Thursday, August 24, 2006

The events described in the Epic of Gilgamesh may have been the news of the day for the very earliest Minorcans on their island home in the Mediterranean. As the geologic battle of the Bosphorus raged from glacial melt pouring into the Mediterranean to the final burst of sea water over the land dam that filled and salinated the Black Sea we know today, people knew of and lived in Minorca. At the same time, 5,000 to 12,000 years ago, the first humans walked the savannas of Florida, our future home.

The "pre-history" (an unusual and egotistical term) is varied and dynamic. More than 5,500 years ago, a sophisticated people left behind evidence of a highly evolved culture. This included massive stone "taulas", monuments that rivaled the Druid monuments of the mainland. Large, boat shaped ossuaries called "navetes" revealed their religious nature as well. In time, Minorca became known as "Nura" to the Phoenicians, home to their God "Baul". If a maritime theme is becoming apparent, it is true even today. St.Augustine's Minorcans have always been bound to the sea, its bounties and its treachery. This caught up with the Minorcans during Roman times when Minorcan pirates raised the ire of Rome... and Rome invaded to end the plundering of Roman traders. In more peaceful times following that, Minorca was a Jewish community until about 418 A.D.. That was followed by an occupation by Vandals, who were replaced by an Islamic state by 1231. On 17 January 1287, Aragonian Alfonso III seized the island, enslaving the muslims and selling them into the history of ethnic cleansing. Our Spanish heritage was emerging. By the 1700's England had been ceeded Minorca. Minorca's strategic location made it a prize worth fighting for and Minorca was lost to the French in June of 1756. As a reward, the British Captain Byng, who commanded the campaign was summarily shot aboardship to appease British public sentiment about the loss. The French occupation didn't last long, but atleast they left with a culinary prize, the sauce of the Minorcan capital city of Mao (Mahon). Corrupted today as mayonaisse. More on that later.

The View from the Crack Shack

It must be time to go shrimpin', cause God A'mighty them grackles are getting ugly. A lot of people say Florida doesn't have any seasons. But any good Minorcan can tell you that simply isn't true. As Florida seasons change, I'll try to relate some of the tell-tale signs of seasonal change in our new Minorcan home. Grackles are lost birds. First of all, they hang out on the beach like seagull wannabees, but often with less class. They get called black birds by the un-initiated because they're black...most of the time. In the spring, when males are really in the mood, I've counted a many as 6 different colors of irridescence in their plumage. The females are a perfect mocha with yellow eyes and stingy as a smocked nun. Come August, they are just plumb ugly. Tailless, colorless and just as close to mangy as a bird can get. But, thats good, 'cause when that happens, Pure Florida and his family know it's time to go scalloping on the Gulf coast. On the East Coast, Minorcans know its time to throw cast nets for shrimp in the St.Johns River and other secret spots. By the time the grackles start to regain their splender, or at least some veil of feathers, the mullet run will be in full swing, another measure that hurricane season is at its peak. When the mullet roe goes from bloody to fat, the harvest moon will light the way to the last cast of the day. Seasons come and seasons go in Florida just like any place else, you just gotta know what to look for. God, do I feel sorry for those grackles.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Evidence of Florida's past ride the tides like a ghost in a mist.Walking the swash line at the oceans edge reveals much about Florida's slow ascent to the surface. Sharks teeth, sting ray crushing plates and fragments of bone from fish, sea turtles and unknown large creatures noisily swirl in a kaleidoscope of muted color brushed ashore with each wave. To the experienced eye, though, the deep ebony shine of fossil bone or teeth stands out from the obliterative background of tan,white, red and yellow coquina of our high energy beaches. With sea level's periodic rise and fall, the bones of marine and land species traded places over millinia. I try to imagine our new Minorcan home millions of years ago, in transition from sparkling tourist-brochure tropical islands to the vast tropical savannah of a sunburned land, broken only by the shore and mazes of dense swamp. It is certainly evidence for the tragedy of mortality when you allow your mind to run, imagining what one could have observed over the millions of years that natural forces shaped Florida in preparation for the arrival of Minorcans (or so I fantasize). The evolutional forces that shaped this ever-changing landscape prodded and experimented. With the closing of the sea between Mexico and Panama, critters from both hemispheres mingled and changed the ecology in dramatic ways. Camels, horses, sloths and mammoths thrived here until recent times, only to go the way of all genomes, extinct. There relatives only far away at the closest today. Here only their bones bubble to the surface of our beautiful springs or quietly reveal themselves in slow, dark tannin waters of our Florida rivers...and with their demise came another opportunistic species...us.

The view from the Crack Shack
Rain! Beautiful rain! I finally got a good tropical down pour to quench my parched yard. It has been a relatively cool, but dry summer for my part of Florida. And anyway, I love rain. Nothing refreshes the Earth like good, clean rain. I always wonder at the interactions of the atmosphere when the rains finally come. There is no sunny day that can claim more beauty than a warm, clean tropical rain. It comes, it goes, the land steams and life surges back into withered, dry leaves and stems. Its wonderful. Its beautiful, and I love it. Anyway, a while back someone was asking for cultural things like recipes so here's one with a heritage. Mackey Edge is gone now for many years. He was a subsistance fisherman like many, if not most Minorcans here. He made his own cast nets and lived by using a seasonal knowledge of what natural bounty would put food on the table and money in his pocket. I'll write more about his family and our Minorcan history later. This simple recipe he gave me on the beach one late-summer evening at Porpoise Point while cast netting mullet (our official animal mascot and food source).
Mackey's Mullet

Take a good, fat roe mullet approx. 2lb. (a black or striped mullet (Mugil cephalus)
Gut the scaled,fish and clean the body cavity,leave the roe in.
Salt/pepper the body cavity
Fill belly with a fat slab of smoked bacon, a pat of butter and one or two datil peppers (depending on your heat tolerance, one will make most men cry)
Wrap in foil and bake at 325 F for 30 minutes or until fish flakes.
Drink beer, eat and laugh with your family.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Florida, you know, just a little souvenir from Africa.(and you thought Alaska was a bad deal for Russia!)
So far, I have, in a very round about Minorcan way, established in 6 blogs what could be said in about 6 sentences. Basically, the same geologic forces that created the Appalachian mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, the eventual mineral source of our beach and our ancestoral island home, also created the new land that we now call home...Florida. As the cratons that would become Europe, Africa and the Americas began to split apart, they not only created the Atlantic's northern basin, but also stripped the nascent Africa of a large chunk of submerged basement rock that glued itself to the new North American continent. That exotic terrain would be the complete mess we call Florida today. As a part of the trailing edge of the continent moving slowly, but relentlessly west, the tectonics for Florida were gentle, unlike the new upheavals that created the Rocky range to the west complete with some of the most violent volcanism that has ever occurred in North America. Yellowstone is a gigantic caldera, the remnants of an explosion that we better hope we don't see again. One on the scale of continental collisions that covered the entire North American continent with dust, ash and debris. Anyway, while the West was busy blowing up, Florida was basking under a blanket of warm, shallow seas. It must have been a very beautiful, if not frightful place. As South America drifted slowly south, a channel opened between the Atlantic's growing basin and the shrinking Pacific basins. This allowed a flow of ocean waters between the Pacific and the growing Atlantic. This was where the Central American countries from Panama to Northern Mexico exist today. It must have been truly beautiful. A string of tropical islands, collared in corals and simply filthy with fascinating marine life. Florida, slowly uplifting to the surface, was much the same, lush, tropical and full of fish and waves, a full-on Minorcan dream.
Problem was, Minorcans didn't even exist then. We had to wait for the better part of another 25 million years for humans to evolve, and then we had to perfect them and become us. Hey I didn't say being a Minorcan was easy.

The view from the Crack Shack.
Ah! Hurricane season. We love it as much as we dread it (sorta like having a girlfriend, there is either a very fine line between love and hate, or maybe there ain't one after all!). There are many bad things about hurricane season, and I won't go into them, that how CNN, FOX and the other psycho news channels make their bucks. As you know, real men stand in 90 kt winds with phallic look-alikes in their hands which they talk to. REAL Minorcan men don't, we learned about that a long time ago. There's a word for it in Minorcan...bad. Or is it dumb? Anyway. I have to admit, I love the tropical sky. There is no blue like the blue of the August sky. If a gem could be made of that color and clarity, only the Gods could own one. I wish I could give one to my Mom and put one in the mind's eye of my son. The heat of hurricane season shames even the prissiest pooch. It oppresses. It drenches you. It frees you of a lot of clothes...and it breeds storms. As a member of the surfer tribe, we love 'em. No one likes destruction (we elect presidents to do that), but these huge heat engines have a very useful purpose in distributing heat within the atmosphere. Without them, the oceans would boil, biologically, and marine life would suffer. They also create waves. To me, ocean waves are the most beautiful form in nature, challenged only by the female human body, perhaps. Last week, a weak tropical wave graced the coast with a small, juicy, fun tropical swell and I had a blast.I surfed my butt off, and there ain't much there. As I sat in the lineup, waiting for a clean little wedge(a good wave for the uninitiated), I realized that this was the 40th summer that I have surfed my home break of Vilano. I caught my first waves on this very beach with Beehive and Gary when Vietnam was just exploding.I looked around, musing at the variety of surfers, male and female. I laughed to myself as I watched.I greeted an 'old timer' of 30, one of my ex-students. Sam was always nice. He still held his place in the heirarchy of dominance. You know what I mean, the one who pisses higher on the hydrant and the ones who lets'em thing. I wondered to myself how much longer he would last. I've seen so many come and go. Groms to top dogs. Then they falter and fade away. Some never return. Some try to return, but babies, mortgages and careers wash them away. But, there a few, very few, who really have the spirit that they all claim they have when there're young, fighting to the top of the peak. But we are very few. I've watched them come and go. Come and go. They blow in on the wind, howl and rage and disappear. Just like hurricane season.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Whoaa!! Last post November 2005?!?! Guess I slept in. Oh,well, let's review.
Obviously, I'm not like my brother, who blogs every day or night or whenever a man with a wonderful wife, three teens, 3 octogenarian dogs, seasonal hogs, attack chickens, farmed catfish and a job does, but I'm here now. Kinda've a zen thing, huh?

Anyway, my blogs have tried to set a background for the culture of Minorcans in Florida and especially around my home town of St.Augustine. Whether it is interesting or not, the origin of the continental structure of today is very important to the evolution of Minorcan culture. The beach,which is so central to our culture, has a very dramatic history. It created a venue for many stories which I hope to relate in time( in my case, maybe more than you're comfortable with, but I'll try to be closer to the keyboard hence forth). It's birth, like any Minorcan child, is important. Important in detail.

As our beach, the Appalachian mountains, dissolved through time. The Mediterranean home of our ancestors also erupted through violence birth. Africa's thrust into Europe caused compression and separation. The tectonic history of Italia was written during this time. The feature we call Vesuvius began to rumble deep in the Earth. The magmatic burps along the modern coast of Spain that gave birth to Minorca began and watched in awe as one of the most dramatic events of Earth's history occurred...the rupture of the ridge that allowed the Atlantic to flood the acrid basin of the modern Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean basin at that time was hell on Earth. Miles below sea level, it boiled in brines that percolated through basement rocks and deposited desolate salts on a barrens of heat and caustic wind.Then, the infant Atlantic confronted the geologic barricade and breached. The world's largest waterfall began it's cascade. A wall of saline water ruptured this natural dam, pouring from Spain to Morocco, with only Gibralter rising defiant to this day. Our Minorcan home kicked in it's womb...and a new world began.

A view from the Crack Shack
I have to make a personal statement about some passings. Aunt Rachel, though not a Minorcan, was to this Minorcan one of the most wonderful persons on Earth. She came to our village half a century ago to teach in a very wonderful, but backward place. She was one of the most caring and compassionate people I have, and ever will have, known.Her blood was not ours, but her heart and soul were. She was not a mother, yet she was mother to two wonderful boys who bear her legacy.That is a burden only the Gods should bear. She was a child of God, and joyfully surrendered herself to Him in life and death. There are children today, this moment who smile when they say her name. Children who don't even realize that their lives are better for their short time with her.

Mr.Buck also stepped from this world, moving onto larger stages and the music of angels. He was as Minorcan as a Minorcan can be. His blood lines as pure as the pristine waters of St.Johns river and as deep as the mud of the San Sebastian that runs through his home of centuries. He never spoke of his heroism, (even though he tried to teach me his sailor's spices, year after year)yet he carried the memories of battles in the World War II Pacific usually reserved for block buster movies. He was a gentle, loving father and grandfather and one hell of a cook. I may not be able to splice rope, but I know what the standard for the world's best ham and mac'n cheese is, because he cooked them for Thanksgiving and our families' reunion for over 30 years. He was a dedicated muscian who wrote many country scores and loved to play. He was an anchor in our neighborhood and dedicated to Esther and his kids. He was, quite simply, a man... a very wonderful man. We'll miss you Mr. Buck. I expect to hear your steel guitar on the northeast wind, the wind that soothes our soul, the wind of our season and the wind of our sunsets. Goodbye.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Back to the beach! Beach? What beach?
Getting back to the time long ago and how it relates to Minorcan Culture. That time is actually very interesting because the geologic triumvirate at that time mirrors the cultural reality of today. At that critical time when the Appalachian uplift came to a halt, the Mediterranean, North America and Africa (which gave birth to Florida) had all come together, smashed into a heap that only needed to wait for the evolution of humans to complete our cultural story. Somewhere about 220 million ybp, these geologic components began to drift apart.The part that would become the Mediterranean Sea began to move away with most of Africa. In the wake of this separation, the infant Atlantic ocean begin to form and fill with water. As fishermen, this would prove to be critically important to Minorcan Culture. Besides, we needed to migrate to Florida in 1768 by boat and that required an ocean to sail on. Details, details. A defiant piece of Africa, refused to leave, breaking off and adhering to North America, someday to be named Florida. And last, but not least, the magnificent Appalachian Mountains began to feel the wrath of time and what is certainly the earthly element closest to a Minorcan's heart...water (I know, I know, its a polar compound, whatever,its elemental to our culture). Slowly, massive chunks of granitic rock lost its grip and collapsed on a journey down miles of mountain side one tumble at a time. These ragged slides would have splintered into boulders that would continue there journey toward the new and morphing Atlantic Ocean. Worn by wind and water, these boulders surrendered their bulk to become stones and pebbles, washed by snowmelt and rain along creekbeds, ever toward the sea. At each stage, they were a victim to attrition of size until finally, they completed their journey and arrived at the ocean edge as sand grains. One by one, each grain of sand accumulated, flowing from the modern Carolina coastline southward in the longshore currents,to Florida to become a part of our river of sand, the beach! And, hey, what's a Minorcan without a beach? LOST! Toldya' it was related.

A (short) view from the Crack Shack
Happy Thanksgiving! Just so you will know, the first Thanksgiving among European cultures in what's now the US happened here in St. Augustine Florida in 1565, many decades before the celebration at Plimoth. Sorry, but it is a historical fact. The first Thanksgiving meal was probably more mullet and oysters, and hard Spanish barrel biscuits and than turkey. It's a day to celebrate family, no matter what its origin. It's our best holiday, and the most overlooked. I was going to boycott any business that decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving, but quickly realized that I would starve to death. Next year, I proclaim a campaign!

Monday, November 07, 2005

A view from the Crackshack
I can never understand why someone would waste a perfectly good, hard earned hangover by sleeping through it till noon or 8 am the next morning. I love my early mornings, no matter how painful they may end up. For example, last Saturday morning I got up a bit before the clucks, and stumbled into the kitchen in coffee making mode. The sun was still well under the covers, but the quiet was beautiful, broken only the tail wrapped whining of a hungry cat (that would be Yardley). The morning really didn't start too well, since I needed to grind fresh coffee and this wasn't a part of the fog I had blundered awake to. But what da' heck, its a simple process and soon the darkness was broken by the hiss and gurgle of fresh brew. By the time light leaked over the tree line and across the river into my backyard, the cardinals were in full bitch and the cluckettes were stretching their wings while the Little Buck Cluck crowed revelry. I settled into my first cup of coffee and started to piddle with fresh strawberry pancake makins', between long gazes in the direction of the pear tree where my feeding station is located. Affectionately known as the "cat feeder", it is undeservedly maligned. It mainly feeds their imagination I've seen Yardley chase a 60 lb. Shepard from the yard and run from a squirrel. Anyway, enough light leaked through the treeshadows for daybreak to be declared, the pancakes were done and the third cup of coffee was leaving a tideline in my cup. A covey of doves filtered to the ground, one by one, like falling leaves and started to pick through the manmade mast.While my attention was focused on Maple syrup, sausage and pancakes, I heard a collective shwirl of wings and Bluejay alarms. I looked up just in time to see a Coopers or Sharpshinned hawk swoop into the fray. I saw the momentary ground stop, wings and tail spread like an umbrella and then gone. Quiet. A death-like quiet, like no other. I didn't see a hit, and assummed the hunter had expended a lot of energy for nothing. I finished my pancakes, sunk the dishes in soapy water and went outside to open the shed and replenish the 'cat feeder'. As I walked past the pear tree, I saw the unmistakable sign of natural balance. There on the ground, where the wings of the hawk has fanned, was a puff of soft grey feathers. There was now room for one more Eurasian ring necked dove at the cat feeder. Yardley never even noticed.
The MinorcanMadman

Monday, October 31, 2005

A bit of Minorcan history...a bit stale, but its ours.
To understand Minorcan Culture, you need to understand where we live(lived)and how we are connected to the land...and water. I am afraid that this takes us back a bit in time. Actually, a lot of bits, but oh, well, I'll get on with it. I need to ask you to look back a few years, about 450 million ybp (years before present). At that time the first orogeny of the Appalachian mountains began. To say the least, it was a different world. No, there were no Minorcans then, just one of their favorite subjects, fish and many tasty invertebrates. This would have been the Devonian/Silurian Period and life existed for the most part, in the sea, Panthallasia. Very little land existed,and critters with backbones and plants pretty much were preoccupied with aquatic environments. The land was just unclaimed real estate. But the land could care less, it was just the land and it did what land does, it moved and collided. As the developing cratons smacked around on the liquid mantle, one collision caused an uplift. Not much, but much like a crumpled fender, the crust rippled a bit. What we call the Appalachian mountains were conceived.No, there still weren't any Minorcans yet, but we were probably a distant part of the plan or process, which ever fits your comfort zone. God only knows what else went on for the next few 10's of million of yrs, but it must have been interesting. Somewhere around 300 million ybp, a really apocalyptic collision occurred. The nascent North America, Europe (Laurasia) and Africa (Gondwanaland) had a bit more than a fender bender, they smacked into each other like Sunday afternoon Pro-football front lines, bone crushing and planet changing. The ripple we know as the Appalachians, was thrust up...way up. The gentle little hills we are accustomed to, with their occasional rocky face, went literally, sky high. They were not the soft, round, verdant hills we know today. The Appalachians soared, high, probably higher, than the contemporary Himalayas, yes, over 5 miles high. Rocky, cold, icy, tormented by violent winds, snow and earthquakes, they awed, they terrified, they loomed...and they began to die. Their death was a part of our beginning. Sorry, but we seem to have a way to go. I've written too much tonight, so the "View from the Crack Shack" will have to wait. Oh, yeah, have faith, it really is all connected (I just haven't figured it all out yet!)
the Minorcan Madman