We enjoyed a quiet afternoon at St George Island. This lovely long stretch of stunning white sand is accessible via a long causeway/bridge. It has a lighthouse, miles of beach, a state park. The state park has a campground but it is always full and booked months in advance in the reservation system. There are a lot of beach houses, rental condos and many very large luxurious beach houses of the very wealthy that could pass for mansions in most places. There is also a great pizza place. Good pizza is hard to find in the south. The road from Panacea to St George follows the coast and there are multiple small antique and curio shops on the way. So we spent a day walking the beach, seeing the sights, shopping (we didn’t find anything this trip), and closed with pizza before driving home. No spectacular wildlife scenes but we did see dolphins beyond the breakers. St George’s is a long thin sand bar with high dunes on one side and the road runs down the middle. We explored both sides of the road.
I had one of those experiences that illustrates how like and unlike life in the south is compared to life in the north. I was driving down a country road at night and two deer passed in front. I slowed down to let the first pass and then waited for the second. There is always a second deer. Well apparently there is sometimes a third deer as well because as I started up again, the third one leaped out in front of me. I was going slowly enough that I was able to break and did not quite hit it. Instead I clipped it on my front grill and sent the poor thing spinning wildly into the ditch.
I immediately pulled over. I also automatically grabbed the can of bear spray I keep in the door and hung it on the belt loop of my jeans. There are bears here, smaller than up north but still big enough. I ran around the front of the truck surveying it for damage. No apparent damage on that cursory view. I ran back down the highway. The deer was alive but obviously mortally wounded. It struggled to rise on broken front legs, bleating in pain and alarm. As I stared, a battered, muddy pick up truck stopped and a young man got out. He was the quintessential southern redneck, dressed in jeans, flannel and camouflage, his outfit completed with a belt loaded with tools. He was in sore need of a shave, haircut and a trip to a laundromat. He was also southern polite.
“Are you all right, Ma’am?’ His eyes were very blue and looked like he honestly cared. I decided he was likely not a serial killer but I made sure there was distance between the two of us nonetheless and ever so casually rested my hand on the pepper spray. In spite of the warm eyes, there was something oddly predatory in his stance.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Thank you for stopping. I just clipped the deer, poor thing. I suppose I need to call someone to get it put it out of it’s misery.” I was suddenly acutely aware of my accent which in this place is exotic.
His eyes slid sideways to the injured animal. The blue went from caring to covetous.
“Do you want that deer, Ma’am?”
I suddenly recognized the look. In my past I lived on a farm and venison was prized meat and an important supplement to both our diet and our limited budget. This was a yearling and that was the very best meat available. There is also an abiding and utterly practical respect for life. It is a sin to waste good meat.
“No,” I quickly said. “I am visiting from Canada and I don’t have any equipment to dress a deer or process it. Feel free to take it.”
I was forgotten, and he was now all business, the primal male hunter, yanking out a large field dressing knife. I watched just long enough to see him expertly slit the throat of the animal and the bleating ended. I left him to it, just in case he was a serial killer and I was next on the menu. I retreated to my truck and continued to my destination.
I don’t know if it is legal to keep a road killed (or in this case a road mortally injured) deer and eat it. I certainly prefer that the accidental death of that poor animal will at least go to feed someone. I have had the same experience up north as well. A freshly killed deer on a roadside at night and a primal male hunter who can dress such an animal on the spot and turn it into food. The only real difference was the gentle southern drawl when he said “Ma’am” and that fact that we were both in T shirts on a January night. I swatted at mosquitoes that had followed me into the truck as I continued my drive. I have never encountered a mosquito in January in Manitoba either. The rest was the same, north or south.
I had one of those once in a lifetime type experiences today. Naturally I did not have a camera. The camera is with hubby dearest who is in Dallas doing his academic thing. I went off to the beach at Alligator Point with the two dogs. It was cold, with a nasty wind so the place we were was empty of other beach denizens. I was delighted to see a large group of dolphins feeding on fish I presume were mullet very close to the shore. The dolphins were coming so close into the shore that a good portion of their bodies were up out of the water and they were really close. The dolphins feeding were the larger dolphins in the group. It was the four very large ones I have seen before plus some of the medium sized ones driving the fish into shallow water and attacking them. I could see other smaller dolphins surfacing and some even jumping completely out of the water in what looked like racing play beyond them. I was enthralled. I love dolphins anytime but to see real live wild dolphins doing their wild and free thing is just a delight beyond describing. I have walked the beach at Alligator Point many times and seeing dolphins there just never gets old for me.
In the midst of this wonderful display I heard a particularly high shrilling squeak noise and I looked up to see a very small dolphin racing toward the large adults. The baby was leaping clear out of the water as it raced. It was making a bee line towards the adults at a 45 degree angle from the shore, swimming at top speed making this weird squeaky noise. I saw a fin behind it and my first thought was
“Oh isn’t that cute, they’re playing tag with the baby.”
Then I looked again.
This was no dolphin following that baby. It was a large shark. Baby was racing full speed towards the large adults on the shore and I assume the noise was a terrified baby distress scream. With the hair rising on the back of my neck and every Mommy/Grandma instinct I have on full alert, I watched that baby and then out of nowhere one of the medium sized dolphins threw itself hard against the side of the shark knocking it off course and slowing it down so the baby gained some distance as it raced straight toward the adults near the shore. I found myself screaming at the big dolphins to do something and I felt sick thinking I might soon be seeing a baby dolphin get killed.
And then the fight started. The shark was about 20 meters from the shore and right behind that baby when suddenly the water was full of thrashing smashing adult dolphins. The baby was gone. For a long moment the shark was rolling around in a mass of bodies and foaming water snapping and bending its body but unable to get a grip on anything. The four biggest dolphins appeared to be attacking it in a coordinated manner and keeping well clear of the front end, taking turns smashing it with their full weight. With the crashing about as the big dolphins attacked, the shark at one point was shoved into water so shallow it was half exposed and I saw the big head with all the teeth in profile in the air for a split second as it flailed. The dolphins made loud ferocious exhalations with deep harsh grunts, spewing spray from their blow holes as they slammed the shark with their bodies and heads. I could also see the shark was about a foot or two shorter than the biggest dolphin crashing into it. I had a crazy urge to jump in and beat on that shark myself but fortunately good sense asserted itself and I stayed on the sand. The dolphins were handling it quite well without me. The shark finally rolled back towards deeper water, thrashing hard. The shark vanished under water with the four dolphins right behind. I watched and after a moment I spotted two of the big dolphins surfacing and then going down again, far away, moving very fast to the south east, and then it was quiet.
The medium sized dolphins, six of them, were very near the baby and there was a lot of blowing and squeaking and I ran down the beach like an idiot shouting “Are you okay baby?” wondering if the baby was hurt, hoping it wasn’t. I stopped when the dolphins, probably alarmed by the lunatic human, moved further away. I was very happy to see that the baby seemed to be unhurt.
After another long moment the four large adults were suddenly back and there was much swimming close around the baby and all the smaller dolphins, and many gentle body nudges and heavy blowing. The entire group then took off along the beach in the opposite direction from where I saw the dolphins presumably chasing after the shark, all moving very close together, baby surrounded by adults. No one seemed injured, which was a huge relief. The whole thing probably took five minutes or less from start to finish but I had such an adrenalin surge I felt head achy, nauseous and I was shaking. My two dogs appeared to be completely oblivious to the whole thing. I was too shook up to finish our walk so we headed back home.
When I got back to my computer I went on line to look to see if I could identify the kind of shark. The first problem I had was that the shark appeared to be entirely black but none of the Florida sharks in the identification guides are black. The only thing I could conclude was that it was not a hammerhead. However, as I considered it, I realized the black colour was likely a trick of the light because the dolphins also looked completely black to me in the bright sun, thrashing in the water with all that white foam around. Yet, I know these dolphins are common bottle nose (Tursiops truncates) and these dolphins are grey not black. So ignoring the black colour and going only by the shape of the head and the shape of the dorsal fin and the small far back placement of the fin near the tail, small eyes and general body shape, I would say it was most likely a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). Given that adult bottle nose dolphins can reach 10-12 feet in length and these adults were the biggest dolphins, that would make the shark about 8-10 feet long. The little dolphin was only about 3-4 feet by contrast with the adults, making it a very young dolphin and a tasty meal for a hungry bull shark.
I then went and read up on bull sharks and the whole thing makes sense. Bull sharks like to hunt in shallow water. They do attack and eat baby dolphins. They do appear in Florida in winter even when the water is colder. This was a big shark too, fully adult sized and quite dangerous as sharks go. The scientist in me can stand back and objectively say the shark was just being a shark and doing what sharks do. It is not evil or bad. The scientist in me hopes it was not killed by the dolphins but rather got away. The mother and grandmother in me is 100% behind those brave dolphins risking themselves defending their little baby, especially the medium sized one who knocked that shark away before the big dolphins arrived. That part of me says I sure hope those dolphins killed that awful shark so it can never hurt a baby dolphin again.
Another day at the beach. And people wonder why I don’t like to go into the water.
Things have been quiet with us not doing much worth reporting. However today we went to Otter lake to go canoeing. Otter Lake is a natural fresh water lake within the Appalachacola National Forest and it is a 6 miles drive from Panacea. Along with Dick and I were our friends Jack Rudloe, Jane Brand and Ed Komarek. Jack and Jane went in one canoe and Ed was in a kayak. It was a pleasant and lovely day with bright sun and a light breeze. It’s still considered winter here and so it was quiet, the trees are still bare and the alligators are sluggish. The locals don’t recommend the lake during warm weather, especially during the alligator mating season but now it’s safe. We did see alligators, with Ed reporting two more than 12 feet long but they didn’t bother us. They immediately fled into deep water and stayed away. They hunt gators for meat and sport here so they are wary of humans.
One of the alligators favorite foods is dog. In fact if you are walking your dog and the dog barks the gators will head over to check it out. Jack has had one dog snatched and eaten by an alligator in this lake and lost another one in another spot not too far away. We left the dogs at home. Fred loves to jump out of the canoe and have a swim so it was not a great place for him.
Here we have just left the boat launch to start our paddle around the lake.
The trees are bare though some are beginning to bud like this one showing red pollen flowers.
The nest of the osprey did not hold any young because it is the wrong time of year but the ospreys were flying around overhead.
This large tree serves as a turkey vulture and a black vulture roost. The two species hang out together. These are ugly birds up close but a pleasure to watch as they fly.
Staying near the shore means we can avoid the breeze and see the birds up close.
We saw a large flock of at least 12 snowy white egrets.
The egrets included brown juveniles staying close to the adults. Two alligators patrolled nearby as egrets make fine alligator food. The alligators fled when we got close.
This was an especially large cypress.
Dick found the bended cypress knees from times when the water is deeper particularly fascinating.
About an hour of leisurely paddling later, we pulled back into the launch area. A lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon!
We have been in Florida for six weeks now and we still haven’t unpacked the bikes we used almost daily in Manitoba. We also haven’t taken the canoe off the truck yet. The “problem” is the beach. The Florida coast consists of the peninsula which is mainly just suburbia now, then miles and miles of mangroves and salt marshes in the big bend to the east. I hope it stays wild because this stuff is required to feed the ocean critters and act as a nursery for the babies of crabs, fish and other things we eat. But it isn’t much fun to be around. Panacea is at the beginning of the many famous white sand beaches of the forgotten Gulf Coast’s Florida Panhandle. We are close to the first and second of these beaches when going west. The first is Mashes sand on the east side of the Ockloconee river/bay and Bald Point State park/Alligator Point on the west. The west is not quite a full barrier island. We like the Alligator Point beach best for a daily walk because dogs are allowed and it stretches for five miles of wide white sand. Who cares about bike riding when there is a white sand beach to walk on? So almost every day we pause mid afternoon or early evening to walk the beaches. Eventually, we might get bored of going to the wide sand beaches and go back to our bikes, or take the canoe somewhere, but we just aren’t there yet.
This is the view of the houses on the beach. if I ever win the lotto I will buy one. They range in price from a million dollars to 200,000 for a tiny one bedroom. The point is sandy. Every time I see this I have to remind myself, this is white sand, not snow.
The locals love the beach too. Note the extreme racial tension of the south. It is not 1960 in the south anymore. To all appearances we have seen it is pretty much gone in the south and is actually far worse up north in big cities.
Many of the locals net fish. People, especially tourists, are also golfers. But watch out for that water trap. And of course there is surf fishing with a long sturdy pole. They use far heavier ones than mine since catching a really big fish (or a sting ray or shark) is fairly common.
And the other kind of locals and snowbirds: We have seen a lot of wild life on the shore. Loons, cormorants, ducks, pelicans, storks, cranes, egrets, herons, several kinds of sandpipers. We even see dolphins sporting off shore every so often, but not today.
And of course there is what I am missing back home.
Red marks zones of extreme cold and windchill, -40 at the point where C and F scales cross. I wish we had a transporter so I could transport all my friends and family in Winnipeg here to have a day off from the cold.
We had a special treat. We drove with our host Jack Rudloe to Clearwater Marine Aquarium near Tampa Florida. We got to meet the famous dolphin, Winter, from “Dolphin’s Tale” movie during a VIP behind the scenes tour. We then got to accompany the folks from Clearwater to the release of two sea turtles who had been suffering from a severe virus caused turtle cancer called papilloma. What better way to spend a day than that?
If you saw the movie you should recognize this, especially the boat.
We got to meet Winter in person. She looked at us and did the dolphin smile thing.
Next stop was to see Prince the sea turtle who was being prepared for his return to the ocean. We were part of the entourage going to release him. It’s very special to have a VIP friend. We saw Prince the turtle released back to the wild, fully recovered.
Bryozoans are a neat kind of ocean creatures that look like plants but are actually animals. They live attached onto things and they are of great interest to scientists. One of their more interesting aspects is they contain natural compounds used to treat cancer. Gulf Specimen Marine Lab supplies lots of things to scientists. Jack told us he needed to run out and collect some for an order and asked if we wanted to come along. Did we ever! Any collecting mission is always a fascinating lesson. It’s also fascinating to see Jack’s years of experience in action. He glanced out at his dock and muttered that the tide is high, so we can likely find them off marina dock at Alligator point. And we did. Of course we also got a lesson on a bunch of the other critters living on the dock while we were at it. “The Living Dock” is of course one of Jack Rudloe’s many books. It is such a privilege to have him for a friend. I added a tube clip on the bottom about “The Living Dock.” You can also get a feel for the lovely scenery and warm temperatures we are enjoying.
At last the weather in Panacea Florida has cleared up and we got to go for a nice long walk on the Alligator Point beach. We walked with Jack, his friend Mary Scott who has a home on the beach, and our dogs, Jack’s Lily, Mary Scott’s Jet and our Trusty and Fred. A walk of sun, surf, sand and happy dogs. It doesn’t get much better. Happy American Thanksgiving to all from Panacea, Florida.
Fred loves to chase his ball. Trusty was the smallest dogs and the others were exuberant so she stayed close to Fred and her people and avoided the wrestling matches.
Fred Trixie and Jet race ahead chasing Fred’s ball. Fred usually won all the races.
The beach is alive with creatures especially ghost crabs. We didn’t see the crabs but there were tracks everywhere of their coming and going.
Fred often chooses to wade/swim along the beach instead of walking as in this picture. Lily runs like a madwoman but always comes back to check in.
Trusty is unhappy in this picture because I am telling her to stay and she does not want to stop for pictures. The beach is full of wonderful stuff to sniff and explore there’s always the fun of rolling in the sand. Who wants to pose for pictures?
Oh yes! We have arrived to the closest place to home we have outside of Manitoba, Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea Florida. Dick does volunteer work for them. I write and hang out. One year I did a bunch of programming as a volunteer training project for learning to do html. It is good to be back and get reacquainted.
Here we are touring the lab again and getting up to date on what is new and what is the same. The kiosk I programmed is still there and still working.
More students this time. There was a Florida State University project on what different sponges like to eat.
The sharks were bigger and we were astonished to see how big Little Girl is now. She is almost big enough to be returned to the wild.
Here Jack checks up on another FSU student doing a project on sponge regeneration. It’s sure great to see all the research going on.
Some horseshoe crabs on display and the view from the corral where the trailer is parked. It is nice to see the sea again!
And of course it is rainy and wet and foggy and we arrived to a series of thunderstorms, some of them severe, and a couple of tornado warnings. Imagine a prairie thunderstorm that lasts for days.
The dock the children have their lessons in marine biology on was all fixed up after a storm tore it up. We could see the repairs. Jack looks great.
Jack demonstrated how they lift net works. And we got to meet what I suspect is a good part of the reason Jack looks so good and is smiling so much. HIs new friend Jane.
So we are in Milledgeville Georgia in our favourite campground on the riverside. It’s actually chilly because the whole polar vortex/former pacific hurricane has caught up with us but it has been considerably moderated traveling over the continent to where we are. The high today is forecast to be 54F/12C. Sweater weather. Our trip from Alabama to Georgia was interesting. What struck me was as soon as we crossed the border we began seeing pillars, arches and artwork. This is not to say that we did not see such things in northern Alabama, but Georgia clearly takes special pride in the their pursuit of neoclassical architectural highlights. Even the poorest trailer park had porches with Greekish pillars.
Last night we attended a play put on by the local society. It is comedy set in Tennessee, a traveling singing family, and most of the jokes centred around how uncultured but musical the good mountain people are. There was also a lot of warm fuzzy, “we are all Americans in this together” stuff too. And of course endless bible quotes and talk of Jesus. There was a medley of Christmas around the world that was hilarious because it was so appallingly ignorant that even the Americans understood it was a parody of the widespread ignorance of the outside world Americans are famous for. A people who can make fun of themselves will never do poorly.
The church was lined with historical photography and I was looking at the pictures during intermission and a local woman approached. She proudly told me she had been born and raised here. She asked me for my impressions and I commented on all the pillars. She went on to give me a detailed explanation about how every town of any note in Georgia has a distinctive form of this architectural highlight.
“And we ca-ah them caw-lumns not pill-ahs, dear.”
Milledgeville has the distinction of combining Doric columns with Iconic scrollwork. I wondered if the Greeks would approve. She then went on to describe three other towns’ inferior distinctive style in terminology I had only the vaguest awareness of.
She apologized about the cold and I remarked how my husband and I had gone for a walk the night before because the air was so fresh and lovely. I did not mention how much we felt we needed that walk after a typical deep fried everything dinner. We actually took food home there was so much, and we were so stuffed. When I say deep fried everything I am not kidding. Even the pickles were deep fried.
She laughed, delighted with this example of northern hardiness. She was suitably impressed with Canadian tolerance of cold since, as far as she was concerned, the evening before had been so cold as to be unfit for man or beast. She then made this funny wistful comment about how fragile southerners must seem to me. I replied with what has become a standard reply for me. It invariably delights southerners.
“Yes, but in Canada as soon as the temperature goes above 80F [27C] people begin to wilt and the radio and TV have warnings on how to avoid heat stroke, so it is all what you are used to.”
By then we were part of a group as several more of these aging Southern Belles had joined our circle and my comment brought delighted twitters about the poor fragile northerners.
“Why, we don’t even say hot here, until it’s at least 90 dahgreez!”
They asked what part of Canada I was from and I said Winnipeg. That brought the usual blank stares. I added north of North Dakota. I saw a slight reduction in number of blank faces. One of the women commented about how her next door neighbour, one of the university people, was from up north as well, somewhere in Ohio. They took me to the refreshment table and I asked what a particular funny looking cookie was and they tittered again and told me it was a “corn wire” cookie, a southern delicacy. I purchased one to help support their theatre group and tasted it. Corn, salt, sweet and American processed cheese, deep fried to fluffy flakes. Ah yes, the south, land of the extra wide rocking chairs. They were delighted as I exclaimed how good the cookie was while I worried how many calories that one cookie meant. I actually detest American processed cheese but the cookie was salty enough I could barely taste the cheese. As I ate the cookie, I got many more lessons in the wonders of the illustrious history of Milledgeville, which has been present since Georgia was first settled by Europeans, and how it was once the capital of Georgia. I didn’t bring up the Africans by whose forced labor much of this settlement occurred. That was over a hundred years ago and really shouldn’t matter anymore. I looked around and there was not one black face in the audience so although one can see many blacks among the “university people”, in the stores and in restaurants you are as likely to be served by a black as a white, some separations remain here in the south. Such separation are the exceptions now, and not the rule and their bastions are aging. I saw almost no young people, except for a few grandchildren accompanying a family member, and the median age of the players was above my own. All the more reason to not bring up the past in this polite and charming company.
Overall I must say I do love Georgia. I wish we could stay longer. But I’ll skip the heat though. Manitoba summers are hot enough.
I am including some pictures of a particularly stunning bit of Georgian art we came across on our trip. It is family watching murmuration represented by a twirling wind chime decorated with metal birds. I was stunned by the beauty and joyousness of the piece set in a park with multiple columns (not pillars).