Tag Archives: Florida

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Riding the Tide into a Salt Marsh

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We did something I have wanted to do for a long time. We rode the incoming tide from Levy Bay to the big pool at the intersection of Chattahoochee St in Panacea and Highway 98. There is a channel that winds through marsh grass swamps, sinkholes with springs, and some forested areas. The land is privately owned so you can’t leave the water but you do get to see some forest along the trip. We started at the Levy Bay landing which is a public boat dock. The marsh turns into impassable mud flats at low tide so we arrive one and half hours before high tide. By the time we had the canoe down and everything set up, we had one hour until high tide.

The tide rushes into these narrow channels at a brisk pace. You have to pay careful attention to avoid getting stuck on sandbars or hitting oyster bars. There are also lots of obstacles like fallen trees, remnants of old docks, and debris. Additionally the channel itself has many deep pools over springs where you simply can’t see the bottom in the brownish water. So we rode the tide in. In places it was like mini rapids. Always a strong flowing current fast moving to ride. The water is topped with foam, full of all kinds of bits of debris and detritus and it abounds with all kinds of crab holes along along the muddy banks of the marsh grass. We saw mullet, smaller fish, a string ray in black about 18 inches across the wing tips and many birds, especially egrets, cranes and vultures.

We did not bring our camera. We have used the rice trick (putting the camera in a bag of rice to dry out) once already after a canoe trip and while the camera recovered, the calendar never worked again so my pictures always come out marked as having occurred on 2013 date the camera got dunked. It was a good thing we didn’t try to take pictures. Riding the tide in those narrow channels at quite a good clip while avoiding all the potential places to spill was challenging enough. If you look at the picture you can see near the end of the route one very large and very deep pool. It was a real pleasure to come charging in there at top speed and find ourselves in this huge relatively calm place. The volume of water there is so deep even the incoming tide makes only a small impression. Though the water was clear we could not see the bottom making me wonder if maybe there is a smaller version of the Wakulla spring in the deepest place.

We rested a bit and then took the final small channel to the egret pond next to the highway. That was our goal. We see that pool every time we drive to the beach and I really wanted to find out why it always has at least three white egrets in it. We arrived at top speed out of the channel to find ourselves on a flat mud basin. The egrets were intently feeding and barely looked up, as if canoes with humans arrive here all the time. They had certainly had no need to worry since we were firmly grounded on smelly mud.

We unstack ourselves with much heave ho-ing and worked our way back up the channel to the deep pool. The tide was already ebbing. By the time we crossed the deep pool the rush of water had ended so we leisurely wended our way across the pool and then back up the channel. As we arrived in sight of our truck the tide began to turn and run back out. We rode the reversed current the last few hundred yards.

Being a prairie girl and not accustomed to the ocean, the tide fascinates me. The marsh breathes the water in and then breathes it out. The grass and creatures that live on the shore line have adapted to thrive in the rhythmic rise and fall. The marsh’s rich detritus is carried out of the marsh with the tide and feeds the wildlife at the bottom of the food chain. Farther and farther up the food chain larger and larger creatures wait at the mouths of the channel and then at the mouths of the bay ready to eat. The marsh is the food source of many creatures in the bay.

The marsh also serves as a nursery for much of the sea life. Many fish swim into the bays and lay eggs and then swim out. The fry hatch and grow in the shelter of the marsh feeding on insects and the like until they are finally big enough to ride the tide out. The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles feast on blue crab in the bay for two years or so before continuing their slow migration back around the gulf to their breeding places. The mud flats, like the final place we saw all those egrets, is its own feasting place for these and many other glorious birds..

One of the unfortunate things that has happened in Florida is that many of these nurseries and feeding places have been filled, levelled and now have shopping malls and hotels and houses. Wakulla has been blessed with acres and acres and acres of coastal wetlands that protect and nourish the Gulf. There is a tale of this area that says a very rich woman once asked naturalist and writer Jack Rudloe how to best help sea horses. He told her protect the marshes on the coast because the marshes feed the reefs just off shore where the sea horses live. And so she bought six miles of coastland marsh and she does nothing with it except protect it in order to protect the sea horses.

The world needs more such wise women.

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We get through our second major tornado outbreak.

I am a weather fanatic. I freely admit. I have been as long as I can remember. Tornado and severe thunderstorms are kind of my ultimate weather fear and thrill. So last night was one fantastic terrifying experience.

Early in the day NOAA released one of their charts with a big red bull’s eye and our winter parking spot was on the boundary of the red zone. The last time we saw one of those was back on May 2011 when we spent 6 hours in a tornado shelter in Lexington Kentucky. That was the same day Joplin got flattened. We were on alert. We went out for dinner and our waitress told us that school was being cancelled the next day due to the forecast. That was pretty shocking. Schools closed due to a possible tornado event? The locals were worried and one absolute rule we have with severe weather is if the locals worry then you should worry too. As we were getting ready to retire for the night we checked the NOAA site and found that Pensacola was under a tornado warning. There was also a report about a tornado having hit an RV park. It is a horrible eery awful sensation to look at the red on the map and know people may be dying at that moment.

We decided we would prepare for the worst. We checked out the nearby study building with a washroom, concrete walls and  reinforced roof designed to withstand hurricanes we had previously chosen as our safest place. We covered windows that might be problematic with cushions and got the shower stall ready complete with mattresses and quilts to put over our heads. I really really really missed my nice sturdy basement shelter back home.

We couldn’t sleep so we both decided to stay up and work while watching the radar. Time and again we saw severe storm warnings with red tornado warnings popping up. The weather people always sound alarmed but this was alarmed and grave, meaning bad. At about 4:00am I saw a large storm heading our way from the ocean. I told hubby dearest we would have to move to our sheltering spot soon. He began preps for trouble. About five minutes later the severe thunderstorm warning went up and we headed to the bathroom. Normally a severe thunderstorm warning by itself is not enough to send us to shelter but there had been many examples of these severe cells sending down tornados with almost no warning I could see on the radar and it just seemed better to not take a chance.

The storm cell took about fifteen minute to pass over and two more came right behind it. Each one brought lots of lightning and pouring rain but thunder was distant and muffled. We had one spell of horizontal rain that lasted about two minutes but no other danger signs. We never actually moved into the bathroom although we were right beside it. As the storm cells moved on shore there was an obvious weakening and  the radar showed no rotation and we felt it was fine to simply be near safety.

By about 5:00am it was pretty much over. The storm system had passed us by with no damage. The ground was wet when we went back to our trailer and finally went to sleep. I mumbled about how we had really wasted our time worrying about the tornado and staying up. Hubby dearest strongly disagreed. This time nothing came our way. If we get careless or complacent next time might not be so lucky.

Today we learned a long track EF3 hit Pensacola destroying almost 100 homes. Another tornado destroyed an RV campground in the town of Convent, in southern Louisiana and killed two people and injured 31 people. It was a strong graphic reminder of how RVs are not a good place to be in tornado weather.Tonight I am heading to bed grateful for a tornado free night to catch up on my sleep.

I hope the folks hit by this tornado outbreak all make a full recovery of home and health. My condolences to the family who lost loved ones. That could have been us.

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Associated Press picture of the Convent RV Park in Louisiana after it was hit by a tornado.

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Valentine’s Day Parade

SAM_7075Oh what fun! No one can put on a parade and have a local party like small town America! I do love these happy festivals. The whole town turned out. Everyone who does anything of any sort in the community shows up for the parade. There’s a lot of things for the kids to do. There are stalls selling neat and fun overpriced items. The Tupperware ladies are out showing off their wares. The Scented Candles Ladies have their stalls. There are a dozen different tables dedicated to weight loss schemes that are assured to work if you hand over your money. In this festival there were also several fund raising bake sales and book sales so a bargain was possible.

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The cement girl was for sale. The live one was the granddaughter of the lady who makes the lawn ornaments and so not for sale.

This year there was also politics. It is an election year and so there was a stall for the Democrats and one for the Republicans. Three sheriffs and a judge were also in the running. Trump had his own stall too although the man himself was too busy in South Carolina to make an appearance. I love to listen into American politics as a visiting Canadian.

 

“If Trump gets in I’m moving to Canada!” one woman at the Democratic table proudly told me as if disliking Trump would mean I would immediately agree with and welcome her simply because we Canadians are so much more sensible. Instead I asked her if she had $500,000 in cash to set up a small business or a trade we needed in the cold north, like welding or truck driving. When she said no, she was an artist, but she was a great respecter of Canadian values, I told her she likely wouldn’t be accepted. As usual, she was deeply shocked to learn that Canada was apparently not ready to embrace her simply because she knew what the right kind of values were to be holding. Admittedly Canada has taken in Americans (draft dodgers and gays) as refugees fleeing political oppression in the past. Maybe that’s where they get that idea.

The folks at the Trump table were more interesting if just because they were a lot more emphatic. Each one of them had a tale to tell about how government had ruined them, cheated them, or over taxed them. They are angry folks, fed up with the lies of politicians and ready to vote for anyone (even Trump) who is not one of the establishment they feel has been ripping them off and lying to them. They talked about how the deficit was out of control, how political correctness was killing what America was supposed to be about, how the values on which the nation was founded are being threatened, how terrorists and criminals get more respect than hard working Americans, and how no one is taking away their guns. I know someone from up north is going to ask me about their white hoods so I will also note there were a lot more Blacks and Hispanics milling about at the Trump table than any other table so it is not about race. When the Trump supporters marched past the parade podium and were announced to the crowd, the crowd went crazy with their cheers and applause. The cheering was louder than even the cheering for Mrs. Senior Wakulla Country (who was Black) and Miss Wakulla and her princesses (who were mostly White). Not one Trump supporter asked me about moving to Canada although they all wanted to hear about how we manage our health care.

American politics are bewildering to me. My husband, being American, got right into it with great enthusiasm. I hope they let him back into Canada when we get to the border. If Crawfordville, Florida, is any measure, a lot of Democrats will be trying to emigrate to Canada next winter.

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And last was the food. Local sausages (which I did not eat since I don’t eat pork), and french fries and deep fried pickles and mounds of collard greens and corn dogs (which I also don’t eat), and trays of deep fried mullet and corn on the cob. I reluctantly bypassed the deep fried everything. I am determined to head north without the extra poundage I usually bring after a winter in the south. I looked about for the mini-doughnut truck, ever present at all Canadian festivals I have ever attended, so I could at least enjoy the heavenly smell. There wasn’t one of those. Americans just don’t do doughnuts the way Canadians do. That is likely just as well. I found some hotcakes to eat and with the new consciousness of calories that seems to be everywhere in the USA today, the calorie count was included in the information about the hotcakes and so I didn’t have seconds. I know I can’t resist seconds when it comes to mini doughnuts. I had no idea how many carb and calories were in a classic fluffy pancake! I don’t want to know how many are in mini doughnuts.

We left the Valentine’s Day Parade and Fair feeling energized and entertained, happy to be privileged to share this fun with the locals. God Bless the USA!

 

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Woofstock!

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Sometimes we get involved in the zaniest things. Today we attended Apalachicola’s Woofstock. Each year the local Humane Society has a fundraising parade during Mardi Gras and it is endlessly popular. This year’s theme was Woodstock. Dogs, peoples and vehicles were to be decked out in 1960s style costumes. The price to enter as a”walker” was $5 with all proceeds going to the Humane Society in Apalachicola. Over 1000 people attended the day and there were multiple ways to donate including buying a donated doggy costume, buying stuff at the bake sale, buying hot dogs and paying to walk or ride in the parade, cash donations and purchase of Mardi Gras beads.

The whole town turned out including the fire department.

Fred and Trusty had an great fun. There was a woman selling donated doggy costumes and there wasn’t a lot of choice so Fred and Trusty got to go as a ketchup and mustard hot dogs. Everyone thought they were adorable. They had a lot of pictures taken. Both dogs seemed to think the whole thing was a total blast. There were a lot of noses and butts to sniff and plenty of attention to be earned. Trusty especially enjoyed strutting her stuff once she figured it all out.

After the parade all the Woofstockers retired to assorted dog friendly venues all about the town for refreshments and more pics. Fred photobombed one post parade picture and almost made off with a cupcake and some smoked tuna dip. We brought the dogs home and they went right to sleep. Maybe not so much fun as a day on the beach, but certainly worth the trip. And all for such a great cause!

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Peaceful Days

We have settled into our Florida home. Life has been gentle and sweet. Long days of lazy beach walking, and collecting natures treasures. We were walking the beach and found endless sea pansy soft coral so we carried handfuls back to the marine lab where they will be put to good use instead of dying. Another day we watched our favourite dolphin pod driving mullet into the shore in high surf and we were overjoyed to see they have a new baby. I shouted my congratulations and was treated to a waving tail display and a happy jump and a rolling wave of one flipper in the air. Dolphins call dogs. Jack’s Lily swims out and then swims with them when they call. The dolphins like Lily, especially the younger ones and they greet her and try to get her to play but she isn’t a very good swimmer. When they get bored with her simply one dimensional stroke they swim off and she returns to shore, exhausted but full of doggy joy.

On the walk pictured below, in a heavy fog, we disturbed a large osprey who had just caught a fish. The bird flew off with the squirming fish tight in its grip. Yet another day we found a pile of slag from the clearing of a canal and it was packed full of fossils. We carried home chunks of ancient sea bed turned to rock with shells and worm tracks that day. We saw my favourite bird of all birds, the impossible, ridiculous, roseate spoonbill which is much more respectable looking in its native habitat doing its natural thing than when seen in any zoo. The winter birds who headed south before us, but whom we left in Georgia, have finally arrived and the trees are full of cardinals, robins, oriels,  blue jays, hundreds of starlings in stunning murmurations, golden and brown finches and yellow warblers and all those nondescript little brown ones I can never distinguish. They are far quieter and far more social in winter than when they are combating for mates and nesting places back in Alonsa so one can see entire folks living in peaceful close proximity.

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The dogs love the beach. Each morning a large group of dog owners meets early and walks the beach with dogs off leash. The dogs run and play and do the dog thing with abandon while we walk and chat about grandchildren, vehicles, our aches and pains, and where good sales are. The dogs roll in the stinky gunk, swim in the water and dig, endlessly dig in the sand. We moan about how they will need a bath again but none of us makes a move to interfere with their dog play. Some dogs try fishing. The fish are too smart. The crabs fight back and win. Yelp and a quick walk back and the dropped crab moves off. Some dogs, like my Trusty, prefer to just lie there and enjoy the sun and the heat in quiet dignity. Trusty watches the others with disdain and she never needs a bath. The only time I have ever seen Trusty get excited and take to the surf was when the dolphins called her, presumably to show off their new baby. She’s not as good at swimming as Lily and she gave up when the waves hit her chest. She ran up and down the beach crying, unable to fully answer their song. I wish I could hear it.

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Most people like the beach when its sunny and hot. I prefer to go to the beach when it’s cloudy and cool and a stiff breeze makes for rolling surf. On such days it’s often just us with our dogs and we can walk for kilometres without meeting another human being. These are also the days one is most likely to see the dolphins.

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There is something healing about the beach. The voice of Ulmo (if you are a Tolkien’s Silmarillion fan you will recognize that) is soothing.

As a child I had favourite song. I learned it in school. Our school day began with the Lord’s Prayer and two hymns from an English child’s hymnal.

I often hum it quietly to myself as I walk the beach listening to the waves.

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.”

“This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.”

“This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I open my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, The Holy One,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.”

“This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth we trod.
No place but is holy ground.”

“This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.”

There should be something about dolphins in there. Perhaps I will have to add a verse.