It was some years back that I first came across the word “fecundity.”   My recollection is that the word was the title of a book that I bought, written by Annie Dillard, Gretchen Erlich, Barbara Kingsolver — someone of that genre — but, if it was, I no longer have it.  Nor can I locate anything close to it by employing web search.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of books on “fecundity” and that seems only natural if you know what fecundity means.  One dictionary describes it this way:

ability to produce offspring: the ability to produce offspring, especially in large numbers

This particular definition fits with the trend that I found in searching for the book I thought was named “Fecundity”.  Most books with this word in its title seem oriented towards population control and the effects on unbridled fecundity upon civilization.

Shattered oak tree by road along Upper Myakka Lake.

But the book or essay that I am recalling was not of that orientation.  Rather it was an enthusiastic look at the power of life to re-generate even under the most dire circumstance.  I think of the word often in my trips to Myakka River State Park.  It has has crossed my mind during the past weeks as I drove past this old oak tree that had stood by the Upper Lake for many years. You could see it was weakening.  One section had already died and lost leaves, limbs, and bark.  Tropical Storm Debby brushed by Sarasota in late June 2012 and its minimal winds and excessive rain was the final straw for the oak.  It collapsed, part of it blocking Park Drive.  And so the rangers came with their chain saws and cut enough to clear the road.  The debris was pushed to one side and they moved on to the next problem.

It was a month later when I shot this next image.  Springing from the clean cut of the chain saw amputation was a fecund and colorful offspring .

Life springing from dead oak tree.

I first thought it was a small oak, struggling to find the sun and start the process over again.  As I look at it today I think that it may just be a vine of some kind.  But it doesn’t really matter what it might be because that isn’t the point of this essay.  Nor is my goal to praise fecundity because reproducing offspring in large numbers is not especially a healthy concept at this point in our evolutionary course.

The point is to celebrate the grandness of life, a life that can spring hope and rebirth from the shattered ruins of a once proud oak tree.  As humans we are all too likely to just see the shattered tree and feel sadness for what had been.  Peace comes from the acceptance that all things must pass and the knowledge that the world will go on.  ❧

The Book is Here!

For months I have been engaged in a labor of love.  Myakka River State Park: A Small Tribute is a project that began as a 20-page booklet first published at Blurb.com.  The goal was simple: to share with others, through my pictures, the peace and beauty I have found over the years at Myakka Park.  I printed several copies to give as gifts and the response was wonderful.  I thought of selling the booklet via the Friends of Myakka gift shop, located in the ranger station at the Park.  The response I received was heartening and a bit surprising.  They suggested I take the book to the Park’s main gift shop.  It seems the two gift shops have strict boundaries and what is carried in one shop cannot be displayed in the other. “The main gift shop gets much more traffic,” the volunteer explained, “And you can probably really sell a lot of these.”

Floating off to the gift shop I found manager and she definitely wanted to display the book.  But there was a problem.  As anyone knows who has created an online book, they are not necessarily cheap.  It became clear very quickly that ordering more books through Blurb.com was not economical for the purpose of selling numerous copies to the public.

Back to the drawing board.

That was nine months ago.  Like any gestation period, the product has gone through multiple and sometimes dramatic changes. It was logical that the book should become larger.  It has expanded from 20 to 52 pages and the number of images has quadrupled  from 20 to more than 90.  Layout changed too, abandoning the small, square format to one that is more in keeping with publishing standards.  I scoured the Internet for printers, gathered quotes and got my new, expanded book ready.  In between I was working my regular 40-hour a week job and time ticked away.  By the time I got everything ready to go it was the first of May.

I confidently sent the revised pages to the printer and that’s when I hit a huge glitch.  The pages that I had created in the software program called Aperture were not working with the printer’s specifications and I discovered , to my horror, that Aperture is not very flexible.  I could not make the small, necessary changes that the printer needed.  I was forced to engage in a crash course of graphic design options, none of which looked easy or cheap.  But there was no option.  By mid-May I set my new course and got at it.  The printer was very patient and helpful.  I learned a lot, especially about the elegance of Adobe InDesign.  And the beauty was that the book got stronger with each iteration.  Typos were found and corrected, copy was re-written, photos were replaced or re-adjusted.

Remarkably it is now complete and in my hands. Now comes the hard part…making it sell.

Driving home from work tonight I passed the local Girl Scouts of America headquarters.  On the sign which fronts the main road the message read “Girl Scouts 100th Birthday/ 1912-2012.”  The marquee has been up there for some time but tonight it made me think of this picture.

That’s my mother, age unknown but certainly not much more than 10.  Peering out proudly from her original issue Girl Scout hat.  And I mean original issue.  Martha Hathaway Whitaker O’Leary was born in 1911 and if you do the math that means she was one year older than the Girl Scouts.  So this picture is probably from the first decade of the Girls Scouts of America.  Pretty cool, huh?

Martha was a good person and no doubt the Girl Scouts helped mold her character. She would serve as a Scout leader in Norton, Massachusetts for many years.  We moved to Florida in 1959 and her scouting days ceased.  I wonder why?  Just another in the long list of things you-wish-you-had-asked your parents.  Perhaps it was just as simple as “enough”.  But the Scouts roll on and do good things.  Martha would like that. ❧

Thunderheads mass over the Sarasota National Cemetery

Our National Cemetery in Sarasota is filling fast.  The men and women who served this country during World War II now have the dubious distinction of being the generation that is dying at the fastest rate in the U.S.  I know (knew) so many of them.  I’ve cared for them as a hospice nurse and, in my current role as a grief specialist, I have counseled them and, later, their loved ones left behind.  They are a tremendously strong and proud generation.  They jumped so many huge hurdles in their lives that many can never accept that their time is coming to an end.  Remarkably, many couples that have been married for 50, 60, or 70 years never discuss the prospect of death.  Independent to a fault,  they stubbornly remain in private homes long after they should. They are not able to care for them and their safety is seriously compromised.  Widows lead solitary, isolated lives because they promised their spouse they would stay in the family home forever.  It can break your heart, it has broken mine on many occasions.

So, to those who may be reading this and have a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend who is in this “Greatest Generation” do them a favor.  Talk to them about end-of-life plans.  If they tell you “there’s plenty of time for that,”  tell them they are wrong.  Talk to them, ask questions about Plan B (what will they do when they must leave the family home).  Help them sort through the years of memories and possessions.

Some people say that leaving this world is the ultimate “independence.”  Help your loved ones leave with the dignity, safety, and sense of accomplishment that they deserve. ❧

For more than two decades I worked with my husband, Robert Randall, to achieve the practical, but ever-elusive reality of prescription access to cannabis (marijuana) for those with life- or sense-threatening disease.  He had glaucoma and discovered, quite by accident, that marijuana could help preserve his sight.  He proved this fact to the Federal government in 1976 and received legal supplies of Federal marijuana until his death in 2001.

Robert’s death moved me in new directions and I was compelled to pursue my own calling — hospice work.  Robert has been gone for eleven years and I am just starting my seventh year with Tidewell Hospice.  It has been fascinating and rewarding work.  But my involvement in the med pot issue was too deep and too long to simply drop it and walk away.  Robert and I made friends — good friends — as we tried to change the laws that prohibit medical access.  You cannot turn your back on good friends but relationships can change.  After Robert died I had no interest in “stumping” for medical marijuana.  My own spirit was calling to me and I am happy I pursued it.  But what to do about med pot?

It was a seminar at a conference of grief counselors (my current profession) which gave me the answer. The speaker, Harold Ivan Smith, is renown for his ability to look at a political family which has experienced loss — think of the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Kennedys — and convey to his audience the effects of grief on those grieving families and history.  His most recent focus is Coretta Scott King, a truly amazing woman in her own right, who, after the death of her husband Martin, adopted the position that she would not seek leadership in the civil rights movement (which she easily could have done) but would do everything she could to preserve and protect her husband’s legacy.  That rang like a clarion bell to me.  I had already been doing that very thing but, just as in any grief situation, the validation of actions is enormous.

Robert C. Randall was not Martin Luther King, Jr. and I’m certainly not Coretta Scott King but like the Kings, Robert and I did have an impact. We forged new cultural territories, we changed many minds, and we helped a lot of good people through some bad times.  The best I can do now is keep that memory alive.  After all, those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.  ❧

With the Myakka River running at flood stage alligators in Myakka River State Park are like kids let out for summer vacation.  Throughout the late winter and spring months, alligators were forced into smaller and smaller areas in the Park.  It was easy to spot them from the Park Drive bridge. One day last May I counted more than a dozen ‘gators visible from the bridge.  They were all pushed into a small remnant of the River.  But now!  The school doors have opened and the alligators are everywhere!  The Park is nothing but water and as you drive along the Park Drive you hear the ‘gators “talking” to each other — a strange snorting noise that those unfamiliar with alligators attribute to bullfrogs.  But make no mistake, the ‘gators have courted and the rising waters have been as welcome as Levittown was to the returning soldiers of World War II.  Nests are being made, eggs are being laid, and soon the Park will have many new ‘gators to amuse the tourists.

This handsome young gator was no more than three feet off the main drive in the Park.

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