The Ever Hotter System of Which We Are a Part

In theory, we all know that humanity is part of the Earth’s ecosystem. When we impact the system, we impact ourselves. But knowing is one thing, feeling it is another. Sure, we know the global system of which we are part is ever hotter. But lately a lot of Americans, including myself, have gotten a real feel for it.

Over the last several days, the earth has suffered the hottest days in recorded history. On July 3rd, we set a record of 17.01°C, or 62.62°F. That was calculated by taking into account the average temperatures of the land, the oceans, the poles, and the night and day cycles.

But the record didn’t last. On July 4th, there was a new record, 17.18°C this time.

And then on July 6th, yet another record: this time 17.23°C.

What makes this all more remarkable, and more alarming, is that Antarctica is in the heart of its winter season. It should be helping to keep things cooler. Well, to be fair, it probably is. But it’s not enough to overcome the stress that we’re putting on the system.

My Very Hot Home

Coincidentally, our central air conditioning pooped out on July 1st. It was the start of a weekend and, when we called the air conditioner repair people, they gave us a number that was only for “emergencies.” What is an emergency, however? They didn’t define the term.

I thought maybe emergencies were for when there’s a bedridden elderly person in an AC-less house. So, we didn’t call. Saturday night was a bit rough sleeping in a 90°F bedroom, but we managed. On Sunday, I toughed it out at home while C went to work. It reached 91°F in the house with a “feels like” index of 100+ outside. Hot enough that it felt as if the air were closing in, as if I could somehow see the heat itself in a darkened room. And not a “dry heat,” of course. We live in a rainforest (without much rain, lately). Such is Florida.

Sunday night was tougher than Saturday night. The heat was more pervasive. All the objects in the house were hot as well. There was no more residual coolness in the furniture. The bed itself was hot. Thermodynamics, baby.

We called the air conditioning folks on Monday. The woman on the phone half scolded and half laughed. “When your AC goes off on a hot Florida summer day, it’s an emergency no matter who you are,” she said. We didn’t argue. A guy came, replaced a capacitor, and had the AC fixed in about 10 minutes.

Just in time. It was Monday, the hottest day in recorded history (at the time).

To Concentrate the Mind

We are in a system that is getting hotter by the year and, lately, by the day. The most recent record won’t hold, not unless there’s a nuclear war or supervolcano explosion or some other disaster that would be worse than the global warming itself.

It takes a lot for us humans to give up our self-centered foolishness, to stop our inane but often deadly chimp-like bickering among ourselves. It takes a lot to pull us together into a single human tribe. A deadly pandemic certainly couldn’t do it. Indeed, in the U.S., it only intensified our hominid nescience.

But if we could bring all of humanity together into an AC-less Florida amid high humidity and feels-like temperatures of 107°F and keep everyone here until we collectively figured out how to properly address global warming, maybe we’d finally get ‘er done. No more excuses or half measures or procrastination.

Maybe we would finally become avid and careful systems thinkers. Our minds would be concentrated as our bodies sweltered. We would realize that there’s no easy answer to solving the issue of global warming. It’s a system, after all. But we’d soon come up with compromises on a solution that would require sacrifice from everyone, a solution that would please no one but would stand the best chance of getting something real done.

At least, that’s the pipedream. The fevered dream of a hot man lying on a hot sofa under a blurred fan blowing hot air. A man who knows with a palpable certainty that it could be even worse. No, that it will be even worse. And that it is already worse for millions if not billions of people living with far few cooling resources than we have.

The AC is back on for now and for us.

But the memory of just a couple of days without AC will live on a while. It’s just a prelude. And a reminder that when you punch the planet, the planet punches back.

The Doomsday Glacier and the Sunshine State

I’ve always figured I’d be long gone before my lovely Tampa Bay area is sunk by global warming. But then, I also figured I’d be barely a memory before humanity developed anything along the lines of the ChatGPT AI. Surprise! That made me wonder: what if I’m wrong about the time scales for the sinking of the state due to global warming? For example, is Florida prepared for flooding from the Doomsday Glacier melt?

Oh, sure, maybe we’ll get “lucky” and the AIs will sink humanity well before global warming does, but this is Florida. Dark weird shit happens. Heck, Carl Hiaasen has gotten rich off all the dark weirdness of the Sunshine State. And, it seems to get darker and weirder by the year. Just look at our governor!

But that’s a different disaster. Let’s stick with floodwaters for now.

The Not-So-Slow Slimming of the Gulf Coast

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Between all the unhinged ravings of anti-democracy demogogues, the wailing of AI apolcalypse criers, and the deafening tic-toc of the nuclear Doomday Clock, it’s hard to hear anything else these days. Nonetheless, I did take note when I recently saw that sea levels are rising faster on the Florida Gulf Coast than much of the rest of the world.

How much faster? Well, pretty darned fast by geological standards. That is, about half an inch per year since 2010, three times more than the global average.

But hey, we live on human time, not geological time! Even the good ole Don Cesar hotel down on the beach reportedly stands at about a 7-foot elevation, so it’ll stay above water for another 160 years or so (unless some big old Cat 5 sweeps it off the beach, but that’s a slightly different scenario).

And I, my friends, live way higher up than that (if double-digit feet can be considered high which is obviously belly-busting laughable to your average denizen of Denver). So, unless our humble home is handed down to our descendants for a millenium or more, no problemo!

That sounds pretty comforting, except for a little thing called the Doomsday Glacier.

How Long Will Thwaites Wait?

No, it’s not really called the Doomsday Glacier except by the same crybaby mainstream media scaremonger types who tried to tell us that invading Afghanistan might be a sketchy notion, or that those adjustable-rate mortages could result in a bit of an economic downturn, or that a sitting reality-TV president with a phony hairline might forment a bit of a ruckus at the Capitol just so he wouldn’t have to store scads of his “personal” top-secret documents in the basement of some slowly seeping and subsiding Palm Beach resort.


No, it’s real name is Thwaites Glacier. And, just because it’s the size (ironically?) of Florida, why worry?

Well, here’s the thing.

It turns out that, although the pace of melting underneath a lot of the Thwaites ice shelf is slower than was previously feared, there are these deep cracks and “staircase” formations that turn out to be melting a lot more quickly.

Bottom line: nobody’s quite sure when the ice shelf could shatter. Maybe five years. Maybe 500.

What Happens If Thwaites Thaws?

But, worst case scenario, what happens if the whole bloody thing falls into the ocean? Well, nothing good for Florida: “The complete collapse of the Thwaites itself could lead to sea level rise of more than two feet, which would be enough to devastate coastal communities around the world. But the Thwaites is also acting like a natural dam to the surrounding ice in West Antarctica, and scientists have estimated global sea level could ultimately rise around 10 feet if the Thwaites collapsed.”

Going up two feet in a very short period of time could do a ton of damage in Florida. But 10 feet? Yowzer! Here’s what 10 feet of flooding would do in my neck of the woods. All the reddish brownish areas on the following map are underwater.

St. Pete Beach is gone except maybe as a massive artificial reef leaking toxins for decades. South St. Pete turns into a couple of shrinking islands. And a whole lot of Tampa, including Davis Island and much of Ybor City, goes bye-bye.

Relax. What Are the Chances?

Look, I really don’t expect to see anything like this in my lifetime. Still, if somebody comes to you with a great opporrtunity to invest in condos along St. Pete Beach, Tampa’s waterfront or, even worse, Miami, you might want to go check out the Interactive Map at Climate Central first. Then see what’s happening with the Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, which is investigating “one of the most unstable glaciers in Antarctica.” Just saying a little due diligence couldn’t hurt. It might even help keep those real estate investments from tanking to the point where they’re way, way underwater.

Feature image: Thwaits Glacier.jpg. Description Glacier in West Antarctica Source (JPL) Author: NASA

The Rapid Erosion of Free Speech in Florida

The Florida legislature, led by Gov. DeSantis, seems intent on chilling freedom of expression in the Sunshine state. This rapid erosion of free speech in Florida has dark portents for the rest of the United States.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that it protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Well, in our increasingly unfree Florida, we have a few grievances.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Exhibit Number One: Punishing a Business for Voicing an Opinion

Whatever you think about Disney, it has a right to free speech, as was famously reinforced in the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. So when Florida dissolved the company’s debt-issuing district in retaliation for speaking up against the popularly termed “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it was clearly, even blatantly, infringing on the company’s right to free speech.

Here’s what happened

When Gov. DeSantis signed the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, employees at the the Walt Disney corporation urged their employer to speak up against the new law.

The company put out this statement on March 28:

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LBGTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

Less than a month later, on April 22, 2022,  DeSantis signed a law passed by the Florida legislature that revokes the self-governing status that Disney has held in Florida for over half a century. Many people saw it as a direct violation of the corporation’s First Amendment right.

The Free Speech Center Weighs In

The Free Speech Center, a nonpartisan public policy center at Middle Tennessee State University, notes that this all originated with politics, not with schools. There was no massive effort to teach matters related to sexual orientation to young grade schoolers. What’s more, local school boards have control over what’s taught in their districts, so the state has no business interfering with these boards. This was big government encroaching on local control.

The Free Speech Center notes:

The cause and effect was clear. Disney expressed its opinion and the state used its power to punish Disney and discourage other corporations from taking a stand – about anything…This is a full-blown assault on the First Amendment rights of business leaders – and by extension their employees. Its clear intent is to chill free speech in the Sunshine State.

For other points of view on this, see “Ron DeSantis and the Charade of Free Speech in America” and “Ron DeSantis’s attack on Disney obviously violates the First Amendment.”

Exhibit Two: Book Bannings in Florida

In July 2022, the Florida legislature enacted a law, House Bill 1467, that says “each district school board must adopt a policy regarding an objection by a parent or a resident of the county to the use of a specific instructional material…” The idea, as I understand it, it to ensure that materials are removed if they are “not suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented, or is inappropriate for the grade level and age group for which the material is used.”

The problem, of course, is that there’s so much subjectivity built into the law that almost any book could be objected to and then, temporarily or permanently, removed from book shelves.

Even ChatGPT Gets It

Just for fun, I put the first hundred lines of the law into ChatGPT and asked it questions pertaining to the law. One of my questions was, “What might be an unintended negative impact from this law?”

It responded as follows: One unintended negative impact of this law could be censorship of important and relevant information from students. Books and other materials that may provide valuable knowledge and promote critical thinking could potentially be removed from school libraries, limiting students’ access to diverse perspectives and ideas. Additionally, this law could create an environment where authors and publishers may self-censor their work to avoid potential objections, limiting the scope of literature available to students. This could also have a chilling effect on academic freedom and intellectual inquiry.


Take Them All Down!

In Duval County, Florida, one parent who was interviewed by The New Yorker discovered that a school had papered over bookshelves to hide school books and another school had removed books so that bookshelves were bare. Why? An abundance of caution, apparently.

Communications officials in Duval County stated that the Florida Department of Education “has trained all Florida schools districts to ‘err on the side of caution’ in determining if a book is developmentally appropriate for student use” and that Duval schools are working “to ensure compliance with all recent legislation regarding books and materials available to children through school media centers and classroom libraries.”

In other words, they made books inaccessible because they were afraid someone would take offense at something. Books were essentially banned, or at least removed, due to fear of the state.

So, Which Books Have Been Taken Away?

PEN America, an organization with the mission of defending the liberties of free expression, has put together a list of book ban instances occurring from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022, “where students’ access to books in school libraries and classrooms in the United States was restricted or diminished, for either limited or indefinite periods of time.” Many of these bans have occurred in Florida, of course. Pen America has also put together a fact sheet to challenge the claims made by Gov. DeSantis.

This has turned out to be a very creepy way of getting books pulled off school library shelves, not relying on the state itself to ban books but on whatever “parent or resident” (as the law says) takes a dislike to some book, however much of a classic it is. Vonnegut’s great novel Slaughterhouse-Five, for example, makes Florida’s Brevard County schools banned list.

But, really, the system ultimately hinges on self-censorship by schools “erring on the side of caution.”

In every society where censorship thrives, it thrives because people are so frightened (I’m not saying without reason, by the way) that they self-censor for fear of the state.

Exhibit Three: Attacks on Academic Freedoms

Florida’s government has already tightened its already white-knuckled grip on the state university system. This is not illegal. Our duly elected legislators have the right to weaken or even destroy that system

But can the politicans completely muzzle university as well as K-12 teachers? The Washington Post describes it like this:

[T]he gravest threat to academic freedom comes from a legal argument Florida has advanced in defense of the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation is part of a wave of “educational gag orders” banning the teaching of “divisive concepts.” Violations can trigger disciplinary action against faculty and enormous fines for their universities. In a brief filed in federal court, Florida’s lawyers contend that faculty at public universities are government employees, in-classroom speech is “government speech” and the state “has simply chosen to regulate its own speech with the Stop WOKE Act.

So far, the courts aren’t buying the Florida argument. Last November, a federal district judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the law, and this month three judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling.

“Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal,” a spokesperson for the  the advocacy organization Foundation for Individual Expression told Law&Crime in an email. “Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.”

Despite Growing Teacher Shortages, Florida Keeps Scaring Its Teachers

Florida laws on teacher speech are so vaguely worded, many teachers are simply afraid to teach. Indeed, a poll by the nonprofit Stand for Children “found that a third of the 2,000 K-12 educators surveyed cited new state laws restricting classroom discussions on race, gender and sexuality as a reason for leaving the profession.”

Market Realist reports, “The FEA estimated in May that the state would have a shortage of 9,000 educators going into the 2022–2023 school year. The organization stated, ‘For far too long, certain politicians have underfunded students while restricting educators’ freedom to teach.'”

And the Hits Just Keep Coming

An opinion piece in The Palm Beach Post helps sum up the problems faced by Florida teachers:

[In addition to laws pushed by DeSantis], there are other bills that may not have the priority of the governor’s initiatives, but nevertheless send a troubling signal to Florida educators. HB 1055, for example, would have school districts place video cameras in classrooms and require certain teachers to wear microphones. While the bill might have good intentions of curbing abuse and crime in the classroom, it would only add hardship to an already difficult job.   

The Republican push to gain greater influence on local school boards includes HJR 35 and SJR 244, which would change the Florida Constitution to make nonpartisan school board races partisan. HB 1467 would make school board membership an unpaid position. Both bills would weaken the one part of school district operations that is directly accountable to the public, by either tethering local school boards to hardline partisan political agendas or by turning over the oversight of a complex, multi-faceted government operations like school districts to unpaid volunteers.

Exhibit Four: Trying to Silence the Press, Including Bloggers

Another opinion piece, this time in The Guardian, notes that attempts to prohibit free speech are not solely directed at teachers and businesses:

Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, and his cronies, not content with destroying free speech in public schools, have set for themselves a new target: destroying press freedom and every Floridian’s right to criticize public officials. Along the way, they aim to overturn the most important first amendment US supreme court decision of the 20th century.

The latest bill to raise eyebrows sounds like it’s made up by the opponents of Florida Republicans to make them sound ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s real. The proposed law, authored by state legislator Jason Brodeur, would – I kid you not – compel “bloggers” who criticize the governor, other officers of the executive branch, or members of the legislature to register with the state of Florida. Under the bill, anyone paid to write on the internet would have to file monthly reports every time they utter a government official’s name in a critical manner. If not, they’d face potentially thousands of dollars in fines.

This law would, of course, apply to conservative, moderate and liberal bloggers alike. Senate Bill 1316: Information Dissemination would mandate that any blogger writing about government officials to register with the Florida Office of Legislative Services or the Commission on Ethics.

Given our First Amendment rights, this kind of thing would be laughable if it weren’t, given Florida’s current status, so weirdly plausible.

The Real-Deal Threat to Free Speech

But even if that blogger bill never becomes law, there are other ways to attack the free press. More plausible ones. One of the most important stems from a DeSantis verbal attack on New York Times v Sullivan, the crucial Supreme Court decision that gave journalists as well as citizens wide latitude to investigate and criticize politicians.

As often seems to happen these days, the governor’s many allies in the Florida legislature went to work on the issue not long afterward. A bill was introduced in February 2023 by Florida state legislator Alex Andrade.

The Tampa Bay Times reports:

Now, Florida lawmakers — with the support of the governor — are taking aim at the media, pushing legislation that would dramatically weaken legal standards in place for more than a half-century that protect the freedom of the press to report on politicians and other powerful public figures.

The bill would make it easier to sue media outlets for allegations of defamation and make it harder for journalists to do their jobs by undermining the use of unnamed sources, an important reporting tool — particularly for media trying to pull back the curtain on the dealings of elected officials. Many First Amendment advocates and legal experts say it is clearly intended to muzzle reporters who serve as watchdogs for the public.

The objective of the Florida legislation (HB 991) is to challenge New York Times v. Sullivan, which requires that a plaintiff prove “actual malice” in defamation disputes, a high bar to clear.

Closing Statement

This post is already long, even though it only covers the proverbial tip of the iceberg in regard to Florida’s attempts to erode and, arguably, end free speech. I’ve spent a lot of time citing sources and instances because it’d be easy to blow off these claims as hyperbole.

But they’re not. Gov. DeSantis learned from Mr. Trump that if what you try to do is outrageous enough, many people won’t take your actions seriously. But we’ve discovered the hard way that just because something sounds crazy doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Not anymore. This the U.S. circa 2023. Anything seems possible.

Featured image: Eleanor Roosevelt reads the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1949; FDR Presidential Library & Museum 64-165; 20 December 2016; Source 64-165; Author FDR Presidential Library & Museum

The Karst Bridge: Darkness and Light in Florida Spring Country

I owe my love of Florida spring country to living there once upon a time. My family and I lived in Lake County, FL for years, and it was generally a happy time. Lots of hikes in the Ocala Forest, lots of visits to local springs such as Alexander, Juniper and Silver Glenn.

I didn’t worry much about politics back then. So what if I lived in a more conservative Florida county? No biggie. In local elections, I often voted for incumbents who’d reportedly (according to the local press, anyway) been doing a good job. These tended to be Republicans. Fine.

My Gulag

Times have changed. Today, partisanship has reached extraordinarily toxic levels, with some Americans espousing violence as a way to settle political differences. This is a kind of mass madness. When I expressed concern about what was happening on Jan. 6th, an old schoolmate of mine, now an avid Trump supporter,  wouldn’t condemn the violence. Instead, he told me he refused to be imprisoned in “my gulag.”

My gulag? I assured him I have no gulag on my modest estate. What would I do with one? I have a hard enough time tending to our unruly little stand of bamboo trees.

Gulag? Such a strange word, a Soviet word that I assume had been ringing in the tirades of certain social media posters or cable news personalities. A word that shapes and warps the realities of the people hearing and using the term.

Black Flags in a Green Country

I was reminded of this weird exchange when we were driving the country roads of the Big Bend region of Florida. It was not a surprise to see Trump flags and political posters dotting the country landscape. People do not give up their political allegiances very easily these days. Trump, enmeshed in many scandals that would have sunk earlier politicians, has proven this beyond any doubt.

What was less expected was the number of black American flags. Sometimes they’d fly on people’s front porches, or we’d see them lined up at the end of long rural driveways, or even waving in the backs of pickup trucks roaring by. I had never heard of, much less seen, these flags before. My first impression was of something ominous and surreal, something intentionally harkening back to the black shirts of Mussolini’s Italy.

Later on, I googled it to see what those flags portend. I saw some left-leaning media interpreting these flags in very grim ways. For example, on Salon I found the following explanation:

In one troubling new development, Trump supporters have begun flying all-black American flags, in an implicit threat to harm or kill their opponents — meaning nonwhite people, “socialist liberals,” Muslims, vaccinated people and others deemed to be “enemies” of “real America.” As media critic Eric Boehlert recently noted, the liberal opinion site Living Blue in Texas is sounding the alarm about the specific meaning of the black flag and the Republican-fascists support for terrorism and other political violence.

If I had been able to ask the drivers of these black-flag-sporting trucks what it meant to them, would they say something similar? Or, would they talk about standing up for their freedoms in a land ruled by “socialists” who wanted to put them in “gulags”? (Just by the way, we now have a total of just four democratic socialists among the 435 congresspeople in the U.S. House of Representatives, not exactly a tsunami of any type of socialism.)

Trying to Interpret Symbols in Florida Spring Country

As far as I can tell, black flags harken back to pirate flags. Black flags were flown to show that the pirates would provide no quarter to those on the ships they attacked. This means that they would fight to the death and take no prisoners, killing everyone in their path.

Some say that black flags (though probably not black American flags) were sometimes flown by the Confederacy. The Sun reports, “Confederate army soldiers flew the black flag to symbolize the opposite of the white flag of surrender. The black flag meant that the unit would not give in nor surrender and that enemy combatants would be killed.”

So, who are the perceived “enemy combatants” of today’s black flag wavers? I’m not sure. As far as I can tell, those enemies are largely imaginary caricatures of other Americans, which makes the sight of such flags especially troubling.

We Floridians probably interpret American black flags in different ways. Still, I believe that those who display the flags generally express a willingness to violently resist or attack whatever forces they perceive as aligned against them.

Spurious Divisions

The vast majority of Americans generally want the same things. That is, we want to live in a safe and secure environment. We want an economy in which we can find work. We want to feed our families, afford decent shelter, and enjoy some of goods things in life.

We want individual liberty balanced by enough collectivism to ensure things like good roads and bridges, a reasonably strong military, and enough social systems to help people who have fallen on hard times (as when they get sick or lose their jobs). In short, we still want–as Jefferson first put it–life, liberty and ability to pursue our own forms of happiness.

If we agree on all this, why is there so much outrage, animosity and division in our country today? Why do some people feel the need to fly black flags amid beautiful countryside?

Our Divisive Leaders

Much of it boils down to leaders and media personalities intent on gaining power, influence and money by making Americans believe we are far more divided than we truly are. After all, demonization works. It works to keep to the powerful emotions of fear and loathing engaged, emotions that override our reason. 

Suddenly, we see threats everywhere. People who cross the border because they are desperate for work and a better life are viewed as dangerous “invaders.” The anxious parents of kids confused about their sexual identity are demonized as “groomers.” And people who simply disagree on political issues from tax burdens to energy policy are viewed as “enemies” rather than fellow Americans.

These grotesque exaggerations are used to keep our emotions charged so that cable channels can sell more advertisements and politicians can convince us that they are “fighting for us” rather than just cynically appealing to our darker selves so they can gain ever greater power.

Gorgeous Light

In many respects, the Florida Big Bend area is an Arcadia. The people (at least the ones we met) are friendly and good natured. The countryside is expansive fields–some farmland combined with lots pastures populated by horses, cows, goats and chickens.

But we were specifically there for the freshwater springs, which are often fantastic places of cool, crystalline waters set like jewels in the primeval greenery of old Florida cypress and oaks, maples, sweet gum and honey locusts.

Peacock Spring, by Cynthia Vickers

Springs are places of light. In the largest springs, there is a boil of water that can be seen from the surface, a boil that makes the light shimmer all around. Because the water is typically crystal clear, the light doesn’t just reflect off the surface, however, but fills the entire spring down to the very bottom. The best springs are living windows into sacred worlds from which flow, in tremendous volumes, that water so essential to our lives.

Glades of Shadow

But springs are also places of shadow and power. For every first magnitude spring, there are powerful pulses of water surging upwards from limestone caves. That’s why you will sometimes see intrepid cave diver types at the springs and sinks of Florida. They are, essentially, underwater spelunkers, a dazzling but dangerous hobby that has too often resulted in tragedy.

And then there are the spring denizens, not least of which are snakes and gators. Indeed, the caretakers of today’s Florida springs are not shy about informing visitors about the potential dangers via their signage.

So, it’s little wonder we were a tad nervous when we arrived at our first spring of the trip: Lafayette Blue. It was a weekday and, despite the fine weather, we had the entire spring to ourselves. That made the scene spookier than it would otherwise have been.

Lafayette Blue is unique in that the two parts of the spring are divided by a natural bridge made up of karst. It’s a remarkable sight. On the day we were there, the lighter part of the spring flowed out into the Suwanee River, frequented by schools of mullet and some larger fish that I took for bass. There were also smaller specimen such as sunfish and chubb. On the surface were thousands of waterbugs, moving dimples of light

On the other side of karst bridge is the deeper, darker part of the spring where I snorkled with less confidence, intimidated by shadows and rocky ledges. Even the two large turtles over whom I swam looked wary, unaccustomed to visitors in their dimly lit lair.

America Undivided

As we drove miles through rural Florida on our way to various springs, I thought about the ways in which Lafayette Blue reflects America itself: a mix of dark and light, a clearly divided yet ultimately connected and singular entity, an inspiring, beautiful yet intimidating and sometimes dangerous place.

I know it’s a strange and somewhat strained metaphor, but like the karst bridge over Lafayette Blue, the divisions between red and blue America appear rock hard. And, in fact, these perceived divisions could lead to the end of democracy itself in the U.S. But this isn’t a foregone conclusion. Lafayette is a single spring just as we are a single state in a still-united nation, no matter how much certain “leaders” want to turn us against one another.

The green and rural parts of Florida will always feel like home to me. Despite our rural/urban divides, all Floridians reside in the same fantastical, surreal landscape: a rainforest growing atop porous limestone through which flows cold, clear waters that burst and bubble up from these incredible, life-giving springs. Our divisions are mostly illusory, manufactured by people who don’t have our best interests at heart. The sooner we realize this, the better we’ll be able to savor the light and dark gifts of this preposterously beautiful state.

Walking Through the Pandemic

One in a series of posts on my struggles with maintaining a healthier weight, starting in early 2019 and working into the present day

217 lbs on November 16, 2020

After changing my eating life in September 2019, I’d lost around 30 pounds by November of the following year. There were ups and downs during that time, and there continue to be today, but I was feeling better about my eating habits.

By November of 2020, of course, we were well into the Covid-19 pandemic and I couldn’t go the gym any longer. So, I took up walking in a major way. Here’s what I wrote in my journal at the time, though I’ve added a few subtitles:

A few weeks ago I downloaded a few of the many pedometer apps off Google Play. They all seem to do about the same thing: track how far you walk or run in a given length of time, but I did find out the hard way that some are more accurate than others.

Anyway, my process is to download a number of my favorite podcasts onto my phone, turn on the pedometer app, and walk around the neighborhood for a few miles. It’s usually not less than two and often more like three or four.

Podcasts and the Pedometer

I live in Florida, so I’m definitely not getting much (or, by the standards of most hikers, any) altitude on my walks. But there are a lot of lakes (some more like retention ponds) in my neighborhood, so I’ve developed a series of walks that take me past several different bodies of water on any given day or night.

One of the virtues of an app is that it tracks my progress for me, digitally celebrating as I rack up the miles and even allows me to share my progress with friends if I want (which I don’t). In short, there is a minor positive feedback loop via the app and a more significant positive loop via the well-being of body and mind. For example, I tend to sleep much better when I go on leisurely, long walks in the evening (though, oddly, the opposite tends to be true if I go jogging or power walking, the stuff that really amps the body up).

It’s not that I was in terrible shape before, but getting exercise, especially of the aerobic type, was not something I especially looked forward to. I’ve found the walks, however, tend to be fun in a low-key way.

As I’ve taken up walking, I’ve been listening to podcasts about the 2020 election and the subsequent political and cultural fallout. The walking, I found, seems to balance out all the disturbing news, allowing me to take that news in without freaking out as much as I otherwise would. 

Switching It Up

When the political podcasts shake my once-deep faith in U.S. democracy and the wisdom of our US population, I listen to something else. Sometimes it’s silly stuff such as Fake Doctors, Real Friends, a rewatch show for the old television series Scrubs. Sometimes it’s more highbrow entertainment, such as The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Other times I’m looking for middle-brow stories, for which I turn to science-fiction story podcasts (e.g., Lightspeed and Clarkeworld) or one called Myths and Legends, which includes humorous retellings stories from folklore and mythology.

Sometimes I don’t listen to anything, just take in the world or try to solve some writing or work-related problem. Sometimes I walk to prepare for some speaker event (I do a lot of webcasts these days). 

Enjoying Myself

The trick, if it’s a trick at at all, is to just enjoy myself. It’s much easier to exercise if I derive some actual enjoyment out of it, just like it’s a lot easier to stick to a food plan that includes foods I love, as opposed to foods that trigger me to want to eat more. 

So much of trying to get lose weight comes down to enjoying the process, even if I’m not able to eat a pint (or a quart) of ice cream in a single sitting. 

They say “virtue is its own reward.” Well, it can be, as long as you enjoy those virtues at some level. Taking a self-punishing approach doesn’t work, at least not for me. The point is to train myself, and the Dogman lurking within, with positive reinforcement.

Featured image: Walking man in Munich-Schwabing, by Jonathan Borofsky. Photo by  Berreu