Copyright (c) 1997 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Van Tales Chapter 49 - Dec 26 to Jan 25, 1997/98
Florida City, FL to Laredo, TX
Oops: Let me start with a correction for Newsletter 48. I said that the Saturn V rocket was something like 4 Statue of Liberties and 2 1/2 Empire state buildings. It actually is something like 350 ft high, 2 1/2 Statue of Liberties and, I think, only 1 Empire State Building and just 1 football field. Exaggeration for effect I guess.
Whenever I think of south Florida a string of tall, posh hotels sitting one after the other along palm studded boulevards and white sandy private beaches nestled along their backdoors comes to mind. Yet even in this very populated state there are still many areas that can be called wilderness, Biscayne Bay and Everglades National Parks and Big Cypress National Preserve.
Biscayne Bay is located at the most northern tip of the coral reef that becomes the lower Florida keys. It's tucked right up under downtown Miami, so close you can see the tall buildings directly across from the park's visitor's center. The coral reefs sit about 3 to 4 miles off-shore providing a very protective cove with shallow, crystal clear water. The odd barrel shaped live corals sift out sands and microscopic animals which helps make for the clear waters. If you get out to the live reefs you'd be treated to colorful fish, soft live corals in colors of purple, orange, red, brown, rust, and tan gently swaying with the tides, and mounds of the hard coral that provides the stable base and good hiding grounds for the fish. The visitor's center has some touch and feel examples of the different coral types. The hard is as heavy and durable as rocks whereas the soft feels like no more than a sponge, light as a feather
The entire bay is lined by a forest of very short mangrove and slash pine trees, trees that used to a lot taller. We all remember that fateful summer day back in 1992 when the now infamous hurricane Andrew tore with a vengeance across the town of Homestead and Homestead AFB. Measuring between a 4 and 5 on the hurricane Richter scale, it was one of the most powerful and devastating hurricanes ever to hit the Florida coast. Several people died and destruction was in the millions of dollars. Before this storm could wreak its havoc on Homestead, though, it had to pass right over the Biscayne Bay park. The most northern and southern edges of the hurricane, in fact, lie just 1/4 miles outside the park's most northern and southern boundaries. The park was slammed with the full brunt of the maelstrom's eye. A film taken just following Andrew shows some of the damage. Trees were quite literally clipped off at their tops making for the shortened versions you see today. Major chunks of the hard reef were completely destroyed while the soft corals simply flowed with the motion. The temporary visitor's center, gone. Temporary headquarters, gone. Bathrooms, picnic tables, boats, docks ... gone or heavily damaged. Historic coral buildings out on some of the park's islands were now not much more than piles of rubble Even the instrument to measure the wind velocity broke, that was after measuring some 160 mph at the storm's peak. The one building that sustained almost no damage was the new visitor's center that was designed specifically to withstand 120 mph winds. Considering it wasn't even finished when Andrew hit, the roof not done, some walls still in the framing state, it actually held up quite well. Three cheers for the architect.
So today, the best thing to do at the park is to take a boat ride out to the deeper reefs that survived pretty much unscathed. Canoeing along the coast just is not quite as rewarding as it would have been pre-Andrew. The little mangrove sheltered inlets and creeks were all clogged by downed trees and have not been cleared. So we decided to forego it for now and head over to the Everglades instead.
The Everglades is a place that is unique to the entire world. Its Indian name is Pa-hay_Okee which means river of grass. That's exactly what it is. Southern Florida has got to be one of the flattest places on earth. Much of the land is no more than inches above sea level. The large Lake Okeechobee, some 150 miles north of the Everglades, lies a mere 20 ft above sea level. Water from the lake flows, ever so slowly, a whopping 14 ft to the top of the everglades. It's not a river in the normal sense, with river banks that have been eroded over time. It's actually more like a sheet of slowly moving water some 40 to 50 miles wide. In many places the water is only inches deep or may even be completely nonexistent during the winter dry months. There are 2 deeper water flows or sloughs, pronounced slews, where water does manage to flow all year long. The wet areas are covered in grasses and sedges that are just brown in color in winter. Areas where the ground is slightly, just inches, higher are covered in a jungle like vegetation of cypress, mangrove, palm, strangler fig, and ferns. Looking out across the swaying fields of grass you get the impression of green islands among a sea of swaying brown. In fact as you get closer to Florida Bay the grasses do give way to water and the mounds of cypress tress do become islands.
The Everglades are home to some of the most exotic plants and animals found in the U.S. and the world for that matter. First, we all have heard about the famous Florida Alligators. But many people don't know that the everglades is also home to some 400 or so crocodiles. In fact, this is the only place in the world where crocs and gators live side by side. There are differences between these two ancient, dinosaur like creatures. The gator prefers fresh water, the croc salty. The snout on the gator is rounded, the croc's pointed. the gator is a gray/black color whereas the croc is a dark gray/green. No neither are brilliant green as seen in popular cartoons. Taking a close, but not too close, look at that big smiley mouth you'll see the only the upper teeth of the gator whereas you'll see both upper and lower on the croc. the gator lays its eggs in a nest made of decaying vegetation. the croc lays hers on a sandy beach. Finally, there are thousands of gators but only a few hundred crocs. So chances are the creatures you see are gators, not crocs. There's a lot more information given out about the gator than the croc, and some of it quite odd. For example I didn't know a gator could stay under water for up to an hour. Or that it can go for months without eating. But strangest of all is that the sex of newly hatched babies is determined by the temperature of the nest. I wondered if that meant all eggs of a nest would produce just one sex or if temperature variations within the nest produces a mixed batch.
Birds abound. Everywhere you look you'll see some of nature's most imaginative wader birds. All along the borrow ditches, ditches dug to gather rocks needed for the roads, you'll see the huge blue and white herons, two different birds, perched on the shore studying the water below. Looking for a fresh meal I suppose. In the trees often you'll see the black feather anhinga stretching its wings out to dry and warm. It's a diving bird that cannot control its body temperature so it always has to warm up. There are white Ibises, once hunted to near extinction solely for its mating season feathers, used on fashionable women's hats in the turn of the century. There are many, many more species and since I'm not a birder I learned to recognize just a few. Yet, surprisingly, the number of birds found in the park today are just a fraction, less than 10%, of what was here when white man first came to these regions. A combination of habitat loss, pollution, hunting, and changes in water levels and salinity have lead to these drastic reductions. right now the population seems to be fairly stable. But, what does the future hold? That is an unknown for the next generation to answer.
There are lots of other interesting wildlife to see. Fish, both native and exotic, snails, snakes, spiders, butterflies, and an unusual bunny rabbit. called a swamp rabbit it has feet sufficiently large to enable it to swim from cypress hammock to cypress hammock, hammocks being those areas of high ground. Their a cute, little, dark brown variety of bunny and if you were to ride a bike out to the Shark River tower overlook you may actually get to see one or two. Of course, one mustn't forget the mosquito, an ever present companion in much of the Everglades. This year many places were relatively mosquito free. Except for the Flamingo campground out in the furthest reaches of the park. Taking a stroll through the jungles without protection meant coming back minus a few pints of blood. they were thirsty out there.
Water, too much or too little, is a major problem for the future health of the Everglades. There are just two seasons in this region, wet in spring and summer, dry in fall and winter. Animals living in this environment have developed special adaptations for coping with these major fluctuations in water. The gator lays her eggs in a nest that she instinctively knows will be above water. But if the year produces more water than usual the eggs may drown. The roseate spoonbill just like many of the waders need water levels just the right height so they may walk and scoop for food. Too little water in winter may mean not enough shallow pools remain to support all the fish, gators, and birds needing the water. So just the right amount of water at the right time is quite critical. Yet, since around the 1960s man has had a major impact on the natural sheet flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida bay. huge canals were built to redirect the water from its natural course to all the homes and businesses growing up around the Miami area and the farms spreading across the flat lands. Dams were built to prevent flooding and to hold back water in years of drought. And the folks operating the dams upstream often weren't letting folks downstream what they were doing. Suddenly, overnight that gator nest that was above water now finds itself underwater simply because the flood gates were opened. So much water was being directed away from the Everglades than Florida Bay's water grew in salinity levels. The bay began to die. Commercial fishermen, feeling the impacts of the problem the most, lobbied to have something done and now there appears to be quite a showdown between homeowners, farmers, environmentalists, fishermen, and the park staff. A showdown with no easy solutions. Everybody wants to do something but no one wants to pay or take responsibility. Changes are being made, slowly, and only time will tell if they are the right changes at the right time.
We spent quite some time in the Everglades and the adjoining preserve, Big Cypress, with a short break to visit Brian's old stomping grounds in Ft. Lauderdale. From age 5 to 25, Brian lived on the western outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale in what back then and still today would be considered a low to middle class blue collar housing district. His large family of 7 lived in a typical, small 1950s style one story 2 bedroom, 1 bath house currently painted white with pink trim and having a rather run down appearance. Imagine 1 bath with 7 people 3 of which are women. I often hear stories of long lines waiting for the bathroom. Schools, shopping, and part time employment opportunities were all within walking distance. We saw it all, the food store now turned post office sorting station where Brian worked, the plumbing shop that was home to another part time job totally unchanged even to sign out front, the building that housed his first post college job formerly Bendix now Allied Signal, the three schools elementary, middle, and high all still the same but much older and rundown looking, the football stadium currently undergoing renovation, the corner drug store that still has an old fashioned soda fountain, the 5 and dime store looking much worse for the wear, early 50s style shopping malls that have as yet to be upgraded, Broward Community College and Florida Atlantic University both of which now have lots of new buildings, and the beach. The only thing we missed was a visit with Brian's father. But after many unsuccessful phone calls we had to conclude he was away for the week. It was a good opportunity for Brian to reminisce.
We'd done and seen everything we wanted in Florida and the fun plazas for Mexico were calling. So we headed west. First back through the northern edge of the Everglades and southern edge of Big Cypress National Preserve. Pulling the bikes off the back, we took a break in driving to ride the 15 mile loop road out to the Shark River observation tower. You can only get to the tower via bike, foot, or one rather pricey tram, $9 per adult. Seeing this as a good opportunity to exercise the biking muscles we chose to ride. We saw alligators, perhaps a dozen or more, some as large as 8 ft long and others as tiny as lizards. Seeing all these gators it's hard to believe that just a few decades ago they were very nearly wiped out. Hunting, both legal and illegal, to get hides to make the very popular alligator shoes, belts, and purses depleted the alligator population to just a few hundred back in the 60s. But with strict legislation and a reduction in the popularity of alligator made products, they've made a truly remarkable come back. They're no longer endangered, limited hunting is once again permitted, and judging on just the number we saw on our short ride I'd say there are many, many thousands out there in the wild today. A great conservation success story.
Back to the van and our marathon drive to Texas. We headed to the gulf coast of Florida, hit the interstate, the kind of driving we just hate but find necessary every so often, then out along the Florida pan handle. Pulling into one of Florida's state parks for a night of paid camping, primarily so we could get showers, we happened to find ourselves following behind a bike tourist. Immediately I felt strong pangs of envy. We met up with John a few minutes later in the campground and to help both our budgets we decided to share a campsite. Naturally this was the start of a long night of bike touring talk. At age 62, this was the first time John has done any serious bicycling since he was a mere lad of 18. So he'd had quite an adjustment to make. He bought a cheap $50 garage sale bike, some inexpensive panniers, and camping equipment. Ontario is his starting and ending point and he came to Florida by way of heading west to Washington, down the west coast, and then east across to Florida. Mileage so far, 7,000. Not bad for someone who hasn't ridden in so many years. I had to wonder about his diet, though. He carries neither stove nor cooking equipment. His meals consist mainly of a sort of trail mix he puts together on the fly whenever he stops in a grocery store. One day it'll be a mix of raisins, cereal, and nuts. The next may have pretzels and chocolate chips added. When I asked if he'd like a salad his reply was, "You mean a GREEN salad." We do know what raises the eyebrows of a bike tourist.
In his more normal life John is an educator/missionary. His most recent project was to start a university offering degrees in agriculture and business in Haiti. He was there for two years getting things started after which he handed the reigns over to the next president. He told us a story of how he brought all the business students into a meeting and asked them to come up with a plan to make the university self-sustaining, i.e. not dependent on government handouts. Yet the concept of planning for the future was so foreign to these folks they kept expecting him to give them the canned answer. he said it took 3 meetings to finally get them thinking in the right way. When asked how things are in Haiti he says, "Scary." The US military has pulled out the Canadian military is leaving, there's massive deforestation, high birth rates, extreme poverty, and no natural resources to attract businesses except cheap labor and many, many countries with more to offer have plenty of cheap labor as well. It simply doesn't sound like a country having a bright future.
After finishing his tour of duty he had a year to kill before his next assignment, which is scheduled to be in Uganda. So he decided to try this bike tour as a way to see north America and a means to make money for a scholarship fund for the University. It sounds to us as though he's been fairly successful. Churches he meets along the way give a couple thousand and he even had one large corporation donate $100K. He says the churches have a bit of a quandary as to who to make the check to. On the one hand his scholarship fund needs the money. on the other he also needs cash in order to continue his journey. The corporations have no problem, it's the project that's tax deductible. It was a delightful evening all around and we wished him well the next morning as we continued west and him east.
We had just one stop we wanted to make before leaving Florida. About 2 years earlier almost to the day when we came riding through Pensacola we spent 2 full days visiting the Naval Aviation Museum. Also located on the Navy base is one of those old 1800s masonry forts, Ft. Barrancas. We wanted to see it that last time, but it was closed. This happened to be that strange time when the budget battles between Clinton and Congress resulted in the shutting down of the government. Now, 2 years later, here we were back in Pensacola and there was no government shutdown so we stopped in to see the fort we missed before. We had only 20 minutes as it closed at 4 PM sharp. The site of Ft. Barrancas is a natural rise overlooking the mouth to Pensacola Bay. Thus it attracted the attention of the military engineers of three different nations, Spain, England, and the U.S, as an ideal location for defending the bay. First the English built a wooden fort, called the Royal Navy Redoubt, in 1763. In 1781 a Spanish fleet under command of Bernardo de Galvez captured and occupied Pensacola and the fort in 1781. They built a stronger fortification on the same rise in 1797 and called it Barranca, a Spanish word for bluff. It was semicircular in shape with the curved edge facing the water. A glacis, embankment of dirt, lead up to a dirt ditch formed by two 10 ft deep masonry walls. 13 cannon were mounted on top of the dirt piled up behind the innermost wall. Three buildings inside the closed in center were the powder and ammo storage rooms. The masonry walls were all plastered in white and above each door was an interesting curlicue design giving the fort a definite Spanish flavor as compared to the more angular lines of the later built U.S. structures.
Florida was purchased by the U.S. from Spain at which time Pensacola by and the fort came under U.S. ownership. Following the war of 1812, when the U.S. was building those 40+ coastal defensive forts, Ft. Barrancas was expanded and improved. The original wooden English fort was torn down and one of those squashed octagon brick forts was built, right behind the Spanish battery. There was the main squashed octagon section, called the scarp, with 4 ft thick, 20 ft high walls. The walls were backed up by arched enclosures supported on the backsides with piles of sand. This made for a completely covered walkway going completely around the octagon. Men with rifles were to fire from inside the the walls while cannon on top fired out to sea. Facing the two inland walls was what's called a counterscarp. This is another completely enclosed arched walkway with ports for firing out and two large ports on each end where cannon could fire down the center between the scarp and counterscarp. The inside walkway of the counterscarp is just a long arched corridor painted white giving one the impression of one of our long, tiled and well lit highway tunnels. I was wondering about the condition of the fort as it seemed to be remarkably good, that was until I learned it had undergone a $1.7 million renovation back in 1971.
The U.S. portion of the fort was built between 1839 and 1844. It, along with 2 accompanying forts McRee and Pickens and an inland Redoubt provided the defensive screen for Pensacola bay. One if the ideas behind these masonry forts was that it was real easy for them to inflict damage on the wooden sailing ships used in that day. A cannon loaded with chain or hot shot could fairly easily sink a ship. But the ship usually could do very little damage to the fort. Their cannon balls would simply get imbedded in the frontal earth glacis or masonry walls. That was, of course, until the creation of the rifled cannon that came into being in the middle of the Civil War. After that time the U.S. turned to concrete reinforced structures through W.W.I and the beginning of W.W.II. Then the forts were declared obsolete and many turned over to national and state governments for use as parks. Ft Barrancas came under the control of the National Park System in 1947.
Heading on around the Gulf staying near the water where we had beautiful white sandy beaches on our left shoulders and tacky, pink colored shell shops on our right we passed right through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana with nary a stop. That is with the exception of a stop to pick up some of that excellent cajun food for lunch. On the west side of the Mississippi in the little town of Vacherie is a small restaurant/fish market called B&C seafood deli.. Bare wooden tables and benches having an assortment of sauce bottles and rolls of paper towels standing on end invited us in to a down to earth southern hospitality meal. Watercolor paintings of the various southern plantation homes in the area hung helter skelter on the walls and a whole line of grinning alligator heads stared down from atop the walls, each with a price tag firmly attached. Our waitress proudly brought out a photo album showing photos of the restaurant owner's family out hunting alligators, which happens to be on the menu. If that wasn't enough, a video continuously shows live action alligator hunting techniques. When our meal arrived, the short wait proved to be well worth our time. Delicately fried hushpuppies with that slightly sweet corn flavoring crunched between my teeth. Huge gulf shrimp coated with a slightly tangy corn and spice concoction melted on my tongue. Brian oohed and aahed over his mixed platter of fried crawfish, crabs, and fish. To top it off, bread pudding drowning in a generous topping of rum sauce. The raisins in the pudding retained their heat just long enough to burn the tongue if you're not careful.
In the small town of Eunice, just northwest of New Orleans, we stopped in at the Acadian Cultural museum, part of the Jean LaFitte National historic district. A small museum housed in a typical government looking red brick building dedicated to the lifestyles of the Acadian peoples who were ousted from Nova Scotia and eventually found their way to the Louisiana delta area. There were artifacts and pictures about their clothes, food, farming, cattle raising, house, crafts, and hobbies. The signs were kinda of neat, part English part French, giving one the opportunity to learn a few French words.
Of particular interest is the 30 minute movie about the expulsion of the Acadians. The contrast between the story told by the Nova Scotia government today and the one shown in the movie is quite striking. In Canada the expulsion is almost mentioned just in passing, "Oh the French speaking were expelled." One gets the impression it was almost a voluntary departure. Not so, according to this movie. The acadians were physically kicked out amid treachery, deceit, and violence. Once the French had lost their new world holdings to the English, the English ruling party decided to allow the French to stay living an a state of neutrality. They could worship as they wished, continue to speak French, and continue to farm their lands. They were prosperous, in fact too prosperous. With a lot of labor and a lot of skill they had transformed the rocky, difficult coast of Nova Scotia into a fertile plain. Jealous English officials eyed this land and came up with a way to get rid of French one and for all.
It was sometime in 1755. The governor in charge of Nova Scotia ordered the English soldiers to gather the French men in the various churches and meeting halls under the pretense of discussing the return of their muskets and firearms that were confiscated earlier. Suspecting no evil deeds, most of the French came. Once inside the soldiers bolted the doors, locking the men inside where they remained until the ships assigned to take them and their families away arrived. Only the women and children were left outside. Theirs was the task of gathering up whatever belongings they could carry or pull in carts, dragging it down to the shore, and loading it all onto the ships. Some of the men were allowed to join their wives for the departure. Many were placed into prisoner boats separated forever from their families. The boats sailed down the east coast of the 13 colonies, discharging a few Acadians at each port in the midst of local citizens who were less than happy to see these folks arrive. They were small scattered groups of people with no family, nowhere to go, no money. Of the 10,000 people thus forcibly ejected fully half perished.
It was just as rough for the few stragglers who had hidden out in the forests of Nova Scotia. With the spring thaws came more English, probably bounty hunters. They hunted down the remaining families, dragged them out of their homes, shot, killed, and did who knows what other unspeakable things to them. All with the intention of completely eliminating all French from Nova Scotia. Surprisingly, a few did survive and there are still a few French surnames attesting to the iron will of some of these settlers.
Many of the people who were scattered along the coast managed to make their way back to France only to find they no longer fit into French society. Their culture and language had changed to the point where they now became outcasts even among those they considered their brothers. Through word of mouth they heard of a new land in the southern states, Louisiana. A place where many of their kinfolk already found refuge. And so they came once again to the New World, this time to stay.
Continuing on around the Gulf, basically nonstop driving, we finally arrived at Houston, TX where we'd planned to get prepared for our journey into Mexico. This included getting all the required paperwork, making sure we had a variety of emergency stuff for the van, and getting a few odds and ends of repairs taken care of. But it also gave us the opportunity to visit another Space Center, JCS. The last time I visited JSC was back in 1992. The visitor's center was a small building located next to a couple of old display rockets, a Little Joe II used to test the Apollo escape tower, a Redstone used for some of the Mercury launches, and the very last ever constructed Saturn V planned for the cancelled Apollo 18.
Today, a huge new building has been opened for a new museum, which unfortunately also charges for both parking and admission, $3 parking $12.95/person admission. It may seem rather high, but there is so much packed inside there is more than enough to keep you busy for a full day. First there's a full 1 1/2 tram tour that takes you to the new flight control room called FRC, Frick for short. Operational since 1996, this new room has been designed to be flexible and to expand with the future needs of the shuttle and the International Space Stations. Interestingly we also learned there is now a mission control room in Moscow that will also support the space station. Another stop was at one of the training facilities. It's a huge warehouse type structure containing mock-ups of various components used for each mission. The configuration of the building changes continually depending upon which mission they are training for. In fact, even on this Saturday some engineers were squatting on the floor overlooking some half built wooden structures, drawings sprawled out all over the floor. Right now there are many components representing the space station squeezed into one corner. The last time I was in this room I was on the ground floor, where tourists can't go, looking over the Spacelab and the internal components my group back at SDRC were analyzing. At that time the space station was still a far off dream. Hard to believe the first components will be launched in June by the Russians. One more stop on the tram tour took us to a couple more shuttle training facilities. These are more designed for flight situations than mission practice.
Back at the museum there are displays, movies, and presentations. The most spectacular was the IMAX film, Mission to MIR. The film was studded with top to bottom, side to side, 6 story high shots of the MIR space station and Earth. You could almost feel as if you were actually there. Absolutely spectacular. I wonder when technology will get to the point where more than just a handful of lucky individuals will have the opportunity to see this view. Naturally much of the film focused on Shannon Lucid. She's the astronaut whose short stint aboard MIR suddenly turned into 6 months due to shuttle problems. But other more interesting shots came from Russia's Starcity. Seeing the differences in launch facilities and even living facilities was truly eye opening. Let's just say their launch facilities surely aren't fancy, almost brute force, but they are pretty durn successful. Shots inside MIR reflect this same brute force approach. Comparing the inside of the shuttle and MIR while it was docked was almost like looking at an local garage versus a most modern operating facility. The shuttle is white, gleaming, spacious, antiseptic. The MIR, cramped, dark, with almost a duct tape/bailing wire held together appearance. But it's over 10 years old and way overdue for replacement. As one astronaut put it, "Imagine having lived in house for over 10 years and never throwing anything away." That's the way MIR is. Equipment has been added and added to the point where it is stuffed.
One presenter gave a briefing about the current mission status. They were just preparing for a launch the following week, another crew exchange with MIR. So not much was going on. However, this happened to be the day after NASA made the announcement that john Glenn would fly once more. Questions were asked, why Glenn and not someone else? Well, even the most avid space enthusiasts like us can see right through the feeble excuse of studying the effects of microgravity on aging. I seriously doubt NASA will be preparing to send old folks up in the shuttle just to get questionable benefits from microgravity. Not a chance. Perhaps a more important question is what is the effect of reduced or microgravity on the very young, i.e. children. After all if there is ever to be real space colonies there will certainly be entire families on board. It's a big PR stunt, and nothing more.
Other questions seemed to focus on the money. How much do the astronauts make? how much does the space station cost? How much is being funded by the U.S. versus other countries?, etc. The majority of these questions coming from elder retired people. Were they angry about the costs? Hard to tell. But from what we've seen in just a couple visits the benefits we as a people have received from all the commercial spin-offs far more than repays us the costs. Just one example. This little computer I have on my lap is a direct outgrowth of the space program. The very first small, personal computer was built for the Apollo program and was contained in that familiar gumdrop shaped space capsule. Would PCs have been created without the space program? Perhaps, but certainly not in the time frame we've seen. The space program pushed miniaturization of electronic devices beyond the current state of the art and I doubt commercial companies would have invested the money needed for that sort of research and development. What will we see from the space station development. Who knows? But I'm sure it will be exciting.
The centerpiece of the museum featured a brief presentation of U.S. versus the USSR in the old space race and now the cooperation of the space station. Even though things have been touch-and-go with regards to Russia's ability to finance their portion of the project, somehow international cooperation just feels right. Space exploration is expensive and sharing the costs makes sense. But, beyond that. As man moves into space more and more it is inevitable there will be conflicts and divisions between different factions having overlapping interests. In fact, many science fiction novels predict that major corporations will subdivide and control different sections of space. These corporations may grow to replace countries of today. They'll wage war, make peace, and raise an entire race of peoples who are expected to pledge loyalty to their firm. This may or may not happen. But, in the mean time it is reassuring to see that all of mankind is gathering together to make our first tentative, permanent steps into space under the flag of truce.
We stayed until the closing hour and, as always, leaving left me with that usual sadness and regret. Oh, to have been born with 20/20 or even 20/80 vision. I'll never forget my feelings of disappointment back during my Purdue days when I finally realized that there was no way they'd ever accept a person who can see clearly only to 2 feet in front of her nose. Not then and not even now when there are so many well qualified candidates having near perfect vision. In the future, probably. But not likely before I'm beyond the point where I could even consider going. To be forever watching from the sidelines was one of the hardest things I ever had to accept, and it still hurts.
Onward and southward towards the border at Laredo, TX. Out from under the tall shade trees of the east back to the spiky, thorny, brown desert lands of southwestern Texas where we prepared ourselves and the van for 2 months trekking around the south reaches of Mexico.
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.