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Archive for the ‘Nature Therapy’ Category

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As South Florida residents happily fling open windows to cool sunny days, swirling snowflakes will remind our family and friends it’s time to visit us lucky folks. Today’s post will help you guide your guests on a budget-friendly but memorable excursion. Miami deserves its reputation as a world-class destination, but it’s not always easy to show it off to its best advantage. The photo montage is to give you a taste of a Canoe View of the Magic City.

These photos were taken during excursions skirting the mangrove preserve on the west side, near the north end, of the barrier island called Key Biscayne. You access this paddling destination at Crandon Marina. You will have to supply your own canoes or kayaks; there is no rental facility at the marina. The boat ramp is open 24 hours a day, so you can paddle out whenever the mood strikes!

This location was the first saltwater canoeing Dr. Tom Kazo introduced me to, at the beginning of Wildlife Research Team in 1993. In those days, sad reminders of Hurricane Andrew’s force were everywhere, with many broken boats rudely shoved into the mangroves. We would often launch in the very early morning, but sometimes we would wait until the late afternoon and enjoy a beautiful sunset. On occasion, we could then turn the bow of our canoe to the east and watch the full moon rise over Key Biscayne. Sometimes, Tom and I would stay out until the wee hours of the morning, marveling at the bioluminescent creatures lighting up the waves, chilled by the mist rising from the water.

The old, gnarled red mangrove trees have withstood the brunt of many hurricanes. These stalwart protectors of the shoreline also fringe a championship golf course for part of the way. The peninsula jutting out into Biscayne Bay, known as West Point, is all dense mangrove habitat. As this is part of the treasure designated as the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, you and your guests may be delighted by sharks, sea turtles, dolphins both fish and mammal, manatee, rays, barracuda, tarpon, snook, glass minnow, pufferfish, needlefish, crabs, jellyfish, brown pelican, cormorant, anhinga, herons, egrets, magnificent frigatebird, and osprey, among many others.

I seriously recommend you check the weather and tides before venturing forth. When the tide is high, you will be able to paddle into cozy coves hidden behind and beneath the mature mangroves, which we made use of just the other day to escape the sun. If there is a strong wind from the east, northeast, or southeast, you can then be fairly sheltered in the lee of the island. I speak from white-knuckled experience: the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay can kick up big time! A strong west or southwest wind, combined with low tide? Pick another day, especially if you are leading a tour of guests unfamiliar with South Florida’s dramatically ephemeral weather.

To get there, take the Rickenbacker Causeway across to Key Biscayne; there’s a $1.75 toll for cars, and if you are towing a trailer, that will jump significantly,  to over $10. My advice is to strap your canoe or kayak to the roof of your vehicle if possible! Your guests will certainly enjoy the view from the causeway; and as you pass through Virginia Key, don’t let them stop at the Miami Seaquarium! Point out University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science just before you drive over Bear Cut; and then you are on Key Biscayne’s Crandon Boulevard. (NOTE: Bear Cut overpass is under construction, so traffic might be heavier.)

Keep a sharp eye to your right for Crandon Marina, as it’s close to the bridge and easy to shoot by. Make that right turn into the marina, and work your way past the parking lots and boats being launched or landed to the very end of the docks, on the left, or south end. The safest place to launch canoes and kayaks is as far away from the big stinky powered vessels and their often erratically driven tow vehicles as possible! Fee to launch a boat is $15, but canoes or kayaks are just $4.00. There are 24-hour automatic pay stations that accept exact change, or a credit or debit card; their public restrooms are about what you’d expect. “Nuff said.

Once you launch, keep to the left, where the water is shallow, so you can get away from powerboats. By following the fringing mangroves, you are most likely to see wildlife, which cannot be guaranteed; but the fabulous view of Miami’s ever-growing skyline is always ready and waiting for a photo! Just make sure everyone has stowed their camera equipment while entering or exiting their vessel, as that’s when you are most likely to drop it overboard! The sailboats moored between the marina and the small  island/rookery make first-rate photo compositions. It’s a nice relaxing paddle along the curving shoreline of mangroves, exploring the nooks beneath the old mangroves and the tiny islands. You are likely to see stacks of glass minnows flashing beneath the surface, occasionally “skipping school” as they leap into the air. Eventually you will reach West Point, inhabited not by future officers of the US Army, but by seabirds, raccoons, and crabs. Straight out from there are sandbars and tidal flats where it’s possible to get out and slosh around with the wading birds, or even picnic, if conditions permit. It’s a stunning view, always. Look for the ivory gleam of Viscaya across the bay.

West Point can be a good turnaround, or you can follow the mangrove preserve until houses appear. At one time, President Richard Nixon’s waterfront home could have been seen further south, but it was razed years ago  Although it would be quite a workout, it’s possible to paddle all the way down to the south end of Key Biscayne and the well-known Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Key Biscayne offers many other great destinations: Cape Florida’s historic lighthouse, Crandon Park’s beach, Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, Crandon Golf Key Biscayne, Crandon Park Tennis Center; and in the developed central area are hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants. Those may be for another day, though, unless the paddlers in your party are in great shape. Don’t forget the sunblock and a personal flotation device for every person in your group.

And remember, there are no two days alike on the water. Every trip will produce its own unique set of wonders, challenges and irreplaceable memories.

Thank you for your interest in Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna
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On a beautiful Miami morning, Dr. Tom Kazo and two students enjoy the companionship of a bottlenose dolphin on its morning commute down the coast.

If you are at all familiar with Wildlife Research Team, you know that since our inception, in 1993, our “trademark” black canoes have served as habitat restoration classrooms, field laboratories, mentoring corners, tool carriers, fulcrums, sleeping chambers, fishing skiffs, artists’ studios, garbage barges, ocean cruisers, river racers, swamp transports, camping conveyances, photographers’ stands, psychologists’ offices, celestial observatories, birdwatchers’ nests, tug-or-tow boats, exercise machines, scuba stations, scientist ferries, gossip containers, bravery-testing spaces, dating services, surf boards, picnic places, meditation corners, strength-building vehicles, playtime crafts, vessels of healing, hope, and enlightenment… We have yet to carry bundles of furs in the manner of French Canadian voyageurs, or Native American warriors to battle!

Every possible emotion has been expressed in our canoes, running the gamut from white knuckles on the gunwales to involuntary catnaps due to excessive relaxation, with smiles of wonder and gasps of delight in between. Our oldest passenger was 105; the youngest, born a century later. Some were millionaires; some were homeless veterans. Some were Olympic athletes; some could not walk, some could not see.

Yes, we sure can do a lot in a canoe. What a cavalcade of rich experiences. Such a simple vessel, and yet so versatile. Too versatile, perhaps, and that’s our predicament. As we ponder our Team’s future, we must choose with care the best expression of our overarching mission, which is to reconnect People with Nature in a hands-on, primary experience.

It seems to be a good idea to narrow that focus a tad, don’t you think? Let’s start with a question: who are the most important people in your world? If, like me, you are a parent, it’s your children, no question. My daughters were both in elementary school when their future stepdad, Dr. Tom Kazo and I founded WRT in 1993. Christianna and Jamie literally grew up in our canoes. Their friends were frequent passengers.

Lots of other great kids have enjoyed our Canoe View, and one of my greatest pleasures is learning about their accomplishments as adults. Our canoes have transported future Navy and Coast Guard personnel, nurses, lawyers, doctors, photographers, journalists, teachers, software engineers, artists, writers, a NOAA scientist and many more I am forgetting. Some students were earning Community Service Hours with us for scholarships; some were serving court-mandated sentences.

What a privilege it has been for this writer, to know our humble canoes have provided opportunities for these fine young people to develop into productive citizens. It keeps me going through challenging times; the certain knowledge that we have made a difference and can continue to do so. WRT seems to have created an almost magical confluence between children and Florida’s unique ecology.

So that’s the answer to this delightful dilemma of where should we now focus our resources: on this convergence of young people with South Florida’s unique ecosystem. Now more than ever, our kids need hands-on contact with the natural world, to their community’s ecology. Now more than ever, our irreplaceable region needs to be studied, understood, and hopefully rescued by the people who would like to grow up within its unique and challenging ecosystem.

Let’s face it; all of us today are overwhelmed by too much input zapping us too quickly to absorb. Attention spans shortened, sleep problems epidemic, nerves frazzled. Daily life: artificial, digitized, even meaningless. Nobody is surprised to hear on our daily dose of “news” that people of every age are suffering from noise pollution, air pollution, light pollution, pesticide pollution. Do we really want to do this to our precious children?

Happily, even as we permit technology to overpower our “analog” physiology, there is a growing body of evidence that simple exposure to the natural world restores our biological rhythms. In other parts of the country, a walk in nature can fill the prescription; but South Florida is different! Ours is a very aqueous area, hemmed in by the ocean on the east, and the Everglades to the west and south. The land in between is almost built to capacity. The good news is that it is interlaced with waterways of all sizes and WRT’s canoes have traversed most of them. Our Canoe View excursions have thus been dispensing Nature Therapy for two decades.

South Florida possesses another rich asset— an exciting assortment of first-class environmental educators. Some of them are reading this newsletter! Some of them have already been out in our canoes, usually as dedicated volunteers participating our waterway and coastal cleanups. (Thanks, folks!) And some of them have expressed regret that they were not able to reach those who needed their knowledge the most, in a meaningful manner.

So here’s how WRT can combine the needs of these three factors: our local ecosystem; our community’s children; and our frustrated environmental educators. We will do this by placing carefully selected teams in our canoes to pursue hands-on research studies of South Florida wildlife and its fast-vanishing habitat. In order to accomplish this, we will create a team-within-a-team of trained canoe guides.

Again, if you are familiar with WRT, you will know our first program was “You Point We Paddle” in which our guides were the “engines” of our canoes. Passengers were not required to paddle, which meant that people who were too young, too old, or infirm could still enjoy a Canoe View excursion.

Thus, each canoe in our wildlife research studies will be paddled by one of our trained guides, with two young naturalists-in-training per canoe. The environmental educator and Group Leader will share a canoe. The day’s lesson will be developed by the educator and WRT.

If you are such a person, would you like to share your knowledge and wisdom with a captive audience of motivated young people? Let us know!

Obviously, these will be small groups, but our results have proven to be exponential. Just a single excursion has been enough to lift a young person to a positive outlook. Permit me to paraphrase Mother Theresa; that we may not be able to do great things in our lives, but we can always do small things with great love.

Our dilemma, I hope you agree, has been delightfully resolved.

Stay tuned.

Hope to see you in a black canoe,
Donna

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This was the question the great 20th-Century business guru, the late Peter Drucker, always asked himself. It was first asked of him by a teacher when Peter was just thirteen. He said his teacher, at that time, did not expect an answer from the class. But when he and his fellow students got together for their sixtieth class reunion, each man confessed their teacher’s question “had made all the difference to him, although they didn’t really understand that until they were in their forties.”

It’s a question, I believe, that will help us to be still, take stock, and remember we don’t know the number of our days. Drucker: “It is a question that induces you to renew yourself, because it pushes you to see yourself as a different person— the person you can become.”

But how can we find a way to push ourselves, to discover within ourselves new strengths, talents, abilities? For those of us who are parents, don’t we want to be, at the least, good role models for our children, and at the best, wouldn’t it be great to be their heroes? Especially when we consider the countless allures of modern-day entertainment; parents can be, well, boring. Kids are expert at seeing who their parents really are, behind the façade of overworked human beings who may or may not yet feel they are truly “grownups.”

Parents must provide, they must do a lot of things for which they may not receive authentic, personal satisfaction. And without a sense of time passing, whoosh! their children are grown and out the door. Some may never look back. But it’s your fault if they have no reason to. Remember, one of the greatest rewards of parenthood is to get to know your child as an adult. You gave the world a gift: this high quality person! Maybe you’ll even find out why your children decided to remember you, to see you beyond your early role of Mom or Dad. You are then blessed beyond words.

Let me share with you a secret I have learned over these past two decades I’ve been a part of Wildlife Research Team: to grow yourself into a person worthy of your child’s respect, become a volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Make a point of challenging yourself! Do something new for a change! Explore another path toward self-realization as you combine your talents with others in pursuit of a greater good.

WRT has been gifted with some of the most amazing and dedicated volunteers any organization could ever hope for. These are people from all walks of life, who in another place might disagree on politics, religion, sports, or other divisive issues, but who have been willing to grab one of our canoe paddles and work in harmony with our Team for the betterment of Nature, the environment, their children’s future, Mother Earth… Every name has a special meaning to that individual, but it’s really all the same: our volunteers know they are making a difference. At that exact moment, they are doing the right thing. Tell me, is there any greater luxury to know you are doing the right thing? Not in my book.

That’s the somewhat secret idea behind volunteering: you think you are helping someone else and at the same time, you are helping yourself to become a memorable person.

However, it’s not always easy to find an organization that will really help people to feel their contributions are meaningful. Sad to say, some volunteers may even be treated like disposable units. Well, I’m here to tell you, WRT has never been like that. For one thing, what we do has an element of risk, so our people have to overcome some very normal fears. Canoes have something of a tippy reputation! What about gators, sharks, crocodiles? Yet our methodologies have maintained a splendid safety record, as set up by my co-founder, Dr. Tom Kazo.

Unbeknownst to our Team, Tom applied his professional research studies in stress and behavior to all of us (yes, me too!). He was a master at getting us to stretch beyond our previous limits. The result: we got a lot done while having fun! During our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve in Miami-Dade County, people were frequently up to their necks in tidal creeks, using hand tools underwater to cut ten-inch-diameter logs, and extracting them with great care to restore healthy tidal flushing. We matched our six grants with 10,000 volunteer hours! Ten or more years later, those good people, though now far-flung by life, look back with glowing memories. Recently, we have honored them on our relaunched website with Member Banners, along with other photos of their accomplishments. What a privilege it has been to work alongside such people! They are Lifetime Members of our Team, never to be forgotten, that’s for sure.

Wildlife Research Team pledges to provide quality volunteer opportunities to people who are seeking to realize their potential. You might be sharing a canoe with a child who needs a caring adult to simply listen without judgment. (Canoes are great for deep thoughts, reflective conversations, and mentoring, by the way.) Maybe you fall into the mud, and share a laugh with new friends as they pull you up. On a waterway or coastal cleanup, you will see for yourself the impact of trash upon innocent wildlife. You will experience deep satisfaction when your canoe is piled so high with tires and debris that you and your partner can barely paddle it! You will experience the thrill of serendipity when you see wildlife close up, not on a screen or in a zoo, but right in front of your canoe, because you learned to paddle silently.

Whoever you are, you are most welcome to paddle out with our other awesome volunteers and become a Member of our Team! You will find strength within yourself as you learn about nature firsthand. Your family, especially your children, will look at you with newfound respect. And yes, you will do something you will always be remembered for.

Would you like to learn more about volunteering and membership in Wildlife Research Team? Then please follow this Link to our website!

We’d love to see you in a black canoe,

Donna

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In the photo above, pitcher plants grow abundantly in Georgia's vast Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. Canoes are the ideal vessel to explore the wonders of this natural treasure. The inset photo is a result of the curiosity of WRT member Paul Lamborn, DVM,  who wanted to see how many insects these carnivorous plants consume.

In the photo above, pitcher plants grow abundantly in Georgia’s vast Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge. Canoes are the ideal vessel to explore the wonders of this natural treasure. The inset photo is a result of the curiosity of WRT member Paul Lamborn, DVM, who wanted to see how many insects these carnivorous plants consume.

One of the most important books I’ve read in the past ten years was Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It has helped me clarify the overarching mission of Wildlife Research Team, for one thing, that what we’ve been doing since 1993 has been to reconnect people, especially children, with nature. His term, “nature deficit disorder” put a name to something I had detected among the kids who have volunteered with us. I’ve also learned of some very cool people in its pages, and I would consider them to be kindred spirits.

Mr. Louv also wrote of Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking discovery of multiple intelligences. The first time I had ever heard of this was when my daughter, Christianna, entered her new school’s new sixth grade gifted program. I recall thinking that this was a big step forward, understanding that not all children learn in the same way. There have been too many children who suffered under the belief that they were stupid because they could not grasp the standard curriculum. Many educators have since embraced Professor Gardner’s 1983 work. He argued that basing intelligence on I.Q. testing was far too restrictive. He even linked each intelligence to a different part of the brain; demonstrating that if that specific part of the brain was damaged by injury or disease, that the individual lost that type of intelligence.

Here are Gardner’s seven types of intelligence: linguistic intelligence (“word smart”); logical-mathematical intelligence (“number-reasoning smart”); spatial intelligence (“picture smart”); bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”); musical intelligence (“music smart”); interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”); and intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”). People can possess more than one type of intelligence, or even all of them! Think about it: understand which types of intelligence you possess, and you are much closer to choosing a satisfying and productive career. Don’t we all want to understand ourselves, others, and most importantly, our children, so that we can effectively guide them? Professor Gardner’s work has been a revolution. Curious about the seven intelligences? Google “Howard Gardner” and you will learn a great deal more.

It’s his Eighth Intelligence that has greater meaning to Louv, to environmental educators, and to me, because of Wildlife Research Team. In the late 1990s, Gardner added naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”) to the list: “The core of the naturalist intelligence is the human ability to recognize plants, animals, and other parts of the natural environment, like clouds or rocks…our ancestors needed to be able to recognize carnivorous animals, poisonous snakes, and flavorful mushrooms.” However, neurophysiology has not yet been able to pinpoint what part of the brain is associated to this eighth intelligence.

“Nature smart” people exhibit behaviors such as (but not limited to): caring about animals and plants; greater enjoyment of nature walks and camping than others; sharper sensory skills, to include noticing small things others don’t; can easily name, gather data about and categorize patterns, species and objects in the natural world; collect their findings in scrapbooks or logs, or make collections of specimens; and just like being outside in nature. Career choices include marine biologist, botanist, veterinarian, geologist, zookeeper, and many more. Please Google “eighth intelligence” and you will be richly rewarded!

Gardner declares Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Rachel Carson, as “nature smart” people; I must add WRT’s primary founder, Dr. Tom Kazo, to this esteemed list. Tom’s doctorates were in Ethology and Olfactory Mechanisms (he was a pioneer in drug-sniffing dogs). His mentor, Karl Lorenz was the preeminent name in ethology, which is much like, but not the same as, animal behaviorism. As Tom explained it to me, ethology is the study of how animals change their behavior in response to their changing environment. I’ve read different definitions since, but his makes the most sense to me. That was the underlying reason he named us Wildlife Research Team. I know he would have agreed with Gardner, that he possessed “nature smarts.” I guess you have to, if you can live alone for several weeks in the Amazon jungle.

I witnessed the great enjoyment Tom could get out of his observations of nature. For one thing, he was never bored. Isn’t that what we all desire, to never be bored, to enjoy every moment of our brief lives as they fly by? Tom’s secret: pay attention to nature. Not only is paying attention free; it will reward you in return. Time will become meaningless if you can learn to lose yourself in the actions of even the smallest creature.

When we take people out in our canoes, we often have to overcome the “Disneyfication” that they possess. Everyone wants to see a hippo! Everyone wants to race! Everyone want to get there NOW!

What makes you crazy? The little things, right? Coming at you too quickly? I am here to tell you, conversely, it’s the small gentle wonders that have the power to soothe and delight our frazzled souls and overcome that false sense of urgency. I think everyone can be “nature smart” with the right experiences. Since neurophysiology has yet to link a specific part of the brain to the eighth intelligence, perhaps it means our whole brain can become attuned to nature, for the good of all beings. What we know about, we care about.

When you paddle a canoe, you are usually traveling at about a walking pace. Life these days is all about going ever faster, but are humans really made for speed? How fast do you really need to fly through your life? What are you running from? Instead of fleeing to new countries, you might find happiness and peace in your very own neighborhood by developing your naturalistic intelligence. Develop awareness of the gifts nature has provided to you.

To me, this explains a lot: why canoeing can be both relaxing and energizing. A change in perspective always refreshes, don’t you agree? So come and enjoy WRT’s Canoe View, increase your eighth intelligence, slow down to Mother Nature’s authentic pace, and get more out of your life.

Tom wrote an article about a creature we almost always see from our Canoe View, the seemingly humble waterbug. This little guy, you will learn, is right up there with the Batmobile in abilities! This article was previously published in Tropical Trails magazine in the 1990s and has just been added to our Articles Page on our website.

“They are commonly called a whirligig, water bug, crazy beetle and a host of other colloquial names. Scientifically, they are Gyrinidae, in the order of Coleoptera. For normal folks, that’s the beetle family…”

Follow this link to read “Gyrinidae, The Ultimate Sports Bug.”

Thank you for being part of Wildlife Research Team!

Hope to see you in a black canoe,

Donna

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I have a confession to make. I’ve not always enjoyed canoeing. There have been times I was shaking so badly I thought my adrenaline would never kick in. Those were the mornings when my partner Tom Kazo and I had clients for a “You Point We Paddle” tour, and the early morning seas, instead of being flat calm as they usually were in the summer, were more than a bit choppy for human-paddled canoes. I began to call them “slappy” because of the sound they make when the waves smack our hulls.

I am thinking specifically of trips when I was learning to paddle solo, and he had one, two or even three people in his canoe (he was a powerful paddler!). I’m remembering how he taught me how to cut into the waves at a certain angle for both speed and safety; you’d never want to get caught in the dip between waves and broached; meaning the canoe would roll over and be swamped.

After all Tom Kazo had raced powerboats at frightening speeds from the tender age of thirteen, over the same Biscayne Bay where we were now paddling our Wildlife Research Team canoes at about 97 miles slower per hour. He knew how to handle any type of water, could read the waves like a menu in a Chinese restaurant.

I never thought to ask him if on those slappy days he wore his fluorescent yellow shirt with the words NO FEAR across his broad back to encourage me. That man of mine was a risk-taker par excellence! But he was never foolish. Our canoes were carefully packed and in top condition. After starting WRT in 1993, we quickly adopted nine-inch-bladed double paddles from Mohawk Canoes for the power we needed when he and I, as guides, were the “engines” of our canoes. This way, our passengers could enjoy the delights of nature without paddling, gliding magically over the clear water, feeling the stress melt away.

On those choppy morning excursions, we could not paddle parallel to the shore, or risk the above-mentioned fate. Nope: Tom’s methodology was to head out at an angle, southeast, triangulating our route according to where we intended to go down the coast. Which meant that the waves would get bigger the further from shore. Wonderful.

While navigating my fourteen foot canoe through these obstacles, feeling the twist and tug of the currents and tides beneath me, my mind flashed on certain things— such as the opening credits of the WWII documentary Victory at Sea, where the foredeck of the battleship crashes into an immense wave and is completely submerged. The most comforting thought was of my dad, Captain Don McVicar, awarded the King’s Commendation and Order of the British Empire for his World War II Arctic explorations piloting a ski-plane in the service of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command, and also for his courage and flying skill in the development of the Crimson Route across the most northerly reaches of the globe, so as to deliver warplanes from North America to Europe. Along with the other brave men of the RAFFC, Dad flew many deliveries across both the North and South Atlantic. The 10,000 bombers delivered were vital to the defeat of Hitler.

To feel my father’s bravery burning in me, to give it a reason to catch fire, even in a far less dramatic way, turned my fear into fuel. As Daddy had navigated over uncharted, mountainous, frozen territory where magnetic North played havoc with compasses, and weather reports were only guesses, in my much smaller way, I navigated between the ever-changing aqueous topography. I concentrated on where to place each stroke of my paddle, that the blade would bite water and not air. Every stroke mattered. I learned that a double paddle could act as an outrigger, to brace myself!

The most terrifying moment came when we had to turn towards the shore, momentarily exposing the hull of our canoes to the cresting waves. Which, were, I have to repeat, much larger out there. How far were we out? I’d like to say, Scotland was nigh, but I could be exaggerating. Let’s just say, the curve of the Earth revealed tall buildings well inland. Like maybe, Naples on the west coast.

After about a century of floundering in the trough between a couple of tsunamis, and finally turning my bow to the correct angle, Tom would exclaim, “Let Mother Nature help us out!” and we’d basically surf back to land! With my double paddle positioned behind me to keep me steady, yes, I have to admit: it was fun! The waves actually sizzled around me. Who needs a roller coaster?

After twenty years, I’ve never (touch wood!) tipped or dumped. I’ll give Tom credit for teaching me well, and my dad for genetically passing down his courage and skill. But I’m proud of myself, as Tom was proud of me. Yet I really did it for love; there is no more powerful fuel. When I became his canoeing partner, it was to help him control his diabetes; continual foot ulcers kept him in a wheelchair for many months of the last sixteen years of his wildly challenging life. Paddling burned off his excess blood sugar, so I can state with certainty that canoeing saved his life.

Now when I paddle a solo canoe off the coast like that, I eagerly seek the slappy waves. In those early days, we’d rig up ballast in the bow so my canoe wouldn’t blow around, but as my experience grew, the day came when I preferred the bow to be light, because with enough speed, my canoe can be mostly airborne as I skip across the wavetops. Exhilarating!

Tom and I later enjoyed several strenuous canoe-camping expeditions in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge with dear friends; in my solo canoe I again challenged myself and was rewarded with wonderful memories. (Photo taken by Tom, above)

Not everyone has an Arctic-exploring pilot in their genes. But all of us have times we need courage, when our bones and muscles feel like water as we wait for the adrenaline to power up. We may never know when we’ll be called upon to overcome fear, save a life of a loved one, even to be a hero because we were strong enough. Canoeing empowered me. Not that I wish to put anyone into jeopardy! But one reason Wildlife Research Team has value is that our people have the opportunity to challenge themselves in a small way, to prepare themselves for The Big Scary Stuff that WILL come to get you when you least expect it. It’s because of experiences like this, I began to say, “Canoeing is a metaphor for Life.”

So when you pick up a paddle, and launch a canoe, you are about to experience a great combination: fresh air, restorative water, improved mood, stronger muscles, endorphins by the truckload, challenges met, fear overcome, courage and self-knowledge increased, exponentially.

Such a deal!

Hoping to see YOU in a black canoe,

Donna

www.wildlife-research-team.org

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The sun comes up. We draw the drapes. The room is hot. We switch on the air conditioning. Rain falls, unheard, washing away poisons sprayed on manicured lawns. The sun goes down. We flip on a lamp. Venture forth from the cocoon, look to the stars for guidance as our ancestors did; city lights have washed them away. We look to screens and machines to guide us. Everyday life in our civilized world. Nature is the name of a program on television. Nature, always, yields to the superiority of Technology.

And yet…and yet…as biological beings, there remains a yearning in our cells for the sensations found only within the natural world. Perhaps because of the salinity within our cells, we feel a particular longing for the ocean, for the smell of salt on a cooling breeze, the sound of waves calming our caffeine-drenched heartbeats, far horizons which rest our aching eyes, primeval crunch of sand beneath bare toes. We crave it all; we know it will restore us.

In Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, author Richard Louv explores in depth and detail what we lost when technology disconnected us from the natural world of our ancestors. “Nature deficit disorder” is the term he coined to describe what this loss has done to our children. One chilling fact: the Center for Disease Control has linked the rise in childhood obesity to the amount of time children spend watching television. Louv’s books criss-cross the globe on a thoughtful journey to meet a fascinating array of very different people who have dedicated their lives to one overarching objective: salvation of the fast-disappearing natural world. Through their stories, along with discussions of scientific research, we discover how Nature provides therapy, healing, and harmony. Lack of Nature, we learn, actually makes us sick; but we may have already suspected that. Louv takes us down the road to despair but then lifts our sad hearts with realistic optimism, workable projects, doable ideas, provides in-depth resources and contacts.

In one sentence from Last Child in the Woods, Louv crystallized for this writer much of what Wildlife Research Team has been working toward these past twenty years: “People are unlikely to value what they cannot name.” I have to agree; we care most deeply about who and what is familiar to us. When people venture forth in our canoes, they learn, first-hand, that great value resides in the waters which surround and snake through South Florida. WRT’s principal mission has always been to reconnect people with Nature, in a hands-on, primary experience, so that they understand for themselves its importance.

Our early-morning Stress-Relief excursion was one of Dr. Tom Kazo’s most beloved ideas. He knew that watching the sun rise over the ocean restored the soul, and was keen to share this wonder with everyone. No one who took him up on this ever regretted it.

Here in South Florida, most of our waterways eventually lead to the sea, and so are tidal-influenced. Yet that term baffles the average person. So to teach the tide, when we launch our canoes, we have a child push a stick into the area at the water’s edge. When we return, and the water has either left the stick high and dry, or crept toward the top, the child exclaims, “Who moved my stick?” Sometimes it takes a bit of persuasion for him or her to be convinced that it was the pull of the moon which moved the water! It’s always gratifying to see that look of understanding sweep over a young face. You hope that they are sensing, perhaps for the first time, the authentic power of Nature, power beyond the control of humanity.

Tide's Out, We're Walking This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, which is world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the water was deep enough to paddle right up to the launch site.

Tide’s Out, We’re Walking
This photo was taken during our NOAA-funded habitat restoration project at Matheson Hammock Park, world-famous for its tidal flats. It was a long walk indeed out to where the water was deep enough for paddling! But by the end of our workday, the tide had come in, and we could, as planned, paddle right up to the launch site.

Citizen Naturalists: The Missing Link

Our Dr. Tom was a wildlife ethologist whose life’s passion was the rewarding study of animal behavior. We’ve helped scientists with studies of horseshoe crabs, manatees, and water quality. In our Canoe View Classroom, teachers and students have enjoyed hands-on lessons in wildlife research. Yet our canoes and volunteers have so often been asked to instead accomplish cleanups or habitat restoration projects; at least we are sure we have saved the homes and lives of innocent wildlife. But cleanups are not enough—people need to learn about the habitat they are rescuing. So when Louv introduced the term, “Citizen Naturalist,” in The Nature Principle, I felt a missing link drop into place. “In every bioregion, one of the most urgent tasks is to rebuild the community of naturalists, so radically depleted in recent years, as young people have spent less time in nature…To be a Citizen Naturalist is to take personal action, to both protect and participate in nature.” He goes on to list many exciting projects taken on by volunteers from all walks of life, who have eagerly provided solid and important data to scientific institutions in several countries. “So let’s increase the number of front-line citizen naturalists, who count, chart, map, collect, protect, tag, track, heal, and generally get to know countless species of plants and animals in the wild, in the elfin forests of their own backyards, or the woods, or the great national parks, or at the end of an alley in an inner-city neighborhood.”

Tide's In, We're Paddling This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Tide’s In, We’re Paddling
This photo was taken from the same place as the previous one, but turned in the opposite direction. This is what happens when we can pick the best tide for an event, so that our volunteers can paddle right up to the launch/take-out site.

Or, Mr. Louv, how about along the rivers, canals, ponds, lakes, mangrove creeks and coastal fringes of South Florida? For it is within that delicate interface wildlife clings to the last remnant of habitat, there that pollution from pesticides and soil from erosion wash into the water. For twenty years, our Team has been a guardian of that fragile boundary. Now we can take a step further, teach our people about it, and help to satisfy that yearning.

So this is official notice of Wildlife Research Team’s new mission: to develop an active corps of canoe-savvy Citizen Naturalists! We are seeking sponsors to support this exciting new program, and partnerships with some of the excellent environmental educators in our community.

Can you help us? Can we help YOU?

Stay tuned!

With joyful anticipation,

Donna

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The photo  was taken during our Canoeing 101 class this past Saturday; seasoned WRT Member Craig Clark, in the stern, and new volunteer Jason Neer, are paddling next to the 595 overpass. Wonder if anyone looked down to see our black canoes enjoying the beautiful day?

The photo was taken during our Canoeing 101 class this past Saturday; seasoned WRT Member Craig Clark, in the stern, and new volunteer Jason Neer, are paddling next to the 595 overpass. Wonder if anyone looked down to see our black canoes enjoying the beautiful day?

Much has been made of the importance of teamwork. I’d be the first to get on board with the concept. After all, I am a founding member of “Wildlife Research Team.”

But the other day, after a fine canoeing excursion had successfully concluded, it suddenly struck me; the good heart and willing spirit of a single person can be exponential given the opportunity. I am happy to report, that after several frustrating years of barely making headway, WRT is on the rebound specifically because of the generous contributions of two men. They deserve special mention today.

Vinnie Tozzo has repaired two of our three trailers on his own time, with only a small reimbursement for the wheels and wiring harness of our smallest trailer. Vinnie and Tom Kazo, who I am sure you must know is WRT’s primary founder, go way back. During his precious free hours, Vinnie has welded, rewired, and installed new wheels on our trailers so that we can get back to work. What good is a fleet of canoes if we can’t get ‘em wet?

Jason Neer is our newest volunteer and is fast becoming a superlative one. He’s happy to tow our canoe trailer when he can get the day off from his full-time job. He even installed a special towing hitch on his truck just for this purpose. Saturday’s excursion was only his second time in a canoe but he’s learning fast! I hate to say it, but some volunteers stand around talking while others do the many less-than-glamorous tasks that go into a safe and successful canoeing excursion. But show Jason just once, and he gets it, which makes everything run more smoothly for all of us.

As I was thinking of these individuals with gratitude, my thoughts expanded: one person can truly make a significant difference, for good AND bad. Good names sprang forth: Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Lindbergh, Martha Stewart, Winston Churchill…Tom Kazo. At least my “bad name” list is very short: Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Napoleon Bonaparte could be added.

But even if you don’t agree with my quick list, I am sure you agree that not all of the people who have changed lives have been famous.

Think: in your own life, what ONE person gave you courage, inspired or influenced you, served as either an example to follow or one—sadly—to veer from? Let’s hope your parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members are the earliest candidates. Then, a certain teacher, a coach, an employer, a Scout leader, or a minister may have been The One in your young life, who recognized your potential and encouraged you. Sadly, our prisons are full of people who never had The One to set them on the straight and narrow path.

With both pride and humility, I can attest that I’ve been that One in a few lives. Even Tom Kazo’s, when he was at his lowest ebb as a nursing home patient in 1990, having been given a three-months-to-live prognosis. (Why is it always three months?) Uncharacteristically, he reached out for help—and I was happy, even honored, to respond. It was simply the right thing to do. Until his passing in May 2006, he went on to become The One for so many people, and of course, the animals he loved so much and understood so well.

Now, this is a great opportunity to thank three exceptional people who have been The One for me in these past difficult years. Steve Weinsier, of Allstate Resource Management, blessed me with his time, support, and mentoring. WRT Director Tom Brown kept WRT going while I recovered from my ’09 burnout. Christianna Cannon lovingly volunteered countless hours of her time and skill to build a website which beautifully honors our people and establishes our contributions to history.

There have been others who stepped up to be The One to keep WRT paddling with their outstanding financial support. A quick dash of history: we became a nonprofit in 2001; our six grants from NOAA and FishAmerica Foundation funded our five-year restoration of the hurricane-devastated Matheson Hammock/R. Hardy Matheson Preserve. These grants were closed out successfully in 2006, a few months after Tom died. With no other revenue streams, like other charities, we had to turn to the public for donations. Whether I liked it or not, on top of everything else, I became Chief Fundraiser!

I confess my first call for help was driven by desperation and panic. But I was overwhelmed by the response! If YOU, reading this, are one of those angels who donated your hard-earned dollars to WRT back then, THANK YOU. Your generosity, 2006-2009, helped WRT to accomplish over sixty waterway and coastal cleanups, providing more than 700 volunteers with exciting and educational opportunities, removing tons of harmful debris from the habitat (you can stuff a lot of trash in a 17-foot canoe and we have the photos to prove it!). Great kids, including some awesome Boy Scouts, earned Community Service hours performing meaningful tasks. I’d like to think that each person felt they were part of a great Team and gained new personal strength.

So as far as I am concerned, your donation made you The One. Your gift to us made an exponential difference.

It was the unexpected and total breakdown of our dedicated tow vehicle in December 2008 that curtailed our mission. We still lack such a vehicle; we are still held back. The generosity of Vinnie and Jason has at least let us begin again. Every journey is accomplished one paddle stroke at a time. We are needed more than ever, and we will continue to make progress…

But we need your help.

Do you have an older but serviceable vehicle to donate outright? If not, any donation is welcome and will be put to good use; like any business, we require operating capital. Remember that as a 501(c)(3), WRT can provide you with a tax deduction to the fullest extent of the law.

Since you have to pay your taxes anyway, why not have some control over where your money goes? Your donations will be put to good use in your own back yard instead of being vacuumed up, without thanks, by Washington.

Why not feel The Power of One?

To make your donation, you can follow this link to WRT’s website and our Paypal button, or contact me, Donna Kazo, at paddle4research@yahoo.com, or feel free to call me at 954.474.8194. Our mailing address is 2165 SW 83 Avenue, Davie, Florida, 33324.

All of us in Wildlife Research Team thank you for your generosity!

Gratefully,

Donna

This is the paragraph legally required of us whenever we hit you up for donations:

WILDLIFE RESEARCH TEAM, INC. IS A FEDERALLY REGISTERED 501(C)(3) NONPROFIT CORPORATION, AND IS ALSO REGISTERED WITH THE STATE OF FLORIDA TO ACCEPT CONTRIBUTIONS WHICH ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE STATE OF FLORIDA DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 800-435-7352 WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE. REGISTRATION #CH22576

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