my jungle in the monsoons

I think, in the entirety of August, there has been one day where we didn’t get rain. That one day was overcast and threatening thunder out on the edges, so it barely counts. There was rain, it just didn’t land here.

Little Josie has a problem with this; she is a special sparkly wonderprincess and does not like walking in wet. She avoids puddles, she has to be dragged onto wet grass to do her doings, she fusses about damp toes. Considering that the entirety of her time with me has involved ALL OF THE RAIN and we’re still working on housebreaking, this has been a bit of a problem.

My deck, which is untreated wood that is frayed and shredded, marked with the scratches of several dogs’ worth of claw marks from a sudden takeoff, is slick on the surface with sudden algae. Once the wet season ends I’m going to have to sand and seal it. If it ends. I’m wondering about that, by now.

Yesterday when the rain stopped I went out into the back with Josie, with the intent to to haul her protesting into the damp grass (taller than she is, in places, despite a recent mow) to do what needed doing. My house, designed very badly, has eaves with no rain gutters so that everything drips straight down half a foot away from the house walls. It also includes a light fixture next to the back door, so at night when the light is on, the frogs and bugs gather there: the bugs entranced by the light, the frogs following along for easy pickings.

As I stepped out, something cool and wet landed on the back of my neck. My hair, pulled into a ponytail loop sort of thing, undid itself. There was a tiny bit of pressure, an opposing force, and I saw a light-grey septentrionalis zing away from shoulder level and onto the deck at my feet. It hopped off to safety, whatever that is for a frog.

A few nights ago I saw a much smaller frog, barely old enough to have shed its tail and found its way to the all-night diner of my back light, sneak up to snag a moth as long as it was, but much slenderer.

The wild things adore this rain. At night, the cicadas and crickets are almost drowned out by the creaking trill of frogs. They come to the gutters and puddles and weed-choked drainage ditches to breed, each singing about how it is the best frog, the strongest, the loudest, the only frog any prospective mates should consider. It’s a wonderful sound; the sort of thing I’ll miss about Florida if I ever leave this place.

There is a little brown anole which comes back every night to sleep in the same clump of Spanish moss. It sleeps vertically, tethered in the tangle of moss, with its tail curled and its head pointed up. I have not disturbed it, though I have walked by close enough to breathe on it. Either it did not notice me or its prey response was to stay motionless and hope I didn’t see it. I nearly didn’t, but the opalescent belly-scales of an anole are something I’m well used to picking out from all the other patterns in my tiny patch of nature.

The heat index today, about eleven in the morning, was a hundred and seven. The actual temperature was eighty-six. I wish I could handle heat better. I wish it didn’t send me reeling indoors, looking for a glass of ice with a splash of water inside and a cool flat surface to lie on.

The only dissonant part of this grand system is me, and my species, and the things we do. The plants and animals know how to handle this; they revel in the bounty of bugs and seeds and berries. The flowers attract bees and butterflies, the frogs congregate in the lamplight for moths when they’re not breeding in the standing water, the spiny-backed orbweavers build dizzying webs that reach from the leaf-littered ground to the oak canopy above.

(Then I walk into them, and splutter, and ask the spiders if we need to have a little talk because at this point they ought to know I walk there, so why do they keep putting webs there, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what you do, spiders, I quite like all the bug killing you do, but can you perhaps do it somewhere ELSE?)

Everything fits but me. Something has to change: either I need to make of myself a person that lives more easily in this, or I need to find a place that is more suited to what I already am. But the rainy season will draw to a close, August edges into September which dries, and then October which cools, and I’ll forget about this until next summer when another frog flings itself at me, for frog reasons I’ll never know.


carpe canem

I decided, after losing Logan, that that was it. I was done. No more dogs. I’d lost two in ten months. I know that cancer is common in Boxers, and I know that sudden cardiac failure happens to dogs of any breed much more often than we’d expect, but to hit both in so short a time? No. I was fucking done being shredded by love of dogs.

I was mad as hell. Fate, The Universe, God Herself, whatever — we were again not on speaking terms. But worse than after Riley, because Logan was so young, and so hurt, and deserved more life than that. We’d just gotten started, I kept saying and thinking, we were only getting started.

So I decided: no more. I wasn’t going to look for a Third Dog. I didn’t check Craigslist or the HSTB website or the Falkenburg shelter. No. That was it. If Fate or The Universe or God Herself wanted me to have another dog, it/she was going to have to put this third dog right in my face with the equivalent of neon signs and angels holding trumpets and anvils dropping and sky writing and everything else I couldn’t possibly ignore, because: Fuck. This. Loss. Thing.

You don't want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

You don’t want to know what I had to put into GIS to find this.

Let me tell you about Fate, The Universe, God Herself: it/she is always up for a dare. Because a week or so after coming to this decision (which was a while after thinking it over) and then the day after expressing it to a friend of mine, I got my message. On Facebook, of all places. A friend of mine had sent her dog to a trainer; that trainer shared a photo sent in by another client of a puppy in need of a home.



I looked at this picture and thought, my god, she reminds me of Riley. Not a pure Boxer, no, but there is so much Boxer in that pup, especially in the face. All right, Fate, The Universe, God Herself — consider that anvil dropped. So I inquired.

I didn’t expect to hear back, but I did.

This puppy had been found wandering on her lonesome on a road out in Sarasota, with no people or dogs or anything else around. She was very young, still had her milk teeth, playful and affectionate, liked to sleep on pillows, responsive to people. They had checked her for a microchip, called in at local shelters and vets, posted found ads, but nobody contacted them. Sounds to me as though the pup had been dumped out there.

I told the woman about Riley and Logan, the whole time expecting the conversation to end there, because like I said before I was feeling marked somehow, like I was an unwilling Killer Of Dogs. Instead she listened to it all and told me: “You sound like you need a puppy!”

It did make sense. Here was a puppy in need of a home. There I was with a home in sudden need of a dog.

I thought about the million ways this could be wrong (thanks ever so, anxiety) and the other ways it could be right. A puppy. A puppy. A fresh little dog-mind without all the trauma Logan had, and me bolstered with all of the good new training methods I learned with Riley and then Logan. Another rescue, like Logan; another dog in need of a second chance and a real home.

There was something else to it, too; something about Logan, that encouraged me to go for it. Our time together was so short, but so important. If I’d dithered and hesitated when I first met him, his story might have ended in that shelter while I was trying to make up my mind. We didn’t have long; we didn’t bond as closely as Riley and I had done, no. But there was a lesson to learn from Logan, that life is short and time is precious and go ahead and DO something before your chance is gone. Seize the moment. Seize the dog-moment. Maybe just seize the dog. Not carpe diem, but carpe canem.

So I would carpe the hell out of this wee little canem, for Logan and Riley and for her own self too, because she needed a person and I needed a dog.

I thought long and hard about names, finally settling on Josie, because she so resembles a friend’s dog, named Curly Joe, and Josie seemed a logical feminization of that. It’s a cute name, a happy name, a friendly upbeat name, for what sounded like a happy pup.

We met up on a rainy Sunday, and without anywhere sheltered to get out and talk, I hopped into Josie’s rescuers’ car to talk to them and meet my new dog. She was so small, and so sweet, and so friendly. I loved her immediately. We talked a bit — we were already in touch and Friended and whatnot on facebook — and along with the pup I was given a big bag of kibble, and another bag with a bowl, rawhide chews, pee-pads, treats… everything you need. Just add puppy. There she was, suddenly mine on that rainy day, ready to come home.

We're home, Josie.

We’re home, Josie.

It doesn’t make Logan’s loss hurt less, having this puppy here. It doesn’t make that pain go away. But what Josie does is help me bear it, remind me (quite forcefully, if necessary) that okay, I may be sad, but there’s a whole fantastic world out there that needs to be sniffed and tasted and explored by her wonderful little self. I can grieve one dog while learning to love another.

I can have a dog. I can have this crazy pup, who chews my ears and steals my socks and likes to sleep on my head. I can train her with the methods I learned for and used on Riley and then Logan, and she learns quickly. I can play with her, snuggle her, walk her, feed her, be happy with her.

I can do for her the thing that was most important for Logan: I can be there with her. I can teach her that the world is okay. I can teach her to grow up without being afraid.

Today we went to the vet, for her puppy checkup and first round of boosters — since she was a stray with no prior medical history, it starts from the beginning — and there another amazing thing happened. The woman who rescued Josie got together with her boss and they paid for a year’s worth of a wellness program, which includes shots, boosters, her spay when she’s old enough, and all the clinic visits I might need. Which is good, because puppies do stupid things like eat bees. I would like to nominate these two as Dog-People Saints. When she told me over the phone today that they were covering the whole thing, I went all stuttery and stupid in my amazed gratitude. Um. Wow. I mean. I. Um. That’s, that’s, so HUGE, you’re amazing. Thank you. Thank you. So I go, sometimes.

I’m looking into psychiatric service dog training, to see if little Josie is eligible, but those seem to be like the Mystery Monkey of Pinellas: everyone’s heard of them, but nobody knows where I might find one. I’ll keep looking, and in the meantime Josie and I will figure out this crazy business of life together.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements.

We need to talk about the sleeping arrangements, kid.


Short but simple post today. (Notice I am posting more? It’s a new thing. For me. That I’m doing.)

A video made the rounds on FB, today. It’s an interesting local-news clip of pure Tech Panic, this time about how HACKERS CAN FIND OUT WHERE YOU LIVE OMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN.


They’re hacking everybody!

Because the news is, you know, sane. and not at all sensationalized. Ever.

Most metadata is harmless, useful stuff: make and model of camera, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, so on and so forth. Flickr displays all of that proudly, because the Flickrati are all about the f/stops and we really dig being able to nitpick over whether the bokeh would be better or worse with a different aperture. As an example, view the metadata/EXIF page for one of my photographs on Flickr. See? It’s mostly jargony information.

But, master Photojedi, you may say, I don’t care about f/stops, I care about geotagging. First off, care about f/stops, photography is awesome. Secondly… I shall explain how to check for yourself if you’re not sure whether the phone’s really calling from inside the hou— I mean, not geotagging your photos.

One. Snap photo with phone, send to computer.

Two. Go to photo image. Do not view it; right-click it and view properties, like so:

infoThis is how you can view all the metadata assigned to each image you have.

Three: under properties, look for Details. You will see the same sort of metadata that is in my Flickr data page linked above. If you have geotagging turned on, you will also see a special location notice, GPS.

Blurry because screw you, is why.

Blurry because I am not where I ought to be.

All you have to do is go into the camera app and switch that geotagger off.

There is a reference page on Snopes about this; it points out that Facebook and Twitter automatically strip geolocation from images, which I find baffling because they make you opt out of geotagged text input on their apps. But nothing makes sense in this great big beautiful tomorrow ANYWAY, so I guess that’s all right.

Okay? No more panic now? You may return to submitting good stuff to Cute Overload and Dog Shaming.

on sinkholes


Eats up stairs

Alone or in pairs

And sucks em right into the ground

A hole, a hole, good god what a hole

Everyone knows the sinkhole!

In my senior year of high school, I took the Ecology class, which more specifically was Floridian Native Ecology And Other Supercool Things That I Wound Up Being Totally Into Despite Failing The Class. I had a lot going on at home and I was really good at hiding it. Still don’t know how I graduated. But that class gave me a firm grounding – hah – on the subject of sinkholes, aquifers, karst (not loess), saltwater inclusion, drought, water treatment, and all the other things that make Florida such a crumbly crust of sand to build upon.

Today I feel like sharing my knowledge with you. You are about to learn Sinkholes from a Genuine Lifelong Florida Girl. A defective one, mind, as I got the Estonian pallor and couldn’t tan at gunpoint, but a Floridian nonetheless. I instinctively do the stingray shuffle and I can identify bug bites by the welts they leave. I’ve earned my cred.

NOW THE DISCLAIMER: everything I am about to relate comes from the initial base of knowledge I learned in that class, bolstered by things I learned on the internet because I am a nerd and I like to spend hours learning about local geology in my free time. If I get something wrong, and you are in a position to know that for a fact and tell me what is the correct bit of information, PLEASE DO. Then I will edit this post, credit you for the corrections, and be more useful.

To explain this I need to get to very basic things and ancient history.

In the beginning, Florida was a sandbar barely peeking out from older, warmer oceans. The shellfish and tiny crustaceans that collected on it, over time, were calcified and compressed into limestone, which is porous, relatively fragile, and has a curious chemical reaction to acids like vinegar. (It was a fun day when we did Vinegar Rock Tests.) Limestone is made mostly of calcium carbonate, which is easily demolished by acids; if you drop ordinary white household vinegar on the stone, it will fizz impressively. It is not strong stuff, as rocks go, but it is perfect for the Floridan Aquifer. (Not Floridian. I don’t know why, don’t ask.)

Image via Wikipedia; fair use etc.

Image via Wikipedia & USGS.

The aquifer is made of porous limestone and water. Think of it as a saturated sponge, except the sponge is made of stone. This construction, a soluble waterlogged bedrock, is known as karst. There are lots of karst areas in the world; another that immediately comes to mind is the Yucatan cenotes, and I believe there’s another substantial one under the midwestern US, which has for decades supplied water to all of the farming that goes on out there.

This karst aquifer is a magnificent system. It has been tested by relentless nature for longer than humans have existed. It regulates itself. It functions just fine on its own terms. The problem is that those are not human terms.

Here’s how it goes: rain leaches through the soil and clay and sand, losing impurities as it goes. It sinks until it reaches the limestone bedrock which, being porous, absorbs and contains it. It stays there, circulating in a thousand beautiful subterranean rivers, until it burbles back to the surface in springs which feed rivers and streams.

Note I do not say lakes; although there are some spring lakelets (I’ve swum in beautiful Lithia which feeds the Alafia) most lakes in the Floridan Aquifer system are the result of sinkholes.

A sinkhole is simple enough. Water is dense and solid. So, too, is rock — even fragile rock like limestone. This delicate-seeming combination is quite sturdy and normally can support the ground above it. Sometimes, usually due to drought, the aquifer’s water level goes down. The limestone alone cannot support whatever is over it, so eventually gravity does what it does best and brings things crashing down. That is a sinkhole.

Most Florida lakes are sinkhole lakes: they began as sinkholes. Since water is always going down to the aquifer, it brings debris with it; if this plugs the hole, the water collects in the hole and becomes a lake. The lake then seeps into the ground and feeds the aquifer again, and all is well. On rare occasions, the aquifer level may drop and the hole may reopen, and where there once was a lake there is suddenly a dry mudflat.

Take a look at Google Maps, here; you can see all the natural sinkhole lakes, which are round, and then the manmade reservoirs which probably were built onto lakes, and are not round.

This is how karst functions. There is nothing wrong with this system. It’s been doing this since before our ancestors were still hiding from giant reptiles. The problem, as I said, is that it’s not very good for humans to live on.

Or, more accurately, I might say the problem is that humans do not know how to live on the karst.

For at least the past thirteen years, we’ve been under significant drought conditions. Not enough rain coming in, despite what we’d have you believe when we cry havoc about all the storms. Florida is also a very attractive place for farming, since the winters are so mild, and we can grow lots of things here that we cannot grow in many other places. All of this farming requires water, and lots of it: when the agriculture was getting started, it was not a problem, because the aquifer was full and seemed a perfect endless reservoir.

We’ve since learned that it is not, but we haven’t learned to slow down.

There are other elements at work here that I do not know as much about. Saltwater intrusion is one: when the fresh aquifer water is low, and it is near the sea, the saltwater will be pulled into the limestone. This does two things: it salinizes the fresh water and it erodes the limestone further. Another is the use of fertilizers, which acidify the groundwater and, again, cause more limestone erosion. The mixture of water and rock is precise, and dictated by nature: when this is out of whack, it all comes crashing in.

Refer to what I wrote above; when there isn’t enough water to support the limestone, it collapses into sinkholes. This has been happening more and more frequently lately, in places where it hadn’t been before, and that is directly due to pumping more water out of the aquifer than it can physically support.

We don’t seem to realize that we stand on water as much as on rock. Without the water, the rock can’t hold us.

in which the author beats an analogy to death

… and then revives it and beats it to death again. Because this is my best explanation for The Depression, as ridiculous as it is. Bear with me here, okay?

You. You with the depression. Inside your head is… Tokyo. It’s a wonderful thriving place, this in-your-head-Tokyo, full of beautiful and fascinating things. I am not saying this because real Tokyo is, although I’m sure it is; I’ve never been there. I’m saying it because you are, and I know you are because you’re human, and we’re all of us beautiful and fascinating and important.

Unfortunately, since you have The Depression, your lovely mental Tokyo has a monster. It’s got Godzilla. That is the depression, the monster in your head: it’s fucking Godzilla. It’s all stomping around and making that horrible screechy Godzilla noise and wrecking your city and scaring the hell out of you. Which is okay, it’s perfectly okay to be scared, because gigantic monsters that want to destroy you are scary. You’d be a whole different kind of nuts if you weren’t scared of it.

But there’s something mental-Godzilla can do that movie-Godzilla can’t: it sounds like you. Sometimes it sounds so much like you that you cannot tell whether the ideas you have are yours or Godzilla’s. And these threats it makes, these thoughts it has, can wreck the beautiful city of your innermost self. It’s hard to figure out which is which, when you’re in the grips of a monster attack, but from the outside there’s a pretty easy way to figure it out.

Is it a good thought, a healthy one, something that will make your life better? That’s you talking, even though you don’t believe a word you’re saying.

Is the thought harmful to you somehow? Is it saying you should give up or go away or fuck off or die? Tell Godzilla to shut its stupid monster mouth, because that. IS. NOT. YOU. It’s the monster. It’s a tricky monster, and it’s a very good mimic, but it is not you. Not now, not ever. It’s just a monster that comes up and tries to wreck what you’ve built, every once in a while.

The bad part about this is, so far, we don’t know how to kill Godzilla for good. You’ve seen the movies. That fucker always comes back. Just when you think it’s gone, there’s a tremor in the ground, a ripple in the water, and that screech that sounds like you — but isn’t, remember that, it is not you — saying DOOM AND BADNESS. It’s saying YOU’RE A WALKING CALAMITY AND EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING YOU KNOW WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT YOU. (Caps lock is how Mental Godzilla feels inside.)

This is, of course, completely bullshit. But it’s hard to realize that because it sounds like your voice, like your thoughts, and when you cannot trust your thoughts you are in a very bad way indeed.

Now. When Godzilla attacks, you have to fight back. There are things you can learn from therapists to help you fight it. There are medicines you can take that will strengthen your resolve to kick that monster back to whatever nuclear cesspit it crawled out of.

You have to fight it for one simple and perfect reason: you are worth too much to this world to let the monster win. I don’t know what you believe, and I don’t much care either; for this analogy, just accept that being your own self is enough. Being a unique individual is enough. Enough for what? Enough to be worthy of protection and healing, is what.

(Shut up, Godzilla, I am talking to the person you’re chewing on.)

Sometimes when the Tokyo of your mind is under attack, other human cities of wonder and beauty might say things like, “Can I help?” Or, “Is there anything I can do?” Or, “I don’t want you to do this alone.”

Godzilla really fucking hates hearing that. Godzilla wants to destroy your Tokyo. It does not want the neighboring cities of Bestfriendland and Familyburg and SignificantOtherville to send in aid or troops or weaponry. (This, in the real world, is more like company or food or helping around the house. Whatever. But for the analogy… look, I never said it was a good one.) Godzilla uses its mimic voice and is all “They’re pretending, they don’t care, you are infectious or some shit, everything you touch and do turns to awfulness.”

That is when you gotta say: Godzilla, shut your big lying monster mouth. Because the monster will say or do anything to keep you alone, keep you vulnerable, keep you convinced that you cannot withstand whatever horror it wants to inflict on you. It does this because that makes you weak, and when you’re weak you are easier to destroy.

Remember: never let the monster win. Never let the bastards grind you down. Never.

Now, listen: you can make it through. You’ve made it this far; you’re very strong. There’s a quote I can’t remember precisely — “People with mental illness have had to be too strong for too long.” This is true. A lot of times the monster will come get you when you’re exhausted after a fight. But the flipside of that is, you are one hell of a strong person, to have made it this far with all these epic battles inside your head. You have to hide them, you have to pretend they’re not happening, you have to act like you’re not hurt when you are. I know. It’s hard and it sucks and it’s horrible and it shouldn’t be that way.

But it does mean you are strong. Strong enough to punch Godzilla in its stupid face and send it running. There are ways to learn how to use this strength to shore up your mental Tokyo, add ICBMs and gigantic walls and monster repellent, flaming trebuchets, whatever you need. You can do this. You may not know how, but other people do, and they can teach you. It’s worth doing. It’s something you have to do. It’s hard, doing this, I won’t lie. It’s easier to let the monster run rampages whenever it wants. It’s much easier. But you can’t take the easy way out. You have to fight.

You have to fight it because, even though the monster says you are worthless, you are not. You are the only you that ever has been or ever will be. That’s worth fighting for. That’s worth saving.

I've had this toy since I was a kid. I keep it around as a reminder of sorts, these days.

Besides, do you really want this jerk telling you what to do?