Peanut and Banana Sandwich by Squirrel

To quote a wise man from San Juan, Costa Rica:

We live in the tropics.  If you drop a seed on the ground, it will grow.

I noticed that here years ago when I moved in.  People have plants dripping with plants dripping with more plants.

If you don’t want a giant mess in your yard, if you’re looking for something a bit groomed, don’t blink.  That “clean” look takes a lot of work here in Florida.

I could go a while before weeding my backyard in Philadelphia.  The soil was somewhat fertile, but things took their time to grow.  Sun angle up there is 14 degrees lower at any given moment than it is here so it will be proportionally less effective, proportionally less bright.

I have a yard inspection every morning, on a clear morning, at 7:30.  I have to inspect the irrigation systems, clear out the palm fronds, remove any debris that falls from the trees into the pools, and basically police the perimeters of the yard.

I have help with me.  Mr Dog, my one and only Dingus, Rack the SuperDog (TM)  will follow me around the yard, and go into places that my own nearly two meter height will not fit.

I found out that he will answer to Dingus because when someone does something a bit wrong, a bit silly, and a bit dumb, I have a habit of calling them a Dingus for doing it.

I am not exactly sure that it is even officially a Word according to the O.E.D., or Webster, or anyone else, but I use it.

Frequently.

 

So much so that my Dog adopted it as one of his names.   He figured out that he is Mr Dog early on, so why should I be surprised?

Stepping outside, we hear chattering and rustling in the Utility Easement behind the property.  It is, predictably, very thick with plantings, even though Rack goes back there for relaxation.  Yes, we shall call it Relaxation.  As in Rest Stop at mile marker 108.

I see something grey flash in my right eye and go on about my own business.  Spray the Milkweed for Aphids.  Wiggle the drip-feed water bubblers to clear them from any debris inside that blocks the flow.  Inspecting the pots in the backyard is a daily occurrence.

I get to the banana tree that I have been babying and think “What on earth is going on back there” when I spot that the tree had been planted itself.

 

There was a peanut.  Wedged deeply enough that it would have to be removed or else I’d have a Peanut and Banana sandwich there about chest height.

Then I woke up.  I realized what was going on.  The chattering got more insistent, so I walked to the corner of the yard.  Deep Jungle, or what passes for it here in Florida.

I had Squirrels.  Arguing.  Loudly.  For dominance.  Who knew?  I thought they were a peaceful species.

Squirrels arguing was like a pillow fight with Marshmallows.  Nobody really was going to get hurt but they were really going at it full blast.  It looked like a Cartoon.

I threw that errant peanut into the corner hoping the squirrels would break it up and move on, but it wasn’t enough.  I was within a yard of them as they’re running up and down the telephone pole and the palms and the bamboo back there.

Realizing that I am taller than my banana tree without the peanut, I had to back up.  They were running on the outside of the plants back there instead of back in the brush, and I was concerned that they’d mistake my own self for a tree.

Luckily I was dressed in Blue, not Green.  Squirrels are not terribly smart.

Shrugging, I thought to get involved.   I clapped my hands loudly.

They stopped for a second.  Then I got cursed out in whatever Rodential Squirrelish Language that they use here that I am not aware of.

Back to it they went.  Running up and down the pole when one of them, the smaller of the two, ran back to the other side of the yard, up my banana tree, looked around then ran off into the distance.

Argument was over.  It was now about time for the drip-feed irrigation to stop for the day.  Today’s Squirrel War had ended.  Who knows who was victorious, whether it was about a Peanut and Banana Sandwich, or whether anyone really cared.

Peace was once again supreme in my strange little yard full of constrained banana trees, Bonsai, and cultivated plants.  Rack got to my side, leaned into my right leg, and looked up.

“Yes, boy, it’s time to go inside.  Coffee is calling.”

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The Colder The Weather, The Tighter The Dogball

Cold is relative.

No really, it is.

You ask someone who lives in a place where they get wild swings of temperature when you don’t, they may tell you you’re crazy.

But if your dog gets cold, it gets cold, no matter where you are.

In my case, my dog got cold, and so did my relatives.  Rack, the McNab SuperDog (TM), handles it in style.  He simply rolls up into a dogball and parks himself in the corner.

He does it wrong, but he doesn’t care.

Last night, watching an old sitcom, I saw the ritual of the nest.  I’ve got a mat for him to lay on to protect him from the cold slab that the house is built upon.  Yes, I know, Cold is Relative.  In this case, it’s relative enough for me to be wearing a pair of Doc Martins any time I am not in bed, or a shower, or shaving in front of a mirror.

But that’s normal for me.

The one time I tried to put my own Docs on my dog’s feet, he looked up at me with all knowing brown eyes and basically told me I was an idiot.  Taking one foot out of each shoe, he slipped away.

Good for me, I was able to finish dressing.  Sitting on the edge of the bed means that I generally have a 46 pound, badger black and white dog weaving his frame in and out of my legs.  Like a cat.  Which I can’t.  I’m allergic to cats.  That’s why we have a dog.   A Good Dog indeed.

Who’s a good boy?  Hmmm?  You are!

So as he’s pawing on a mat that has to weigh as much as a bag of flour, not having much luck, and basically making a mess, he manages to roll it up into a ball.  Then, Plop! He’s settling in next to it to sleep.

That Dog Sniffing His Tail position that McNab Dog owners are so familiar with.  The tighter the dogball, the colder the weather.

But cold is all relative.  My relatives.  One in the Philadelphia Area, My Sister Pat at least doesn’t laugh at me when I tell her it’s cold out.  She does remind me that while I may be feeling cold and it’s 50, I also went to Kelly Drive and would have a skate workout when there was ice on the trails in a T Shirt and Boxer shorts with a sweatshirt if it was windy.

Just a short workout, mind you, only 9 miles, but you can do it too.  Come on, it was only 25, and I wasn’t crazy.  Really I wasn’t.

The other one is in the middle of the great plains.  The Middle of Nebraska.  Les Nessman’s dream state.  Where it was minus-freaking-25 Farenfreakingheit.  Too Freaking Cold.

So cold that it doesn’t make too much sense to take the effort to convert the temp to Celsius because it is roughly the same.  And my mind may be going from all that cold anyway because I could be getting the temperature wrong, oh never mind, let me have my damn coffee, it’s too cold to think about that!

Replace Freaking with whatever intensifier you wish.  I have one in mind.  Four bold letters.  Describes the situation perfectly.  Survival gear to go to the mailbox cold.

No.  Just No.  I’ll take solace in that it will only get colder here, and we’re expecting two degrees above freezing.  Yes, 38F or 2C.

So this is the dry season.  How I know is that it has been raining for two days in a row, and my banana tree sprouted a flower that just popped open.  Just in time for near freezing temperatures.

The storm forms in the Caribbean, where the water is still warm, relatively.  It does that pirouette dance to spin up into what my Sister will be calling a Nor’Easter, and wondering if it will get above freezing before the storm hits there.

Dunno, Pat, I remember once riding my motorcycle this time of year through the NJ Pine Barrens with just a T Shirt and Jeans because it was 70 with snow banks on the side of the road and ice patches in the shadows.

Dress for the Slide, not the Ride.

So it’s all relative.  I will hide from my cold.  You hide from your cold.  Here, have some coffee.

Did I tell you that the freeze line is 8 miles north of me?  Yeah, Clint Moore Road in Boca Raton according to the National Weather Service is as far south as freezing temps get.

Take that Boca!  Hah!

Cooler Weather, Potatoes, and A Weird Dog Walk

Roasted Potatoes Picture from Wikimedia.com

I am not expecting any more hurricanes this season.

No, it’s not like Granny saying her “Rheumatiz” is firing up and predicting the weather.

It’s more like the pool is cooling, the house is cooling, and the windows are open.

There are just some things you don’t want to do when the weather is hot.  Roasting a chicken or some potatoes, or both is one of them.

Of course I know some people who would say that they would never want to do that, for various reasons.  But if the temps are in the mid 90s and will be for two months, you tend to hold off doing that sort of thing.

It’s that “Who Needs More Heat” mindset.

But this week has been what passes for cool here.  High in the 70s and warming to the low 80s.

Blistering hot for anyone living in the northern latitudes.  For us here in Sunny Florida, it’s perfect weather to roast those root vegetables.

No, it’s not a recipe, but since you asked.  Scrub the potatoes well, score the flesh, rub with a little olive oil and perhaps salt or pepper or both.  Wrap in foil.  Toss in the oven at 450F for an hour.  Should be close enough.

Larger potatoes take an extra 15 minutes to 30.  Test with a fork.

That’s how I have been heating the house.  Or at least I did when what passes for cold here arrived.

Yeah, cold.  Get out the survival gear, it’s 56!

Someone who is Farenheit Impaired would wonder what on Earth I am talking about.  Then do the conversion and wonder why I am complaining about a 15 C Day.

Here, when that happens, we’re all in black, and sunning ourselves on a rock.  Yes, Florida turns you into a big lizard.  We get cranky and dress for sub freezing temps when things are merely “cool” to the rest of the world.

Tropical countries would agree.

So when we go to the market later this week, I will look long and hard at that Roasting Chicken, and debate getting more potatoes to “Heat the House”.

Wandering around town, I noticed that the people aren’t the only ones noticing.

Rack the SuperDog (TM) also has more energy.  The walks are getting crazy long.
Having a smart dog means that they aren’t just a lump of cute.  You see, my boy learned the neighborhood.  He knows its bounds.  He knows where to go and where not to go.

I got up that morning and said “Lets go, Show me walk”.

Bad idea.

I was cold and cranky.  It was two hours to sunrise.  I just wanted to get back inside.

We went out, and got walking.  He did his business quickly.  Now normally a lazy middle aged dog coupled to a cranky and tired man means a short walk.

Nope.  We got out a half mile from home.  He turned back toward the house.  When we got to the turn to the house he stopped, looked up at me, smiled, and did a 90 degree turn wrenching my arm out of my socket.

I bent down, picked up my detatched arm, slid it back inside the leather jacket that would have been unnecessary had we lived in a more normal climate, and attached it into position.

Turbines whirred, lights flashed, pilot noises happened with servo noises and beeps.  My arm was reattached with a metallic click.  Handy to have a way to take a trip into the future.

“Rack!  Wait up!”  I plodded after him.

We walked another half mile out.  Usually at this point he is ready to go home.

Or so I thought.

We got to walk back to the house, but when we got there, he spun up his robotic space-legs, and pulled me through a warp in Space-Time past the welcoming abode.

“Boy, are we going for more?”

He looked back at me, smiled again, and I shrugged as we passed into another dimension.

Or maybe not.

Total walk was a three mile long one.  Five Kilometers.

He is a herding dog after all.

But that’s the thing.  Take advantage of the day, whether it is blistering hot, or frigid cold, or what ever you call it.

There will be fresh potatoes waiting for you when you’re back.

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?