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As above, so below. As within, so without. The Emerald Tablet, circa 3000 BC

Some of you who stop by this blog and my Author Page know that recently, we said “good-bye” to my younger sister, Manette. She helped me to launch this blog back in 2010 and I’ve written a tribute to her each year on the occasion of her birthday. I thank so many who’ve reached out with kind condolences for my family. These days, we spend a lot of time reminiscing – I’ve poured over photos and so many cards and letters she wrote me in the early 1980s, long before texts and posts were possible.

One memory stands out, however,  a story I’ve never shared for fear some would think I was just a “Story” teller. But this true experience still resonates and has special meaning for me these days, especially.

Back around 2010, my husband and I began renting a home in the heart of Big Pine Key, about an hour east of Key West. We loved that house situated on a lagoon with the front yard facing a nature preserve filled with gentle inquisitive tiny Key Deer. We also love the memories formed there as we had so many visitors.

On one occasion, my sister and her husband David, came to spend some time in Big Pine. During her visit, my sister gave me a copy of the bestselling book The Secret. Written by Rhonda Byrne, it took the publishing world by a storm, selling zillions of copies. Published by Atria/Beyond Words in 2006, The Secret basically recounts the history of positive thinking, encouraging readers to visualize that anything is possible. The book has been embraced and scorned by many.

While I found no harm in reading the thoughts and quotes of many great minds joined in positivity, there was a great deal of doubting and much fun was poked in the direction of Manette, and myself, throughout the visit whenever the book was mentioned.

One of the practices suggested in the book is to visualize an object in your mind and this “thing” will manifest (ex. a coin on the ground, a white feather, a winning lotto ticket?). I recall thinking this was ridiculous, but I played along and visualized white pebbles. This was absurd, however, I realized because the entire front yard of the rental house was filled with millions of little white pebbles. Brilliant!

After my sister and her husband departed, I was out walking our late great Portuguese water dog, Hooper, when a pack of four young kids began circling us on bikes; they looked to be between ages 6-12. They spoke with a twang and told me they were from a town on the Georgia-Florida border. The oldest, a boy, proudly showed me his pocket knife. They were intrigued with Hooper and “our” house and asked for a tour. Not knowing these kids, and it not being “my” house, I had to decline. We talked for bit before they rode off to their own rental down on the end of the road.

The next day, the pack returned. It was Sunday and the family, who had rented a house just for a long weekend, would be leaving later that day. They played with Hooper and talked to me for a while then as kids will, got bored and pedaled home. The youngest, a quiet little girl stopped, however, and reached for something on the ground. She reminded me of my own sister, petite, brown-haired with blue-eyes – quiet. She circled back to me and when she returned, I inquired about her family for some reason. “Is that all of you?” I asked pointing in the direction of her siblings. She answered with a sad nod and told me that she had recently lost her only sister, the eldest sibling. I told her I had lost a brother just a few years earlier and knew how she felt. Then she held out her hand. “These are for you,” she said. She opened her small palm to reveal two small white pebbles. I was too stunned to speak. I just watched her ride off to join her brothers and sisters. I never saw them again.

I found those pebbles early this year, high up on a shelf next to a tiny angel-winged figurine of our late great “Hoop Girl”. Then, I found my copy of The Secret and reread what my sister had written to me several years ago, her words more meaningful than ever.

Secret

I can’t explain why certain things happen. People may think that I imagined this (my husband saw those kids) or say it was just a coincidence, but I like to think that everyday we are privy to small “secrets” that let us know everything really does happen for a reason, and these “small” moments let us know that everything will be okay.

Thanks again. Stay safe in the storms. Spring is near.

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Michele Adams came to Big Pine Key via Los Angeles in 2001, her Lab-mix, Bubba, in tow.  Upon her arrival, her goal was to  establish a cage-free doggie day care facility in the Lower Keys.

Along the way, however, her life took another path, and soon, Michele, with a background in the food and drink industry, found herself working at Little Palm Island, and later as a sales rep for a fine wine distributor.  However, Michele, a trained dog behaviorist, would eventually find a way to combine her love of wine, water, food, and animals in a way that would benefit her own dogs, Fathom, and Coral (Bubba passed of old age three years ago) and other canines that called Big Pine Key home.

Together with fellow dog-lovers  Amy Bressem, a Production Technician with the News Barometer, and Sandra Tuttle, a local realtor, Michele set out to develop a dog park in Big Pine Key.  “We got tired of having to travel up to Marathon’s dog park (opened in November 2009) or to the one down in Key West to let our dogs run off leash,” explains Michele, the President of the Big Pine Bark Park board. 

To that end, this board, along with a bunch of dedicated volunteers, have been busy raising funds to make the dog park a reality.  Michele and her group hope to be able to fetch the twenty thousand dollars needed to get the park, and its dogs, up and running by the end of this summer.  With fun events like a Nautical Flea Market, yard sales, and a Super Bowl Party, Michele is confident that the dogs of Big Pine will be running free on schedule!

To-date, only  $2,500 has been raised, however, an upcoming event at Boondocks promises to be fun and successful.  On April 11th, five bands will perform, and large ticket items like a weekend at the Casa Marina Resort, a car, a pair of kayaks, and a boat, will be among the big ticket  items to be auctioned off that day.   “This event should easily bring in $10,000 towards our ulitmate goal,” says Michele.

And what will $20,000.00 mean to the dogs of Big Pine Key?  According to this dog-loving fundraiser, a well-maintained, fully fenced dog run complete with signage, pavers, and its own source of water.  Michele points out that the Big Pine Bark Park aims to be a gathering place for well-behaved canine citizens that can socialize off-leash in a way that makes them, and their humans happy when all rules are followed.  In this case, the park is located on private property, and after gaining approval by Monroe County, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, most obstacles have been overcome.  The board is working closely with the former to make sure those who enjoy the priveleges of the dog park co-exist in balance with local wildlife, including the Key deer population.

Other events planned include a Bake Sale on May 1, and a Fishing Tournament to be held in conjunction with Reef Light Tackle of Big Pine Key May 22-24th.  It’s always great to see people coming together to make their community a better place for animals, and the humans that care for them, during National Dog Week, observed the last full week in September, and the other 51 weeks of the year. 

 A yard sale to benefit the Bark Park will take place this Saturday, March 27th, from 7am to 1pm at the Watson Field in Big Pine Key.  If you wish to donate items for the yard sale or the event at Boondocks on April 11th, please contact Michele at 305-849-1270 or Amy at 3o4-0708 or reach them at BigPineBarkPark@aol.com.

Okay, usually I sit down and carefully outline my postings.  But today, after enjoying a very warm, balmy Sunday on the beautiful beach at Bahia Honda, I just think I’ll wing it.  My days here in the Florida Keys are numbered, and I am appreciating quality time spent with family, so please excuse me if I just sum up some of the “events” of the last few days.

The other day, we took my nephew Zac to the Blue Hole in Big Pine Key, a special place I wrote about just a few days ago.  It’s always fun to share a favorite little sanctuary with another nature lover.  While there, we listened to a volunteer speak enthusiastically about a place he cared so much about.  While we waited for the “new” alligator to make her appearance, we watched as a variety of rather large turtles competed for prime sunning space on a large rock right in front of us.  Zac, with the smart ass humor of a 28 year-old said, “hey, you can put this in your blog!”  So here I am, doing just that. When we asked about the resident alligator, our volunteer explained she was doing well, and had even managed to attract a mate who is rumored to be a big guy.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, neither one made themselves available for our viewing pleasure.

Yesterday, we enjoyed watching pelicans, and egrets fish in a tidal pool at the end of the road, and then we were greeted by a young iguana sitting on our fence.  And don’t forget about those adorable tiny Key deer that can jump out of the forest at anytime, without warning.  Hooper likes to chase them if she gets the opportunity, but that is not encouraged, and it is not safe.  A neighbor told me that recently, a deer delivered a swift kick to a beagle’s head, causing a concussion.  It’s always wise to keep a dog on a leash no matter how quiet a place seems.

And of course, Hooper is enjoying her extra long walks here, free of the snow and ice she was becoming accustomed to up north this winter.  Yesterday, walking down the road, I was telling my sister how dog-friendly this place was.  Then, as if on cue, a large car rolled up to us.  The driver, a man, rolled down his window and asked if Hooper was a Portuguese water dog.  I confirmed that she was, and he said, “she looks awfully thin, don’t you feed that dog?”  Then, with a big smile, he tossed a large dog biscuit at her paws, and drove away laughing.  Yesterday, Hooper quietly met the mail woman as she deliver our mail.  Before leaving, she tossed a Snausage toward my appreciative dog.  Earlier that day, a sweet older couple offered Hooper a dog treat as they walked past us.  I think Hooper is coming to expect this treatment around every corner!

Around the corner from where we’re staying, there is a miniature “tiki bar” structure in front of a house.  The sign on it announces, “Dog Watering Hole.”  It seems in this place, a dog can have a hang out of its very own.  Big Pine Key always brings surprises, and an opportunity to enjoy a place that is so unique, it really puts the “vacate” in vacation.

But as relaxing as it is here, it also presents a great opportunity to write, and that is something I certainly have done.  My recent postings on HARO.com (Help A Reporter Out) have  introduced some interesting and knowledgable contacts, providing some great inspiration, and information for my National Dog Week project.  Some days all it takes is an enthusiastic “follower” to keep me going as I try to wrap things up. 

Just down the road from here there is a key called No Name Key, with its famous No Name Key Pub, with its walls covered with thousands of dollar bills.  So, in the spirit of a place that just never got around to naming itself, I leave you on a carefree note at the end of a perfect weekend.

Note to David, we really have missed your return visit.  Hope the tree clean up from that nasty storm is going well, and that you’re using this “quiet time” to keep up with the business of polishing those novels.

Big Pine Key, Florida,  is a special place.  Twenty miles south of busy, built-up Marathon, and about a 40 minute ride south to bustling Key West, it has a unique rythym of its own.  When visitors make their way down here, they ultimately ask,  “How on Earth did you find this place?”

Those guests expecting the action of Miami, or the beaches of Boca Raton might be in for a let down.  Here locals, and visitors, adhere to a strictly enforced speed limit of 35 mph that helps to protect those tiny Key Deer that keep popping out of the woods.  Our rented 2 bed/2 bath cottage sits high across from some of those dense jungle-like woods packed with vines, palmettos, and big (and little) pines.  Just beyond those woods, a coral dessert opens filled with sun-bleached, twisted driftwood, a landscape that is stark, and mysterious, something straight out of a National Geographic Magazine.  In the evening, we are serenaded by the chirping of crickets, soft breezes rustling palm fronds, and screen doors slamming.

And the area attracts people, and their dogs, from all areas of the United States.  My neighbors include folks from Michigan, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Montana.  And of course there are those who live here year round.  Some of these locals stand out for me, a little weathered by the sun, and their daunting task of trying to make a living in an area that has been hit by tough economic times.  Their lives contain seeds for short stories, and novellas.  It’s no wonder so many writers are inspired to write while spending time in the Keys, and why so many of those books become classics.

When it’s time to shop, we drive a few miles to “Winn-Dixie Town,” the main shopping center for Big Pine Key, and surrounding areas.  It is also known as “Winn-Chicksie Town,” as shoppers are often greeted by colorful wild Roosters, hens, and their little chicks as they run about the parking lot!

Up the road, you’ll find the Blue Hole, a pristine fresh water pond and nature sanctuary.  Unfortunately even professional wildlife conservationists cannot keep all of  the wild residents safe, however.  A few years back, a pair of alligators inhabited the Hole until a couple of young men lured one of the gators, beat it to death, and posted the episode on the internet.  A few years later, the remaining alligator choked on a child’s plastic toy that had dropped into the pond.  All it takes is a few stupid individuals to deprive thousands of others from learning about nature, and this special environment.  No matter what you think about gators, it was a great loss to the people of this area.

As I write this, I watch across the lagoon as Killian, a Border collie, paces back and forth, protecting his territory.  German shepherds Logan, and Koda, stare back, barking occasionally as if to protect us all from those terrifying tiny deer.  As the weather warms up in the coming days, Hooper will get a chance to swim down off  Blimp Road in Cudjoe Key.  She’ll splash among kayakers, and mangroves, and an occasional Ray. 

While these dogs enjoy good and loving homes, all is not the case for local dogs.  A friend of my husband’s told him about a woman in Summerland Key who seems to be going around depositing homeless dogs on people’s property.  Of course I will follow-up on this story as it intriques me.  Is she so upset about the number of abandoned dogs that she is literally taking it upon herself to play matchmaker for dogs and humans?  Stay tuned for more on this.

I am sure Captain Will Judy, founder of National Dog Week, would commend her spirit, but there can be dangers involved in playing God when placing these dogs in this manner, ultimately doing more harm than good.  But there is a part of me that would love to hear that some of these forced matches worked out, and makes me keep checking our backyard to see if we have been become a recipient. 

My question of the day is, what would you do if this woman chose your home for one of these dogs?

Hooper, Rich, and I arrived in Big Pine Key, Florida this morning.  The locals are complaining about the 60 degree temps, while my family back home in New Jersey learns to cope with twenty plus inches of snow with more to come possibly on Wednesday.  Big Pine Key is just about thirty minutes north of Key West, and the home of the famous tiny Key Deer.  Today I became acquainted with some of the newest additions to the native deer population , not much larger than your average yellow lab, and Logan, the white German shepherd featured at the top of my photo gallery also known as the  “wall of woofs.”  Logan is a shy guy, but  I am  determined that we will be best buds by month’s end.  I  am also hoping to get to know the five dogs that have moved in next door since our last visit here!  Yes, the Florida Keys are definitely “Dog Country.”

All this talk of snow during the month of February has really hit home.  Last year, I completed my first Young Adult novel fittingly titled, Full Snow Moon.  Native people named their full moons for seasonal occurences.  As the month of February typically brought about the heaviest snow of the year, they named that month’s full moon the Snow Moon.  My book tells the tale about the spirit of a young man that perished during the “Blizzard of 1888” who, in the February of 2004, comes to the aid of a young man during a modern day snowstorm.  The spirit then recruits the teen to help save the spirit’s boyhood home from the grips of a greedy land developer, ultimately leading to a discovery of historic importance.  That legendary storm is still the most destructive storm ever to hit the East Coast.  While today we have all kinds of technology to warn us of impending danger, back then, over three hundred people who did not, perished.  It kind of puts things in perspective.

In this semi-tropical  land where it never snows, I will endure temperatures that will barely go below to 70 degrees, and try not to suffer!  While a total of ten or so local  dogs serenade me, I will hunker down and return to the business of writing for their benefit, inspired by their messages of encouragement.  They seem to be saying, “Write away, write away, National Dog Week needs you!”  So I will be inspired by their yelps, and yips, for they remind me about the way we humans just can’t seem to live without them.  

As I suffer from Olympic withdrawal, I look forward to March madness when those Lady Huskies will make me proud to be a UCONN grad.  Those players are definitely a special breed, the ultimate “working dogs!”

Hooper

"Is it dog week yet?"

"Is it dog week yet?"

Michelle Mongelli and Wheezey

Pike, at Geiger Key

Hooper in the Keys

Hooper in the Keys

“Two Culprits” by Steven Hall

Logan & Koda

DJ

DJ Goes to Westminster

Zac and Cooper

"Look daddy, I can fly!"

“Hooper” – Best in Snow

Pita in Matt’s Garden

Hooper with cousin Roxy, Summer 2009

Me and my “Hoop”

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