Adaptation – what we did, what we didn’t do October-16–November-1-2017.
This account has been gleaned from our travel notes.
The main purpose of this latest voyage to South Florida was to pick up additional video, photographs, and audio recordings before moving to the next stage of our OASIS project at the Deering Estate. We started off with a guideline list of what we were looking for; added and subtracted items as desired or necessary. Also useful to OASIS research, was seeing South Florida after the passage of a major hurricane: Irma. It gave us the chance to assess the damage. Historically, while Irma was not the most damaging storm to have made landfall in the region, like all hurricanes, it hit some areas harder than others. While Florida prides itself on lush but well-groomed greenery, it was eye-opening to see the massive piles of branches, foliage, whole trees, water and wind damaged household goods, appliances, ripped up roofs, and etc. Cleanup crews were still working in neighborhoods and along roadsides to clean up. And this was weeks after the storm had passed. It was impressive to see the replanting of uplifted trees, and in some cases, new trees were being planted.
In the course of completing our Flow: Big Waters (Everglades) project and during our current OASIS (Deering Estate) project, our view of the environment expands to include the condition of South Florida as a whole. Given that the entire peninsula was originally comprised of a slow-moving mass of fresh water (dubbed: River of Grass) that was altered to accommodate the desire of human populations to move in and to create industries there, we feel it important to keep a running check on the major environmental changes in South Florida as a whole. This time around, we noted several changes that had taken place in the short space of time since our April 2017 residency at the Deering Estate.
Probably the most significant change was the progress of reassignment at Chekika, the former Day-Use Area of the Everglades National Park.
The park remained closed since 2013 as the area was slated to undergo reassignment to correct previous engineering mistakes that altered the flow of fresh water.
When we last visited, the area in 2014, the most noticeable changes were the plant scraping and controlled flooding of some areas, and the unattended, dilapidated condition of the Park infrastructure. This time, we were not able to go into Chekika as the waterway passovers are now closed off to the public. Chekika has a new levy and the redirection of the water flow is now a working reality. We realize now that the moment when we visited and wrote about the area was a hinge moment that has now passed.
We also tried to get back to the Sweet Water Strand on Loop Road and found the road impassable. It was covered with water in a few places making the way in difficult. The water was also high alongside the road. We finally turned back when the water over the road got too deep for safe passage in a small car. We drove to the Monroe Station end of Loop Road at and found a barricade indicating that the road was actually closed.
All of these observations and experience gave us more insight into the current environmental conditions in South Florida as well as the progress of planned changes such as developments in Chekika.
Artists in Residence, The Deering Estate
During our previous visit (April 1-30, 2017), we saw the South Florida landscape under optimum conditions. It was green and well groomed; there were occasional mid-afternoon showers to refresh the air. This time, further on in the hurricane season, we had the opportunity to see our favorite haunts in less-than-optimum condition. As our interest in the environmental health of the region is ongoing, it was important to see this other side of life in this paradise. The damage we witnessed is attributed mainly to the passage of Irma, the hurricane that touched down in the Keys and on the Florida peninsula.
Miami Herald – effect of South Florida sites
In the plane above Miami
clouds open the scene
on top of the mid-ground
with Mount Fujiyama
sphinxes, bears and cartoon mice, compete for attention
in the foreground
placid lakes with mirrored reflections
that balloon out
then squeeze into new formations.
Up to their usual tricks,
South Florida clouds appear
before our shadow meets the tarmac.
This time, we arrived (from Moncton) to Toronto according to the scheduled time. After a run to clear customs, we were on the plane to Miami. This experience was far brighter than in April the plane arrived late and the Miami connection had already left. We took a cab directly to the motel as we reserved to pick up the rental car the next day. Because the plane arrived on time, it meant that the motel room was not ready for two hours but that was not upsetting. Sitting beside the pool of this airport vicinity motel and writing was far more pleasant than waiting in an airport or being squeezed into a super-under-sized seat being in one of those planes that continued to take off over the motel roof. One of those Florida afternoon showers began and refreshed us from our travel. As we sat with the suitcases and gear, sipping on coffee, birds flitted between the poolside palms. Their voices brought the familiarity of every good place where songbirds inhabit. That was definitely the bright spot of the day!
Slightly rough start with the cabbie from the motel to the car rental, he insisted on taking a route other than the one we planned out. We picked up the rental car and later relocated to stay with our friends Gina and Mark for the first week of the research trip.
Déja-Vu of stopping at Best Buy to pick up a couple of supplies. We discovered that recharging the cell phone purchased in April for the project would not be possible. We settled for using the VOIP on the laptop.
The Deering Estate
Someone in the mangroves senses my presence, screeches a warning, the hue and cry goes out! That’s a good thing, their underground network can continue if we don’t bother them too often.
We dropped by the Deering to do some recording and to say hello. At the Boat Basin, the effects of this hurricane season are not as bad as some have been. The larger palm fronds are mainly dead and brown but new growth appears on top. As Cocteau would say, ‘life springs eternal.’
Daniel sets up the tripod to see who feels photogenic today and I look around to see if the manatees are about. I thought that I heard one splashing and now there is the screech of a hawk and the squeaks of woodpeckers. The boat basin water looks full of particulate matter. There are few bubbles in the murky water, could be a fish, but I can’t be sure. A little blue heron over in the mangroves flies off when we arrive. We see the quick movement of a few blue crabs as they clamor to get back into their holes. The crabs are as elusive as ever, just when you get close, they hear your steps and scoot back down the holes. – Good for them!
David Fairchild’s Kampong Laboratory – Mark Dion’s installation
Arriving at the entrance gate, we found that the intercom was out of order and later, we learned that nothing about that gate was working. As this was our first visit to the Kampong, we did not know the protocol, only that we were to be there at 1 p.m. and we were to ask for Holly Whalen, the Office Manager. We walked up the road and found the inroad that the contractors were using. Although there were private property signs, there were also indicators for Kampong parking. Holly had said that the parking lot was functioning so we got back in the car and drove onto what was almost a meadow, roughed out amid broken and fallen trees. With the car parked, we looked around for the way in. We found a sandwich board indicating that this was the second gate leading to the Kampong. The word PRIVATE had been spray-painted onto some plywood panels and they were set up to block what looked like an alternative entrance. We decided that this rough and muddy indicator was the door in. We pushed the boards apart, squeezed in, and then replaced the barricade. We did after all have an appointment to make. This is when we first had time to really look at the property and the destruction effected by Hurricane Irma. Many thick and beautiful trees had been hit. Some had been taken away and others were in stages of being replanted. In South Florida, there are amazing replanting programs that involve lifting large trees with cranes and carefully addressing the needs of the roots. From what we have heard, it has to take place quickly, within a week or so after storms pass to be effective. We saw the famous baobab tree with I.V.’s of water tubes running along its newly replanted base.
Once we made it over to the Kampong offices, we met with Holly and she invited us to continue looking around the grounds. It was about an hour before we felt that we had a good body of recording and headed back up to the administration offices. Holly filled us in on some of the histories, explained a few artifacts and brought us out to look through Mark Dion’s installation, the reconstructed interior setting of Dr. Fairchild’s Laboratory.
Since returning, from our trip, Gina Maranto has informed us that Director Craig Morell, Head of the Kampong visited her seminar at the University of Miami to report on conditions suffered during Irma. The damage is considered to be worse than at the Deering and the Fairchild Gardens. The experts think that multiple small tornadoes actually touched down at the Kampong.
Deering Estate, Evening: Opening reception for the Christina Pettersson exhibition in and around the Stone House. Arriving slightly after the show opening gave us the advantage of hearing that beautiful operatic voice traveling up the walkway to fill the air. At first, when the singing was over, we looked around and saw only a few familiar faces in the audience that stood on the patio surrounding the singer. As the Deering Estate Cultural Arts Curator Kim Yantis addressed the audience, I began to recognize more faces in the crowd. We spoke with Kim and several artist colleagues that evening.
Meeting with Kim Yantis
We brought along several recent videos from our OASIS project to discuss possible future screenings. We also informed Kim of our plans for future installations of the work. Those plans include working with the team of young scientists that we met in April.
On our ‘to-do’ list, we had a few specific items to video inside of the Deering Stone House.
We continue to search out leads for the musical tastes of Charles and Marion Deering. We heard that Charles had spent time in 1920’s Speakeasy establishments, but were as yet unable to confirm this fact. We hope to get some ideas from the California branch of the family and we talked with Kim about our visit to Charles Deering’s birthplace in Paris, Maine.
Afternoon coffee with Skip Snow, Artist, and Biologist
We caught up with what Skip has been doing and talked about our work since last meeting up in April. Our discussion ranged from topics of tides and turtles, current and future projects.
Back to the Deering to continue videotaping in and around the Estate.
We had a chance meeting with Jennifer Tisthammer, the Deering Estate Director and she invited us to tour the estate with her later that afternoon. We set out in the staff pickup truck and drove directly to several sites. Jennifer was doing post Irma visual inspections of specific conditions. In this specially guided tour, she generously shared her observations of those sights with us.
In the end, Jennifer reminded us of Charles Deering’s correspondence to John Kunkel Small after the 1926 hurricane. The destruction of his paradise was devastating to him and he wrote: ‘ No more ecology, just geology.’ The words came back to Jennifer when she first toured the Estate after Irma back in September. Her resolution was to take push back and to revive the fallen sections of the property.
Overall, Irma was judged to be not as destructive as other hurricanes but it is estimated that approximately 80% of the canopy was lost. As someone put it, ‘The leaves just couldn’t stay on trees.’
Lost in traffic
The evening presentation of Brian Eno’s The Ship at the Moore Building in Miami was canceled. The message was lost on us, as we got lost in traffic snarls. We became entangled while navigating through rush hour traffic and one-way streets that we have circled in so many times before. By the time we abandoned the mission, somewhere along the industrial wastelands and ship quays, the cancellation message arrived to our computer back at Mark and Gina’s. Apparently the noise of building construction played a role in the cancellation. Everyone agrees that a sound installation competing to be heard is never a good idea.
Salinity, water levels, plant growth, overall content of particulate matter
The Deering currently has many events, tours and educational programs set up to peak the interests of children and adults. Their scheduling features visiting artists, exhibitions, and hands-on events. In April, we met Kevin Montenegro, Christian Fernandez, and Madison Machado, a group of three young scientists working as a team to monitor the health and levels of water in Biscayne Bay in the areas that includes the Deering Estate Boat Basin, the Cutler Creek tributary and Biscayne Bay outside but close by to the Deering Gates.
The three would like to work up a long-term, ongoing series of science workshops to fit within the Deering’s long-term programming. To this aim, they have begun to work in liaison with Director Jennifer Tisthammer in the planning stages. When we met the group in connection with our OASIS project, they expressed willingness to share data they collect in and around the Deering Estate.
On Saturday, October 21, conditions were too rough to take kayaks out onto the Bay. The group decided to swim out to gather water and plant samples, and, as much as was possible, to visually assess the underwater environment. Kevin and Christian took turns in the water while Madison, Daniel and I watched the waters for any possible sightings of predator. Each diver gathered plant and water samples, and visually assessed the underwater environment. We talked about on-site visual observations and what the various signs could mean. Daniel and I talked about different ways that we might use the data in an OASIS installation.
Of course, what everyone understands about the idea that a crocodile or a bull shark is that the water is their environment. The senses of those animals are honed to smell, to detect sound and movement under water. And these are sometimes the thoughts when while we humans work to adapt below those surfaces. Salinity and other particulates in seawater or brackish water further reduce visibility, and the plants growing beneath the surface create a murky forest.
While the water along the shoreline of the Deering Estate Boat Basin is not known for predator sharks or crocodile sightings, the weather had been rough, visibility was more reduced than normal, and recent storms had upset coastal currents. There is always the chance of a predatory animal steering off course and so we tried to be more vigilant that day. All went well!
About Florida Bay, exhibition and panel discussion, AIRIE Nest, Interview with Steven Tennis, Everglades National Park outing.
Since our July 2014 residency, thanks to AIRIE.org, Executive Director Deborah Mitchell, AIRIE Staff and Volunteers working with the Everglades National Park and various South Florida community organizations, we have had several opportunities to return to South Florida, to screen our work and to continue our research. Through these opportunities, we are able to carry on our work of gathering a more complete picture of the South Florida environment as a whole.
When we return to New Brunswick, we are able to look at comparable environmental conditions in our own, northerly location. Although the temperatures vary greatly, we share some of the same winds, ocean streams, and storms, as well as migrating insects and birds. We are now also working to scope out conditions here in the Fundy Basin. When the OASIS and Genius Loci Fundy projects are completed, we plan to construct a number of installations involving links between north/south conditions.
After the AIRIE Nest discussion, our interview with Steven Tennis was a continuation of previous conversations about his on-going work – monitoring water and weather conditions in Florida Bay: https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/nature/flbaymon.htm
We went into the Park to record some images and sound. The Access gate to the newly opened NIKE Missile Base museum was locked. We could see a crew working on the road but as we did not call ahead, we thought that we should aim for recording at distance. Instead of videoing the actual HM 69 NIKE-HERCULES MISSILE Battery location, we concentrated on visuals of the location headquarters, now the Daniel Beard Research Center. We were looking for visuals to match up with images for two locative sound works completed in 2015 that we are working into videos.
We stopped by several other sites including the Hole-in-the-Donut bordering the main access road to the Beard Center; Old Ingraham Road; Flamingo and Pay-Hay-Okee. We gathered images of clouds and rainfall along the route.
Stepping out of the car to photograph a Little Blue Heron at close range in the Hole-in-the-Donut (HID):
I almost walked on a small gray snake that was looking straight at me from his warm spot on the pavement. I was suddenly reminded of the first rule of working your way through the sub-tropics: look before you move. When you think about it, this should be the first rule of action in urban territories as well. The snake was non-confrontational and slithered off as soon as he could break eye contact. The bird stuck around long enough to satisfy the photo-op and then flew off.
Off to the Keys
Some conditions noted quickly on the southbound drive:
Key Largo – The main road was fairly cleaned up.
Harry Harris Park remained closed.
Islamorada – some very damaged sections, the fishing bridge was open.
Macumba Key – very hard hit on the east coast (Atlantic coast)
Bahia Honda – The State Park was closed due to extensive damage.
The Key Deer Habitat on Big Pine Key looked the most-hard hit. Not a green leaf was visible. Everything was brown and there were no animals in sight. It looked as though nothing could have survived, including those small lightweight deer but hopefully, some were able to hunker down in the branches.
Fiesta Key – OK
Long Key State Park closed. (A lot of the damage has the feeling of Biloxi and Pass Christian, 2006 – post Katrina and Wilma.)
Conch Key – not looking that good
Duck Key – a private, gated community, looks OK.
Vaca Key – some houses with torn roofs
Marathon Key – heavy damage
Pigeon Key – a mess of debris on either side of the road
Veterans Beach – closed
Many of the keys had stacks of ruined home appliances, household furnishings, trees and branches piled along the highway. In the busyness of getting things rolling again, trucks carried full-grown trees to replace those lost in the winds and storm surges.
Sites showing damage sustained in the Keys from Hurricane Irma:
We arrived at Key West in a downpour, got soaked while getting into our hotel and stayed in to avoid getting soaked twice. Walking up to the hotel attic rooms (carrying the suitcases in the rain) was like being on a ship. Outside, it was two spiral staircases up and inside it felt like being at the Hemmingway House.
The sun is back.
We toured through the graveyard on Pauline Street, just behind the hotel. Then we toured the Hemmingway House. When we last visited, we remembered that the catwalk to the writing studio was still there but its use was not permitted. This time around, the railing was closed off. The tour guide had an excellent rap and she looked like Annie Oakley.
Drive back through the Keys, all the way to Naples.
See opening paragraphs of the blog for details about our attempted visit to Chekika.
Everglades City has always been a favorite historical site but this time, the town and surrounding area were closed after a storm surge caused flooding and destruction.
Our visit to Naples was a short overnight stay. The next day we drove to Venice, FL and made it our base for October 26, 27, 28.
Comic relief, after driving many miles
As we drove down the 41 south to Venice, we encountered the scene of a car accident. The traffic on the on the opposite, north-facing lanes was at a standstill. We were running out of gas and Daniel was getting worried. I tried to lighten the mood by bringing a reminder of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode of when Tucker and Malcolm, in the small can-craft, ran out of supplies and almost all of their breathable air. They were finally rescued at the last moment. In the meantime, we exited for a possible gas station that turned out to be a car wash, and then to a gas station that was closed and for lease. Finally, we went farther south and found gas before doubling back to be caught in the northbound juggernaut.
We have been invited to do a project based on the turtles on the Gulf Coast in 2018. To get an idea of the most optimum dates for our visit, we toured the facility with Gilly Francis and Mary Louise O’Connell. We took some video and photographs of the site and facility. Gilly recommended that we visit with Sydney Buffy Crampton at the Manasota Beach Club resort to get a better idea from a long-time resident of the dates when sea turtles lay their eggs and when they hatch.
A heavy rain was falling when we arrived at the Manasota Beach Club Resort for our meeting. Buffy explained that the original cottages were built in the 1920’s by her parents. Other structures have been added but they work to maintain the same aesthetic and spirit of the earlier structures. The Club is a low key, relaxing getaway with fine dining and Buffy made us feel welcome there. From where we sat and talked, the view opened onto a lawn. Beyond the hedge was the Gulf of Mexico. It looked great in the rain and must be spectacular on sunny days.
We found out from Buffy that both Gopher tortoise (land turtles) and sea turtles are found all along this stretch of the coast. There are some variances in the time periods but we found out that turtle eggs are laid in May or June and they hatch in July or August. In any case, there is a 90-day incubation time period. Buffy explained the Club’s interest and relationships with various communities including the nearby Hermitage Artist Retreat and MOTE (Marine Laboratory and Aquarium), Sarasota. We also found out from Buffy that turtle observation is by permit only. When we return next year, it will be important for us to have an introduction to the work of MOTE and we look forward to the possibilities of shadowing marine scientists who know and understand sea turtles, their habits, and habitat.
Friday, October 28
In the time it takes to reflect on life
Normally over-vigilant, I sat in the sun with my eyes closed, relaxing and enjoying a pause. And so I heard it clearly when a loud clap separated the water, when a large predator lunged at a school of fish, forcing them to leap momentarily out of the water for a lightning fast escape. Maybe, it was a shark. I had decided only minutes before that I would not go back in for a last stretch in the waves.
In theory, this was the closest to date that I have come from being almost the victim of a possible serial killing, possible shark. And so, while relaxing at the edge of the water in Venice Beach, Florida, and being almost as much minced meat, I was reminded of an English assignment in my grade five English class. I reworded the phrase, ‘The tired dog fell beside the campfire’ into ‘the beaten cur slumped beside the blaze.’ Mrs. Drape, my less than imaginative teacher stepped in to show the disdain she had for hyperboles and it left me wondering what she was looking for with that assignment. At this moment in time, I imagined that she might have become the slower-moving victim who trailed that school of small, quick fish.
Voices rose from down the beach, perfect harmonies, delivered in staccato by the breezes. At first, it sounded like a ghetto blaster of spirituals breaking everyone’s peace. Then I realized that it was more likely a church gathering to celebrate a service at sunset. The fact that it was Friday evening threw me off. If it had been Sunday, I would have gotten it quicker.
We stayed for the sunset that day, as did many people who seemed to have arrived just for that. Equipped with everything they needed to take in that moment marking the end of a day in paradise, that spectacular and never the same twice sunset disappointed no one.
Some spoke quietly during the exiting of the public beach for the private enclosures of our cars in the parking lot. Even the children, funneling through the beach exits, seemed calmed by the event. And there, we reclaimed our corners of the material world while waiting out those remaining minutes of this day. As we all left, I was reminded of a report in the South Florida History Magazine, (Vol. 19, No. 1, Winter 1992 – p 4) where Jack Stark described the 1936 Easter Sunday service on Miami Beach.
Bright spot of the day: The heat of the sun and salt water soothed our souls and no one fell victim to anything.
A drive from Venice over to the north end of Lake Okeechobee all the way to West Palm Beach. Seen on route: The Kissimmee River, Okeechobee County, South Florida Water Management Facilities
The lake was high but not over its capacity in this top end of the flow system. As many interested people and organizations are now stepping forward to enter the discussion of various ways to get the water right, some people that we spoke with expressed interest in observing the direction that the freshwater flow would take if the lake reached capacity and flooded out. While recognizing that this would be disastrous to many properties and people below Lake Okeechobee, these individuals believe that to re-direct pre-Tamiami Trail engineering flows, it will be necessary to implement more projects similar to the Chekika project.
A DeSoto County posted sign: Tranquility, Prosperity, Progress
West Palm Beach
Although we stayed in this famous luxurious community overnight, we did not have time to visit the beach. Arriving just before the sun went down, we stopped the car and got out to have a look. The sand was extremely white and a few people frolicked in the crystal clear waves that broke on the beach. It seems that the fuss made about this location is noteworthy and the chance for the lucky few (that now includes us) to say (in understated tones), ‘I’ve been there’ is well earned.
West Palm Beach to Miami
On the route back to Miami, while driving south along Highway 95, we listened to a short excerpt of an NPR news item on the topic of invasive vs. native species. That day’s discussion surrounded the newly arrived yellow ants. The idea was that these ants came in on boats and dug in. Something I have noticed in news reports the overuse of the word folks. There is something that really grates on my ears when I hear the word and I think it is the fact that it is usually spoken by someone in a political circle to demonstrate empathy for the people involved in a story. When I hear the word folks I think someone is saying ‘and that is the real truth’ when they mean, ‘this is my story and I’m sticking with it.’ This comment has nothing to do with the ant story except that aside from ants, I also heard folks again today.
Returned the rental car and flew out of Miami
The two weeks had seemed a lot longer than previous visits. It may have been due to the fact that we changed locations often to get a rounded impression of the state of areas after the hurricane Irma.
In working through the OASIS project, we are interested in investigating the places where the art meets the science, and where both practices find their audiences. If people are interested, everyone gains from the exercise.
To note: Future lists must always include bug juice, sunscreen lotion, bottled water.