Thursday, December 9, 2010

Describing the Indescribable

When asked, "What's it like to ski powder?" most skiers and boarders, like one of Pavlov's dogs, immediately smile ear-to-ear. They usually respond with something like "It's the best feeling in the world....," but then they think a little deeper and say, "Honestly, you really can't describe it." Knowing what powder skiing is like is a true privilege. Talking about POW is like talking about what you would do with a million dollars: it's fun, and the conversation never gets old. It can be a huge connecting point for people because they don't generally use words to describe how awesome it is, they just know. It's an unspoken word, a rare feeling, an intense emotion, and there aren't enough people in this world that know it. So, for those of you that don't know POW, it feels a little something like this.....

Imagine yourself living deep in the Colorado Rockies, where the air is crisp and rarefied. It's mid-December and snow has already covered the entire valley and surrounding mountains. You've just come home from work, and the night begins to close in. The sunny sky glows and diminishes over the mountain like a flickering flame; burning oranges, reds, and purples. The night sky sweeps over the valley like a blanket, and soon clouds start to form just beyond the highest peak in the distance. While nature begins to work, you seamlessly drift into a deep sleep.

Before you know it, a muffled explosion wakes you up as the morning sunlight creeps through the cracks in your curtains. After the explosion, nothing. You can't hear anything, but your mind is telling you that something is going on. You slowly crawl out of bed and peak out of that crack in your curtains.  The light hurts at first, but your squinted eyes slowly open and your vision recovers. Your eyes widen, and a huge grin quickly grows from ear to ear. The billions of unique snowflakes outside your window are falling plentifully and gracefully onto the roofs, trees, and cars outside, gently adding to the 20 inches of snow that already fell the night before. The snow seems to absorb every sound in the air like a vacuum and create a serene, silent atmosphere of white.

All of a sudden, the day has become a race. After the quick rush of exciting realization, your mind begins to churn...."where's my helmet??....where's my long underwear??...oh shit, they're screw it, i'll wear'em anyway." It's a day of simple pleasures, and hard work for the ultimate reward. Nothing matters but the snow. "Gotta go, gotta go," you keep reminding yourself to move faster. After what seems to be the longest 15 minute-preparation of your life, you finally step outside. You stop for just a moment to close your eyes and take a deep breath. The fresh, cold, thin air refreshingly rushes through your lungs like an ice-cold glass of water on a summer's day. You smile as the snow falls onto your face. It's going to be good day.

After a short, brisk, exciting walk to the lift, you realize that you're the 2nd person there. Then, you wait. Waiting in the gondola line on a powder day is like standing in a pack of hungry wolves. Everyone exchanges small-talk and giggles to pass the time at first. but then as the last half-hour approaches, the people get antsy. Whiffs of aromatic herbs randomly pass by your nose, and the people start to shout joyously, yet aggressively as an attempt to coax the lifties to open up. They know ski patrol needs to give the go-ahead, and that the lifties ultimately have no control, but the crowd needs some way to release their energy. Chants begin to start, and snowballs start to fly.  As 9:00am approaches and quickly passes, the energy level in the crowd escalates. The snow is still falling, and bombs still go off in the distance as the ski patrol attempts to manually trigger avalanches. Just as the crowd's about to explode, the line finally begins to move. A big cheer emanates from the crowd, then silence; a focused, driven silence. As you slowly ascend the mountain, you scan the surrounding terrain with awe. There's so much snow.

You quickly get off of the lift, and start charging towards the trees. Even the runs that should be groomed are not. The snow is up to your knees and it's getting deeper. Rhythmically, you pump through the powder to get to steeper terrain. You can barely move through the deep snow at "usual" speeds.

You finally get to the top of your first run. There's nobody around and no tracks made in front of you. Just trees, and beautiful smooth snow. This is what today is all about. You quickly point your skis straight down the steep, tree-covered slope and all-of-a-sudden, you're flying down the side of a mountain in chest-deep snow. You're in-control and focused, yet totally relaxed and free of thought. With every turn, the lighter-than-air snow flies into your face and you're treated with a fleeting moment of weightlessness. Each turn is better than the last and you begin to laugh uncontrollably. It sounds like a drug, and it is. Your life will never be the same. Even with the blinding white moments, and mouthfuls of snow while you tear down the slope, you're still as giddy as a child on Christmas morning.

The day goes on beautifully and before 2pm, your legs can barely hold you up anymore. With a smile on your face, you make your way back home, start a fire, grab a tall beer, and bask in the day that was....only to seamlessly drift into a deep-sleep again, wondering when your next powder day will be.

Skiing is like a roller coaster, but YOU are the roller coaster. Your roller coaster can do whatever you want it to. It can go upside-down, sideways, fast, or slow. It can go through beautiful scenic trees or take you down a frightening, jagged couloir.  Where it goes, what it does, and how it's all up to you.

So maybe that's why you can't describe the indescribable....because each person's experience is as unique as they are.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Unlikely Heroes

Everyone has a fascinating story. Their trials, successes, choices; everyone goes through life on a different path, under different circumstances, and with different attitudes. Three very different people inspired me tonight and made my mind start churning at an hour which it shouldn't have been. I felt the urge to share their stories and messages...

Klaus Obermeyer. This legend of a man just recently turned 91 and, until tonight, I didn't know much about him other than the fact that he started the "Obermeyer" ski-clothing company ( . As I was flipping around on the TV, I came across a local station that was airing an interview with Klaus. The interview was really terrible. The guy interviewing Klaus seemed rude and unaware of the tone and ignorance he was obviously showing to Klaus, but I kept watching. Because although the interviewer was infuriating me, Klaus didn't seem to notice or care. At 91 years old, he was no "new kid on the block." He knew exactly what was going on, and it didn't phase him one bit.

Klaus is an honest, pure man that grew up climbing mountains and "hand-fishing" in rivers throughout what was then called Bavaria. Klaus taught himself to ski down mountains with his friends by first learning how to climb them. "We didn't have lifts! When we didn't want to climb, we built jumps!...There's something amazing about that zero-g feeling!" While Klaus told stories, his infectious smile and laugh would almost interrupt him like he had no control over his happiness. He seems to be truly "over-flowing" with glee. At 91, he's still skiing, still laughing, still smiling, and still yodeling. We can all learn a lesson or two from such a "rich" man.

Next up, thanks to my sister, is one of my favorite musicians of all time, Stevie Wonder. Stevie's hits like "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and "Superstition," are loved by all, but for me, his influence goes beyond just a top-selling album. His views on world peace, famine, and love are what really makes him so influential to me. When Larry King asked him, "Will you ever run out of things to sing or write about?" Stevie replied, "As long as there is war...or spirits without love, I will always have something to write about."

The last of the 3 inspirational figures from this evening is more out of place than you could ever guess. Gene Simmons, the legendary rock-star from the band, "KISS." Yes, he's ridiculous. Yes, he's boned more groupies than you can imagine. Yes, he has another "reality" show to add to the mix, but did you know that he was born in Haifa, Israel? Did you know that his mother is a holocaust survivor?

I really gained a lot of respect for Gene after learning these things. About how his father left him and his mother in Israel, and his mother's story in enduring the holocaust at 14 years old. Her story was amazing and in thinking about all of the holocaust survivors that I've had the privilege to hear from, a strong thought and emotion took over in my head:

The fact that the generation that endured the holocaust will soon be gone from this earth is a scary thought. The fact that it will be up to us to carry on their stories is frightening to say the least. How many stories have we lost already? How many stories were never even told? How many grandchildren never had the chance to sit down with their grandparents to ask them, "What was life like when...?"

Do yourself and our future generations a favor:

Take a moment out of your busy life, listen to someone's story, and find your Unlikely Heroes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Winter's Identity Crisis

 Her touch is too gentle to be mistaken;
It's swift, it's silent, it's too strong to be shaken.
Some even say she makes everything bland,
But it shows the beauty in how nature withstands.
Next time it snows, give a different perspective a whirl
For I believe old man winter, is actually a girl.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Man’s Best Friend

My Dad and I have always said that everything happens for a reason, and the more life goes on, the more I believe it.

I faced a fairly difficult decision one week back in April. On one hand, I had a huge birthday party in the keys with some of my best friends and on the other, was a weekend at home with my Dad. I’d been in Utah for the past year and I hadn’t seen my friends or family since my move. My friends tried so hard to convince me to come down to the keys, but something told me that I needed to be with my Dad that weekend. For me, family absolutely always comes first, and once I realized that,the decision became a bit easier.

I arrived Friday night and was welcomed home by my Dad’s open arms and Winston’s wagging tail. My Dad’s dog Winston is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel; and yes, his personality is as regal as his breed’s name. As a breed, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels regularly face heart complications and in Winston’s case, his heart complication was extremely appropriate: an enlarged heart. Winston was calm, loving, and compassionate in every way, even if he was the most spoiled dog I’ve ever known. His heart was growing so rapidly that it began to crush his trachea, making his breathing remarkably difficult. Unfortunately, there’s no surgery that can be done to reverse the growth, so since we received his diagnosis almost a year prior, we began to treat every day as if it was his last. Little did we know, his actual last day would be one of the most difficult days we would ever endure.

As the weekend continued, his symptoms worsened. He couldn’t breathe unless he was sitting up, which prevented him from sleeping at all. The second he would lay down, he would begin to choke. The sound of his struggling breath was heart breaking. Over the next day of battling to stay awake, to stay alive, the life slowly drained from his exhausted face. As a family, we decided that we couldn’t put him through this anymore and chose to have him euthanized. It was time to let go. When we asked Winston if he was ready, he simply got up, grabbed his favorite toy (a stuffed Pooh bear) and looked at us, as if he were ready to go on a trip. We knew then, that we were making the right decision. Sometimes the right decision is the hardest one to make.

Winston passed peacefully and we mourned for a long time. He was my brother, my friend, and my dog.

Before Winston passed, my cousin’s dog, Dudley passed as well. I called him shortly after hearing to send my condolences, but I had no idea what he was going through. I do now. Dudley was a special dog, too. Athletic, goofy, and extremely fun, Dudley was the epitome of my cousin’s personality in a dog. They were truly a perfect match for each other.

If losing Winston this year wasn’t enough, my Mom & Step-dad's dog, Jack passed away this past week as well. Jack was a strange dog. Loving one second and devilish the next, you truly didn’t know Jack until you actually met Jack. Jack was a godsend in a sense. A short few weeks after my grandmother passed away in 2003, Jack just popped into our lives, bringing much needed laughter and distraction. I was spending the summer at home working my favorite local landscaping job and, one afternoon when I came home, Jack was just sitting patiently at my front door. I gave him water, food, and kept him in the patio until my Mom came home. Andrea & I begged her to keep him, and we won. We posted “FOUND” signs around the neighborhood, but we never heard anything, so Jack was ours. We learned very quickly that Jack had a very disturbed personality. His anger would switch like a light and he actually nipped my nose within the first month or two of having him. I was so angry with him that I could barely contain myself. But we reconciled and became great friends. Jack had big Chihuahua ears and the body of a rat terrier. He had seemingly endless energy and the legs of a cat. He would pull me on my skateboard for over 2 miles straight!!! I dare you to find another dog that size that can do that!! Jack, like all of us, was special in his own way and had his own demons to battle. We had jack for almost 7 years; he made us laugh, he made us cry, he helped mold my family into who we are today. For better or worse, the lessons he taught us will forever be instilled in us.

Death is inexplicable, but makes so much sense. It’s the one thing that everybody and everything in this world shares. Out with the old, in with the new. With death, comes life and with these deaths came 2 beautiful new lives. Dudley and Bentley are my Dad’s new Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. I can’t wait to meet them.

Some of you might think, “Why put yourself through the inevitable pain of losing a dog?” Parents know the beauty of having children, and it’s similar to having a dog, but the feeling and responsibility of bringing a dog up is difficult to explain. I implore you to give it a chance. It will teach you so many lessons about dogs, and about yourself.

All you really need to know is that dogs are truly “man’s best friend.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Meaning of Life

I strongly believe that happiness is the most important thing in life. We get one shot at life; no mulligans or second chances. Whether it’s passing up an opportunity to perform a random act of kindness like helping a stranger, or doing something just because the money is good rather than what makes you happy…those decisions change your life forever. You pass through this world but once and you should do as much good for yourself and others as possible. Go sail, go paint, go to Thailand, go count your socks, go stop world hunger, or go read the almanac, do whatever it takes to make you feel like the best version of you.

Our world is facing one of the toughest economic times in recent memory. The United States of America is struggling to keep it’s character, it’s personality, and it’s purpose. The American dream brought the world together once, and it needs to again. You can see the struggle everywhere. People are keeping ideas to themselves and acting selfish because it’s a “tough world out there.” “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” people say. Why? Why can’t we have a “dog-help-dog” world out there? We’re facing problems that none of us can handle alone. As humans, we can’t survive without each other. These economic times have stunted our growth as a species. Instead of helping each other and sharing ideas, we’re keeping them to ourselves because we’re fighting over promotions or paychecks or salaries or benefits. The real benefits are the people that are right in front of us.

Since Ben & I have moved to Aspen, we’ve received nothing but warm, helpful, and friendly reactions from everyone we’ve introduced ourselves to.

For example, we hiked the Ute Trail today. It was a tough hike; must’ve been over 1500 ft change in elevation over a meager 1-2 miles. It was refreshing but brutal, and rewarding yet humbling. We reached the top of the hike and sat in the glory that is the Rocky Mountains with the town of Aspen sitting quietly in the valley below and, while looking back at pictures and thinking back to being there, I realized that it was a very introspective view that ignited insightful thoughts and new perspectives in my head.

Ben and I met this gentleman that had been sitting there for just a few minutes before we arrived. He spoke, not eloquently, but genuinely. He had modest clothing, long gray & black hair with a scraggly beard and he gripped a wooden walking staff that looked every bit as home-made as he did. His soul seeped from his pores like sweat and his words sparked thoughts in my head like fireworks. We spoke of work, life, local problems and world problems. The conversation was brief, but rich.

It’s never been about quantity, but quality. That phrase has always stood out for me in life and it has really taken shape in recent days. Anyway, the point is that this man is just one of about 50 people that we’ve met here that almost immediately became our friends. And I’m not talking about the kind of friend that you meet randomly in South Florida, or New Orleans, or London, where you meet a million people a day and only one or two will maybe become your actual friend. I’m talking about someone willing to stick their neck out for you within five minutes of knowing you. Quality over quanity strikes again; the quality of people here absolutely crush the quantity of people that I’ve met anywhere. I said to Ben the other day, “Could you imagine how difficult it would be and how long it would take us to make this many friends anywhere else in this country? Could you imagine growing up somewhere like here and deciding to move to a big city like Miami? How tough would that be?”

Everyone here almost seems to know the meaning of life; which for me is quickly becoming happiness and belonging.

I read an article this evening that really hit home for me and for once, made me put this life, and the coming generations lives in perspective. It sparked the idea for this entire post in a matter of minutes.

The main subject of the article is this: Before the end of this century, our world will be facing the largest drought in this planet’s history (click here for article). Whether or not we will be prepared for it, is impossible to foresee. The dustbowl of the 1930’s will seem like a flowing river of Evian compared to what our children, and our children’s children will be facing.

The snowpack in the Rockies will diminish, skiing will be no more, and mountain life will be near impossible without enough snowmelt to provide fresh water during spring and summer months. Florida is slowly being swallowed by the ocean, parts of our rainforest will become desert, and over-whelming precipitation will drown parts of our world.

My message here isn’t to give up. It’s not to become a pessimist or stop doing your part to counter, what should be called “global-boiling” at this point. It’s to live your life to the fullest. We don’t know how long humans will be on this planet for, or even if we will see tomorrow’s sun.

Find your happiness, your true-self, and enjoy life to the fullest right now.

You get ONE chance to find your own meaning of life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Big Move & The All-American Food Tour

After not getting the long-term position with Biscayne NP that I had hoped for, I really had to sit down and weigh my options. Now that I knew what the best job in South Florida felt like, would I be happy with anything else? Did I want to live in South Florida anyway? Where would I be happiest?

I knew how I felt when I spoke to people about my year in Utah. About the endless weekend trips into the wilderness, the incredibly diverse terrain, and the endless powder days in the Park City…ohhh the powder days. Quite simply, it brought out the best in me whenever I had a chance to talk about it. No matter how my day or week was going, the minute someone wanted to talk to me about any of my experiences in Utah, I was thrown back into those times with an a ear-to-ear smile on my face.

I decided that I needed to be in the mountains. I couldn’t see myself being happy in South Florida in the long-term. I couldn’t imagine having a family there, or even getting a job there that I would be happy with.

Now that I knew that I wanted to be in the mountains, I had to decide where to go. Park City again or maybe somewhere new? After researching ski towns around the country for opportunities to help me develop as a professional in my field (and not just as a skier), I decided on Aspen, Colorado. As one of the most renowned and accomplished environmentally sustainable cities in the world, Aspen was definitely the right choice.

I decided to sell my car and move out there with my long-time buddy, Ben. Once the decision was made, we were stoked. We secured housing in Aspen before we left, loaded up Ben’s new Subaru with our belongings, and hit the road.

We had both driven cross-country before (three times between the two of us) and we knew we wanted to take a different route. We still wanted to hit Gainesville & Tallahassee first to say hello & goodbye to our old friends, so we did just that. We went to Gville and had one of the most nostalgic visits in my recent memory. We saw friends, some that we hadn’t seen for over a year, and some that we saw last weekend. We walked around town, recollecting amazing game-day memories and debaucherous moments, and we ate our favorite Gainesville lunch…Flaco’s Cuban Gator (still my favorite Cuban sandwich in the whole world…if you haven’t had one, go get one right now!!). With our hearts a bit torn and our stomachs full, we said goodbye to Gainesville and headed to Tallahassee.

Apart from being a bit behind schedule, the drive was going wonderfully. Right when we were just getting into the drive, the Subaru decided to throw a temper tantrum. The cruise control shut off, the traction control warning light went on, and the parking brake light was flashing like crazy. We pulled over and tried to decipher what the problem was with the car’s manual, but to no avail. It was tough to stay positive at this point. Would we have to turn back? What would I do? I already sold my car! I told myself that if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. So we carefully drove the car to a Tallahassee dealership, handed the car keys (with our entire lives in the trunk) over to the mechanic and waited….and waited…and waited. About 1.5 hours later, the mechanic came back and said, “Your gas cap wasn’t screwed on right.” We laughingly sighed with relief, took the keys, said “Thank you,” and hit the road. We had some serious time to make up if we wanted to get to New Orleans at a reasonable time, so we had no choice but to skip Tallahassee altogether. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t see our friends at FSU, but we had to do what we had to do.

We arrived in New Orleans around 10pm and decided to go out to Frenchmen Street for a bite to eat and a little live music. I’d only been to New Orleans once before and that was during Mardi Gras. Needless to say, it was an extremely different atmosphere this time. New Orleans blew my socks off yet again anyway. The rich culture and energy seeping from every dimly lit street, the soft jazz and hard blues around every corner, and the amazingly delicious Café Du Monde came together to give us one of the best 10 hour stays in New Orleans, or any city for that matter, that I’ve ever had. Special thanks to TD for awesome accommodations.

The beignets at Café Du Monde were UNREAL!

The Remnants of our "Beignet Massacre"

We took off the next morning for a legendary BBQ restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee called Marlowe’s. We got there just in time for them to open their doors and had what was probably the best BBQ meal we’ve ever had. The ribs fell clean off the bone, the corn nuggets blew Sonny’s out of the water, and the pulled pork absolutely melted in my mouth. Marlowe’s will have a special place in my heart forever.

After having an amazing lunch in Memphis, we hit the road again and headed to St. Louis for the night. St. Louis was super fun, as usual (special thanks to Amy for a great time). The next day would be the greatest challenge of the drive; 14 hours straight from St. Louis to Denver through the exhilarating state of Kansas (nothing’s quite as exciting as corn fields and windmills!! hahah)!

We did have a nice break in Kansas City for some more BBQ. We stopped at Arthur Bryant’s and although it was delicious, nothing could compare to the southern hospitality and “melt-in-your-mouth” BBQ that Marlowe’s gave us.

What else would a legendary BBQ'er bring to the pearly gates??

Long story short, we made it to Denver that night. Exhausted and excited, we spent the night there and left the next morning for Aspen. We drove through Independence Pass at the perfect time of year. The contrast of the bluebird sky against the changing Aspens was mind-blowingly gorgeous.

We’ve been in Aspen for a little over a week now and it’s been everything we had hoped for (and more). We've accomplished a lot in this short amount of time . Just this past weekend, we participated in the 10/10/10 work party in Aspen! Ben and I helped plant new spruce trees to restore part of Independence Pass. It was a great time!

In the process, we found a great group of friends that play a level of Ultimate Frisbee that could only be compared to the UF's Club Team's excellence. It was incredibly tough to keep up, especially at elevation but we'll get there! Lookin forward to playing with you guys the rest of the season!

The people are amazing, the weather is immaculate, and I’ve even managed to land a job with Aspen Ski Co.! Aspen is definitely treating us right so far!

I’ve made some great connections and I’m still hoping to land a position where I can begin to develop a career. Wish me luck!

Thanks to all that helped and supported us in our trip across the country to chase our dreams!!!

Come visit us in beautiful Aspen!!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Recap

The summer is coming to a close, and my internship at Biscayne National Park is over.

It was an incredible experience and one of the best summers of my life. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to create such a strong connection with the ocean, as well as the opportunity to conserve and preserve my home state’s natural resources. I did and saw things that I would’ve never been able to otherwise; surveying for sea turtle nests, administering sub-surface reef surveys, and even catching lionfish.

The battle to protect sea turtle nests from predators and tides was the greatest challenge my team and I faced all summer. We repeatedly underestimated the strength and IQ of hungry raccoons. They found ways to dig under our protective screens, and would even camp out nearby to watch mother sea turtles lay eggs at night. As soon as the mother turtle returned to the water, the glutinous raccoons would devour each and every turtle egg without a second thought. We lost many nests to severe predation, but when we did save a nest, it was an extremely rewarding feeling for the entire team.

Surveying reefs for invertebrates was by far the coolest responsibility I’ve ever been delegated. We surveyed 12 different sites, which were all different and beautiful in their own way. Some were merely 6-7 feet deep, and some were an intimidating 33-35 feet deep. Since the creatures that I surveyed for are primarily bottom-dwellers, the 33-35 ft depth proved to be one of my greatest personal challenges of the summer. Only during my final week of free diving was I able to reach these depths. It was one of my proudest personal accomplishments of the summer. What’s even greater is that all of my data that I worked so hard to collect is now being used to track the fragile condition of those reefs. I am so honored to know that my efforts will contribute to preserving one of Florida’s most valuable resources.

Catching lionfish. Now here’s a task that seemed endless. First, a little background info: Lionfish are native to indo-pacific waters and dawn numerous venomous spines that can have paralyzing, and sometimes fatal results. They were first spotted in Biscayne National Park during the summer of 2009. This year, they were spotted again in May 2010. During the course of the summer, lionfish sightings became a regular occurrence. Since lionfish have no natural predators in Florida’s waters, they pose an extreme threat to our natural ecosystem. The lionfish, much like raccoons, are glutinous eaters. They will eat fish that are nearly their own size in one quick gulp. Our new mission for the summer was to catch as many lionfish as possible. During my internship, we totaled over 80 lionfish, varying from 1 to 6 inches long. Many theories have been proposed as to how these lionfish arrived in Florida. Some believe it was due to Hurricane Andrew; when so many homes were demolished or flooded, people’s exotic “pets” broke free and found their way to the bay. Others believe it’s due to cargo ship’s bilges; the ships would accidentally capture lionfish eggs or fully-grown lionfish in indo-pacific waters, travel around the world and, upon arriving to their destination, would dump their bilges releasing the lionfish into a new and extremely sensitive eco-system. Lionfish continue to be a problem in Florida’s waters. If you are a fisherman, please make yourself aware of what a lionfish looks like and do your best to either A) capture it (BE CAREFUL OF VENEMOUS SPINES) or B) report your sighting to Biscayne National Park. The eradication of this incredibly invasive species will require cooperation between everyone that utilizes Florida’s waters.

Overall, my experience at Biscayne National Park was truly unforgettable. Special thanks to my supervisors and my teammates for their support and friendship.

Next up....Aspen.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Many Faces of Biscayne National Park!!!

Sergeant Major

Porcupinefish (2 ft long)

Juvenile French Angelfish


Gray Angelfish

Green Moray Eel

Spotted Scorpionfish

Yellow-Spotted Ray

Southern Stingray

Peacock Flounder

Goliath Grouper (AKA Jew Fish...5-6ft. long)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Real Salt Life

The sunlight dances and shimmers on the water like it does on powdery snow. I sit at the console looking out at the horizon in the east, losing myself in thought. “Take us a little closer, Will,” my teammate Kara snaps me out of my daydream.

We’re about 200 yards off the east coast of Elliot Key in a 22 ft Boston Whaler named “Speedy.” All the boats at the park have names: Science 25, Laguna, Interp Whaler, etc. We’re on the ocean-side of Elliot Key every morning for at least a few hours to survey 8, sometimes 9 beaches for endangered sea turtle nesting activity. All the beaches have names, too: Petrol, Sawyer’s Cove, Palm, Tannehill, etc. Each beach has it’s own story and character. Barricaded by jagged rocks, strewn with trash, and overrun with mosquitoes, these beaches aren’t the white sandy beaches southern Floridians are used to.

Biscayne National Park is my new home (and workplace). It’s practically a dream come true. I’m living near my family, doing what I love to do, learning new things, and helping conserve and preserve my own backyard.

Biscayne National Park covers over 200 square miles, 95% of which are underwater. There are countless reefs and islands, as well as an awesome collection of 1940’s vacation homes that were built on stilts, aptly named “Stiltsville.” My friends and I have countless memories in and around the bay…especially around Stiltsville ;).

When my teammates and I aren’t surveying beaches, we’re surveying reefs. Snorkeling/free diving is a new thing for me and I’m beginning to love every minute of it. Sitting in the dive door, listening to the rhythmic crash of water on the boat, I take my time preparing to enter the water. Fins, mask, and snorkel are the essentials, then comes the extra equipment for surveying the reef: a 4 lb. weight attached to a measuring tape reel and my data sheet/clipboard. For a beginner free-diver, swimming with the extra data-collection equipment proved to be more challenging than I thought. It’s a bit tedious, but being in the water around the reefs is still as peaceful and enjoyable as ever.

As I swim along the surface, the only sound is my own breath. I focus on keeping it slow and steady as I make my way towards the reef. The sheer natural beauty of the reef is mesmerizing every time; the way the sunlight cascades down from the surface and flows along the ocean floor; the curious look from Angelfish and the intimidating stare from barracuda; the barrage of colorful coral and the incredible sound of silence while diving. All of these sights, sounds and feelings come together to create an incredible experience that provides a truly pure sense of connection with the ocean.

In light of the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and the fact that it could very well reach the east coast in the coming months, I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I could easily be one of the last sets of eyes to see this amazing park in its natural state.

I encourage everyone to explore Florida’s and all of the East Coast’s amazing beaches & reefs before it’s too late (and also not to purchase BP gasoline!)!



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rapid Fire: Life Update!!!

It's been wayyy too long since my last post. So much has happened in the past couple of months that I don't even know where to start, which is why I haven't posted in a while. I haven't had time to write or even think!!!

For now though, here are a few highlights from the past couple of months:

The end of my season in Park City was EPIC...long story short: During the last week of the season, we got 8 FEET OF SNOW IN 7 DAYS!!!! TRULY UNBELIEVABLE SKIING!!! Fresh tracks and face shots all day, every day!!!

My roadtrip back to Florida was silky smooth thanks to awesome japanese toyota engineering, great friends, and super comfortable couches. Shout out to Zach, Amy, the Margols and the Fier-man for some great times.

After arriving back in Florida, my sister and I left for Israel 4 days later. The 10 day Birthright trip was exhausting, exhilarating, and completely enchanting.

After Israel, Andrea and I flew to London, with an 11 hour layover in Brussels. We made the best of our day-long stay in Brussels by consuming as many sights, beers, chocolates, and waffles as we could.

After Brussels, we spent 5 wonderful days in London with our grandparents. We wined, dined, shopped, and relaxed. It was fantastic.

After arriving back in the states on May 20th, my new job at Biscayne National Park began on May 23rd (like I said, I haven't had much time to breathe much less think or write). The job has been incredible and it gets more exciting with each day. I'll add pictures and write more about the job on the next post.