Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pray for Louisiana and the people there, even journalists

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The statue of Jesus behind the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

It's amazing to see the level of preparation going on in Louisiana for Hurricane Gustav. Cages for animals. Buses and trains for the homeless. Actual evacuation for the nursing home patients.

It's a far cry from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when hardly any of that was done in New Orleans. Those people and animals were left behind, and they died.

It's good that local and federal governments are determined not to make the same mistake twice. I actually thought it was a bit overboard to go to such great lengths so early, but now that the storm looks to hit near the Big Easy, it seems to be a job well done - so far.

Of course, there are still concerns about the stragglers and, I would think, the massive amount of journalists who have flocked to the Gulf Coast to cover the storm. I would think they're more in danger than anyone.

I certainly hope no one such as Ronald Major, left, who lives in New Orleans in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are still in town. I would rather not think about what Gustav is going to do to their temporary homes.

And there are probably still homeless people in the streets and sick people in the hospitals who are too ill to be transported.

For the sick, I hope for the best and wish nothing like what was experienced by patients at Charity Hospital during Katrina; they tried to get out but had little help from the few helicopters that were available to take them to safety. The hospital, below, is now closed. You can see the damage done to the top of the building, but the most was done to the bottom floors, which were flooded.

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Here in Central Florida, we're seeing the clouds from Gustav. That's how large it is.

If the eye makes landfall 70 miles to the west of New Orleans, which is predicted, it will surely bring great devastation, especially because the stronger side is supposedly to the east of the center. Let's hope and pray that the only damage is to material things and not to lives.

For my post-Katrina reporting from New Orleans last year, go here.

For the blog of a fellow copy editor, left - who lives in Baton Rouge and says she will be blogging during the storm, electricity permitting - go here.

For live reports from New Orleans and the surrounding area, visit, which sent a team of three journalists to cover Gustav. Apparently, Gannett corporate thought we did such a great job covering Tropical Storm Fay when it flooded Brevard County that we should cover Gustav, too. But with another storm, Hanna, headed toward the east coast of Florida right now and two other tropical systems trailing it, we might have to do it here, too.

Nibbler the guard dog shows modeling potential

The "look up at your master, bitch" pose. You can see the reflection of the photographer in her eyes.

I'm now alone in a three-bedroom house, without the roommate, who moved, to protect the place when I'm at work or at Wal-Mart.

That old roommate is still my landlord, but I'm his puppy sitter. Nibbler the guard dog has returned, and her timing is perfect. Her presence has been calming as I'm trying to cope with the spooks that come with being the sole occupant of a house that's much too big for me.

But I must say, Nibbles - as I sometimes refer to her affectionately - was a real bitch at one time. I hate to use such language, but you'll have to read this before judging me for potty-mouthing the puppy.

The other night, I was readying myself for sleepytime - scrubbing the teeth and armpits, etc., etc. - and Nibbler's in the kitchen whining that there's no Purina Beneful in her bowl. She had already eaten three times that day, and I didn't want to feed her again before bed: I was afraid of the surprise she would drop for me in the morning. So I told her, "No, Nibbler, no late-night snack."

During my pre-bedtime primping session, I heard the clank, clank of the dog's tag hitting the bowl. Pretending she's eating from it and making noise in doing so is her way of telling me to fill it.

When I was done with my hygienic upkeep, I sat down for one final (about the 100th total) e-mail check for the day. In through the doorway walks none other than THE guard dog, Nibbler the guard dog. She walks to my feet, squats and pees.

"Noooooooooooo. Bad. Bad. Bad, Nibbler."

I picked her up, and outside she went. I didn't give her a backyard beating like many people do in the South, but I scolded her harshly for her urinating act. I know she did it just to spite me.

Ya see now? Bitch.

But she's cute, so it's difficult to hold a grudge for long.

The nature of our more recent backyard romp was different: It was a photo shoot.

There are a variety of shots here that show off my surrogate baby's beauty. I tried hard to get a shot of her standing to grab a treat. I got a few, but they weren't what I was looking for. After she realized that I didn't have a treat in my hand when I told her to stand, she stopped doing it, killing any chance of me getting the photo.

But these are the shots I did get. I hope you agree that if the guard dog thing doesn't work out, Nibbler has a future in modeling - if she's a good girl.

In the words of Austin Powers, "Oh, behave!"

The "I'm such a Playboy Bunny because of the ears" pose.

The ambidextrous "oh, I didn't know you were there" and "by the way, you've got to mow your lawn" pose.

The "look at the texture on my nose" pose.

The "man, I'm tired of this photo shoot" pose.

The "whoa, I'm dizzy" pose.


The "primp and proper puppy" pose.


The "scared of those storm clouds" pose.


The "I want that treat, I want that treat, I want that treat, what? no treat?" pose.

The "grass on the tongue, grass on the tongue, grass on the tongue, what grass on the tongue?" pose.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fay flooding: Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

A bench that once rested alongside Lake Washington is now in Lake Washington.

The public dock at Lake Washington Park also is sort of inaccessible. I talked to another man who was taking photos yesterday. He was amazed by the scene and said that just a few weeks ago, he had to throw a rope upward from his airboat to attach it to the dock above.

Having missed the real action, I hit the swampy streets of Brevard County yesterday to see Tropical Storm Fay's aftermath for myself.

The first thing I noticed really stood out as the most remarkable thing I saw all day. But oddly, it didn't surprise me.

In the Parkway Meadows neighborhood - which is next door to mine, Baymeadows, and experienced some of the worst flooding - the sprinklers were on in full force. We get 2 feet of rain, and people still see the need to water their lawns. Floridians need to make sure their lawns don't get one blade of dry grass.

In Parkway Meadows and in most of the communities I visited, there were large puddles, but the water had mostly receded. The retention ponds that give Florida its beauty, however, were overflowing. Another strong rainstorm would certainly turn Melbourne into Lake Melbourne.

A pathetic line of sandbags is strewn in front of a house in the Parkway Meadows subdivision.

Sandbags still sat near the outside walls of some homes, and there were piles of carpeting, boards and discarded furniture at the end of several driveways along John Rodes Boulevard, a few miles from my house.

One of the more ironic aspects of the storm was that it flooded the woods that were burned in the May wildfires in Palm Bay.

Probably even more ironic than the sprinklers was the scene of the flooded forests that were burned during the May wildfires that destroyed 33 homes in Palm Bay. The last time I had seen those trees, they were on fire. Now, they're wading in a foot of water.

On my way back home, I drove through another rainstorm that wiped out visibility. But it lasted two minutes, then the sun came out again.

My last stop was at Lamplighter Village, a trailer park off John Rodes Boulevard that was hit hard by Fay. The devastation was still apparent, though it was no post-Katrina NOLA. It wasn't even Cedar Rapids or Des Moines.

The village is developed around a large retention pond - or lake, as they call it in Florida. Interstate 95 runs along the west side of the village and John Rodes is to the east. Because they're both elevated, the roadways effectively create the sides of a bowl that held the stormwater during Fay. The lake couldn't retain all that Fay had to offer, so water spilled into the homes surrounding it.

The National Guard, I think, has had a presence in the neighborhood since Fay hit. Guards were posted at the entrances to make sure only residents were allowed access. I must have caught one sleeping inside his vehicle because he jumped out of it well after I drove past him. So I was lucky to get into the community.

Workers were gutting trailers of their contents and throwing the waterlogged material into piles along the road. Some of the lakefront homes have docks, but they weren't reachable, as there was water surrounding them, too.

I had to drive through 6 inches of water in the roadway. If I complain about that, I can't imagine what it was like during the storm.

A worker secures a flooded car on the back of a truck that was loaded with destroyed vehicles from the Lamplighter Neighborhood of Melbourne.

One of the saddest aspects, though, is a large tractor-trailer that was being loading with cars destroyed by the flood.

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To get a sense of what the neighborhood was like before the flood, take a look at the Google Street View map that is embedded above. The house you see is the one I photographed, below, with a man working outside.

There is a dock to the right of this photo's frame. It's surrounded by water.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

After flight, back in Brevard and ready for hurricane

I flew over an old home yesterday: Long Island. The photo shows the middle of the island, with Great South Bay at the bottom of the image. I could see the skyscrapers of New York City in the distance and the huge ships chugging toward the harbor. We then flew parallel to the Jersey Shore for a while. It was a spectacular.

I tell everyone here in Brevard County, Fla., that I'm disappointed that I missed Tropical Storm Fay's 27 inches of rain and that I want to see a big storm for myself. They look at me like I'm crazy.

But the tropics are really kicking into gear, with Tropical Storm Gustav heading into the Gulf of Mexico and Hanna, which may come closer to Florida, to the northeast of it.

Though I missed the storm, there are many obvious effects of Fay that are still visible. After flying into Sanford, just north of Orlando, and seeing the waterlogged region from above, I crossed a bridge over Lake Jesup, the alligator haven. The homes along the shore were still surrounded by water.

And it's a good thing I didn't use State Road 46 to get back to Melbourne because that's flooded, too, and quite impassable.

I did, however, take Interstate 95 just as a strong thunderstorm hit. The clouds dumped about 4 inches of standing water into the left-hand lane of the highway. As people passed me, they sprayed water onto my car, reducing visibility to zero. I almost crashed.

I managed to keep my car on the road, but a delivery truck driver wasn't as fortunate. He lost control and drove his truck into the flooded swampy area along I-95. About one-quarter of the truck was underwater as I drove by the scene.

My house is fine, of course. The water came close but didn't enter it. My mail, which probably wasn't extracted from the box until yesterday when my former roommate came by, was soaked.

The most noticeable effect of Fay, which caused $60 million in damage in Brevard, is that it is extremely humid here now, more so than I have ever experienced. The ground is saturated with water. Really, everything is just wet.

In Maine: My hometown's last restaurant is closing

Princeton's lone restaurant draws a crowd, but not for long.

Every time I came home from college, my parents would take me out for breakfast at least once during my stay.

On Tuesday, I had my last plate of bacon, eggs and pancakes at my hometown's only restaurant. It will close Saturday.

The restaurant will go the way of the lumber mill that burned, was rebuilt, then closed about 15 years ago. It will go the way of one of the town's gas stations and the used-car dealership that replaced it. It will go the way of much of the town's population. It will cease to exist.

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Princeton, a town of about 800, was a great place to grow up. And the crowd that gathered each morning at the restaurant was made up of typical small-town people, the kind of people I would imagine myself being if I stayed to live in Princeton.

There was Bobby, whom I remember best for his keenness with the shotgun when shooting clay pigeons. I grew up to be a crack shot myself with the 12 gauge.

There was Gana, who didn't say much but would once in a while say something that would make the old guffaws break down in laughter.

Then there was me, watching them. I didn't exactly fit in, but I enjoyed their background chatter as I tried to carry on a conversation with my parents or my grandparents, who would sometimes tag along. Every now and then, something that they said would stand out and prompt a bit of a chuckle from my more staid group.

The restaurant has no name. It sits adjacent to a convenience store and gas station. The walls are metal, and the roof is nearly flat.

The dining room is antiquated. There are old wooden booths and plastic holders for the grape, raspberry and apricot jams and jellies that would be slathered onto the two pieces of toast that came with most every meal. The walls are hung with several framed photos of my father's work.

And the food is surprisingly good. The two cooks on duty in the morning slap everything onto the griddle in front of the breakfast bar. You can watch their every move, so they have no choice but to cook it right.

On Tuesday, I got the hungry man's special, which was a combination of two pancakes with real maple syrup, bacon, eggs, home fries and coffee. I wasn't quite hungry enough for the trucker's special. I can't quite remember what that was, but it was more food than I could handle.

My only complaint is that the waitress never came back over to ask if I wanted another cup of coffee. Instead, she sat down with a co-worker and ate her breakfast.

But I didn't mind, especially considering that the two will lose their jobs when the restaurant closes Saturday morning. It will be open for one last breakfast hurrah for the local crowd, then it will close at 11 a.m.

Circle K, the convenience store chain, purchased all of Irving Oil's gas stations/restaurants/stores in the United States. Irving, a Canadian company, will continue to sell gasoline at the locations, but the restaurants will close. Circle K will not lease the properties. Instead, one-restaurant towns in places such as Washington County will be left without an eatery and without a hangout where good conversation was found around a pot of coffee.

In many communities, it won't be a big deal. But for Princeton, a relatively large town compared with some of the others in the area, residents will have to travel 30 minutes to the big city of Calais or even St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Fat chance with the gas prices as high as they are.

In the future, when I head home for a visit, I suppose I'll have to settle for my mother's home cooking. That's not a bad thing, but for us and for many similar town folk, going out for breakfast was just something to do in a town with very little left.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Maine: Fun with camera during last sunset of vacation


'Tis fun to play.

After all, that's what vacation is for.

On the final night of my Maine stay, I took my camera outside of my parents' house for some experimentation.

vertical_birches_0193I wasn't impressed by the sunset, so I had to do something different to make it look better.

In the first photo, I rotated the camera through the entire 1-second exposure. The axis remains somewhat in focus, as you can see at the upper part of the bench that looks toward the setting sun. The circular blurriness draws the viewer's eye into the subject of the photo, the bench. This also worked well with a portrait of my father, but I'll withhold that photo as a family possession, as I've focused on him enough during my Maine vacation.

On the topic of my father, though: He recommended creating some sort of machine that rotates the camera around a steady axis, instead of using my inaccurate hands. This should keep the center of the image in complete focus. I have no doubt that my father can create such a contraption; he has already put together a mount for his camera that moves it simultaneously with the Earth's rotation to prevent long exposures of the stars from becoming too streaky.

Drill No. 2 was using the flash to blow away the silhouette of the trees in front of the glowing skyline. This gave details to the maple tree and the stand of white birches just along the water's edge.

Man, I should do this stuff in Florida sometime, too.

In Maine: A new old trip to easternmost point in U.S.

If some of you Southerners think the Atlantic is only green in the South, take a look at it in the background of this photo of West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec, Maine.

Way back when I was young, my parents would take my brother and I for an end-of-the-summer trip to West Quoddy Head, the easternmost point in the United States.

It was especially fun when I was in elementary school. I got a great photo one year of the surf that was whipped up by a hurricane far out to sea. It crashed against the rocky coast, and my old Pentax K-1000 film camera caught it with the signature red and white rings of West Quoddy Head Light in the background. The beacon of the lighthouse also happened to be shining when I captured the image.

This time, the Atlantic was calm, producing only a gurgle as it hit the rocks when we visited the area a few days ago. But really, the trip was like old times.

For an hour, we traveled across winding roads lined with trees and blueberry fields to get to Lubec, the easternmost town in the U.S., where West Quoddy is located. East Quoddy, in case you're wondering, is located not too far away just off Campobello Island, Canada, the famed summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

(The blueberry harvest here, by the way, has just ended. I capped it off with a hot muffin packed with deliciously sweet berries, slathered with butter and accompanied by a cup of black tea. Doesn't get any better.)

As we approached the state park Saturday, we noticed that the tide was extremely low; tides are so much more pronounced here than anywhere else in the country. Several locals had driven their trucks onto the flats and were digging for clams as we drove by. (More about clams in a later post.)

Getting out of the car as we arrived at West Quoddy's hiking trails was a shock. It was a different environment. It was 80 when we left Princeton, which is about 50 miles north, but the temperature on the coast was probably no more than 65 degrees. As a converted Floridian, I layered on every article of clothing I could find.

Though my extremities - namely my ears and hands - nearly froze off, the stroll beside rocky cliffs hundreds of feet above the shoreline and the hike over trails that led through an arctic bog were as breathtaking I can remember.

I'm sure some people would be bored with such an excursion. There's not much to do other than hike and, if you're warm-blooded, freeze your derriere off.

But we're a picture-taking bunch. The three of us each had a camera in our hands, so we were happy. The arctic bog was bursting with details - mushrooms (inset photo), leaves, meat-eating plants - that we couldn't stop shooting.

These are some photos of those details and of the scenes we captured while searching for them.

Fog, as you can see in the background, moved in, but the area wasn't shrouded enough for the keeper to turn on the horn.

The gnarly waves of the north Atlantic crash against the rocky beaches of Down East.

Single white rose.

The sun creates bluish crescents in the lens of my camera.

A stick in the mud. A symbol of my activities on vacation days when I wasn't going anywhere.

Unknown mushroom.

The lighting for these guys was terrific. I was surprised I was able to get a shot of these mushrooms without silhouetting them in front of that sunlight in the background.

Ribs of an unknown mushroom.

The holey cap of the previous mushroom.


Father photographing pristine.

These mushrooms were chewed by a squirrel, most likely.

This is the blossom of a pitcher plant, the carnivorous plant whose reservoir, shaped like a water pitcher, traps insects and dissolves them for nourishment.

Grass high atop a cliff, with the rocky coast below.

Bake apple, a common plant throughout the arctic bog through which a boardwalk led us.

Ferns are striking when combined with light and shadow.

Bunch berries are equally dashing when the sun's spotlight shines upon them.

A bumble bee lands on a bunch of wilting asters. Winter is on its way. The flowers and I can feel it. But I'm lucky: I'm heading back to Florida today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Video | The sun rises first in Maine - by a longshot

One of the greatest aspects of living in or visiting Maine is that we get sunshine before anyone else in the United States.

Curious about how much earlier Princeton, Maine, sees the sun before Melbourne, Fla., I checked out the U.S. Naval Observatory's sunrise-sunset tabulations.

Yesterday, Aug. 25, the sun peeked over the ocean's surface at 6:58 a.m. in Brevard, according to the Navy's Web site.

But in Washington County, Maine, the Sunrise County, the sun rose at 5:44 a.m. If you're bad at math, that's one whole hour and 14 minutes earlier than in Florida.

I knew that Maine had longer days during the summer because it's farther north. Alaska, after all, has the longest sunlight period of all the states.

Sunset in Florida was at 7:51 p.m. yesterday, and it was 7:20 p.m. in Maine. That means I had 43 more minutes to soak in the sun, though the temperature was in the high 60s here, as opposed to high 80s in Florida.

I woke up about 20 minutes before the sun rose over the peninsula that parallels Slipps Point, the north-south peninsula on which my parents live. This video is taken in my parents' backyard; the sunset video was in the front. It's 61 minutes of footage condensed to about 40 seconds. I used music because there was absolutely no sound; it was completely still yesterday morning.

This is what I had to grow up with: Quite a wicked view we have here, isn't it?

Monday, August 25, 2008

In Maine: Milky Way looks so much milkier here

Just a few lights from a couple of homes in the area.

As I have said, I appreciate space much more when I can actually see what's out there. Lights often obstruct my view in Florida.

The skies in Maine, though, were pitch black tonight, so I snapped a few shots of the Milky Way. I planted my tripod in shallow water just off my parents' dock. By doing that, it eliminated motion from my footsteps. More importantly, it permitted me to shoot beneath some tree branches that would have been waving around in my shot.

Actually, the tripod strategy was my father's idea, and I needed his permission to get it wet anyway because it is his equipment after all.

This exposure is 74.6 seconds, and you can see some obvious movement in the stars because of Earth's rotation, of course. The graininess is caused by the high ISO (the film/chip sensor speed standard recognized by the International Organization for Standardization), which was 800 for this particular photo. That allows more light to hit the digital camera's sensor.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Video | In Maine: Sunset, sun dog, but no Sunshine State


Sun dog.

Not that the Sunshine State has been living up to its name (thanks to Ms. Fay), but I'm just glad to get a chance to actually see a sunset while on vacation in Maine.

Working nights means that I'm usually hammering away at my keyboard, mouse and the occasional story from a FLORIDA TODAY report while the sun is setting outside the walls of my workplace.

I've seen some spectacular sunsets in Maine, and last night's, which is featured in the video, was not one of them. It was interesting, however, to see a sun dog form while the sun was dropping behind the island across from my parents' house. The video also includes some ducks, geese and boats.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Video | In Maine: Photographing bald eagles catching lunch

I dropped the video camera for one still shot of the eagle.

I've finally completed a video I am somewhat proud of.

In this sequence, we explore a wildlife photographer - specifically, my father - and his mission to get a shot of a bald eagle swooping down to the lake's surface to grab a fish.

None of this was scripted: It was approached journalistically.

My only serious issues is that the footage was shot in standard definition, and when I export the video from Final Cut, the final product has lines across it, especially in any shot with a great deal of motion. From now on, I will always shoot in high definition.

Please, give me some feedback on this flick.

Friday, August 22, 2008

In Maine: Heavenly beauty meets Earthly beauty

An adult bald eagle chills on its perch beneath a mid-morning moon across from my parents' house in Princeton.

My parents and I packed up their 14-foot aluminum boat equipped with a 10-horsepower Mercury outboard and headed out for a day on the lake, Grand Falls Flowage.

There's not much of anything else to do here in Princeton, Maine, but to fish and take photos. Because I'm too cheap to pay for a nonresident fishing license, I'm relegated to taking photos and videos.

The lake is overflowing with wildlife, giving Maine the splendor for which it is widely known. The utmost of these attractions are the bald eagle and the common loon.

Loons are rather skittish and won't let boaters get very close. My father, a wildlife photographer, had to create a bird blind with twigs, mud and an inner tube in order to get some of his best shots of loons. His most famous is the one featured on Maine's loon conservation license plate, the state's most popular vanity tag. You can see that here.

We saw lots of loons, but they were quite far off, left.

Eagles are usually more easygoing. We saw four couples around the lake, only three of which have given birth to an eaglet this year. The childless pair's nest is the closest to my parent's house - directly across the lake. They're the ones featured in these photos.

The eagles weren't too cooperative, though. We chucked some fish into the water, a generous offering for a late-morning brunch. They usually swoop down and grab the white perch, but today, they must have already eaten because they just stayed in their trees.


The perched eagle's mate came along, above, while we were waiting for one to swoop down and grab the fish. The intruder kicked the other off the tree, likely upset that they don't have any youngsters squawking around the nest this year and likely too depressed to eat any fish.

The boat kicks away some lake water.

Though the eagles were rather stubborn, it was a glorious day. I didn't once see a cloud, which is a far cry from what my fellow Floridians are experiencing back in Melbourne. We had a lunch of sandwiches, homemade cookies and Moxie, Maine's official soft drink, on an island in the middle of the lake.

Unlike the eagles, we know when there's a good meal placed in front of us.