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 in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. 

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.


For years in my Pensacola News Journal column, and here on WUWF, I’ve chronicled my efforts to clean up roadside litter. One unvarying factor was that no matter how often, or how much, litter I collected, it didn’t take long for there to be more.  It also didn’t take long to abandon my dream that cleaning up litter might inspire people to stop tossing it. 

It does not. 


Travelers find value in different ways. It can come in seeing famous places you have always heard about, or just immersing yourself in another culture — seeing new faces, if you will. You can discover how people are alike, or how different we are.

I enjoy discovering something unexpected that leaves a lasting impression. Maybe I had never thought about it, or maybe I knew it intellectually without really understanding it.


Several years ago I reviewed here a new book, “The Gulf, the Making of an American Sea,” by University of Florida professor Jack Davis. It provided a long neglected comprehensive history of the Gulf of Mexico, the sea that dominates the history of Pensacola.

Last year, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in history. And earlier this month, Davis came to Pensacola to talk about the book at the WSRE Public Square Speakers Series at Pensacola State College. I was happy to see a jammed auditorium.


We human beings are suckers for new things, which is why there is a cottage industry devoted to putting the word “new” on old products, usually in bright red stickers with ragged edges and an exclamation mark or two. But the start of a new year really is something new, not just a mark on an artificial calendar. The earth itself is headed toward the rebirth of spring, at least on our side of the equator. I’d be writing this six months from now in, say, Peru, but try to forget that. It really doesn’t apply here, and I’m sorry I brought it up.


I’ve talked before about the value of reading obituaries, still very much the province of newspapers, either in print or online. As John Maynard Keynes famously noted, in the long run we are all dead. So rich or poor, famous or obscure, good or bad, the obit is our shared legacy.


Many years ago I became an avid reader of food labels. Cans, boxes, bags, packaged meats, even deli foods … and it opened my eyes to what was being sold to us as food. I admit to becoming evangelical on the subject, and there are people who groan as soon as I raise it … again.

But many others have responded in a gratifying way, professing shock and amazement at what is in food they have consumed for years without giving a second thought  to its contents.


We recently traveled to Canada, about 60 miles north of Toronto. We stayed in a resort that offers skiing and snowmobiling in the winter, golf, hiking and mountain biking in the summer.

We were near Barrie, a lakefront town of about 130,000 people. The area is rural, agricultural and tourist, with shorelines on Lake Ontario.

We could have been in the U.S.; they drive like we do, there is just about every chain restaurant and big box store you can name., and the people are friendly.


People of a certain age will identify with this sad story. The rest of you, well, you will understand it soon enough. And while I say it’s sad, the good news is that it is redeemed by a happy ending.

The theme is that while we can be stupid, we can also be brilliant. Or, something like it, anyway.

Recently I was scrounging some free firewood from a tree sawed up and left on the curb on West Garden Street. It was conveniently cut into firewood length, so all I had to do was load it into my truck.


With the coming of spring, the home building boom across Pensacola remains in full force. But human houses are not the only construction underway. Birds have been busily building their own nests.

And as with human construction, it doesn’t always go smoothly.

My wife and I collect bagged leaves to use for compost and mulch. The end of March and early April feature roadsides littered – in a good way – with bags stuffed with leaves raked up by homeowners ready to trade in their rakes for lawnmowers.


I’ve been happy to see the debate over the Taco Bell planned for Cervantes Street in East Hill. Just as with renewed interest in the development of downtown’s west side, and a surprisingly effective challenge to county development plans in Beulah, residents have reawakened to their ability to influence their community’s direction.


Those of a certain age remember the enthusiastic TV ads for gadgets developed by a wondrous company called Ronco. These amazing, not available in stores products did everything from catch fish to remove those stubborn stains on clothing.

Some probably did work, but probably not for long. The materials were often inferior, and the problem s you needed solved didn’t need to be solved that often.

However, the ads did offer a new form of entertainment on TV, and brought us the ultimate marketing slogan: But wait – there’s more!


A major weakness of our culture is our reluctance to talk about death. Given that it’s the ultimate destination for all of us, that’s a serious weakness. It leaves too many people grappling with their most fundamental fears all alone.

Fortunately, in recent years this taboo has loosened. One result is some excellent advice about the last word on all of us: our obituary. And that advice is that we all ought to write our own. After all, who knows what other people will say about us when we are gone?


An undeniable impact of the Internet is how it reveals more about who we are, and what human society is like, than anyone could have predicted.

On the positive side we see Go Fund Me-type efforts, where people donate money to support causes or help individuals, or invest in small businesses starting up or trying to expand. They do this because they get their own reward from helping other people. It’s heartwarming.


One of the mixed blessings of growing old is that you have seen a lot. And while it is almost always an exaggeration to say you have seen it all, well, I think I have now seen it all.

In his New Year’s Eve homily, Pope Francis, never one to shy away from taking on our most egregious sins, addressed one of the most prevalent: bad drivers.

I’m with him.