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.

I talked recently about wondering, as a younger man, about my parents’ regular habit of reading the obituary page in the newspaper. As I came to learn, that was where they found more and more of their friends, as well as the well-known names from the business, political and society circles that shaped the Pensacola of their generation.

But in reading the page recently, it reminded me that no matter whether you know the names or not, the obits, as we called them in the newspaper business, provide a unique reflection of ourselves.


Those of you living in manicured neighborhoods, especially among the emerald green bio-deserts we call lawns, might not have noticed. But the fall wildflower season is upon us.

Out in the country, unkempt roadsides and fallow fields are bursting with a mad profusion of color.

One of the enduring strengths of Pensacola is that it has a remarkable cultural arts infrastructure for a city its size. From the many art galleries to the museum of art,  the Little Theatre and the Opera, Pensacola showcases high quality shows and performances you might not expect to find, often showcased in the beautifully restored Saenger Theatre.

But the city’s primary cultural arts asset has to be the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, which recently opened its 90th season. That’s a remarkable run in a city featuring a downtown that has been left for dead more than once.

I remember years ago wondering why my parents always seemed to be reading the obituaries in the newspaper. Over time I figured it out. As they aged, they found more and more of their friends and acquaintances there, as well as the well-known names of the movers and shakers who had helped form Pensacola during their working lives.


The great scientist E.O. Wilson, who grew up and developed his love for nature in South Alabama and Northwest Florida, has a new book coming out. In it he proposes setting aside half the planet in human-free zones devoted to nature. He believes these natural spaces would give declining wildlife populations room to recover, and halt the ongoing extinction of thousands of species.

I hate it when people say things like, everyone says … but everyone is saying how hot it is this summer. I thought maybe because I’m closing in on the senior discount at the movies, everyone I know is also getting old, and that accounts for it. But even younger people are complaining, so it must really be hot.

Or maybe it’s the humidity. That’s my latest theory. It’s not hotter, it’s just more humid than normal. I’ll get back to you on that if I ever do any actual research on the topic.

Over the years, especially when I was living on Pensacola Beach, I was an advocate of the staycation.  That is, when you live in a place that people spend thousands of dollars to visit, you might as well act like a tourist yourself, but for less money, since you are already here and have a place to stay.


Pensacola prides itself on its long history, but it has been hard to translate that into real interest from visitors. Our local history has always taken a backseat, in terms of an active tourism draw, to places like the beach, Fort Pickens or to the Naval aviation museum, which is of course history, but not so much local history.


Throughout my 30-year career at the Pensacola News Journal, a recurring theme of our coverage was poverty and its impact on education. Statistics clearly show that high rates of poverty are reflected by poor performance in schools, and Escambia County has been a prime example.

One of the more enduring themes about education in Escambia is how openly people talked about taking jobs there, but buying a home in Santa Rosa County because they believed the schools were better.


The outstanding performance this past weekend by the robotics team 
from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition certainly comes as 
no surprise to anyone who has followed the institute's work. The team 
finished second overall in the international DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Robotics Challenge, 
and first among all teams using the Atlas robot, built by a company 
recently purchased by Google.

Busy Being Retired

May 20, 2015

I’m only a few weeks into retirement, but people are already tired of hearing me say that I’m so busy I don’t know how I had time to work. But it’s true. For example, this week brought the highly anticipated arrival of the tomato hornworm.  Left unattended, these voracious monsters can strip the leaves from a full-grown tomato plant practically overnight. Our main defense is to pick them off by hand and feed them to the chickens. This obviously takes time, which is hard to come by when you have to go work.

I now realize what a huge hole work puts in your day.


In late April my wife and I went downtown for the ceremony honoring the courageous black Pensacolians who engaged in a sit-in to protest to segregation of department store lunch counters.

Even though it was a rain-threatened Saturday afternoon, we were both disappointed in the turnout, both black and white. It underscored a comment I read from Sarah Jonas, the young UWF student whose research led to the event. She said, “These things didn’t happen all that long ago and yet I feel that many young people are so disconnected from it.”



  Free food is a concept with almost universal appeal. Certainly over my career as a journalist, free food was one of the major perks driving news coverage. Given the choice, you’d much rather cover an event featuring free food than one without it. Even lousy free food was better than no food. As a veteran reporter told me at an event one day, the food might not be very good, but at least there’s plenty of it.


With the recent news cycle being dominated by coverage of the five-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, it pays to take a few minutes to reflect on it. While the fear of those early days of fouled water and stained beaches has faded, there’s one thing we should never forget: it could have been worse. A lot worse.


I’ve always been told that the so-called Golden Years are, well, golden. But as I creep increasingly near the senior citizen classification, some of what I’m finding doesn’t seem like gold. It’s more like pot metal.
   It’s bad enough that over the weekend I wandered all over the house looking for my sunglasses, only to find that they were on top of my head. Or that after several minutes of looking for my reading glasses, I found them hanging from the collar of my shirt, right in front of me.


Several years ago my wife and I visited Budapest during a trip to Europe.  The city is one of the many crossroads of history that dot the European landscape. It is a history of constant strife, from pre-Roman to modern times, sweeping back and forth across the region as rival powers rose and fell, the one constant being the suffering inflicted on the people caught in the middle, simply trying to live their lives


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.