Thursday, August 16, 2012

Family in Florida

Saturday pancakes
Three kids rush in the door with bags full of candy that they bought with their “Bible dollars” from Camp Extreme.

Rhys, the youngest of the 3 screams, “Hi Sunnye!”
“Hi Rhys!” I exclaim.
Suspiciously, Rhys inquires, “How do you know my name?”
“You just look like a Rhys.” I say.
“Oh. Do you have any Skittles?”

What would Jesus do?  Clearly, Jesus would eat Skittles.
Bat Hugo with Rhys

Since entering my full-throttle, vagabond lifestyle, I have waded through waterfalls, taught kids about sea turtles & whales, and seen my first sperm whale in Dominica. I have experienced the worst turbulence of my life over the Alps. I have learned how to drive stick shift and hung out with baboons in South Africa.  I have swum with dolphins, taken my first helicopter ride and seen my first whale shark and manta ray in Mozambique. I have renewed my love for rocks, had a close encounter with wild horses, been to the driest vineyard in the world, walked with penguins, eaten 75 oysters and hiked the dunes in Namibia. I have given the scariest and best speech of my life at my brother’s wedding and run the 10K Pride Run in Los Angeles, CA. I have hiked 8 miles along the beach, saw my first rattlesnake and received my yoga teacher training certification in Baja,Mexico. I have reunited with old friends, taught my first yoga class at a warehouse that assembles guitar amps, and renewed my love for margaritas, peacocks, and alligator gars in Houston, TX.  And the adventure continues in the exotic coastal village of Tampa, Florida.

Sunnye, Kristi and a giant horchata at the Taco Bus
Why Tampa, you ask?  I have family there. Someone told me recently that you can’t choose your family and my response was…  “The hell I can.” So, I went to visit a chunk of adopted family members known as The Bennett’s.  I have known the Bennett’s for about 12 years when they were just 3 (Rick, Kristi and their dog, Marley).  Since meeting them in Houston, living near them in Boston and now visiting them in Florida, they have grown to 6 with the help of their kids: Gillian (10), Aedan (9) and Rhys (5).  As a side note, I was present for the birth of Aedan so I feel particularly indebted to Rick, Kristi, and Aedan for allowing me to witness such a life-changing natural event!

To borrow the phrase from my former supervisor, the Bennett household (especially when adding me and my dog, Hugo to the mix) is in a fairly consistent state of “controlled chaos.”  There were so many hilarious things said during my two-week stay. I tried to capture a good sample:

Gillian: “I don’t have time to play Minecraft (iPhone game) every second of my life! Aedan is being dramatical.”
Kristi: “Is Dramatical a word? (No answer) IS DRAMATICAL A WORD?!!
Gillian: “No.”
Kristi: “Good. I was testing you. Now, go apologize to your brother.”

Rhys: “Sunnye, next time will you tell us a story from your mouth and not from your computer?”

(After bring on the toilet for several minutes…)
Rhys: “I think I’m pooping.”
Kristi: “I know when poop is comin’ outta my butt. So you better know too.”

Aedan: “You know what I say? When something is broken, you should just break it more…or sell it at a thrift store.”
One of the many formidable Florida thunderstorms

After Gillian played with my Blackberry for several minutes, I later noticed that I had a few texts and a missed call from Katniss Everdeen.

Sunnye: “You spend way too much time on that brain-sucking iPad.”
Rhys: “But I love the brain-sucking iPad.”

To satiate a desire to manipulate a 5-year-old, I had the following conversation:
Sunnye: “Rhys, will you buy me dinner?
Rhys: “No!”
Aedan in Padmasana
Sunnye: “But why not? Pleeeeaaase?”
Rhys: “But I don’t even know how to buy dinner!”
Sunnye: (curling her lip looking helpless) “So, I don’t get to eat? But I’m so hungry…”
Rhys: “Ohhhh, you always make that face. Ok, fine I’ll buy you dinner, but I don’t even know how.”

We shared meals, watched movies, went to the beach, hung out with cool neighbors, drank craft beer served by hipsters, and dodged thunderstorms. Two of my favorite activities were morning runs with Hugo and yoga practice teaching with Kristi. Aedan even took about 20 minutes of instruction from me and retained a shockingly large yogic vocabulary in that time. Adho Mukah Svanasana, Dandasana, Tadasana, Balasana, Urdhva Mukah Svanasana, Samasthiti. His mind was a steel trap for Sanskrit.  


Watching the gators
Brainstorming story ideas on the Weedon Island boardwalk
Leaving the shells & taking the trash at Shell Key
During my second week I held the 1st Annual 2012 Sunnye’s Movable Ecology Camp with Gillian, Aedan, and neighbor, Julia as my first campers.  I looked back to my ETL grad school journals for planning and guidance.  I created mini field guides of Florida birds, butterflies & insects, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and trees.  Over 3 days, we visited 3 sites: John Sargeant Park near the Hillsborough River, Weedon Island in Tampa Bay and Shell Key, one of the barrier islands near St. Pete. 

Gillian was a genius storyteller, Aedan was a master birder, and Julia was the frog finding princess. We found tiny toads peppering every trail, alligators meandering in the creek, herons and ibises perched in the mangrove and cypress forests, gopher tortoises digging burrows, raccoon scat filled with seeds and crab claws, plastics on beaches, and a love for snorkeling even when the visibility was crap.  We wrote in our journals, did leaf rubbings under a pavilion while the rain drenched the world around us and even got a wee bit lost on the Boy Scout Trail at Weedon Island. We got tired and thirsty and refused to eat our sandwiches, but we created stories from our experiences all the same. 

Despite the rain that came every day, we had fun and we hiked a total of 6 miles to boot. We had dinner, a slide show and read our stories aloud on the last night. And as graduation presents, I gave them goodie bags donated by my friend, Cheryl who works for NOAA.  Aedan was so excited about his new water bottle and North Atlantic right whale figurine that he decided to build his own right whale out of Legos. Can your iPad do that? I didn't think so. As far as I know, there is no (nor will there ever be) an App for Nature or Family.

1 comment:

  1. SUNNYE! my sister! yes. my sister indeed. i LOVE you. and if we ever have a house big enough to escape the controlled chaos we would love for you to live here with us. or maybe in our awesome guest house in the backyard that will be fashioned out of an old airstream...