Thursday, September 20, 2012

Two Years Before The Mast

The Hawaiian Chieftain and the Lady Washington at days' end.

I’ve always had this thing for nautical books and movies.  I grew up around the water, fishing boats, and listening to my Father spin tales of his time in the Navy.  I had my own catamaran with my own adventures and water craziness.  So “this thing” is really a romantic obsession. But my romance is tied, if you pardon me, hook, line, and sinker, to the loveliness of the old ships, the great wooden vessels with creaking decks and billowing sails.  Over the years I’ve added a list of ships and boats I’ve been aboard; once I even had the pleasure to sail three days and nights aboard the lovely ship, the Hawaiian Chieftain. 
So it came as a surprise to me, when I realized that I had never read Two Years Before The Mast.  I mean, it doesn’t get more nautical than that.  How I’ve managed to skip this book is a mystery.  But I’ve read it now and am on my second reading - what a superb read! 
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it is a true account of Richard Henry Dana who sailed on the brig Pilgrim from Boston harbor to San Francisco in the early 1800’s – before California was part of the United States.  Mr. Dana’s description of life as a common “Jack” stood in opposition to his previous life as an undergraduate at Cambridge.  He made the leap from academia to nautical adventure much like any of us would – with a great deal more enthusiasm than knowledge.  But Mr. Dana not only writes a great narrative description of life aboard ship, he also does a remarkable job of telling his tale with a fresh eye and an open mind – an academian dissecting his subject with both child-like pleasure and objectivity.  And though I was so engrossed in his colorful descriptions that I could smell the salt air and feel the roll of the deck, I became particularly interested in Mr. Dana’s descriptions in the last chapter, Twenty-Four Years Later, where he, on re-visiting San Francisco, compares with a nostalgic eye the changes of the bay area.  I felt his sense of loss, especially since none of us have ever known what it was like to see nothing but rolling hills from shore to horizon.  I have always been saddened by the sight when driving to San Francisco to see nothing but freeways and a sea of rooftops as far as the eye can see.  Reminiscing with Dana made me sigh with longing.

Two Years Before The Mast is a terrific read on all accounts.  Though, if you’re not up on your sailor jargon you might have a difficult time getting making heads or tails of it.  Nautical speak is a language of its own – larboard and starboard, reefing sails, hawse, leeward, lay out, all hands, eight bells – and a whole dictionary of terms that would take half a lifetime to learn properly.  But if you read the book, you’ll be itching to get on the water afterwards for sure – even if it’s in a dingy.  This is one of the best historical books I’ve read in a very long time and it will certainly be a book I will read time and again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gulf Islands National Seashore

I’m in love.  In love with the Ocean.  With the sugar white beaches.  With the Laughing Gulls, the Great Herons, and the seriously laid-back Brown Pelicans.  But I have found a new love.  The Gulf Islands National Seashore, specifically, the Perdido Key Area at Johnson’sBeach.  Oh yup.  The National Seashore has been there for many, many years.  I was born in Pensacola and grew up on the beach so this is nothing new to me.  But there has been this slow build-up of experience – of walking the beach for miles to sort out the junk in my head.  Of splashing with the fish and singing with the gulls.  I’ve had time to wear this beach like a favorite pair of jeans or cotton shirt and they’re now worn and comfortable.  It’s been said that anything really worth having and worth falling in love with, takes time.  So true.  My love runs deep like the Ocean.      

Many folks understand this love of the water.  But what may surprise some is that, for me, this love extends to the people who sweat and toll to keep this park in working order.  My Father used to ask me why I would pay to go to the Gulf Islands National Seashore when there was free public beach access all around.  I answered simply, because I felt safe.   And I do feel safe, but the real answer is more complicated than that.  The work that the Rangers, volunteers, and behind-the-scenes workers do is just amazing and inspiring.  Cleaning beaches and bathrooms; repairing equipment, signs, buildings, and fences; answering questions from the curious and sometimes ignorant public; building sites and protecting baby turtles and seabirds; keeping law and order; re-introducing native flora; re-building the dunes; keeping the public safe and aware of hazards; and even helping a woman jump a dead battery on her jeep (that would be me) – that is the duty these people face every day they work here.  And it’s a hot, sweaty, and often thankless job.  One that must sometimes be extremely trying as one storm after another rolls across the island, washing away their hard work, knowing tomorrow they will have to start all over again.  How heart-breaking that must be.  As a volunteer myself at the Maidu Museum andHistoric Site in Roseville, CA, I understand from first-hand experience how many hours, dedication, and passion goes into protecting and maintaining a site.   

Just recently, as the park hunkered down for the onslaught of Hurricane Isaac, I spoke with one of the Rangers there.  He, like everyone I’ve spoken with there, was about as nice a person as you could ever hope to meet.  He was an easy-going, happy, and passionate person who believed in what he was doing.  We spoke for a few minutes.  As I started to drive away I told him, “Thank you for everything you do.”  His face beamed with a warm smile and replied, “Thank you!  You made my day!”  Honestly given, honestly received. 

So here’s a hearty and very special shout out to all those who work at Gulf Islands National Seashore, both paid and volunteer.  You are talented, honest, hard-working people who manage a difficult but worthy endeavor.  And no matter how rough the job gets, you do it with a smile.  Thank you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Corry Field Columns Mystery Update!

Well - I was very fortunate to make a little headway into the mystery of the Corry Field Columns that i posted on just a few weeks ago.  I sent out emails to several different people and organizations in Pensacola and received a reply from Curt Lawson, Buehler Library, NNAM, NAS Pensacola, FL.  Here's his reply:

The pillars, now south of the new Veterans Hospital, were once one of the field boundary light arrangement to enable safe night flying from the early days of Corry Field. They were used between 1927 and 1934 to light the southern edge of the landing field that was only a grass area at the time (i.e. no runways). The lights had electrical and a gas system for added light augmentation as needed. The pillars are 15 to 20 feet tall and each held a 7 foot tall light as shown in an attachment.  Two additional sets of shorter pillars were located along the western and northern field boundaries. These lights permitted safe clearance of trees and lit the landing areas for the early biplanes (without any on-board lights). Additional lighting and runway construction was started after 1934 as aircraft and airfield development proceeded.

He also included a photo of the original lights that topped the columns: