Monday, May 31, 2010
The lighthouse is perched on a sandy point halfway between Palm Beach and Miami. It is inaccessible except by private road and boat, so it was quite a treat to be out there. The water is pristine, with a coral reef right at the shore line. After climbing 175 steps to the observation tower, we saw sharks swimming along the reef. I had no plans to swim, because I didn't know it was allowed, but next time I will. There are also tons of parrots, refugees from 1992's Hurricane Andrew, nesting under the light.
There is a statue near the lighthouse of one of the Barefoot Mailman who mysteriously disappeared. His uniform and mail sack were found neatly folded on the sand on the north side of the inlet, yet the boat was beached on the south side. Theory's speculate that someone had taken the boat across and when he arrived, he tried to swim across to the boat, only to be swept away by the current. Another idea is that after walking 80 miles on sand each week, he got fed up, stripped off his uniform, left his mailbag, and rowed across to meet his waiting Indian girlfriend and the two lived happily ever after in the Everglades. No one knows for sure, but there is a statue commemorating his loss.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Now what the frak did I have to do all day.
That's when I realized I had other stories on my laptop. So I wrote 1198 words for Sister Very Pretty, my attempt at a romantic comedy about a guy who falls in love with a nun. I feel a bit lazy, stopping short of 1200, but still not bad for a story I'd given almost no thought to in 2010.
I really hope to get Skully ready for submission soon. I've always used people I know before as beta readers, but I've made some new blog friends in the last year, so I'm considering seeking beta readers online. Has anyone ever done this? How'd it go?
Monday, May 24, 2010
As a writer, I must convey Orville's actions, even though they take place in Jerry's body. Mostly I refer to Orville as Orville. A few times, however, I include things to remind the reader Orville is using Jerry's body. I might say something like:
Orville waved Jerry's fist in anger.
Or, some of the actual text:
Elliott grabbed Orville's hand - Jerry's hand - and stretched it out across the deck...With swift precision, Elliot plunged the dagger at the deck. It tore through flesh, severed the bone and the finger flew from Jerry's hand.
Confusing? Not to me, but I know all too clearly who is who. This was from the same scene that gave my critique group a headache because five characters were too many. Orville is only one character, but throwing Jerry's name into the mix probably didn't help.
Has anyone else ever dealt with this? Or read anything like it?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The biggest problem with critique groups is that we are limited to only a few random pages. It can be pretty hard for readers to put it into context. For someone who’s never seen any of my story before, it can be impossible.
My argument is that after 200-some pages, readers know the characters well enough to handle five in one scene. And, I’m writing for kids, who can have an incredible ability to remember minute details of insignificant stuff.
Am I wrong? How many is too many?
Monday, May 17, 2010
You know the old saying, 'those who can, do; those who can't, teach?'
So, I get to work today, and the captain happens to be a simulator instructor. These guys make a ton of money, but spend most of their time in a building, watching others basically play a big expensive video game. Well, there's no one to instruct these days, so he's back to flying real airplanes. And he was a bit rusty.
The problem is, he seemed to be half-deaf. I was kind of tipped off when an alarm started ringing in the terminal, much to everyone else's consternation, and he said, "Doesn't bother me. I'm half-deaf."
I thought he was kidding, but every time I said something, he shouted, "What's that?" Made conversation a challenge. In the silence I compared this situation to writing. If those who can, do, and those who can't, teach, what does that mean for people who teach writing professionally?
Some of the best coaches in professional sports were pretty lousy players. Good enough to earn a spot on the roster, but they rarely got in the game. Instead, they sat at the end of the bench, studying the game, learning the nuances that made them great coaches later in life. As a flight instructor, I didn't do much flying. I sat next to nervous students who made all kinds of mistakes. By watching them, I became a much better pilot.
But what about writers? The logic doesn't seem to apply here. If you are a great writer, it shows on paper. So how come some of us haven't made it big yet? I know good writers. I read blogs of great writers (at least one of whom actually teaches writing). As much as I hate networking, I think that's where the problem lies. As good as we think we are, we can all improve.
We need to get out of the simulator. Meet other writers. Join a critique group. Attend conferences. Just being around other writers, reading what they've written, listening to their critiques, not just of my stuff, but others as well, has made me a better writer.
Let's face it, we all want to keep moving forward. Otherwise, you could end up having the conversation I had this morning, while taxiing toward the runway.
"I think you need more power to get up this hill."
"Dude, you gotta get out of the simulator every once in a while. We're rolling backwards."
Friday, May 14, 2010
As a gadget, it's as cool as an iPhone. Even though I don't have an iPhone, I have an iPod touch, which is the same thing basically, without a phone or camera. So the iPad is basically a larger version of an iTouch, but it's so much better.
The aforementioned video player allows you to watch something quite enjoyably. And it has plenty of storage. I got the 16 gig version, the smallest capacity they make. Now, I'm not the type to load this thing up, so it has plenty of space for my needs. And once you've watched something, why keep it? Unless you're traveling across the world and want dozens of hours worth of video. In which case, buy the larger capacity iPad.
Yes, it is a music player. Yes it runs all the same apps. Actually, there are some iPad specific apps and some updated apps, much improved for the iPad.
Okay. So I've convinced you. I like the iPad. Now, here's the real point. Kindles, Sony Readers, Nooks, gizmos I probably haven't heard of yet, are all the talk in the e-reading world. As writers we're supposed to be concerned that these things will affect our future. Well guess what? They will. Don't ask me how, just get with it. As far as I know, the future hasn't been written yet. And I don't get to write it, so stop worrying about what we can't know.
I know this though. Since I've had my iPad, I've become a convert to the e-reader. Did you know there is a Kindle App that allows you to download books direct from Amazon to your iPad? The iPad also comes pre-loaded with iBooks, Apple's online bookstore. Winne the Pooh was already loaded when I turned my iPad on for the first time. What a fun treat. Even more fun - the cool way you turn pages in iBooks. I can't even describe it. Just get one.
And why wouldn't you? Oh, wait. I can hear the arguments. I love the smell and feel of a book.
Bunk. Books don't smell. Maybe when their hot off the printing press, but I've never held one that soon. Don't get me wrong, I like books. One drawback to an e-reader is the difficulty in flipping back to a certain page. You might remember something in the first few pages, or first quarter of a book, and want to re-read it. Not so easy with an e-reader. Especially with Kindle for iPad. No page numbers. At least iBook has that.
But the idea of carrying around thousands of books on one device. The ability to download instantly. The fact that there are hundreds, if not more, of free books available. Again, what's not to like.
So to those considering purchasing an e-reader, I submit that you can buy one for around $250. For just a bit more, okay, twice as much, you get so, so much more.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
- Fill out applicaton.
- Receive notice of time and date to be fingerprinted.
- Get fingerprinted.
- Receive notice of time and date to be fingerprinted.
- Frak! What went wrong.
- Stop by fingerprint office - "What went wrong?" "Don't know. Computers are down. We'll call you." "Right..."
- They called. No problem. No need to come back. Why don't I believe them?
- Make a few more phone calls. Send a few emails. Rearrange work schedule, giving up much needed days off.
- Receive phone call - "No problem." "Why the second notice?" "Don't know. Here's the number for your actual case worker." "Then who are you?"
- Call case worker. "Your records got lost. You have to do it again."
- Don't want to wait a week. Call case worker back to see if I can move it up. "No need, they just turned up. You're good."
- Why don't I believe him?
Monday, May 10, 2010
But then...joy. Overwhelming jubilation. Uncontainable excitement. Everyone was happy. I was happy.
I then went and blew something big.
Now get your minds out of the gutter. I certainly don't know how you came to that conclusion, but pay attention, because this really is a serious topic.
For sometime now (14 years), Mrs. Sarcasm and I have been the solitary, childless couple who always said we didn't want kids. And we never did. Never liked kids all that much. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that every kid we've ever met has been someone else's kid. Well, people change. And while I still don't like other people's kids, I have every expectation of liking my own very much. And so I announce today, our plans to adopt a baby from South Korea.
Our reasons, and our journey to adoption, can wait for another post. The point of this is that we are now telling the world. Or rather, we've told my mother, so you may have already heard by now.
As Mother's Day gifts go, this news was a pretty big hit. I'll probably never top it. Which makes it that much more bittersweet. You see, I made a pretty big blunder too.
Since deciding to build a family, we've faced one challenge after another. Setbacks seem to be the norm. So, as Mother's Day approached, I wasn't sure what to do about it. Here we have this fantastic future ahead, but the present still seems stuck in the same rut as we faced yet another reminder of what we don't yet have.
We have yet to meet our child. Maybe he or she hasn't even been born yet. Perhaps not even conceived. Yet there is an undeniable tug on our hearts. Already an unbreakable bond that will only strengthen.
So, I offer a public apology to my one true love. I blew it. I thought ignoring the present might ease the past. But I should have focused on the future. As we've gone on this journey, a few things have become clear.
I've known for a long time, biology is overrated. My wife's two brother's are adopted. They couldn't be more naturally her siblings. Family is what we make it. And it doesn't matter if your child looks like you. They will love you because you are the one who patches up their knees. They will love you because you make cookies on a rainy day. They will snuggle under a blanket while you read from Dr. Seuss. When they fall in love for the first time, they might not tell you, but when their heart gets broken, you'll be there to mend it. You will laugh and cry and so many other things your kids won't even know. And there's no one else who will do it like you.
You will be the best mom--the only mom--they will ever know.
And I will love you for it more than you will ever know.
Friday, May 7, 2010
In southern Utah, at the end of a two lane road winding through sleepy valley towns, you’ll find Zion National Park. Towering vertical cliffs rise from the leisurely meanderings of the Virgin River, where, 12,000 years ago mammoths, camels and giant sloths, grazed in the shadows of giant peaks.
Today, the wildlife may be smaller, but is certainly no less wild. Country squirrels wouldn’t stand a chance here. All around are signs warning of squirrel bites, and sure enough, the squirrels on the trails showed no fear of humans. Keep a keen eye. You never know who might cross your path.
A few years ago, the National Parks Service closed a large portion of the park to private vehicles. Now, shuttles run every few minutes, dropping park visitors at sites well worth seeing. One of my favorites was Weeping Rock. A half-mile, moss-covered trail leads up to an enclave of stone, cut by water dripping through the mountainside. Wherever the source, thousands of feet up, it can take up to 1200 years to pass through the rock and drip onto park visitors. Click the picture to see its tears.
The deeper you go, the more the park amazes, as the canyon narrows. In some places, only accessible when the river’s flow ebbs, opposing canyon walls practically touch.
Waterfalls grace the sky. Wildflowers dot the land. Mountain sheep graze upon impossible perches. The weather can change without warning. Drive up the mountain pass, straight through the rock, and you’re car is only inches from plummeting over the edge.
No matter how much time you spend here, it won’t be enough. Zion is, for my money, the most beautiful, most monumental, most stunning example of what nature can do. If you have the opportunity, and I suggest you make it, get yourself to Zion National Park. You won’t be sorry.
If you’re still hankering for adventure after Zion, do take a drive through nearby Colorado City, Arizona. Creepy. Creeeeppyyyy.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
While not technically a national park, Lake Mead Recreation Area falls under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service, and admission was free during National Parks Week.
Just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, Lake Mead didn't exist until the completion of the Hoover Dam. The Colorado River cut its way through the desert landscape, creating such places as the Grand Canyon, but the water was, until the 1930s, untamed. Black Canyon, on the Nevada-Arizona border, was chosen for the site of then Boulder Dam and the resultant back-up of the Colorado became Lake Mead.
Lake Mead is not just the largest fresh water reservoir in the United States, it is, literally, an oasis in the desert. Camping, boating, fishing, hiking. You can do it all here.
You may also spy the elusive mountain sheep, also called big horn sheep, as you drive the twisting, narrow roads on the path to Hoover Dam.
Some interesting facts about Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam:
- At it's deepest, Lake Mead is 500 feet, with an average depth between 200 and 300 feet.
- Several towns had to be evacuated as the flood waters rose to
- fill in the reservoir. The last stubborn resident left the town of St. Thomas, Nevada in 1938, 3 years after completion of the Hoover Dam. The ruins of St. Thomas can sometimes be seen when lake levels are low.
- At the bottom of the lake is a B-29 Superfortress that crashed in 1948 while testing a prototype missile guidance system known as "suntracker".
- A white ring, sometimes called the bathtub ring, is the result of mineral deposits from higher lake levels.
- Hoover Dam is nearly as wide at its base (660 feet) as it is tall (726 feet).
- If Hoover Dam had been constructed with one continuous pour, the concrete would still not have cooled to ambient temperature. Instead, blocks of concrete, with one inch thick steel coils, through which river water circulated, were used in the construction.
- While over 100 men died during construction of Hoover Dam, contrary to urban legend, no one is buried within the dam itself. This myth may have started because workers, ending their shift, left their boots upside down in the freshly poured concrete for the next shift to discover.
RED ROCK CANYON
VALLEY OF FIRE
Even redder than Red Rock, the Valley of Fire, to the north of Las Vegas, is another hiking, climbing, driving area. Fine, red sand marks the trails where, thousands of years ago, native americans left their marks in petroglyphs on canyon walls. Arches carved from wind beckon curious travelers and desert lizards skitter across the ground. Scattered through out the area, be sure to check out the brightly colored blooms of beaver tail cactus.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
One of the most remote, and perhaps least known of our national parks, Dry Tortugas National Park lies in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, some 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. Only accessible by boat or sea plane, Dry Tortugas consists of a handful of islands discovered by Ponce de Leon in the early 16th century. He called them Las Tortugas, for the abundance of sea turtles found there. Alas, there was no fresh water. Hence the name - Dry Tortugas.
The shallow waters are home to a wide variety of sea life and offers the best snorkeling I've experienced in the United States. The crunch of parrot fish, chomping and spitting coral; the shadow of a giant sea turtle floating by; or the imposing shape of nurse sharks, resting in the shallows, are just some of the delights of the park.
Many species of marine birds, such as sooty terns, masked boobies and magnificent frigatebirds, nest on the Dry Tortugas. Occasional sandbars connect the islands, allowing rats from Fort Jefferson to threaten these rare species.
Constructed as a coastal defense in the mid 1800's, and later used as a prison for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, Fort Jefferson stands as a crumbling bastion of brick and mortar, circling the main island. Tropical winds and sea salt have eroded the largest masonry fort in the United States.
Today, instead of prisoners, dragging balls and chains, Dry Tortugas National Park hosts campers who enjoy coral reefs, white sand beaches and little else. And really, that's the point. There's not much to do at Dry Tortugas but relax and enjoy.
*Update* – I found my pics. Only the aerial view and the fish aren’t mine. I left them because they’re cool.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
And that's when it hit me. Death Valley is beautiful. Vast. Awesome.
The hottest temperatures on Earth were recorded in Death Valley. Daytime highs can reach 120 degrees in summer. Vast salt flat, coat the lowest parts of the park, some 285 feet below sea level. And yet, some things thrive. April brings out the wildflowers, coating the landscape in gold, purple and white. There is an oasis of greenery in the middle of the park. Okay, so it's a golf resort, and they probably have a pretty high water bill. But it's there. And it lives.
To the north, which I didn't visit, an array of ghost towns hearkens back to the days of the gold rush, when the first settlers heading west stumbled upon this place. Wind eroded rock forms natural bridges over canyons only accessible by foot. What water exists is so putrid it fouls the ground. At Badwater, the lowest point, legend has it a man led his mule to the salt flat, but upon reaching the water, the mule refused to drink. The man insisted it wasn't the stubborn mule, it was the bad water. The name stuck.
The harshness of the valley contrasts greatly with the rising peaks that surround it. Snow covered mountains, as high as 11,000 feet, offer stunning vistas that reach for the stars. Indeed, few places on land provide such unobstructed views of the heavens.
Standing at the lowest point in North America, I was, of course, humbled by my surroundings. A sign on the mountainside marked sea level. Most anywhere else on earth, I would be smothered by ocean. Not here. I was inspired. Herewith, I offer only the second poem ever posted on Pensive Sarcasm.
Monday, May 3, 2010
If scary animals, evaporating wetlands, and miles of untamed wilderness is your thing, head on down to Everglades National Park. Here you'll find countless bird species, elusive big cats, and dinosaurs you can see all too well. In addition, there are dangerous plants, like sawgrass, that will slice you open if you rub it the wrong way; cypress swamps and mangrove hammocks provide ecosystems like nowhere else on earth.
That's because there is no other everglades on earth. Unfortunately, development and typical human ignorance have dwindled the Everglades to a fraction of its historical area.
The Florida Everglades is a river of grass that slowly meanders south from Lake Okeechobee down to Florida Bay at .25 miles per day. Islands among the river are home to the Florida panther, so endangered it is believed there are less than 100 left. Panthers must now contend with Burmese pythons, who have multiplied out of control after being released by irresponsible pet owners. Birds like the roseate spoonbill, wood stork and bald eagle also call the Everglades home.
Camp grounds adorn the area, the third largest National Park. Hiking, canoeing, fishing, even hunting are permitted. Just bring plenty of fresh water and sunscreen. For while Everglades water is fresh, and I've even seen a tour guide drink it to prove it, people have died out there from dehydration. Average temperatures range in the 80's, but summer months get much hotter. The best time to visit is during the dry winter months. With no rainfall, watering holes provide refuge to the animals, who gather in droves. To really see these creatures in their element, take one of the many airboat rides offered throughout the park. These flat bottomed boats skim the surface of the water, sometimes only inches deep, and penetrate the deepest areas of the park.
Of course, no visit to the Everglades would be complete without spying and alligator or two. And you will. With over a million alligators in Florida, they are everywhere. But did you know the Everglades is also home to the American crocodile? Only a few thousand are left, mostly in Flamingo. Just as the Everglades is the only everglades on Earth, it is also the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles live together.
Can you tell a gator from a croc?
Sunday, May 2, 2010
This thing sneaks up on you. Even though it's a massive hole in the ground--I mean, really, really massive--you don't see it until you're almost right there. At least that was my experience on the South Rim, upon entering Grand Canyon National Park. The surrounding terrain is a relatively flat pine forest. It's so thick in places, you can't see but a few feet in front of you. Upon entering the parking area, the canyon suddenly comes into view and then - speechless. Except, of course, for the understandable, "Oh my God!" "Holy crap!" or "Awesome!" I can't remember what I said, but it was likely one of those.
Now, take heed, careless hikers. The drop to the bottom is about one mile. If the number one doesn't phase you, that's 5,280 feet. Try falling that far without a few scrapes. It's not straight down either. You're likely to bounce off a few cliffs and ledges along the way. And, for the most part, there's no railing to keep you from going over, but you will find plenty of tourists doing dumb things like perching on the edge for pictures, or climbing onto impossible rock formations they have no business climbing on. This visit enhanced my fear of heights, but the sheer awe of the place held my interest. Still, I had every confidence I'd see someone plummet to their death. Alas, I did not.
A few interesting facts:
- In addition to the one mile depth, the Grand Canyon averages 10 miles wide and is 18 miles at its widest.
- The South Rim is 7000 feet above sea level, while the North Rim is 8000 feet above sea level.
- Cut by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long.
- While 2 billion years of geologic history are exposed in the rocks, recent evidence suggests the Colorado River established its course through the canyon at least 17 million years ago, however...
- The base level and course of the Colorado River (or its ancestral equivalent) changed 5.3 million years ago when the Gulf of California opened and lowered the river's base level (its lowest point). This increased the rate of erosion and cut nearly all of the Grand Canyon's current depth by 1.2 million years ago. That ain't very old, folks.
Now, the awe factor had me from the first moment I saw it. And as I traversed the rim, I couldn't help noticing just how thick the trees were very close to the edge. It got me thinking about the first person to come across this place, tens of thousands of years ago...
There he was, making good time, on his way to meet up with some buddies to the north for a weekend of fishing, drinking and story swapping. All of the sudden, he breaks through the trees and is hit by this most incredible of earthly sights. Certainly he was just as awed, if not more. For no one had told him it was there. It was, at that time, his discovery and his alone. He sat there, I'm sure, taken in by the grandness, the majesty, the perfection of nature's toil. How long did he contemplate? Minutes? Hours? Perhaps days? We may never know, but one thing is certain:
In the end, realization surely must have dawned on him, and in whatever language he spoke, he would have muttered, "Frak! I have to get across that thing."