A Cruel Joke of Nature

First of all fellow Floridians, do not fear. The sun is shining today and no hurricane warnings are upon us. But it’s August, and we all know the next two months can be dicey at times. Dangerous weather damages Florida communities every year. As an Orlando resident, I’m fortunate to live in an area that hasn’t experienced the wrath of very many  hurricanes. The worst storm I can remember happened in 2004 when Charley came through.

Still, I’m aware of the tough times communities encounter when their power is out for days. This poem, entitled A Cruel Joke of Nature is dedicated to you.

When Charley came to town

the city lost all power.

The stagnant, stifling air

Weighs heavy every hour.

Mornings with no coffee

No bacon, no warm toast.

Yet, inside the kitchen…

the smell of rotten roast.

The radio is silent.

My phone is out of juice.

The TV screen is blank

and Google sheds no truth.

I snuff the candles out

to rest upon my bed,

Swatting at mosquitos

Which whine around my head.

A Cruel Joke of Nature

this taunting serenade.

Escaping to the shower,

I think I’ve got it made.

My triumph is short-lived

Icy water hits my side

The bugs attack my legs

There’s nowhere left to hide.

Illuminated world

Advanced technology

Unequal to the storm

which brought me to my knees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

River of Inspiration

Moving metaphor below,

without one thought you flow

over stone

and I see

life’s not hard like land at all

but a living river of possibility

whatever you might be.

A River Poem is displayed on a plaque above the Hillsborough River. The author is anonymous.  From this spot people can see rapids as they bubble around outcroppings of Suwannee Limestone.  I love the depth of meaning in the poem’s simplicity. Life’s not hard for a river. It creates beauty in the process of overcoming obstacles.

The Hillsborough River flows through Hillsborough State Park on its course to the Gulf of Mexico. Recently Herb and I walked the River Rapids Trail with our dog, Buddy. The scenery is quite beautiful.

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The path meanders along the river bank through forests of ancient cypress trees. The tree pictured below is estimated to be four hundred years old.

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Although its base is hollow, the tree is still alive.  Some scientists think the stumpy looking knees around a Cypress tree serve as anchors in soft muddy soil. The knees also carry oxygen to the roots. I’ve heard the taller the knees, the higher the water has risen around the tree. The base of this tree is probably underwater during the rainy season.

On our walk I noticed a significant amount of poison ivy on both sides of the trail.

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Doesn’t it look pretty? These leaves of green terrify me! I’m very allergic to this wicked weed and suffer for weeks if the oil gets  on my skin. So not only did I need to keep my eyes on the path, I needed to make sure our dog wasn’t walking through it. So far so good. Whew!

Unfortunately, I was so focused on watching my feet, I missed something. Herb sighted a bobcat running across the path ahead. I think I’d like to see a bobcat, but on second thought I might get scared and try to escape by running through poison ivy. Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Back to the peaceful river… further down the path we noticed a couple kayaking.

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As they paddled closer, instead of looking calm and relaxed, they seemed anxious. They had good reason to be.

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The river provides a wonderful habitat for alligators. I photographed this fine specimen basking in the sun on the opposite bank. Once I saw the gator, I realized I was not brave enough to kayak or canoe here. I could appreciate the river better from where I was standing. As long as I wasn’t standing in poison ivy, of course.

Since we were camping at Hillsborough State Park, we had another day to explore. We visited Fort Foster. This historic site is a replica of the original fort which was built to  house supplies for  U.S. soldiers during the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842.

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The fort also protected the only bridge in the area that crossed the Hillsborough River. One thing the government didn’t consider, the bridge also made it easier for the Seminoles to cross the river from their camps on the opposite bank.  A few skirmishes happened here, but more casualties occurred from insect related diseases.

Inside the stockade fence, the fort contained a canon, an officers quarters, an infirmary, and a supply building.

The fort could not accommodate the 305 soldiers assigned to the post. Most of them camped outside the fence in palmetto sheds. During the summer of 1836 the fort was abandoned due to unhealthy living conditions. The troops returned in October, to guard the supplies kept at the fort. Eventually the Seminoles were pushed further south to the Everglades.

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The Hillsborough River… an inspiration for poets, a habitat for plants and animals, and a source of history. Like the poem states… “a living river of possibility.”

 

Scrub-Jay Way

I like the last week of December.  The stress of the Christmas season is winding down. The resolutions of the new year have not yet begun. It’s a good time to slow down, reflect, and revisit memories.

One of my favorite December memories took place during a trip I made to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Located near the Kennedy Space Center, the refuge was established for the protection of migratory birds. Fifteen hundred different species of plants and animals inhabit this wilderness of 140,000 acres. The land features coastal dunes, marshes, scrub pines, and hardwood hammocks.

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The best time to visit Merritt Island is in the winter. If you drive on the Black Point Wildlife Drive you can see waterfowl, wading birds, alligators, bobcats, snakes, and raptors. The drive is seven miles one way. Make sure you have gas in your tank, and plenty of time to explore. We got out of the car frequently to photograph the locals.

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The refuge features several hiking trails. My favorite is the Pine Flatwoods Trail. It’s a mile round trip through a rare community of oak scrubs. This area is home to the threatened Florida Scrub-Jay.  Their survival is threatened due to a loss of habitat. Fewer than eight thousand Scrub-Jays remain in the world.

Scrub-Jays can become hand-tame if they have contact with people. A fellow hiker shared that once we found a family of Scrub-Jays, we should stand still with our arms outstretched and see what happens. About half way through the hike, I came across a bunch of scrubby looking plants. Sitting on top of a branch was a pretty blue bird. That’s it, I thought, the Florida Scrub-Jay! 

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I signaled the rest of my family members to freeze. We looked at the grass around our feet and saw several peanut shells laying on the ground. Someone clearly had been feeding the birds, but we didn’t want to actually feed the wildlife. (It’s against the rules.)  Still, we were very curious about the rumors we’d heard.

I whispered to my son,  “Let’s stand with our arms outstretched to see what might happen.” As an extra enticement, we put an empty peanut shell in each palm. Wow! I was amazed. The Scrub-Jays didn’t hesitate to light on our palms. One even sat on my son’s head!

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Each Scrub-Jay didn’t sit for long. It was clear to them that we didn’t really have any food. My husband shot this amazing photo of a Scrub-Jay leaving my hand. I laugh every time I look at it.

Fellow Floridians, we live in a unique state with more to explore than the space between Mickey’s ears. If you are interested, visit Merritt Island and see the real Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Web of Wonder

 

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One September night I noticed this spider web above our back door. The web looked scary. What if the architect dropped in my hair when I walked through the door?  As I looked closer, I appreciated the beautiful way it glistened under our porch light. The spider worked  hard to create a masterpiece. Why should I tear it down? After all, the web snared flying insects before they entered the house.

I strained my eyes to try and find the spider. The web hung several feet above my head. In the center I made out a small orange fuzzy looking ball. If that was the spider, it looked harmless.

I asked my family to take a look. Our daughter was visiting at the time. She knew  the spider was  a spotted orb weaver. “I had one build a web on my balcony,” she said. “I didn’t tear it down because it built an amazing web. It died after a few months.”

For her sake I didn’t disturb the web that night. But after a few more days, I wondered how big this web could get. What if I can no longer get through the door without feeling its sticky threads on my face?

I had an idea.  I’ll gently sweep out the web. The spider will probably stick to the broom. I’ll place the broom in the alley overnight and give the orb weaver a chance to escape without killing it. Then my daughter won’t think  I’m a murderer. I’ll be rid of this problem. I grabbed the broom and quickly carried out my plan before I could change my mind.

The next day I discovered the web was back in the same place. I couldn’t believe it. The spider must have hidden behind the porch light when I swept the web away. In twenty- four hours it rebuilt its web.  Then I saw it. I realized the orange fuzzy ball really did have legs and was scurrying down toward me. Yikes!

 

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I took a deep breath and my fear slowly dissipated. The spotted orb weaver was definitely a master builder. My plan to get rid of it failed.  Why don’t  I just let it be?  So I did for another week…

Until the exterminator came for his routine visit. “How are things?” he asked.

“I only saw one roach this month, and it was lying on its back.” I replied. “But there is a large spider web above the back door.”

The exterminator smiled, “I’ll take care of that.”

After his visit, I didn’t see a trace of the web above the door. I kind of missed the spotted orb, but after all, it was only a spider.

During the first week of October we prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. We expected the worst, and were relieved when Matthew did not make a direct hit on the Florida coast.  Orlando experienced winds strong enough to down trees in the area.

The day after the storm I noticed our porch light tilted sideways. As I looked closer I saw a smaller web hanging between the light and the side of the house.

Unbelievable, I thought. This spider is some escape artist. Its web was swept down. The door frame where it made its home was sprayed with poison. Somehow the spotted orb weaver built another web that withstood forty mph winds.  It will not leave until its ready. So now I wait. Maybe I’ll wear a hat when I go out.img_7704

 

 

Florida’s October Surprise

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Dear Fellow Floridians,

Like many of you, I’ve watched approaching hurricanes with anxiety and dread.  I’ve turned on the local weather every few hours.  I’ve prepared to the degree I can prepare. And like you, I’ve seen storm warnings that didn’t materialize. So as Hurricane Matthew churns its way through the Caribbean Sea, I wonder, what will happen this time?

I remember Hurricane Charlie in 2004. My daughter drove to Orlando when forecasters predicted the storm would make landfall near Tampa. Charlie surprised everyone when it missed Tampa, but passed through Orlando.  We never really know what is going to happen until the storm is closer.  Hurricane Matthew has that same kind of unpredictable nature.

So fellow Floridians, instead of worrying, let’s try to relax and think of positive things associated with hurricanes.  Since we have the opportunity to survive without power, we won’t be dogged by political ads on TV.  Without hot water, or maybe even any water, we can have bad hair days and no one will care. We can have romantic dinners of cold canned food by candlelight. After the storm passes, we can grill all the meat that defrosted in the freezer, and invite our neighbors over. We just need to look on the bright side.

All that wind and rain is good news for roofers. Building supply companies all over the country will benefit.  Downed trees provide work for tree removal companies. Local stores benefit from the sale of bottled water and batteries. A good hurricane can stimulate the economy.

Surfers love the high waves that only a big storm can provide. The storm surge can dredge up sunken treasure from pirate ships. Gold might even wash up on shore. A hurricane can deliver great finds for beachcombers.

Teachers and children love vacation time from school. Power outages encourage old fashioned activities like reading books, drawing, and writing.

During the days prior to a hurricane’s arrival, local weather reporters become big celebrities. This is their time to shine. They  stir up the drama and excitement! Today I tuned into Channel 13 to see a weather reporter predict the wind speeds of Hurricane Matthew for early Saturday.

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I hate to say this, but it looks like we’re doomed!

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Chasing Memories

 

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Mohican State Forest in Ohio

Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.

Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.

At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I  crawled into the tent.  We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet.  Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.

We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad  loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.

I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.

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Our humble tent in the shadow of an RV at Sebastian Inlet.

The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent.  When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead,  I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue  by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood.  After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird.  Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.

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Wandering bison,            Yellowstone

 

When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.

This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.

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Our oTENTik

 

When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook.  During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches.  Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my  pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.

Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?