Friday, February 26, 2010

The Last American Man Review

Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Last American Man” cemented my age-inappropriate crush on older, bearded men. Beards and the men who sport them convey a sense of woods savvy, resourcefulness and self-sufficiency. Imagine my delight when I found Eustace Conway, a bearded man who in addition to a great storyteller and hunter is still a part of the natural cycle of life.

Conway recognizes that resourcefulness is next to godliness. “Thank God there was one truly resourceful and independent wild soul left in this country,” Gilbert writes. Conway, for Gilbert, signified that America was a nation where people grow free and wild and strong and brave and willful instead of lazy and fat and boring and unmotivated.

The story of Conway, Gilbert maintains, is the story of American manhood. Shrewd, ambitious, energetic, aggressive, expansive – Conway stands at the end of a long and illustrious line of the same.

Living outside of the softening and vision curbing influence of the city, Conway wakes up every morning to a national crisis. He sees America as an impotent nation reflexively ruining everything in its path.

Reduce, re-use and recycle are good concepts, Conway says, but those three concepts should be last resorts. Rather, he says, the focus should be on two other R words – reconsider and refuse.

True to her journalism roots, Gilbert unflinchingly captures many sides of Conway’s personality. She bills him as an old-time mountain man and radical land and water conversationalist, not a wimpy hippy encouraging people to take off their clothes.

While he preserved what was dear to him by buying a forest with a complete watershed inside of it and opening up Turtle Island Preserve in North Carolina, Gilbert also portrays him as a perfectionist workaholic with a host of broken relationships that are testament to his wicked, uncontrollable temper.

Gilbert’s book is a fascinating read and Conway’s drive to influence others to adopt some of his values or lifestyle will stay with you months after the last page.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hammerhead Sunday

I saw my first hammerhead yesterday afternoon.

To cap off the afternoon, we went shark diving!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Popcorn burns retina

Val with tiger shark

I was secretly glad and selfishly anticipating a proper night's rest when my French-Canadian roommate flew back to Florida with a medical emergency.

Val arrived at the Sharklab with allergies the three dogs further aggravated, asthma the humidity made worse and bronchitis, its accompanying cough ricocheting off our thin-walled 2.5 meter by five meter room that ensured a wake-up call two hours before I was required to be at the multi-national breakfast table.

When not hacking up parts of her respiratory system at 1,3,4 and again at 6 AM, I really enjoyed being around her. In the two weeks she was here, we shared our mutual deep love of the boreal, the wonder of the sea and our longing for Canadian bacon. Collectively, the lab's volunteers and staff entertained her notion that a microwave could be brought on board to pop popcorn if a sufficient number of extension cords were found.

"Just don't get them caught in the prop," fellow Canadian and lab co-manager Sean cautioned straight faced.

Later that week, after popping a bag of popcorn in the kitchen to take on the boat for the day, Val excitedly opened the steaming bag, her right eye on a kernel's steam-propelled projection path. A trip to the bravely staffed and inadequately supplied clinic confirmed her greatest fear - that she'd have to leave the Sharklab and seek medical attention back in Florida.

She flew out the next morning and had surgery to repair the burned area of her eye. Val emailed a few days after assuring everyone at the lab that she was going to recover, but likely would not be returning.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

All the sea's a lavatory

To the tune of Ani Difranco's Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love

Sharks do it, seals do it
Let's do it,
Let's pee in the sea.

Hours before nature called and I actually had to commit to dropping my drawers, I envisioned this scene and it always ended up the same - with me backflipping midstream into the sea with my shorts around my ankles while my sun-starved behind blinded every retina in a 20 kilometer radius.

Holding the tiller in my left hand and a cleat on the starboard side at the stern in my right, I cautiously eased my snow-white Canadian behind over the edge of the 16-foot skiff.

The sweet release of fluids came quickly, for I had unwisely been holding it in for fear of a)my male boatmates glancing back at an inoportune time, b)the scenario described above that likely would have resulted in me drowning in less than a meter of clear Bahamian sea water because my legs were tied together at the ankles with my own clothing. The latter worried me far more than being seen.

Miracously, I did not backflip into my own refuse. Nor did my boatmates, the local fishermen or the sight-seeing tourists in my immediate vacinity report any burned retinas.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Moving house

Before coming to the Sharklab, I moved out of my Edmonton house. For just shy of three years, I shared 6608 with a rotating cast of more than 15 individuals and their various insignificant others, pets and irritating habits.

It was the house where I completed the final 2.5 years of my undergrad. It was the house where I created and nurtured lasting friendships. It was the house I unflinchingly called home amid my burgeoning transient lifestyle. I left that familiarity and comfort, even if it had only been for a while.

There was a certain finality as I walked out the door one last time as a tenant at 3 AM on my way to the airport in early January. I was no longer a student, Edmonton resident or a Canadian faking another good winter in the cold.

Below is the ugly process of packing up my room. Condensing nearly three years of stuff into one easy truckload was refreshing. While the majority of my belongings are in a garage at my mother's, all I have with me in Bimini is what I could carry.

Packed, cleaned and ready

My Bimini room is slightly larger than my Edmonton one was. Here, however, there's three more beds, no outside window and one lovely UK gal.

Inside my bottom bunk, complete with the provided privacy curtains drawn