Friday, January 22, 2010

Message in a bottle: Romance or rubbish?

By Michael Cary
Manuel Janchezan wrote a message in broken Spanish, stuffed it into a bottle, and set it adrift in the Gulf of México.
"I am lost at sea. I am a fisherman on the ship Norvis Beatris. I am going to the Port of Sabancuy, Campeche. I am about to die. I have been lost for 12 days. Adios."
Whether Janchezan was really lost at sea or whether he was playing a joke has never been documented.
But his message was received when it landed on the beach at Matagorda Island.
It was found and translated by employees of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the caretakers of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Matagorda Island is one of the barrier islands that protect the Texas coastline, with 38 miles of beach and bayside marshes, jointly owned by the Texas General Land Office and the U.S. government, preserved as a major wildlife management area, and winter home to the endangered whooping crane population.
It also collects mountains of trash floating in from the Gulf.
Among that trash occasionally floats a message in a bottle, frequently found by volunteers who perform turtle patrols along the beach.
Janchezan's eery message about being lost at sea was likely taken seriously by the U.S. Coast Guard when it was found on the beach on Aug. 24, 1996, but Tonya Nix, environmental education specialist with the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, has no knowledge that anyone found him and returned him safely to shore or left him committed to the deep in the Gulf of México.
"If there is a cry for help we treat it as such, we would contact the Coast Guard, but that's the only one I've ever seen," said Nix, whose tenure at the refuge began after the message was discovered.
And, she said, putting a message in a bottle would be a desperate final act for someone who was actually lost at sea.
"That would be something to do if there were no other options," Nix said.
Messages in a bottle, romanticized over the centuries and put into song by The Police on their second album in 1979, have been discovered several times over the years on Matagorda Island.
"Most of them come from cruise ships," Nix explained.
One such message was much more upbeat.
"Dear Finder, you have just found a drift bottle," wrote a Kansas fifth grader, Maggie, who was on the Norwegian Sun on March 24, 2007, when she dropped a bottle into the sea.
"I hope you can read English. My name is Maggie and I'm 11 years old and in the 5th grade," she printed.
Maggie included her email address on Norwegian Cruise Line stationery and requested an answer to her message, which was found on the island later that summer.
"Please tell me your age, grade and when and where you found this. Please also tell me the city and country you live in," Maggie wrote in legible print. "P.S. I hope you have a computer."
"Hay, I'm working onboard a Norwegian Chemical tanker (Trans Scandie). Last port was Varna, Bulgaria, next port is New Orleans, write me some words," penned Anders Jan Kyoennoe, from his position at sea on June 11, 1999 somewhere between Key West and Cuba.
His message was found on Matagorda Island – it included a line drawing of a man with spiked hair, stubble and a cigarette in his mouth.
Some messages in a bottle could have a nearer point of origin, such as from a shrimp trawler that might be cruising parallel to the beach in the summertime.
"The shrimp god is being summoned. If anybody finds this before the shrimp god does, please send it back on its merry way. Good luck to all shrimpers, and God bless us all. P.S., tell Hope Bowen I love her," wrote an unkown author, who could have been working on a shrimp boat out of a nearby harbor.
Nix said that when she taught aquatics science at Austwell and Tivoli ISD near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, one of her student groups laid hands on a message in a bottle that had floated ashore.
"Some sailors had bet $100 on where the bottle would go, and the girls got excited, and the boat was at least 160 miles offshore," Nix said.
The students wrote back to the sailor, seeking to take him up on his promise of half the $100 if they would answer. The girls answered the letter but there was no reward forthcoming.
"James Mishelek owes $50 to the junior and senior class (of 2005) at Austwell-Tivoli High School," Nix said.
Another message in a bottle, found on Matagorda Island in June 1994, was considered by the examiner as containing "a most curious note.
"It begins in English and then lapses into a Philippine dialect called Tagalog. We had to have intelligence experts translate the last half of the message," wrote the person who cataloged the discovery for viewers at the refuge's visitor center.
"Darling Mommy, how are you now? I hope that you are not worried now ... Mommy I still love you," the message reads in English.
"Ang gusto ko lang sana na ikaw pa-ang lana na kanilala ko noon," it continues in Tagalog.
Translation: "I just want you to be the Lana (mother) I knew before."
The message was not signed, and therefore was not answered.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife agents Nix and a colleague, Amanda McLaughlin, however, have answered some of the messages in a bottle.
"I answered one letter, and it's beautiful what he sent me back," McLaughlin said without elaborating on her correspondence.
"You can't read them all the time. Some of them are just poems. Most people throw them off the side of the boat to see if someone finds them," McLaughlin explained.
One message that McLaughlin answered was dropped into the water by Jutta Schumann of Lemwerder, Germany. She had accompanied her husband, Hans, who captained a container ship from Europe to Miami, Houston, New Orleans and Veracruz, México.
"Today this bottle was thrown into the water, June 30, 1994, near New Orleans. I am the wife of the captain of the ship and enjoyed the trip to USA (and) México. Soon we will be in Europe. Good luck to you, Jutta Schumann. Please write to me and tell me where you found it," she wrote.
Once she received a letter from McLaughlin regarding her message in a bottle, found on Matagorda Island, Jutta responded with a three page letter dated Aug. 19, 2005 in Lemwerder.
"Your answer was the 43rd and was found after 11 years. She was the longest in the water. Before (that) one was found in France five years after sending. I got all kinds of letters, even one from a young man in Taiwan and he wrote in Chinese characters," Jutta wrote to McLaughlin.
Jutta revealed in her letter that her husband was retired and the couple (ages 67 and 65) "live in a small house near the city of Bremen in Northern Germany known for bad and rainy weather in the winter."
Her husband had settled into a hobby of building model whaling ships, but they retained an interest in "things around the world."
Jutta included a photograph of herself and Hans at their home in Germany.
"I would love to hear from you and about your work. I can see you – or some of you – going onto a beach and walking along the beach at Matagorda Island which is totally quiet and only sea turtles come ashore and I hope not so much junk and trash from ships (I feel bad about my bottle)," Jutta wrote, after consulting a map to locate the Texas barrier island.
Ryan Fisher was a 22-year-old, single, Austin resident who worked for Dell Computers when he penned a message and set it out to sea on April 26, 2000, while he was on a deep-sea fishing trip.
Obviously, he wasn't thinking that he was about to pollute one of the Gulf of México's more pristine barrier islands when he listed a couple of return email addresses and wrote a brief description about himself.
"I'm a very nice person. I think I'm a good human."
More likely, when Fisher launched his message in a bottle, using a method of communicating as random as waves on the sea, he was just trying to get a date.
Messages in a bottle are periodically found on the practically deserted beaches on Matagorda Island. Many of them are retrieved by volunteer turtle patrols that discover them among the other flotsam that washes ashore.
Some might consider messages in a bottle a romantic method for communicating with strangers across the seas, and others might consider them part of the heaps of trash that frequently pollute the beaches along the coastline.
"The bottle you have found is one of a wide row of bottles which I cast into the sea during the last several years," wrote Krzysztof Podgorniak, a 33-year-old Polish officer aboard the Philine Schulte, which sailed under the Isle of Man flag from Cartagena, Colombia to Houston.
"These bottles are my own way, how I try to find the ways of old seafarer's mail system. I will be very glad, if you can send me a letter or postcard only with number bottle, place, and date where you discovered it," wrote Podgorniak on a sheet of paper.
He listed his home address in Olsztyn, Poland. The bottle was found on Matagorda Island on April 20, 2005. The bottle was numbered 169-01-04-PHS, suggesting that the Polish sailor did not consider the impact of his chosen way of coping with the tedium of shipboard life.
"The bottles are considered beach debris," Nix acknowledged, but she also concedes that the idea of a message in a bottle conjures mysterious and romantic notions, much like the words "I'm sending out an S.O.S.," as sung by Sting of The Police, in 1979.
A legendary seafarer's mail system, or just more litter on the beach?

Article originally published in the Aransas Pass Progress and the Ingleside Index

Friday, January 15, 2010

Who is banning the books?

Government agencies, to name a few.

U.S. Bureau of Customs
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
U.S. Information Agency (USIA)
U.S. Justice Department
U.S. Postal Service
U.S. Treasury Department

click on the link to see a list of more book banners.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gorilla celebrates holidays with Wellman family

By Michael Cary
A thousand pound gorilla takes up residence in your front yard.
What are you going to do about it?
Dress him up as Cupid on Valentine's Day.
In the springtime, paint him pink and hide Easter eggs under his nose.
During high school football season, guess who's a sidelines cheerleader?
A thousand pound gorilla in your yard can turn some heads as a Thanksgiving turkey, or with a large red Christmas bow on his hat.
The question remains, just how did that gorilla find a home in your front yard?
"It all started when I wouldn't tell my husband what I wanted for my birthday," explains Marsha Wellman, an Aransas Pass transplant (15 years ago) from Bryan/College Station (Texas).
"My husband said 'be careful what you ask for,'" Wellman said, regarding the 1,100-pound concrete gorilla that sits in her front yard on Saunders Street.
The gorilla, a product of a statuary company in Taft, required a forklift to take him off the truck when Gerald Wellman brought it home for his wife's birthday in 2002.
Since then, the Wellmans and their neighbors have enjoyed dressing him up for special occasions – he has his own boat and welcomes friends who come to town for fishing trips.
"We both work on his outfits," Marsha said. "And my neighbor, Hope Dávila, is the one who dressed him up as a Panthers cheerleader.
"We do something patriotic in July, one year he was Uncle Sam, and during Easter he is a pink bunny almost every time," she said.
It has gotten to the point that people stop by to take photos with the gorilla, and neighbors ask why he's not dressed up when the Wellmans forget a holiday.
The gorilla, which still has no name, is a welcome addition to grandma and grandpa's yard for Abby Krisl, who lives in Aransas Pass, and John Wellman, who visits occasionally from Katy.
"We dressed him up one year for Shrimporee, and Gerald and I cooked shrimp for our friends," Marsha said.
"He had on an apron and carried a shrimp net, but he wasn't in the parade, he's too heavy," she said.
Currently, the thousand-pound gorilla is painted snow white, wears a pilgrim's hat (his Thanksgiving turkey feathers are now stored in the garage), a large red bow, a muffler around his neck, and he is spending the Christmas holiday as Frosty the Snowman, complete with charcoal eyes and a carrot nose.
"When it snowed in 2004, he was a reindeer. He looked wonderful," Marsha said.
The gorilla is a reminder of where the Wellmans came from. They frequently traveled through La Grange near Bryan/College Station, and frequently saw a large concrete gorilla in a yard in that town.
But the inspiration came to Gerald when his wife wouldn't tell him what she wanted for her birthday.
"Now there's a list every year," Marsha said.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


I know that we who have participated in Siempre Sustainable Network for the past two years and some months will continue to work on various fronts to move local and global community toward quality life for all. But as Romelia Escamilla and Jose Antonio Conteras et al. demonstrated through guided participatory activities in our last meeting, it could also be helpful if our Siempre Sustainable Network would strategically plan in a more formal and structured fashion toward sustainable livelihoods for all, and for resilient and sustainable community.

Some Background. When I graduated from high school in 1964* the world had half as many folk and transformed for human use less than a third of the energy it does now. Back then I began to dream of returning to and helping to sustain much of the culture, the Land and Nature which formed me and provided quality life for me, my family and much of the rural community in which I was raised. And over time I came to appreciate that many of the conservation practices and the relatively low-input behaviors of my family and village, were indeed important components of sustainability.

Then about 20 years ago, in several publications, including The American Journal of Alternative Agriculture [“Sustainable agriculture: A process at the community level.” AJAA 6(1):2], I and others opined (after review of some of the literature, and from our previous research and experiences in community) that the some of the basic and essential features for a process of sustainable and resilient community include:

1. review of community history and development to identify roots of sustainability in community,
2. assessment of natural and human resources, and quality of life,
3. definition of a community’s geographic, societal, and ecological boundaries with consideration for migratory trends of populations,
4. team building and leadership development for all sectors,
5. goal-setting, policy, action plan development,
6. testing management tactics,
7. financing strategic and tactical actions,
8. measuring for resilience and sustainability; analyzing, evaluating, and replanning, and
9. quality continuing education.

Basically I personally hoped that such a process would move local and global community toward conservation and reduced consumption and exploitation, and toward a quality life for all—including the current poor, and other species--through truly living lighter on the Land and in concert with Nature.

As far as development of Siempre Sustainable Network is concerned, we tentatively developed a vision/mission statement, goals and strategies in our initial meetings (Fall/Winter 2007).

Because the critical mass of folk involved, commitment, resources and human energy involved was (and still is) fragile, we decided to focus on continuing education, dialogue concerning sustainability, and dissemination of information related to developing sustainable livelihoods and resilient and sustainable community. We did also take some visible (and I think important) action toward realizing food systems which are more local, including community gardens.

Siempre Sustainable Network naturally became involved in other community activities as an interested party, as a listener, as a facilitator, and as a partner—i.e., in ways in which a relatively informal network/net-workers is/are all about. We’ve been involved in a limited way with the activities of a number of other organizations or groups who are learning to be more and more “sustainable”: e.g., on the Earth Day committee and in actual Earth Day activities, in formulating the recent Comprehensive Master Plan for the City of Seguin, in providing food for the Christian Cupboard, and in some of the efforts of helping local farmers—including organic farmers and limited assistance with the local farmers market--and helping churches, service organizations and Texas Lutheran University, move toward sustainability.

Cutting to the Chase. I believe we should continue as Siempre Sustainable Network to have the regular information meetings we have been having--in more or less the same fashion. However, we definitely do need to have a process which will enable regular participants and the larger community to more easily and actively participate in the selection of topics. (Our Siempre acting chair, Marvel Maddox, recently suggested that some of the key ideas from the participatory/pre-goal-setting/strategic planning session facilitated at our December 2009 meeting could be helpful in identifying general topic areas for our regular meetings.)

It is difficult/”impossible” to do the community garden projects/initiative in a perfectly “right way”, and to really make the process sustainable in a more holistic way, and particularly to truly involve those in most need as active participants in every way—i.e. in:

- educating about local food systems and sustainable livelihoods/community,
- developing rules and regulations and signage,
- long and short-term planning, developing the organizational structure, plot/raised bed layout and management, and selecting annual and perennial crops,
- land-prep, composting/fertilizing, setting up efficient water catchment and irrigation-systems, - planting, mulching, maintenance, and
- harvest, processing, and food-prep.

Nevertheless, I strongly believe we should maintain and develop this very visible community gardens-effort, even if it is a long way from being perfect.

Early on folk who were attending our Siempre Sustainable Network were anxious to take local or global action, become advocates for a particular cause, or more specifically to get involved in specific actions such as:

- reduction of waste/trash/pollution generation, and improvement of reuse, recycling efforts in Seguin and environs,
- dealing with the local utility rate structures such that such policy actions realized conservation and supported the poor in getting ahead,
- protecting native biotic communities,
- developing a Master Naturalist program,
- getting more involved with the Guadalupe Co. AgriLife and Extension activities,
- volunteering at the Seguin Outdoor Learning center,
- promoting appropriate “Green” technologies and practices,
- encouraging water conservation including rain-water catchment systems,
- helping with the Walnut Branch restoration project,
- continuing with goal-setting and strategic-planning toward sustainable livelihoods and resilient and sustainable community,
- working on food justice issues and organic agriculture,
- appropriate day care for individuals of various needy families in community,
- working toward peace and abolishing war,
- enabling the poor, powerless, disenfranchised to be the primary and initial benefactors of various efforts toward sustainable livelihoods and sustainable community,
- revamping local public school systems,
- becoming more connected and even formally associated with some really good national and international organizations doing what we are trying to do,
- taking a real activist role in addressing global climate change policy at the national and international level, and actively working for carbon taxes, etc., and/or
- realizing a truly holistic appraisal of the current and dynamic state of local counties, community/watershed/bioregion/ecosystem/… and establishing sustainability indicators and benchmarks, etc..

It is obvious that all these individual concerns and desired actions are all very important to address as local and global community if we are to move toward sustainable livelihoods in sustainable community.

However, primarily because we are few in number, and since our interests in the arena of sustainability do vary considerably and we are simply a relatively informal network-- I would suggest that at this time we continue our present principle efforts, i.e. monthly presentations and discussion and participation in other educational opportunities, and work on community gardens while doing some continuing strategic planning on occasions other than our regular monthly meetings. (Of course we would continue to have limited additional participation with other key organizations which have a real interest in developing quality life for community in a role as communicator and facilitator--i.e., net-worker--toward sustainability.)

These activities would be continued under our title as Siempre Sustainable Network--and in close collaboration with Mosaic Community Church, My Father’s Farm and TLU’s Center for Servant Leadership, as well as with collaborations with other interested community entities. (This isn’t really a proposal which originated from me, but was also more or less proposed by others, and seemed to have some consensus in our last meeting.)

Even though we do share a common vision, we have individual passions for realizing varied components of sustainability. And even though we have had over 100 folk from the larger community attend selected Siempre meetings, our core group of regular participants is relatively small and we should perhaps be careful about adding additional Siempre initiatives.

Despite my stressing the need to discipline ourselves from taking on too much, we might consider setting up the following task forces/committees (standing, working, ad hoc; active or inactive) which can be taken on and utilized by various participants of Siempre as an interest becomes strong enough to support an adequate number of members:

o Siempre’s Strategic Planning Effort—(If we decide we have the appropriate “critical mass” and desire, etc., at some time in the future we might even establish a governing board and advisory board through this effort and become more formally organized and structured.)

o “Siempre in Action” Task Forces—Should there be enough folk with adequate desire and energy interested in the particular action item, “this task force” would obviously be realized as “various task forces,/committees” including for example those on:

--Reducing, Reusing, Recycling
--Utility Rate Restructuring (and other City/County
Sustainability-Initiatives to Help the Poor Realize Quality Life),
--Stimulus-Package Funding of Retrofitting Homes (of the Poor
for Energy Conservation/Family Budget Assistance),
--Root Causes of Local Substance Abuse (and How Might this be
Effectively Addressed)

o Siempre’s Master Naturalist Committee

o Siempre’s Sustainable Livelihoods Committee

o Siempre’s Global Climate Change Committee

Finally, I personally am going to try to spend more time developing the following areas of personal interest:

- I may take some courses as well as teach at (an) education institution(s) in attempts to move these institutions toward sustainability across the curriculum.
- My desire is to continue to develop an idea for a small charter middle "school of sustainable livelihoods and sustainable community".
- I hope to more effectively connect with leaders working on what I consider to be key sustainability issues around the U.S. and the world.
- After my wife Betsy retires, we’ll further discuss the possibility/feasibility/possible positive impact of doing some Peace Corps-type volunteering. …

Certainly I realize there are numerous folk with their own local-, national- and global-sustainability “irons in the fire”. … Should the opportunities and desires come about, these dreams and efforts of all of ours might possibly become a formal part of Siempre Sustainable Network’s efforts in the near or distant future.

The fragility of what we are trying to do through Siempre Sustainable Network is that it is hard to get one’s mind, energy, and especially the community to which we belong around a concept and process that is socio-economically, politically (culturally) and holistically/ecologically very complex in the deepest and largest sense. The whole of the sustainability process is mind-boggling because it is at the same time local and global, and involves us all, including other species … as well as the mineral and water cycles and the energy flux/transformations on which we depend in a much interconnected way. And it is tough to deal with because it bucks up against much of what has recently become such an integral part of conventional human socio-political/economic structures, i.e.:

- excessive consumption and consumerism,
- the perceived need for: more (processed) food/food supplements; larger homes, more clothes, and more toys; superfluous packaging; automobiles; high-input entertainment disconnected with local community; air-conditioning; increased human transformation of energy; and general rampant “artificialization of ‘Nature’”,
- virtual realities which are largely disconnected from the real processes of Land and Nature on which quality life depends,
- loss of sense of place and community … and loss of balance of power locally and globally,
- problems of listening in an informed and intelligent manner and truly communicating, and
- related problems in a world of ca. 7 billion with ca. one billion who have more than ever before and who largely put up walls to--at least "virtually”--eliminate the billion who are have less than ever before and who are truly struggling to survive.

The strength of our effort is that somewhere in back of the minds of individuals in community, or in the collective mindset of the community, there is knowledge that our current system is truly non-resilient and unsustainable--and that we need radical change. Of course the current global economic challenges, security concerns, continuing terror/war, tea parties, shouting matches at town meetings indicate that need for radical change is at the forefront of some folks minds because of a doomed process currently being employed in the world which is wrongfully intent on:

- conquering Nature,
- unsustainably exploiting the Land,
- excessively consuming, and
- ignoring the need for human population regulation.

(Our desire through Siempre Sustainable Network is to begin to locally and globally change a system which is exploitive of the have-nots, powerless, and de facto or ex facto disenfranchised—including other species—and to lessen our individual and collective ecological footprint and energy transformation.)

[By the way, there are many attempts at holistically achieving local and global sustainable livelihoods & community which are more or less functioning, from which we can learn and use in developing Siempre Sustainable Network, e.g.:

-- Ogallala Commons and its 12 Commonwealths

-- Holistic Management International, Inc. and its decision-making model/process

-- The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach of the UK & UN

-- Social Ecology Work of Stuart Hill in Australia

-- Social Ecology Research of Helmut Haberl, Univ. Vienna and his historical ecological footprinting and “input/throughtput/output”-comparative analysis of material flow and energy flux in systems

-- The policy work of the Center for Rural Affairs

-- Natural farming/perennial cropping systems work of The Land Institute

-- The Quivira Coalition


-- Etc., etc., etc.]

*This year—if I make ‘til November—I’ll be 64!

“Doing the [community] garden[s], digging the weeds. Who could ask for more? …
We shall scrimp and save.
[3+] Grandchildren on your knee. …
Will you still need me, will you still feed me? When I'm sixty-four?”