Stories told by flowers: A walk in the park

Delicate. Lovely. Soft-looking. Always surprising. Flowers, wherever you find them, are wonderful. They fill the world with every color and the most delicious smells.

This is the quintessential Florida scene -- wet, wet, wet and green, with some Spanish moss thrown in for good measure, of course. Although Florida is not a great place for hiking, we decided to "hike" through this park. It's called John Chesnut Sr. County Park and it's located in Palm Harbor, Florida.

It covers about 255 acres and was built in cooperation with the Army Corps of Engineers. The reason Florida isn't a great place for hiking is because 7 months out of the year it's too hot and humid to move with any speed and there are no hills or mountains in Florida, so there's just these flat, boring stretches of path through the humidity.

And truly, in the months of June to October, the bugs will eat you alive in a close environment like this. The air barely moves at all. It's really amazing -- people who've lived here for years don't seem to notice that you can't actually get any air when you're outside. On our walk through Chesnut Park we were warned about the dangers of messing with the wildlife. We've heard stories, like everyone has, but we haven't seen anything scarier than a medium sized spider.
The park is built beside the rather large Tarpon Lake and is full of swamps, so the Army Corps of Engineers built these cool raised boardwalks. The boardwalks do two things: keep your feet dry and keep humans out of the marshy, swampy, somewhat delicate terrain.

Walking through the Florida jungle on these boardwalks in late October was almost pleasant. There was a tiny breeze, it was cloudy and the temperature wasn't much higher than 79 degrees. What kept it from actually being pleasant was, of course, the humidity, which was probably in 90% range. Yuck. But the marsh is full of wondrous life.

This is what fall looks like here. Pretty much that's it, the one leaf. We saw some orangish-brown needles on the pine trees. It was just some old dead branches.

It's really a lovely place and easy to enjoy. There are plenty of benches for relaxing, watching the wildlife and listening to the sounds of the water creatures. There's even a swing.

It's truly unfortunate that I still associate relaxing outside with smoking. I'm happy to say that the urges passed quickly and Kim helped me by talking through it with me. He's very understanding -- he quit smoking more than 30 years ago.


Stories told by flowers: Escaping $cientology

No one wants to admit they were sucked in by a slimy, mind-controlling cult. Well, here I am admitting it. Yup. Got sucked right in. Hook, line and sinker. It's an awful thing, waking up one day and realizing you've been had. Really had.

Actually it doesn't quite work that way. The waking up takes a little while. There are clues and hints as you go along that all is not right. But, being the good cultist, you ignore these and keep your head firmly in the ground (or up your butt, peeking out your bellybutton, depending on your "in-ness"). The indoctrination is slow and subtle. At each step of the way, what you're being told about the cult and what you're doing in the cult seem reasonable. Seem reasonable. That's important. You see, if you were really thinking like your usual self, you would clearly see that nothing of what you are told or what you are doing is logical. Big difference.

Think for moment: what would your reaction be if someone said, "We can totally and completely solve all your personal problems. All you need to do is take this free course." Sound too good to be true? That's because it is. But if you're in some emotional pain, or you're young and 'searching' or you like the idea of having THE answers or maybe you just want to be led around by your nose, a free course that claims to be the SOLUTION sounds really wonderful. Let's go, where do I sign? There are many reasons people walk into the clutches of cults like the Moonies or Scientology or Amway Quixtar. And there are very good, well written books on the subject of mind-control as practiced by these cults. I recently read Steve Hassan's Combatting Cult Mind Control and, although his experience was with the Moonies, his description of the techniques used to 'trap' people applied perfectly to Scientology. I highly recommend this well-written book to anyone who has been in a cult, knows someone who's fallen prey, or just wants to understand how a cult works.

Well, this isn't a story about $cientology exactly. It's about a visit to a Caribbean island, I think it was Barbados. And the connection to $cientology is that they have a lovely ship that sails the Caribbean and is used as a 'religious retreat.' What that means is that $cientologists can go live on this ship for a few days or a few months and take courses and get other services. It's very expensive, but it's fun being there. The food is outrageously good. The side trips are wonderful, when you can get 'permission' to go. The ship is called the Freewinds and I made two trips, both at the request of my local $cientology organization.

I was really fortunate on one of these trips to have an opportunity to ride around the island and see lots of different things -- caverns, cafes, beautiful architecture, and incredible views. I'm not big on tourist-type shopping, but I really love the natural things and the people.

The coolest place we went was an orchid garden. A BIG orchid garden. I thought I'd gone to heaven:

My husband Kimball and I are very lucky -- we woke up. Even if it took us a little long to realize how ridiculous $cientology is, the important thing is we got the hell out. We've been 'declared suppressive' because we've spoken out against the cult and none of the people who were our friends are allowed to speak to us. It's such a bizarre experience to walk into a store and see someone you know and like and they won't even look at you. Weird. $cientology cannot allow the 'innies' to have conversations with the folks who have left. The bubble might burst.

Stories told by flowers: An open letter to my sister

I'm sorry.
I'm sorry for so many things, mostly for my pride and stubbornness.
I'm sorry too for my quick temper and selfishness.
I'm sorry for pain I've caused you because of my foolishness.
I'm sorry your life has been so hard.
I wish I were farther along on the path of forgiveness.
I wish our family had been a happy, nurturing family.
I wish growing up had been fun, full of joy and learning.
I wish for strength and peace inside myself.
I wish I wasn't waiting for you to apologize first.
Thank you for the beautiful daylilies in my garden.


Shouting from my soapbox: Too much perfume

Yesterday, I went online and bought tickets for Last Comic Standing. No sooner did I get the confirmation email, than I started fretting. And what, you may well ask, did I have to fret about? Well, here's the thing, I hate going out. It's not anything like agoraphobia. I can go out, I just don't like it much. The reason is simple: PEOPLE WEAR TOO MUCH PERFUME, AFTER SHAVE, COLOGNE, FRAGRANCES and so on. They don't know when to stop. Have you ever sat down on an airplane, only to discover that you're trapped between two people who marinated in some godawful stuff just before getting on? ARGHHH! I really really really hate that. And it seems to be getting worse. We live next to a popular jogging/bike trail and you would be appalled at the number of people who go by smelling to high hell. Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable. It's my theory that they can't smell it because they've ruined their olfactory nerves by using so much of it. It's a horrible spiral.

This is another brainwashing problem. You see, people think they don't smell okay without all that shit. And where did they get that idea? From very good advertising. Huge amounts of money are spent to convince you and me that love, happiness, beauty, success, and sex are all just waiting for that perfect aroma to come wafting from our bodies.

"The amount of money spent on perfume advertising has increased since 1999: the launch of a new scent often costs tens of millions of dollars, sometimes even more." (The New Yorker October 5, 2007)

And what about the millions spent by consumers on these products? In 2000, a perfume called J'adore topped $120,000,000 in sales!! I'd say that the advertising did a good job, wouldn't you?

Even a great company like Bert's Bees uses so much fragrance in one of their shampoos, I couldn't get the stink out of my hair for days, even after repeated washings with an unscented product. These long lasting, man-made smells are toxic. They basically come from petroleum products and they don't dissipate into the air. They linger. They cling.

"The manufacturing process to create a perfume starts with the collection of the ingredients used in the scent. The perfume can be based either on one scent or a combination of hundreds of aromas. Ingredients come from many different sources such as flowers, grasses, spices, fruit, wood or leaves, among others. Only about 2,000 of the 250,000 flowering plant species actually produce oils naturally, so synthetic chemicals are often used to duplicate these smells. Synthetic chemicals are also used to create scents not found in nature. Perfumes can incorporate animal products (e.g. musk comes from male deer), which are often used as fixatives that prolong the scent by slowing the evaporation process. Other fixatives used are coal tar, mosses, resins or synthetic chemicals." (How is your favorite perfume made? from CareFair.com)

Human bodies don't stink unless they're sick or really filthy or something like that. And as if all that body scenting isn't bad enough, now folks think they have to spray their houses, cars, closets, clothes and everything else in their immediate vicinity. Or they light disgusting candles; or they use those nauseating dryer sheets everywhere. I am so tired of not smelling the real world I live in. That's one of the reasons we want a few acres when we move to Oregon. I'd like to be far enough away from any neighbors that I don't get a whiff of their fragrance du jour when I sit on my patio. I'd like to be able to smell the trees and the flowers and the air. Hey, now that I'm not smoking, this is serious.