Carl Wernicke

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.

His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home on Pensacola Beach and watching sports, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union.

Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.


While riding in the procession from the church to the cemetery last week for the funeral of J. Earle Bowden, I noticed what I have been told is a unique Pensacola tradition: cars all along the route stopping to honor the deceased.

Now, I myself have stopped many times for funerals, but it has been a long time since I was part of the procession to the cemetery. I can tell you that from the inside, it is a very moving tribute. People didn’t just pull over to the side of the road, many of them simply stopped where they were, in the road.


Much has been said in the last few days, by myself and others who worked with him, about J. Earle Bowden. The longtime editor of the Pensacola News Journal died Sunday, and is rightfully being remembered as a dominant figure of his time in Northwest Florida.

At a certain point it becomes difficult to come up with new insights, as certain themes naturally recur in remembering someone as unique as Earle.

I think what might come closest to summarizing Earle’s life and career is a simple fact: it was easy to see who Earle was because he wore it so plainly in his daily life.


Roger Smith, who lectured recently at IHMC on his work rehabilitating injured birds of prey, made a comment during an interview with me that could not be more true. He said that to fully appreciate what is going on in nature, you have to understand it.


When most people think of Florida, they don’t think in terms of change of seasons. It’s palm trees and summer all the time. But one of the many advantages to living in Northwest Florida is that we get winter as well as summer, but not too much of it. As the latest snowy blizzard blows through the northeast, it’s a comforting thought.


I’ve talked before about the value of staying connected to what’s happening locally, something that grows in importance as traditional media suffer from shrinking budgets and staff. But staying connected isn’t just about local news media; it includes a wide variety of community organizations.


Sunday morning I went for a walk down our driveway, which is lined with woods that stand mostly untended by human hands. The day was gray but the sky was brightening with wisps of blue showing through the low clouds. A fierce storm had blown through in the early morning darkness, a wind-driven rain lashed by lightning, the kind of storm that always makes me feel glad to be tucked into a warm bed.


If we Baby Boomers pledged one thing to ourselves, it was that we wouldn’t become our parents as we aged. But that’s proving harder than it seemed at the time.

That came home recently while listening to a selection of today’s popular music when I found myself thinking that it sounded like a lot of noise; bad noise. Oops, I bet that’s how my music sounded to my parents.


How to get a good night’s sleep seems to be a recurring topic in our hectic, modern society. And with the Baby Boomers aging into growing sleep problems, it’s likely going to be a lucrative medical field as well.

For me, a good night’s sleep starts with my chickens. I’ll explain.

Doing anything new involves a learning curve. In our case, deciding 10 years ago to raise chickens for the eggs was definitely new. And we basically just jumped in after doing a little research. Which is where the learning curve comes in.



  With the arrival of real winter this week I suddenly realized that this year seems to be zooming by at breakneck speed. That was underscored by what is quickly becoming a traditional sign of the arrival of Thanksgiving – the outbreak of Christmas decorations.

     In my day, we didn’t start decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but these days the passage of time seems more fluid and irrelevant than ever.


There’s a reason why archeologists dig to recover the past. Nature piles the new on top of the old, and so do we. But covering something up doesn’t make it go away.  Just ask Richard Nixon! Or, as William Faulkner famously put it, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

In Pensacola, our Superfund sites tell us all we need to know about how the past stays with us. A happier example is the archaeological work done by the University of West Florida, uncovering so much of our past.



   Apparently every community in America takes pride in having the worst drivers, and certainly Northwest Florida can make its case.  But the advent of the cell phone is taking things to a new and scary level.

   Leaving the University of West Florida recently, I was at the light at Nine Mile Road and University Parkway. Now, we’re all used to aggressive drivers who cheat the light and push through the intersection after it turns red. They do this trusting that the drivers on the other side will take a moment after the light turns green to hit the accelerator. 


Saturday morning I was driving down Mary Kitchens Road on Garcon Point when I began to ask myself, when did all those wildflowers pop up on the shoulders? Sure, I had been seeing the fall flowers coming on, but how did they go from coming on to a cornucopia overnight?

Well, they didn’t. It just seemed that way.

Before I say why, let me backtrack a bit.


I have always loved newspapers. They’ve been called the first draft of history, an elegant phrase. And what I have found is that the smaller the paper, the more intimate the news. So as a traveler I have long made it a practice to buy the weekly and other small publications wherever I go, to try to get a sense of that community.

When Hurricane Ivan waded ashore about 2 a.m. on Sept. 16, 2004, I was holed up inside the Pensacola News Journal offices in downtown Pensacola. Water was up to the tops of the parking meters on Jefferson Street, and seeping into the building at various spots; we had used rope to tie the door by the photo lab shut, and it seemed unlikely that the big metal bay doors on the loading dock were going to hold much longer given the agonizing noises they were giving off.

The most unsettling thing about the fast pace of advancing technology for people of my generation may simply be the vertigo that comes from having the sand beneath your feet shifting so often.