Hunka Hunka Hawksbill Love

Turtle-Pic Super Cat

Whenever I go on an “up close and personal” nature excursion, I wonder who’s entertaining whom?

“There’s a mountain goat that’s always here when we paddle this stretch of river,” the guide said on a rafting trip in Cody, WY. Every afternoon the rafts float by; every afternoon the goat — often joined by a friend or three — waits on the hillside. A massive bison chewing his cud while lazing in a well-worn hole by the side of a byway in Rapid City. A barracuda greeting novice divers in Provencial.

I imagine the conversation: “Hey, Edna, it’s nearly noon. That’s when the humans always show up. Don’t want to miss seeing what they’re up to today. Do ya think Grandma would like to go along?”

In Barbados, the interactive delight is swimming with sea turtles. Half a dozen outfitters offer day cruises that promise a sea turtle encounter as part of a day long cruise. (The rest of the itinerary includes snorkeling, on-board lunch buffet, cruising past the very tony estates on the Platinum Coast, and sunbathing on the foredeck of the catamaran — all while imbibing rum in various concoctions — with a background soundtrack of reggae and Jimmy Buffett.

Depending on the size of the boat and age of the passengers, this can be a relaxing outing with friends or a boisterous bacchanal rivaling New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

Long past the bikini and Speedo stage of our lives and physiques, our gallant gang of pre-geriatrics opted for Super Cats/Stiletto. She carries 10 passengers, max, so it was perfect for the 6 of us. Trevor and Preacher were the crew, and as it the habit of our gang, we included them as part of the party. stiletto_supercats 2

Two shipwrecks just offshore are havens for tropical fish and magnets for snorkelers. Preacher said one of the ships reputedly was scuttled by the crew at the beginning of WW2, effectively stranding them on the island for the duration. Given a choice between the probability of being torpedoed by a U-Boat or joining the Coastal Watch Patrol, there were worst decisions.

From there it was a short paddle to the sea turtle hangout. It probably violates every ecologist’s goal of leaving the creatures unspoiled by human contact, but all of the guides are equipped with chum to attract them. The turtles anticipate their daily morning snack and glide through the swimmers in search of the Sugar Daddy with the goodie bag.


“Our” visitor was a massive Hawksbill. Sea turtles never stop growing, so I’m told. From the size of this momma, she was a hatchling back in the days of sail. (I don’t know if she was a female or not, but Big Momma fits her.) When she cuddled up to Preacher for her sushi, she stretched from his calves to his shoulders. When the bag was empty, she made a circuit around the rest of us in case we were holding out on her. Close enough to appreciate why it’s a “hawksbill,” to respect the determination in her eye, to lightly rap on her shell. Despite her bulk, she moved with smooth grace, dignity, and power.

Certain we were of no further use, she left us in just a few strong strokes of flippers the length of my arm. Two Green Turtles — delicately hued as if tinted with artists’ pencils — followed in her wake. Within moments, the busy turtle site was deserted.

I could hear the conversation: “That’s it for today, Edna. Nice flying fish, don’tcha think? The Mahi Mahi was a little tough, though. Got plans for tonight? They’re showing “Heart of the Sea” at the multiplex.”

(photos courtesy of


The Force Awakens: Happy Hype

Force Awakens Poster

SPOILER ALERT: JAR JAR BINKS DOES NOT APPEAR IN THIS MOVIE. In fact, the three “prequels” are not mentioned. This gives purchase to those of us who maintain that those films were actually nightmares Han Solo suffered while entombed in Carbonite.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a gleeful cinematic ride with as many dips and turns as the Millenium Falcon in a dogfight with Imperial TIE fighters.

At least half the fun is seeing the band getting back together. The audience cheers when Leia appears,Leia

when Han and CHewieHan and Chewbacca appear.

And Luke. And R2D2. And the Falcon Falcon— which may have the best “return” of them all. That’s the moment you know you’re in a familiar galaxy, albeit one that’s far, far away.

Not to give anything away, but “The Force Awakens” is largely a remake of the original “Star Wars” film, AKA Episode IV; AKA “A New Hope.” Just slot in the new young faces into the Leia, Han, and Luke positions. To that extent, the plot is predictable. To mix sci-fi metaphors, it’s obvious who’s wearing Star Trek’s red shirts, even how they will exit.

Producer J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan (who worked on the original trilogy) restored the sense of fun of the original and then some. There’s much more humor than in the 1st (or 4th, depending on how you count) with both verbal and visual set-ups. Much of it comes from teasing the audience be recreating some scenes exactly, while at other times coming close, then stepping sideways. The usual “homage” to other films is there, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Indiana Jones.”

If there’s a failing, it’s that very familiarity and predictability. How many desert planets are there in this galaxy? There’s not much you can do to differentiate between Tatooine and Jakku. Scruffy border towns have the same bars, the same, bands, and the same critters How can the bad guys top the Death Star? Build something bigger and badder, with a nod towards Abrams’ first film in the Star Trek reboot.

All in all, after the thrill of reunited with the beloved characters fades, I think that sense of wonder that kept people returning to see the original over and over may not be there. Part of that is the progress of technology. The impact of the special effects that were mind-boggling 30 years ago has long been suffused by computer graphics and other technologies.

And since the plot is already known, the changes in casting aren’t enough to make it a “new” story. It’s like watching “Casablanca” or “Singing in the Rain” — more comfortable than exciting.

Still, it is a satisfying reboot which stops at an interesting juncture for the saga and the audience. Episode VIII comes out in 2017. Fans are already standing in line.

Gridlock in Paradise

Panorama Barbados org
Barbados – broad sandy beaches, mellow sunshine, incredibly friendly people, unintelligible patois, wonderful food, rum in all manner of concoctions – and traffic congestion to rival the Capital Beltway at rush hour.

How is it that this tiny island – all of 21 miles long and only 14 at its widest point (roughly twice the area of Boston) – ranks #6 on the roster of the highest density of roads in the word? Most of them are squeezed into the business and resort districts in the island’s south and west. Barbados traffic from Barbados Today They’re just wide enough for two vehicles to pass, provided nobody in either of them breathes too deeply. The rest of the island’s equally narrow roads meander to tiny villages via lots of blind curves and little maintenance.

Given all of that, plus gas prices at $7/gallon, I figured people would take advantage of the excellent public transportation system or use motor scooters.

Silly me. Every square meter of roadway anywhere near civilization is jammed with buses, cars, vans, taxis, and trucks. Thank God for the laid-back patience of the Bajans; otherwise, there’d be road rage that would make the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore look like a tribute to Pope Francis. Bajans who have to be to work at 8 a.m. leave no later than 6:30. This might explain the nation’s high rum consumption.

We wanted to go to the famous Friday Night Fish Fry/Street Party in Oistens. Fish Fry Barbados orgThree miles from our hotel, if that. We were told it would take about an hour to get there. When we were sated, slightly tipsy, and ready to leave, we flagged down a van with a lighted “taxi” sign. “Get in; get in!” the driver yelled. There were other people in the van. What kind of taxi was this? “We’re going to the Time Out Hotel in St. Lawrence Gap. Are you going there?” “Sure. Sure. Get in quick before the cops come.”

That sense of urgency compelled us to clamber aboard without asking more questions. The van took off at surprisingly high speed, given the number of people and vehicles in the road.

It took a moment to realize we were experiencing a part of the Bajan transportation system most tourists don’t. There are official, government-licensed taxis and buses, and then there are the “independent” operators. These are the same white vans as “real” buses, right down to the lighted “taxi” sign on top. But these are Bajan Taxi pirates. They use the same routes as the “official” transport, but with dubious licensing and permission. But, hey, for $1, you can go anywhere the buses go and, given the drivers’ contempt for laws of traffic and nature, it’s far more exciting and faster.

He didn’t quite yell “We’re Off!” but NASCAR drivers are old ladies puttering around parking lots compared to this dude. We weaved around other vehicles stalled in gridlock, swinging into opposing traffic and back like a fighter plane in a dogfight. If we saw someone at a bus stop, we’d come to a shuttering halt long enough for the newest member of our expedition to jump in. That hour-long journey to Oistens was about 10 minutes coming back.

The van skidded to a stop at a bus stop near the hotel, and we hopped out, a little surprised to be alive. The thought of the van careening down the one-lane road to the hotel past the patrons at the street food stalls and Karaoke bars was enough to sober us. But only until we passed the first rum shop. After that ride, we needed something to steady our nerves.

(photo credits:; Barbados Today)

Big Sur Here We Come

When my son was 4 years old, we were living in England, courtesy of the US Air Force. It was a grand experience, spending 6 years living in a British village. We still have friends there.

Winters are dark, damp, and dismal, however. It makes it a little difficult to enjoy strolling through the countryside. One Sunday afternoon, Ben and I were taking a walk along one of the narrow country lanes, The hedgerows are usually busy with birds and rabbits and other critters, but this day, it was very quiet. Ben asked where the rabbits were. And I said they were inside their dens making cocoa and watching telly. Then he wanted to know where the hedgehogs were. And the foxes. And the pigs. And the beavers.

It became a game to think of what they could be doing when it was a good day to be inside.

My good friend Wendy Myhre is a marvelously talented illustrator. She took my ideas and turned them into a fantastic set of illustrations. We began circulating the picture book, “A Good Day to be Inside” to publishers in the UK and US. This was in 1985. Had a British publisher want to “do” the book, but we had to have it published in the US first because of some international laws and he did not have a US partner. Another said talking animals were not wanted any more; the market wanted realism, even for small children. Another publishers said their marketing people didn’t think it would sell.

So the book’s been sitting on the shelf. Every now and again, Wendy re-draws the book and we send it out to a few places, with less-than-successful results.

A few months ago, Wendy flagged me about the Big Sur Writers’ Conference for Children’s Authors and Illustrators. A very big deal. Registration only after submission and review of work. Heavy line-up of instructors and agents. Limited registration. We figured “nothing to lose” and sent in our book and other required materials.

And we got in!

So the first weekend on December, we arrive at the Big Sur Lodge for three days of learning, meeting, and planning. It’s exciting to think that 30 years after giggling over pigs doing aerobics and eating chocolate, the book might finally be picked up and be published.

It’s NANO Time!

No, that’s not some high-tech innovation or trendy music group. It’s National Novel Writing Month.

It’s a way of creating “someday,” as in “someday, I’m going to write a book.” Participants sign up and commit to writing a first draft of a novel during November. How long a novel? 50,000 words. That’s 1,667 words a day. But Steven King says he does 2,000 a day, every day, so we’re getting off easy. The first NANOWRIMO (Nan- Oh- WRY-Moe) was in 1999 with 21 participants. There were over 200,000 in 2010, writing an estimated 2.8 Billion words. (You wanted to know that. Admit it.)

There’s a whole community planning, advising, encouraging, and challenging each other. While it’s called a “contest,” the only prize is completing the challenge. Local groups gather for write-ins at libraries and coffee shops. There are on-line chat rooms, forums, and podcasts. In the drive towards the starting date, folks have been talking about readying their work places — laying in supplies of coffee, chocolate, and sharpened pencils, and installing new software to help keep track of plots, characters, and word count.

I’m game to give this a try. Kickoff is Sunday, so while the rest of the world is agonizing over football, I’m going to be clicking away at my keyboard. If you want to join in the fun, visit

Web Design 101 for Blithering Baby Boomers. Like me.

One of the surprising results of my work for newspapers and website is the number of messages I’m getting from people who are reading the pieces. For those of you who are not familiar with, it’s a free daily paper distributed at commuter stations in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Thursday is travel day, and I write the regional travel pieces. My contact info is on most pieces, which is a very nice perk.

But this means I can’t be complacent about the on-line presence. Like this website. Nice, but a little dated. So I’ve been revamping it, trying out new themes, playing with layouts. I am of the generation that was born when there were only 3 TV stations and those signed off at midnight, when the Princess Phone was an innovation, and stick shift was standard for driving. I am not a techno-anything, and learning to navigate and design this page has nearly reduced me to tears more than once. It’s certainly given me an even greater appreciation for Bailey’s.

But I’ve persevered and I think I’m getting a handle on this. God love the very patient “Happiness Engineers” with WordPress. They are not paid enough to deal with hopeless cases like mine!