miners in West Virginia in the 1880s were mostly European immigrants and African-Americans, and they served a sort of peonage in those early mines. They rented or bought their own equipment and lived in company houses, and their pay went to the company store for food. It was a hard life, during the day and during the night. The fear of death never left their doorstep because the owners of those mines did nothing to ensure the safety of those workers. West Virginia’s safety record was one of the worst in the nation, and that distinction was sealed in 1907 when the worst mine disaster in history occurred on December 6 at the Monongah Mine in West Virginia. Methane most likely ignited coal dust in two mines, killing at least 400 men, if not 500. Now it’s an accepted fact that to keep coal dust from becoming combustible, it needs to be coated with lime. Rumblings among the families of the victims at Upper Big Branch hinted that more than one hundred years later coal dust sometimes accumulated because Massey was cutting corners, and not enough workers were available to make sure the lime was applied to keep the dust levels low. When the workers went down into the mine on April 5, 2010, more than one hundred years after the disaster in Monongah, a caged canary might have warned the miners to the danger lurking in the air.

CHAPTER 9

Caroline

We left for West Virginia early on Friday morning with coffee mugs filled and snacks packed in the cooler. We planned to be at Simon’s parents in Morgantown sometime before 9 p.m. As we drove we listened to NPR when we could, but at times, especially driving through South Carolina, it was difficult to find any station not broadcasting country songs.

As we sped up I-95 through a small bit of Georgia, we heard a commentator remark on how large corporations such as BP and Massey Energy ignored safety regulations and even citations.

“We can point the finger at the companies all we want, but why wasn’t the government enforcing the regulations?” I asked at one point. “It took twenty-nine miners to die for the mine safety folks to suggest that perhaps they should be using the powers granted to them decades ago.”

“Our greed for energy, as cheap and as quickly as we can pull it out of the ground, fuels the energy companies to bring it to us fast and cheap,” Simon said.

“It sure looks as if both disasters could have been prevented with a little more precaution,” I said.

Simon and his family moved to Calico in 1974, so Bob McDermott, Simon’s father, could take a job teaching at nearby University of Florida. When my father-in-law retired a couple of years ago, Simon’s parents did a reversal of what most folks did; they moved back to Morgantown, almost two hours south of Pittsburgh.

“I’ve never understood why your folks moved back to West Virginia,” I said as the wildflowers of spring streaked by us in the median of the highway.

“They never stopped missing that part of the country,” Simon said. “I’d move back, too, if it wasn’t for the winters.”

“You’d move back alone,” I said. “I’m a Florida girl, born and bred. You’re lucky you got me to come back to north Florida after living in the Everglades for so long.”

“I’m the luckiest guy in the world. Don’t worry. I’ve no desire to move back to coal country,” Simon said.

My family had its own history with the coal mines. My grandfather, Arthur Stokley, came from England in the 1920s to work in the mines of West Virginia, right near where the explosion occurred. He escaped a life underground in the mines by the grace of God and the owner of the mine where he worked. My family never said much about his life prior to becoming a worshipped doctor in Calico, but the story always intrigued me. It was probably one reason I wanted to write about this latest disaster. I read enough to know that not many young people ever found the means to leave the mines all those years ago when the miners lived in company towns. The conditions left them beholden to the mining companies raking in the dough while the workers lived in cobbled together houses huddled close to the mines.

“I’ve often wondered about my grandfather and how he managed to escape the life of a miner to become a respected doctor,” I said. “He came to this country penniless.”

“Wasn’t there some story about a canary in the mine he brought back to life?”

“I never believed that one. And why would that make him such a hero? Didn’t they take those canaries down in the mine knowing full well they’d die if the gas fumes were too strong?”

“Maybe he slept with someone important,” Simon said.

“Right. The Queen of England, perhaps. Except when he left his mother country, there was a King in charge over there.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

In honor of the men who died in both disasters in 2010, Trails in the Sand is available for free downloads on Kindle this week, December 8, 9, and 10. In addition, if you still enjoy reading real books you can hold in your hands, please leave a comment here, and I’ll send the first two requesters an autographed copy of Trails.

 

 

 

 

#Climate Change – Not Allowed in Florida

The Everglades

During my tenure as a writer/editor/public relations director at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the agency took very seriously the threat of climate change to a state surrounded on three sides by water and subject to violent storm surges, eroding beaches, and disappearing habitat. The endangerment of 575 species of wildlife and 700 species of fish, both fresh- and saltwater, worried wildlife managers.

I took pride in the agency’s climate change initiatives and served as editor to the publication, Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change in 2009. IMG_0088The head of the climate change committee asked me personally to write a column on wildlife and climate change, which I did for two years. The Wildlife Forecast was published in newspapers, newsletters, and magazines around the state. Audubon Society and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reprinted the column on occasion.

Then in late 2010, I received word that my column was on hold until after the first Tuesday in November. That last column never made it into print.

What happened? Gov. Rick Scott happened. With his election in November 2010, state employees ran scared. The word went out that agencies, such as the FWC and Florida’s DEP, needed to tread carefully. Their budgets were on the line, and suddenly, despite scientific data and scientists’ assertions on the reality of climate change, the concept became verboten.

I left Florida soon after to move to Pennsylvania. Many of my colleagues, including any involved with climate change initiatives, moved onto the federal government. Many told me I’d certainly chosen my departure from the agency at an opportune time.

It’s interesting how things spiral together at one moment. I woke up this past Saturday morning with a thought running through my head: Publish The Wildlife Forecast columns in a book. I pulled them out and put them together and remembered how the column ended. I’d forgotten. Then two days later, an article came across my Facebook news feed from the Miami Herald. The headline screamed:

In Florida, officials ban term ‘climate change’

(Click on headline for link to the full article.)

Here’s an excerpt:

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Kristina Trotta, another former DEP employee who worked in Miami, said her supervisor told her not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in a 2014 staff meeting. “We were told that we were not allowed to discuss anything that was not a true fact,” she said.

This unwritten policy went into effect after Gov. Rick Scott took office in 2011 and appointed Herschel Vinyard Jr. as the DEP’s director, according to former DEP employees. Gov. Scott, who won a second term in November, has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

We journalists were advised a decade ago by news organizations to stop using the term “global warming” because it placed blame for climate changes on mankind’s actions. It was suggested we used the term “climate change” instead in all of our articles. I agreed because climate change is more accurate. The predictions are for wild and intense changes in all things dealing with climate. More frequent and intense storms, unpredictable weather catastrophes, and extreme variations in temperatures. Scientists point to Florida as one of the most vulnerable places in the world because of its shape and location. That’s too big of a concern to simply ignore.

DSC00863However, even more concerning is the culture of a state government, in this case run by businessman Rick Scott, to forbid the use of any words by employees. I can tell you as I prepared to leave my job with the FWC, employees were running scared of losing jobs because of their beliefs. Is this ever a good thing?

The FWC’s website still offers the publication Florida’s Wildlife: On the front line of climate change in PDF form (Click here), which is good. They still have a special initiative for climate change, although it’s not listed in the main menu. Maybe things aren’t as dire as the article points out. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that open dialogue still exists in my beloved Florida, no matter what our beliefs.

???????????????????????????????I also believe the Easter bunny will deliver me a basket of goodies in early April along with a front yard filled with daffodils and tulips.

 

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