Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Writing

Exit, pursued by a bear…

I’m stealing William Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction because I’ve recently been enamored with the National Park’s explore.org site, specifically the Katmai National Park’s Bear Cams. They have 5 separate live cams showing different areas, and all of them have given me great views of bear in the river, leaping trout, and the intersections of the two. A couple have audio as well as video, so I’ve been doing editing to the sound of rushing waterfalls, or a babbling broad river, and glancing up now and again to see wild bears! It’s pretty awesome.

And so, to tie in with that headline, here are some of the screenshots I’ve snapped. I didn’t get a good one of the bear cub interacting with–I think–a coyote (or was it a wolf? too grainy and half hidden for me to be sure), but I think you’ll agree these are pretty cool.

Just look at all those salmon!
Mama and twins!
Caught one!
Hmmm, there might be fish there…
Another bear wanders into the scene..
Magic of the Everyday, Nature, the dog

Definitely Spring!

Yes, I know the calendar told us that the first day of spring has just passed, but I’ve been seeing so much spring around here lately, and it’s awesome, so I’m gonna share!

The plum tree is covered in gumball-sized fruits of dull, celery green, and the new blueberry bushes are awash with clusters of greenish fruit, as well. The earliest loquats are now ripe, with more changing from greenish-yellow to golden orange every day. In the veggie garden, while the recent cooler weather has not been to my sulking tomatoes’ liking, the carrots and onions are thriving!

We’ve spotted our first hummingbirds, out at the purple-flowering sage in the front, and within an hour I had both hummingbird feeders out (I haven’t spotted any takers, yet, despite the chill temps early in the mornings). And Cedar Waxwings are swarming the holly tree outside my dining room window (and every berry-holding tree in the neighborhood honestly), swallowing down every ripe berry they can coax off the branches, fueling their trips further northwards.

And finally, how about the bigger wildlife?

Let’s start with Dasher. He adores sleeping in the sunbeams, as you know. I move soft bed out into the lanai and he takes a toy (or four) out with him, a security blanket to hold in his mouth as he dozes contentedly. Here’s his toy-of-choice yesterday:

Yes, he chose to wrestle that gator into submission, and looked quite comfortable holding it helpless in his so-powerful jaws! (snort, snert!)

And then, my sister (visiting from Ohio) and I went out to Payne’s Prairie to check out the scene. There was the owl, visible high in the live oak near the entrance, and even a fluffy chic, just as big as the parent but still incapable of flight, near the very top, basking in a sunbeam! (too high up; my pics turned out terrible–use your imagination???)

We proceeded to the boardwalk, where we were met with this:

Click to em-biggen any of these photos!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s right–a momma gator and her brood. At first, it looked like only 3, then 5. Then we managed to count 7, then 12–and then we saw more underneath the boardwalk, and some on the other side… In short, I have no idea how many baby gators were there. But momma knew. A wading bird came near and she moved, threatening it until it flew off, looking for a cheaper meal. And we heard the babies give their little beeping cries now and again. While I’d been hoping to see some gators, I never expected this! And never this close!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were other treasures too–an anhinga, sunbathing so close we could almost touch it. And loads of snakes of various stripes: garter snakes, water moccasins, brown water snakes. Rails and moorhens and egrets and herons and red-winged mockingbirds and…yeah, we went back to stare some more at the baby gators. They were the stars of the day.

Looking out at Payne’s Prairie from a small rise.
Not headless, but looking below it into the water! See the orange beak near the top of the tail, to the left?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Spring!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life, Travel

2018 Brings Me the Flu

Ugh. Yes, I caught this terrible flu. I’ve been battling it for nearly 2 weeks, and am feeling better, but still not 100%. This is why I’ve been so quiet for so long here–I’ve been busy sleeping, and drinking water and Emergen-C and echinacea tea, and sleeping. I’ve done a lot of sleeping.

Captive manatee snoot.

Just before the flu, however, my sister came to visit (fortunately, she did not catch the flu; only I was so lucky!). Since the weather was cool, the manatees had congregated thickly in the rivers around the springs, where the water spouts up from underground at a lovely 72°F (22°C) year-round. Sister-dear wanted to see manatees, so we went in search of manatees. Ironically, Manatee Springs Park did not have manatees; by the time we arrived, they’d already headed back to the ocean, as the unseasonably cold temperatures had begun warming up. We did find some at Fanning Springs, though, and later, we got really great views of some injured/rehab manatees at Homosassa Springs. 

 

We also visited our old favorite, Payne’s Prairie State Park. It’s been flooded since Hurricane Irma dumped so much water here last fall, so only the boardwalk and a narrow band of land before the boardwalk is open. Fortunately, that still left us with plenty to see.

Mama and her young foal wading for breakfast. Baby really didn’t like the cold water on his legs.

 

 

 

 

Joining the stallion

 

 

 

Why the trail is closed at this point…gators basking at the end of the boardwalk.
My sister is fascinated by armadillos. They were out in force at Payne’s Prairie, and completely unbothered by our presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then we went to the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, where, despite cold weather, many animals were more than willing to greet us.

 

Caracal in her pen.
Lemur, blessedly quiet, basking in the sun.
Peacocks wandered the grounds, looking otherworldly with their shocking colors.
Riches of gold, emerald, and lapis.
Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Happy Height of Summer!

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always register the seasons according to what the calendar says, but rather listen instead to some “interior logic” of your own. So, in my mind, the 4th of July holiday marks the height of summer–and by the same measure, the long slow slide into the dog days, and then into fall.

But we won’t go there yet. Especially now that I’m in north Florida, the cooler weather of autumn is a lo-o-ong way off yet. We’re firmly mired in the sweat and heat and sticky humidity of high summer.

Just now, the first plums from my tree are ripening. (First and last will be pretty close–my whole crop this year, thanks to that late double-whammy frost, will be 6 fruit. Yes, just six–assuming the birds and squirrels don’t steal any.) The tomatoes have given up under the crippling heat and humidity, and the potted fig tree struggles to get enough water to hold onto its ripening fruit, despite my attempts to water it twice a day. Sleeves are not something I want on my clothing in any form after 9 am. Even the dog, a dedicated sun-worshiper, gives up around 10 a.m., and lays panting inside on the relatively cool tile floors. I wipe up puddles of drool, just wishing I could automatically redirect them to the poor, gasping fig tree.

Into all this yuck, spousal unit and I joined up with friends and went out into the Gulf flats around Steinhatchee for scalloping. They’d gone last year, but this was my first time. I was excited to try scalloping and found it was oddly fun and totally relaxing.

Two small, flat-bottomed boats with captains headed out to the shallow scalloping grounds. The season is short enough–just six weeks–so reserving a spot early is always recommended. We were early, but there were already a few boats there. By the time we left, the area was teeming with small craft, and heads and snorkel tubes thickly dotted the flat waters.

Once at our destination, the shore a barely visible line floating a bit above the horizon line due to humidity, we donned snorkel gear and were handed a net bag. I popped overboard into the grassy waters, through which I glimpsed sand and the occasional small fish, and found myself in chest-high water.

The object was to swim along, eyes trained downwards, and look for the scallops moving up higher to feed. The small bivalves shoot water out to “swim” to new locations, and they filter water through ferny, gill-like fronds of bluish-white or orangish-tan. Sometimes the sunlight filtering down would reflect off their blue-black “eyes,” which somehow (they don’t really have eyes, or even brains, so how they manage this is pretty astounding!) sensed creatures coming near and caused the scallop to snap shut and maybe try to shoot away. A few lively ones would chatter even in your hand, snapping their clamshells repeatedly (they were shooting water, trying to dart away).

Floating in the salt water, I spotted blobby, rubbery-looking growths of new coral; gray hued-spider crabs busily eating with their tiny mouths, their outsized legs splayed out around their bodies; small starfish galore, both flat, star-shaped ones and others wrapped tight around thick grasses; various fishes; a horseshoe crab hiding beneath a mound of coral; a quite large hermit crab occupying a lovely conch shell; and so much more.

Despite the snorkel mask and mouthpiece, water still sneaked into the system now and again, lingering in the airtube and rasping ominously with each inhalation and exhalation. Husband said it creeped him out, sounding like looming death in his ear. I found it oddly appropriate, to my mind turning me into the Darth Vader of the Scallops, one by one bringing them  to the Death Star of the boat. He confirmed that I’m weird, and that writing is obviously my calling, which only endeared me to him more. Thus is life good.

And fresh-caught scallops are tasty!

So, a Happy High Summer to you all! May you always be the Seeker, not the Sought.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Summer Solstice 2017

This year is continuing to fly in a whirlwind of activity that I only notice as certain dates approach, then disappear. Like tomorrow, the summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere.

Really? The longest daylight hours, already? How is this even possible?

And yet, it is. We’ve been having plenty of rain lately, and not as much pure sunshine, but even so it’s easy to tell the skies are bright far later into the evenings. The four plums that were pollinated after our very late frost are red, but not quite ripe. The four-o’clocks are a blooming mass that continues to spread. The pineapple is growing visibly every day! And my garden has some interesting visitors:

I got to see this caterpillar start weaving the chrysalis around itself!
This caterpillar is now a chrysalis!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The caterpillars (there are a few tiny ones left) and cocoon on the dill plants (which I bought for them to save my parsley; it’s working!) are Eastern Black Swallowtails. The caterpillars devouring the passionflower are Zebra Swallowtails, Florida’s state butterfly. There are also two nearby cocoons for the zebra swallowtails which I can’t photograph well. I hope to see some unfurling of new wings as the butterflies emerge.

Happy beginnings of summer to one and all!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature

Worms in my Kitchen? I’m So Glad!

My worm composter arrived yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, the worms themselves arrived, neatly bagged, then boxed and delivered into my mailbox! Now, the composter is assembled, and the worms are making themselves happy after their trip from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in PA to north central FL. I’m sure they had quite a shock going from whatever temps PA had, to the upper 80s we’ve been having of late!

Nonetheless, they’ve quit seeking an escape and have settled nicely into the wet coir-and-shredded paper base. Their first light meal is scraps from the previous night’s beets along with mixed used tea leaves and coffee grounds. I’m hoping that they consider it gourmet treats and start digesting it quickly–I can’t wait to start using worm compost on my plants!

Why worm composting? Well, we don’t really freeze here, not for long enough to kill bugs. And, while I was using the neighborhood community garden, each time I went to the compost stack, roaches scattered. I could hear them, not just see them fleeing! It just grossed me out. Our yard is pretty small, so any composter I could get would be close enough to the house to be an attraction to bugs…and you can guess where that goes all too quickly. No way. Uh-uh. I don’t want roaches in my home.

I’ve been depressed about this for some time. We go through quite a bit of compostable material every week, once we return from the farmers’ market–peels, carrot tops, mushroom stems, etc. All that stuff just going to waste, instead of feeding my gardens, made me want to cry.  Then it just dawned on me–I could do worm composting without drawing bugs inside!

I haven’t figured out where it’s going to sit yet; this is still a work-in-progress, and it will probably change with the seasons. For now, I’m keeping it close so I can keep an eye on the worms’ adaptation to their home, making sure they survive, thrive, and begin to feed as expected. With any luck, soon you’ll see me taking piles of gorgeous compost out and feeding my plants worm tea!

Worms are in my kitchen, and yes, I’m very, very excited!

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

Spring is a Complicated Season

It’s spring: redbud trees are flushed purple-red, while the plum tree is hazed with tiny white blossoms. Weeds are growing faster than I can pull them, and the sun is warming to a nice dozing temperature every morning (or so the dog reports from his spot on the chair).

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The windows are open, and the house requires neither heat nor air conditioning to remain comfortable. The sun is warm and luscious, the shade is cooling, almost chilly. It’s absolutely the best time of year, here–perfect for walking, kayaking, hiking, gardening.

Then why am I sad? Sitting outside, I hear the echoing plaints of Sandhill cranes winging northward, see the shifting v’s form, merge, and re-form as they begin their long migrations. Despite the beauty, an ache of loss hollows me.

These are my cranes, you see. I like knowing they are near, even if I don’t see them each day. But now, their visit is ending. Their calls, so bittersweet and aching for home, announces it clearly. Before they even are gone, I miss them.

sigh

But you cannot cage the wild soul without altering it, so I would not keep them here. I try to remind myself that without their departure, I would not feel the same joy at their return next December, when the familiar cries of the first flock I hear rocket through me, drawing me up and out to search the sky for a glimpse of something precious, something mysterious and divine–an immense seasonal migration.

Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Personal Life

What I’ve Been Up To Lately (a post full of pics)

It’s Visitor Season here in North Central FL–the worse the weather up north, the more folks want to come visiting in the south (not that I blame them on little bit!). So, we’ve had guests. When my sister stayed, we went to Payne’s Prairie to see the Sandhill crane migration. Nearly 8,000 Sandhill cranes are overwintering here in Alachua County, and they’re guesstimating some 3,000-4,000 are in this park. Along with the Sandhills, a few highly endangered Whooping cranes usually sneak in, staying close to their cousins since they lack numbers to form their own flocks.

img_4426First, let’s get a picture of the alligator I nearly stepped on. Yes, that’s right. Stepped on! With the water at Payne’s Prairie at record lows, this bank is really steep. We’d seen no alligators on this side before now, and it was quite steep at this point, so I didn’t mind straying close to the dried grasses at the edge of the walking dike. Luckily for me, my sister was further to the side and saw this guy’s (lady’s?) head around the grasses it was resting behind. Remember, I’m using my iPhone camera, and they don’t do close-ups so well, all right? THAT’s how close this alligator was, even after I stumbled back and away! You can also see the closed eyes, which I found heartily reassuring. (It had been a very chilly night, so the gators were relieved to bask and warm up.)

img_4363Next, we found the bison. Until this day, I’d only seen the bison once, very, very far off–little dots in the distance that resolved into bison only with spy-glasses (take that, husband dear! he thinks “spy-glasses” is a ridiculous term. 😛 )  Today, no magnification necessary!

Notice the steep bank falling away from the dike. It’s far shallower on the other side, and you can see a bison clambering down near the center, in the distance. The lady in black is snapping photos of a bison almost directly beneath her! And that’s how we come to…

img_4443She wasn’t paying attention when one clambered up beyond her, blocking us all at the end of the one-way path. It moved a few steps away, so we all just waited. Then another one came up between us, blocking her between them. It was a dangerous position, and she knew it, but stepping off the dike into alligator-filled waters seemed a really bad idea, too (turns out, the first bison came up where it did because a huge alligator basked on the bank at the easier way up a few yards further down). Making matters worse, the second bison was pretty determined to join it’s herd-mate, but didn’t want that woman anywhere near it! The one facing me is doing that because I’d just called to it when it started moving towards the woman, head down!

The story has a happy resolution–she managed to sidle over to the other side of the diked path, and then by the bison between us, not raising her head to look it in the eye, as we offered calming words and marked her progress. But we were all still blocked for about another half an hour, until these two decided to rejoin their group in the waters below!

img_4436While waiting for our release, we wandered back a bit, and lo-and-behold, Mother Nature had more awesome experience awaiting us–a bison walking along the opposite shore came up against a basking ‘gator in its path. It stopped, stomped a foot and grunted loudly, threateningly (hey, I felt threatened, and I was across the water from it!). In reply, the gator lifted its head and tail, filled its throat, and hissed its warning back. A tense stand-off ensued, until the bison, never taking its eyes from the gator, circled around the gator and back to the water’s edge trail.

Oh, yes, we came for Sandhill cranes! And Payne’s Prairie provided them:

img_4261We also managed to see a Whooping crane, but only by using aforementioned spy-glasses (!)(thppppt!), so my phone stood no chance of capturing a photo. Maybe someday I’ll get an actual camera again…  Anyway, the noise they make is slightly overwhelming, somewhere between a goose’s honk and a heron’s prehistoric grackle. Multiplied by thousands of birds. Yeah. Overwhelming, and gorgeous.

At the end of the trail is a lookout tower. From there, I got this shot of a lone bison, clouds reflected in the water-hyacinth choked water, and tiny Sandhill-dots in the distance.

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Finally, on the way out, this hyacinth-crowned alligator, which, yeah–again, really close. But this time it was at the bottom of a deeply undercut bank, so it made me smile.img_4445