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The Flour Woman’s Daughter and the Demon of Renshire

June 25, 2020

This short story appeared in BigCityLit in 2001. I can’t remember if I wrote it with no spacing between paragraphs and no italics, or if the editor ignored my formatting suggestions. Either way, I always liked the piece, but lamented it’s lack of clarity in the published version. Below, I’ve added spaces between sections and italics to mark shifts in consciousness. It still lacks proper indenting and a few other glitches, because I’m not good at html. Still, I hope you enjoy the reboot!

Sarah Goodwin

The Flour Woman’s Daughter and the Demon of Renshire

        The writer has the title, ‘The Flour Woman’s Daughter and the Demon of Renshire.’ Writing is tedious and solitary, so sometimes she pretends to be reading to an eager child who begs, “I want to hear that one again, ‘The Flour Woman’s Daughter and the Demon of Renshire.'” She prefers first-person accounts.

       When we were little girls, Mama used to tell us that life would demand sacrifice, and indeed, it has come to pass exactly as she said. Mama was always old, her hair was always gray, and she was always corpulent. None of her daughters resemble another in look or temperament. People in the village said we all came from different fathers, but Mama insists that she did not give birth to us, rather, she found us in the hen house under the fattest red hen, sleeping in the eggs, one daughter every spring. Mama says, “How else can it be? You know I have never married.”
         I was Juliette Sweeper, the flour woman’s youngest daughter. My father could have been any man who’d braved Mama’s mounds of flesh in her dirty bloomers. He could’ve been Louis IX, the sainted French king, or the mule of the same name that pulled our cart, for all I knew.
         Day in, day out, Louis IX dutifully pulled us through town after town, then back to the flour mill. Even in my dress made out of flour sacks, a size too small and covered in road dust, I was a pretty child. As I began to fill my sack, Mama started worrying some men would follow us and take me into the woods where they would do unspeakable things.

“Unspeakable things?”
“You watch television, kid. You know what I mean.”
“Why do you say ‘unspeakable things’?”
“So I don’t have to speak them. If you want, I can stop now and you can contemplate the unspeakable things bad men do to children in the woods before you try to sleep.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So, where was I?”

I was perhaps twelve years old when my mother sold me to Brathwaite. A servant of that house was in town to purchase several items, including flour and a serving girl. He bought three sacks of flour and me. 

“Get to the demon. I want to hear about the demon.”
“Ah, the Demon of Renshire. I was just getting to that.”
“No you weren’t. You were on your way to Bath Water.”
“Brathwaite. Which is in Renfield. Please don’t interrupt.”

Panspermia. In an unnamed crater in Terra Sabaea near the Martian Equator during a planetary nebula, the star known as NGC 6751 died, spreading its microatomical spores into Earth’s prebiotic soup. Now mutation was in the equation: such as hemophilia and albinoism. The genome for blood drinking entered the phylogeny of certain arthropods: mosquitoes and ticks, for example. Among us hominids, the thirst for blood lay in thermodynamic entropy for thousands of years, until hunger woke him.

His young mother, accused of witchcraft, was ugly and surly, pregnant by her own father who beat her; you could say she slept with Lucifer himself. The child clawed its way out of her womb, scratching and biting. She tried to smother its head with a pillow, but the creature hissed at her, leapt up on two feet, and walked out the door.

That woman was Elizabeth Reeds of Renshire. Her younger sister Charlotte married Eliot Brathwaite, who was the great-grandfather of Geoffrey Brathwaite, who ordered the building of the mansion, which was soon to house our heroine, Juliette Sweeper.

 I was the most licentious of the flour woman’s seven daughters, and I refused many proposals of marriage. As of yet, I had met with no dire consequences. I was beloved of Venus, who visited me often in the form of the dim-witted, well-muscled stable boy. When old Harold Brathwaite called me into his library, I did not shrink before the great man in rich red robes.

 “I demand an explanation, Miss Sweeper,” said Mr. Brathwaite. “Tell me what you were doing in the lawns riding my best stallion bareback and naked?” Somewhere outside the door, a serving girl with a glass to her ear giggled.

 I answered, “My mama told me, as her mother told her, that her great-uncle once held in his hand parchment that told of foreign lands where a tribe of women with no breasts rode horses and handled weapons.”

(Somewhere, not so far away, the ancient priest who had burned the document of which the girl spoke, leaned more heavily on his cane.)

“I was on my way to the well to fetch water, and I took a shortcut past the plum tree where I woke a sleeping fairy. She asked what I was dreaming of that made me so distracted and clumsy, and I told her I was dreaming of adventure. In a bit of pixie mischief, she took me to fairyland, where changeling boys stripped me down. Then I was bathed and perfumed by three voluptuous nymphs. I was given a sword and a horse, told where to go, and sent on my way. I did not know that there was a prophecy about an adventure at sea, then a trial by fire, ending with me slaying the dragon and saving the kingdom.

One day, as I was resting with a belly full of mead and meat from a fairy feast, your horse came and nuzzled my hand, waving his tail and shaking his splendid mane. I climbed on top of him, and suddenly I found myself once again in your garden, entire months amounting to what, I soon realized, was but an afternoon.”

Braithwaite, that idle idol, gracefully sprawled in his plushest chair, his silver hair falling rakishly over one ear, his mouth forming an indulgent smile. What if, instead of lowering my head and pouting, I had grabbed the ornamental silver battle axe hanging over the fireplace and chopped off old Brathwaite’s arrogant skull, as guiltlessly as I had not long ago lopped off the head of the dragon?

“I’m rather upset, really,” I told Brathwaite, “because before the world dissolved, I was handed a crystal that has been passed down from High Priestess to High Priestess. I guess I was supposed to be their next Fairy Queen. But suddenly I was in the woods behind your estate, and your stable men had found me. Anyway, I keep the crystal.” And I opened my palm to reveal its sparkling smooth edges.

Old Brathwaite clutched his heart. “Are you a shadow? A sorceress? Suddenly I seem to have known you before, and thought for a minute that this life was nothing but a dream.”

I realize I’m saying this less to you than to myself when I ask: who am I to think that the world of fairy tales and mythology is real, containing all that humans fail to be or strive to be or were meant to be or which deep down inside, we are?
Blessed be for any insight you can give me.
Ah, the child sleeps!

 Anyway, through a skillfully woven sequence of coincidences it is discovered that Juliette Sweeper is actually the long-lost great-granddaughter of old Harold Brathwaite, and thus, she inherits Brathwaite’s riches and marries the dim-witted, but well-muscled stable boy. The Demon, by the way, is also a Brathwaite, so there is some symmetry in their meeting, which happens after intermission.


Click here to read the original story on BigCityLit

Everglades Day Safari from Fort Lauderdale

May 4, 2018

I meant to do Everglades Day Safari back in September, but Hurricane Irma got in the way.  Truth is, it would have been hot, buggy and miserable in September. I’m glad I decided to wait until my birthday. May is much less hot and more breezy. I didn’t even need bug spray.

I took a full day in Fort Lauderdale before the safari. A friend and I visited the Museum of Discovery and Science.


The river otters are the museum’s showcase exhibit. They live in a spacious set-up with a waterfall, caves, and a deep pool. They frolicked around, looking happy. But I suspect otters always look happy. I could not say the same for some of the other critters, sadly. I’ve worked with wildlife in captivity, in an aquarium and a wildlife center. I understand how difficult it is to keep such creatures healthy in zoos, but this place doesn’t seem to take such great care of its critters. I especially empathized with the poor lone, domestic bunny housed in the reptile room, displayed like in a pet store, but probably slotted for a snake’s dinner. In the meantime, she’s all alone (rabbits are very social) and surrounded by predators she can see and smell.

After the museum, I cheered up with lunch at Tacocraft. I ate there 6 months ago while evacuated for Hurricane Irma, and I itched to go back. It was just as good as I remembered. It offers chef-driven tacos with interesting ingredients, high-end tequilas, and I love the sugar-skull decorations. Then, we rented bikes from one of those overpriced bike-rental stations and rode 3 miles to the beach area, a somewhat frustrating trip proving I need a better biking GPS app.

The morning of my Everglades adventure, the van picked me up right on time at my hotel near the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Mark was a 5-star guide from the first moment we met, courteous, professional, passionate, and he knew his stuff.  He would serve as driver and tour guide for much of the day,

The van for the Everglades Day Safari only seats about 10, so I spent the day with a nice small group. My fellow safari-goers were all women, three generations of women from Kentucky, one German 20-something, and moi. After a little driving, we’d all spotted lots of birds and ‘gators. Then, we arrived at our first excursion–an airboat ride through the stunning and expansive “River of Grass!”


I saw lots of birds, including my first ever wood stork in the wild (through binoculars, but still.) And boy oh boy, did I see alligators. Many, many alligators, and I would see many more throughout the day, close up and far away.




Photo op–the country’s smallest post office, tended by one guy

Next, a short hike through the Big Cypress Preserve.



Eastern lubber grasshoppers don’t have to blend in. They’re toxic. They can even spray you with a noxious liquid if provoked.


The Everglades houses a pharmacy: willow bark for pain, pond apples to boost the immune system, and hemlock for poisoning your enemies.


Lunch in Everglades City!  Some women fussed about the stink of the crab traps next to the restaurant, but the smell brought back pleasant childhood memories of my summers in Maine.



Next, we arrived in Chokoloskee, where we poked through the quirky Smallwood’s Store Museum, then boarded a comfortable little boat ride through through Everglades National Park’s mangrove estuary, an area known as the 10,000 Islands. Some of these islands are actually made out of shells, the discarded food and tools of the Calusa, who apparently planned their waste into their infrastructure.

Our boat captain was the daughter of the folks who run the museum. She’s grown up in those waters, and I guess she’s driven boats since she was knee-high to a lubber grasshopper. I could’ve have held a full martini without spilling as she whipped passed the mangroves.

I’ve seen Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the wild a hundred times. But I have never seen dolphins interact with a boat quite like this.

It was a dance between the boat and the dolphins. They came right up to us, and our captain started driving off to make a wake for them. The captain and the dolphins seemed to know each other’s rhythms, and the dolphins leapt with feet of the boat, sometimes over the boat, we could’ve easily reached out and touched them. They knew the captain’s route, her way of moving through the water, and they kept in sync. You’ve never seen a boatload of women more thrilled!

I’d highly recommend Everglades Day Safari. It was a perfect introduction to the natural beauty of the Everglades, low stress and cost-efficient. I dislike driving, and was glad to leave it in Mark’s sensible hands. I was able to move seamlessly between activities while learning as much as I could about everything. The all-inclusive price (except tips) made budgeting easy. I meant for this to be an inexpensive little getaway, and since I rode the Greyhound to and from Fort Lauderdale, avoided renting a car, and stayed in a cheap airport hotel with a big pool, I got to enjoy the ‘Glades without breaking my bank.

New Orleans

May 3, 2018

Ah, the Big Easy! I spent a few crisp days in early January exploring Nola. I really love how this city does a lot of things– like 300 year old oaks and a gondolier in the city park.


They close off certain streets midday to make space for musicians and artists. There’s jazz everywhere and hollandaise on absolutely everything!

I went to several restaurants I can enthusiastically recommend: August is an understated but refined little place just outside the French Quarter, serving thoughtful, seasonal, chef-driven fare.  Deannie’s Bucktown Seafood is a fun diner-style eatery with a Lousiana kick, and Felix’s Oyster Bar laid-back bar and dining room serves up some of the city’s freshest oysters.

I ate a ridiculously satisfying fried black-eyed-pea sandwich in a hole-in-the-wall called Bennechin which specializes in in the comfort food Africans brought to the area. Sucre Salon‘s brunch was all about cakes, waffles, and caviar. Tempt by Andrew Nguyen at the Saint Hotel serves the chef’s signature global cuisine.

I found two fun karaoke bars. Cat’s Meow has fun hosts and a great stage and a live webcam so you can shout out to your people back home. It’s right on Bourbon Street, so it gets a lot of “bad” karoake–like bachelorette parties screaming (Summer Lovin’.) After I left Cat’s Meow, drunk, I got lost, and wound up on some of the seedier streets outside the French quarters. There, I found a local’s dive gay karaoke bar that reminded me so much of my neighborhood dive gay karaoke bar, I made myself right at home. It’s called Grand Pre.

After a bit of research, I bought souveniers at a place called Voodoo Authentica, because it seemed more like the “real deal” than any other place I saw. From even before I walked in the shop, I’d been feeling the spirits of the old city all around me.

This statue of slaves dancing in Congo Square mesmerized me.


You see, slaves were given Sundays off. First, they attended church (mandatory) but afterwards they could take jobs to earn money in hopes of purchasing their freedom, or they could gather with loved ones. Problem was, slaves weren’t allowed to congregate inside the city walls, lest they start plotting revolt. So, the slaves jumped the ramparts to sing and dance together just outside the city limits.

The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium put me in geek nirvana. I worked for a butterfly garden years ago, so I understand a bit of what goes into such a place. This one looked well-curated and the critters seemed happy and clean. The butterfly garden itself was not nearly as well-manicured as the one I worked for, and the butterflies, koi, etc. were allowed to have a little wing (or fin) damage or faded colors without being culled to make the place look “perfect,” which I liked.

Their little bug cafe was kind of lame, they just had a few samples. I ate a Cajun spiced waxworm and got a sticker proclaiming “I ate a bug!” After eating the cricket taco at Taquiza (an authentic and organic Mexican place in South Beach, Miami) a tiny waxworm was easy.  Just think, if the Western world would embrace the farming of insects, we could do away with the factory farming of mammals, which is resource-intensive, harmful to the environment, and hell for the creatures being eaten. Bugs make for great lean protein.


How to Improve Your Personal “Triple Bottom Line”

August 26, 2017


The Triple Bottom Line of a corporation, according to The Economist, consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet. It measures more than wealth, taking into account the social and environmental impact of a particular corporation. I’m always looking for ways to improve my personal TBL, and seeking products and services that do the same.

See, for most of my life, I considered myself bad with money. I always hated math, I resented paying bills, I just didn’t want to have to think about it. I took out big student loans and didn’t pay them back, I overspent, I didn’t save. After I got married, I let my husband deal with the finances, though he wasn’t particularly good with money either. At least when the rent went unpaid or we couldn’t afford a night out at the movies, I had someone else to blame.

When my marriage ended just as I entered middle age, I realized I’d better get a grip on my financial health. For the first time in my life, I really started paying attention to money.  My income as a tour guide and freelance writer is largely seasonal, inconsistent, and not likely to make me a billionaire, plus the cost of housing is high in Key West, but I long ago decided it was important to me that I enjoy my work and where I live. I also want to spend my money well, as in not supporting corporations that harm the planet or it’s inhabitants.

One of the first things I did after my husband moved out, for reasons largely explained by the Occupy Wall Street movement, was take my money out of the big banks. I moved my checking and savings accounts from Bank of America to my local credit union, where they don’t charge bloated fees for overdrafts and services like BOA. Once I had a relationship with them, they were willing to give me decent credit though my credit rating is “Fair” at best. I pulled my IRA funds out of Merrill Lynch, and invested with socially-conscious Aspiration instead.  I pay less in fees, and it’s much easier to make small deposits that add up over time than with ML. Plus, Aspiration donates ten cents of every dollar to charitable activities expanding economic opportunity.

I made other consumer choices, too. I cut the expensive cable with a hundred channels I never watched and got a Roku stick with a few good subscription channels. I stopped buying $12 bottles of wine for the house, opting instead for the more eco-friendly Bota Box. Each box holds 4 bottles of ok (not great, but ok) wine for just $21. The box and bag inside are recyclable, creating 85% less waste than if the same wine lived in bottles.

Next, I ditched my haircolorist and his products tested on animals for a subscription to cruelty-free, Leaping-Buffy Certified Madison Reed. I stopped buying plastic disposable razors in favor of animal-cruelty-free Angel Shave Club, which donates part of their sales to the Malala Fund which helps send impoverished girls to school.  As a bonus with each of these products, I get to spend less time and less scooter-gas money shopping for hair dye, razors, and wine.

I also shopped around for lower internet prices, and ended up getting higher internet speed for less money. I cut down my cell phone bill by taking a plan with less data. I really haven’t noticed any difference, it’s not like I use my phone to play video games or watch movies.

There’s real power in our pocketbooks. Consumer choices sway the way the world moves.  Money may not buy happiness, but it’s a tool we can use to help build a world we love.


Should We Release Genetically Modified Mosquitoes in the Florida Keys?

March 28, 2015

Lately, I’ve been tuning into the hoopla surrounding the possible release of a genetically modified mosquito called the Oxitec mosquito, creepily named after the corporation that created it. I’ve read several articles and papers (My favorite being a New Yorker article titled “The Mosquito Solution.”) I’ve joined in on a few arguments on social media. I’ve read a lot of the pro-release info provided on the Oxitec and Florida Keys Mosquito Control website. I’ve also perused anti-release literature by GeneWatch, and watched the trailer for the documentary Scratching Beneath the Surface on YouTube.

None of this is the end-all of research on the matter, but I’ve seen enough to form a tentative opinion.

Given that we don’t actually have malaria, yellow fever, dengue or chikungunya currently in the Keys, many residents, myself included, feel unmotivated to experiment with releasing genetically modified mosquito into our densely populated neighborhoods and the delicate ecosystem upon which our economy depends. We already know the effects of the pesticides used by Mosquito Control, and so far, we’ve been mostly willing to endure them for the sake of less bug bites. It’s the devil we know.

Supporters of the Oxitec release accuse protesting Keys’ residents of having a knee-jerk response to the words “genetically modified.” They’ve called protestors “ignorant” and “anti-science.” It’s an effective bullying strategy: no one wants to get lumped in among the climate-change naysayers, anti-vaxxers, and creationists; I certainly don’t. But I think we are right not to trust blindly trust any corporation that tell us their product is good for us. I think we are correct not to trust our personal safety, or the safety of the environment, to the FDA or any other government entity. The U.S. government has all too often sided with big corporations at the expense of the environment and the people. Scientists don’t always have our best interests at heart, and corporations rarely do. The Oxitec mosquito isn’t about humanitarianism: it’s about making money for Oxitec.

But what if these genetically modified mosquitoes do exactly what they’re meant to do: target a particular species of disease-carrying mosquito more effectively than pesticides, and with less environmental damage? So far, in places where Oxitec mosquitoes have already been released (Malaysia, Brazil, and Caymen Islands) and there’s been no obvious health or environmental backlash. But it’s only been a year or so, so we don’t really know if they’re effective, safe, or cost-efficient in the long term.

One argument in favor of releasing the Oxitec mosquitoes is that they may cause less ecological damage than chemical pesticides currently used to curb mosquitoes. But since only one species of mosquito is affected (Aedes aegypti,the most likely mosquito to carry disease) release of the Oxitec ‘skeeter will probably not equal any less chemical pesticides in the Keys. Let’s be honest: we want to kill all the mosquitoes. Mosquito control isn’t just about disease prevention, it’s about tourism and quality of life.

Frankly, I don’t like the idea of humans genetically modifying living things, period. I’m heartsickened by the idea of animals in laboratories for any reason, but I know many people feel there’s nothing wrong with harming other creatures for the benefit of humans. Admittedly, even I don’t balk at the killing of a mosquito.

Some biologists say the loss of the mosquito worldwide would not have much impact on the food chain or the environment. No animals have a diet of strictly ‘skeeters, and mosquitoes aren’t pollinators or soil-turners. As far as we can see, whatever created the universe also created these bloodsucking, illness-carrying, useless creatures whose only function is to to torment mammals. But say we succeed with the Aedes aegypti, what other species will we decide to eliminate?

How far should humans go in the way we alter the planet for our own comfort? Is it right that we expect all other organisms on the planet to adapt, stretch, or be devoured to sustain all our wonderful, long human lives?

I certainly wouldn’t wish dengue or malaria or chikungunya on anyone. Perhaps this technology could save lives, perhaps not here where we don’t really have a problem (yet?), but in third-world countries where death rates from mosquito-borne illnesses are high. I hate to say “experiment on third-worlders, not us!” But I would think that in places where mosquito-borne illness is a large problem, the rewards would outweigh the risk, while I’m not convinced that’s the case here in the Florida Keys.

Michael Doyle, Entomologist and head of Mosquito Control, very much wants the release. I assume he has tons more knowledge on the topic than I. Unfortunately, many of the more vocal protesters of the Oxitec release don’t have very impressive credentials. The Florida Keys Environmental Commission are a very passionate group of Florida Keys Community college students. Then there’s Mila de Mier, the real estate agent who authored the petition “Say No to Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Release in the Florida Keys.”  No offense to de Mier, but many of the fears stated in the petition are bogus. Most scientists agree that any bird or bat that eats an Oxitec ‘skeeter should be fine, and even if a female mosquito escapes into the ecosystem and bites a human, we should all be fine.

A far more thoughtfully written petition appears on the Friends of the Earth website: Tell the FDA: Say NO to GMO Mosquitos!   So far, the most impressive voice against the Oxitec release may be scientist and mathematician Helen Wallace, Executive Director of the British organization GeneWatch. Her paper titled “Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: Ongoing Concerns,” intelligently presents plenty of reasons we might object to Oxitec.

 The technology may not be particularly effective in suppressing mosquito populations and may even, especially in cases of limited efficacy, worsen the dengue problem. There is also uncertainty over the extent to which some of the GM mosquitoes’ offspring do survive into adulthood. More generally, the potential adverse effects of this technology are still not fully understood, given the complex interactions in the ecosystem between Aedes aegypti, other mosquito species, the viruses they carry and the humans they bite.

— Helen Wallace, GeneWatch

It is entirely possible that we citizens in the Florida Keys will have to quell our ill-ease at the thought of sterile, genetically-modified mosquitoes with glowing green eyes flying around. Frankly, I don’t think it will make or break our ecosystem, but I really don’t see how it will benefit us in any way.

If the Oxitec mosquito were to be used in combination with more natural solutions, and we really could do away with chemical pesticides, I’d say go for it. Mosquito control already gives out Gambusia fish to people with ponds and birdbaths. I love the idea of doing more to attract native predators, such as bats and frogs, or using native species of dragonfly nymphs, which eat mosquito larvae, then become adult dragonflies that eat mosquitoes. Doing more to eliminate standing water through education, code-enforcement, and better drainage could also help mitigate the need for chemicals.

I don’t see the Oxitec mosquito as inherently good or bad. It’s one method of mosquito control in arsenal, better than some, and worse than others. So I haven’t signed any petitions yet, nor do I wholeheartedly support the release of Oxitec mosquitoes. I would simply like to see more information and research all the way around before deciding anything.


In Eden, A Poem

December 13, 2014


This poem won top three in the Robert Frost Poetry Contest in 2011. I wrote it to speak to my sensibilities as an environmentalist and a feminist (whatever those words mean) and because I love playing with fairy tales and mythology.

In Eden 


In Eden
when the insects were screaming
in the fields in high summer
When the honey
was aching to be taken
The skies filled with white wings
the fruit fell in pink piles
on the orchard floor

Remember how it was
before the trees were cut
before the rivers pitched their guts?
How the giant beasts beat their feet
slowly through our sleep
my lover kept me naked
the bounty of our bodies
not yet spent to ashes

I didn’t just bite the apple
I licked its juices from my fingers
I was a dancing Cretan girl
and I reached for the universe
I was tempting and tempted
and not afraid of snakes
I saw we were spirit
bodies became pillars of white
the sea gave off the same light
as did trees, birds. Everything singing.

Despite what you’ve heard
I had a mother; she sang to me in the
slosh of the sea, in birdsong
Even as the machines rumbled,
when the garden revealed a stage
with a trap door
She sang until there was nothing
left of her but bone

Why Should We Save the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park?

October 11, 2013

“Look at Google Earth, and you will see there are very few green spaces left in Key West. To remove vegetation or increase human activity to the exclusion of wildlife is unthinkable at this point .”

–Dr. Ken Meyers, Director of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, discussing possible changes within the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park

Given a choice, Key West recently voted for protecting the environment and our quality of life, even over possible economic benefits. 75% of voters voted against starting a process which might have ended in dredging in Key West’s harbor dangerously close to our beloved coral reef and our marine wildlife preserve.

The battle to protect Key West’s fragile ecosystem from overdevelopment rages on. Now, the future of a small nature pocket certain city officials consider “underutilized” is on the table. The City recently presented three possible redesigns for the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park to a room full of locals. On the whole, the public (myself included) was not thrilled with the direction in which the park seems headed. You can read the Citizen’s report about the meeting online.

As per Florida Keys Audubon’s official statement regarding the proposed redesign: “The 8-acre Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park on White Street contains over 75 species of native trees and plants, as well as a freshwater pond. Hundreds of locals and tourists visit the park per year to enjoy a bit of quiet nature in an otherwise urbanized area. The park is a destination spot for birders who travel to the Southernmost City hoping to check the White-crowned pigeon or White heron off their “lifer” lists.”

I frequently bring my bike tours there to let them wildlife-watch, and people are delighted by the birds, iguanas, and freshwater turtles.

Personally, I love the idea of redirecting Atlantic Boulevard so that the park is attached to Rest Beach. Connecting areas of natural space together is always great for the wildlife, and this would certainly be a boon for wading birds and land crabs who would no longer have to cross a busy street to move from the beach to the forest. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely local homeowners will allow this part of the plan to progress, as it would create a disturbance to their daily commutes and redirect traffic into currently traffic-free neighborhoods.

The most environmentally damaging piece of the plan would move the dogpark, currently located across the street in the County park, into or abutting the forested area of the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park. Why?– To make more lawn in the County park. Monocultured lawn is useless to wildlife, and Key West already has Bayview Park for anyone seeking lawn, plus, Hello!?  You cannot have dogs running loose in an area important to wild birds! In a show of hands, only two people (not including City Planner Don Craig who came up with the idea) approved relocating the dog park.

The plan also calls for pickleball courts, despite the fact that we already have tennis, volley ball, and bocce ball courts in Key West. A show of hands at the meeting proved that not a single person in the room played or cared about pickleball. I’d wager most Key Westers have never even heard of it.

Two of the three plans involved relocating the federally licensed wildlife rehabilitation center whose facility is currently housed in the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, ostensibly to one of two sites in Little Hamaca Park on Government Road. The city planner appeared quite confused when people objected that it is counterproductive to replace wildlife habitat with a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Sigh.

I’m hoping Key Westers understand the value of a patch of relatively undisturbed wild space in an otherwise urban setting, and that they will join me in contacting our city’s leaders.


Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours

March 9, 2013

I have been neglecting my blog! I’m working A LOT, giving eco-tours, writing. But I’ll be back soon!

Photos of Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours, Key West
This photo of Blue Planet Kayak Eco-Tours is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 2 (Thira)

May 22, 2012

Above the black-sand beaches of Kamari and Perissa, on top of Mesa Vouno, on the island, Santorini, rests the ancient city of Thira. I made a pilgrimage there while in Greece researching my novel-in-progress. I was driven to the top, then hiked down via an old donkey trail. The oldest remnants of Thira date back to the 9th Century B.C., and the latest from the 7th Century A.D., encompassing Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine rule. Along the hiking trail, in the middle of the mountain, sits a tiny church surrounded by olive trees beside a spring.


I stopped at a cool spring along the way and drank, then lingered awhile to tease a little dog guarding a flock of fenced-in goats. A girl sat on a blanket offering trinkets made from the mountain’s stone, and I picked out a charm and paid her with a fine cotton scarf.

“Does no one know where he might have gone?” I asked.

His mother, the temple-slave, Creides, stepped forward. “He said he wished to drown himself in wine and women. ”

“Thira,” I said at once, for that mountaintop village was famed for both. I closed my eyes, picturing my half-brother quite clearly. I imagined him smiling, wild-haired, on the windswept cliffs over a sparkling sapphire sea. Perhaps he slept all day, or he paid tribute to the Lady of the Labyrinth, who had her own temple there, overseen by a third cousin who bore remarkable resemblance. Some days, he hiked halfway down the mountain to bathe in a cool spring next to a shrine to the God of Olives.

At night, when the fishing village beneath sparkled with cooking fires, he convened by moonlight to the temple of Dionysus, God of Wine, whose priests bore goat’s heads, then stumbling to the temple of Cythera, Love-Goddess, whose priestesses were skilled in the magic of lovemaking. For a moment, I wished I could leave him on the mountain.

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 1 (Akrotiri)

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 1 (Akrotiri)

May 13, 2012

Ancient Akrotiri was buried in a massive volcanic eruption around 1625 B.C.. The eruption virtually ended what is known as the Minoan period of Ancient Greece, a time when Crete and its surrounding islands was a superpower of military strength, culture, and technology. The volcanic ash preserved a large portion of an extensive settlement on Akrotiri. No human remains have been found in Akrotiri, so apparently, citizens fled the settlement before the eruption.

In the story I’m writing, Akrotiri is a bustling market-city on the harbor, called Asasara. This is where my heroine, Amerin, spends the first thirteen years of her life:

In The Bull Jumper, Akrotiri is a bustling market-city on the harbor called Asasara....

My Aunt Udthara, our Lady of Asasara, called me to her sitting-room. Its windows opened onto a public square below, where people might wait for hours, craning their necks, hoping to glimpse our Lady in the guise of the Sky-Goddess, her silver hair curled elaborately to frame her white face, kept lovely with paint and potions.

“An earthshaking,” I croaked, struggling upright. “Was anyone hurt?”
“Minor injuries,” replied the Healer. “No casualties within the strong stone and mortar of our city.”

 I still held the vase over my head to throw at my sister. I blinked, then lowered the vase to the table: It was perfect.  I moved it in to view every side, admiring the red flowers and lively brown swallows adorning it.

Anxiously, I boarded the ship rowed by twenty-six slaves. I had never traveled beyond the sister-cities. My Brightest-Shining aunt spilled her stomach into the sea for the entire day’s journey, but I felt fine, and watched, delighted, as a pod of dolphins kept pace beside the boat. The ship’s young commander leaned against the prow of the ship and flexed, gazing out at the sapphire sea beneath the ship’s mastheads–a dragonfly and a butterfly. He claimed the dolphins were proof that the Sea-Goddess protected his ship.

“Ah, Qerasija’s kilt.” Old Sheran sighed, and bade me finger the wool, which was fine and time-worn. The ancient ceremonial garment had been pulled up, musty, its crimson and gold flounces faded, from a box deep within the sanctuary.

I turned to see Xanthe the Sea-Hag–the oldest living person in either of the sister-cities, approaching my Aunt and Governor Bansibara. Xanthe’s flesh looked nearly as dark and rough as her oxskin loincloth. She wore sacred symbols of the Sea-Goddess etched in ink upon her forehead. Three naked, brown youths bearing offerings of dolphin, mackerel, and tunny followed in her wake.

Ancient Sites in Santorini, Part 2 (Ancient Thira)