Friday, February 26, 2010

Prospecting The Everglades

Your best chance for finding gold in the Everglades is in the color of the sunset, not in your pan. But we managed to strike gold today when our friends Stonewall Gene and Jules dropped by unexpectedly for a visit. We'd been trying to hook up with them down here for months now- ever since we parted company after working the creek at Vein Mountain, North Carolina. Rain, wind, cold, snow, and business obligations have been keeping us from getting together for months now. You'll note from the picture that the girls are wrapped in their blankets, so no heat wave happening here today. Mountain Man Stonewall? Well, it was "shorts" weather for him, rugged outdoors prospector that he is! A full moon rose high above the highest palms across the sky as if to join us sitting on the seawall to watch the sunset....which of course, was mostly gold.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pontooning 10,000 Islands

I'm not going to try to count the number of islands downriver from camp here at Everglades Isle, but they are called The Ten Thousand islands, so let's just go with that. Our hosts at Everglades Isle offered a bunch of us a complimentary tour on the company pontoon boat. Sure! We left the dock on a Sunday afternoon around 2 PM. We were expecting the usual jaunt down river and back and we would have been pleased with that. But instead Captain Mark took us down river, out to the islands for some bird watching, some beach combing, some scenic cruising- and we didn't even get back to the dock until something approaching dinner time. It was a great trip and we had good company and an excellent time. The sun was shining and warm when we left the dock, but that yellow orb disappeared behind the dark clouds pretty soon after we launched. That fact did nothing at all to put a damper on the float, and even though we hit a few patches of sprinkles, the experience was totally delightful.

Worth mentioning, Ospreys, Great Horned Owl on a perch and in flight, an Anhinga (a cormorant-like water bird) eating a fish half his size, beaches loaded not only with shells but lots of sponge material. The passing dark clouds made for some beautiful color variations which hopefully you'll note on the slide show.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Olympic Everglading

It's time for the Winter Olympics of 2010 and we are in the central Everglades at Everglades City- so what else was I gonna call it? Everglades Isle RV is a beautiful campground resort which is still largely undiscovered. We pretty much have the place to ourselves. There are a few others here but not enough so that the club house facilities can be fully open- but that's OK with us as we, for the most part, don't need them anyway.

The cold that we have been writing about pretty much non stop for the two months that we spent in the Keys persisted for much but not all of our first week here. For the moment, things have warmed up and hopefully they will hold but I'm not gonna bet on that all things considered. The camp hosts apologized for the look of the place (something out of their control) because many of the trees, even the usually lush green coconut trees are entirely brown from the extended periods of cold, frost, even freeze. Looks like most of them will come back, but surely not all, as Florida and its inhabitants, human and other wise- are not used to this kind of rude treatment from Mother Nature.

The coco below is a good example of what I'm talking about:

Still, the place is very pretty. The view of life along a waterway is always fascinating and intriguing and always offers something new to see- if only how differently things look as the light changes throughout the day.

But this is the time of the Olympics. Of pushing capabilities to the extreme so off we went deep into the Glades looking for the Fakahatchee Strand. If you're an avid reader and you want to get an excellent word picture of the Glades, may I suggest a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. You'll find it in the true crimes section of your book store or library. An excellent read, it is a look at the Glades at a time when Florida developers were carving up the swamp to make way for houses and people, especially in the SW of Florida around Fort Myers, Cape Coral, where we lived for a number of years. The pressures Man puts on Nature is a theme that runs through the text and I think you'll find it of interest without feeling like anyone is lecturing you. Passions for orchids, which we quite understand, is a primary theme as well. The book is set largely in The Fakahatchee Strand of the Everglades.

The Fakahatchee Strand has several places where you can access the Glades through its portals. We will surely enter elsewhere, but for our first foray we entered beside The Miccosukee Indian Village on Rt 41. This venue is more easily accessible to travelers who don't want to go to deep into the Glades to start out. The Everglades are at the same time tempting and scary. Beautiful in a raw sort of way but with the caviat of gators and snakes and spiders and things that go bump not only in the night but just maybe also during the daylight. We walked about a half mile in ...and back, staying dry on a path and a boardwalk. There is a guided tour where you walk THROUGH the swamp in waist deep water with a thrasher walking stick, with low to no water visibility. Not sure I'm up for that just yet, but I'm thinking on it!

You never know where to look in the Glades so you just walk slowly and watch for movement of any kind. We saw big gators in the think brush. Red Shoulder Hawks. A squirrel who boldly dared to frolic below the hawk in the thicket below the hawk- thought I would get a once in a lifetime shot of a hawk taking a squirrel but that little guy knew darn well that the hawk could not get at him in the thick vegetation and he chattered and nagged the hawk until he flew away in disgust. We saw some white-tail deer that were smaller than the Key Deer we showed you a while back. In the thick brush they were very hard to see and nigh on impossible to photograph but I did what I could. Fish. Birds. Terrestrial plants and Epiphytes. Cypress trees and cypress knees and Strangler Figs that won some and lost some in the battle with their host trees. Mosses and ferns, lichens and fungi, orchids and hollow logs that could be hiding everything and anything.

Some of these but not all will appear in this post's slide show. It starts with our view around the old campsite, travels through the Strand, then finishes with sunset and nightfall back "home." Enjoy:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Key West Food Fest

Key West Food Fest. I don't know if there really is such a thing. Fantasy Fest, yes. Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras Wanna Be, yes. But Food Fest? Well, I just couldn't come up with much else to call it as we wrapped things up in the lowest of the Keys where food and The Cosmics converged to eat their way through the cold of this year's weirdest weather of all time. Cold? Gotta have calories to stay warm. So an evening visit to Benihanas Japanese Steak and Seafood House got things started with tableside preparation on the super hot Hibachi Grill. Breakfast at Tiffany's? Nope. Pepe's on Caroline is maybe the best breakfast in the world. Fresh squeezed orange juice starts everything else off just right. I caught a bunch of crabs in my trap off the end of our dock, so into the pot they went. Table for two seaside as Marilyn and Cosmic Bob ate the Blue Crabs and the Stone Crab Claws I was lucky enough to score on the last day I fished the trap. And if that wasn't enough, Bob made up a super batch of his outrageously delicious ribs on the grill. As you'll see in the slide show, the pelicans got into the act, as did the giant tarpon down at the Ships Wharf. Final farewells for now hugged out after dinner at the Stromboli Capitol of the World, the New York Pasta Garden off of Duval Square. I'm feeling full just recounting the feeding frenzy. Mighty tasty though, and not nearly as extreme as it sounds. In fact, it was pretty darn good!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's A Body To Do?

Our buddy Gene isn't buying it! If he hears (or sees) anything else that makes it look warm and cozy here in the Florida Keys he's threatening to ....well, he say's "Don't look up; I don't want you to see it coming." He's in the Virginia Mountains under 4 feet of snow and has taken of late to building snowmen on a bench under a tree and placing a noose around its neck. Touchy, touchy.

And our friend Joan in Pennsylvania is back at her old game of blaming US for HER bad weather. Snow, Cold, Wind, Storms - once you're over the early on magnificence of the physical world- get real old real fast for many. Me among them. So while I hate to taunt these two intrepid talents, we do have some deep sand here but we don't have any snow- let alone deep snow. And it's cold. Still! I mean, gotta put on a jacket just to walk the dog. In February! How ridiculous is that???

And as I've been trying to put into perspective the experiences of our friends, who are, thanks to our present gypsy life style- now all across this great land, I've begun to realize what I probably have always known but didn't think much about. Pictures don't show cold. Pictures don't show wind. And even snow looks pretty much harmless in a photograph. When was the last time you actually gasped aloud as some Weather Channel on-air personality had his or her hat blow off in a raging blizzard or even a hurricane. The hazard hides behind the image. Weather was never intended to be portrayed. No. It was intended to be felt. So when each of us sends the other a photo, we pretty much all think: "Yeah. So!" We have probably all experienced what our friends and family elsewhere are feeling. We might even have some fleeting recollection of their pain. No doubt we do care! But this is not a matter of "absence makes the heart grow fonder..." it's more a matter of telling someone else what you are challenged to endure (weather-wise) at this point in time.

For a blogger, the problem looms large (he said tongue in cheek). My friends want me to stop the painful onslaught of more and more pictures of seemingly magnificent and warm weather, bright sunshine, blue skies, birds flying carelessly (getting ticked yet?) Girls on the beach, dining on the sidewalk, a cocktail as the sun sets. Now? A paddle on flat salt water, hanging a fishing line over the side of the dock. Cry uncle?

OK. OK. I have more such photos today. Can't be helped. The story's gotta be told before it gets old. BUT! For what it's worth- if you watch the entire slide show, you will also see that even we get our comeuppance like all the rest. Look back a post or two first. See that still life shot of the conch horn, beer and plastic shot glass with tiny fish in the bottom, and the yaks and the bay in the background? Well, we went to bed at the end of the day...and in the morning came out to a deck that was covered with a million small fragments and slivers of glass- the wind I have been telling you about- the one you didn't believe me about- the one I told you was so cold- yes that one- well during the night it picked up the whole table, turned it upside down and slammed it into the pavers- making for trouble in paradise. Like you care! C'mon.

Here's what's in the show today. Our trip into Key West to see for the first time the new Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center. It was an excellent new facility, has potential for sure and I'm sure it will continue to develop. Touring on a budget? Admission is free. And the center features a 20 minute movie in its own theater that follows a young girl's introduction to the environment of the Keys. I must say it was one of the finest educational and top quality videos I have seen in a long time. That alone is WELL worth the visit.

The Eco Center is directly adjacent to the parking lot for Fort Zachery Taylor Park, which also is worth a visit. State Park rates apply unless you have a membership (we do) in which case it is free as well. The park also has one of Key West's most interesting beaches. Shelling and sponging are excellent here. Surf. Rock pier fishing. Out of the wind sun bathing. Water sports. Cafe. But quiet and almost private compared to the other more public and larger beaches.

Then off to the New York Pasta Garden at Duval Square. Lunch? Magnifico. The meat lovers' Stromboli was THE Best! And huge. Made several meals...

Don't forget to watch for the glass table that "Fall down, go boom."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wonderdog Pirates of Key West

Once again, Abby The Wonderdog suits up for a super photo shoot. Not to be left out of the Florida Keys fun, Abby donned her pirate costume in the hopes that the dockside session might qualify her for this year's swimsuit issue of Dog Sports Illustrated. While she was most enthusiastic about the new hat and scarf at the onset, she was, by the end of a long day in the stiff breeze and warm sunshine, exhausted by the outlay of energy required to produce such a professional shoot. Who ever said modeling was easy! It's really hard for a dog to smile all day long! But I think you will agree it was worth all the effort. If you don't think so, then apparently- you don't know Jack!

Sunrise To Sunset

In order to fully appreciate life in the Keys, you need to put in a long day- from sunrise to sunset and then on into the night. The subtle then brilliant colors of the morning sky, the changing colors of the waters throughout the day, then the night time falling colors of sunset over the ocean and night lights as they come up on the strip of Duval Street are a constantly changing source of fascination. There are strolls to take along shady and historical streets. Seafood to be caught and dined upon. Conch shells to blow and cold beer to relax with seaside on a hot day in February. Parrots in the trees and sometimes even riding along on a golf cart. Friends gathered around the table at Margaritaville. Palm frons bowls and hats to weave, escape artists and high wire acts, bag pipers and looking glass lookers. And just maybe a green flash for the very lucky on just the perfect end of day. That and much Key West.

Lower Keys Kayaking

Here's a look at some of the limited time we have been able to spend kayaking here in the lower Florida Keys. These images are in large part from Sunshine Key and the area surrounding Blue Water Key about 14 miles outside of Key West. Plenty of bird life and fish. Natural sea sponges. Jellyfish. Picturesque bridges over turquoise blue and even green, often crystal clear waters.

Simple Truths and Discoveries

Even my dear mother still calls it a trailer! And most people now call it an RV. We like the term Motor Coach. Somehow it has a nicer ring and conjures up something on the vehicular evolution scale above Neanderthal. Besides which, my greatest fear in life (one of them anyway) is that I will fall on hard times and be forced to live in a real trailer park somewhere in the Midwest where there's no ocean and tornadoes roll through every evening just to test if you are still alive or not. Now please don't get me wrong, I have nothing at all against people who do live in those parks. After all, it really is only a partial generation removed from what we are doing and how we do live. No talk of "trailer trash" from me; although there are those who think anyone living the transient life in whatever type of vehicle is that or worse. Are we gypsies not to be trusted near their valuables? Are we some brand of homeless with a shell, a traveling tortoise of sorts? Who knows what all those not living la vida loca of trailerdom think of those of us who are....

Well all this is a round about method of seg-waying into what I wanted to talk about today: the original and sometimes hurtful talk of the redneck lifestyle. Oh it's all meant in fun (I think) and I admit I engage in it myself. I have for years now worn a t-shirt that jokes about what a redneck would do if a redneck were to go boating; hence the birth of the now popular, if not famous, image of The Redneck Yacht Club.

Little did I realize though, and were it not for the lifestyle and the constant travel would I ever have learned, that there is Truth with a capital T to the image in the shirt and thereby I suppose also to the actual life style. It's hard to explain. Maybe impossible. But since seeing is believing, all you need do is study the photos provided here. Remember you can click on them to blow them up if you can't see detail, and just back arrow to return to the blog. This is no trick or illusion, no computer animation tricks involved like they used in Avatar. Nope. Just the image as it is. First the shirt. Then the real deal! Not the Yacht, the waterfront home...

While you are duly amazed, let's move on to another little known point of interest. Remember the band big in the 90's called Hootie and The Blowfish. Well, I have figured out how they got their rather creative rock band name. Like many a wild idea that came about with a bunch of college types sitting around sipping a brewsky, I now theorize (and it simply MUST be true) that several guys from the band took a few beers in the cooler and went fishing in the Florida Keys and caught a Southern Blowfish in the same manner as I did while out in the boat with George and Gerry and John up at Fiesta Key. It was a bit of a windy day again and the bite was slow as they say on board. But managed to catch a blowfish I did. No. I didn't hook him in his parrot like mouth. Seems I snagged his posterior, right next to the buttissimus maximus. When I hauled his a__ out of the water, he proceeded to puff himself up like a balloon. Ouch! So it immediately dawned on me, if you catch this type of fish by his hootie, he blows himself right up. And that, I presume, is the story of how Hootie and The Blowfish got their name. No offense intended.

And finally for this post, since I have asked you to "absorb" some rather vague and far-fetched concepts, I will close with what we found in a shallow bay on one of our kayaking outings with Bob and Susan- a rather substantial field of natural sea sponges growing happily in the waters of the Florida Keys.