Friday, February 27, 2009

Home Again

We're back from a two-week trip to Florida. I can understand why people go down there for the winter, it was warm and sunny almost every day we were gone, while I hear it was cold in Carolina. We saw some really beautiful places and some really tacky ones too. Florida is a mix of wild places, old developed places and tourist traps and new developed places that all look the same. If you're driving down a strip in Tampa, or West Palm Beach or Fort Myers or any of the big towns along the Atlantic or the Gulf- they all look pretty much the same. Contemporary Spanish, pink stucco with arches and red tile roof's. One shopping center after another interspersed with new housing developments and gated communities with the landscapes all manicured just "so so" as my grand Mama Lu used to say.

But if you can get past all that there is some spectacular wildlife and wild places still left standing, like the Everglades where we spent a week. We paddled our kayaks through the 10,000 mangrove islands on the gulf side, searching for a sandy beach to pull the boats up onto and take a swim or look for shells or eat our lunches. Sometimes there was no where to get out, sometimes it was very confusing and hard to tell one passage or one mangrove hammock from another.

But we found our way every time and managed to make it back to our little rental house on the canal, despite getting turned around or having to paddle against high winds through choppy water once or twice. One day we had to sit in our boats while the fire department dealt with a big motor boat that had overfilled its gas tanks somehow and I guess was one the verge of explosion. All manner of fishing and pleasure boats were starting to pile up around the marina and we were paddling around for about a half an hour before we convinced the Fire Marshall that as kayakers, we didn't pose a risk of sparking anything and they let us get out.

I've never seen so many birds in my life and can't imagine what it must have been like back in the day. They say there are now only 10% as many birds as there were a century ago! Egrets herons, and ibis were plentiful in every marsh and canal and kingfishers and anhingas perched on every telephone wire. My favorites were the huge snow white pelicans with long yellow bills and orangey-red feet that we saw at the Ding Darling preserve on Sanibel Island. Getting there was running a gauntlet through over-development and beach kitsch. But once in the preserve it was pretty swell and the birds are so used to people they don't fly away.

Another favorite place was the Paynes Prairie Preserve near Gainesville where we stopped on the way home. A prairie that's been restored and has a strange mix of animals, including bison and wild horses. From the prairie flows a river that is home to gators and tons of birds and disappears into a giant hole- the Alachua sink. Kind of like a first magnitude spring in reverse.

We also saw wild pigs and turkeys and sandhill and whooping cranes out there on the prairie. We watched a great blue heron swallow a big rat whole! I would definitely visit that park again and they had a sweet campground too where we spent one very chilly night snuggled deep in our sleeping bags.

All in all it was a stellar trip and I'm glad we went and would visit some of the places again. But best of all about traveling is getting back home to sleep in our own bed where the only sounds are of birds and frogs and the quiet hum of the refrigerator.

This morning I spied a pair of red-shouldered hawks making a nest in a tree down near the pond. I could see them from the bed, out the bedroom window, they'll be obscured when the leaves come out but we'll be able to watch their progress til then.

I planted 200 onion plants today, it's supposed to turn cold and rainy again this weekend so in they went, and the peas, spinach and lettuce I planted before we left have sprouted, spring is coming, despite the cold.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Planting Time

Crocus- the ultimate harbingers of spring

It's been a ridiculously warm week with day after day in the 70's so I got out and started digging. Planted peas, lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, chard, radish and arugula. Hopefully they won't all sprout and get frozen right off the bat, but I was feeling hopeful and went ahead on and did it.

The peepers are calling, the birds are singing, the owls are caterwauling at one another in mating dance and the bluebirds are checking out the bird houses, spring must be just around the corner.

This morning I woke early, the just past full moon was shrouded in a milky fog. As I sat at my desk writing, the sky got pink before the sun came up, I turned off my light and watched the color move across the horizon. I saw, then heard, a line of geese, honking and flapping their way to the days work in some nearby field.

These daffodils, the first of the season, popped open yesterday.

This will be my last post for a bit, we head off tomorrow for Florida, to paddle our kayaks amongst the mangroves of the 10,000 islands and gaze across the salt marshes of the Everglades. We hope to see amazing birds and manatees, swim in clear waters and lay our bodies on the warm sand.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February Has Arrived

This morning we woke to a light dusting of snow. As is typical for this capricious month we have a forecast this week that includes nights in the teens and days in the sixties, Sunday they say may be 70 degrees!

January flew by and now winter begins to ease off. I struggle between my desires for winter to continue so that I can stay inside and cogitate, and for spring to come so I can get out and see the new world unfold. It's a tough thing. Sometimes I wish for a colder climate with a longer winter. I like to spend time reading and thinking, napping and making big pots of soup and beans, sleeping late. Here in Carolina the time for these activities is pretty short, December and January really, with a few wintry days in November and February, but by March, spring is really kickin' in.

The to do list is long as ever, things that didn't get done in the fall, like mulching, always more mulching, and cleaning and staining the decks. Now the spring chores start to crop up too, planting peas and prepping a bed for onions and the earliest spring veggies. Another seasonal cycle rolls around.

Check out my latest column in the News, winter bird watching. I slipped down to the coast last Friday with big bro to look for wintering seaside sparrows. They eluded us, but we did see striking black oyster catchers, marbled godwits, bufflehead ducks, hooded mergansers and a whole flock of loons. I copped two new life birds; purple and western sandpipers, so it was not a total wash in terms of birding olympics. And the day was gorgeous, my spirits entirely renewed by a short walk on a sunny beach, watching the clouds lining up overhead, the waves rolling in. I forget it's so close to go down there, only 2 hours to Wilmington, think I'll try to do it a little more often. The beach refreshes my soul.