Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Turtle Love

With apologies to the "Muskrat Love" of the Captain and Tennille and Florida's general love affair with the non-native Manatee, we must say that in the Florida Keys, all the love is about sea turtles. And this post is perfectly timed. Why? Because the unheard of (and called for) cold snap we have been harping on for the better part of a month, sent a lot of fish to meet their maker...and about 180 sea turtles to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key. Reptiles that they are, they are too cold to be active so they have just been bobbing around in the cold water, which makes them look even more injured than they really are. Turtle 911 has sent them to the hospital for warming up. And that's the right place to go. The now Turtle Hospital was in its hay day a unique resort with a natural tidewater swimming pool. Turtles use the once "resorty" rooms in combination with kiddie swimming pools that have now been converted to the holding tanks for the "residents". Without this facility, thousand more turtles may have perished. Without the controlled "hot tub" hotel beds (that would be water beds of course) there would be no way to assist turtles with inappropriate ingestions, damaged limbs, and tumorous growths. There are x-ray facilities, a surgical center and even a turtle nursing home quarter for those who just could never survive in the outside world. Assisted living for those with a hard shell! Some of the facility is hands on; some is, for reasons of sanitary conditions, hands off and eyes on- but all of it is educational and interesting and the 90 minte tour allows time to answer every question within the tour group. Well worth the 15$ admission, all of which goes to the efforts of the non -profit organization that operates the hospital.

When its time for the slide show, watch for weight belts and magnetic weights on turtles who for one reason or another have air bubbles under their shells and can't submerge. Look for the same propeller scars that impact the manatees. Look for the scar tissue where the tumors have been removed in surgery. Look for the turtles- most all of whom are alive today but may well have persihed on some yesterday were it not for this facility...

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Break In The Wind

It was in a tightly packed campground on Sugarloaf Key two years ago where we first met George, Susan, and Melissa. They had been packaged into the sardine can directly across from us and we talked as is common amongst neighbors in a campground. While that camp is tight, it is also very nice visually and pretty well run with lots to do and a friendly staff- always a plus. One of the topics of discussion back then had been about how on earth we were going to be able to get out of the slip when the time came- it was that tight and we are that big. Size may not be important, but it DOES matter when it comes to being able to navigate around the trees and other rigs. It seems our new friends were headed out early... on their way to go to Miami to attend a concert. That freed up the space for us to get clear and onward we went....

Then on one of the only nice few days at this year's stay at Fiesta Key (our most recent stop) we were bobbing around in the seaside pool when both we, and they, realized we had met before- two years previous as described above. The friendship was rekindled but the weather changed toward the virtually lousy and we never had a chance to do things with them before the time came to lift the jacks and roll down the road a few miles. But we vowed that if and when the weather changed again for the better, we'd hook up and have some fun.

That day came very recently and back up Highway 1 we traveled to spend the day with them at Fiesta. First order of business, bacon and eggs, then take the Starcraft out on the now calm turquoise waters of the Keys to see if the fish were biting. They were. A short 5 mile skip out to the reef had us pulling up fish from 60 feet of water in a big hurry. Yellow Tail Snapper. Grouper. Porkies. Wrasse. Sharks. Grunts. Florida fare. Some good eating; nothing for the record book. Lots of fun.

There were pool activities and noodle battles, "bird Olympics" with Sugar (you can call me Chicken) the Cockatoo, observation of an organized clambake going on down at the beach that involved seaweed collection from the nearby shore, and more of the kind of thing you see with people hanging out at poolside, and some steaks on the grill for a finishing touch.

From sun-up to sun-down, it sure was a great day.

Here's a slide show of the days activities:

And "Watch The Birdie"... or... the Florida Chicken Dance

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Pirates of the Caribbean- Keys Version

Well shiver me timbers, sip some rum, and call me Johnny Adept (you have to know the Pirate's of the Caribbean series to get this one); there be treasure on the beaches of the Florida Keys, matey! By the same token, I now understand WHY the treasure is so dad-blooned hard to find! Yesterday we went treasure hunting. Took the Tesoro Metal Detector and headed off to the wind swept beaches of Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key at MM 39 not too far from our current campsite. The usual thinking is that the pirates hide their booty in a cave or under a big rock that couldn't be moved or under a tree that stood there forever.....not so. Apparently the pirates hide the treasure under hoards of dead rotting fish. In all my years of walking beaches and combing them for one thing or another, I have never ever run into a fish kill the size and magnitude of this. I can only, and I say this in reverence and sorrow, imagine what it must be like in Haiti following the devastating earthquake there. This was really bad. But we've been trying to avoid the shut out caused by the weather here so we're plowing into whatever we can to make this be the time in the Keys we intended it to be. The cold air and wind have created cold water, and fish are dying everywhere. Never have I seen the tough and almost unkillable moray eels laying rotting all along the stretch of beach we worked with our detector. It was really bad. We did our calculated best to stay up wind of the kill line as it lay festering on the beach- with only limited success. Fish by the thousands going to waste, but fascinating none the less.

The coastal keys are pummeled with shipwrecks just off shore. On any given day, a body has the chance to find an ancient coin or two. Gold doubloons. Pieces of Eight. How did we do? More like eight pieces of aluminum- but one never knows, so one always looks to see what one will see. And in addition to the pieces of junk- coins from today, be they old(er) or be they new(er). The grand booty for this day: 94 cents.

The thing about treasure is that it is more of a mental thing. Seldom does it pay for the cost of discovery. Think I can buy eight new AA batteries for the detector with my lousy 94 cents? No way Jose (that would be Jose the Pirate). But it just doesn't matter. I stayed out of trouble the entire time we searched for treasure. I held my nose from the rotten fish thing, but I laughed nearly the whole time. We decided NOT to have fish for dinner when we got home, but we cooked up some shrimp and scallops no matter what, so no trauma that lasted. And I had the chance...... The chance that the next time we stuck the trowel in the sand and pulled up whatever treasure lay below- that it would be something of value in one way or another, something of substance, something of history, something of interest, something of past tragedy, something of delight.

Who seek treasure are not in search of treasure in any way, shape or form. They are seeking adventure. And that is the way life is worth living. Aye, dat be the 'ting!

Fairness in Advertising Statement for this post: a few of these "more interesting"coins were found on a different day than the one I wrote about- like you care....

No Name Little Big Game

It's like Little Big Horn- only different! I mean, is there a Big Big Horn? I don't think so. But there is surely Big Game and no one needs to explain that to us. But Little Big Game? Search no more. It is what's to be found in the Florida Keys. The gators are smaller. The turtles in the limited bodies of fresh water are smaller. Even many of the birds seem to be smaller. And the deer, known as Key Deer, are much smaller than White Tails and other deer found elsewhere in the state and the country. How small are they? Small enough that they are a bit hard to spot, especially since their habitat is tight and dense and often swampy.

But on this day, we stopped by the information center near Big Pine Key and then headed into the bush, to the Blue Hole, and to the Key known as, what else, No Name. Think of it as a little safari into the Florida Keys. To find what? Little Big Game. Here's what we found:

There is a bit of a Post Script to this. The shot of the two mature buck Key Deer is badly out of focus. It made the cut because they were the only mature bucks we saw on our expedition and we saw them as we were moving forward and they were running right at us. Not an easy situation for a clear shot. But I just couldn't NOT include it....

Saturday, January 16, 2010

IN (The Keys) And OUT (Of The Cold)

I freely admit it: I've been ragging about the bitter cold and wind episodes that have plagued our first month in the Florida Keys. It's all about expectations. It should be warm. It should be relatively calm excepting for some delightfully fresh breezes. I should be in a boat somewhere or I should be swimming in the sea or I should be taking pictures of myself holding the spiny lobster that I just caught with my own bare hands while free diving some deep ledge somewhere in the otherwise shallow Keys waters. Instead I have been chasing down slow (by comparison to normal speed) iguanas in a buffalo hat and taking pictures of them. OK. Change is good. Adaptation is good. But expectations being what they are- you still want what you want where and when you think you should be getting it. The theory is good; in practice, maybe not so much.

But in truth, not every single day was a lost cause. The first two days here we unloaded as fast as possible and jumped in the water. We saw where the lobster were, we just never had weather that let us get back to them. About half way through the month we had a day that was not totally prohibitive so we tried the snorkel once again, but though the wind and air temp were ok for a short window, the water temps had fallen so far that we were cramping up after only a short while in the water, the fish had all moved out or died because of the cold shock, and the crafty crustaceans were deeper and less accessible. Strike One. Strike Two. Strike Three. And the two of us peeled out of our light weight wet suits to expose the now purple skin tones to the light of day... and quickly wrap them in a beach towel. Beauty may be skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone! In the Keys, one looks for shades of tan, not tints of purple- so this is further evidence of the problem at hand.

But when we were not shivering our timbers, or reconstructing the tent that kept blowing down we did manage to get out for short bursts and "do some stuff." So here's a look at what we were able to do and see in this first month of our visit.

First a look at some kayaking, boating, fishing, sightseeing, and tide pool exploration that we fit into the short but partially open windows that we were afforded:

Then off to some bird sanctuaries, centers, and wildlife museums at Crane Point (MM50- Marathon Key) to see what they had to offer, like the Adderley House- the oldest building in the Keys outside of Key West.

The trip to the Deep Sea Diving Museum was a complete upside surprise and we discovered a world class collection of diving suits and systems- the sort of thing I always read about but had never seen up close and personal. (MM 83 Islamorada)

And then a first look at our second stop along the way at Sunshine Key RV Resort, which is actually on Big Pine Key just below the Seven Mile Bridge (MM 39)

Cold and wind don't show up on pictures very well. Actually, they really don't show up at all, but keep them in mind as you check out these slide shows- as it was uncommonly blustery during pretty much of our whole first month. Global Cooling! No doubt America is to blame for that too....

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Stonewall Wants....

Gundyville does not always accept challenges and we don't take requests.....not on a regular basis anyhow. But our newest prospecting buddy, Stonewall Gene suggested, after we had chatted with him about eating iguanas in Honduras when we lived there, that we take advantage of the cold snap and the "falling like rain" iguanas of the previous post and go out and capture a few of the green lizards. Well I guess catching iguanas is like falling off a bicycle- once you know know how. Of course it doesn't hurt that these little rascals are somewhat slow and subdued in their reaction time right now. It may be a little warmer, but they like it a lot warmer- so advantage Greg on the chase of the day. This is different than what most in the Keys would call the "Catch of the day." Now the capture was done to prove a point (or two). They really were falling out of the trees like we said. And we really do know how to catch and handle them. Ain't no BS going on here (well, maybe a little).

Anyhow this post goes out to Stonewall sitting back in the Inn in one of the Virginias in the cold and snow. See? Not just a pretty face. Mighty hunters are we!

For the record, Gene wanted us to freeze 'em up so he could taste on them later. And Cosmic Bob thinks they need about two hours in the smoker. But I don't need any PETA protests going on by the Seven Mile Bridge here in Big Pine Key, so I am refusing to say whether we released the little guys back into the Mangroves at water's edge, or whether we smoked them for two hours, or whether we did the real men thing and ate them raw then picked our teeth with the toenails. That's right; I'm not saying. It's just that most of you probably can't quite picture Marilyn doing that teeth picking thing, can ya???

I always hunt iguana in my Buffalo hat! Goes back to my native American roots.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Raining What ???

Funny word: Rain! We know we need it, but we'd rather not have it (most of the time). For as much as it does for us, it's still a bit of a downer. The word itself can be used in lots of ways. Heavy rain. Light rain. A metaphor for "bad", as "into each life a little rain must fall." Too much of a good thing: "It's raining money." Normally we're talking about water, right? Well, not necessarily. There's a song about "Raining Men." And a favorite expression- "It's raining cats and dogs."

But 2010 will go down as the year a new expression (and use of the word "rain") was coined. Hold the press on the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary- we have a last minute addition! Odd! Because it isn't even raining. It's snowing most places in the country. It's blowing most places in the country. But here in Florida (the Florida Keys to be exact)- it's just plain cold. Very cold. Elsewhere there may be frost on the pumpkin, but here there is ice on the strawberries- never a good thing. And the orange trees? They have skipped the processing plant this year and are going into direct production of frozen orange juice!

Which brings me back to the "new rain thingy." It's so cold. How cold is it? It's so cold that Green Iguanas are actually suspending their bodily functions (not dead, just in some suspended animation state) and falling out of the trees. I'm not lying! They're dropping all over the place- along side the road and even into some of the swimming pools (saw that one on the nightly news). Headlines in the local rags: "It's Raining Iguanas."

So yes, rest of the country, it is cold here too. We don't have to shovel snow (yet), just those big green lizards. It is after all, raining iguanas. You can now stick that in your Funk and Wagnalls....