Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Apollo

One of the hardest things I had to give up when we moved to Florida in 1978 was our fishing boat. I knew it would be a very long time, maybe forever, before we had another. It’s not that I love fishing so much, but that I love the water, salt water, in it, on it, even under it.

So not very long after we got to Florida I began to look around for charter fishing trips. The closest I found was one out of Crystal River on a boat named The Apollo. Who could not feel safe and love that? I later found out the owners, the Standard family, boasted generations of fishermen. I don’t remember our pilot’s first name, but he did look seasoned by the wind and salt and sun.

The boat pulled out of the dock at seven sharp so we had to leave Gainesville very early. Unlike many people I always enjoyed getting up in the dark preparing for an adventure. It’s almost like writing a story. You’re not exactly sure what’s coming but you have an outline, and you know it’s going to be exciting.

It was dark at 5 o’clock in the spring of the year when we got on I-75 south and exited on 121. We wanted plenty of time and would use any extra for a stop to enjoy a second small breakfast. With our car windows down, the air smelled clean and felt cool, and the farther we went, the brighter the stars got in the dark sky above.

It was only a little after six when we turned onto 19 South with just a few more miles to our destination. With our anticipation rising, we opted not to stop anywhere, continuing on to the dock site while sipping our Thermos of coffee.

When we found our turn-off, we wound around and between several canals to finally sight the crowd of happy fisherman waiting in front of the big white boat. Guess they were eager, too. We unloaded what we had been told to bring and joined them.

The boat was a real fishing boat, closed bow, pilot’s cabin (with a tiny little head just big enough to do your business and get out) and an open stern area with a few attached wooden seats, a bench for fish-cleaning, and a well for our catch. And underneath the deck, we could hear and smell the idling diesel engine. Mix that with the salty brine hanging in the crisp morning air, the brilliant sun just peeking above the trees in the distance, and you have a picture of true beauty to a fisherman. A chest-high railing ran the length of the port and starboard sides, meeting at the point of the bow for lots of fishing room.

When we were allowed to board, I perched on my favorite spot, the raised part of the closed bow. Here I could feel the bump-bump as we crossed the waves and my face would be powdered with salt spray carried by the wind. And I could see everything.

As I remember, it was around ten o’clock before we dropped anchor. Our boat was a slow one, and we were told we would be going over thirty miles out to find the fishing grounds (radar was involved). Soon, a couple of deck hands passed out fishing gear and squid for bait. I found a spot, baited up, cast over, and prepared to wait. The cool breeze and warm sun made me sleepy. No one got many bites so after a short time, our captain decided to move on. I took off my squid and returned him to the sea a little worse for wear. With my rod propped against the railing, I returned to my favorite spot. We moved slowly so some people trolled. I knew this would result in tangled lines when we stopped. It did, so I had plenty of time to re-bait and cast over when we were at a full stop.

I got a bite right away, a very strong one, and most everyone’s attention was riveted on my line. After some maneuvering and help from one of the deck hands, I landed a huge grouper, black grouper I think the captain said. This must be the spot. Most everyone had their hooks in the water, got bites, and landed something; happiness all around.

We moved a few more times as the bites slacked off, and by 2 o’clock the captain said it was time to head back in to the dock. Just at that moment I hooked onto something that would not let go. The captain came over and helped me wind it in. As it appeared on top of the water, he said, “That’s fire coral. Don’t touch it.” He sounded excited. I thought to myself, Don’t worry.

He reeled it in and gingerly got it off my hook with heavy gloves and a tool. When he said he’d like it for his aquarium and had been trying to catch one, I said, absolutely. Although it looks just like coral, later I learned it's not really a coral but related to the jelly fish. So glad I gave it away to someone who wanted it.

The one I caught looked like this. 

On the ride back in, the deck hands weighed and cleaned our fish. My grouper came in at second biggest catch of the day, which provided us and Jim’s brother a few excellent fishy meals. And, of course, the ride home was much less exciting than the ride to The Apollo.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Bird or Night Owl

Which are you? Do you get up at the crack of dawn raring to go? Or do you like to sleep in and then stay up until all hours of the night? Who do you suppose has the best attention level? I’ve always wondered about this.

As I think back on my younger years, I realize I’ve changed from a night owl to an early bird, but not without help. If you have a cat (or a dog), you’ll understand what I mean by the word “help.”  Nothing pleased me more when I was growing up than to read into the wee hours of the morning. When it was time to wake up, my mom cajoled me out of bed to ready myself for school. That became a habit. I learned to depend on someone else to get me up.

The habit became a problem in college. Roommates are not dependable alarm clocks. There were so many distractions to keep me up like the student center for late-night snacking and meeting friends, and those parties and dances that went on forever. All my classes were early ones, and my daytime attention level suffered from lack of sufficient sleep and showed in my grades. I managed to moderate my behavior by getting to bed by midnight and waking at 7 A.M. to the jingle of my new alarm clock. My grades improved, but I always felt “sharper” late in the day.

After marriage, and children, my sleep hours got muddled again. I couldn’t say what I was, night owl or early bird…just all the time fowl!

But now, at my advanced age, I think I am a night owl. I continue to read late into the wee hours even though Mopsy, my kitty, wakes me between 5:30 and 6 A.M. I compensate with daytime naps.

Recently, I stumbled onto a couple of interesting studies. Some researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium attempted to answer my question. Who has the best attention level? Night owls or early birds? Using volunteer participants from both groups and magnetic resonance imaging, they monitored the volunteers’ brains for focus of attention, peaks and troughs of alertness, and cognitive performance throughout the day. Working in a sleep clinic, participants were allowed to follow their normal sleep schedule. Upon arising, they were tested after 1.5 hours and 10.5 hours of wakefulness. They were asked to perform tasks requiring sustained attention.

At 1.5 hours the attention levels of the two groups were found to be no different, but after 10.5 hours of being awake, the night owl group was found to be much more focused than the early birds. Does this surprise you? It did me.

Two mechanisms controlling alertness were determined to be responsible for the difference in the shift between the two groups, specifically, our built-in circadian clock which is triggered by light, and that part of the homeostatic process that says “you need to go to sleep after being awake a certain number of hours.” This pressured the early birds to think more about sleep than their task at hand. It had been thought prior to this study the two mechanisms operated independently, but upon observing the MRI’s, it’s now known they are always interacting together.

Most importantly, this study tells us a night job definitely would be inappropriate for an early bird, but, conversely, a day job would be appropriate for a night owl. Well, 
let’s hear it for the night owls! 

In another more recent study our very genes have been linked to early bird or night owl tendencies. Scientists discovered a “wake up” gene, PER 1, which is linked to our circadian timing. Researchers genotyped volunteers and were able to compare sleep-wake cycles to genetic profiles. They made an interesting discovery. They found that variations of this gene affect our circadian rhythm and are shown to play a part in the timing of major medical events, even heart attacks.

This study population discovered that early birds tend to have major medical events, including death, typically around 11 A.M., while night owls were more likely to pass away around 6 P.M.

This discovery opens the door to new ways for managing our health. If we pay more attention to our natural circadian clock, perhaps our health could benefit by knowing when we’re most vulnerable, especially in relation to timing exercise, medicine, and medical treatment.

After thinking about these studies, I wonder if it’s wise to try to change our natural wake-sleep habits. Perhaps, it would be less stressful to listen to our inner signals. Now, if only I could  get Mopsy to cooperate.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Getting My "Fix"

Every few months I have to get my antique fix by driving south a few miles to a little town named Micanopy, known to outsiders as the scene of Michael J. Fox's movie, Doc Hollywood. To locals it's a haven for antique browsers, not that you need be antique to browse but sometimes it helps. It's not far from my house, around 12 miles according to Google maps, but I like to travel the scenic route instead of I-75. I drive south down 441 through Payne's Prairie. I-75 crosses the Prairie but it somehow seems "removed". Timewise, it takes me around thirty minutes.

If you’re with company and hungry, there are some good eating places at the 441 intersection with the town, Pearl’s for barbecue and Blue Highway for pizza. Before I stopped eating meat, I can attest to the fact that Pearl’s has exceptional brisket. And you can’t beat the place for people watching.

If you’re looking for scenic, Micanopy is advertised as the town that time forgot. All the buildings have a long history. The town is named after a chief of the Seminole Indians whose name, and thus the name of the town, actually means “head chief.”. When I first came to Florida, I pronounced it "my can o' pee" and later discovered many newcomers do the same. Here is the real way to say it. The main street is Cholokka Boulevard...otherwise known as antique alley.

I normally hit the shops upon arrival, but this time I decided to walk out the kinks from the drive. The entire street is not very long and I managed to go from one end to the other crossing over to opposite sides for the journey to and fro. There is a very old Episcopal Church which I would have recognized by the red door without the prominent sign. I was raised Episcopalian and Jim and I were married in a small Episcopal Church, but now I'm not sure what I am???? A sign outside caught my eye and made me wonder exactly what it meant. It read "Paid Child Care". The church pays for childcare, you pay for childcare, don't expect to bring your child into the sanctuary...what?

A little farther on stands an old, old building, the Mosswood Farm Store. Inside are jars of honey, vials of essential oils, and homemade pastries...and lots of other homemade stuff. It seems like a family affair with a couple of generations present and the cutest little blond-haired girl was running around. She kept eyeing me like I was from outer space. Here is a pic. Yes, I said it was old, a 1910 cracker style house. They have an outdoor wood-fired brick oven where they make their artisan breads.  Smell that sourdough? And the coffee and espresso bar mixed with the smell of homemade brownies, well if you weren’t hungry when you came in, how could you resist those aromas?

On the way back down the boulevard I stopped in at the Micanopy Historical Society Museum, an old wooden barn-type building.  An older man and woman greeted me as I entered. Through conversation I found out they were volunteers and perhaps married. They were very friendly and encouraged me to sign the “guest book.” Originally owned by J. E. Thrasher, the museum was a warehouse for cotton, or maybe turpentine, and then for the shipment of wooden boxes before cardboard came into being. A railroad spur came close by. The thing that amazed me most....did you know a bobcat is smaller than a largemouth bass? Stuffed examples of each resided in a glass case. There were lots of old tools for men and women. Would you consider two tubs with a wringer in between them a tool? There were old typewriters and sewing machines and even a dress-up area for kids where they could try on raccoon caps and cowboy and Indian outfits. Lots of pictures of Seminoles, old Army uniforms, and lots of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings stuff since Cross Creek is nearby.

After traipsing through a few antique shops, I treated myself to a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream at the local ice cream parlor. I ate it outside on the old porch of the huge two-story. Really a three-story if you count the little A-frame on the very top with its own porch and white railing. I got friendly with the resident kitty (no ice cream for kitty, though, chocolate is poisonous to cats). I ate and she purred. A family passing through sat at a table near me. I know they were passing through because they were discussing how they had never heard of "My can o' pee."