Enduring Everglades

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They came out of nowhere that day I floated on a fishing boat in the waters off Chokoloskee Island. Two men in a canoe using long poles to push themselves through the shallow water as low tide came. They said they went out every day on those waters on the western edge of the Everglades. The people of the Everglades IMG_1623call their way of life “free.” They live by the seasons, the sun, and the vagaries of weather.

Chokoloskee Island postcard

Most of the land in this part of Florida lies at or below sea level. Chokoloskee Island, a small island at the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands, is one of the tallest places in the Everglades and it was formed by the Calusa–the native people of the Everglades–who threw their seashells in piles that soon grew into mounds. Developers in Florida destroyed many of these mounds and the advent of Europeans into Florida forced the Calusa into exile to Cuba or worse. By the 1770s, most all of the original people of the Everglades were gone.  And by the 1930s, much of the Everglades was manipulated and destroyed in man’s effort to control water.

No place exists anywhere on the planet like the Everglades. Fortunately, the National Park Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ensure lands are protected and sustained.

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King of the Everglades

Those fishermen who came out of the water the last time I visited the Everglades reminded me of the timeless beauty and simple endurance of nature. The Everglades may not be what they once were, but they have survived, and along with them the flora and fauna that make up the rich environment of the “river of grass.”

red mangroves

red mangroves

Snow Inspires Florida Writer

DSC03106I woke to a fairyland of snow-covered trees and lawn on a day when I thought I would be waking up to the marsh and swampland of the Everglades.

I’d planned a writer’s retreat while my husband attended a conference in Reno. We began by spending a week with my daughter and her boyfriend in St. Augustine, after driving there from Pennsylvania the week before Thanksgiving. We played in the surf, walked the beach, walked across the Vilano Bridge to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth site. And then we shared a Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends in Flagler College’s dining hall, replete with one of the largest collections of Tiffany glass in the world. The college is housed in the former Ponce de Leon Hotel, Henry Flagler’s showpiece of grand architecture, art, and opulence during the Gilded Age. My daughter graduated from Flagler in 2005, so it was a grand setting with a bit of nostalgia. The food was tasty and the company even better.

wood stork

wood stork

As our week progressed, the weather warmed. But my husband’s condition that first surfaced in Mexico returned, and we were forced to cancel our plans and come home five days earlier than planned.

As I looked out at the snow-covered yard, I was struck by the beauty of the whiteness against the stark background of naked tree limbs.

We spent those unexpected days at home with no plans or deadlines and delved into keeping warm and getting my husband well.

In the week since we returned, I’ve completed the first third of my new novel, Native Lands. It might be true what writer Harry Crews always said. He needed to write about growing up in Georgia away from there.

Perhaps being in the setting of the Everglades would have distracted me from the work. As the wood storks, great blue herons, and snowy egrets foraged for food in the swamp, my eyes would be glued to them and not to the laptop screen. The gators sunning on the edge of the water and fish slowly swimming by the dock would have occupied my time instead of the writing. The kingfishers, pelicans, and ibis might have forced me to photograph them rather than working on my manuscript.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

The warmth of a November day in the Everglades would make me sit with my feet up, a beer in my hand on a lounge chair overlooking the mangrove and cypress trees dripping in Spanish moss. It’s much easier to write when I’m forced to stay inside.

I’ll go back, hopefully in February, for another try. This time I’ll have more of my novel done and during  my time in St. Augustine and Everglades City, I’ll spend time on plenty of porches and sandy beaches warming my toes in the sun checking my facts on whether the surf is stronger at sunrise or sunset and determine whether the pelican or the great blue heron fascinate me more on a lazy afternoon.

That’s good research in any book I write.dsc00466.jpg

Standing Naked with Gators and Other Absurdities

Santa Fe River High Springs, Florida

Santa Fe River
High Springs, Florida

 By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I remember embarrassing moments of my youth with puzzlement. I’m unable to muster up the sheer mortification of my thirteen-year-old self whenever my father put on his new dark brown rubberized sandals over white crew socks. He only wore this atrocity on his feet when he donned shorts. We lived in Michigan so thankfully for an embarrassed teenager those summer months passed quickly.

Recently, as I set about to drink my coffee wearing a purple terry cloth robe and white crew socks, I decided to go outside for the newspaper in the driveway. I slipped on my sandals and ventured out to retrieve the paper. Neighbors whizzed by on their way to work, and I waved happily. I laughed to myself and remembered my father who passed away thirty years ago. I no longer felt embarrassment. Instead I longed to parade around my yard with him, both of us in white socks and sandals.

These days most of my embarrassing moments pass quickly and turn into stories embellished and fine-tuned, ready to pull out for any occasion that warrants a laugh or a place in one of my novels.

Here’s a story told to me by a friend that brings a smile every time I think of it because I know it could happen to anyone in similar circumstances.

This man, I shall call Tall because he is 6’5”. After a back surgery, doctors gave Tall a 50-50 chance of ever walking again. But walk he did, and on his first major excursion, Tall ventured to the grocery store. Dressing still remained a chore so he only managed shorts that morning – shorts now quite loose on his frame after the surgery. Walking down the crackers and cookies aisle, Tall felt a breeze and then almost tripped on the shorts now wrapped around his ankles. There he stood, all 6’5” of him, naked from the waist down and only a wire cart to hide his privates from Mrs. Cozy picking out a box of Triscuits.

How do you ask an eighty-year-old stranger of the opposite sex to pull up your pants gracefully? Tall determined he could not. Maneuvering his not-easy-to-hide body behind the cart, he managed to edge the shorts eventually up his legs because Tall still had trouble bending over. He walked proudly to the checkout counter after smiling at Mrs. Cozy and wishing her a very good morning.

As I age, it is not those physical moments that embarrass me. I fear those moments when I might stand naked to the world revealing more of myself than I ever intended.

One such “embarrassing” moment consisted of a combination of both types — physical and personal embarrassment. It happened during a kayak trip with a friend on the Santa Fe River in north Florida. I was the know-it-all guide to my friend who had never been in a kayak.

We stopped to visit with another friend who lives on the river. When we returned to the kayaks, I broke the No. 1 rule in boating. I attempted to get in the kayak while it was not secured but just floating on two-foot high water. Soon I was in the water and my kayak on top of me. I watched as my camera in a waterproof bag floated near the shore.

“Grab my camera bag,” I yelled to my friend who stood on the bank.

 “So that’s how I should get into the kayak?” she asked, not so innocently.

I extracted a promise from her not to  tell anyone about my fiasco, mostly because of my wounded pride. She agreed, although when we climbed into the shuttle van to return to our car, she announced to everyone she had successfully completed her first kayak trip without going in the water like some others she knew. The other canoers and kayakers looked at my wet clothes and smiled.

My friend kept her promise, but now I am going to tell the story my way — with the embellishments that all writers use.

After I righted my kayak and pulled it partially up on the bank, I noticed a gator sunning on the opposite bank. He lowered himself into the water to swim across the Santa Fe River to learn who interrupted his Saturday morning nap. I stood absolutely still as I held my kayak to prevent it from floating away.gator on duty

When he discovered it was only a human doing another embarrassing thing and disturbing his habitat, he floated away, leaving us in peace.

And I stood proudly in the water, naked to the world, not embarrassed in the least.

I hope you enjoy your holiday weekend. And if you decide to go kayaking,

  • go with at least one other person,
  • put the cell phone (and camera) in a water proof bag,
  • wear good water shoes,
  • wear a life jacket or at least keep one within easy reach,
  • avoid using an inflatable kayak in places where you might encounter wildlife such as alligators or sharks,
  • never feed the wildlife,
  • take what you brought back with you when you leave,
  • leave behind only the ripples from your oars or paddles,
  • enjoy the moment and give thanks for such beauty.DSC01113

Living with Wildlife – Florida Style

 

woodstork in the Everglades

woodstork in the Everglades

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

“Why aren’t there any mosquitoes when I visit Florida,” someone from Pittsburgh recently asked me.

“Where do you go in Florida?” I asked.

“To Disney World, Sea World – all those theme parks around Orlando.”

I wondered how to reply without bursting this man’s image of natural Florida within the gates of worlds made from the crumbs of a chopped up natural world and sculpted into the vision of a perfect living community.

The real Florida, buried under tons of asphalt in the majority of the state, does exist in random spots and clumps of preserved zones or land unfriendly to developers who have yet to figure out how to grab remaining wetlands and scrub forests to turn them into yet further replicas of what some would prefer to call natural.DSC02505

People come to the Sunshine State for a week or more to soak up the sun and ride trains through wild lands with propped and stuffed bears, panthers, and alligators. How tranquil it all appears from the seat of a train. Twenty years later, after the kids are grown, they race south and become shocked when the first mosquito stings or a coyote eats their dog.

That’s the real Florida. New subdivisions are built on the edge of raw and natural wetlands and woods. People want to view the natural world, but often don’t want to be bothered by all the creatures that inhabit the last vestiges of wild land. Often the new developments disrupted the habitat of the wildlife further confusing the natural order of things.

The Florida you visit makes the most of Florida’s attributes by creating perfect enclaves with no bugs and wildlife. If you move to Florida, expect wildlife in abundance and learn to live with it. The real Florida is mostly tropical. Mosquitoes breed in standing pools of stagnant water and multiply faster than I can type “nature.” Wildlife, from alligators to lizards, do the best to adapt and sometimes that means coming into urban areas to seek food from garbage cans or from the end of leashes.DSC02388

Without hard freezes and snow-covered ground, nonnative flora and fauna can thrive and throw ecosystems out of balance. Bears look for easy food and coyotes roam neighborhoods that once provided shelter for their young.

The “wily” coyote earned its name based on its behavior. In wide-open expanses of land, the coyote roamed and only became a menace when attacking domestic livestock. Ranchers handled the situation. When the coyote found its environment disrupted, such as in Florida, the animal adapted. Space became a problem. Subdivisions encroached on rural areas, and the wily coyote adapted to become the urban coyote.

The same thing happens wherever habitat is disrupted. The wildlife doesn’t just walk away into the sunset to find a benevolent zookeeper where the public can see wildlife behind cage bars.

ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Ibis roaming in a yard in Tarpon Springs, Florida

If the wildlife adapts, then so must we by respecting and enjoying wildlife from a distance. Coyotes adapted when humans fed them, which led the wild animal to associate humans with a dependable source of food, according to a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The coyote became aggressive and bold and led to attacks on humans, pets – leashed and unleashed – and livestock.

If you want to minimize your contact with wildlife – from bugs to alligators – buy a condominium or rent an apartment.

If you love nature but hate buzzing mosquitoes, watch the Discovery channel. But if you understand the nuances of living with yet separately from wildlife, buy a home on the edge of wilderness and help educate others on how to live peacefully with wildlife. And don’t forget to buy a set of good binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens.

gator captured by the camera and zoom lens

gator captured by the camera and zoom lens

 

tsWebTortoise Stew by P.C. Zick

Tortoise Stew can be shelved with your Carl Hiassen books, because both authors hate the development and corruption that is making all of Florida look like Miami, and because both are great reads. -Peter Guinta, The St. Augustine Record