In this three part series you will be treated to (or abused by) a summary of the Weazel’s many adventures in the year 2017. Despite advancing years (69+), injuries, illnesses, and an operation, the Weazel is still in the game!
Some of my adventures have been touched upon in previous missives whereas others have not. Those that have not, such as travels in Belize and Guatemala will be featured in Parts 2 and 3. They may also be elaborated upon in future blog posts. For now all you get is a taste.
Adventure means discovery, or at least it should, so allow me to begin with a personal discovery.
Looks can be deceiving. For most of my life I thought I was at least half Ashkenazi Jew. That is because I look Jewish, think Jewish, and act Jewish; plus, everyone around me thinks I am Jewish, not culturally Jewish just genetically Jewish, and they all tell me so.
I never knew my biological father or anything about him other than a family rumor that he was “An itinerant Jewish lingerie salesman”. Morgan was not his name. I bought into the rumor because it made sense.
My Mom was a brilliant woman. She was the daughter of an itinerant Methodist circuit preacher of English extraction (Surname Johnson) from rural North Carolina who had married a beautiful but deranged Scotch Irish woman from Texas. Granddad died of “brain fever” shortly before I was born. He and his kin were all impoverished rural intellectuals with a strong liberal tradition.
Being a liberal intellectual preacher in the deep south is a good way to starve so my family was always desperately poor but highly educated. Granddad would ride into some little town to spread the word of God and to inform the faithful that they were all lying, cheating, racist hypocrites. Thereafter he would have to find a new town. Most of this occurred in central North Carolina.
When it became evident that the family would starve he switched to selling woman’s hosiery. That was when the “brain fever” got him.
At that time my Mom was a recent honors graduate of Duke University. She was one of the first women of modest means to achieve such an honor, and she accomplished it in only three years rather than the usual four. After graduation she landed a great job with Pan Am Airlines, was partying in Miami and Havana, and was on her way to the top when she got the news that her dad was dead and her sister and mother were destitute. She returned to the boondocks of North Carolina to salvage what she could of the family. That included disposing of a large unsold stock of women’s hosiery.
Mom never said a word about my biological father, or anything about the guy named Morgan who she subsequently married, and who I barely remember.
There is nothing whatsoever about my appearance that would indicate that I have any English or Scotch Irish blood, so when I heard the story about the Jewish lingerie salesman it all made sense. All I had to do was to look into the mirror to confirm that it was true.
So I dreamed up a crackpot theory that perhaps I had been adopted in the aftermath of World War II, that I was completely Jewish, and had an abnormally high percentage of Neanderthal traits. In other words I was a prime example of what I preferred to call the “Neanderjuden”!
It is often the case that hybridization occurs when two closely related but previously isolated life forms first interact. For example, early European explorers of North America were more likely to mate with indigenous peoples than were subsequent generations. In the mid 17th century taking an Indian wife was the only game in town, but by the mid 19th century any settler who did so was disparaged as a “Squaw man”. In either case their offspring were shunned as mongrels. Subsequent social and geographical isolation tends to magnify the frequency of rare alleles so presto! you get a brand new race of hybrid bastards!
Something similar presumably happened when so called “modern” people most recently emerged from Africa. According to the prevailing “Out of Africa” model in the recent past, perhaps only 60,000 years ago, a group of African suddenly started marching north. According to the story they cast off their dark skin along the way and acquired a measure of conventional human intelligence. I don’t buy the theory because I am a stuck in the mud multiregionalist, but apparently I am mistaken.
Unless you had a good boat the only way to leave Africa in those days was to pass through the Levant, which is present day Israel, Jordan, Syria, etc. There they met and mated with the resident Neanderthalers thus begetting the Semites. There has been trouble ever since.
I have all the right traits for my imaginary hybrid race. The kinky hair of the recently emerged sub-Saharan, the hirsuitness of a caveman, a Hebroid schnoz, sloping forehead, short stature, abnormal strength, a huge cranium (98th percentile!), and abnormally high intelligence but of a primitive sort not well adapted to modern life.
Perhaps you may have noticed that I lack social skills and cannot do simple math but I am very good at finding my way around and possess a large store of knowledge pertaining to the natural world. These are handy traits when it comes time to trudge across the frozen steppe in search of mammoths, but are maladaptive in an office environment.
There was only one way to find out, so I sent a vial of spit to AncestryDNA to get a genetic profile. The results are here expressed as a percentage of my genome. (The presumed Neanderthal component was not included in this test):
Great Britain 32%
Iberian Peninsula 10%
Europe West 5%
Low Confidence Regions:
Finland/Northwest Russia 5%
Europe East 4%
Europe South 2%
European Jewish < 1%
Imagine my surprise to discover that I am about 99% Goy and have less than a drop of Jewish blood!
Just to be sure I raced back to the mirror but the schnoz was still there. What to do? Perhaps in order to fit in with “my” people I should iron my hair, go in for rhinoplasty, and sleep in a Procrustean bed in an effort to get taller? What about some bleach? Should I get an office job and live in the suburbs? Become a Methodist preacher? I fear that it is all for nought and I must remain a pseudo Jew till the end of my days.
But that’s OK because I know what I like. I like adventure, beauty, and all that is wild. It is who I am and what I do! I might be old but I’m not over yet, so let’s get on with the real adventures!
The year 2017 began under a dark cloud of Trumpooian buffoonery but the proud citizens of Hogtown were not cowed, they rose as one to ridicule the ridiculous by holding a counter inauguration.
Meanwhile my warrior friend CRo donned a pink pussy hat and journeyed to my hometown of Washington DC to join throngs of outraged women from around the world.
Speaking of world travelers, many of the Weazel’s friends are fellow lunatic adventurers. Holly J is a good example. She had heard of my previous travels to Belize so she came for a visit.
Holly was living a comfortable middle class life when she decided to cut loose and go to Mongolia to investigate the nomadic tribes who hunt with eagles. While there she chanced upon a crew filming The Eagle Huntress, a magnificent documentary about a 13 year old girl who rides the wild steppe with an eagle on her shoulder just like her great great granddaddy Genghis Khan. It is hard to believe that such a young woman could exist in modern times but Holly assured me that it was all quite real, she saw it with her own two eyes! Wild women and world travelers are always welcome at Weazelworld!
Soon thereafter there was a well attended March for Science, then later on in the year a massive demonstration against Neo Nazis.
Such actions make me proud to live in Alachua county where Hillary beat the buffoon by 58% to 36%. That was for the County as a whole. In hick towns such as Newberry and Waldo Trump won, but in the city almost no one voted for him. There are some who refer to Hogtown as the “People’s Republic”. It is true that there are a few doctrinaire leftists in academia, but on the whole our community is composed of highly intelligent well educated rationalists who reject bullshit wherever it falls on the political spectrum.
No one visits my blog to read political polemics, so let’s head for the boonies!
For many years I thought I knew all about the Steinhatchee river which is only a hundred miles from my home and thus in my backyard, but I was very much mistaken. Steinhatchee is located in the middle of nowhere along the Gulf coast in the armpit of Florida. A friend was wintering in the little fishing village at the mouth of the river; so, I visited the area several times and was astounded to discover numerous interesting karst features.
The little town itself (pronounced “steen” not “stein”) became famous in the mid 70s when almost the entire adult population was busted for drug dealing. That included the Mayor, the cops, the County commissioners, and all the fishermen.
Dixie, along with neighboring Taylor county, is the most undeveloped place in all of Florida. There is nothing to do but cut down pine trees, catch fish, and smuggle drugs. The first two didn’t pay so the taxpayers built a large airport and the famous “Road to Nowhere” to accommodate the smugglers.
The airport came complete with a fancy lounge and a restaurant inhabited by a gigantic wild boar name Charlie. The only thing missing was a sign to the airport. The road served to facilitate the transshipment of some of the largest boatloads of dope to ever reach our shores. To learn more about this fascinating history read “High Times and Low Tides at Reefer Beach” in the Bitter Southerner.
Such shenanigans distracted me. I knew that the Steinhatchee river featured a small waterfall and disappeared underground for a stretch. In my muddled mind (see drugs above) I thought I had been to these places but I hadn’t.
The Steinhatchee river begins in wretched pine flatwoods sitting atop a clay pan that prevents drainage. As a result it is either flooded or on fire. The only good thing that can be said of such an ecosystem is that no one lives there. As the river approaches the coast the clay layer thins out to expose the underlying soluble limestone. Wherever that happens in Florida the river disappears underground into a cave.
The first indication that the river is about to disappear is that it gets very rocky. Note the tannic water from the swamps upstream. Tannic water is highly acidic so it melts limestone. The rocks you see are actually remnant chert boulders that have weathered out of the limestone.
Further downstream the river narrows into a gorge then disappears into an ominous trash filled sink. I am always surprised not to find a murder victim in such a place.
The underground river passes beneath Route 19/98, a major highway, then emerges at a blackwater spring about 12 miles from the Gulf.
Several miles further downstream the river flows over a small waterfall, one of the few in Florida.
The sinks, resurgence, and falls are well known to the local inhabitants, but there are tributaries near the coast that have never been properly explored by anyone. These include Sand creek which appears on the topo map to be a swamp, but those few people brave and foolish enough to attempt to follow the creek soon learn that it is a wilderness of jagged rocks and jungle that most closely resembles parts of the Yucatan in Mexico complete with impenetrable vegetation and numerous cenote like karst windows filled with scary looking black water. There are also natural bridges and blackwater springs. To the best of my knowledge these features have never even been recorded much less explored.
Go ahead and take a dip. No telling what you might find, probably one of these!
Not to be confused with this bucket of harmless Brown water snakes.
The Steinhatchee remains one of the wildest and least known places in the state of Florida!
One needn’t go so far to find the wild and unknown, a visit to the Weazelworld will do the trick. As you must surely know, I am a humanitarian do-gooder who runs a shelter for mutilated baby dolls heartlessly cast off by their previous owners. They are allowed free range of my property.
Meanwhile back in Hogtown things were getting weird(er) at the Kinetic derby.
What could be the cause of such chimeras? Perhaps a fungus? But not this kind!
I came across this enormous mushroom while trying to break INTO jail, that is to say along the Jailbreak trail which is a secret route through the newly proclaimed Newnan’s Lake State Forest just east of Hogtown. I am not certain what species it is but am quite sure it is an Amanita. It might be Amanita jacksonii, but only a fool would eat such a thing for several other closely related species are absolutely deadly, one bite and you are done!
A word to the wise. I have often heard it said that any mushroom found growing in a cow pie is either the beloved psychedelic Psilocybe cubensis or is otherwise harmless. I am very surprised that more people have not died due to that assumption, for I have often seen the well named Death angel, Amanita bisporigera, growing through the pies. Know your business or die!
Speaking of dying, there is no better way than to be consumed by crocodilians. I am loathe to travel to southwestern Florida but Ann had fond memories of the Myakka river east of Sarasota, so we biked into the backcountry and set up camp.
On the following day we launched the canoe and headed downstream toward the Deep hole. Access to the lower river is restricted but we had a permit. I had heard stories about great numbers of Alligators in the Myakka river but supposed it was nothing compared to the wall to wall gators on display at Alachua sink. I was very much mistaken.
At first there were lots of alligators but they were scattered and small. As we went downstream there were many more and they were much larger. Soon, waves of alligators were pouring off the bank just ahead of us. Like this.
But these were just babies, none more than eight or nine feet long. It was on this trip that I learned that alligators segregate themselves into size cohorts, that way nobody gets eaten!
The river narrowed as we approached Lower lake Myakka and the Deep hole. Water levels were low due to the drought. As a result the banks towered above us as we cruised down the river which was only about 18″ deep , perhaps twenty feet wide, and very curvy. It was impossible to see around the next bend.
There were no small to medium sized alligators in the lower curvy section of the river. Instead, every hundred feet or so we would round a bend and look up to discover a sixteen foot plus behemoth weighing 800 to 1000 pounds coming straight down the bank at us. In every case they slid into the water inches in front of our canoe then we would slide over their backs. It was a nightmarish scene like something out of the African Queen, and disconcerting to say the least!
Altogether we saw over a thousand alligators in a short stretch of river, many of which were in the 15 to 17 foot range, bigger than alligators are supposed to get. They are protected here so they can grow to sizes comparable to those witnessed by William Bartram two hundred fifty years ago. Kayakers routinely go down the river so it is only a matter of time until the dinner bell rings.
Speaking of dinner bells, it is a good thing that I don’t fish for a living. I ride my bike and paddle my canoe every chance I get, and that is often since I am retired from a life of never having held a job. So it was that I was pleased to take my old friend Carl on a fishing (but not catching) trip to the Gulf.
Some of you may know that I am a biological determinist. That is to say when it come to the great nature/nurture debate I come down squarely on the side of nature and consider our civilized veneer to be just that, skin deep behavioral cosmetics. Nevertheless, Carl and I offer a cautionary tale.
We were the best of friends in high school, both smart loser nerds bonded together by our mutual sense of exclusion by everybody else. Then as now, the late 60s were a time of political division. You were either a budding Hippie or you weren’t. I was such an early adapter that in 1967 thanks to my Mom’s car and credit card I even went to California for the “Summer of Love”, but Carl came from a different background. We were of equal intelligence, but in Carl’s home there were no books and no love, just quasi military discipline. I considered his father to be the only actual Nazi I had ever met. There weren’t even any bushes in the front yard!
So it was that in those heady days we parted ways, I to become a vagabond, and he to become a postal inspector. He could not overcome his background, and I suppose you could say the same about me. He would only come for a visit if I promised not to talk politics, and I tried my best. It was Weazelworld itself that won the argument. He looked up at the trees then back at me and said ,”you took the right path”. Even though he is still a damned Repugnican we remain the best of friends!
April arrived, and with it the Weazel’s 69th birthday! I celebrated by roasting an armadillo with three fetuses “en utero”. Yum!
My fabulous friend Pete complained that the graphics in my posts were of low quality so he gifted me with a landscape worthy Pentax, the first real camera I have owned in years. Such a generous gift required an adventure to photodocument so we set off on our annual spring snake hunting trip to the underbelly of the south.
We were having a blast exploring the remote and interesting Red hills of southwestern Alabama when we discovered a long abandoned railroad tunnel. I later learned that it is the southernmost railroad tunnel in the United States. Pete took one look, smelled the stench of guano, and said, “No way!” But I just had to go in.
I should have known better. The stench of guano could only mean one thing, a huge colony of bats! Despite conservation propaganda intended to show bats as cuddly little munchkins that protect us from mosquitoes, the fact is that they are filthy little furballs due to their colonial habits and the accumulation of guano in enclosed spaces. Bats carry a disproportionate number of zoonotic diseases such as rabies, but the most common disease carried by bats is Histoplasmosis, a fungal disease of the lungs.
You could get Histo from licking the pigeon droppings off the statue in the city park (Provided that historical revisionists haven’t torn it down yet), but the best way is to crawl into a cave or tunnel full of bats then take a deep breath. So it was that I waded into semi liquid bat shit until the air became so bad that I was forced to retreat.
I am quite familiar with Histoplasmosis since it almost killed me during the late 70s and early 80s. I was sick as a dog for years, during which time I would periodically cough up mushroom flavored snot wads. It culminated in several pulmonary hemorrhages that almost killed me. The most dramatic episode enabled me to cover an entire living room wall with my partially congealed blood. (Note to kiddies: Blood makes great finger paint!) To this day I have a calcified granuloma in my left lung that is clearly visible on an Xray.
So it was that ten days after entering the tunnel I fell ill with a brand new case of Histo. There was nothing to do since the cure is worse than the disease, and oftentimes doesn’t work at all, so I stayed sick for the next several months.
Meanwhile Pete and I continued to explore the deep south. We were having terrible luck finding snakes so we decided to just explore funky old towns.
Many southern cities have fallen on hard times, but I have never seen anything to equal Selma, Alabama. Selma must once have been an incredibly wealthy place. Magnificent crumbling mansions attest to a time when cotton was king, but now it is a ghost town.
Pillared mansions that elsewhere would be lovingly restored and worth millions can be had in Selma for as little as $10,000.
The downtown commercial district is utterly empty.
As some of you may recall, Selma played an important role in the civil rights struggles of the 60s when Martin Luther King crossed the bridge to march to Montgomery on behalf of black voter registration. It was a noble effort by a brave man but it doomed the once beautiful city to oblivion. White residents fled and now the downtown is over 90% black and almost all the businesses have closed including the one shown below. Even outrage porn hasn’t worked, so be careful what you wish for.
From Selma we traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, a much larger town, but equally mired in the past. Selma has subsided into peaceful coexistence, but in Jackson the divisions were evident. If anyone wants to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee in Jackson they had better be ready for a fight.
Jackson is a real city, not just a town like Selma, so there was some interesting urban architecture.
Most extraordinary were two dueling insurance company buildings that now stand empty.
The dominant paradigm holds that the south was built on the backs of slaves, yet these early skyscrapers and most of the beautiful crumbling mansions seen throughout the south today were built after the uncivil war and before the great depression. We are taught that the so called reconstruction was a time of somnolence for the south, yet these magnificent buildings stand as proof that the period of 1890 through the 1920s was a time of great prosperity and slavery had nothing to do with it.
Little trace remains of the antebellum south, not because of Sherman, but because in those days much of the south was still a howling wilderness full of bears, panthers, and even a few wild Injuns. Montgomery wasn’t always the capitol of Alabama so we set out in search of its antecedents.
Old Cahawba (Or Cahaba if you wish) was the capital of Alabama from 1820 to 1825. It was a prosperous place, but was unfortunately situated at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba rivers so it washed away almost as soon as it was built.
Very little remains of Old Cahawba other than a few columns standing as mute testimony to lost grandeur and the slave quarters seen above. The mansion is long gone, but the slaves were housed in this well built two story brick apartment that featured porches, big glass windows, and all the conveniences then available. Their great great grandchildren live in squalor today, probably somewhere like Chicago.
But what happened before 1820? In those days there were no roads whatsoever. Water was the only way to travel so frontier towns were built at the uppermost limits of navigation. In the case of Alabama that meant the first shoals on the Tombigbee river at a place called St. Stephens.
St. Stephens is located on a bluff 67 river miles upstream from Mobile. It is so obscure that it is even difficult to find on a map. The town itself is completely gone but the site is commemorated by a private park run by a beautiful strong willed southern belle. The park features blue lakes resulting from abandoned limestone quarries and there are miles of trails. It is a great place to camp.
St. Stephens is quiet now but that was not always the case.
“In 1804 Ephraim Kirby was appointed superior court judge of the Mississippi Territory by President Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to the president, Kirby described the inhabitants of St. Stephens as “illiterate, wild and savage, of depraved morals, unworthy of public confidence or private esteems, litigious, disunited, and knowing each other, universally distrustful of each other.”
Apparently the main business of St, Stephens was trading deer skins with the Choctaw Indians, but in 1817 the town experienced a boom when it was named the territorial capitol. Prosperity was short lived. Only two years later in 1819 Alabama became the 22nd state and the capital was moved to Old Cahawba. After that the town dwindled and eventually disappeared.
There is nothing I like better than a ghost town with lakes and snakes run by a bumptious blond southern belle. The entire area is rich in history and crawling with snakes so I was a happy camper! When the rains came we moved to a little cabin then went in search of dinner and drinks.
The closest place with anything to eat was the little town of Jackson (Not to be confused with Jackson, Mississippi) where we found a Cajun bar and restaurant.
By this time you must have gathered that the name Jackson is celebrated throughout the south. I am an admitted southern partisan who appreciates the agrarian romanticism of President Jefferson. I even harbor a fondness for heroes such as Robert E. Lee, but I despise Andrew Jackson because he was a thoroughly evil man. It is worthy of note that Donald Trump, who knows nothing of history, considers Andrew Jackson our greatest president (After himself of course!).
The Cajun bar proved to be a jolly place run by yet more bumptious southern belles. Alabama is full of good looking women!
Unlike in the north where racial prejudice runs silent and deep, in places like the Cajun bar integration is a fact of life. Blacks and whites freely co-mingle as friends because in a town as little as Jackson everybody knows everybody, and even old so and so is OK once you get to know him.
We were treated like visiting dignitaries from another planet. The ladies were especially enamored of Pete. Their establishment had never before been graced by a blue blooded aristocrat who lives in both West Virginia and Washington DC yet spends most of his time in India. I was equally exotic, a penniless bum who travels the world. Their jaws fell agape when they learned that our ostensible purpose in visiting this obscure part of southwestern Alabama was just to look for snakes.
The rain poured down and the company was good so one drink led to another. The storm was howling when we returned to our little cabin, so as I dashed out of the car I failed to notice the railroad tie.
I fought the railroad tie but it was not a tie, the tie won and I lost. We were both on the ground when the battle was over but I sustained four broken ribs and a destroyed right shoulder; whereas, the tie suffered no injuries whatsoever. It was time to go home.
The broken ribs were horribly painful so I went to the doctor. That was when I discovered that in addition to being broken I was suffering from both Histoplasmosis and Lyme disease. Sleeping was impossible because of my broken ribs and shoulder, plus I was weak and debilitated from two diseases. No wonder I felt so bad!
This triple whammy brought me low, but life is short, especially at my age, so despite the misery I started planning my next trip. At the beginning of June only three weeks after my injury I found myself back in Belize for the first time in fifteen years.
So stay tuned for Part 2!
(Note to readers: Some of you may have already read my photo essays pertaining to Five Blues Lake and Gales Point in Belize. They were written and sent as emails prior to the initiation of this blog, and will be summarized in the new format in Parts 2 & 3)