On Christmas Eve 2009, George Trosset went surfing dressed as Santa out back of his beachside residence in Cocoa Beach, Fla. His son and daughter-in-law dressed up as elves. The local newspaper published a picture on the front page of its Christmas Day edition. When Trossset's buddies spotted the picture, they asked about joining in the holiday spirit. The following year 19 turned up to hit some gnarly waves.
Flash forward to 2016. Surfing Santas is a full-on, mega event. As the sun poked in and out of high clouds on Christmas Eve early morning a steady stream of 772 Saint Nick costumed surfers (topping 648 in 2015) grabbed their surfboards and carved the waves, while an estimated 8,000 spectators poured onto the sand near Coconuts restaurant in Cocoa Beach.
Dressed in themed outfits – Frosty the Snowman, Santa and Mrs. Claus, gingerbread men, reindeer, elves toy soldiers and other holiday characters-- the spring-break type throng stretched out over two city blocks. They stayed for hours entertained on the main stage by the surf-roots band The Aquanauts, Balsa Bill singing Mele Kalikimaka on the ukulele, and the Brevard Hawaiian Dancers.
If you have visited Yellowstone Park you understand its natural beauty and majesty. Spanning just under 3,500 square miles, Yellowstone is mainly situated in Wyoming, though parts stretch into Montana and Idaho as well. “Old Faithful” erupts like clockwork every single day, but there are also hundreds of smaller geysers and pastel hot pots bubbling and gurgling under a blanket of steam.
But behind all that spellbinding scenery is the fierce political battle over wolves inhabiting the park. In 1995 thirty-one wolves were trucked into Yellowstone from Canada, after being hunted and cleared from the park nearly a century ago. Today, their numbers have grown to 10 packs (several hundred wolves) vying for control of the stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley. In recent years threats from hunters and trappers has intensified, pitting ranchers against conservationists and prompting some states to permit limited wolf hunting again at certain times. The wolf reintroduction has ignited a battle of the very soul of the West.
These forces collide in the stellar new book American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West ($28, Crown) , a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West—between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes. More than four million people visit Yellowstone annually, and wolves are one of the main attractions.
With novelistic detail, author Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. The matriarch of the Lamar Valley, O-Six is uncommonly powerful, with gray fur and faint black ovals around each eye. she is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. Beloved by wolf watchers, O-Six becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world. Still, the moment O-Six lopes on to stage, you get the uneasy feeling her fate is tied to the political strife around her.
Shaped by a love of the sea, sculptor Cathy Ferrell's ancestors date back to the early settlers of New England.
"We trace our roots back to the Plymouth Colony in the early 1600s," says Ferrell. "They were seafarers who earned their living in whaling and shipping, and as merchants and bankers. So, I guess I have some of those genes. From an early age I was drawn to the power of the ocean and all its magnificent wildlife and sea creatures. My life and my work revolve around themes of nature."
On a wind-swept, stormy afternoon I paid a visit to Ferrell and her husband Tuck at their splendid home that sits on A1A a few miles south of the Sebastian Inlet. In her light filled lower level studio, Ferrell's detailed portrayals of dolphins, fish, great blue herons and sandhill cranes are evidence to the physical world she inhabits residing between the ocean and the Indian River, surrounded by the Archie Carr turtle refuge.
Deliberate and exacting in her work, Ferrell captures the essence of her subject in a pleasing and joyful way. Her passion, spirituality, and enthusiasm abound. One of her most widely exhibited works is Abaco Hogfish, circa 1999. First carved in strawberry alabaster and later produced from a mold made from the carving, it was cast in multi-colored patinas of bronze.
"I anchored my sloop in the cut of Double Breasted Cay in the Bahamas where the ledges and reef had a group of hogfish that were fascinating to watch," Ferrell recalls. "They were very curious creatures that colored up when they were excited or feeding. When I went into the water they kept bumping me in the arm as if to say, 'hey, pay attention to me.' The shapes, colors and cheery attitude stuck with me, and became a sculpture."
Earlier this year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced it downlisted the Florida manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.”
In its review, the feds considered the status of the roly-poly West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) throughout its range, which includes the Florida manatee subspecies, found primarily in the southeastern United States, and the Antillean manatee, found in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Greater and Lesser Antilles.
Gentle giants sporting whiskery faces, the Florida manatee have large, seal-like bodies that taper down to powerful flat tails. Averaging nine to ten feet in length, the "sea cows" weigh around 1,000 pounds but can grow as large as thirteen feet and weigh 3,000 pounds. They have a pair of agile forelimbs that act like arms or flippers to help them maneuver where they graze slowly on plants in shallow waters along the state’s coast. Slow movers, most of their time is spent eating vegetation (100-150 pounds per day), resting, and traveling.
Driving along Highway 50 you feel as if you've been transported into the middle of an English countryside where low stone walls gracefully wind through rolling pastures that stretch to the horizon. Hay bales dot the landscape. Welcome to the heart of Virginia’s horse country.
Forty miles southwest of our nation's capitol, the tiny community of Middleburg (pop. 750) is set in the lush foothills of the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains. In 1750 an enthusiastic 16 year-old named George Washington came to survey the surrounding lands. More than 200 years later Jackie Kennedy galloped on horseback across its lush hills as she rode with the Orange County Hunt.
One of the quaintest destinations on the east coast, its fox hunts, antiques shops, and nearby vineyards are year-round attractions. The Virginia Gold Cup is one of the nation’s most prominent steeplechase races attracting a crowd in excess of 50,000 at the Great Meadow in Plains, Va. the first Saturday in May.
Still, the most festive event is the annual “Christmas in Middleburg,” a three-day yuletide extravaganza beginning December 1. On Saturday the Middleburg Hunt & Hound Review takes to the streets creating the spectacular sight of 150 horses with riders in black leather boots, breeches, and pink and black hunting coats. In keeping with the animal friendliness of the town, the parade includes horses, foxhounds, ponies, llamas, alpacas and a variety of dog breeds, all trotting down Washington Street. Treading on the coattails of the foxhunters, floats, bands, and troops pass by, and the signature antique fire trucks-- and, of course, Santa, who closes the parade riding on an ornate horse-drawn coach.
Leonardo da Vinci was a passionate and brilliant artist. He produced the two most famous paintings in history, The Last Supper, and Mona Lisa. But in his own mind, Leonardo was more a man of science and technology. With a obsessive way of examining life, he pursued innovative studies of anatomy, fossils, birds, the heart, flying machines, botany, geology, and weaponry.
A biographer of other big thinkers-- the acclaimed bestsellers Steve Jobs, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin-- Walter Isaacson brings Leonardo (1452-1519) to life in this lavish and masterful new biography.
Isaacson takes the reader backstage behind this legend-- a legend very much touted by Leonardo himself-- and conveys the man as "as a misfit: illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical.”
You never know what kind of offer will turn up in an email. For Christine Hobart, executor director of McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach, one she received earlier this year suggested a possible exhibit for featuring welded scrap metal sculptures of African animals.
After thinking about the offer, Hobart agreed to host the playful exhibition featuring 24 beautiful sculptures hand-crafted specifically for McKee that opened Nov. 4. Nestled among the towering palm trees is a 16-foot giraffe foraging silently on the leaves high above in the jungle canopy. Two playful and mischievous young elephants prove that big hearts come in small packages, while the matriarch elephant is nearby watching them closely.
Back in the day animals roamed the 80 acres of tropical hammock and engaged with visitors wandering the lush jungle trails. It was one of the most popular pre-Disney Florida attraction.
"It really did seem like a perfect fit for us because of our history,” Hobart says. "Back then there was an elephant, monkeys, two chimpanzees and even a bear. It drew thousands of visitors each year until it closed in 1976."
For the past fifteen years I’ve been a contributing writer to a variety of national & regional magazines, prominent daily news-papers and websites. I have written about an array of topics such as arts & culture, chefs, food & drink, business entrepreneurs, travel, history, thoroughbred racing, and the animal and natural world.
I'm currently a regular arts & culture contributor to WFIT's website (the NPR radio station in Melbourne.), Vero Beach Magazine and Florida Today newspaper on a number of topics. Over recent years my work has been published regularly in Blood-Horse, Long Island Boating World and The Hunt and PA Equestrian magazines.
I am a regular contributor to the websites JustLuxe.com and SeeTheSouth.com. JustLuxe is an online magazine featuring the best of luxury lifestyle and travel, while SeeTheSouth features truly unique southern destinations. My travel articles also regularly appear in Florida Today, Long Island Boating world and the Delaware County Times, a major daily newspaper just outside Philly.
I've also contributed a variety of articles to the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, the Delaware County Times, and the Montgomery County Newspapers. I have been an Arts & Culture correspondent for Newsworks, the website for WHYY-TV (PBS in Philadelphia). I have been a correspondent to ESPN.com, America's Best Racing, the Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Racing Commentary.
After spending the past two decades in Wilmington, Delaware, my wife Jane, our Toller retriever Smarty and I have moved to Melbourne Beach, Fla. Located on a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River, Melbourne Beach sits on the southern end of Florida's "Space Coast." The famed coastal highway A1A runs directly along the Atlantic. Melbourne Beach (pop. 3,000) offers unspoiled beaches with sparkling blue-green waters and thousands of beautiful seabirds and long-legged shorebirds.
Head north 35 miles on A1A and you arrive at Cape Canaveral, for decades our nation's gateway to exploring and understanding our universe. Today, Cape Canaveral is a hub for many of the most exciting new private space projects such as SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by Elon Musk (manufacturer of Tesla vehicles). Upwards of 30 launches are planned in 2017.
Back down to earth traveling on two-lane A1A south from Melbourne Beach's compact business area brings you to a series of secluded and undeveloped natural beaches. Bonsteel Park's two-acre beach provides an excellent vantage point to catch glimpses of passing dolphins, while the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge is recognized as the most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles in the western hemisphere. It's also home to the gigantic leatherback turtles.
Nearby is Sebastian Inlet State Park which connects the Indian River Lagoon with the Atlantic Ocean. Its jetty break is recognized as one of the surf world's high-performance hot spots. Three generations of world-class surfers have surfed here, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. The 600-acre park is also celebrated for world-class fishing, and plenty of seabirds and wildlife.
Through my writing over the past decade I have traveled to spectacular destinations such as Lake Tahoe, Calif./Nev. and Sun Valley, Idaho; Cody, Wyoming/Yellowstone Park; Saratoga Springs, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs and Rhinebeck, New York; Port Clyde and Monheghan Island, Maine; Avalon and Stone Harbor, New Jersey; Middleburg, Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia.
Other travel adventures have included Tampa and St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, Florida; and St. Simons and Jekyll Island, Georgia. My travel articles thoughtfully explore the history of the region along with museums, music and the arts, chefs and restaurateurs, wineries and craft breweries, outdoor and sporting adventures as well as profiling intriguing personalities of those regions.
In addition to my writing career I owned a marketing company where I represented a diversified list of clients in the areas of publicity, marketing and business development-- such as the famed Baldwin's Book Barn, Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Kahunaville restaurant chain. In another life I was the founder, publisher and editor of Life Sports Magazine.
Along with Jane and Smarty I look forward to writing about new adventures in Melbourne Beach, the "Space Coast" and other Florida destinations. That's Smarty below with his pals Willie and Nelson.