Saturday, June 29, 2013

Solving Knotty Problems the Sailor’s Way

Jewelry makers understand the necessity of tying strong knots that secure the placement of beads on a necklace or bracelet strand to create a professional product. Knots are not only functional. They are beautiful. A singular knot, if well done, can serve as the focal point of a piece of jewelry, clothing, or work of art.

Decorative knots have been around for many years, but the knots from which they came were the result of need and invention. Sailors created different types of knots for different uses.
Modern-day campers can easily relate to the shifting motion of a ship as their motor home careens down the highway. Tying things down and securing them with a knot that is secure yet can be undone quickly is extremely important.

Sailors used knots to secure fragile things from breakage. They kept their wood dry by knotting wood pieces together and hanging them up. When the ocean billowed over the edge of the ship, the wood was tied safely above the thrust of the water.

The “monkey’s fist” (See image 1, lower right) was a large knot that was used as a weight and tied to another rope which the longshoremen used to pull the ship into the dock. Now used as a decorative knot, the monkey’s fist is solid and attractive. Knob knots were used for drawer handles, and for stanchion rails to whip the horses or at least scare them into going faster.

One of the most important books today in the arena of decorative arts is an old maritime book called “Marlinspike Seamanship.” If you would like to see samples from this book or get one for yourself, go to

A popular craft today that uses the same knotting principles is called “Paracording,” and uses parachute cord instead of rope for its lightweight qualities and strength. 

Paracord bracelets are the current fad, especially for runners and bicyclers who like their bright fluorescent colors to warn drivers and others of their presence.
Since their inception, The Boy Scouts have used knot tying skills  as a Merit Badge. Knots are used to tie down a tent, secure a boat, hang up supplies to keep them off the ground, and for securing a clothes line to dry out wet clothes. 

Knot tying prepares Scouts in the event that they are lost in the wilderness and need to stay safe and protected. Knowing how to make a shelter by tying branches together or to provide a make-shift stretcher to drag an injured friend is a valuable skill.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced the frustration of trying to tie a square knot and ending up with a granny. "Right over left" works when you’re not tying a bow, but if you want to place a bow on top, left over right first works best.

How many times have you tied your dog to a tree or a post, only to find that he’s wriggled away from your slip-shod slip knot? It pays to master the art of knot tying. The next time you try to tie something up; instead of swearing like a Sailor, learn how to tie knots like one!

"Bella Bellisimo" 16x20 acrylic on canvas

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Red, White, and Blue Salute to Our Veterans

"With These Hands -- Wonder" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
I remember vividly where I was on 9/11, do you? I stood with my fellow co-workers in front of a large-screen TV and wondered what was happening to our country? We watched in horror and disbelief as the replay showed a plane plowing into the first Twin Tower. In shock, we witnessed live another plane crashing into the second building. This couldn’t be happening.

At the time, my two sons were in New York. One lived in lower Manhattan with his wife; they both worked on Broadway. The other son worked between the Twin Towers and CitiGroup. Where were they now? Cell phone use had been cut off due to the emergency. My anxiety was in overdrive. I prayed.

"Hey, Coconut, Mon" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
Eventually, one son managed a communication from NY to California. The person in CA called his wife who lived in CT and I learned that he was okay. He was scheduled to meet that day on the 8th floor of the second tower, but the meeting had been moved to another location. We later learned there were many small but mighty miracles going on all over the city that limited the usual number of people who were supposed to be in the Towers that day.

Thankful that my boys and their families were safe, I rejoiced with other people who had been spared, and offered up prayers for those who hadn’t. Americans joined hands and hearts, praising God and showing their patriotic colors, but not all. Even in those dark hours, there were some who ridiculed “those flag wavers,” and blamed American Imperialism for the event. It was our fault. We deserved it for allowing such desperation and poverty in the world in the first place.

Unfortunately, those naysayers are still with us. The hate-America-crowd never seems to get tired of bashing the success and hard work of others or demeaning American values held dear by many.

(This is what I'll be doing on the 4th of July!)
My own father was a welder who took pride in repairing the ships that were damaged during World War II. He worked on the Arizona, the Missouri, and many of the ships prior to and after Pearl Harbor. As a child, we lived in government housing in Bremerton, Washington. Sailors, soldiers, and patriotic workers were part of our everyday lives. We took pride in their service and in their accomplishments. 

My Danish grandfather and his Swedish wife traveled all the way to California during World War I to work for the war effort. Papa worked in a factory as a welder, and Mama sewed clothing and uniforms for the soldiers and their families. They kept America’s factories running while the men were away fighting a war to preserve our freedoms. God forbid that Hitler should come here! People everywhere worked together for the good of America: the last bastion of freedom on the earth!

Papa and Mama came to this country via Ellis Island. They were proud, hopeful, and legal. They pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and carved out a life for their posterity. When you put down my flag and put down my country, you’re trampling on everything my ancestors fought and died for. These freedom loving people would give you the shirt off their backs, and they often did because it was the right and honorable thing to do. They earned their success through their own blood sweat and tears.

(Two beautiful red pears I plan to paint)
Several years ago, I was between jobs and feeling down and out. I had a medical background, so I managed to get an interview with the VA hospital where I lived. I was unprepared for the feelings that overwhelmed me when I walked through those double front doors. 

People in wheelchairs, old people, people on crutches, many with limbs missing coming and going down the hallway and gathering in the foyer. Flags and photos were everywhere. A feeling of reverence, and yes, despair, permeated every smell, every corner, every water-filled eye. I didn’t get the job, but I left a changed person.

I was so overcome with gratitude that I wanted to shake every hand, kneel at every knee, and hold every trembling, frightened person I passed and say: “Thank you;” but it seemed so inadequate! I was living my life with the hope of opportunity; whole, well, and free because someone here in this hospital and elsewhere in America gave up an opportunity, a limb, a loved one, a life of security for me.

God bless the men and women everywhere who serve our country! Thank God for the men and women in past generations who sacrificed their lives so that you and I can hope, and breathe, and choose our dreams. Freedom lives because somebody died—for you!

Friday, June 21, 2013

“I Stand at the Door and Knock;” Every Salesman’s Nightmare

"Broken Hearted" pastel on bristol 9x12
When I was 10 years old, my friend and I were trying to shake a young pest named Ruthie. She was half our size and followed us everywhere, dragging a teddy bear behind her. In our attempts to shake her, we ran headlong into a field of scratchy hay stubble. Ruthie followed us, anyway.

Out of breath, we stopped beside a rotting shed that looked like it was on the verge of collapse. When Ruthie caught up with us, we shoved her inside. She pulled the teddy to her frightened face; her blonde ringlets cascading like a waterfall over the bear’s fuzzy body.

My friend banged the door shut, and we leaned against it, waiting for the screams of desperation from within. We felt powerful and sinister. At first, the silence startled us. Why wasn’t Ruthie yelling at us, pleading for us to open the door? Her silence seemed to grow like a dark menacing cloud ready to pounce. We flung the door wide.

I plan to paint this glass jar of flowers. Loved the shadow on the table!
The bright sunlight lit up Ruthie’s wet, tear-stained face making her squint. She seemed to shrink before our eyes; appearing smaller than we remembered. A second shaft of light fell on the floor beside her where a dead rat sprawled among soiled rags and rusting tools. Feeling our cruelty in the pit of our stomachs, we fled across the field, leaving Ruthie far behind us.

As a young mother, I sold cosmetics door to door. I never got used to being rebuffed, and dreaded ringing that bell or making that first knock. “What’s behind door number one?” I joked to myself, trying to turn trepidation into adventure? 

A favorite scene I may paint yet!
In sales, you hear terms like the “door of opportunity,” or when “one door closes, another one opens.” Doors do play a significant role in our lives, whether in selling or working to provide a service or a product. In one of my crossword puzzles, the clue was: “Means of access.” The four letter answer was “door.” What is your current “means of access” to opportunity? 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just because you can’t see God, Doesn’t mean He’s not there

"Raccoons at Sunrise" (that last drink of water before sleep) 16x20 acrylic on canvas
From my bedroom window, I watched three raccoons shimmy head first down a live oak tree. Since it was barely dusk, I figured they were foraging early. At first glance, I thought they were large house cats; but three together? When their ringed tails and bandit eyes appeared in the ebbing twilight, I was blown away!

I often walk or sit under that tree. The squirrels amuse me as they chase each other’s tails. Blue jays screech from time to time, and playful goldfinches proffer a twinkling counterpoint in the bright sunlight. I’ve seen brown thrashers, loggerhead shrikes, and pileated woodpeckers in those gnarled branches. I’ve watched red-tailed hawks perch and search for prey within a hairs breadth from where I’m standing. But I never imagined there were wild raccoons sleeping in furry balls right over my head. How could I have missed them?

The world is full of hidden treasures all around us, and miracles and wonders from God. Just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Bill Maher, a comedian and avowed atheist doesn’t believe in either religion or God. He holds tightly to his beliefs. Perhaps he’s afraid that if he lets go of his skepticism, he might find out he’s wrong?

For believers, God is real. He has answered their prayers and spoken to their hearts. To deny this reality would be to disavow their personal and private experience. This personal witness becomes a sure foundation of knowledge that cannot be denied.

Maher is like a child who sits before a plate of Brussels sprouts and declares he doesn’t like them, even though he’s never tasted them. Then he hides the evidence of their existence under his plate or under a nearby lettuce leaf and tells his mother (and everyone else) that the Brussels sprouts don’t exist because he (and you) can’t see them.

To a Christian, Maher’s position is both immature and foolish; like my story of the raccoons: “Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they’re not up there.” This is where that invisible component called “faith” comes in. Why is it so hard to believe that God exists when evidence of his creations are all around us?  Is Evolution really a substantial explanation for our existence or is it still, after many decades, only a theory, an excuse, a crutch, for non-believers?

"Brown Thrasher" 16x20 acrylic on canvas in barnwood frame
Technology has advanced in quantum leaps over the past 30 years. Today transmitters communicate around the globe and into outer space, yet they are so small you can hold them in the palm of your hand or on a fingertip; some are even microscopic. These electronic devices may look naive and primitive fifty years from now as newer, smaller, faster, and smarter gadgets replace them. It’s simply a matter of time, degree and intelligence.

During the day, you can’t see the stars, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Conversely, on a stormy day the sun’s light is blotted out, but its radiance still exists and glows continually in spite of the weather. God’s radiance and reality are constant and eternal, in spite of our darkened imperfect minds and man-made barriers.

"Looking over the Salt Lake valley from Immigration Canyon"
How foolish we are as humans to deny the existence of God because we cannot see him, because we don’t understand his ways, or because we can’t find physical evidence or proof that he is real; even though countless miracles happen every day in the realms of nature, science, medicine and personal encounter.

“But there’s a logical, scientific explanation for everything,” some may counter. And when there isn’t, science is all too eager to supply one, or at least a theory of rhetorical possibilities. We’ve lost that childlike quality of trusting divine truth and promise. The young child who leaps off of a ledge into the waiting arms of his or her father exercises this trust through love, knowledge, and personal experience. He or she has learned that their earthly father can be trusted.

We need this kind of faith again in our world to bring back God into our hearts. It’s a “letting go” of pride, bitterness, and stubbornness; character attributes that harden our hearts and close our minds to truth.

"Looking back across the causeway that bridges the Great Salt Lake, between Antelope Island and the city."
In “Our Daily Bread,” a Christian pamphlet produced monthly by RBC Ministries, the following story was included in the October 9 reading:

“If we’re not careful, we may become like the man who prided himself on being an expert archer. The secret to his success was that after he shot his arrow at the side of a barn, he painted a bull’s-eye around the arrow.”

Many people are so eager to be right, or so hungry for success and notoriety that they paint a ring around their own favorite causes, special interests or personal agendas and then proclaim that they’ve hit the bull’s-eye of truth.

Proverbs 14:12 tells us: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
"Barn Swallows" on Antelope Island outside the Gift Shop"
God doesn’t need to prove his existence to us; it is we who need to conform to his will. He is the bull’s-eye we should aim for, not some delusional man-made target created by people who think they are smarter than God.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lasting Friendships – my Friend Alice

(Antelope Island scene looking past the Great Sale Lake to the Wasatch mountains)
Alice was a neighbor. The kind that welcomes you into her home like family, or waves at you the minute you step outside. We became fast friends, talking about our children, the weather, the neighborhood school and the rising cost of food.
It wasn't surprising then to see her on my doorstep after I'd suffered a long illness and a traumatic experience. Others had asked, " what can we do for you? " smiled and then returned to their own little worlds. Here was Alice, standing on my porch with a shovel in one hand and a plant in the other.

" You're coming outside, " she said emphatically. " You need some sunshine and we need to plant this start I brought from my garden. " The plant was one I'd admired some weeks before.

You didn't argue with Alice. You didn't want to. She had a way about her that said, " I'm here for you. Let's work on this thing together. "

We dug, we planted, and we chatted about everything but what was troubling me. She never nosed, she never snooped. She gave me the ball, and let me carry it where I wanted to go.

 She helped me more than she will ever know. She gave me the love and support I needed to deal with some difficult circumstances. She helped heal my heart and soul just by being Alice.

 (Photo -- view of Bear Lake in Garden City, UT)

When we moved away from Phoenix, I wept like a baby as I gave her my final hug. She was one neighbor I would miss forever. We stayed in contact for over 20 years, but the distance and our lives soon became a living memory. My gratitude still remains.

Many people come in and out of our lives. The good ones stay. Other friendships are not meant to last: the brief encounters on an airplane flight, the people we chat with on vacation, the people who share in the trauma of a tragic event. Some friendships are meant to last forever, and some of them aren't. Who can measure what any of these people bring into our lives?

When my own life was in a downward spiral, I never regretted the people I met along the way who made me laugh, who taught me something I didn't know, who opened my eyes to see the possibilities that were waiting there. These people became the threads that formed the warp and the woof of my character and my life. During that time, I learned that some people are just plain evil; but that most people are basically good, warts and all.

(Photo overlooking Bear Lake)

Through acquaintances and friendships, I discovered things about myself I never knew. Antique cars, for instance; I like everything about them, the hobby, the shows, the people. And jazz; I love the earthy vibes and rhythms, but I'm also enthralled at a symphony. I like to see a good play, and I'm enchanted by Shakespeare. All of the things I discovered about myself, I learned through the people around me; my likes, my tastes, my values.

People enrich our lives and help us realize we're all human. All in need of grace and forgiveness. My favorite saying is: " there but for the grace of God go I. " Historians don't know for certain who said this, but the wisdom remains.

Friends can make us or break us. Bad friends are those people who urge us to say and do things we wouldn't say or do in better company or when we're alone. They're the people who dare: " Oh, come on, it can't hurt. Just this once? " or " Who will ever know? "

Good friends are the ones who make you want to try harder and to live better. But they accept you as you are with all of your baggage, weaknesses and flaws.

(Photos -- at St. Armonds Florida beach & resort)

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Mating Game and More

Mating season is underway here in Florida. The other day, I drove into a parking lot and nearly mowed down a great egret that was wandering about in a drunken erotic swagger. In the movie Bambi, Disney’s Thumper called it “twitterpated;” and by the flashy green down between the egret’s eyes and bill, I had to agree with that spunky rabbit.
Being twitterpated is not limited to birds. Alligators get downright mean and nasty when the urge to mate overtakes them. One lusty gator saw its reflection in the sliding glass door of a local resident and pursued the image aggressively thinking it was a prospective mate. The terrified homeowner called animal control when the twitterpated reptile stood upright against the glass to “get a little closer.” Lucky for her the door held until local authorities arrived.
One memorable morning, a “testy” gator proceeded to crawl across the road in front of me. Apparently a grate at the edge of the pond prevented the gator from swimming under the roadway to the other side, presumably, to meet its prospective mate. The gator drew quite a crowd as it hissed and snarled across the asphalt, warning passers by to stay their distance.
Even anoles get in the act; pumping their bright red throat fans to impress the opposite sex. This undulating process goes on all summer and into fall as these lizard-like creatures mate and nest. During the winter months, anoles and lizards hibernate, and I rarely see them scurrying across my path.
Love bugs are another southern phenomenon. These red-headed black bugs spend their entire adult life copulating. The male and female attach themselves at the rear and remain that way even while flying. They splatter themselves over windshields and car radiators from April through May.
Shortly after mating, the love bug male dies; but that doesn't dampen the female's incredible urge to reproduce. She simply drags her dead mate around until she lays her eggs in the grass; and then she dies, most likely from exhaustion. Her eggs will hatch in the warmth of rotting grass mulch and become the next season's wave of love-bugs.

Squirrels in my neighborhood get downright silly during the mating season, which usually happens two or three times a year. They showoff, turn backward somersaults, and play games like “twitch” the tail and “tag you’re it!”
For two seasons running, squirrels built their nest in our cabbage palm. The mated pair cleaned and secured their nest in the spiked bark that protruded from the top of the tree. Their nest included escape tunnels and front and back points of entry.
During the gestation period, all was quiet except for excursions, in turns, by the parents to obtain food. After about two plus weeks of silence, three babies appeared. The youngsters brazenly crept to the edge of the palm fronds that made up their front porch and peeked over the side. Before long, they were chasing each other through the tunnels and playing “hump” games in preparation for future mating and nesting experiences of their own.
When the squirrel mama decided her litter was ready for life outside the nest, she carried each baby by the scruff of its neck much the same way a cat carries its kittens. One by one the tiny squirrels were transported to a nearby live oak. The process was repeated until all three babes were safe.
Two families of squirrels were born and nurtured in my cabbage palm, and then hurricane Charlie whipped through the area and scattered the nesting bark to the far winds. Many times the squirrels and their offspring returned perplexed, sniffing and searching my cabbage palm for evidence of their former home. I miss those squirrels.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tags for Living – Who would have Thought?

"Victims of War" 18x24 acrylic on canvas (in Juried Show)
My daughter, Holly, mailed me her favorite book. Inside was a colorful gift tag splattered with flowers; and on the reverse side, a handwritten note telling me how much she loved me, and that she hoped I would enjoy reading the book. The tag became my bookmark as I turned page after page, thinking of her.

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it was the tag that intrigued me. Time and again, I returned to her note and the shiny painted flowers on the back. My mind churned. What was there about this tag that called out to me? Thoughts bubbled to the surface.

Our lives are controlled by tags, or at least influenced by them. Tags are everywhere:
·         Tags for luggage, tags for identification, price tags, tags for washing instructions, tags for sizes, tags on foodstuffs, gift tags, sales tags, dog tags, gurney tags, toe tags, health care tags, tags for gardening, tags for equipment, fertilizer tags, warning tags and status tags for every substance, action, and product in the world.

"Prayer Circles" 18x24 acrylic on canvas (in Juried show)
Wouldn't it be great, if there were tags for how to live your life? Tags for newborns might read:
·         "Fragile -- handle with care," or "feisty when wet, change often." Or how about "stubborn and willful -- requires coaxing," or "prone to temper tantrums -- distract if possible."

Tags for teenagers may suggest:
·         "Prickles when angry -- hug anyway," or "count to ten and listen, really listen," or "sasses back when cornered -- don't argue, just walk away."

Newlywed tags could stave off marital grief:
·         "Requires lots of attention -- likes to be pampered" or "sleeps soundly -- wake up gently" or "thinks taking out the garbage is a man's job -- just do it," or  "listen closely --  it might be a test."

"Innset Kirke" 16x20 oil on canvas (SOLD), Prints available
As I pursued this line of thinking, I realized we already have tags for living, and they cover every facet of human life. Of course, I'm referring to the Bible, but most particularly to the book of Proverbs.

There are mini-instructions for raising children, being a good spouse, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a faithful follower. Here are some familiar ones:
·         "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." (Prov. 22:6 NIV)
·         "He who spares the rod (correction) hates his son (or daughter), but she who loves her children is careful to discipline them." (Prov. 13:24 NIV)
·         "Discipline your child, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death." (Prov. 19:18 NIV)

Remember the newlywed tags I proposed? Try this proverbial advice:
·         "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a hard word stirs up anger." (Prov. 15:1 NIV) Good advice for an argument over how to squeeze the toothpaste or hang the toilet paper.

How about this marital gem:
·         "A patient man (or woman) has great understanding, but a quick-tempered person displays folly." (Prov. 14:29 NIV)

Quarrels over sex and money are the main reasons many couples get divorced. The antidote?
·         "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from a calamity." (Prov. 21:23 NIV)

Add the turmoil of alcoholism to the mix, and you triple the trouble.
·         "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." (Prov. 20:1 NIV)

"India Rising -- the Found" mixed media on 18x14 canvas
Proverbs has countless tags for being a good neighbor:
·         "A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.
·         "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." (Prov. 11:13 NIV) 
·         "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house; too much of you, and he will hate you." (Prov, 25:17 NIV)

Last but by no means least, there are instructions about government leaders; those politicians who hold our lives in their hands:
·         "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly." (Prov. 26:24-26 NIV)

We can only hope that the "assembly," the press and the people will do their job and expose the hypocrisy of each and every politician.
"Sand Crane Dreams" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
Some people say: "God doesn't talk to us today. He turns a blind eye to disaster and allows good men and women to suffer.  If there really were a God, wouldn't he protect us and keep us safe? Why is he so silent?  Why doesn't he tell us what to do?"

Hello?  All you have to do is pick up the book -- "The Book!" Read the words of God. Turn the pages. Follow the tags or mini-instructions God has already given. Apply the information. As Sherlock Holmes once quipped: "It's elementary, my dear Watson."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

To Coin a Phrase: It's the Children, Stupid!

"First Daffodil" 16x20 acrylic on canvas (now showing at Coconut Point SW FL Co-op Gallery)
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose our imagination. We bump into reality. We scrape our knees on expectations. We feel the slap of human adversity. Oh, that we could capture the awe of discovery as children do.

My three-year-old granddaughter mailed me a picture of a "person." The only recognizable parts were the round ball for the head and a robe for the body. Her mother wrote the caption: "This person is starting to grow feathers and turn into an owl." Sure enough, there were scribbles (feathers) where arms should be, and the eyes were round saucers with dots.

"With these Hands -- Hope" 16x20 oil on acrylic under painting
Children have a lot to teach us about letting go and about suspending belief, if only for a moment. They teach us to ask questions like: what if? Why? and How? Great thinkers and leaders of the past asked those questions, and today we reap the benefits. Spiritual leaders of the past asked similar questions and their answers renewed faith and restored hope in times of suffering.

For a short time, children are pure and undefiled. They are suspended in time, sheltered by a birthing cocoon. As Wordsworth penned, "they come trailing clouds of glory from God who is their home." If more parents recognized this fleeting, fragile period of blessedness, they might be more respectful of the life placed in their care. They might be more gentle, more tolerant, more forgiving of the crying infant flailing about in a new body in a strange new world; an infant "trailing clouds of glory" from its creator.

"Day Dreams" 11x14 oil on canvas
One of my favorite photos of my oldest son and daughter is titled: "The burial of an ant." The children are playing in the sand, and they spy an ant lying on its back. Recognizing the ant is dead, they proceed to cover it with sand. Their sadness over the death of one little ant made me smile. My lessons on respect for life had sunk in. Payoff, I guess, for all those baby birds we rescued, the stray dogs and cats we took in, my refusal to kill a mouse in our house that drove me scrambling up a chair for protection. If there was another way, harming any living thing was the last resort. In our house, we all became experts at trapping stray mice or lizards in a glass jar and depositing them outside.

"India Rising -- The Lost" 18x24 mixed media on canvas
This respect for life seems to be slipping away in our society. More people are using violence or murder as a means to solve problems. If they can't fix a relationship, or if it's inconvenient, they eliminate it. If someone gets in their way, slows them down, or makes life difficult, they wipe them out. Even greed plays a part in our society's lack of respect for the rights of others.

Children bring us back to basics. They force us to examine what's really important in life. Their wonder in discovery, their appreciation of simple things, their willingness to believe, simply because we tell them so is a remarkable testament of their faith and trust.

"Mother and Child" brush drawing in oil on panel; monochrome

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tides by Any Other Name Would Smell as Stinky!

"Window on Pine Island" 16x20 wrapped oil on canvas
What is coarse, toxic, sweeps up marine life in its wake and kills? If you guessed a broom, we're done here. If you answered pollution, you're close. If you said red tides, you're dead on. Never heard of these menacing algae? Let me introduce you.

Every summer at the height of tourist season, a tangle of brownish algae and dead fish cascades onto the Gulf Coast's pristine beaches and the stink is overwhelming; as my mother used to say, "Enough to gag a maggot." What makes these algae such a menace? They produce one of the deadliest toxins known to man.

(original photo of Pine Island)
These harmful algal blooms or HABS wreak havoc on local fishing industries to the tune of $82 million each year. The toxins affect the central nervous system of fish, killing them in vast numbers; limiting the quantities of fresh fish that fisheries depend on. Toxins also may poison shellfish like clams, oysters, and mussels, and make the humans who eat them sick.

These red tide masses affect marine ecosystems in a number of ways. Dense blooms can block sunlight that benefit good algae and sea grasses needed for food. Wildlife and marine mammals like seabirds, manatees, turtles and dolphins may not only get sick, they may die. Hundreds of manatees died as a result of Red Tide in 2012. Humans may suffer severe respiratory or skin ailments. In addition to that, red tides are downright unsightly.

My first reaction to walking on the beach after a red tide wash up was repulsion. Hundreds of putrid dead fish trapped in strange-looking seaweed covered the white sand driving me and many other tourists back to our hotels. Like them, I wanted to know what this stuff was, what it did, and how we could stop it.

Red tides are composed of microscopic algae known as dinoflagellates; their scientific name: karenia brevis. The algal cells are asexual. They produce simply by dividing. To complicate matters, each cell is capable of movement via two flagella that propels them through the water. There is no brainwork involved in this confluence or joining of forces. They drift with the water's ebb and flow, bumping together to form large clumps or "blooms" as their numbers increase.

What makes dinoflagellates different from other microscopic algae? At least two things: their rapid growth and their toxicity both of which raise more questions than answers. Why do these organisms suddenly explode into a massive growing binge? What triggers this growth and why does it produce toxins in some algae and not in others?

Biologists and scientists believe pollution of our waterways may be the leading factor. Pesticides, fertilizers and chemicals are washed into surrounding rivers and lakes and eventually find their way into the sea. At the mouth of these inlets and tributaries, red tides get their first burst of growth which certainly points to pollution as the cause.

But there's a catch: red tides are not a new phenomenon. Fish kills from deadly algae were recorded in 1840 and as long ago as the Spanish explorers who wrote about them in their logs. After years of red tides research, there is still no conclusive evidence or link to pollution. Like many quirks of nature, the trigger may be from natural causes or a series of events that are little understood.

The Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in Florida conducts Red Tide Reports on a regular basis during critical growing periods. Using satellite imagery, high levels of chlorophyll are monitored for possible resurgence of red tides. With the help of modern technology, experts record the size, rate of growth, and location of these HABS.

FWRI works in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA's goal is to "provide the tools to prevent, control, or mitigate the occurrence of HABS." Because red algae can be found in almost any waterway, research labs are positioned worldwide.

(I want to paint this beautiful Fuschia)
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What is the missing component that explains why red tides grow faster and wilder during certain times of the year? Is pollution the cause as some suggest? Or is it increased water temperature that naturally encourages the growth of most algae? Until the mystery is solved, Gulf residents and vacationers around the globe must continue to endure the irritation, the blight and the stink of red tides.

Do you have a "stinky" problem in your neck of the woods? Please share it with us.