Blather Islands Nature Observations

Things I Have Learned Tonight Through Experimentation and Observation

1. There is a family of skunks living in my yard. I kinda knew that already though– there always has been in this yard.

2. Skunks like chicken food. They don’t care if it’s dark yet, they want the CHICKEN FOOD!!!

3. Baby skunks are cute but stupid, apparently deaf, and easily alarmed (in a potentially stinky way).

4. The clapping thing works– on adult skunks. Mama ran away like a bat out of hell after one clap. The babies? Not so much. They either flip around and raise their tails at you, or they don’t react at all & just keep on eating chicken food.

5. Stupid us, for feeding our chickens by the front porch, where we can watch them and laugh at how weird and stupid and funny they are. All the while, the skunks are laughing at us.

6. I think it’s official. The skunk phobia is gone. I’m not stupid enough to stop being wary, but I’m not gonna lock myself in someone’s car for twenty minutes because I’m too afraid of what’s between me and the door. Yes, I did that once. I also almost got run over by a huge buck deer because I was convinced the rustling in the bushes was a mammoth skunk that was gonna practically kill me and I froze stiff in my tracks. That deer almost put my eye out. Was I afraid of deer after that?? No.

Sorry. Tangent.

7. I much prefer the wild chickens, iguanas, lizards, and even the stray dogs of my other islands to skunks, harmless though they may be. They’re obnoxious. Craig Kingsbury (the guy who brought them here and let them loose) was an asshole. He pulled the perfect senior prank on his own island.

Faraway Places Health Islands Nature Observations People Philosophy Think Travel Uncategorized

Musings on Time and Gratitude

This morning I woke up around six a.m. to use the bathroom and when I opened the fridge to grab a drink of juice (which I expected to be warm), I was pleasantly surprised to see the light on in the fridge, indicating that power had been restored to Vieques. In all honesty, I had no expectation that we’d have power back so soon, as I had no confirmation of what the source of the outage was. Rumor had it last night that there was no power on parts of the main island, that perhaps the outage had to do with the solar storm and resulting earthquakes– in my mind, we could have been without power for days. I was prepared for it. At least we still had running water, a house, and a gate around that house to protect us.

Turns out it was simply corroded wires, and the power was restored by morning, which, given my expectations, was a treat.

If there is one thing that I love about Vieques more than anything else, it’s that it makes me appreciate the small things in life. The simple necessities. It makes me grateful for the things that we take so much for granted at home. Running water. Locking doors. Privacy. Electricity. After camping for ten days, those things seem like a luxury, and every day I’m grateful for them.

And without all of the trappings of home –TV, internet, movie theaters, scads and scads of retail outlets vying for every last dime in your wallet– I find I appreciate the natural world around me more here than I do at home. Not that I don’t appreciate nature at home, but without anything else to do, there is really no choice here most days but to go to the beach, take pictures, go for a hike, or kayak, or paddleboard, or hop aboard a friend’s boat. On Vieques, there’s plenty of time to do all those things we keep telling ourselves we don’t have time for at home. The truth is, we have time for them all at home, but we fill up that time with unnecessary activities, most of which involve earning or spending money. It’s refreshing not to have the option of filling up my schedule with bullshit. I’ve been to the beach every day this week, and I DO have a job. My rent is $200 a month, and although the place is not a palace, it’s enough. It’s all I really need.

The other huge benefit to living without all the unnecessary extras we call “normal” at home is that I have plenty of time to think, to reflect, to write, to read, and to daydream. I think we Americans have trained ourselves to think these are the unnecessary extras, when the truth is quite the opposite. If we spend all of our time working in order to pay for all the things that we really don’t NEED, we don’t have time to live. To be. To relax. To think. To be happy, and REALIZE that we are happy. Our priorities are all messed up.

In the perpetual quest for material wealth that is contemporary American society, we have lost sight of what is really important: the quest for happiness. We all know, on a surface level, that money can’t buy happiness. But then why do we keep trying to fill whatever empty place exists in us with material things? Why do we get ourselves into crippling debt buying toys and clothes and fancy home furnishings and zippy cars? Wouldn’t being debt-free be more satisfying than having all those things at such a steep price? Because the price is not just the debt, and the stress of the debt, but the TIME spent trying to pay off the debts; time that we should be spending with our friends and loved ones, enjoying nature, making art, cooking and eating, listening to music, relaxing, and doing the things that will ACTUALLY make us happy.

Time is the most valuable resource we have, and we waste far too much of it. We waste it on working to pay for things we don’t actually need. We waste it on anger, stress, resentment and guilt. We waste it on pointless activities like video games, television and facebook. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not simply proselytizing–I’m just as guilty as anyone else. But I’m trying to shift the balance of how I spend my time and money, because as I’ve learned here on Vieques, I’m a hell of a lot happier when I’ve got less money, less trappings and all the time I want to sit in the hammock and read my book. Or to sit here, at half past noon on a Wednesday, and write to you.

Faraway Places Islands Nature Observations Travel Weather

Una Noche Sin Luces en Esperanza

There has been no electricity on Vieques since about 5:30 pm (Tues). A bit of research leads me to believe it’s got something to do with solar flares and an earthquake in the DR, followed by a tremor in western Puerto Rico. However, friends in San Juan say they have power. Not really sure what’s going on. The lights flickered on for a second around 7, but nothing since.

With no power, the stars above Esperanza are epic. Orion’s belt is kit up like a Christmas tree. The darkness is complete, and stunning. The only sounds are tree frogs, distant dogs and the hum of several generators.

We are camping again, this time in a cement tent with running water and beds. I’m ok with it.

Faraway Places Friendship Islands Nature Observations Think Travel

An Impromptu Love Letter

I love having time to get sucked into an eight-hundred page book for pure pleasure. I love having the freedom to spend my morning doing things I enjoy, and not things that are required. I love that I have submerged myself in the Caribbean sea every day this week. I love that the climbing tree in my back yard is a mango tree, though it won’t give us mangoes until April. I love that when I do have to work, I work with friends and food, and that when I leave the building every evening, the only part of the job I take with me is the money. I love the dramatic tropical wind that occasionally slams the metal shutters on my windows closed. I love the simplicity of washing my clothes in the sink and hanging them in the sun to dry. I love the tree frogs and coquis, who provide a peaceful soundtrack to every night’s sleep– and I love that after a week I stopped hearing the roosters and dogs and falling-apart cars that otherwise cut up the night. I love the fact that everything seems possible here, if you’re willing to work hard at it. I love that New York money and arrogance have not polluted this paradise yet, and I love the stubborn hearts of the Viequenses who will fight against them when they try.

I love this island, with all its quirks and hiccups. I love these people, misfits all of them. I love my life.

Blather Faraway Places Nature Observations Rant

The #1 Reason I Will Never Live In Alabama

Forget the overpopulation of self-righteous Bible-beaters. Forget the Ku Klux Klan and the legions of Confederate Flag-waving toothless rednecks with rifles strapped to the backs of their twenty-foot-tall Chevy pickup trucks. Forget the chew-spewing truck stop waitresses and the forty thousand mullets and the fact that the only music you’re likely to hear on the radio is 70s and 80s cock rock (1). Forget the hummingbird-sized mosquitoes and the deadly poisonous Copperhead snakes and the swamps and the alligators and the pollution-laden smog and the unfortunate proximity to all things Florida. The number one reason I will never live in Alabama is this:


Every year, roundabout August, New England turns into Alabama–complete with mosquitoes the size of cargo planes–and I don’t like it one stinking bit. There is nothing that makes me want to move back to California and live forever with a complete absence of weather than an eighty-degree day in which five seconds after stepping out of the shower I feel as though I need another one. Yesterday, the air was so laden with icky, fetid moisture that by the time I finished my twelve-hour shift (inside an air-conditioned restaurant with only one door open), the backs of my knees had red chafing marks from being stuck to the insides of my jeans, which were not tight at all. This morning, before the rain (2) came, I woke up in my bed, wrapped in my sheets like a burrito–not because I’d slept that violently, but because my sheets were stuck to my skin as though I’d rolled in a vat of glue before climbing under them.

Directly opposite August on the calendar is February, the only other month in which I find New England to be completely intolerable. February brings with it not only cold, but soul-sucking winds so strong and dry that they literally rip the skin straight off of my face and every other part of skin that’s exposed for even a minute. The wind is cold, so cold in fact that it’s nearly impossible not to find oneself clenched involuntarily into the shape of a praying mantis, with a resulting backache that lasts until the middle of March. Toes cease having sensation, scarves must cover as much area as hijabs in order to be at all effective, and any attempt at remaining fashionable is thrown completely out the window.

Contrary to the popular belief among a bajillion ignoramuses in Long Beach, the hideously ugly and hideously trendy Ugg Boot was invented for the purpose of surviving February in New England [or Montana or Colorado or anywhere else that actually has snow (3)], not for wearing with mini-skirts in Malibu in the middle of July. Likewise, woolen knit “beanies” were a necessity among desperately cold New Englanders long before they became fashinable among expertly disheveled surfers in the O.C.

That said, I vastly prefer the face-stripping agony of February to the sweaty, gooey misery of August. This is because I appreciate being able to wear clothes–even if I have to heap them on like a sherpa in order to stay alive. In the August humidity in New England, any piece of clothing more substantial than a G-string bikini is akin to cruel and unusual punishment, even when it’s relatively cold(4). And we all know that at least 99% of the population would never, or should never, even contemplate wearing such a thing–myself emphatically included. If I were a creature incapable of sweating–say an armadillo or a supermodel–I may consider August to be the preferable month to be in New England.

I will never, however, consider living in Alabama. Even if I do spontaneously turn into an armadillo. Because in Alabama, it feels like Alabama in July all the damn time.

1. Yes, I know every one of these assertions is a completely unabashed stereotype.
2. The fact that humidity of the magnitude that Boston has been experiencing for the past few days is a near-guarantee that there will be plentiful and violent thunder storms is the only remotely positive thing about the month of August whatsoever.
3. Or, more likely, August–which in the Southern Hemisphere is winter–in the middle of the desert in Australia, where Uggs were invented by people who likely don’t give a dingo’s ass about fashion or what Paris Hilton is wearing, ever.
4. By “relatively cold,” of course, I mean “under eighty degrees.”

Blather Islands Music Nature Ocean People Pointless Narcissism Rant

A Tale Of Boredom In The Form Of Lists

Things I Love About Summer:

THUNDERSTORMS! (There’s one going on right now… wish I were near the ocean)
Swimming in the ocean
The feeling of having gotten just enough sun to make me tired, not enough to fry the hell out of me
Ice cream sandwiches
Eating lunch or dinner on a dock, dangling my toes in the drink
Going barefoot (even better than flip-flops)
Salty skin
Night-swimming when there’s phosphorescence (or really any old time at all)
Long, protracted beach days
Reading books that are not required for school
Wooden sailboats
Live music at sunset in Menemsha
Attempting to surf
Giordano’s pizza
Wandering the beach at 3 a.m.
Tiger Lilies and Snap-Dragons
Explosives (fireworks–but not the big organized sort)
Wraparound skirts
Baby turkeys in my yard on the Vineyard
Shark sandwiches
Super-fresh fish

Things I Decidedly Do Not Love About Summer:

Tourists who walk around agape, as if they’ve forgotten what species they are
Swimming in pools
Long ferry lines and crowded boats
Belligerent New Yorkers (I know, this falls under tourists, but they deserve their own mention)
Men in pink pants
People who refuse to put sunscreen on their kids (who are so white they’re practically blue)
High-heeled flip-flops
Fake tanner
All of Giordano’s’ food besides the pizza
Having sand lodged in my unmentionables
When the air is colder than the water
The dreadlocks salt water turns my hair into
Miniskirts that are so short that you can see the girls’ underwear
Fiberglass sailboats and most of the people who wield them
Litter on beaches
Mosquitos and No-See-‘Ems
The reappearance of my arch enemy, the skunk
Poison Ivy

Animals Nature Observations People Pointless Narcissism Rant

I Went To Work And All I Got Was This Mystery Wound

Last night at work, I was bitten. I do not know by what, as the culprit was never found, but I did consider a visit to the Emergency Room at two-thirty in the morning (roughly seven hours after the assault) because of the size and color of the hideous bruise that had developed at the site. Though the likelihood of a Brown Recluse spider being in the kitchen of my restaurant, or in my bag, is extremely low, what else could produce such ugliness in a non-allergic person within mere minutes?

I didn’t notice the bite at first. My hand itched at some point, and when I scratched it, it hurt–and I noticed that the area around my pinky knuckle was swollen and blue-ish. I immediately iced it, as it appeared to be swelling fast. I was reassured by the fact that I could still make a fist, and that the feeling in my hand was intact–also, there wasn’t any local hotness, just dull pain and and ever-growing black and blue mark. Truth be told, it looked like I’d punched a fence-post. Or a gorilla.

My coworkers tried to convince me that I’d just whacked it on something and hadn’t noticed. I may be daft and unobservant, but if I’d whacked my hand on something hard enough to make it swell and turn blue, I’d fucking notice. Particularly if I wasn’t drunk, which I (shocker!) wasn’t.

I’d arrived at work with a rather gnarly sinus headache, which seemed to get worse after the bite, and for three or four hours, I was a miserable, achy, exhausted, stuffy-headed hypochondriac wreck. The other server I work with on Saturdays is not strong enough to handle the whole room by herself, so there was no chance of my going home. I wasn’t entirely sure I should sleep, anyway. (What happens when you sleep after a varmint with flesh-eating venom has attacked you in your workplace? Do you die if you’re not shot with steroids soon enough? Do you lose that limb by morning? Do you wake up with Club Hand?)

So I stuck it out. And by “stuck it out,” I mean that I delivered food and drinks to people who asked for them, but I forewent my usual waitressy banter, and spent every moment I could spare sitting on the patio and chain-smoking, stifling the urge to run inside and grab my fellow waitress by the hair and holler, “When will I be allowed to get sick?”

During one of these patio sits, my manager asked to take a look at it and upon close inspection noticed what appeared to be two fang-marks (they turned out to be, on my own inspection before bed, merely miniscule freckles with unfortunate placement). Dude, it looks like you got bit by a bat, he said. A baby bat. A preemie bat. It was at this point, of course, that my sense of humor returned and I realized that the entire situation was utterly ridiculous and would only happen to me.

Eventually, the headache miraculously subsided, my appetite came back long enough for me to force down some Orange Chicken from next door, and I no longer felt like killing the other waitress. My hand, however, was still black and blue, and painful, and according to everyone else I showed it to, the bruise was growing. It had developed a half-inch diameter rouge-colored spot to the right of the center, which looked like it would be the epicenter of things, but it didn’t hurt to the touch as other areas did, so I was befuddled. The security guard to the building, who used to be a Marine Corps medic, advised me to go to the ER. My coworkers were split–one said go, the other two said I should sleep on it and go in the morning if I woke up to find I’d grown another human out of my hand or something.

Due to an absolute intolerance of bureaucracy and a general aversion to all things hospital-related, the last thing I wanted to do–after having finished a nine-hour shift and finally expelling the headache that had been plaguing me all day–was to go sit in the waiting room of the ER for endless hours, surrounded by sicklings and lunatics, and eventually be told, There’s nothing we can do, your arm’s gonna fall off, go home and get some rest.

So I did. I ignored the prudent advice and took the path of least resistance…straight to my house.

Before bed, I spent about an hour relentlessly searching the internet for anything related to Brown Recluse spider bites that looked even remotely like the lesion I had on my hand. And… nothing. I didn’t have a blister, which was said to develop in 4-8 hours (it had been 10), there was no hotness, and my skin had not begun to decompose (whew). I washed my hand, shook out my sheets (and pillowcases and laundry and messenger bag) and went to bed. This morning when I woke up, the only change in the appearance of my hand is that it’s a bit more rouge-ish and less blue than it was yesterday.

So there it is. It’s highly unlikely at this juncture that I will experience sudden necrosis of the flesh and wind up with a gaping hole in my hand. I still have feeling in my hand, though the joint is tight around the bruise, as joints tend to be around hideous marks of contusion. I still haven’t found my assailant, though I’ve emptied my bag and searched my room (and rolled around anxiously in bed, kicking violently every time I felt the slightest sensation anywhere on my body). And for a few more days, I’ll have this attention-getting stain on my hand–and people, being naturally nosy, will ask about it.

I could tell them I got in a fight. That I got frustrated with being at the beck and call of idiots and work and I finally snapped. Oh, that? Some asshole was asked me for a glass of water and I popped him. Broke one of his veneers. It was great.

I think I’ll tell them that I was bitten by a bat, though. A baby bat, with itty-bitty fangs. Just you wait, I’ll say. In a couple of days, I’ll be Bat Girl>.

Islands Nature Pointless Narcissism Rant

Fist-Fighting With Simians In My Own Back Yard

When I was a kid, I didn’t have seasonal allergies. The only allergy I had was to shellfish, and by the time I’d reached five years old, I’d become so disgusted by the thought of eating anything that might make me throw up that I wasn’t even tempted to try it. My father, however, had severe hay fever, and I watched him suffer through it every year with mild amusement. As soon as the trees turned green, it would start: the runny, watery eyes, the sniffling, the sonic-boom sneezes, the perpetual scolding every time one of my stuffed animals came anywhere near his face.

I remember laughing every time my father sneezed, because when a man so large expels air in such a forceful and sudden manner, it shakes the floor and sends every animal within a ten-foot radius diving for cover. He’d wheeze for a moment before every explosion, as though he were gathering the sneeze’s full intensity within him before he could let it out, then when he finally let loose the sneeze would be so gargantuan that one wouldn’t have been entirely surprised to see a Volkswagen come leaping from his throat.

I laughed then—but payback, as they say, is a bitch–and apparently, so is Mother Nature. For the first few weeks of “pollen season,” I have been in Boston, where the volume of trees and foliage is significantly less per capita than on Martha’s Vineyard, where I grew up. I live on a street that has more cement than it does trees, so I had forgotten about what a mother the Mother could be.

The first time I experienced seasonal allergies, or what I have come to refer to as the Unbearable Pollen Ick, I was in my early twenties. Having never before been allergic to shrubbery, I thought I was getting sick. I bust be gettig da flu, I said, blowing out my innards into a million tissues. I dote doe whut dis is, bud it sucks. I sneezed uncontrollably, my eyes watered, I felt like I had a Batman mask of lead covering the top of my face. My sister, a lifelong allergy sufferer, took one look at me and said something along the lines of Welcome to the club; it’s about time.

Yesterday, back on the Vineyard for a few days’ R & R, I went to a friend’s house for a few hours to sit around, listen to music and get stoned. While we were sitting in my friend’s back yard, Mother Nature took it upon herself to launch a full-on assault on my face–with a seemingly endless supply of little green armies.

My friend pointed out the haze of pollen falling from the trees, illuminated by the setting sun so that it almost sparkled. Oh, fuck, I thought. Here it comes. There was a parked car under a carport-like overhang, and I saw that its hood was covered in an opaque layer of lime green fuzz, like it had grown a thin layer of green fur. Within half an hour, I could feel the pressure building beneath my eyes, and within an hour, I’d let out a scattered batch of my own miniature sonic-boom sneezes (just as startling as Dad’s, but not as growly). By the time I left my friend’s house, I could feel the tell-tale river of ooze going down the back of my throat.

This morning I woke up feeling like I’d been sucker-punched in the head by a 500 pound Gorilla. Mama may be pretty, but she packs a serious wallop.

Of course, the great irony of this situation is that the pollen is everywhere because the plants are happy because we in New England have just come out of a week-long monsoon. So the Ick that I hate so much is a direct result of the rain that I love so much. More proof that nonexistent representational deities have a sense of humor, too.