Toby Hemingway 25

The citizen science data and reports began to reach a substantial level after six months of mobilizing conservation and civic groups. There had been sightings of  dolphin stillborns or sick dolphins, and a general drop in sightings of dolphins near shore. Many turtle rescues had occurred. Hundreds of trash reports from the bay and Gulf studies were in the data. However, Toby understood that even these efforts alone would be unlikely to change the zeitgeitz of the community. Tradition and pervading beliefs seem impervious to change, but it has happened in history that a new vision is suddenly present.

She sat at her desk in the den. Columbus looked on. He quietly studied her. He fluttered his wing feathers causing Toby to look up.

“Ooh, … makes me wonder,” he crooned. “New day, new day,” he shrieked.

The bird sang a line from “Stairway to Heaven”. Toby rose to find the album among her collection and put the needle down on the turntable her boys had bought she and Ron many Christmases ago. Led Zepplin’s appeal twinkled in her den.

And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter
If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow
Don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder
Toby sang along. Tears streamed as she held herself and spinned in the room.
Columbus bobbed to the music  occasionally crooning the chorus. Was the song just a pipe dream from an age past? How could the small community reverse course after 500 years of precedent? Indeed, how could a nation do so?




Toby Hemingway 24

Six months passed, the winter rains heavy on the coast. Toby and Marsha had been out on the bay about a dozen times for Speckled Trout, Bass, and Bull Red Fish during the cold water months. It was Toby’s favorite time to fish because the clear, cold water allowed her to observe schools of redfish attacking her bait in a fury.

Marsha was angling for trout and bass for a dinner she was planning for the Fishin’ Chix leadership. Red fish would be on the menu, too, since the winter bay found them in schools of a hundred or more. But she loved the speckled trout best.

“I’m going to bake them this year in a in a white wine-capers sauce, and serve it with corn, glazed carrots, and broccoli,” she told Toby as they fished.

“Stttoopp! My stomach is growling!” Toby said with a big grin. “Seriously, hand me a sandwich, Marsha. I’m ravenous.”

Marsha grabbed one from the cooler for herself, too. Toby devoured hers and downed it with a soda. The cold air, adventure, sun, and vigor of the fish underneath the boat made her body cry for energy.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else, Toby said,” as she swung a redfish overboard.

Marsha was quiet for a while. In fact, the women often went for hours with little conversation, lost in personal conversations with the sea.


Teachers and parents know that learning is best when students are immersed in an experience. The science camp took place on Ft. Pickens in late April. It was still cool enough for the mornings to be scintillatingly fresh. Osprey nests in scags or in the tops of pines dotted the landscape on the old fortifications. Crumbling bunkers told the stories of war and hardship. The end of the island jutted out into Pensacola pass where the Gulf empties into the Escambia Bay. Canons on three strategic points, two on the mainland and one on Fort Pickens, provided triangulation of enemy ships approaching the bay.

This was the time that loggerhead and other species of sea turtles return to the islands in the Gulf. Mr. Prince and a park ranger helped the students look for the truck tire tracks a female loggerhead leaves in the sand as she climbs toward the dunes. Marsh took the stories into his soul and wrote with passion about his new home:

She looks from just under the water along the beach head where bright lights in hotels and restaurants, homes and gas stations could make her decide to turn away. She looks for a darkened beach, lit only by the silver moonlight. It’s instinctual.

Every May through September along the Gulf shores, female loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) return to lay leathery eggs in the dunes of their birth.

Kemp’s Ridley, Atlantic green turtles and sometimes leatherbacks also use these crystal white beaches as a nursery. It’s been so for thousands of years.

Caretta caretta has spent her youth in the Sargasso Sea, a body of water created from currents in the North Atlantic and where Sargassum seaweed covers over its surface. It is believed the loggerhead turtle feeds and grows in this protective cover.

When she comes of age, dozens of eggs grow within her as she heads back to the same beach where as a hatchling she was just the size of a quarter and prize catch of shorebirds, crabs, and other beachside predators. She is one of the few lucky infant turtles that managed to survive to adulthood.

Now she returns to lay down the next generation. And, should she come ashore, will she struggle to navigate beach chairs, plastic inner tubes, or sandcastles? 

What will happen to her offspring? Baby sea turtles are attracted to bright lights, an instinct that should turn them toward a moonlit sea. Will they head toward the hotel lights instead? Rangers report scores of tiny turtles destroyed by cars or desiccated in the hot sun among buildings.

In today’s world, with the human built environment, it takes countless volunteers to tend turtle nests, redirecting the young toward the ocean. Because of this, can we say that these species are self-sustaining?

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world today. Four of them lay their eggs here. That constitutes a biological treasure for this region, a remaining strand of a once diverse web of life just off these shores.

What if Caretta caretta disappears due to human interference in this annual ritual that replenishes her kind? Should we really care?

Reach back 100 years in Florida’s natural history to an ocean teeming with life. Fish would be larger and more plentiful and you could scoop up shrimp in the bay with your hands. There would be hundreds more dunes with waving sea oats, both habitat and nursery to many species.

The loggerhead turtle is part of an ocean web that supports our fishing industry. The biodiversity of our beautiful islands is the basis of tourism, a principal industry. Somehow we have to learn to maintain this natural treasure while going about our business.

From U.S. Fish and Wildlife service


We are working that out now. There has got to be a way. Floridians have never been short on ingenuity.

For Caretta caretta we can turn down the lights, sit out on our decks and listen to the oncoming waves. We’ll save money by reducing energy consumption and get a better view of the heavens. Let’s face it: life would be dismal without the beauty of nature.

When we see a dolphin breach the waves, white terns dive and soar, or listen to ocean breezes, we are renewed and encouraged that all is right on this exquisite planet we are so fortunate to share with other species.

Caretta caretta…no, it’s not a song. It’s a symphony.

Toby Hemingway 23

The pod headed eastward along the shores of Santa Rosa Island, past Pensacola Beach and on out to Navarre where the waters were clearer, and a new reef had formed near the old pier.

The storm destroyed the pier. No humans had come there for a long time. On the crumbling cement blocks, a reef grew back with sponges, seagrass, then barnacles, oysters and crabs.

Many species got their start in life when they were tiny creatures by hiding in the safety of the reef’s rocks and caves. The pod knew that the reef’s smaller creatures attracted bigger fish and they in turn attracted even bigger fish. It was a Gulf food chain. The pod understood that the diversity of life on the new reef signaled everything was working right. Conversely, where they found diminished life on previously dynamic reefs, it signaled trouble for the pod.


Margaritaville Hotel

On Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island, Jimmy Buffet bought a half-completed hotel in 2010 after the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill. Tourism – the region’s main economy – plummeted  and crashed. Purchasing the hotel was Buffet’s gift to people of the Florida Panhandle to build back that economy. Buffet loved the Gulf coast.

Beyond the Margaritaville Hotel lies the Gulf Islands National Seashore—seven miles of white sand beaches, swaying golden sea oats, and translucent-green ocean. Way out on the tip end is Fort Pickens, one America’s oldest coastal defense fortifications. The National Seashore is a place where sea turtles return to lay their eggs and sea birds migrate to raise their young, and where schools of fish, spotted eagle rays, and pods of dolphins hunt, mate, and play. People swim and snorkel in the warm gentle waves and sunbathe on white sand made of quartz crystals carried by rivers from the Appalachian Mountains into the Gulf over millennia.  Barrier islands formed and life eventually inhabited them.

Marsh’s science teacher, Mr. Prince, decided to take his best students to the National Seashore for a three-day science adventure during the last semester of the school year. He decided to include Marsh. While not his top student, the boy showed keen interest in learning how science is done, and he was involved in a writing group focused on conservation of the Gulf.



Toby Hemingway 22

Toby, Marsha, and Shirley distributed copies of the Institute’s survey for reporting stranded or injured marine mammals. There were also questions about other changes the observer might have made about the general health of the Gulf.

“Now, there may be other kinds of reporting that this form will not collect,” Molly St. John said to a room full of Fishin’ Chix and Canoe Club members. “Witnessing dumping of trash or oil in the bays or bayous and rivers, harvesting species with endangered status, etc. there are call lines you can use or other organizations that can take the information.”

She pointed to the smart screen in Toby’s living room on which she projected the websites of partnering groups. She clicked on Bream Fishermen’s Association and showed the women where they could be trained to take samples of water for testing.

“Bream Fishermen have been sampling your watershed for over 7 decades. They are great at what they do and their work is essential to measuring change over time. So, you may want to do the sampling when you are our rowing or fishing.

“Now I am going to show you how to download the app for the Institute’s marine mammal study on your phone. Anytime you sight a dolphin in trouble, just report through your phone app. It will prompt you to take photos and send any you have along with the report.”

Everyone was murmuring and asking questions all at once. Molly put up her hands.

“Whoa, ladies. Here’s the most important thing you can do for science. First, follow protocol. If it tells you to keep samples at a certain temperature, make sure you do it. If it tells you to sample at the same locations at regular intervals, you do it.”

Molly explained why protocols must be observed, so that data can be compared.

“You can’t compare apples to oranges, or samples from one place with samples in another, or morning samples with evening samples. It’s very rigid. Once the process is set up, we have to follow it precisely. Any questions?”

There were dozens. Then Molly explained the most important elements of any study like theirs.

“Just do it on a regular basis for as long as you can. Bream has sampled for seven decades. They can show change over time. But even sampling and reporting for a year is important. You can sample weekly, monthly, or quarterly but just keep it the same collection schedule. What are some places you go to regularly to fish or canoe?”

Marsha answered that she and Toby fish by season and location of particular species throughout the year.

“Well, for you then, sample for one year in the locations you go to. Then do it again the next year and another if you can. Citizen Science is about observing over time and reporting your results. Once you get the process down, it doesn’t take that much time,” Molly continued.

“I’m going to get my kids involved,” a Fishin  chic said. “They will love this and maybe they can use it for a science project.”

Toby and Marsha went over schedules for the club to do their part observing and reporting.

Toby closed the meeting by saying, “You know we are just focusing our attention together as a club. Let’s do this with the same swag we do everything else!”

To that all the women cheered.




Toby Hemingway 21

Chapter 4

Ya Ya’s Story

“This house is built on a bluff,” Ya Ya began. “Long ago rich people built the big houses up there to catch the breeze.”

He pointed to a large Victorian house on the block above his street. Marsh observed the windows reached from floor to ceiling. He looked below and beyond Ya Ya’s and saw how the streets sloped down toward the port and the bay.

“Used to be high dunes up here. In the 1700’s, British built houses here so they could see enemies approaching up the hill from the port. They had canon up here. Can you imagine that? And tall-masted ships moored in the bay.

“Then they built the railroad.”

Marsh looked down the street to where the railroad tracks snaked through the commercial warehouses that had also invaded the old neighborhood. The first time the train rumbled by, the whole house shook. It was just a block away from the tracks. Ya Ya’s house trembled, pots clanged, framed pictures danced at angles.

“Carried-way a forest for railroad ties and telephone poles,” he said. “Always carrying-away something.”

“Back then, black people owned businesses downtown. Barber shop, haberdashery, bakery, and jewelry store — lots of black folk did well.” He stared with a far-away look in his eyes, remembering. “This was a black neighborhood. A lotta of families. My house was built by my grandfather. Men who worked for the RR lived around here, too. A lotta shotgun houses all along this street.”

I studied him as he spoke. Silver hair and mustache trimmed his dark face, creating a distinguished look. Shiny brown eyes with whites yellowed by age and sun exposure. I figured Ya Ya was in his 70s. But he could have been younger. His life was one of physical labor. He had supported everybody in his family, I later learned. There was a distant cousin living in the house when met him.

“But it all went to hell when the Jim Crow laws came. Black business owners were forced out of the downtown district. Most moved over there,” he pointed west. “Outta sight, outta mind, you know. Black families moved with them, but we stayed right here.” He grinned showing a few missing molars. “I’m the last holdout.”

He went inside to retrieve lemonade. I began looking around the neighborhood. There were For Sale or Rent signs on several big lots. A crumbling house sat on one of them. A furniture business spanned one adjoining block. Ya Ya said the lot across the street from him had been the location of a pesticide operation.

Catty corner to Ya Ya’s lot, an empty corner lot belonged to stray cats. Scattered around were little hut-like houses — first-come, first serve.

“Lady that owns it is an animal lover. She bought the lot just for the strays. She has them neutered, then feeds them everyday.” Ya Ya set down two sweating glasses of cold lemonade. It was delicious, old-school, like Mom used to make for me.

It was then that I began to see cats perched on porch railings, strolling down a sidewalk with haunches swaying and tail sweeping lazily behind just like they owned the place. One or two lounged in the middle of a street flooded with sunlight like sunbathers at a feline resort. It was quirky. To me it made the neighborhood great. I want to live in one like it, with history, individual family homes, with cats and dogs, birds singing in the tree canopies, and special elders like Ya Ya.

Background vector created by freepik –

“You know, Marsh, if you went fishing 50 years ago, you wouldn’t need fishing gear. All you would need is a rake to pull oysters from the bay, a hand net to scoop shrimp from the water. We used to pull up crab baskets crawlin’ with crabs twice the size of today’s little things. No one went hungry then. The sea provided. During the Depression just about everybody was a fisherman.”

“Look at the bay,” he pointed.

I could see it beyond the long mainstreet and neat squares where city business and restaurants were tucked into historic brick buildings. The bay sparkled blue and white at the port where ships used to deliver goods, armies, and all manner of things.

“The bay looks pretty but its dark. When I was a kid, you could see grasses waving in long strips on the bottom. The bay more aqua like the ocean beyond. And, it was loaded with sea-life”

“What happened? I asked longingly.


He laughed a mournful laugh, slapped his thighs, and rose to make dinner. In the quiet, sitting alone, the sun starting to dive in the western sky, I felt sad that so much had been lost that I would never have a chance to experience. But then I thought, why can’t it be like that again?


Toby Hemingway 20

For a teacher and a mentor of a young person with exceptional talent, she carries a heavy burden. Youth are impressionable, their path malleable. How much does the guide intervene?  When to direct, when not. What are the resources to bring to them and when is the right time for it?

These thoughts occupied Toby for most of the morning after she’d first read Marsh’s story. She’d been doing this work for most of her life and knew well enough that a talent like his comes along perhaps once in a teacher’s lifetime.

As she cleaned the house, and later prepared her gardens for the coming winter, she recalled his story. Should she say nothing, and let the boy unfold in his own way until he asked for her assistance? She’d never before considered such a strategy. She had treasured the timeless works of great writers from an early age. Each possessed a style that would be associated with them and emulated by many new writers. She observed that each broke with convention where it worked. Each story provided a window for readers — a time, a place, people who would live on in readers’ minds sometimes for centuries. Hugo, Dickens, Austen came to mind. Could Marsh be of such talent?

She wished to know more about Marsh. His writing showed that he was wise for his age, probably from hardship, perhaps loss. These were the elements of deep writing. It was also clear he possessed drive and that people gathered around him.


“Shirley, hi. It’s Toby.”

“Hey girl, what’s up?”

“Have you got time to read an essay for me? I’ve, I’ve received something that is . . . well, totally unexpected.”

Shirley was quiet, listening. “Sure. Are you home?”


Toby walked Shirley to the chairs on the bluff. It had been a singing blue day, and the bay and Gulf beyond it shimmered to the horizon. While Shirley read, Toby went inside to mix gin and tonics, Shirley’s preferred libation.

When Toby returned, Shirley had put down the essay and was leaning back in her chair, staring into the blue.

“This boy, Marsh, I believe he is the young man that Vern has been talking about for almost a year.”

Shirley filled Toby in on how Vern and Marsh had developed a durable friendship around Sunday Pier fishing, and how Vern had grown to love the boy but had not extended the relationship beyond their weekly sports activities.

They clinked their glasses sitting back to enjoy the sun’s descent. The Great Artist filled his brushes and painted the sky gold, orange, and fushia.

“He apparently is living with an Uncle who is an alcoholic. The boy feeds himself and does pick up work around town to cobble together a survival strategy. Vern says he’s a quick learner, too.”

“What did you think of the essay?”

“He’s an old soul. I’ve read nothing like it from someone his age.”

“I’m struggling to know how to help him keep developing the talent. I’ve decided to do nothing, to just give him opportunities to publish and continue to write. What do you think?”

“Yes. With the Gulf conservation a purpose for the writing, he will likely be able to navigate his personal circumstances, finding ways to understand it.”

Toby thought about Shirley’s astute observation. She was right. Writing is that, all art is that: a way to understand, to celebrate the experience, to “come out ahead of ourselves” as Steinbeck reminded us.

That evening she reread the essay. Across the bottom, she wrote, Continue!





Toby Hemingway 19

Does Literature Change Us?

You read and you read and then something comes into your hands that is original, fresh, like no other. Bedamned the grammar or even the sentence structure, the power is there. This was Marsh’s first essay for Toby.


The First Line

It was hunger that first made me love the Gulf of Mexico.

The Next Line

The truth is, I was poor and fish were free. 

Marsh went on in a stream of consciousness to tell the story of how he’d found a rusted-out bike frame with no tires and how an old man — the neighborhood recycler of everything metal — clanged around in his yard to find parts and two tires.

The yard and porches were filled to waist high with junk, Marsh wrote. Washing machines, outboard motors, old truck tires made into flower beds, shovels, ladders, metal swimming pools full of greening rain water, aluminum, tools. Ya Ya was a grandfather and beloved by all who knew him. He saw me, I mean he really saw me that day when I knocked on his door dragging the bike carcass behind me.

He’d sent me home with a bag of grapefruit from his tree. When I returned the next day, my bike was complete, cleaned and buffed to a shine. He’d found a bike seat and rack, and best of all, fishing gear. I told him how I wanted to fish at the Pier to get the bigger fish. He saw my hunger because he’d known it, too. 

I’ll come help you, I said, as payment for the bike.

He’d put his weathered hand on my shoulder and said, No. Go fish!

After that, I always brought him steaks and fillets when I had a good catch. Sometimes he smoked them on one of his many grills, and he always had a huge pot of collards cooking on his tiny stovetop, and we sat on fancy metal love seats under the oaks and watched the cars go by as the sun went down. Everyone knew Ya Ya. They waved, and some stopped the car in the middle of the road and gabbed with him for a while. 

Ya Ya was the first storyteller. 

Toby Hemingway 18

High winds and near-shore lightening strikes shut-down the Pensacola Pier. Without their usual fishing, Vern tinkered on his boat, and Marsh read Call of the Wild. In that rarity of moments when a soul is drawn into a stillpoint — when normal time continues around him but he remains behind — he saw his life in Buck’s journey. Vern was his John Thornton, Shaundra his Nig. This Navy-veteran  never questioned Marsh’s circumstances but befriended him in the present by sharing joy in being on the great big Gulf. Vern had fought his wars just as Marsh had fought his. Like Buck and John, they came together at the perfect moment as planned by some celestial event perhaps. For who can say why certain people come into our lives when we need them most? And Shaundra and her family helped restore a sense of belonging and legitimacy for him — just as Nig, the little Irish setter in Jack London’s tale, licked Buck’s wounds until they healed.

In Call of the Wild, Marsh found himself. His journey as an orphan had meaning, and like Buck, the harrowing journey had made him stronger and better in every way he could be. And like Buck who found his pack and his great love, Marsh could feel that call now as a path opened ahead for him as a writer, a scientist, and hopefully one day, a great father.

As Marsh closed the cover on that timeless story, a new guide entered his life.


A house and its family eventually meld, especially when a long marriage and enduring love have warmed its walls with the voices of children, and the highs and lows of life’s challenges, that blend to form a certain aura: “home”.

Toby and Ron’s house on the high bluff was home to two sons —  Ron, Jr. and Thomas — their parents, and Columbus. Various dogs had come and gone, their bones on the bluff where lawn meets the sky. A coastal oak whose limbs dipped to rest upon the earth, protected them.

Columbus, perceptive creature that he is, stored the home’s auditory memories with great accuracy, much to the detriment of the other occupants. A set of these memes were evoked with Toby sitting at her desk to grade papers.

“The toils of Sisyphus!” He shrieked. This was interspersed with lines from Todd Rundgren’s “I saw the light in your eyes,” taught to him by Tommy who listened to rock tunes of his parents’ era.

“I saw the light!” he crooned bobbing his head up and down which made Toby join in singing the whole song. It always made her weep for want of seeing her boys again. Plus the glass of wine. Probably a ritual not well aligned with grading papers. Or, perhaps it was perfect for it.

Catch up and read Toby Hemingway from the start! Toby Heminway_Mar 1-17

Listen to Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light”:


Toby Hemingway 17

Plastic – the facts

    • Humans have created 8300 million metric tonnes of plastic in the last 60+ years
    • Every year between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes end up in our oceans
    • A single 1L plastic bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of beach in the entire world.

There were fewer calves in the pod. No one knew why. Mating activity was similar to other seasons but not as many females became pregnant. And, there were stillborn calves — a rarity in the pod’s collective memory. Each baby was more and more precious to the pod members. Several grandmothers helped watch over the adopted calf giving her time to hunt. The pod responded to shifting locations of prey requiring more exertion and time. Since her stillborn baby, she’d puzzled over all that weakened their survival and joy. It surely must be related to The Changes.


It was October and fishermen at the Pensacola Pier were pulling in redfish. It was a bonanza. The fish migrated closer to shore to fatten-up on menhaden, mullet, and crustaceans for the coming winter months.

“It’s a topwater lure you need this morning, Marsh,” Vern advised and gestured toward a variety of lures he’d laid out. “I’ve been getting good action with the darker lure but I see people around me with the light.”

“I’ll try the white Z-Man,” Marsh said lifting the rubbery lure to his line.

They were casting far from the dock structure. Later they switched to live bait (mullet, shrimp, crab) for around the dock itself.

The redfish streaked across the translucent water where Marsh could observe their golden-dark shadows moving with speed and grace against the white sand below.

Vern was quiet as usual. “We’ll be able to fish for flounder next month. They migrate here to mate in November. Would you like to join me and my wife in our boat to fish for them?”

“Yes!” Marsh said without hesitation. “I didn’t know you had a boat.”

“My wife uses it mostly. . .she and her Fishin’ Chix.”

“The what chics?” Marsh laughed.

“Yeah, a bunch of women who are fishing fanatics,” he said, reeling in a redfish. “And none of them are your age, in case you had any aspirations.”

Marsh didn’t know too much about flounder but being with Vern in a boat fishing was a strong pull. And, anticipation of Mrs. Vern‘s good cooking.

“Hey, Vern. Did you find anything unusual when you cleaned your Kingfish last week?” He asked remembering the odd fish.

“No, why?”

“When my Uncle opened up one of the Kings, we found an ugly black growth that smelled like oil,” Marsh explained.

Vern was quiet, thinking, fishing. “Tell you the truth. I’m surprised we don’t find more life that with the oil spill and all.”

“It made me think when I fixed the other one. I mean, I wonder if there is stuff we don’t see that’s there, you know?”

“Keep thinking like that and you’ll starve,” Vern reminded him.

“Guess so,” he said. Marsh wondered how many others like him depended on their fishing for a regular source of food.

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle

Just then a shout rang out at the far end of the pier. Everyone was reeling in and walking down there. Marsh and Vern joined the crowd of fishermen.

Flopping on the pier was a sea turtle with a hook down its throat. It was ‘swimming’ through the air on its back, contorting to right itself. There were two fishermen who had lifted the turtle using a basket and rope that the Pier kept on hand just for this happenstance. It was part of a sea turtle conservation effort. By lifting it in a basket, they avoided further harm to the sea turtle.

Every year, legions of sea turtles were found impaled by fishing gear, slashed by churning blades, or entombed in nets or plastic. It was not uncommon for the Pier fishermen to pull out a sea turtle. Today, these two men had already called the Sea Turtle Rescue team to take the sea turtle to a rehab facility. Once the turtle was tended to, the rehabbers would give it a thorough going over, make sure it was eating, and then release it back to the Gulf.

“It looks beat up,” one observer said.

“Maybe it’s old,” another added.

“How can you tell,” someone else asked.

“Don’t know.”

“I think you count the rings inside one of the scales,” an older fisherman offered.

Marsh noted the curiosity about the turtle including his own. For the first time he thought about what kind of job he could get that would keep him near the Gulf and doing this: following his curiosity and love for the ocean — and getting paid to do it!







Toby Hemingway 16

“Oh, Captain! My Captain!” shrieked Columbus as guests arrived.

Marsh was immediately drawn to the parrot. The two eyed each other thoughtfully.

“Hey, Matie,” Marsh said in his best pirate-ese. The other kids gathered behind him enthralled with Columbus.

“Ooo, it makes wonder,” crooned the bird. Most of the kids did not know the song but the adults laughed in surprise.

“This is Columbus, who, you can see, is in rare form tonight!” Toby said.

“The moon lies fair,” Columbus said.

“Okay, everyone get a plate and drink. ”

Toby and Marsha directed kids, teachers, and journalists to the dining room table loaded with everyone’s favorite dishes. The weather had turned raw and windy with a front moving in. Plans to barbeque were changed to a potluck inside.

After everyone had settled in around the living room, Toby picked up a dog-eared copy of Call of the Wild. She read:

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. ~ Into the Primitive, Chapter 1, Call of the Wild, Jack London, 1903.

The room was completely quiet.

“What did the writer do in this first paragraph?” Toby asked.

The group rang out with ideas. She let the conversation grow and enrich itself as young and old responded.

“This is the kind of writing we need now.” She stopped for a few moments. “Can you do that? Can we do that?”

This was how Toby began to teach her team the kind of powerful writing that emanates from direct experience. This kind of storytelling brings understanding, engenders empathy, and moves people to act together.


Marsh could not sleep that night. His chest was filled with excitement and the kind of anxiety caused by the wish to achieve something and the journey ahead to accomplish it.

He turned on the bedside lamp, found the journal Mrs. Hemingway had given him, and began to jot down ideas, words, and phrases. Then, he started writing. When he finally looked up, it was dawn.