Sand fleas, mole crabs and a fisherman

Location; Topsail Hill State Park; in the Florida Panhandle. They call this area, occupying the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico, the ‘FORGOTTEN COAST.” It is overdeveloped, under planned and overpopulated containing the usual big-box clones and too many people. But this state park is an oasis amidst this growth. It is toward the end of January, bleak, cloudy and low 50’s Fahrenheit. Our motor home is in place, set up in this lovely state park boasting full hookups and grassy, roomy sites on what had formerly been a privately owned campground. Paul and I set off on a hike beginning on the beach, a delightful activity we find, even in cool and stormy weather.

The dunes hugging the beach are protected by boardwalks for crossing to the beach and a continuous array of signs begging you to stay “OFF THE DUNES.” The sand in this region is quite fine and appears to glow in an off-shade of white, enhanced by the pewter clouds and dark green ocean. The waves rolled in on a symphony of sound, a background for the few seabirds; pelicans, sandpipers and gulls. The campground’s tri-fold brochure listed this hike as measuring 1.2 miles to the next beach access point where we would turn inland to continue our 5.5 mile hike around Campbell Lake and back to the campgsite.

Our walk was set at a brisk pace to offset the time spent sitting and traveling from the eastern campground on Mexico Beach, Florida. Eventually we could make out people in the distance at what we assumed would be this access point. Before us lay the glowing sandy beach, the abundant waves on our left, the lonely sand dunes on the right and clouds and a bit of drizzle overhead. We were alone for now. As we approached the access point, we could make out two figures and a line up of 4 slender and tall fishing poles “growing” out of the sand near the edge of the shore. A woman was sitting on a folding chair, bundled up against the wind surrounded by fishing gear, a cooler and reading a book. Her husband was clad in camouflage-patterned fishing overalls, boots and rainwear. He was approaching and receding from the shore with a rectangular basket attached to a long pole.

I was curious, of course. I approached him and asked what he was catching in the basket. He responded, “sand fleas, or at least that is what I am hoping to catch. In this weather, they are not very abundant.” “Sand fleas,” I asked? “I thought they were tiny, similar to “no-seeums” and they jumped away from your feet as you disturbed the sand.”

“Well,” he replied, “they are also called something like Sand Moles, and yes,” replying to my further query, “they make good bait for redfish.” Come I will show you some fleas.” We walked to his wife’s chair where he opened the cooler and pulled out a Tupperware type container. He placed 5 “fleas” in his hand and explained as he showed us that these were frozen from a more successful day of catching them in his basket.
He had caught a redfish that day but had to throw it back because it was too large to legally keep—more than 36”. That seemed to me to be a big fish to be caught so close to shore. Apparently they are very common in this area. He was still hoping to catch some Pompano or other fish for tonight’s dinner.

We wished him luck and made our way back over the dunes to continue the hike. I later “Googled” sand fleas and found out that they are called Mole Crabs and I have included a photo of the frozen ones in his hand as well as the fisherman and his basket. You never know what you may learn when you set out. Every step can be an adventure. By the way, we did not meet another person until we returned to our campsite and greeted our neighbors, but that is a whole other story. Happy fishing.
Ann Carol Goldberg
Message in a Minute

Stolen moments, shared delights

“What will I find if I go north out of your driveway I asked my sister-in-law, Sandy? You will find a great old barn that would be wonderful to photograph,” was her quick reply. The Vermont day offered heavy clusters of cloud, moving swiftly in the winds. The light was stunningly gray textured by a steady mist. In Vermont the light can change in a blink.

It was the Thanksgiving holiday. The weather had turned from the incredible “spring-like” autumn that the whole northeast had enjoyed to the crisp and invigorating cold we expect at this season of he year.

We were momentarily caught up on cooking, so I expressed a desire to shoot photos of this barn. My niece Minda decided to join me. She is a nature lover and dedicated student who spends her days researching the effects of carbon traces in the woods and their effect on climate change, (Minda taught me that this term is more inclusive than the popular term Global Warming used by the general population) We bundled up against the 24ºF temperature, grabbed our cameras and were on our way, indeed turning left out of the driveway. This is a bit tricky as the road to the left is uphill and on a curve. Extra care is a necessity.

I eased the car onto the road and safely uphill as we kept our eyes out for the barn about a half-mile away on the right. We came upon it quickly; it is set back from the road, hidden by a hill. The driveway is covered with stark white, marble gravel so indigenous to this area, used on numerous driveways, walking paths and road shoulders.

The light was still flat, gray and the air misty and cold. No one was around to ask permission to walk on the property to shoot our photos. We took a deep breath and decided to”go for it.” I parked the Prius at the end of the long and very straight driveway. We walked up the hill toward the barn to shoot photos. At that very moment, as if on a mysterious cue, the sun broke through the clouds casting a wash of beautiful yellow Vermont light and painting patterns of light in the clouds. We both blinked in disbelief sharing the moment of good luck and amazement. This magical light would certainly enhance our photos — if it lasted.

The barn is old, rustic and huge. It had a sloped roof and several “rooms” filled with machinery, layers of debris, shelving, artifacts of years of use and storage. The trucks parked inside were licensed for active service. A small sign stuck in the earth advertised landscaping services. A house was seen buried in the distant woods separated from the barn by a large meadow dotted by huge, round bales of hay and a Jaguar (of the car variety) parked adjacent to the bales. Minda and I set off to shoot our images, sharing our ideas and discussing what we saw—the textures in the woods, trees clinging to the walls, debris laying around and the cold infecting our fingers.

small barnThe sun was still dancing in and out of the cloud layers, playing its little game with us, lighting our images. A fence lined the driveway up to the barn, but did not block us from entering the grassy field in front of the barn. We shot more photos and conjectured about the owners and the history of this place before heading back down the driveway toward the car. How amazed we were that as we approached the car, the heavy cloud layer returned, the light turned back into the gray haze and the air held a heavy mist that tickled our noses and froze our fingers even more. We drove back to the house, ready for some hot tea, and to delve back into helping to prepare the fabulous Thanksgiving feast that Sandy had planned.

I had a magic hour to share with Minda. Time flies too quickly to pass up a few shared moments, made special by surprises along the road, sunlight as a magical happenstance and our shared love of photography.

Message in a Minute,
Ann Carol Goldberg

Existential Sofas

Here I am, once again sitting on the floor of the public library holding my “to read” wish list and surrounded by my purse and my winter jacket. My head is muddled by the several un-shelved books also thrown around me. My task is to decide which books should come home with me today. It’s a major decision after all; as if I were adopting and raising the books, not just taking them home hoping at least one will be my next favorite “read.”

People sidle by me with a jealous look as I try to compact myself into a small clump so they won’t trip over my shoeless feet. How gratifying it is to spot occasional soul mates also strewn on the floor in high anticipation, much like a child in a toy store or a chocoholic in a candy stop.

My history of sprawling on library floors goes back to elementary school and the Rochester Monroe Ave. Branch Library, still in use and still glorious in its cement facade and multi-step entryway, lead–lined glass windows, vaulted ceiling and the imposing (to short stuff like me) central counter. This peculiar behavior continued through high school and into the revered stacks of public and university libraries I have inhabited through the years.

What makes a book appealing? Why select one book and leave other candidates behind? Any analysis has been futile so I seek to understand the thought process for answers. Most often, I arrive armed with a much-edited list of “books to read,” culled from various sources. I trot to the appropriate isle in hot pursuit of the treasures on my list. Perhaps I even find that book but the rich array of its neighbors takes over. I do athletic contortions trying to read the titles on the bottom shelves or tip toeing up high to read the titles on the higher shelves.

I ponder why I look at certain books and leave others untouched? Is it the color of the public end (binding), the cover design, thickness, implied subject matter, a Gestalt moment, a gut feeling or what? I cannot answer. I remain baffled and in awe. I still do not know by what means I decide to pick a book off of the shelf for keeps. I have discussed it with others. Some admit to pursuing only particular authors, genres, subject matter, particular book lengths or paper back versus hardcover. Others join me in awe of the process.

Reflecting further on this “sport” it is no wonder that the library floor has evolved into the “existential sofas” that have sprouted up in coffee houses, small business and big box bookstores and libraries of every sort.

I join the concern that the advent of online books, MP3’s, Ipods and all of that new technology will negate the need to pick up tangible books. Nothing is more satisfying to me than the printed page. Whatever the technology, there will always be the need to pick and choose from the vast list of available books or downloads, pick up the physical book, or highlight and download your choice into your earpiece or text screen to get a high from the great realm of literature.

I’d enjoy feedback on your approach to book selection and where your favorite existential sofa may sit.

Message in a Moment
Ann Carol Goldberg

Disciples, Tailgaters and huggers?

I am a vagabond, a wanderer, inveterate traveler, and even confess to be a voyeur peering through the camera lens. I am restless, always moving, ready to go at a word, forever ancy and hard to pin down. I travel by train, plane and automobile, by motor home, boat or ship, mule or horseback when offered the opportunity. I bike, I hike and I kayak. I have yet to find the opportunity to fly by hot-air balloon, rocket ship or dive in a submarine, soar in a dirigible and long to travel through time via time machine or other fantastical device.

How fortunate I have been to see so much of this planet; to meet people from many lands and diverse walks of life, to experience their habits, characteristics, attitudes and obsessions and to hold lasting memories of those whom I have met. But, their habits seen from behind the wheel of a road vehicle are a whole other animal so to speak.

After hundreds of hours plowing along highways and byways in our motor home, I have gathered lots of data to identify regional driving habits and traits indigenous to those areas. I thought it would be fun to share and compare notes with other “roadies.”

My categories descend from the best to worst;
A. Disciplined drivers apply the “letter of the law,” passing on the left when the oncoming traffic lane is clear, when road markings indicate it is safe to pass, they signal, they follow the rules.
B. Disciples–follow for a while, impatiently following your lead until they can pull out to pass, mostly following rules of safety.
C. Tailgaters-potential terrorists, hug your backside, wavering in and out to see the oncoming traffic and passing in the nick of time, burning rubber so you know they are angry or impatient.

On visits to the Maritimes though, I have identified another category that is baffling but consistent.
D. Huggers-Huggers “hover” snugly against your rear bumper without pushing or stressing you out except to make you wonder why they don’t pass on by. They are patient, they linger. My theory is that huggers are lonely, or just gregarious, crave company and need hugs and reassurances. Often they follow for miles without even attempting to pass.

Texans exhibit their own unwritten behavior becoming a sub-category observed on the roads deep in the heart of Texas; the lead vehicle simply pulls to the right, seldom slowing down and continues to travel along the shoulder until the other vehicle passes on by. It works well and everyone is happy. Texans are friendly and would probably give you a super-sized hug as well.

Stay safe on the road and happy journeys to all.

Message in a Minute
Ann Carol Goldberg