Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Going Pro

So, this will probably be my last blog on this site. At the recommendation of a friend, I've decided to leave the friendly (and free) confines of blogspot, and start my own website. While I have purchased several domains (, kingdomofzachlandcom, and several others), I think I am going to use as my official platform.

Why 80 couches? Well, as you should know, I have been very involved with the awesomeness that is for nearly three years. (My three-year Couchsurfiversary is February 27). I've decided to make it a goal after finishing in Korea, and before going to grad school, to circumnavigate the globe whilst couchsurfing, and then write a best-seller, "Around the World on 80 Couches."

I figured if I am serious about this goal, and I am, I need to start acting like it. They say in business you should dress for the job you want, not the job you have; I hope the same applies for the blogosphere.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

In Narita

So, I'm sitting here in Narita Airport, Tokyo's international airport, looking at the Korean Airlines flight that I should be on slowly push back from the gate. Although I should have had more than two hours to successfully make the change, American Airlines thought it would be a better idea to sit at the gate at Chicago O'Hare for more than an hour.

I was then left to stew for the next thirteen hours over whether I would make my connecting flight. Consciously I tried to tell myself "There's nothing you can do about it now, just relax. Besides, there's about 11 billionty flights between Tokyo and Seoul," but it was always in the back of my mind. Thankfully, they had already booked me on an Asiana Air flight for later that evening. Although I had enough time to get to my original flight's gate on time, the Japanese woman who had my new flight information explained, "We don't have enough time to get your bags on the flight," which I knew to be true.

I'm OK with this. Really. While I like flying, I love airports. I don't know the exact reasons, part of it is certainly the excitement of a place wherein people are going all over the globe. There is more to it than that though; I think I like airports because they feel like "home." I spent so much of my childhood running between parents, that the airport became a bit of a refuge--a place where I could have freedom from the continual tug-and-pull between parents.

While airports might differ from city to city, they're all more-or-less the same. And yet, I still love just spending time at the airport, wandering aimlessly and clearing my mind before a flight. So, I'm going to enjoy my time in Narita. I would honestly rather have three hours of stress-free travel than a hurried hour to make a connection.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Everglades

Contrary to popular belief, South Florida is not merely one giant swamp. Most of the Southern Tip is, in fact, a giant, slow moving river through an enormous, flat grassland. You will not find stagnant water in the Everglades.

A little green heron, stealthily hunting for a meal.

The river begins in Lake Okeechobee and flows southward toward the Gulf of Florida. In that span, approximately 100 miles, the river descends a mere 14 feet in elevation. This, paired with Florida's ideal location between sub-tropical and temperate environments creates an amazing environment for a wealth of diverse wildlife. The birds and reptiles are especially abundant. Herein is the key to enjoying a trip to the Everglades--getting down at ground-level with a keen eye to find as much wildlife as can possibly be found. Everglades National Park will not "blow away" the casual observer in the same way as Yosemite or Yellowstone will--at first glance, it is merely an open grassland--but once a moment is spent to find and enjoy the wildlife, the experience is incredible.

On Monday morning, my dad, Gina and I headed out to the Anhinga Trail in the southeast corner of the park. I was a bit disheartened that my grandparents would not be joining us, but I knew grandpa had had health problems lately. We were armed with binoculars, well-worn bird guides, and a packed lunch for a picnic in the park.

Once on the trail, we were greeted by our first anhinga immediately. These birds that give the trail its namesake are amazing. The males are particularly striking--black with white streaks on their wings, and since it was mating season, they had beautiful turquoise rings around their eyes. They are sometimes referred to as "snake birds" because unlike other waterfowl, they swim below the waterline and occasionally stick their long, slender necks up for air. (Their name is actually derived from a Brazilian dialect translating to "devil bird" or "snake bird"). This is a bird that Darwin forgot; they never evolved oil glands, so they can be seen after a swim drying their wings in the warm Floridian sun.

As I mentioned, it was mating season for these guys and there were already several nests with high-pitched, squeaking, baby anhingas. One male was mate-less when we stumbled upon him vigorously trying to remove a twig. We were told this is the first step in their mating ritual. The male finds an appropriate twig, gives it to a potential mate, and if she accepts they build a nest together. Oh, if only it were that easy!

The anhinga is similar to another one of the park's residents, the cormorant. However, cormorants can be found in various parts of the world. The Chinese even train these birds to fish for them! (If you ever order fish in China, just remember that your meal very well could have come from the gullet of a bird). These birds also prefer getting their feathers wet by diving into the clear, clean waters to dart after their prey.

For about five minutes we watched as a cormorant tried to wrangle a fish. At first the only threat to an empty stomach was the fish itself, but when other birds caught wind of this epic battle, they joined the fray. This led to some infighting among the cormorants, each trying to take possession of the prized fish.

I don't think I can properly conclude a piece on the Everglades without taking about its most famous resident, the American Alligator. These are amazing creatures, but its easy to lose a lot of respect for them in the wild. These guys are everywhere, and its rare that you see one even move a couple of feet. Even the birds don't seem terribly intimidated by them.

Case in point.

However, a species doesn't survive hundreds of millions of years, mass-extinctions, and luggage trends without a really good design. They may appear lazy, but they're just conserving energy, and when they want to use it, they can. Were I to run into a hungry gator in the water, people would suddenly be talking about me in the past tense. On land? Yeah, they can outrun me there too. The Everglades are also home to the American Crocodile, making this the only spot in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.

The Everglades are a natural wonder, and just a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of Miami. Humans have already encroached into this preserve, with the human population nearly quadrupling since 1960. And if global climate change leads to the rise in sea-levels we all fear, this river of life will be gone forever. I hope I can take my grandkids to the Everglades someday, just as they did with me.

Monday, January 31, 2011

My Relationship with South Florida

When people ask me where I'm from, I tell them Tennessee. While this is an answer, it's certainly not the complete answer, which happens to be much more complicated. When people ask about my seemingly strange allegiance to Wisconsin-based sports teams, I tell them that I grew up in Milwaukee prior to moving down South. Once again, this is a truth, but not the complete truth.

The whole story must include the "in between days" when I was living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It's odd when I think back on it--almost as if I were looking back on a past life, completely unconnected with my own. But it was my life, and I lived it. Things were different then, I was living with my Mom and our side of the family was much more tight-knit than it is today. I remember playing with my cousins, most of whom I've not seen or heard from since those early childhood days, and I remember rooting whole-heartedly for the Miami Dolphins. Of course, at the time the Dolphins had one of the all-time greats, Dan Marino, at the helm, and the Packers were going through a rather long dry spell.

Now, whenever I return to South Florida, I have a strange sense of being home, but not really. It's similar, to say, deja vu. I've been here before, but I just can't put my finger on it...

It is a wonderful little corner of the globe. Dave Berry often opined that Miami should be (or in fact, was) a foreign country, and Key West tried to be a foreign country. The snarled mangrove forests, crystal clear water, abundance of wildlife, and coral outcroppings make the Keys into a true paradise. (Though, the regular sighting of tourist shops does diminish this view somewhat).

More national flags need to include puns.

I don't think I could ever call South Florida "home" or even "a home," but it still has a special place in my heart. It's a nice place to visit--particularly in winter, and I guess, that completes the story.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top 5: Sports Fantasies

As you may have heard, the Green Bay Packers are in the Super Bowl after a 13-year hiatus. I've been lucky with the Pack, as this is their third trip to the title game in my lifetime, and I've already seen them win it. Obviously, I want them to win it this time too, but I've already scratched that one off my "Bucket List." However, this list is not about seeing my own teams succeed (besides, everyone who knows me, should probably also figure that I want to see championships for the Vols and Brewers). Instead, it is a list of sports experiences I would like to have.

  • Must be an experience I have not yet had (ruling out: a game at Wrigley, road trip to Notre Dame, and going to the NCAA tourney).
  • Not conditional to my team (e.g. "Seeing the Brewers in person at the World Series).
The List:
  1. A Game at Cameron Indoor Stadium: Say what you will about Duke basketball, they have some amazing fans, tons of tradition, and an amazing, intimate venue to watch the game. Preferably this would be a UNC-Duke match up, but I'm not terribly picky.
  2. A Game at Fenway Park: All apologies to Yankee Stadium, but they tore the original down.
  3. World Cup Match: This might even be better if the U.S. weren't playing. The passion, the tension, the celebratory riots, what more could I want?
  4. The Super Bowl: I wonder if they show the ads inside the stadium?
  5. Final Round of The Masters: If Augusta National is only half as breathtaking as it is on TV, it will be an amazing experience.