Sunday, March 22, 2020
I did absolutely nothing on my 23rd birthday in Medical school, afraid to leave my apartment.
Then there was one spent at the Fargo airport after a day of flight cancellations going to Sweden, where my wife just started crying uncontrollably at the Red Lobster after having to punt for the day, we did leave on March 22nd, but I ordered a second bottle of wine and kept filling my wife's until she settled down.
This year, I spent my birthday ....how to even describe it fully? I am taken back to lyrics by the Silver Stallion as sung by the Highwaymen, "I was running like the One-eyed jack of Diamonds with the Devil on my tail." The phrase has no hidden meaning as far as I can tell, the Jack of Diamonds is not one-eyed in a typical playing cards either...I just don't know what it means, but the entire song is filled with oddities and a person being put at risk. The phrase though gives a picture of a person moving fast to avoid something really bad.
Staying in Florida was putting us at risk, as COVID-19 was coming at us like a tsunami. We watched and heard about many millennials partying all over Florida like one goes to the beach to see all the fish and wildlife as the sea moves out just before the big wave strikes them. Older people were not taking this seriously as of last week.
By Thursday AM, our RV park north of Tampa had closed its pool, despite no scientific basis for doing so, they cited "liability concerns." Would they be liable if I I caught the pestilence from the shaking hands with the man cleaning the bathroom or mowing the grass? The club house closed, and with all the state parks closing, to even walk through, and talks about closing rest areas and just about anything (will we even be able to get diesel soon?), figuring it would be easier and safer to be in the current lee of this epidemic, and away from people, some of which might have malevolent intentions, we headed as fast as we could to South Dakota. We would learn later that at the RV park next door (one with a pickle ball court and better birding) a cleaning woman had been been diagnosed with the virus and we had visited that park, but were careful, so hopefully, we missed contagion
The 1800 mile trip took three days, six hundred mile RV days are brutal. We stayed out of all buildings, slept in the RV, ate in the RV, avoided everything. Some of the KOAs were closed to new residents. I-75 was filled with trucks and Canadians heading north, the Canadians worried that they would be stuck on the south side of the border without healthcare. We took a western route avoiding Atlanta, cruising north to Montgomery AL. and then Memphis.
It was busy in Memphis and Omaha, but not Kansas City at all. Driving through the Ozarks and the rural heartland, I'm not sure these people quite get yet at what is coming. Although, it would be easier to isolate contacts here to a degree. Our government didn't get this. Congress was too preoccupied by a wasted impeachment fiasco and our executive branch, well, I'm not sure what was going on there at all, sometimes I think a third of our government went to lunch three years ago and hasn't returned, and the CDC....I guess history does repeat itself...I'm not sure either party could figure out now how to even get out of a paper bag...It doesn't matter, now we are there, and what it portends after this wave of death and illness passes, I actually do not know? Will the world even be the same place?
I woke up on my birthday in Clinton, Missouri, where my Tracker boat was manufactured. Like all birthdays I saw the sunrise...
Will there even be baseball this year. Will there ever be baseball again? In Field of Dreams, they talk about the one constant thing being baseball in America, well, even in the war we had Ladies baseball but in 2020? Maybe nothing. Who'd have thunk it a US without baseball?
I'll fight this as long as we can. We'll hide out here on the prairie for as long as we can, avoiding everything. We have food, protection, space, and opportunity, unlike far too many unlucky people in the cities. My daughter is home from college and when I came home, she and my wife made me a birthday pizza and then we opened presents....it was nice to be remembered. I had a friend call, my parents, and mys sister as well as my sons. I enjoyed that and forgot about what I fear is coming. I got two hi-tech beach towels and an India and Thailand field guide for trips, I probably will never now take....and I got what everyone deserves during this time, toilet paper.
We went out this morning and resupplied, even here in nowhere, lettuce is in short supply. They had 8 heads of romaine, we only took half, leave for the next guy, I also took half of the meager onion supply. I bought a truck load of bird seed and thought about buying chicks. We are supplied until June but it may still get tough out here, I have twenty pounds of potatoes that may have to become seed potatoes if we have to dig up a portion of the ranch for a "Coronavirus Garden." If we have to ration, we can live off fat reserves until August and then those potatoes might become 100 pounds of potatoes and feed us for a while. We also bought pet supplies and seeds at the farm supply store, we'll forget about the chicks for awhile. If needed, the "fence row chickens" the rabbits that have been steadily multiplying since my last cull, will taste good so I'll let them live for now. I should have half a beef at the butcher next week but maybe someone else got it? Got a freezer, and two refrigerators up and running. It is what all of us country people do. We've only ever been trapped here for 10 days, ice storm, in that case without power and once for 4. My grandparents had to be able to survive and entire winter without getting out so I guess stocking up runs in my soul.
Here in South Dakota, we too, have no toilet paper, but ample Kleenex and paper towels. Bread is thin, flour, absent, but sugar, got enough to feed the hummingbirds of the world, which seems odd since sugar comes from Florida and the wheat from nearby.
I even have 151 rum in stock that doubles as hand sanitizer, ....hopefully I'll get to drink this swill to toast us surviving this.....but who knows?
In a month.....the farmers, God willing, will be getting out in the fields in an attempt to grow food for the world. a few weeks later, 280 cattle will be on our ranch, fattening up for the slaughter in the fall, munching their way around green idyllic prairie hills, while rare butterflies fly around in the hot summer winds. I yearn for summer. I yearn for cows. I yearn for butterflies, meadowlarks singing on fence posts, and snipe winnowing above me.....looking through the bleakness of April, I cannot even see a glimmer of this, yet.
What a difference a year makes. Last year, my birthday was spent at sea, 1300 miles off of CapeTown, South Africa, I had just left Trisdan da Cuhna, where I had been drinking lifer beer at their pub, now that was a pretty good day!
Stay safe, self isolation day 16 is soon gone and for the moment anyways, all is well
54 and enjoying every minute
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
No matter where you are, there are some odd, hard to find, or unique birds flying around. I am waylaid in Pasco County, Florida. Living in our RV isn't so bad. We get out every morning on our bicycles and can sit out in the sun, we are just doing it with a ten foot distance limitation.
Today's excursion was the hunt for what I call the "Lutheran sparrow," actually named Bachman's sparrow, an elusive little beast, uncommon, and sporadically living in the open pine woods of the southeast. Not well researched, this sparrow is named after the Lutheran Minister, John Bachman, who was from Charleston, South Carolina, and besides being a pastor of a large congregation was a social reformer and abolitionist, and was a naturalist discovering one of the two birds which bear his name, the Bachman's warbler, probably now extinct, and Bachman's sparrow which was named in his honor. Oddly, the man who preached and wrote papers on the equality of slaves as there was no difference, was beaten by Union soldiers of all things which kept him mostly out of the field for birding for the rest of his life.
Another interesting fact was that Bachman was married to wildlife artist Maria Martin, the only woman who assisted Audubon in his work and painted many of the watercolors of his The Birds of North America, and then in the 1840s The Vivacious Quadrupeds of North America. I mentioned her in my Art History senior seminar presentation back in College. That is another story.
|Her Say's phoebe plate|
There is a large tract of wooded area called the Starkey Preserve not far from us that has these sparrows and it has some perfect habitat but finding this bird is NOT easy. Today, having not a drop of Irish blood in me, I spent the Catholic holiday of St. Patrick's looking for a Lutheran sparrow. Something seems strange here but I wore green, though, so I guess I did my part to celebrate.
|The hunt for the Lutheran sparrow, by bike, covering miles of suitable habitat for a few pictures and a pretty song|
Unfortunately, our daughter is now back home as residential college life is now determined to be too risky for COVID-19 and it is true that we all need to avoid any contacts for a few weeks to stop this virus, and she was sent home yesterday. It has been eating at my wife to be 1780 miles away from home and everybody, and even though we can't visit our parents during all of this as we'd risk possibly infecting them with something that could in all likelihood kill them, I also agree that it is better to be closer. Hard not to feel isolated down here and it is also easier to maintain sanity for self-isolation on a ranch than in a 34 foot RV.
As such, we are bugging out of Florida on Thursday, a month earlier than planned. I had hoped to knock off a bucket list item (visit South Carolina, my 50th state) but alas not this time. With our only points of contact being three diesel pumps, we'll avoid humanity as much as we can as we are pretty self-contained, so we should be pretty good. I had always wanted to spend an entire spring migration in Florida but for 2020 anyways, it is not to be. Trying to survive and keeping this epidemic spike as flat as possible so everyone lives is a better idea.
Last year, today, we were nearing Tristan da Cuhna on a ship, if we had been on that boat this year, we'd be a ship without a point to land as almost all transatlantic ships are in quarantine or ships without a port. Scott Schuette, whom many of you know from St. Paul, is aboard a Silverseas ship The Silver Explorer in limbo off Chile and in quarantine. Scott is virus free so far, thank goodness, here is a recent story.
So things could be worse than being able to bird in Florida and drive home in a Tiffin RV? Yes, they could. Remember, that even though we wait patiently for this virus to pass there are some birds out there and more coming, so be patient and keep the bins ready.
Thursday, March 12, 2020
Just outside my window my flowers have been inundated by bees....Eastern Carpenter Bees no less. They look like bumblebees, so what actually is a carpenter bee? These bees are large, generally much quieter than bumblebees, and have less hair on their abdomens. They are great garden pollinators and generally great to have around except they can be a nuisance since they have a taste for wood, and like chewing out holes on houses, fences, sheds and anything else. Their holes look like they are made by good sized drill bits. As far as I can tell they are not threatened. There is also a southern carpenter bee also found in Florida and distinguishing these is not easy. The above bee is a male as determined by eye location.
Then we have the curious case of the Sherman's Fox Squirrel
This squirrel has been protected from hunting for a few years and in 2017, a big study was enacted on this squirrel as worry about long leaf pine and wire grass habitat degradation impacting this species was the idea since the last survey. There was no public input during a two month period and in the end, the squirrel ended up not being listed. It makes sense that this squirrel found in similar habitat with the Florida scrub jay would be in trouble, but apparently lumping it with a more widespread subspecies is the answer....I hope not.
I just got a note that my daughter Lauren's Organic Chemistry professor just went into quarantine due to exposure to a positive individual. I assume her college (Hamline Univ) will close tomorrow. As she self-isolates 1700 miles from us, one wonders what is the thing to do? Go get her and possibly expose ourselves to a possibly fatal illness (I have risks, a lung injury from 20 years ago)? or watch birds, bees, and squirrels? Obviously, she has to stay away from her grandparents.
Life isn't supposed to have choices like this....
I could rant some more on this but well....I'm trying to distract myself. I'm still only 7 days from being on a plane south from Minneapolis so I could have been exposed, too. I was as careful as anyone could be, last to board plane, touched nothing, ate nothing, drank nothing, cloroxed the airplane seat, everything....one just doesn't know.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
You may think I make some of what I write about up. You may ask, questions like is Olaf really a naked birder? Is Olaf really the Dos Equis man? Well, I don't and I am, but sadly no, just a bit of a likeness spread by my PR machine.
Everything in life, for me at least, goes (or comes) full circle and after having such a nice time on the Big Nude Boat in 2019 with a friend named Stuart (long story, buy the book for that), I convinced Silja to go on the 2020 version. We rented a cabin and made plans for the February 2020 sailing by watching the horrors of the Plagueboat, the Diamond Princess, in Yokohama, Japan and worried of what possibly we had got ourselves. The day came for departure and we gathered to leave Tampa thinking of the worst and hoping for the best.
Some of the dock workers in Tampa commented snidely. “I’ve never seen so much luggage for a bunch of nudists.” Which was true and it was not. All I know is we traveled light, as one does have to dress to eat in the main dining room and in three of the ports (not Roatan) but nowhere else, one needs something to wear. The Carnival Legend would be our naked home for a week, and hopefully not longer.
Key West, FL 2/24/2020
It was clear on this boat even just a day into it that this voyage had a different feel to it. Bare Necessities (BN), the travel company that runs these nude cruises, is much more in the background on this cruise. Their self-appointed cruise director on previous excursions named Barry, as rumor had it, had a falling out with BN. Direction was absent on this ship, and so his hosting of parties and events was gone, and BN had no one in his place. Things like the group picture wasn’t advertised except for on the daily program. We never read it until after it happened and by the looks of the picture, not that many others did. I have seen very few BN employees around at any of the events, and even a toast of champagne given to BN was done over the loudspeaker by the Carnival cruise director. This was their 30th anniversary cruise. I guess after thirty years, things change and maybe there is more to the story.
As the trip wore on, more and more people worried about the virus especially after we sailed by an infamous MSC ship that had been denied port in three countries but allowed to dock in Cozumel before a riot of some sort broke out and passengers had to be subdued by pepper spray. Would that happen on a nude cruise? One wouldn’t think so but even here, people were hogging cushions from chairs to make theirs more comfortable which seemed rude.
To make matters worse, I also learned that this was a Pepsi-only cruise, unlike 2019, a Coca-Cola-only cruise. I had tried to by the “Bubble package” but it had gotten screwed up which was lucky since I couldn’t even drink any of the soda offered as Pepsi gives me an MSG-like reaction.
The Carnival Legend is a somewhat smaller ship than the Carnival Sunshine, and there was less space. Possibly due to the success of the 2019 cruise and increased bookings, the organizers didn’t offer incentives to get the younger crowd on this sailing, so gone were most of the Florida Young Naturists who livened up the 2019 version and left this one with an older average age. The weather didn’t cooperate and the itinerary didn’t help matters either. Last year after a cold day at sea the first stop Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas was invaded by 3000 nude people. Everyone had a marvelous time, but unfortunately, the first stop in 2020 being Key West, with no nude options for shore excursions, didn’t get the cruise off to a great start.
We landed in Key West after an uneventful first morning at sea. After turning east west of the Dry Tortugas, I saw my first seabird, a female magnificent frigatebird, but shortly thereafter, we had to get dressed to arrive into the US port of Key West.
Our time in the self-described Conch Republic was only for five hours and we got in at noon. There wasn’t all that much one could do in such a short time. We rented bicycles for $16 each and looked around for a few birds and did some people watching. It is still a month early for decent birding here so all we saw was a few warblers and a few butterflies.
|Silja and the Key West Chicken, the most established introduced exotic in North America from pre-1800|
We drove past a block-long line for a picture at the southernmost point of the US, apparently it was the place to be with three hundred people loitering in line to do so, but seemed insane to me. I was going to take a picture of the process to highlight the absurdity of it all but that would only give credence to something that needs to be purged.
I found a twelve-pack of Coke zero to bring back to the ship. Silja tracked down some lip-gloss and after a few miles of avoiding traffic we turned the bicycles in, and both of us took a tourist picture by the end of US Highway 1, something we did back in 2013, the last time we were here together. I guess this is what we have to do now each time we come to Key West.
We came back to the boat, watched it sail away and then had a marvelous dinner in the steakhouse restaurant with some Club Orient refugees, for lack of a better term. The entertainment, including the comedians were lame so we went to bed early.
The next morning my wife announced that if we wanted to go to Columbia in 2021 (the destination of the 2021 Nude Cruise), we might as well just go there and arrange a birding tour on our own or just pick a nakation destination at some other place. For Silja to offer that (a birding trip) is a mighty powerful statement that cruise life is not her thing. I just hoped that we could survive the remaining five days on this trip. But I agree, getting drunk and hanging out at bars on a ship and then drinking more is not our scene, clothed or not. Hopefully, the organizers of this cruise will see that the different mix of people on this boat has left it with a different vibe and they will try to get it going, but I have my doubts and it was never happened.
Mahahual, Mexico 2/26/2020
If I was doing a nude year in 2020, I would have taken the day trip to a nude day trip near this sleepy artificial cruise destination. They made Costa Maya (the name of just the port) sixteen years ago and it hasn’t done much for Mahahual in the years that followed. Streets made and platted remain overgrown and abandoned. I haven’t been to the mainland of Mexico since 1997. 23 years ago, the Minnesota Gophers made it to the Final Four. We watched them lose to Kentucky at a bar in Zihuantanejo, on the opposite coast. As such, I needed many Mexican birds. I had made arrangements with local guide Victor Rosales, who took me and my wife out for the day as no one else on the ship wanted to go. We started at the Chacchoben ruins.
Victor quickly got us in before the cruise ship passengers and we scoured the area for birds. We saw spider monkeys and the best bird we found was just a laughing falcon, a bird I’d seen in Costa Rica, but still a nice bird and photo.
We drove around a little and saw some fun birds including six lifers. I had a camera malfunction on a squirrel cuckoo, but at an abandoned spa we found three black-headed trogons, the best bird on the trip for me.
We found a tree in the small city on a neglected block which had berries and birds. I finally got a photo of a Yucatan woodpecker, I( had heard one the year before but not seen it on Cozumel (long story)
Victor was a good guide and a nice guy. It was lucky to have found him by chance. I’d recommend him for any birding in the area. I didn’t bring up the fact I am a naked birder. I figure it would get lost in the translation. Maybe I could have added a few birds to my lifetime naked list, but I was just happy to do my own thing for a day and avoid the cruise ship outings.
|Rufous tailed hummingbird|
|Yellow throated euphonia|
|Young immature Yucatan Jays, a lifer bird|
My re-return to the Garden of Eden, my name for Paya Bay Resort on Roatan happened in the middle of a downpour. Unlike 2019, we had no goofy stores after being hungover playing naked beer pong to the wee hours of the day. We’d gone to bed early and the difference of ship time and local time did not cause us any issues. But this was no beach weather day. It was windy, wet, and nasty outside. The rain according to Forest Gump could be described as big ol' fat rain.
|A tropical washout|
|Even Leroy thought it was a little wet|
Many of the people that went out here on the east end, made a u-turn and went back to the boat. This seemed to be a frequent happening as we saw guests do this here and also on Cozumel. There was a break for a while in the weather. I went birding, Silja read.
I saw some birds that were on my nude list previously and enjoyed a place we’ve visited now separate five times.
We thought about how much we liked Paya Bay and thought about booking a trip there in the future. Before we went back to the ship, I went back to have a moment at the Tree of Harmony.
I thought about how I had ended my 2016 big year here with the death of my grandmother the day after returning. I thought about what I had deduced in 2019, in that I needed to spend all trips, if possible, with my lovely bride of nearly 30 years. In 2020, I thought of some what ifs…what if we’d die from COVID-19 and the coronavirus? What if the world economy collapsed? What if we’d never get back here?
Edward Abbey, wrote in Desert Solitude about finding the prettiest place on earth, which is different for different people. His was the redrock country near Moab, Utah. Ours was St. Martin until it wasn’t and now, maybe it is here at Paya near this tree. Maybe, like I read in a book here on our 2017 visit in Finding Abbey, a book about finding the hidden grave of Edward Abbey, it isn’t about actually finding anything. It is about the search, and maybe that is true for us. Life is the journey, and NOT the destination.
We drove back contently to the ship and shortly, it rained again. That evening we met up with two couples we had met on the Grand Canyon nude rafting trip and had a great reconnection. That is also what life is about, the connections.
You could have read about the Cozumel portion of this trip already so I'll just repeat pictures of two of my lifer birds.
Leap year day on the Carnival Legend turned out to be much like the rest, rather plain and without much excitement day. I did spot a red-footed booby and a brown booby somewhere north of Cuba as we waited out this day at sea looking for something to amuse ourselves, I began to think about the previous week. Some of the other guests were saying things like even that was a waste of a very good week. I tried to think of a phrase or word to describe this trip. The trip wasn't bad, the food wasn't bad, and well, the company was good.
All I could come up with to describe this cruise was white toast—white toast without butter. Like I said, this cruise wasn’t bad just like white toast isn’t bad, but it was unremarkable and just plain, and nothing really worth writing about any further.
It made me think of larger issues, like one can’t go back to the past. The past is past. The 2019 cruise was great but past fun has no bearing on future fun. In a larger sense, and how I started this project, St. Martin was fun but it is now gone and over so now we are moving on, finding newer and hopefully other great things to experience. Many of these trips will lead to new birds, sometimes I will be wearing clothing and sometimes I won’t be.
Silja and I decided to buy an RV lot in Lutz, Florida from a seller who lives in Alberta and is having health issues and I think we will avoid most cruises in the future unless they are going to exotic locations like the South Pacific. Other St. Martin owners are buying condos in Treasure Island and another, a house nearby in another nude development, Paradise Lakes. Maybe Club Orient will like a phoenix, rise again some day, and if that happens, we will probably add it to our itinerary. This fall, going to Asia.and Brazil.
All I can say is that wherever we go, we will wear lots of sunscreen and in all likelihood, you, my readers will get to read about it.
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