Throw Backs and Forwards – The Swamp and the Horses and Namaste

So this weekend has had enough unusual experiences to delay, yet again, my stories of Delhi. Because how often does one revisit activities that were very important in years gone by – and then push them forward into the future?

That was this weekend. It started last week, when my long time Bikram yoga teacher Joe posted he was going to be teaching at a local studio on Friday afternoon, following his most recent trip to Australia. I hadn’t taken a Bikram class for at least 18 months. I left work early on Friday just to get there.

And oh how I’d missed it! You talk about mindfulness. When you are in a Bikram class your entire mind and body is focused on following the dialogue and moving each muscle in accordance. There’s nothing else there but that moment in time, in the hot sticky sweaty spot that is an interstices between the then and the future – the now.

The next day started with our raincheck horseback riding experience. A few weeks ago, husband J and I realized we’d ridden horses – poorly and only on trail rides – in places ranging from Hawaii to the Caucasus Mountains, but never in Florida, where we’ve lived for the past 29 years or so. Time to change that.

So we ventured off, a good 55 miles away, to Forever Florida, a combination cattle ranch and ecotourism preserve. There are zip lines, horseback riding, and lots of alligators. It’s truly a throwback to old Florida. Lots of the horses are Florida cracker horses who have to be DNA tested to show they really are descendants of those brought by Ponce deLeon. But the first date there was for a 2 pm ride. We should have known better. It’s Florida in the summer for heaven’s sake, in the days of global warming. We were totally rained out.

Hence, our trip back yesterday on one of those beautiful Florida bluebird days – an azure sky decorated with white puffy clouds, like mounds of whipped cream splattered onto the sky.

But what we didn’t know about the ride was that a lot of it was underwater – it was truly swamp. We went through multiple Florida ecosystems- prairie to slash pine forest to palm hammock – and into the Bull Creek slough. That’s where my very short horse and I got quite wet – water up to my thighs and his chest. I suppose I could have pulled my feet out of the stirrups and pulled them up high as others did – but I felt a lot more balanced staying in the stirrups – and frankly, the dank brown water felt remarkably refreshing in the 90 percent humidity. It wasn’t that hot – but, boy, it was humid.

It was probably 2014 when I was last on a horse – way back when I started this blog.   Horseback riding in Russia, following the Mt. Elbrus ascent. https://fromswamptosummit.com/2014/07/11/a-wild-card-day-or-summits-dont-end/

That was Saturday. Sunday was supposed to just be my regular – as in 15 years or so regular – 2 pm yoga class at the Downtown Y. But as I walked in, I was told that teacher E (she’s ok) had just gotten into a car accident and wouldn’t make it and there was no instructor but we could have the space. So I was going to practice regardless – about 20 of us were still there and someone asked if I would lead the class. So I did. We all got into a circle (or a version thereof) because I didn’t feel qualified to act as though I were a teacher and somehow a circle is less authoritarian. But I must say – the dialogue from my Bikram class on Friday and the many years of yoga kicked in and I was amazed at how natural and good it felt to lead a class. Not sure how everyone else felt but I’m hoping it was ok. I’ve frequently considered taking teacher training but most recently have thought I should just recognize I’ll only be a participant. But now I’m wondering if my initial instinct was right – and I really should do the teacher training. Some food for thought on a Sunday.

Pretty wild weekend of revisits and moving forwards. Namaste.

Advertisements

FromSwampToSummit Goes Snorkeling

And now a brief detour from adventures in India to some time spent snorkeling in the Florida sun. If you can call what I did snorkeling. During the four weeks since our return, we’ve been to the beach three separate times for various reasons. Sort of remarkable, given it had been about a year since our last beach visit.

Most recent was my foray into the world of snorkeling. As you can probably tell from this blog, as a good Taurus I am an earth as opposed to a water person. Even swamps have some dirt in them. Embarrassing though it is to admit, it took about two years of lessons for me even to learn to swim.

Note the boat – the reef was somewhere out there

But we found ourselves on the beautiful shores of Palm Beach for a firm retreat, and the afternoon activity we signed up for was a “guided reef tour.” Now from that innocuous description – wouldn’t you expect a boat to drop you off at a reef, where you could gently bob about above the fishies to your heart’s content? Not so! I started to get cold feet in the morning when it was explained to me that we would be swimming out to the reef, which was “just off shore.” And my feet got even colder when we got to the meeting place and learned that not only was there no boat but the only resting spot would be one little yellow buoy hauled along by the guide that only two people could hang onto. There were a lot more people than that in our group.

Nonetheless, I waded into about 3 feet of choppy water, struggled into my flippers and got the guide to help me with my mask. I could tell he was regarding my lack of proficiency with a certain degree of trepidation.

We “took off.” I tried to relax – remembering from past snorkeling trips where I really was dropped off by a boat that was key. But with the waves continuing to roll, my mask not clear, and my arms flailing even though I knew I was only supposed to use my legs – I could feel myself starting to panic and gasp for breath.

So you know what? After about seven minutes of this, I told our guide – probably to his great relief – that I was going in. One of the things I have learned from mountain climbing is that you have to know when you’re maxed out. At a certain point you’re not proving anything and you’re not having any fun. Stopping isn’t giving up – it’s simply exercising some good old fashioned common sense.

It’s one thing to train and suffer a little. It’s one thing to suffer a lot when you’re on the way to hitting that 20,000 foot altitude goal. But it’s another thing entirely to be miserable doing something you don’t even like that much. I’m glad I escaped this one with only a crick in my neck and a sore hip from my underwater gymnastics!

I like the hilly parts of the beach!

The Florida Foothills- 10 Mile Clay Loop

3E8E168A-A38B-4FF0-BE2C-1965F9B1EB3F

Foothills is a misnomer- it implies a lead up to something large and here in Florida that’s apparently only a 375 foot mountain called Sugarloaf. But the Ten Mike Clay Loop has an outsized reputation around here – it’s rumored to be the site of many a professional athlete’s training regimen and numerous folks have mentioned it to J and me as a good candidate in our never ending quest to find some topography in Central Florida.

820145C8-EB4D-4FFE-85EF-65B1BB0902CC
Lots of abandoned footwear

So now that my weekends are slightly freer than they were in the midst of my trilogy of trials and arbitration, last Saturday we ventured out to try the famed loop. Of course, everything we had read urged an early start but for us that translated into arriving at the small parking area just before noon, when the thermometer was just topping 89 degrees.

Due to the eccentricities of google maps we actually ended up driving most of the loop before we finally located the small parking area, just off of Hwy 27. At that time of day, there was only one other car parked and in fact, on the whole trail we only saw one or two very hot looking runners. We didn’t see any other backpackers.

48B7895E-AAD7-4964-9E08-5A4F72789C39

The clay roads start off with some gradual uphill through cattle grazing land. If you try hard, you can imagine you’re in some spot more exotic than Central Florida.

But at the same time, there’s a tremendous amount of what appear to be very industrial water reclamation or drainage structures. My favorite was at the top of a small hill – large metal pipes and structures by a hollowed out pond of some type and a sign indicating it’s a recharge area for the Florida Aquifer. I guess it was a large scale version of a rain barrel.

You hike first along Five Mile Road. There are a moderate number of cars but they are relatively well behaved. We enjoyed the high school,students who kept stopping in the middle of the road to take photos on top of their car. Eventually you walk past a never ending tree nursery. If you ever wondered where maples, cedars, and the like some from in Central Florida, we found the spot.

287587B3-358C-4792-9635-DDE2924601DD
The orange tree of last resort

Most of the land to the side of the road is cordoned off with barbed wire, but thankfully, there’s an old, unmaintained orange grove without such barriers close to mile 5. I say thankfully because although we had plenty of water we’d brought absolutely no food. Who would have thought a purloined orange could taste so good.

At mile 5, just as you leave Five Mile Road to turn onto SchofieldnRoad I decided to switch into my Grade B2 mountaineering boots, bought specially for the Stock Kangri climb. It seemed a bad idea to me to wear them for the first time on summit day. My costume change was just in time for the hardest and hottest part of the hike. It turns out the steepest hills (and some are quite steep) are during the last three miles. Plus, a lot of it is through soft sand, adding an extra challenge. The other part of the experience is that you can’t tell whether you’ve hiked the final hill or not.  There always seemed to be bigger one just over the horizon. Good training for the “fake summit” experience you find on a mountain, just when you think you’ve reached the top.

60ACA8D1-F4E7-4611-8881-8D7697FD6533
The final hill – as seen from the parking area

So, once again we Florida hikers try to morph sand into snow, hot temperatures into below freezing ones, and the rolling hills of what was probably an ancient seabed into mountains formed from earthquakes and volcanos. It’s worked before and I hope it will work again. We leave two months from tomorrow for Stok Kangri.

A New Year, A New Trail – Seminole Wekiva Trail

 

The day before New Years Eve seemed the perfect time to check out a new urban/suburban trail. We’ve hiked Cady Way more times than I care to remember – entire housing developments have mushroomed in the seven plus years we’ve been hiking it.

It was time for a change. So we invoked the trusty google search to see what trails might be be lurking in our back yard, or close thereto.

Now, Wekiva State Park itself is an oasis of wilderness surrounded by a sea of suburbia. But you can follow a 14 mile trail through multiple ecosystems and feel you are truly in the wilds (except for that one area where you can hear the gun shooting range and become convinced a serial killer is pursuing you).

Even though it parallels the outside perimeter of parts of the park, the Seminole Wekiva Trail is anything but wilderness. In fact, it makes the West Orange Trail look positively fierce.  For multiple adventure on that trail, see  West Orange Trail – Beginning to End.

After following some very poor directions from one of the Florida Trail associations’ internet sites, we finally resorted to Google Maps and with only a little less difficulty were able to locate the parking area. The trail itself, which runs along an old railway line, is a walk through suburbia. You pass a softball center, a park, a church, and wind between the backs of many houses. At one point you emerge onto a road lined with McMansions.  There is perhaps a couple of hundred feet of elevation gain. At a certain point, there’s a sign commemorating the fact you are standing at a former railroad flagstop location – leading to much discussion about the relationship between flagstops and whistlestops.

Lots of families were biking –  Santa apparently brought a many bikes this year. Loved the older brother helping out sister (even if he did inadvertently almost pull her over).

08A7E09E-814E-4C91-907C-3C800FE50859

After a few miles the backyards are all enclosed with wooden privacy fences which some good soul decided to paint. It’s called the “Art Wall” and each panel is ornamented with scenes ranging from rock stars to endangered animals to movies. Apparently the artist has another few miles to go. It provides a welcome addition to an otherwise rather boring stroll.

 

We managed about ten miles, five out and five back.  Not sure it did a whole lot for our Stok Kangri training. Part of the challenge of climbing high mountains when you live in Florida is simply finding a way to train. Oh well, still five months to go.

 

 

Back on the Trail – Eyes toward Stok Kangri

It may be seven months off, but when you’re headed towards the ripe old age of 57, and there is a  20,000 foot mountain  called Stok Kangri beckoning you, you have to respond to its call with a training regime. Unfortunately I was just gearing up my program when all hell broke loose at work, which has wreaked havoc with my workout plans, but I’m doing my best.

One place J and I re-visited a couple of weekends ago was our old favorite, the Cady Way Trail. We started to hike it back in 2011 when we were preparing for Kilimanjaro and I’ve been meaning to write about it since day 1 of this blog. In fact, there’s still a partially written post in the drafts folder.

BC25FEC3-B591-470A-A5B1-054EE7410348.jpeg

Over the last six years we’ve watched this urban/suburban trail change – almost a microcosm of the larger world around it. Case in point – there was a little rundown house we always used to look at with a slight sense of incredulity. The windows were cracked, the washer and dryer resided in a strange outdoor closet, and my personal favorite was the trough for feeding the owners’ collection of pit bulls. Six years later – the house was gutted, windows replaced, the outdoor washer and dryer vanished, and landscaping has substituted for  the dog feeding trough.

Cady Way is long and hot and winds between the backs of houses, past a little used golf course (or so it seems), by a high school and culminates in a high pedestrian bridge that passes over one of Orlando’s long wide boulevards, studded on either side with Mexican restaurants and car lots. Oh – at the far end of the trail there is a beautiful little memorial area to remind hikers of a couple of brutal murders that occurred there a few years back.

Aside from the normal prurient interest in getting to see everyone’s backyards abutting the trail – the most interesting place is an odd building that was part of the old Naval Training Center. J and I are convinced it’s a listening center for the military – that location that’s monitoring cell phone traffic. All we know is there are never any people present, there’s a loud hum, there’s an odd asphalt track that he runs around a field for no apparent reason, lots of gas canisters and double barbed wire fences. There’s no telling what it really is – but it certainly lends itself to speculation on what can otherwise be a brutally boring hike. (In face, we’ve never photographed it for fear of being observed!)

7EE4AA57-CE48-4C6B-8262-119D1EF974C2.jpeg

Cady Way has no spectacular sites, no vistas, and only a few spots that even qualify as “natural.” But it’s long (10 plus miles round trip), it’s really hot (and hence meets my theory about stressing your body for high altitude), and the little changes that you see year by year create just enough interest. By now it’s like an old friend that’s giving an “atta girl” to help me get up that mountain.

Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Surge, Oh My

IMG_1122

I wanted to start posting about our next summit plan – which is still in a nascent stage – but events in my home state of Florida have preempted that.  We were here for Charlie’s visit in 2004, followed by his pals, Jeanne, Frances, and Ivan Jr. Last year, Matthew decided to call, but he was shy and hugged the coast, never getting up the nerve to come in.

Not so with Irma. One of the stylists at the salon where I got my hair cut the Saturday before the storm (if one is going to go, go out in style) described Irma as a “mean old church lady – the type who stands at the door and makes you spit out your gum.” They were actually boarding up the windows as the last snips were being taken on their clients’ hair.

Well, Irma certainly displayed those characteristics and more. My office closed after work Thursday and remained closed through Tuesday. This was all to allow lawyers and staff to engage in that great Florida tradition of preparing for the storm, living through the storm, and then undoing all the preparations you’ve made. For those of you newbies to hurricane land, this involves things like: Moving all the porch furniture in. We lined our 4 front porch rocking chairs up in front of the front windows – a little slice of porch in the living room. Carrying the canoe from a far corner of the yard and balancing it atop two ladders in the garage where it presently hangs over all the other junk we store in the garage. Bringing at least 25 potted plants inside for temporary shelter in the home office. You get the picture. And let’s not forget making ice and worrying about all the frozen food you just bought at Trader Joe’s.

IMG_1114

After days of anticipation the stress level here in Orlando was so thick it could be cut with a knife. And Saturday into Sunday no one could believe it when Charlie’s story repeated itself and Irma decided she wasn’t interested in the Gulf Coast vibe of Tampa and instead would go due north, making almost a beeline for an area just west of Orlando. I awakened about 4 am or so, having heard wind howling and trees crashing for hours. Based on Facebook posts, more people were awake than asleep the entire night.

The wind lasted well into Monday.

We fared well. Believe it or not, we did not lose power. We either paid our dues during our 8 day loss with Charlie and karma was with us this time – or the replacement poles and wires were stronger. We do have a tabebuia tree leaning 30 degrees toward our house and no tree people anywhere in sight to help. And portions of fence are down with not a single 4×4 fencepost to be found. The neighborhood lost multiple hundred plus year old live oaks. But compared to those who still don’t have electricity or whose houses were wrecked by flooding – we were very lucky.

We have just planned a last minute spur of the moment trip to visit daughter A and boyfriend N in New Bedford, Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to some hurricaneless weather. Oh, wait, there’s another guy possibly looking for a place to stay in the Northeast. His name is Hurricane Jose.

You Have to Know When to Quit

IMG_5216.JPGYes, you do need to know when to quit. But rest assured – I’m not talking mountains or trekking, at least not yet. More on those forthcoming adventures  later. Let’s just mention Kashmir and Stok Kangri.

No, not mountains. I’m talking that old sofa I found in a neighbor’s driveway some ten months ago. It truly was the most magnificent piece of garbage I’d ever seen. It was a camelback, 1920s sofa upholstered in a mustard yellow tapestry. But it had wonderful lines and I could see it in a wine red print that would fit right into my living room.  I insisted that Husband J drive me in the minivan to pick up said sofa – otherwise, I explained, I would single handedly drag it along the two blocks back to our house. Rather than face that ignominy, he acquiesced.

Said sofa resided in our garage for quite a while. At our annual Christmas party I introduced many guests to the sofa, confidant in my ability to somehow learn the art not only of upholstery but also re-springing a sofa. Yes, I explained, it might take some time, but at some point that sofa would be sitting proudly in our living room.

I tried. I bought sandpaper. I bought varnish remover.  I sanded a lot. I bought furniture clamps and wood glue. I removed all the existing upholstery and saved it to use as a template to be able to cut out the pattern on the new fabric I would buy. (This was my father’s suggestion.) After studying how to hand tie springs, I decided that might be beyond my completely untrained hands and came up with a substitute design that was going to involve plywood and very sturdy foam.

But what beat me in the end? Since day one I had been trying to deny the little piles of sawdust that kept appearing below various points of said sofa. After a while I had to acknowledge they weren’t completely unrelated to the sofa and started to research what they might be. Yes, wood boring beetles.

This led to a new  set of internet inquiries – how to rid a sofa of them. Unwilling to douse myself and the sofa in something that looked like DDT, I finally found an organic borate salt product online that seemed as though it should work. Note to self – neither Home Depot nor Ace Hardware have much to say when you ask them about remedies for wood boring beetles.

I did one big application. Things looked good for about three weeks. But then I saw telltale signs of sawdust again. I tried a second time. Hope springs eternal. More weeks; more sawdust. Surely the third application would be the charm.

But by then I think the wood boring beetles were immune. The sawdust piled up the next day. And last weekend I got home from work and saw my beautiful sofa of dreams nestled in piles of sawdust. We have a 1950 house with original parquet wood tile floors. Wood boring insects are simply  incompatible.

I told J just to take it away. It’s now junked in the side of our yard, waiting for a trip to the dump.  I’m not going to inflict the battle of wood boring beetles on anyone else. But I tried. Like that 20,000 foot mountain that’s still waiting for me to climb, there’s another sofa somewhere.

Lake Apopka Loop Trail, Florida – Amid the Alligators

IMG_1040

We were supposed to start at 9:30. Which still wasn’t early enough given the projected mid-90s temperature – but would certainly have been preferable to 10:30 when we finally set off on the Lake Apopka Loop Trail. I had heard great things about the trail from someone who hiked parts of it in the fall. Her account omitted two facts. 1. It’s not a loop. 2. There is absolutely no shade.

The trailhead (it turns out there are two, since, as mentioned, it’s not a loop), is fifteen miles from downtown Orlando.  It starts in a park in some lightly populated areas.  For years Lake Apopka was one of the filthiest lakes in Florida. Victim to agricultural runoff, the lake was basically dead. But a few years back the state started buying up the surrounding farmland, and recreated the wetlands that had previously existed.

IMG_1049

The birds have come back – I’m not sure about the fish, but the alligators have definitely returned. More in that below.  And there are more dragonflies, grasshoppers, moths, butterflies, and of course mosquitoes than one can count.

The trail goes around the northern part of the lake, and is approximately 14.5 miles in each direction. The part we hiked is compressed gravel and dirt. It follows the top of a narrow levee a few feet high that separates wetlands from the lake. In a few places the water can flow under the levee. In a hurricane, it would be wiped out.

The levee had more significance after we spoke with a couple at the beginning of the trail. They pointed out an alligator head poking out of the green algae and remarked how many they had heard further down the trail. A few feet of elevation was a good thing.

Although you might not technically be in the middle of nowhere, Lake Apopka Loop Trail feels like it. As we walked along the endlessly flat path, the palms and rushes cleared on one side to reveal an enormous vista of the lake. There were hardly any boats – I think we saw one all day.

IMG_1044

Looking up from our boots and the white grey trail provided some variety . Ospreys, hawks, falcons, herons, and anhingas drying their wings. And although we couldn’t see them, to our sides we could hear a remarkable amount of life in the swampy water. Ducks and frogs, but most startling of all were the grunts of alligators. I started to have fantasies about what we’d do if we encountered one sprawled across the path in front of us. And then suppose we turned around, only to find one lying across the trail in that direction also.

IMG_1063

Such thoughts were getting me nowhere. We finally saw an informational billboard with a trail map – and realized the trail did  not in fact go around the whole lake. If we’d planned to hike 14.5 miles, as we had originally planned in the cool of our air conditioned house, we were going to have to hike 14.5 miles back also. Despite the hot noonday sun, common sense kicked in and we decided to hike 5 miles out and 5 back. We stopped at mile 4 at what appears to be the only historic landmark – an old pump house with a shelter where there was at least a vestige of shade. There’s a marshy lake nearby where we counted at least 15 alligators. My Kind bar had completely melted.

IMG_1062

The next mile is open to vehicles for a wild life drive and we finally saw some other humans, most of whom looked at us as though we had lost our minds. By that point we might have.

At mile 5 we turned around and tried an even brisker paced for our return. By now we were completely drenched and the heat index was well over 100. Even the alligators had gone to sleep, and  now the spookiness of the trail came from the eerie silence.

After a couple of miles, we saw a black shadow down the trail, about the size of a bear.  I saw no way that a bear could possibly reside in this environment but J pointed out they habituate easily….as we drew closer, we found ourselves face to face with an older English gentlemen on a motorized scooter. He was hooked up to an oxygen tank, and was apparently just out for a sightseeing ride. He was by himself, which didn’t seem like a good idea in the best of circumstances given the warnings at the beginning that you were to buddy up before starting the hike. In any event, we had a nice conversation- although I couldn’t resist a quip about mad dogs and Englishmen. After he’d had a rest he trundled along, soon overtaking us.

IMG_1043

We finally made it back to the old faithful minivan. J suddenly had a complete dehydration or heat stroke experience that started with nausea and then left him with an enormous leg cramp. I’d moved over to the drivers seat but even in the passenger seat he couldn’t stretch out the cramp. It began to pour on  the 15 mile drive back – one of those blinding Florida rains where you can only see six feet in front of you. But all I could keep thinking was that at least I wasn’t trapped between two alligators! That put everything else in perspective.

Climber the Cat – A Tale of Orlando

Granted, the story of my cat hardly seems thematically appropriate for a blog centered around swamps and summits with some stops in between. But Edmund Hillary Climber arrived in our lives 15 years or so ago from about 70 feet up a tree. I figure that qualifies.

Way back – when the girls were young and the dogs a year old, if that – we became aware that a scrawny dehydrated orange tabby cat had taken up residence in a very tall laurel oak tree that resided on the no man’s land between us and the back yards of two of our neighbors.

We tried to ignore his plaintive meows, presuming he’d find his way down. But he didn’t. That particular tree – which is no longer, having taken a massive hit during Hurricane Charlie -leaned at an odd angle, and  the reams of Spanish moss that coated its trunk deterred any creature of normal intelligence from trying to make its way down.

It was probably a Sunday when we first became aware of him. Monday he was still in the tree, despite the repeated attempts of the girls to lure him down with tins of tuna.  I found myself driving back home at lunch to  see if there had been a breakthrough. Suit and high heels on, I climbed up on a stool, waving about a can of cat food, in the vain hope this would cause a descent.

By Wednesday I’d had enough. Didn’t fire departments assist with cat tree extraction? My assistant at the time was married to a firefighter and gave me the non emergency fire number. Sure enough, that morning they met us at our house, got their ladders out, scaled the tree and tried to lure the cat down, but to no avail.

Thursday he was still in the tree. By now I was worried. How long could an animal  actually live in an oak tree 70 feet above ground with access only to condensation for water. Friday rolled around. It seemed to me there was no choice but another call to the fire department. J looked at me incredulously. “You cannot just keep calling the fire department to rescue a cat. There could be real fires.” He let it go that time but I truly belie

ve a third call to the fire department would have resulted in divorce.

The second set of fire department guys showed up. They told me they would try to get him down by spraying him with the fire hose and reminded me of the old fire fighters’ adage that you don’t find dead cats in trees.  I asked about the ladders and they assured me they were not allowed to use ladders for cat rescues. I could hardly say that the first set of fire department cat rescuers had indeed put up the ladders!

Finally, by the next weekend, hunger and thirst must have become too much. Climber, as he became known, with the girls, I and a neighbor child watching, swung himself down the awkward facing trunk, through the banks of Spanish moss, and emerged on the ground, all in one piece.

After quickly christening him Edmund Hillary Climber H****,  we kept him in the garage one night and took him off to the vet for shots the very next day.

He proceeded to live a full and I hope happy life for another 15 or so years. He was the smartest cat I’ve ever had. He could open any levered door. My favorite story involves an evening when – before we knew of his door opening propensities – we had gone to the Shakespeare festival one night with friends – without double locking the door. We returned home to find the dogs sitting on the porch, the front door wide open, a dead mole on our bedroom floor, and no sign of of Climber. After his night of partying, he appeared meowing at the front door, about 3 a.m.

He was a legend in the neighborhood. He thought he was more dog than cat. He went out with the dogs on their early morning walks, and if he felt they were being victimized he was more than willing to attack any dog in the neighborhood on  behalf of his little pack.

The dogs and he would sniff around together, looking for some common prey. But Climber was frequently highly disappointed with their hunting skills and would swat them with his paws as they failed to live up to his expectations.

Mr. Climber, the stories are legion. We miss you. God speed. 

Orlando, June 12, 2016 – Swamps and Summits

image

It’s a thinly veiled secret on From Swamp to Summit that I’m from Orlando. That Central Florida city where one looks in vain for a hill to train on and ends up resorting to staircases. Staircases have been good to me. I’ve made it up Kilimanjaro, Mt. Elbrus, Illiniza Norte and Cotopaxi. And more to come. I hope.

I may not have grown up here, but Orlando and Florida reach out to you with their sticky sweaty humid hands and hold you close to their hearts. I moved here in the middle of 1989. Sight unseen.  True story.  It was a snowy night in New York and husband J, who was finishing his Ph.D.  at NYU received a tenure track offer at a small liberal arts college here. I’d never even been to Florida on spring break but after J interviewed in Orlando and described the smell of orange blossom, I was sold.

So after a brief diversion through Greece and Turkey (another blog post in and of itself) we found ourselves, our one room of furniture, and our cat Chelsea in this city we’ve called home for over 25 years.

A swamp does describe life in Orlando this week.  But not the life giving jungle green of the Everglades wetlands.  More the  brown slough of  despond. Exactly one week ago I awakened early, despite having been out in downtown Orlando the night before at a concert. And across my phone came word that at least 20 had been killed at the Pulse nightclub, not far from where we had been and a few blocks from my office. By mid morning the number had increased to 50. 49 victims and the gunman.

This massacre was framed by the Friday night shooting of a singer from the Voice, followed by the suicide of the killer, and the tragedy a day after the Pulse shootings of the drowning of a two year old by an alligator at a theme park lagoon.

The City Beautiful, as Orlando likes to call itself, didn’t look so beautiful anymore. On Monday evening I found myself at one of many vigils around the city at a makeshift memorial that has sprung up in front of the Performing Arts Center. There’s not enough public space in Orlando and what has happened there shows why people need to have a place to come together. There are candles, ribbons, photos, posters, notes written on paper chains. People standing are reverent. Nearly everyone I know has made a trip there.

On Thursday, President Obama and Vice President Biden arrived. I watched the motorcade from my office window, together with some of my partners. I’ve seen many grown men cry in the last few days.

image

That night, J and I went back to the memorial. A motorcycle club had its bikes lined up, illuminated in rainbow colors. They revved their engines, and a speaker for the club stepped forward and asked the several hundred assembled there to hold hands and observe a moment of silence. Everyone did.

Rainbow flags are flying all over the city and practically every public building has been illuminated in the now familiar red, yellow, orange and blue colors. Tonight is a city wide commemoration that is supposed to be non religious, non political, and non branded. Just a time for people to be together. We’re going to walk down there.

Perhaps after today, and the symbolism of one week later, healing will start.

It’s a long way up any mountain. And it’s going to take Orlando a while to slog up this one. But I know that Orlando and its people have what it takes.

image