Jewfish Creek Bridge, The Video

Once upon a time, I made my trip to the Florida Keys.

There is a very stark break between the mainland and the Everglades in Florida City.  Everything simply “Stops”.

You get past that and there are a very few businesses way off in the middle of nowhere.  A cement factory and a quarry come to mind.  A marina is just on the other side of the Monroe county line.  But until you get to Key Largo, there’s practically nothing but grass and nature.

And this one massive scar through the landscape called US1.

Granted it is a scar, but you actually need it there to get to the Keys.

I am sure some people who are more ecologically aware would say that it does not belong there, nor do we in an ecological niche like those beautiful little jewels, but there are also people that would argue that nobody should live below the I-4 line where the land ceases to be land but more like a swamp.

Like I said, I’m not that ecologically aware.  My own feeling is don’t expand it, and contract development in the keys where possible.  But no draconian solutions, please.  They are beautiful and we can enjoy them if we play nice with nature.

Just before you go onto the island that Key Largo is on, there’s one big deep water gap.  A “Cut” so the larger boats can go into or out of the Florida Bay.  That is at what is now the Jewfish Creek bridge.

I realize I am being a small bit imprecise, but grant me that.

Since the old drawbridge was replaced years ago, they built an improved structure and then the bridge we have now.

The bridge itself is kind of minimalistic, maybe a bit stark, and painted in aqua blue, which is befitting of a place as knock down beautiful as the keys.

One of my earlier trips I took a picture and wrote about it.  For some strange reason in all the 8 or more years that I have been writing, that particular article gets read frequently.

What I did was revisit it.  I was down there for my birthday, a few days later.  Knowing that I was going there,  I brought my little video camera for the trip.  Hopefully this video will satisfy the area’s fans.

Hopefully my color commentary won’t offend too much and that my very shaky hand is not too awful.  But for now, I present the video.  For your pleasure or disdain.

The Beauty At Your Feet

The Japanese have many artistic traditions that we in the West are beginning to notice and take into account.

Of course we will get them wrong from time to time.  A Minimalist aesthetic can be wonderful.  Walking into a place that looks clean and polished where every fine detail is meticulously fussed over will immediately draw you in and have you pay deep attention to the space that isn’t used in comparison with the spaces that are used.

Then again, sometimes we get it wrong.  The mass market plasticization of society and public spaces can simply look stark and uninviting.  An Apple Store always seems cold and sterile to me instead of a place to draw you in and invite creativity.  After all, that is what a computer is used for, to Create.

Maybe I am digging a bit too deep.  My own wanders over my own patch of beach sand here never ceases to amaze me.  Having grown up in the Prairies of South Jersey, I was used to a certain look and feel of things.  My split level house of my youth was plucked out of a life of The Wonder Years.  The Pin Oaks planted along the street would change with the seasons but were very much of the place and grew with the time.

Here things simply look different.  I live in a town that will never freeze, or so I am told by the USDA and their zones.  I have never seen it below 34, and it may not have been quite that cold since I am rather close to the beach. 3 Km or 2.3 Miles to be specific.

So things are not adapted to lose their leaves in winter.  Flowers can occur all year around.  If you like that sort of thing, and are observant, you can find beauty in just about anything.

My own yard for example.  I find things that look like what the mother of a friend of mine called Wandering Jew.  She told me that if the conditions are right, they will bloom.  That sounded simply insane that a house plant would bloom like that to me since you just can’t leave things outside in the cold weather.

Here, it is a weed.  And it blooms.

A tiny little dot of blue in the field of green at my feet.   All I have to do is be patient and wait.  In this case it was in late February, but no matter.

Other times, there’s a spot of yellow.  Most likely from the shamrocks that grow in my yard, it could also be sorrel.  Either way, these things are predictable.  I almost always see them out there.  Bright yellow or a pale lavender, they are in the sun, growing all over the place.

I have taken notice of them as they end up in my plant pots.  How that happens, I have no idea.  The flowers tend to be cut with the lawnmower, they reappear quickly, and they disappear.

Again, it blooms and brings beauty to a uniform green, if you know where to look.

That would be the key.

 

Open your eyes, pay attention.  You could be missing something quite special.

Banana Leaves In The Morning Sun and a Ground Water Shower

I have a routine around here.

Once I’ve gotten back into the house after a 45 minute dog walk in the morning, I put coffee together.  It’s after the dog has been fed, he gets food first simply because he’s a painfully slow eater and I end up tapping the food bowl to keep him focused.

He is smaller than he would normally be because food is such a low priority.  That means that I end up being his hunger signal, twice a day.  The old school “take the bowl away if he doesn’t eat” doesn’t work and is merely cruel, he would simply stop eating out of fear and acceptance of “This is how it is”.

But once the food is in him and I have had my coffee, it still is a while to sunrise.

At 7AM, the irrigation system kicks in for a half hour.

“Rack!  Want to go out back?”

Did I even need to ask?  He’s standing at the door nodding his head “Yes!” like I’m a fool that should get out of his way.

Yes, I do have a dog who knows how to say “Yes”.  He’s a McNab.  If you can’t train a McNab you don’t deserve to have a dog.

This is the low flow drip feed irrigation that is a maintenance chore.  Every day I have to go out and inspect the hoses and feeds to make sure that all the plants are getting water.  If I see water dribbling out of the individual head, I’m moving to the next one.  If you don’t blow out the lines frequently things clog.  If you do, you are treated to a slug of mud that collects in the most distant part of the system like where my flowers are growing.

Lines the thickness of over cooked spaghetti made of black plastic, sliding onto compression fittings pierced into larger black plastic water lines.  It all ties into a thicker PVC Pipe somewhere that hooks into the valve that is computer controlled.

It isn’t what I would call complex, just involved and fiddly.

Why “Fiddly”?  Because plastic is something that changes in the environment.  It eventually dries out due to UV Light exposure and will crack because of that and the pressure changes that happen during the day when the lines are “charged”.

That was where I got in trouble.

I noticed the spray out of the connector at one of the orchids that is growing into the wood on the fence.

Saying to Rack “I’ll get back to that”, I walked into the yard.  Rack was at my feet because he was herding me to convince me to go inside.  There must have been a trash can lid slammed somewhere in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, two miles away, and he heard it.

“Deal, dog, you need the exposure to noises” and the FEC train was coming up from Miami.  You can hear the whistle a couple miles off and it brings the people up North the Brazilian Oranges they think they are getting from Florida.

Yes, they are coming from Florida.

No, they aren’t all grown here.  That is why you can get orange juice in October.

I make a round of the yard.

 

My Bamboo cuttings are coming in, I will have five plants back by the fence in the utility easement.

 

The Poinsettia is growing so well that last year’s red leaves are covered completely and it is about hip high.

 

My Podocarpus cuttings are doing well, there is bright green growth on the tips.

…And then I spotted the Banana.  I have one original pot, and two cuttings I am getting going for no good reason.  I have nowhere to put them but I like saying that I can grow the things.  But I was standing on the West side of the plant that moment.  The sun had just cleared the tree line and the fences to the East.  The irrigation and the morning dew had done their thing as well, leaving large drops of mist on the surface of the leaves.

This has to be why I grow the stuff.  Gardening.  The light refracting off of hundreds of beads of water causing rainbows and sparkles in the morning.

 

Looking at and marveling at the improbability of it all, I realized it was time to fix that one line.  The rest of the irrigation was running perfectly, which is a rarity.  Usually something somewhere has clogged on a daily basis.

 

In order to have irrigation lines that crack, clog, and spray, first you have to invent the universe.  (Apologies to Carl Sagan)

I walked to the wet wall, slowing my pace on the slick wood deck.  Reaching through the spikes of the bougainvillea that scratched my arm bloody, I just touched the connector.  It was at that point where I was immediately standing under the Niagara Falls.

The pressure was so high that it sent a stream of ground water up over my head.  Luckily for me it missed me until it hit the roof.  The backsplash was as intense as my shower head in the bathroom.  The water was now running down my head, into my eyes, and on the shirt.  Down the roof it dripped under the Lanai roof and onto the kitchen window.

“Damnit, I just cleaned that thing!”  It was a solid 20 feet from where I was standing, a good room away.

I reached over, clipped off the end of the water line, jammed it back onto the connector and the deluge stopped.

“All I needed was soap and I could have had a shower!” I mused

Rack looked at me as if to say “Am I safe?  Can we go in?  Are you through playing with the water yet?”

“Yes, soon, yes” would have been my answers.

Mom said don’t play with the water.  This is my way to do that.  I just would prefer not to do it every single morning.  Even if it does get me up looking at the beauty that can be found in just about any suburban back yard.

Belle Isle Bird

Have you ever thought that you were being followed?

I don’t do the tourist thing all that often.

I live in a place where depending what you are looking for, you can find it.  Sometimes you can find what you’re looking for in your own town, sometimes you have to get in the car and drive a little bit.

I’m about two and a half miles from the ocean.  Two and a half miles North of downtown Fort Lauderdale.  I could walk to one or the other.  I could easily ride a bike or skate to either.  Actually, I know my fitness level, I could ride a bike or skate to both in one afternoon since that isn’t really that big of a workout.

Nothing quite so exciting that day.  I just wanted to go out to Wilton Drive.  With in a leisurely stroll of the house there are quite a few shops.  I actually am looking for something that you would want to get at a thrift shop, and we have three of them within about a half mile of where I am sitting right now.

I wanted a Pizza Steel.  I didn’t find one.  A Pizza Steel is a slab of metal that you put in your oven.  Turn the oven on to “Good-And-Hot” and let the oven come up to temperature.  Then you slide your pizza onto it.  Anything you cook on that would get a crispy bottom.

Since I hadn’t found one, I have been using a rather thick aluminum cookie sheet.  It works, but I’d prefer more “mass”.

So I left the house.  Noticing that there was this goofy white bird feeding on the lawn across the street, I started heading out to The Drive.  I didn’t think all that much of the bird, we’ve got lots of wading birds here in town.  They tend to fly out overhead as the afternoon begins to wane to go out to the Everglades fifteen miles West, or just any other little waterway nearby.  There’s a lot of water in South Florida to manage, and it has been managed.  Badly.

I got to the first thrift store, walked in, did my browsing.  No Pizza Steel.  Nothing I could hack to use as a Pizza Steel.  I did notice that there was another one of those white birds standing there in the lawn feeding, and watching me.

Thinking, that’s odd but harmless, I headed to the second thrift store.  Still no Pizza Steel.  Damn.  But there was a bird again.  Ok, this is getting weird.   I walked a little closer to it and it watched me.  Deciding that neither of us were getting anything out of this bird watching, I headed to the last thrift.  This one is the one that is there to benefit the animals, and as a result I like to shop there whenever I can.

But no Pizza Steel.  I’ll have to keep using the cookie sheet.  It is a very thick aluminum sheet, and will crisp the bottom of the pies, but it isn’t quite what I want.

You guessed it.  When I headed out, my bird was back.  Now, I can’t tell one from another.  They’re all paper white with orange beak and bright eyes that watch you back.  It was a strange coincidence.  It just stood there, on top of the little hedge watching me.

Now, to anyone else, these birds are wary.  They’ll waddle off when you come near or even fly away.  Not this bird.  It waited for me to get as many pictures as I wanted.  Standing there on top of the hedge, it seemed to like the attention as I fired off more pictures.
Sure, little white bird.  You’re happy to be seen.  I guess it knew I was harmless.  What got me though was that coincidence.  We’ve got quite a few of these birds around.  They’re like Starlings up North sometimes.  You’ll see great herds of them hunting for grubs in the lawns, especially untreated lawns.  But four separate shops on a heavily traveled road with little greenery?

Where’s Alfred Hitchcock when you need him.  I think I have a story idea for him.

Oh wait, it’s been done?

Devil Toad With Pizza

What can you say other than It’s Florida being Florida.

What I mean by that is that we’ve got wildlife.  It lives with us, whether we want it or not.

It was here first, then we came along and screwed things up.

After all “Boca Raton” means Mouth Mouse in literal Spanish, just like Florida refers to the land of flowers it still is.

I love the idea that all these people acting Posh live in a town named after mice, but that’s just me.

Watching the security cameras here, and for that matter anywhere, overnight, you spot a lot of creatures.  Raccoons, Opossums, and Spiders are a daily occurrence.  They belong.

Then there are the introduced species.  Boa Constrictors in the Everglades share space with Ball Pythons.  They’re clearing the place of native species while we speak.

Other creatures like cats are doing damage by being out and about and emptying nests of the birds that actually belong.   If you love your pet, keep them indoors or on a leash.  It’s common sense, and it is the law here in Wilton Manors.  If it is off leash off property, it’s a stray.

But these toads.  The Bufo Toads or Cane Toads.  They’re poisonous and have been known to kill a dog. They’re one reason why when I let Rack out, I have a flashlight at night.  We walk along the roads next to the grass since there are no sidewalks for the most part here.  Shine a light at the grass to make sure there are no toads around.

Rack has a very weak prey drive, but who knows when it will kick in.  One lick and he’s done for.  It would be a trip to the e-vet after using the hose to flush out his mouth while we get him into the car, most likely convulsing.

But this one toad?

You see they sometimes hang out in the parking lots in the storm drains.  They will come out at night and forage.  Foraging is fine, just give them room.  In this case, there was a crust of pizza discarded into the brush next to the building.  The toad found it and tried to eat it.  I say tried because it didn’t seem to have any luck.  I could tell you which pizza joint it is that it was eating a crust from, but I’ll refrain.

It’s not often you come across a poisonous toad by the wall of a building eating a piece of pizza crust just before dawn on an October morning, but when you do, stop and take notice and think about just how weird the place is that you’re at.

The View From The Ground

It was a rare morning I slept in.

Instead of being up two hours before dawn, like usual, I was up just a bit before sunrise.

I hauled my own self out of the house, faithful sidekick, Rack the McNab SuperDog (TM) by my side.

It was Dog Walk Time.

Rack had done his little oddball quirk with squeezing between my legs to get into his harness, I had a fist full of plastic bags in my pocket and we were on our way.

I was out walking around and noticed that the clouds were towering all over the place.  It had been rainy lately, quite rainy in fits and starts.  One day there was 6 inches of rain from a tropical storm that collapsed into a collection of unattached thunderstorms.  The next there were the usual popup storms that show up because South Florida really is a city built on river banks.  The water flows South from Orlando, into Lake Okeechobee or Lake O as we call it here, and eventually out into the Florida Bay.  It can take years to get there, moving at only a few inches an hour, but it is moving and therefore a river and not a swamp.

Didn’t know that huh?

I rounded the corner off Wilton Drive and spotted some other clouds towering over the landscape.  That particular stretch of the walk is more open.

When I rounded the corner again and was able to look East toward the sunrise, I stopped.  Mind you, it isn’t often that I stop and stare at the clouds.   This was different.  There was an airplane flying well over the ground off in the distance.  It was silhouetted against that towering cloud that was just off shore.  Hundreds of people aboard living their own lives, off to an adventure far away.  The airport is about 8 miles South of me.  The runways are situated East-West to take advantage of the always present breezes off the shore.  Coming in for a landing, they will slow you down.  Taking off, they will help you get there.  You fly off over the ocean in an eye blink and climb well before you get to The Bahamas.  There the paths diverge and people head on into their lives.

That silhouetted story spoke to me as I had someone snap out of my own reverie.

“Beautiful sunrise isn’t it?  Those clouds are amazing!”

“Yes!  I’m not often up this late, so I’m glad I got to see it!”

Towering clouds adding their own drama to the brightening sunrise, the city became awake around me.

Rack sat at my feet as I pulled my camera out to take a picture, then we went on our way.

Just one of those hundreds of unseen little stories that go on around you each day.  Some of them even involve stopping and staring at a giant stack of cotton candy clouds.

Yellow Flowers, Green Leaves, Nearby Park

I’m out, therefore I take pictures.

I don’t know what I will use them for, but I take them anyway.

It pleases me.

It makes me feel creative.

And sometimes I even get some that I like.

This one is saved out to my Backgrounds directory at the moment, and I may even get some use out of it professionally.  After all, some of those little yellow flowers look amazing close up and blown to make them full screen.

But never mind all that.

They’re just pretty.

It’s over at the nearby M.E. DePalma park.

Knowing M.E., I’m expect anything in there to be native, or at least “endemic”.  That endemic stuff, she works hard to keep out.  Not knowing the difference, I just like the beauty.

Since I walk past the place a couple times a day, I’m able to take it in.

Having the flowers there, and the ever changing display, is one of many nice things about living in Wilton Manors.

But for now, I’m just enjoying the colors.

This picture was taken Mid September, so these blooms are long gone, but there are many others there.

I will say that my Monarch Butterflies are enjoying it too.  The Mexican Milkweed that is in there is always eaten to sticks, just like in my backyard.  Some of it may even be some that I planted, some not, but there are always a few nearby for the butterflies to eat.  I’m able to sit in my dining room, look out the big picture window and eventually a Monarch will float past.

All because someone had the forethought, common sense, and appreciation of beauty to plant a garden on a corner property too small to put up Yet Another McMansion in the land named after flowers.