Rescuing Big Cats

This summer my daughter Jenny invited me to visit  Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. I hesitated to go. After all, what would Buddy (our beagle) think? He and I share a common opinion; who needs cats anyway?

Jenny on the other hand, is the proud owner of two cats (the domesticated variety of course). In an effort to overcome my prejudice toward felines I joined her for a tour. In the process I gained respect for a cause I’d never really considered. Big Cat Rescue is a leader in the fight to stop the abandonment and abuse of exotic cats.

The main cause of exotic cat abandonment is the “pet trade.” This trade evolves around the misconception that big cat cubs make cute pets. People purchase lion, tiger, bobcat, leopard, or cougar kittens from breeders. The kittens are manageable for a year or two, but as they mature problems arise. Often the big cats only bond to one family member and are aggressive toward the rest of the family.

When the pet owners realize they can’t handle their “wild” cat who is growing bigger everyday, they may respond by chaining it up or housing it in a small cage. Eventually they might turn to Big Cat Rescue to take the animal off their hands. The sixty-seven acre property also houses big cats who have retired from performing acts, or were given up by roadside zoos.

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During our ninety minute guided tour I learned the sad story behind many of these beautiful animals. I met a tiger named Andy who arrived at BCR in 2016. Andy came from Serenity Springs, a zoo in Colorado which was closing its facility. The zoo was known for offering tiger cub petting sessions and used Andy to breed kittens.

I was impressed at the volunteer staff who work tirelessly to feed the cats and clean their living quarters. Although fenced for protection, each living space afforded plenty of room for the cats to roam. Andy’s living space included a large pool where he enjoyed a swim.

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Big Cat Rescue has its own animal hospital. A bobcat with numerous broken bones was discovered in Orlando laying by the side of the road on Christmas Day. She was taken to BCR and given the name Noel. BCR contacted a vet with the Tampa Humane Society who provided the necessary treatment. Noel spent six months recovering at BCR and was eventually released to live in the wild at Orlando Wetlands Park.

The Accidental Founding of BCR

Founder, Carole Baskin states, “I never set out to start a sanctuary. It happened partly by accident, then largely through a process of evolution.” Carole’s journey with exotic animals began at a llama auction in 1992. A man walked in seeking a home for a six month old bobcat on a leash.  Carole’s heart went out to the young bobcat. She named her Windsong and brought her home.

True to her natural instincts, Windsong only bonded with Carole. Her husband wanted his own bobcat kitten and the couple set off for Minnesota to buy one. They found a fur farm which sold a few bobcat kittens for pets, but slaughtered any they couldn’t sell to make money in the fur trade. Carole and her husband were outraged to realize the kittens might be slaughtered and bought all fifty-six! They loaded all the kittens in their vehicle and drove them to their home in Florida. It was difficult to care for the bobcats in their home, so Carole and her husband moved them to the property where BCR is presently located.

Carole admits she and her husband made a lot of mistakes. Although they were trying to save bobcats from destruction, the couple was actually supporting the pet trade by buying bobcats and reselling them as pets. Their interest in rescuing bobcats grew to include additional species. Like many in the big cat pet trade, Carole believed she was preserving endangered species. Over time she realized she was dooming the animals to a life of captivity and abuse. Although she thought she placed kittens in “good homes,” many were returned to BCR when they were no longer cute.

A New Purpose

Since 2004, BCR no longer breeds or buys big cats and is a non-profit organization. The mission statement of BCR is to give big cats the best care possible and educate the public on the plight of these animals so that someday there will be no need for a sanctuary to exist.Today Big Cat Rescue has become a voice in support of increased legislation to insure that lions, tigers, and other dangerous big cats do not live in abusive situations or threaten public safety. For more info go to this link. 

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After my tour I can say I have a real sense of appreciation for the work of Big Cat Rescue.  But rest assured Buddy, you are still number one with me.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Land of Liberty

Like many of you, I’ll celebrate Independence Day this week. When I think about America I value the foresight of those who preserved our national parks. I never tire of exploring the natural beauty of the western U.S. From the rain forests of Olympic to the rock formations of Canyonlands, each park preserves treasured natural landmarks for future generations.

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My reflections on America connect me to the pioneers who settled it. When I look at these wagons I imagine the creak of the wheels as they slowly rolled through the tall prairie grass. I think about the brave families ready to tackle anything life threw at them. Once they found a place they liked, the pioneers spent weeks chopping wood for the construction of their new home, usually a rustic one room cabin.

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Can you imagine a life working from sunrise to sunset to survive? This settler had to walk to a stream to get water. Somehow the land doesn’t look quite hospitable to farming. Maybe he had mining for gold on his mind.

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When I think about America I remember growing up in Ohio. I picture farmers plowing the land and producing a great harvest. I think of county fairs that celebrate the biggest pumpkins, best jars of jam, and beautiful patchwork quilts.

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As a student in Ohio I reaped the benefits of a good public education. I’m thankful for teachers who taught me how to read and write. I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend The Ohio State University.

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Go Bucks!

 

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My feelings of thankfulness take me to my present home in Orlando.  I picture the busy city streets.  I see the millions of ordinary people who do follow the traffic laws and I am amazed when I realize most Americans are just out there trying to do their best. I’m thankful for the workers who designed and built the roads we all drive on.

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A replica of the Mayflower, Plymouth Mass.

America began when a little group of Pilgrims sailed across the Atlantic in search of freedom to worship God. I marvel that the same freedom is available to me today. I have the freedom to travel where I want. I have choices about what I want to buy, eat, and wear. I appreciate the freedom to read what I want, and think what I want. As a child born in the 1950’s I have never experienced what it is like to live in a combat zone. Unlike many countries, no wars have been fought in my homeland during my lifetime. I have never known what it might be like to go hungry.

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When I think of Independence Day, I picture neighbors getting together for backyard barbecues and kids running three-legged races in the park.  I imagine bands playing patriotic music while I wipe the watermelon juice off my chin. When night falls I ooh and ah at spectacular fireworks.

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All of this is America to me. Happy Birthday America.

 

 

Coquina and the Castillo de San Marcos

Try to imagine what the city of St. Augustine, Florida was like in 1565. The little Spanish colony constantly suffered from Indian attacks, pirate raids, and foreign invasions. Every wooden fort they built to defend themselves either burned, collapsed in storms, or rotted away from damp conditions.

Finally, somebody discovered an amazing substance on nearby Anastasia Island. Enter, Florida’s rock of ages, coquina. Coquina is a sedimentary stone composed of tiny shell fragments cemented together with calcium carbonate. The Spanish colonists might not have known the composition of coquina, but they knew they’d found a rock. They were excited! At last they had a building material that might endure. (Maybe they heard the story of the third little pig and wanted their fort to last whenever the big bad wolf came to call. After all, bricks worked for him.) The colonists petitioned Queen Marina of Spain for funds to build a new fort. She authorized the construction of the Castillo and large scale mining began on Anastasia Island in 1671.

IMG_3333 (2) Looking at a piece of coquina, it’s hard to believe a rock comprised mostly of shells would be very strong. The Spanish learned that although coquina is soft when first quarried, the stone hardens as it dries. Construction of the Castillo began in 1672. There are over 400,000 blocks of coquina in the fort, all cut and set by hand. The people of St. Augustine weren’t playing around this time. They had one goal: survival.

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The fort was designed by Ignacio Daza using a bastion system. Four diamond-shaped bastions project out from a walled courtyard. Each bastion contains a tower where guards can see in every direction. The second floor gun deck mounted over sixty cannons. The outer walls of the fort vary from fourteen to nineteen feet thick. The coquina rock was covered with plaster to seal out rainwater.

CGGD9783 (1)A drawbridge provides the only entry. Standing on the bridge, a person might think it once crossed a moat filled with alligators. Not so, the low ground around the fort was used to graze animals. The Castillo was built  as a place of refuge for the townspeople of St. Augustine. Most Spanish soldiers lived in town and shared guard duty. In a sense, the Castillo was a castle, built to protect the community in times of war.

IMG_3389 (1)It’s amazing to think that the small courtyard housed 1,500 soldiers and civilians for fifty-one days when the English attacked St. Augustine in 1702. The rooms around the courtyard housed food and military supplies. Enemy cannonballs bounced off or got stuck in the coquina without breaking it. Their defense plan worked.

The Castillo protected St. Augustine for over two hundred years. Today the fort remains as a national monument to human determination. The monument is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Plan your visit to the Castillo de San Marco soon.

 

 

 

 

Our Twilight Tour of Forks

Forks, Washington seems like any other small American town, except for one unique difference. According to the Chamber of Commerce, 8.5 vampires live in Forks. When I entered the visitor information center I picked up a brochure inviting me to “Experience Twilight” in Forks.  The pamphlet included a self-guided driving tour of sites featured in the Twilight books and films.

I haven’t read the Twilight books, but I did see the first movie with my daughter.  Both are very popular with young adults. The story focuses on a love triangle between a teenage girl (Bella Swan), a vampire (Edward Cullen), and a werewolf (Jacob Black).

During our vacation in northwest Washington, my husband and I thought it might be fun to experience the self-guided tour. Our first stop was Bella’s home on K Street. The pamphlet stated that Bella’s bedroom was on the top floor, but “don’t disturb the residents of the house or the neighbors.”

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As you can see, the real family who lives here took measures to keep Bella’s fans from approaching the house.

We drove to Forks High School, where Bella was a student. I bet scores of giddy teens feel goosebumps in this place where Bella and Edward’s relationship began. How romantic!

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We walked into Forks Outfitters, a clothing store where Bella worked. Right next door Bella bought her groceries at the Thriftway. Both of these stores were stocked with Twilight T-shirts. No, I didn’t buy any.

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By the time we arrived at the Cullen House, home of the vampire coven, my bubble of excitement burst. Since this building is an inn, we were permitted to walk onto the porch. A sign next to the front door read, “Although this house was the setting for Stephenie Myer’s Twilight books, none of the movies were filmed here.”

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I couldn’t believe it. I felt let down. It was uncanny how much the various buildings reminded me of scenes from the first movie.  Still, I thought, Stephenie Myer must have visited Forks to write her books.

No way.  I checked the author’s website, and learned she never visited Forks until after she wrote Twilight. Myer discovered Forks when she searched for the rainiest place in the U.S. on the internet. She thought it would be a good place for vampires to live since it receives so little sun.  The Twilight Tour was really a make believe world invented to represent her imagination.

The whole town played along with this charade.  City Hall was involved. The driving tour directed us to stop by the water department and pick up a free souvenir. An employee gave us a stamped ticket which indicated we paid our water bill. Every person who follows the driving tour interrupts this lady from her job duties numerous times a day to get their free souvenir.

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The local Community Hospital had a special parking place for Dr. Cullen, head of the vampire family, and Edward’s father. That means this parking space could not be used by anyone else.  After all, on a slow night Dr. Cullen might be visiting the lab for a snack.

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Between Forks and the Quillayutte Indian Reservation, a sign indicated the treaty line between the vampires and the werewolves. This was the territory of Jacob Black and the rest of his werewolf pals.

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The Pacific coastline near Forks looks eerie right before sunset. Hmmm… that would be at twilight, wouldn’t it?

I appreciate Stephenie Myer’s creativity.  She successfully captured this setting without visiting it first. Myer’s home at the time was in Arizona, quite a contrast to the rainforests and rocky coast of Washington.

As much as I felt fooled by Forks, I have to give the townspeople credit for capitalizing on a fictional idea.  The town economy has benefitted from tourists (like me) who stayed at the Dew Drop Inn motel and ate at the In Place. Both of which I highly recommend. Hats off to the Forks Chamber of Commerce for promoting an image that’s brought new life to a once declining logging town.

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Olympic: Not Just Any National Park

Located in northwest Washington, Olympic National Park is like no other place I’ve visited. After reading about the glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and the temperate rain forests,  I placed this destination at the top of my bucket list.

My husband and fellow adventurer, Herb, planned our trip to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. However, he did not plan on Hurricane Irma’s arrival in central Florida, one day before we were scheduled to leave. Our flight to Seattle was cancelled which threw our itinerary off. When we arrived in Olympic on September 13, we relished our escape from the stress we experienced prior to, during, and after Hurricane Irma.

As we hiked the Staircase Rapids Trail,  I felt like I’d walked into nature’s cathedral. Huge conifer trees stretched heavenward in their quest for light. The fresh woodsy scent of cedar permeated the air. The gentle ripples of the Quinalt River refreshed my tired body. The experience was like a dream.  It was as if we’d suddenly been transported to another planet.

IMG_0513Little did we know, the beauty of Staircase Rapids was only a prologue to the wonders awaiting us.

The second day in the park we hiked to Hurricane Hill. This area is named for the seventy-five mile per hour winds which buffet the ridge. We joked about the name “hurricane.” Of course I had to send a picture of our location to my friends in Florida, with the comment, “Wish you were here.” Nothing like rubbing in our good fortune.

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I struggled with the seven hundred foot elevation gain, but the views of the surrounding mountains were worth the climb.

IMG_7083 Herb photographed a marmot in an alpine meadow.  This little guy was very excited. We heard him sounding an alert to his marmot friends.

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At the top  of Hurricane Hill we met a gentle deer in a grove of trees.  We were never this close to either of these animals. Herb used his telescopic camera for these images.

The mountain ecosystem of Olympic is in the center of  922,651 acres of  wilderness.  Highway 101 circles the  perimeter of the park and few roads lead into the interior.

We stayed in all four of the lodges operated by the parks service. Our favorite was Kalaloch Lodge, located on the Pacific Ocean. We saw a beautiful sunset from the porch outside our room.

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The beaches of Washington are very different from Florida. Few people swim in the freezing water. The shores are rocky and littered with dead trees.  We were thrilled to arrive at Beach 4 at the right time to see the tide pools.

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What a delight to witness a world that is usually underwater. I felt like I was trespassing. IMG_7574

These sea stars (starfish) and sea anemones reminded me of alien creatures.

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Sea stars come in various colors and walk using tiny water filled tubes located under their arms. Fascinated, I could have watched the pools for hours, but as the tide was rising, we had to retreat from the rocks before water surrounded them.

Olympic National Park is home to one of the most spectacular temperate rain forests in the world. The Hoh Rain forest receives up to twelve feet of precipitation each year.  Not only do trees compete for light, they compete for space. In the rain forest, plants grow on top of plants.

PGBF5398 Various kinds of moss hang from the limbs of primeval trees.

Trees also compete for space on the forest floor. When one tree dies and falls to the ground, other trees sprout on top of it and absorb the nutrients from the decayed tree. These dead trees are called “nurse logs.”

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When a nurse log disintegrates, the result is a very strange looking tree with a bend in it.

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During our two week visit, I tried to learn the names of the giant trees which have lived here for hundreds of years. We saw the oldest spruce tree in the world.

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And what about our anniversary celebration? Over dinner on September 17, we tried to remember how we spent our previous 39 anniversaries. We could only recall ten of them. I think we’ll remember this one.

 

 

The High Sierra Wilderness of Yosemite

What comes to mind when you think of wilderness? Wide open spaces? Pristine lakes? Miles and miles of forests? Maybe something more scary including wild animals, or worse yet, no internet?

For most people wilderness is a place without roads, vehicles, or permanent structures. In 1964 the U. S. government created the National Wilderness Preservation System for the protection of American wilderness. Today 110 million acres of undeveloped land exists for our enjoyment. However, these places of solitude and renewal must be accessed by foot, horseback, or boat.

In 2013 my husband and I visited the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Herb and I left our car at the trailhead on Tioga Road, and walked up the May Lake Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. In our backpacks we carried a few basic necessities for an overnight stay at May Lake Camp.

Contrary to the overpopulated valley of Yosemite, the High Sierra region is a rugged, solitary wilderness. Upon our arrival at the lake we rested and soaked up the view while we munched on trail mix and granola bars.

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The water was calm and clear. Across the lake, the salt and pepper colored granite of  Mt. Hoffman rose up to meet the cloudless sky.  The 5.6 mile trail to the summit was listed as moderate in our guidebook.  We were determined to hike up as far as our legs could carry us.  I’m a flatlander from Florida. For me the hike was extremely rocky and rough. As we continued to climb above the tree line the trail seemed to disappear. We could only find our way because of the rock cairns left by previous hikers.

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I pushed myself to keep plodding along, stopping to rest every twenty yards or so. Each time I looked out at the surrounding spectacular peaks I felt refreshed and energized. From Mt. Hoffman at 10,000 feet, May Lake looked like a pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were completely alone. Eventually I reached an impasse, unable to continue because of loose rocks under my feet. I was fearful of falling. We took a photo of our stopping point.

IMG_0226On the way back down My husband suddenly froze and pointed nearby. “Mountian lion,” Herb whispered, “Follow me.”  I was silent and followed his lead. We walked a different direction away from the outcropping of rock the mountain lion was sleeping under.  When we felt it was safe, we began our descent.  I must say we walked a lot faster going down the mountain, than up!

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My legs were weak by the time we made it back to May Lake Camp. The tantalizing aroma of roast pork made us realize how hungry we were. All of the guests in the camp eat together family style. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, everyone shared their adventures. Five camps are located in the High Sierras, all a day’s hike from each other.  Some folks had walked ten miles to May Lake and planned to move on in the morning.  Hikers can spend a week or more in the High Sierras. It’s a great vacation, hiking all day and spending the night at a camp where someone else prepares your meals.  Food is carried into the camp by mules the same way Phantom Ranch receives supplies in the Grand Canyon, (Click on the link to read my previous post about that experience.)

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After dinner we retired to our tents, which we shared with other travelers, bunkhouse style.  I couldn’t get to sleep.  I tossed and turned, wondering about the mountain lion we encountered on our hike. What was it doing now? Could it be on the prowl nearby? And what about bears, everyone knows they frequent this area.  In the wee hours of the morning I finally drifted off to sleep.

Without my knowledge, my husband rose early and walked down by the lake to see the sunrise. He captured my feature image of the beautiful reflective waters of May Lake and another of Half Dome from the backside. (A sight unseen by visitors who stay in the valley.)

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Wilderness intrigues me. Its rugged beauty captivates and terrifies me at the same time.  In the wilderness anything can happen.  It has a spirit of its own, powerful, and untamed by man.

 

The Many Faces of Marineland

“Science couldn’t explain it… but there it was, alive in the deep waters of the Amazon. A throwback to a creature that existed one hundred million years ago.” So begins the opening remarks from the trailer, The Creature of the Black Lagoon.

When My husband was growing up he loved to watch the horror movies of the 1950’s.  Even today his eyes seem to light up whenever he talks about the time his parents brought him to Florida for a vacation. They visited Marineland in 1962. Back then two of his favorites movies were The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) and it’s sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). He couldn’t believe he was seeing the studios where scenes from both of his favorite movies were filmed. It’s something he will never forget.

This summer we made a return trip to Marineland.  We learned the attraction first opened as Marine Studios in 1938. It was designed to be a location for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage for movies and TV shows, including Sea Hunt (1958)

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A concrete prop used in the filming of underwater film scenes.

Naturally underwater movies call for animal actors. In addition to making films, Marine Studios wanted to give the public an opportunity to see and learn about bottlenose dolphins. During the 1940’s public dolphin feedings evolved into dolphin performances. Keepers discovered how high a dolphin can jump.

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Flippy, the world’s first trained dolphin.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the dolphin performances drew crowds of adoring fans. A favorite celebrity, Nelly, starred in TV shows. Nelly was born at Marine Studios in 1953 and lived under human care for sixty-one years. As dolphin performances continued to grow in popularity during the decades of the fifties and sixties, the focus of Marine Studios changed. It became more of an animal theme park with a new name, Marineland.

As we strolled through the present day facility I was taken by its beautiful location. The dolphin pool is located in close proximity to the beach. Over the years Marineland staff have rescued hundreds of stranded whales and injured marine animals.

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Today’s view of the dolphin pool with the Atlantic in the background.

However, Marineland’s location also contributed to its demise.  As the decades passed, salty air eroded the buildings. Destruction from two hurricanes made it necessary to close the park in 2004. In addition, Marineland experienced a decline in admissions after Sea World of Orlando opened in the late seventies.

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A bottlenose dolphin looking for a playmate.

During the next two years Marineland constructed a new facility dedicated to education and human/animal interaction instead of animal performance. In 2011 Marineland was acquired by the Georgia Aquarium and renamed Marine and Dolphin Adventure. The attraction offers dolphin encounters, summer camps, and field trips for school groups. The Behind the Stage Tour takes visitors below deck where they can view historical exhibits from their years as a film studio. We were surprised to discover the attraction sells a wedding package for avid dolphin loving couples.

We concluded our visit with this snapshot taken at a photo spot, a memento of our return to the hallowed ground of childhood memories.

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My previous blog about the Florida Citrus Tower shares another piece of Florida history.