Monday, May 25, 2009

My sister and I answered an SOS from my dad about a month ago. His wife of 16 years was struggling with memory issues and he needed help getting from Florida back up to their house in New Jersey. He sounded anxious. We got to Vero Beach, Florida 3 weeks ago...

Jean Baker & "Buck" Newsom 5/2009

Vero Beach, Florida lies along a narrow strip of land, flanked on one side by the Atlantic ocean, and on the other, by the Indian River. Once a vital, teeming estuary for fish, birds and copious other wildlife, it has since surrendered much of it's wilderness to gated communities harboring well-heeled snowbirds. But, to paraphrase William McDonough, whenever Nature is given a chance to take root, it does so magnificently. The trees surrounding my dad and step mom's condo here in the Sea Oaks gated community chatter with life. Tree frogs, geckos, green anoles, crested anoles, song-birds, butterflies, cicadas all trade shifts, keeping the racket up 24/7. Literally next door, a 300 acre reserve is as vibrant today as it was 200 years ago. Florida panthers, chimeras from a wilder time, cross paths with hikers, barred owls stare down from daytime roosts awaiting night hunts, and shy gopher tortoises dive down burrows, trying to avoid the locals, who eat them.

Into the Reserve 5/2009

A short boat ride on the Indian River brings you face to face with manatees, porpoise, mullet leaping to avoid becoming meals for Redfish, flocks of black and white Ibis, herons fishing from every low branch and pairs of Osprey warily circling nests. Most of this is only of passing interest to my dad and his gal, two Snowbirds who've made Florida their winter retreat for 15 years. Yes, they're older now, both dealing with their own varieties of mental illness, but even in their younger days they were always pretty content focusing on tennis, sitting pool-side, and having dinners across the highway at the club.

Jean Baker

"Buck" Newsom 5/2009

My sister, Ginny, and I showed up here 3 weeks ago, thinking we were going to be moving them up to New Jersey for summer. But 5 nights ago, my dad, who'd been struggling to keep everything together suffered a major emotional breakdown, and had to be hospitalized. He's home now, but his mental health careens wildly from one moment to the next. Jean struggles to pitch in, but her Alzheimer's makes the process complicated- a non-stop "Groundhog Day" in which her reality needs to be constantly updated, and the decline of her mate puzzles her.

Jean, the night dad stayed in the hospital

Anyway, in the rare moments when I can shoot, I do. While I haven't bothered to chronicle the wildlife, I have been using the time to record the late night vigils between my sister, Jean and myself as we've had to get dad into and out of hospitals, do the delicate dance with medications, and find our way through this time of family crisis and connection.

Ginny & Beer.

"Buck" Newsom.

Also, in an odd twist, it turns out one of my best friends from high school lives 10 miles up the road, where the land is so narrow you could almost heave a rock from the ocean to the river. Matty has been a livesaver, picking us up on the river, taking us out in the boat, providing us a glimpse of the teeming wilderness carrying on around us while we humans work through our little dramas.

Ginny and Matty, on the Indian River, somewhere near Vero Beach