Friday, January 31, 2020

Goodreads Review: Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

Preface: Once again, I'm going to try keeping track of the books I read this year. I was doing pretty well at this last year until October or so when I lost the notebook where I'd been writing them down. Argh. I'm on Goodreads but haven't really used it much except to look up possible reads - although it's not quite as easy without a smartphone, I'm going to give that a try this year. And maybe take a shot at talking about the ones I like. This one, for starters. 

  Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of ArabiaDesert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An excellent book about a really fascinating woman who completely sidestepped the expectations of her time (partly by choice, and partly by circumstances, and to her joy and sadness both), and also an excellent look at the process that produced the modern Middle East. I knew that the countries we see in the news now were somewhat of an artificial creation dating to the decline of the British Empire, and I'm sure a poor history teacher or two tried to get some details into my skull at some point, but that was all a long time ago so I was quite ready for a review.

Does require reading with relativism filters on - as a modern reader, the paternalism of the British/Western attitudes - even those of Miss Bell herself - made for some uncomfortable passages, but this is how it was done (and maybe is still done today - and certainly the oil that was a key driver in proceedings then absolutely continues to be - that part wasn't any shock) and the read is well worth the occasional gritting of teeth in which you may find yourself engaged.

Also fascinating to read the final chapter of this 1996 book, knowing what was yet to come, including, so sadly, the looting of the very museum that was one of Bell's lasting achievements in the newly-minted county. In fact, my next stop after this is going to be Wikipedia's article about the museum, just to refresh my memory of what happened, and find out how it's doing now, and that's always one measure of success for a history for me - if I put down the book at the end and then start doing additional reading, just because it sparked curiosity, it was a good one.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 27, 2020

First Paddle of 2020 - Florida Mangrove Tunnels with Adventure Kayak Sarasota, January 19th

Photo by TQ. Look, Ma, no drysuit!

As usual, click on any photo for a better look - "x" in the upper right hand corner brings you back to the post.

So the neither-Kansas-nor-Brooklyn place mentioned in the last post was Florida, where TQ and I met up with my folks and my sister for a very nice winter vacation in the Sarasota area, staying in a VRBO in the same Gulf Coast town my folks had introduced me and my sister to around the same time of year last year. Not quite the complete thaw-out you might think - Florida has its winter cold snaps too and an early look at the weather forecast had me wanting to get in a paddle on Sunday the 21st, as that day was going to be in the high 60's/low 70's and not too windy. After that it was going down to the 40's for a couple of days, and although it was eventually going back up to around 70, the wind was looking like a potential issue for the entire stay.

Longer-range forecasts can (and very often do) shift as you get closer to the days involved, but I didn't want to count on that so I really lobbied for paddling on Sunday -- I haven't been able to get out on Jamaica Bay at all in January, we've had some lovely days in NYC but all on work days. Bah! So after my December full of paddling fun, I was really itching to get out in a boat at least once while we were down there.

My dad had been quite intrigued by things he'd heard about paddling tours that took you into mangrove tunnels. A little Googling and we'd found Adventure Kayak Sarasota, offering just the sort of tour we'd been looking for, launching out of the Ted Sperling Nature Park on Lido Key. I called in the morning to make sure they were doing trips that day and signed us up for the 2:00 tour. Unfortunately my mom and dad decided not to go because their little dog Belle was not being her usual laid-back self to the extent that they were concerned (she's gone blind from glaucoma and being in a strange place is trickier for her than it used to be, but she was tense beyond normal travel anxiety - she ended up being fine but at the time we were getting ready to go she was still stressed out to the point we were worried she was unwell), but I made reservations for TQ and my sister and me and at 1:45 we'd met up with our guide and the one other couple who were the other attendees.

I think our guide's name was Dan, although I'm really bad at names and they do have another guide, Phil- I'm just going to call him Dan for the rest of the post just for simplicity's sake . He was a relaxed young Florida local who knew tons about the area and the creatures who call it home. The fleet was Pungos and the like, very decent recreational kayaks. Karen and TQ and I were all in singles, with the other couple taking a double. Ended up being a nice group, everybody had done at least a little paddling and the guide was able to lead us around at a reasonable yet unhurried pace, with plenty of time for looking around and taking pictures. 
Kayak launch at Lido Key

The website talks about the possibility of manatees and dolphins. Unfortunately, the charismatic megafauna was nowhere to be seen on this trip. Dan told us right at the start that the manatees had already made their seasonal move up into to warmer water and that although it wasn't completely outside the realm of possibility that we might stumble across one or two lingerers, that was highly unlikely. He did try really, really, really hard to find us some dolphins, taking us to a couple of spots where he said they would usually see them, but no luck.

However, the cormorants just about made up for the missing mammals with some very amusing and surprising behavior that the local birds have taught themselves! As we were setting out, Dan pointed out a couple of cormorants that he described as "hanging out with those kayaks out there" (not part of our tour). TQ and I weren't that excited by that, cormorants are a common bird in our NYC waterways and I just took "hanging out with those kayaks" as colorful-Florida-guide-dude-speak - until a minute later we had our own little fleet of companion cormorants!

This totally startled us because in NYC, cormorant attitudes towards kayaks range from utterly indifferent at a distance to something to run away from if a paddler gets too close. They might pop up by your boat after a dive in the bay's murky water, but they look very startled to see you there and they go right back under and get as far away from you as they can in one dive. This particular Florida population, however, had worked it out that kayaks make fantastic fishing cover in the area's clear, shallow waters! So they come right up to you, dive under your boat, and come up almost every time with a fish. Clever birds! They're super fast, so I didn't get any really good close-ups, but here are a couple with our guide - 

here's one diving under my boat, zip zip

and here's one following my sister. So much fun to watch!

Here's the whole tour heading for the mangrove tunnels

In the tunnels! Dan told us that these channels had originally been cut into the mangroves as a mosquito mitigation project, I think he said starting in the 1910's or so. They didn't end up working the way they were hoped to, but they do make for some really neat paddling. I was glad to have a guide, I felt like I would've gotten totally lost on my own, although the company does offer rentals and supply a laminated map of the tunnels with those. 

There was some interesting wildlife in here - this egret retreated up on the mangrove roots while we went by, going right back down to the water as soon as we'd passed by.

Dan was very observant of all the little critters that live in and around the mangroves. Over the course of the paddle, he pointed out a big hermit crab, a decorator urchin (a sea urchin that sticks shells and stuff on its spine to add camouflage and maybe additional armour - he showed it to us as a really good reason to stay in our boats even though the water was mostly not more than four feet deep, if that, but it was also neat to see), upside-down jellyfish (which actually lie on the bottom with their tentacles sticking up looking for food instead of floating around like most jellyfish), oysters encrusting the mangrove roots, and the little black mangrove crabs that go down among the roots at low water and then climb up the trees as the tide starts coming in. All sorts of stuff to observe!
Oysters on the mangrove roots

Mangrove crab heading aloft
TQ leaving the mangrove tunnel
Lots of ospreys! 

Back by the parking lot, one more wildlife sighting - two young raccoons. This was kind of sad - there were a number of outfitters running tours here and the guides knew this pair and hadn't seen Mom Raccoon in a couple of weeks, were guessing something had happened to her. Good place to be a raccoon, though, the guide we got talking to about them said he'd seen another adult hunting the mangrove crabs by putting its face against the trunk with its mouth open, then reaching around the trunk and grabbing at the crab with its paw from the opposite side - the crab would see the paw reaching for it and run right into the open mouth, mistaking it for a safe hidey-hole, and the raccoon would have its snack. All kinds of good things for a raccoon to eat here.

Sounds like the guides here get to see some really neat stuff, and they clearly enjoy sharing it. Dolphins would've been the cherry on the sundae but even without, it was a really interesting and fun place to kick off my 2020 paddling season.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

NOT IN KANSAS (or Brooklyn either)

Sittin' in the back yard, watching all the gators go by...

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Hempstead Bay Houses

A World Within A World: The Bay Houses of Long Island from Greg Blank on Vimeo.

I've done a couple of paddles with Sebago in Hempstead Bay, and I've thought it must be like a dream to be able to spend summer months in these bay houses. Tugster Will shared this on Facebook today - it's not very long but it makes it sound like it's just as I pictured.

Click here for more about bay shack life from the New York Times.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Remember the "One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other" song from Sesame Street? Hum that song while you review (click on the photos for details as usual)...

Hint #1

Hint #2
Hint #3
Did you guess?

That's right - NO TRUSTY ROMANY. Boo. It was a beautiful, beautiful day on the Paerdagat Basin today, temperature in the 60's and sunny, but just howling winds. See those light streaks on the water behind the docks in the neighboring boat club? That's the difference between the areas protected from the wind in the lee of the docks and the surface that's feeling the 25 mph winds.

The weather gods have been teasing me unmercifully since the holidays ended and work is back to normal - we are 7 work days into 2020 and I swear that half of those would've been beautiful paddling days (remember, a careful paddler is going out waterproof this time of year so a little rain is no trouble at all - freezing rain is icky but plain old watery rain is OK). But the weekends have both been busts. Boo! After all the great paddling I squeezed into December I'm really missing being on the water. Hope things improve!

I was at the club for an instructor meeting - summer seems so far away but it's time to start making plans for the 2020 season. The meeting was at 10 and I was really, really hoping that it would work well to go for a paddle afterwards - but nope, not for me, not today.

Oh well. I guess being forced to kick off one's paddling year in Florida is not the worst thing in the world.

January 2019...repeating soon!

1/13 update: 
This Afternoon: Mostly cloudy, with a high near 47. Northeast wind around 6 mph.
Tuesday: A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly after 3pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 46. East wind 6 to 8 mph.
Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 49. West wind 7 to 9 mph.
This is what I'm talking about  - howling winds all weekend followed by 3 days of perfectly fine paddling weather while I'm at work. BOO! Come on 2020 weather, shape up! 

Saturday, January 04, 2020

George's Dumpling Paddle (going back a couple of months)




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(frogma kayak smiley, patent pending)

George was one of the conditional members who we voted to make senior at the club meeting on New Year's Day - and that reminded me that I never did a post about one of my favorite events from last year, George's Dumpling Paddle! It was kind of gray and ugh today so a good day for looking back through some pictures and putting together this post.

George is a great guy and he loves making dumplings, and he loves teaching other people how to make dumplings too - it's one of his family's cooking traditions and he loves passing it along. This made for a wonderful autumn gathering at the American Canoe Association camp at Lake Sebago in Harriman State Park. The Sebago Canoe Club's main site, where 95% of my trip reports begin and end, is in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, but the club was actually begun at the ACA camp, hence our name. The club was offered the use of the NYC Parks Department land in Canarsie in the 70's, when Jamaica Bay first became part of the National Parks Department's Gateway Recreation Area, but we do still have the cabin at Lake Sebago, and that is really a wonderful place. I don't get up there nearly enough these days, but I wouldn't have missed George's Dumpling Paddle for anything!

I went up the night before and stayed with clubmates in one of the cabins that is available for ACA members to rent. I literally woke up to this - I slept on a couch/bed right under this window and this is what I saw when I first sat up after waking up. I really need to come up here more often. 

You can see the layout of the cabin a little better here. I'm standing in the corner where the kitchen is, and there's a room with bunks around the corner to the left. The guys took the bunkroom, Barbara and I took the couches. You can see that I'm not joking about waking up, sitting up, and seeing that view! 

Those of us who were here early helped George set up in the lodge up at the top of the road into camp. He'd decided to switch things around, having the lesson first, then the paddle, which made so much sense - you can see that this took some serious setting up, an hour and a half isn't really enough time for a good paddle (half of that time can get eaten up just with moving boats, fitting boats, and launching) plus for people who were coming up in the morning, it was going to be tricky to get to the camp in time for a 10 am launch. Lesson first worked great!

And we're off! George started off with an intro, talking about how dumpling making is woven into some of his fondest family memories, and about the ingredients he'd gathered for us.

Here, he's showing how to wrap the dumplings we're going to make - btw that's Andrew in the background, they are a great couple and Andrew was helping out with George's event on this day. They were both voted in as senior members at the New Year's Day meeting. 

The first dumplings out of the pot

After mixing up the beef and vegetarian fillings and showing us the basics, George split up the fillings and wrappers among the tables. Here's Team Vegetarian showing how us how it's done! 

George stops by one of the beef dumpling tables (this was my table) to offer a few more pointers

My first dumpling, hooray!

Another happy wrapper! 

It seemed like we had an endless bowl of filling and an endless stack of wrappers when we started, but with all of us working together it wasn't that long before we had a beautiful platter ready for the pot.

Into the pot! 

Barbara and Andrew tending the vegetarian dumplings (separate pots, of course)

Wrappers, wrapped beef dumplings, and a tray of dumpling hot from the kettle, with hoisin and hot sauce. Yum!

We wrapped and cooked and ate and wrapped and cooked and ate until the dumplings were all cooked and we were all stuffed - and then the lake was waiting for us when we were done. And it was GORGEOUS. Foliage wasn't peak yet but there was enough for a lovely shoreline, and everything glowed. We had a great paddle - there was a canoe capsize, the occupants of the boat were inexperienced but they were great sports about it, the lake water wasn't that cold yet, and it was actually kind of fun working together to empty their boat and get them back into it - we did end up taking them back to the dock so they could change into dry clothes and warm up, and then some of us went back out for a bit longer as the light went into that late-afternoon fall day glow. The Sebago gang reconvened at the Sebago cabin for dinner, everybody had something to share and we stuffed ourselves again, with a member who hails from France finishing off the evening's repast with glorious fresh crepes, sweetened with just a little sugar and so delicious.

A spectacular day at the lake - I must try to take advantage of this place more in 2020! 

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

New Year's Day with the Sebago Canoe Club

Happy New Year from Brooklyn!

Sad to say I did NOT join this salty crew on the water today - there was a small craft advisory, and I've gotten in so much really beautiful paddling in the last few weeks that I just wasn't inspired to deal with all the winter gear for what was likely to be a shortish paddle with a hard slog back home at the end. I'd already been on the fence and then when Mary, one of the club's avid birders, proposed a morning walk in Canarsie Park, I decided to join her instead. We started out at the club just in time to see these guys off, though, so that was fun. 

They did have a good time, they went to Mill Basin, which affords some protection from the wind, and they had a seal following them for a bit, always neat, but it was pretty gusty out there, and I did enjoy the walk -- Canarsie Park is so close to the club but I've never really spent a lot of time so it was fun doing that. We started by walking straight down to the basin and out along the shoreline of the bay, then we came back and walked around the pond. Not a lot of birds (I guess they're not crazy about gusty high winds either) but the sky was providing some dramatic views and it was good to start the year outside. After that, it was back to the club for the usual great potluck lunch and hanging out with clubmates, with a meeting called to order at 2:00 to discuss achievements of 2019, plan for 2020, and vote 3 great Conditional Members in as Senior Members. A good start to 2020 even it I didn't get on the water. Hope everyone reading had a Happy New Year too!

All pictures from our walk after this - click on the first one for a slideshow view.