Casting off for an
Ann Williams to appear at a cruise ship near you
BY PETER ROPER
THE PUEBLO CHIEFTAIN
This is the third installment in The Pueblo Chieftain’s series about people who have achieved personal success in 2016, whether it was overcoming adversity, attaining a personal goal or simply making it through another day. The series will continue daily through Dec. 29. We hope you are as inspired by these stories as we have been.
If you’re over 60 and feel like there’s not much left in life except putting your feet up and binge-watching TV shows, meet Ann Williams.
Within the past year, the Pueblo West woman has traveled to Florida to tag sharks, Massachusetts to help on whale watching cruises and even to Nova Scotia, where the biggest tides in the world roll in and — if you don’t mind wearing a cold-water survival suit — you can roll in with them in small boats.
“You really get knocked around a lot,” Williams confided, rolling her eyes. “And that water is cold, believe me.”
No, she’s not trying to jump-start her own reality show — although that’s not a bad idea. Williams is preparing herself for a dream job. The 61-year-old retired educator is steeping herself in all things oceanic: fish, geography, tides, history, you name it. If it has to do with the oceans, she has at least a passing interest in it.
Williams, you see, wants to lecture about the ocean.
On cruise ships.
Those big, floating buffets that ply the world’s oceans carrying a gazillion tourists to exotic destinations.
“It sounds odd but my favorite thing to do aboard ship is just look at that ocean,” the flaxen-haired Williams said. “I just love it.”
Now, this is more than a dream for Williams. In 2012, she was hired by the Hol- land America line to teach a creative writing course during a 60-day cruise from Florida to Australia. Sixty days of helping hundreds of would-be Hemingways craft a few pages of fiction. You get the picture. (“The ocean looked dark but welcoming as the beautiful woman scientist thought about leaping into the tossing waves . . .”) “The goal, of course, was to visit Australia and my husband (Steve Williams) and I got to spend a week there at the end of the cruise,” she said. “But the experience was fabulous, and that’s how I want to see the rest of the world. From a cruise ship.”
Which is why Williams has immersed herself in ocean knowledge. It seems the future of creative writing cruises has hit rough water. As Long John Silver would say, it’s “run aground on a lee shore.” But Williams has been told by cruise agencies that if she can develop a new expertise, she’ll be back in business by next fall.
And she lost no time. Williams and her husband have logged some 4,000 miles traveling to oceanic locales to learn about sea life, sea stories, sea sex, sea travelers.
To learn about sharks, she joined a Miami University research team that was tagging them.
“I got to clip some tissue from one and squirt liquid in the eye of another, to watch its protective reflex,” she said.
Ah. Sharks are very strong in case you were uncertain about that, and Williams injured her back dealing with one shark who didn’t like her, the net, getting squirted in the eye, or the whole idea of shark research.
“They tear big holes in the net,” she added.
On another trip she studied dolphins and got to be a “pool toy” where the dolphins pushed her around with their noses.
In Gloucester, Mass., she was a volunteer on a whale-watching trip. And then she and Steve ventured even further north to Nova Scotia, to the historic burial sites where Viking adventurers spent several winters in what they called “Vineland” during the 11th century.
Leif Erickson and his warrior sailors had cruised in from Greenland but the Viking settlements didn’t last. It seems the native people were not welcoming.
So Williams has even incorporated Viking history into her repertoire.
She has next October circled on her wall calendar, because that will mark the end of the twoyear learning period that she set for herself for becoming an ocean expert of sorts. To strengthen her resume, she is giving her ocean talks to anyone and everyone who is interested (you can book her at breathtakebyways. com or call 547-0323).
Williams has five lectures completed and at least one more still in development. The titles will give a feel for her approach: 1. “Dolphins: What Are They Thinking?” 2. “Vikings: Legends and Legacies” 3. “Hair-raisers from the Deep: Creepiest Sea Creatures” 4. “Romancing the Sea” 5. “Whales: Nature’s Showboaters”
Keep in mind, the lectures Williams will be giving at sea won’t be to 30 senior citizens with hearing aids but to hundreds of people sitting in a cruise ship lounge. More like a Las Vegas floor show than a college seminar.
“I’ve been working with a coach on my delivery,” she added. “Working on the funny parts in my talks.”
Uh oh. Where there is comedy there is heckling. Is she preparing for the hung-over travelers who want to tell their own sea stories?
That gave her pause. But she kept smiling.
But Ann Williams isn’t easily diverted. If you haven’t figure it out yet, the lady is determined. So you can expect her and Steve to go to sea later this year.
“I want to see everyplace — Africa, Iceland, China, you name it,” she said.
And she’ll do it, too.
Published with a collection of similar stories in the Pueblo Chieftain, 8/28/16
“Can I squirt him in the eye?” I felt weird being so blunt with the brave little geek in braids, but having graduated from high school in the seventies, I knew I’d feel weirder negotiating with five teens over shark tagging tasks. So when the grad students got our shark situated under their bodies, I got to test his reflex, and his eye membrane nictated nicely which meant that he wasn’t too stressed. On the next round I clipped a bit of tissue off another shark’s fin for DNA testing. A few days later I played games with a blindfolded dolphin, and the day after that, I served as a dolphin pool toy. Ahhhh!
In June, I piled on three coats to wend my way through freezing drizzle to a sod Viking lodge in Newfoundland and talk caribou stew with a Norse woman. Some kilometers south, I walked on the earth’s mantle, and in Nova Scotia I rafted the mud-red bore of world’s highest tide. Last fall I used a three foot strip of baleen and a rubbery sand eel to educate boatloads of whale watchers then recorded the number and type of whale body parts we spotted.
Between trips, I hand out crickets to people who want to get squirted by archer fish at the Denver aquarium. Then I urge visitors to feel sharks teeth or get hugged by sea urchins. Next trip to the coast, I hope to get rescued by the Coast Guard.
What’s my job? I’m researching a Sea Secrets lecture series, guide book, and Breathtake Byways blog for sea lovers and cruise ship passengers.
Mom’s Very Best
Published with a collection of similar stories in the Pueblo Chieftain, 5/6/15
Mom, my brother, and I loved our reading time every evening. Tom Sawyer was probably our favorite. We carried Twain’s humor into other activities, joking about doing things “the hard way, the right way.” The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew was another big hit, and when my birthday came, Mom baked a fine-spun replica of Polly’s poverty pastry. As I remember, Polly could only scavenge brown flour and semi-petrified currants to bake her Mamsie a birthday cake. Worse, their wood stove heated so unevenly that the cake came out fallen–or never raised–burned in places, and not quite done.
My mom’s reproduction was angel food with chocolate icing patched around to make it look burned. She drizzled in some pink patches too to make it look “raw” in other places. Oh, and there must have been flowers to stand in for Polly’s posies. The cake itself was, no doubt, Mom’s usual box mix. It tasted fine, but you can bet it would be long forgotten if not for Mom’s ample infusions of literary love.
Love you Mom,
Coming to Pueblo
‘Dad thought he could tough the place out’
by Ann Williams
Coming to Pueblo is a regular feature of the Sunday Ideas, opinions section that looks at how families began their lives in Pueblo. The Pueblo Chieftain, 12/2/12
Our family knows quite a bit about where we came from thanks to Mom’s decades of research. She found Charlemagne lurking back there in our roots along with a refugee French Huguenot from the 1500s, and a lowly Danish gooseboy who improved his lot in the U.S. Many of our ancestors arrived early. The first non-native girl born in New Amsterdam (now New York) was one of ours. Mom found that we had eight men in the trenches in the American Revolution, as well as a Civil War veteran who was left for dead but rode out on an abandoned nag. All of my great grandparents homesteaded—one family in Nebraska and the other three in Colorado—Branson, Minturn, and the Grand Valley.
The Grand Valley people stuck for seven generations so far, and that’s where Dad met Mom. Wayne Payton was a penniless, adventurous, mountain loving, World War II veteran. Alberta was the belle of Battlement Mesa. They wanted to get married in the worst way, but in 1951 jobs that would support a family were scarce as hen’s teeth on the Western Slope. Dad read in the Readers’ Digest that Pueblo’s CF&I (Colorado Fuel and Iron Steel Mill) was hiring thirty men a day to meet the demand generated by the Korean War. Dad had to think hard about coming here. Then he beat some more bushes for other jobs on the way. He remembered riding through Pueblo on a troop train during World War II and wondered how anyone could stand to live there. Still, Alberta was waiting. He thought he could tough the place out for a few years—just until he could find something better.
It was tough. The newlyweds set off over the Rockies for Pueblo with twenty-five borrowed dollars and an old Dodge that never missed a chance to break down. Pueblo’s housing shortage made finding a home challenging even for people with money. The couple shared their first apartment with a herd of cockroaches, moved up to a converted chicken coop, and then to a place regularly flooded by toilet wash from the apartment upstairs. They finally bought a new cookie cutter home in Belmont out in the far reaches of the lone prairie. We stayed until Dad retired in 1981 and beat it back to the Grand Valley homestead. I would have followed if I could have, but I was married to a Pueblo man with a Pueblo job.
Much as everyone in the family loves the Grand Valley ranch, I have to say that Pueblo has been good to us. Dad’s yen for the mountains had us trekking or picnicking every chance we got—in Pueblo Mountain Park, San Isabel, the Sangre de Christos. Phantom Canyon served as the perfect winter refuge. Dad was one of the first to invest in a rubber raft, and after we learned to paddle the Colorado, we had Arkansas Canyon’s whitewater all to ourselves. Jobs were a struggle by the time I started looking, but I finally hit pay dirt in the Pueblo Community College science labs. I especially appreciated the support for personal growth I found there and in Pueblo at large. My husband and I are now retired and could move anywhere, but our friends are too good to quit, and somebody’s got to show our grandson where the best trails are.
Read more about the Payton family and Wayne’s adventures in No Market for ‘Em, by Ann Williams, available at The Bookery, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Williams will sign books at The Bookery on Thursday, December 13th from 3:00 to 6:00. She invites all to come share their own family stories.