Momma Duck and Her Chicks at M.E. DePalma Park

When you place a natural habitat near water, you’re going to get water fowl.

That’s a good thing.

It means that you live in a city that is Progressive enough to understand that Nature belongs where people do.  It means that your city is actively taking part in keeping a bit of the environment natural.  It also means that they’re watching out to make sure that you aren’t “Cheek-to-Jowl” with one tacky house slammed up against the next one.

Nobody likes that except for the real estate developers. 

I’m lucky enough to have this little gem near my own house.  M.E. DePalma Park.  I have the knock-off effect that the butterflies that I love to watch float over to my own yard and do whatever it is that Butterflies Do.

I suspect it has something to do with the nectar in my Bougainvillea wall, and the other flowers that I have here.  That and the Monarchs that are aggressively keeping my Mexican Milkweed trimmed down to sticks. 

Silly butterflies, but that is what I plant the stuff for.

It was one of those Dog Walks.  I seem to see the most interesting things on these walks, from natural to the human-space, as well as quite a lot of quirky things that go on here.  It’s an entertaining city to live in, Wilton Manors, Florida.

We walked past the little park that evening.  Me and my sidekick, Rack, the McNab SuperDog (TM).  If you want to get to meet the neighbors, get a dog and go for a walk between 5 and 7 any evening.

I was gathering my act together and Rack had spotted them.  My being self-absorbed in the work of tying a knot in a “dog bag”, and we all know how enthralling that can be, allowed Rack to pay attention to the hissing in the underbrush.  I stopped what I was doing and paid attention.

Momma Duck had taken up residence in the park under some trees in a partial thicket.  She’s been there long enough this year for me to believe that she laid the eggs there and would waddle down to the South Fork of the Middle River that keeps us happily separate from Fort Lauderdale, and find food.  She would then return and tend to her own flock.  There isn’t enough wildlife that would want to turn those eggs into an impromptu omelet here in town, so I’d say she’s safe where she is at.

Momma didn’t like my standing there getting my camera ready, and the babies wandered off one after another.  Finally Momma left, hissing at me. 

Seemed a little half-hearted, but these Muscovy Ducks are the distant descendants of pet ducks that had been brought in many years ago.  They’ve never been a nuisance that I have seen, and they do keep some of the other pests at bay. 

Or at least at river.

Having gotten my pictures, I told her goodbye and got ready to leave  She stopped hissing as soon as I made my comments, and went back to the business of tending to her little brood in the little corner of the little park in the middle of the little Island City.

What To Do When Stuck In Traffic

I don’t often leave the quirky little island.  That is, the Island City.  Everything is here, I generally don’t have to go further than I can walk, and if I do, it’s usually only because we have to carry more than is comfortable.

If that sounds like Small Town America, it is.  In this case, I’m smack dab in the middle of the giant sprawl called South Florida, in a little city called Wilton Manors.  Kind of a cross between Mayberry, a Beach Party, and a lot of things.

Idyllic, well not entirely, but I will say that every time I read the police blotter, most of the “Perps” are not residents.  I am not fond of that sort of import.

We’d had a house guest over the weekend, and we also had a number of errands that simply had to get run.  Unfortunately that also meant being in traffic.  This being South Florida, there were a lot of really insane moves on the street.  I have to say I could never be a traffic cop, I’d spend all my free time sitting in court listening to how this case needed a delay for some trumped up reason by a shyster connected with a traffic “school” after having written a ticket to someone who made a right turn from the left lane across four lanes of traffic.

Snowbirds, please don’t forget that the Universal Vehicle Code also is in force here too, just like back in Ohio, or Quebec, or some other colder spot.

After being stuck in traffic at the beach, twice in one day, and on I-95 in a 3 mile tailback, I pulled out the camera.  It started innocently.  I took a picture of the back of a sealed tractor trailer and emailed it to my sister, still infatuated with the newness of having a new phone with an excellent camera, and the 1 GB of wireless data to use it with. 

“Hi Pat, this is what South Florida Looks Like Today”.

I sent her pictures of flowers and so forth later on after I calmed down.

But that is what I tend to do when I am in the Navigator seat.  I’m now fiddling with mapping programs, predicting traffic, making video, and taking pictures.

After the second day of this I now understand why Millennials are constantly fidgeting with their phones when they’re “idling”.  Traffic is never exciting for anyone.

But add a passing eye for a pretty shot, some incredible weather, a good conversation with the driver, and I managed to fill up the chip with lots of shots.

I also learned that I could silence the lens.  Night shots from a moving car with a silent shutter meant that I got about 5 times more pictures than I expected.

Coming back past the mall, I passed by the Pompano Beach Municipal Golf Course and even my jaded eye was surprised at the sunset. 

As I got shot three, I heard “Boy that is a beautiful scene!  Did you get any pictures?”

Great minds think alike.

Yes, from a moving car, with a cellphone camera, and night photography.  No tripod needed, the software has gotten that good when coupled with a fast processor.  It’s even easier than the old film days and the ASA 400 nonsense.

Unfortunately, you still get blur from motion.  A Fast Processor helps but it isn’t perfect.

But it does help to keep you from being bored when you are stuck in traffic.

Singing Birds and Vibrating Pockets

I stood near the pond this morning.  

Feet firmly planted on the ground, I had my morning meal.

Sharing a spoonful of oatmeal and peaches with my faithful sidekick, I watched as shadow and light painted its way across the pond.  Breezes hadn’t started yet, but there were waves on the surface.  Dragonflies hovered in for a drink and disturbed the millpond stillness of the morning creating ripples that echoed their presence on the surface of the otherwise still water.

In the distance floated a small bird, also still, also hardly moving.   It kept a still eye pointed at me watching me in my morning repast.

The birds sang over top of the distant sounds.  Their chattering accompanying the tapestry of the scene, enhancing the beauty of the morning.

On the ground there were small lizards warming themselves, recharging for their day.  Soon they would leave their station in the sun, sliding down leaves of the pineapple plant, leaping to the ground, and going on their business of creating and losing territory and dining on choice bits of insect life.

The gentle breezes were almost still at this time of day.  There was just enough wind to make the magenta and pink blossoms of the paper thin bougainvillea nod their heads in acquaintance, accepting you into their beauty and their presence.

This was framed by the thick tropical foliage around the small pond, deep greens offset by the scent of jasmine coming from their almost zinc oxide whiteness capturing the sun of the early morning.

The hustle and bustle of the semi-urban life seemingly brushed away by the chattering of the song birds came rushing in with one motion.   I shifted to lean on my right leg when I noticed that there was a vibrating in my pocket.  Reaching in I found the old phone that was sending off an alarm, this was the cause of the singing birds, and the vibration was the alarm clock on the phone that I just couldn’t bear to turn off.

Reverie broken, I readjusted my headphones to make sure that the noise canceling was turned on.  The amigos from Quintana Roo were next door with their blowers again, and I stepped away from the Kitchen window where my day dream was ended.  No longer standing by a tropical pond, I was instantly transported back to my house, in front of the kitchen sink, in the middle of 100 miles of human habitation.

But for a brief moment, all was peaceful, all was full of nature, and full of song birds and beauty.  I guess I really should cancel that alarm clock.

5AM Symphony

The first note is the soprano singing of the crickets.  There is no one else around.  It is still dark, the world is not yet awake.  Even the sun is sleeping somewhere, yet to rise over the islands and the mainland. 

There is the percussive beat of the footfalls of man and dog, the dink of the aluminum tags on each other.  Heading east toward the ocean, they move onward to do their business.

Few stars in the skies, the air is humid and still.  The morning breezes have hours yet to step up and create their own magic when they will lift leaves and butterflies and caress skin and fur reliably.

An undertone from the distant highways drone on.  A bass note from the few that have arisen before the dawn.  Wheels on pavement, motors forming a glissando toward tenor.  The four four beat of a motorcycle is faint but audible.

Clicking of pads on pavement add a bit more to the sound poem.  Crunching of gravel under foot speaks of movement. 

An alto sound of someone’s air conditioning compressor firing up joins the mix.  There is a problem with that particular apartment’s motor, a metallic grind whining its voice asking for attention.

Moving away from the homes, the crickets fade, sounds become more mechanical and artificial.  Large tires screaming their way over the intersection make a loud deep note as they pass by.  The shushing of a vehicle approaching the few open businesses ready for the morning.  Over the distance there is a thump as a car door is slammed, a chirp of a car alarm, and feet move toward the gym glowing in the predawn gloom.

Returning home, the symphony ends.  Passing by one last schefflera tree, an applause sounds drown out the crickets as the first few morning breezes lift the leaves and clap them together while the palm fronds accompany with a background rustle.   Time to start the day.

Flowers in Bloom at M.E. DePalma Park

The other day I was walking through the neighborhood with Mrs Dog and these caught my eye. 

I guess its a “Stop and Smell the Roses” moment here, except they aren’t roses and I can’t smell all that well – never could being the kid who grew out of his asthma at age 23. 

In the middle of the small park near my house, there’s a plinth.  The park is a preserve, semi-natural slice of Old Florida Native Flowers and trees.  These are most likely Natives since I know M.E. DePalma well enough to know that she just would NOT have invasives in that little park. 

From my height, they didn’t look all that showy, but for some reason I did something different.  I got close and took a second look.   Close up, as you can see in the picture, they’re quite pretty.  Tiny little things in comparison to the flowers that many people grow here, the blooms were smaller than your pinky finger nail, so it really does prove that if you stop and take notice you can find beauty everywhere.

I’ve always been a fan of parks.  Coming from Philadelphia, I had access to the nation’s largest municipal park in Fairmount Park.  It was within 3 blocks of the house and I was there almost every week at least once.  The manicured sections were where I skated, but when you stepped back you got to wonder if this was what it looked like before someone put their hand on this land and guided it to its present form. 

One day I walked off the trail in the middle of a workout and headed toward a thicket and thought how naturally beautiful this little tree with the undercover was.  I thought it was all native and beautiful, then I realized that it was a Golden Delicious Apple Tree right in the middle of the park. 

May not be natural, but it was a great snack!

The View from Inside of a Tropical Mayberry

I am involved in this City.   I have always said that I wanted to live in a small town, get involved, learn about my neighbors, do my own thing and help out where I could.  I guess I watched Mayberry on TV too many times but the idea of being able to go out to the river and fish and walk all over town, get intimately acquainted with everyone on the way seemed like the way to live a life. 

I never picked up a fishing pole in my life, but it is nice to know that I could.   The kids down the block go out to the Middle River, two blocks away, and have Family Time there fishing and have some success while doing it.  I watch the entire family, from the smallest to Mom and Dad walk past the house on the weekends using an old red wagon full of bait and fishing gear on their way down to the river spend some time and walk past the house on the way back home.  They almost always have a cooler with them, so I can imagine that this is their own little weekend picnic lunch. 

These folks are intimately involved with the upbringing of their children.  It truly is the way it should be, children get so much back from having parents take an active part of their lives.  Better than being parked in front of the TV watching old cartoons or playing the latest game on the console, these children are going out and seeing what life is about. 

I know I won’t see this scene today since their pickup truck rolled past the house early with the Air Boat in tow.   They will go out to the west side of the county and float around for a while doing some more fishing and having some family time, Mom, Dad and the boys enjoying the Florida Sun out in the Everglades.   This is more of the Journey being worth more than the Destination, but it is nice to know that people still get out and see the natural side of life. 

South Florida is densely urbanized.  In this part of the county, there are more than 6600 people per square mile.  Once you get past the western expressway, the Sawgrass, the urbanization abruptly stops and the River of Grass that is the Everglades begin.   Since that is a heavily protected environment, there will be opportunities for people to get out and experience it again in the future.

I used to have a river that ran past the house when I was small.  I’d get out and go exploring every so often, find myself by The Pond or back in The Swamp looking for frogs or turtles.  I didn’t have a very clear idea of what I’d do with them when I caught them so generally I’d just annoy them by moving them out of their home, take them to mine, then release them out by the river before nightfall.  We couldn’t eat any of the catch from those polluted waters so we didn’t bother fishing. 

I am glad children still do that sort of thing.  It makes me feel like my childhood wasn’t that out of the ordinary.  If you listen closely you may hear someone whistling a tune with a 10 year old boy walking by, fishing pole up on his shoulder as he heads back into town…

Parking hours discussed at the Commission Meeting

Last night, I was at the Commission Meeting.  I had missed a couple of them in a row and was there specifically because I was asked to be there by two of the up and coming candidates, Joe Angelo For Mayor and Celeste Ellich for City Commissioner.

I also was there because as a member of Wilton Manors Main Street I felt it was important to be there to show my support.   We had presented a Business of the Quarter award to the owners of the Alibi last night, Jackson Padgett and Mark Negrete.  Great bar!  It has the best burger in Broward County, a wonderful restaurant with those rolly picnic tables outside under the awning, and some of the friendliest staff around.   A place where everyone is welcome. 

Among other business, the City Manager Joe Gallegos was picked up for another two year term. The law firm that the city works with was renewed for another two year term so we’ll get to work with Kerry Ezrol as City Attorney.  I have had discussions and worked with both on the various boards that I am a part of and have nothing but good things to say from my experiences.   Good luck to both of you.

The discussion later in the evening turned to the ongoing saga of parking in the City of Wilton Manors.  The hours of enforcement will be cut back to 6PM to 2AM, 7 days a week.  The meters will still be there, but enforcement will be limited. I am not against this idea, after all, the business district is very lightly used during the day time, and this does cover the sweet spot.   The problem is that the original agreement assumed that we were going to have enforcement 24 hours a day.  In an economic downturn, and in a small business business district like ours, this is not a reasonable assumption.  This thought was realized by the Commission and hours were excluded. 

Unfortunately there’s a problem there.  The problem is that the contract with Lanier Parking Systems states that they will get the first $350,000 of parking revenue as a management fee.  Yes, I’m simplifying that but basically the idea is that if the parking in the City does not bring in the needed $350,000, then the City Government will be stuck for the difference.  Add to that the costs of installing and maintaining all that equipment and you see the problem.  I don’t disagree with cutting back the hours to the evening, but I don’t have a good answer for the alternative. 

There is a situation that has come to my attention and that is that of fees.  I have been told, and I have not confirmed, that the fees for the tennis courts are lower than nearby cities.   Fort Lauderdale has tennis courts and does not charge for parking to use them, however their fees are higher.  The answer there is to forget about this particular fatted calf and raise the fees for the Tennis Courts equal to that of neighboring Fort Lauderdale or higher.  After all, the courts at Wilton Manors are meant to be a Premium surface, and therefore more desirable to be played on. 

I personally don’t see why we are subsidizing tennis in the city of Wilton Manors.  It is only one sport among many, and while we do not have room to have facilities for every sport here, it is one that is practiced by a minority, and a well heeled one at that.  It is a rather expensive perk for those who have extra money to burn to have them here and pay less than other places.   If you doubt that, drive by the adjacent parking area and look at the luxury cars parked there.   These few parking spaces are stacked with Mercedes, BMW and Lexus cars every day.  They can afford to pay for parking. 

Unfortunately, the Beach Volleyball which is an open court, is right next to it and that is a much less intense use of the space requiring much less maintenance.  To the best of my knowledge, the Beach Volleyball court is free for all, and not charged by the city so charging for parking may be a good way to reclaim some of the expenses of maintaining that lot, minimal though they are.  The place still has to be raked smooth at the end of the night.