Monday, July 13, 2020


I am a public school science teacher.
I am 62 years old.
I have taught for 32 years.
I may not return to the's difficult to write that.

For half of my life, I've taught science in rural Levy County, Florida. The last 10 years have been spent teaching on an island in the Gulf of Mexico... that's right, an island in the Gulf.
I love my work and my students and have (had?) planned to keep teaching for at least another 5 years.

The Covid-19 Pandemic and the state and county response to it has me questioning that plan.  Infections are skyrocketing here in Florida, something completely predictable back in May when the state began reopening after a brief shutdown.

Yesterday, Sunday, July 12, over 15,000 new cases were reported in Florida. The Florida 7-day average Covid-19  positive rate is just under 20% (JohnsHopkins,5am,7.13.20)

(Florida Dept of Health,7.13.20)
So it seems absurd to even consider traditional "kids in seats" school to this science guy... 
Our county, like many,  is offering 3 options and parents are being surveyed at this time as to their choice.

A. Traditional in the classroom with extra sanitation and prevention procedures.

B. Blended, mostly virtual with a weekly mandatory "in-person" session.

C.Virtual, fully online at home.

Here are some concerns:

1) Our schools do NOT start in the Fall. They start in the Summer, specifically August 10... 28 days from today. We will still be deep in this pandemic at that time.

2) Masks are optional, not mandatory. This is the simplest effective strategy for Covid-19 prevention. We already mandate vaccinations and shoes for students attending school. Both of those are safety rules. Masks are even mandatory in the military, which is full of young, fit people. 
Not mandating them reeks of politics, not science.

3) We really don't know how young children will be affected, even if the conventional wisdom says they are less at risk.
In most of the country, they've been out of school since the spring when infections were low. 
They have in effect, been out of the mix at home. That ends August 10, for parents who chose the traditional classroom track.

4) Kids infecting older family members at home. I volunteered with our school's food delivery program during the spring shut down and it was often grandma or grandpa that came to the bus to pick up food. Multigenerational families are common in our county.

5) I saved this one for last because it is the most important concern for me. My wife is a public health nursing director. Every day, she is on the frontlines of the Covid-19 fight with her team testing and contact tracing.

She and her team ALWAYS wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)  when they are testing and contacting the public. Since April, I've hardly seen her. She works late into the night and weekends trying to contain this disease.

She is tested frequently and so far those safety protocols at the Health Department seem to work. 

Without giving out her personal medical information, let's just say she falls into the "at-risk" population due to several health issues.  

Except for my age, I don't. 

The concern that keeps me worried about going back into a classroom situation is this:

When school starts I will become the weak link in her circle of protection. 

Professionally, she is doing everything right to prevent infection, and we both wear masks in public, but not at home.

What if I bring the virus home from school and infect her? 
What cruel irony that would be.

The optimist in me thinks we may have some type of vaccine by late spring. 

I'm not advocating for no school until then, but it should all be virtual, at least for the first semester, and then we assess the situation and proceed according to the data at that time.

Lastly, I am a parent of 3 wonderful kids who are all grown now.
If they were school age, I would not choose the classroom option that Levy County is offering. We would be virtual or maybe blended depending on the details of that one.

Stay safe everyone. I'll get back to some nature posts here on Pure Florida soon.
I just needed to get this off my chest.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Long Post With No Pictures About A Very Long and Weird Ride Home.

5:00 PM, St. Augustine, FL…
I start the big F-250 and back down the driveway of my parent’s home, keeping an eye on the tied down metal structure filling the truck bed. It quivers and shakes as the truck rolls out onto the street.
I had spent most of the day salvaging a small, 4 x 6-foot greenhouse frame from my brother’s house. I thought that would be an easy job… the frame is pretty lightweight after all. What I had not counted on were the tree roots that had grown over the bottom frame pieces, effectively tying it to the Earth. 
It had taken most of the afternoon to wrench it from the nearby trees embrace, but at last, it was secured to the truck bed and I was heading home.
As I accelerated onto the highway, the rusty, battered old greenhouse frame swayed with each lane change and turn. Before long, a piece of side frame snapped and dangled in the wind. Ugh, this was going to be a long ride.
Little did I know …

The ride home normally takes a little over 2 hours. I passed through tiny communities like Spuds, Elkton, and Hastings, and then over the mighty St Johns River and into Palatka.
Traffic was light and in no time I was beyond Palatka, heading west on State Road 100.
State Road 100 is a 2-lane rural highway and the scenery is mostly pine trees … pine trees in the dark at this point in the day.
I tuned into NPR, set the cruise on moderately fast, but not fast enough to destroy the flimsy greenhouse in the truck bed, and settled in for the long haul. Except for the worrisome greenhouse frame, this was all part of the normal drive home routine.

That “routine” would come to a full stop a few minutes outside Palatka.

A “clank” from behind me made me glance into the rearview mirror just in time to see a piece of greenhouse frame break free and drop into the truck bed.
"Well great..."

I looked forward again just in time to see three cars ahead of me doing a simultaneous, seemingly choreographed movement. 

One went left, while another went right, and a third went straight ahead. All of them pulled off the road … and one of them went into a ditch. I realized at that moment that I had looked forward from the rearview mirror just in time to see the immediate after-effects of a collision!

All 3 cars were stopped, and no one was getting out.

By now I was on the scene. I slowed, crept past the farthest car, and pulled over. I got out and went to the first car, a black car with dark windows that were up. 
I rapped on the window and shouted, “Are you okay?” Through the dark glass, a head nodded yes. The window stayed up.

I left car number one and headed to car number 2,... the ditch car. The front was heavily damaged and steam was billowing out from the crumpled hood. As I approached, doors opened and a young boy and an older woman stepped out. She seemed shaken and a little unsteady.

“Are you okay? The boy nodded yes and the woman did the same, but added, “I’m so sorry.” She had called 911. I left them and crossed the highway to the third car.

Traffic continued to whiz by and no other vehicle stopped during this time.

As I crossed the road, I could hear weeping coming from the open driver side window. The back of the car was crunched pretty badly.
Even though I had not witnessed the actual collision, it was easy to piece the chain of events together through the damage to each car. I’m pretty sure that the older woman struck the rear of the car I was now approaching, which then struck the first car I had contacted.

In the third car, a very pregnant young woman sat behind the wheel crying. Her husband was on the phone, calmly relaying information about her to what I assumed was the 911 operator or EMS. (He was busy, but nodded yes when I asked if they had called 911).

I asked if they were okay, and she looked at me with anguish on her face and weeping, said, “I’m pregnant with twins.”  Feeling especially helpless at that point, and knowing they were in phone contact with a medical professional, I went back across the street to check on the older woman who was on her phone and leaning against the car. The middle school age boy said, “We’re okay” and thanked me.

Far down the long straight road, I could see emergency lights on their way, as I walked back towards my truck. At the dark first car, the passenger, a tall woman,  was standing next to the car. I couldn’t see the driver, but she said they were okay. She asked about the other folks and I filled her in briefly. 

As I drove away, I replayed the events in my mind. I know I was right to stop, even though not another car did while I was there. I felt pretty helpless every time I thought about that pregnant mom to be.
I could not get her anguished face out of my head and knew my wife, Liz, the 30+ year experienced nurse would have known exactly what to do and say to soothe her.  

My skill set is limited to CPR and basic first aid, but everyone appeared to have no obvious outer injuries, so that wasn't needed.

My brain kept playing it all back as I drove and after a while, the drive returned back to normal … almost routine.

I passed through Florahome, Putnam Hall, and Melrose in short order. It was dark now and the occasional street light showed me that the greenhouse was still there behind me.

I slipped through Gainesville pretty efficiently and was now more than halfway home and heading west on State Road 26. 
Then, suddenly, somewhere between Newberry and Trenton, “Routine” took another hiatus. My phone rang. It was Liz.
“Hey, where are you?” she asked.
“Just west of Newberry”
“Can you help me with something on the way home?”

She explained that a friend of ours had called her, distraught over news she had just received.
Their adopted “farm dog” had been struck and was dead in a ditch just outside the farm where it lived. The farm is a few miles away from our friend’s homestead and age and health issues prevented either one of the owners from recovering the dog.
The thought of their beloved dog lying dead in a ditch was heartbreaking for them… could we help?

“Can you help me do this?, I know you worked all day at your brothers”

So, true confession … I let out a huge sigh... before saying, “Yes, give me directions, … and bring a shovel and that Ryobi battery-powered work light. I have heavyweight extra large plastic bags in the truck.” 

I got to the farm first and slowed to search for the poor dog. She was easy to spot, a big black lump in the green grass by the road. When Liz arrived, we bagged the dog and did a team lift up into the bed of the truck.

At the couple’s home, Liz sat inside with the distraught owners while I drove across the property to a spot the owner had chosen. In the dark, under a spreading Live Oak, I set the work light up and began to dig in the circle of light it cast.

As I lifted each shovel of dirt, I thought about the strange events of this very long drive home.
Weirdly, I had thought a wobbly old greenhouse trying to blow apart in the truck bed would be the night’s challenge. Boy was I wrong…

I widened and deepened the grave until it was a good 4 feet deep and big enough for this good old dog. I didn’t know her, but I know she was loved by the 2 people crying in the house behind me.  With the hole dug, I lowered her gently into the ground and refilled the grave. 

I smoothed the fresh dirt into a neat mound and said not a prayer, but one last, “Good Girl”... and then the task was done. 
At that moment, it seemed like every dog in the neighborhood began to howl.  The sound started slowly, more dogs joined in, it rose, and then faded away.

I leaned against the shovel, mouth wide open … Dogs, how do they know?

I tossed the shovel into the back of the truck and the light on to the seat. I texted Liz that I’m done and heading out. She says she’s staying to chat with the couple a little longer as they are still upset.

So again, I am driving home, but this time I’m only about 15 miles away and seriously, what else could happen in the next 15 minutes or so?

… and then my phone rings. It’s Liz.

“Did I leave my keys in the truck?”
“I don’t think so, you really weren’t in the truck.”
I pull over under a street light in Chiefland and rummage around for her big pink key ring.
No luck. 
I call her back. She hasn’t found them either.

I turn the truck around and head back, 6 miles to the couple’s home. We both look through the van but fail to find the keys. 
“They’ll turn up tomorrow,” I say as I pull my van key off my key ring. 
“See you at the house.”

This time, I actually make it to my own driveway before the phone rings.
Oh hell no …

It’s Liz, and she sounds happy.
“Guess what!” she says.
“I’m afraid to,” I reply.

“ I went through McDonald’s to get an ice tea and the drive-through girl said, “Hey lady, your keys are on the car hood!”

“Well, we didn’t look there,” I say as I open the house door.

Bear is there to greet me with a shoe in his mouth, his tail wagging so vigorously that his sister Coquina is squinting as he whacks her face over and over. I get down on the floor and hug both of them tightly.  I can feel routine seeping back into my body.

Home at last.