Monday, February 27, 2017

Whose been nibbling my tomatoes!

One of the first things I do when Ralph and I arrive at our beach house is check out the cherry tomato plants climbing up the stockade fence.


Volunteer cherry tomato plant climbing across the stockade fence


"There's so many ripe tomatoes," I announced after our recent arrival.  "It must have rained here like it did in Groveland."


Various stages of ripeness


Traveling back and forth between two places throughout the month can have its challenges, especially when it comes to gardening with vegetables.  The flowers I grow - mostly succulents and native plants - are fairly tolerant of neglect but vegetable plants tend to suffer when they don't get regular attention.

However, that's not the case with cherry tomatoes, at least not with the ones we grow.  Most of ours are volunteer plants that popped up on their own from last year's dropped fruit. These marble-sized morsels of sweetness behave more like wildflowers than their rather persnickety pedigreed cousins, which helps to explain why it only took me a few minutes after a 10-day absence to fill a large bowl with red orbs.


Life is a bowl of cherry tomatoes


"I'm surprised the birds haven't eaten them," I muttered to myself while Ralph was in the parking lot unloading more supplies from the car.

Cardinals in particular, seem to enjoy eating cherry tomatoes as much as I do.  On many occasions at the beach and at our Groveland home I've watched male and female cardinals pluck off and eat small round fruit one at a time.


Cardinals prefer to pilfer unripe tomatoes


Cherry tomatoes are actually classified as fruit, not vegetables.  But cardinals aren't greedy. One or two tomatoes is all they seem to want before flying off elsewhere in search of seeds and other edibles.

Cardinals make sharing easy.  "There's plenty for all of us," their behavior seems to say, which is how it has always been.

Until this morning.

This morning, while standing at my computer checking Facebook (yes, I know I'm addicted 😏), I noticed a different critter munching away - a squirrel!


A gray squirrel enjoying a feast


More precisely, an Eastern gray squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis, which I call a bushy-tailed rat.  Gray squirrels are members of the rodent family and while these common seen backyard visitors are undeniably cute - all big-eyed and fluffy-tailed - gray squirrels are not known for their abstemious nature.  Once these robust-appetited rodents discover a food source, they feed until the crop is decimated.

With this in mind you might think I'd have rushed outside immediately to chase the varmint away, which is what Ralph started to do until I called him back.

"Wait!" I insisted.  "Let me take a few pictures first."


Oops!
Looks like I've been noticed!


So that's what I did.  As the squirrel remained in place - no fear of humans emanating from this critter - I stepped closer and closer until there were only a few bushy-tail lengths between us and snapped off several shots. Eventually, the hungry nibbler had all he could take of me disrupting his dining experience, and mosied on down the fenceline as if to say, "Okay, I'm moving on for now, but make no mistake - I'll be coming back later for more."


Squirrel with 'take out' food


And I'm sure he will.  Squirrels are resourceful, clever and determined animals but I'd like to think there's a gracious side to their nature as well. There are plenty cherry tomatoes to go around.  For birds, gray squirrels and people to enjoy. All it takes is a little willingness to share. I know that.  The question is, "Does the squirrel?"


Hey, squirrel!
Save some for me!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sunrise at the ocean...2:33 minutes of 'ahh'

Woke up early and biked to the beach with a few minutes to spare before the 6:53 a.m. sunrise. The tide was high with sand too soft for pedaling, so I stayed on the pavement to watch the morning arrive.




Waves crashed against the shore as pelicans, terns and gulls flew by and landed on the sand.  A few other early risers - one surfer, one paddleboarder, several walkers and a couple other photographers - were there as well.  Each of us in our own unique way was saying hello to a new day.


 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Beachside surprises

The couple weeks ago when Ralph and I were at the beach, I managed to wake up early enough each morning to bike down to the ocean to see the sunrise.  Although every morning was different - some days windier, some cloudier, some with more or fewer birds - there was one similarity. On each occasion, I noticed the same woman walking with a cane along the shoreline.

The woman - I later learned her name is Charlotte - impressed me. It's not easy to walk on the sand even if you're young and in good shape. But this woman, who I'm guessing was around my age in her 60s, was navigating the ground's soft, uneven surface with quiet determination.

After a couple mornings of crossing paths - me on my recumbent 'fun cycle' and she on slow but steady footsteps - I stopped to say hello.  I had just taken a picture of the sunrise and after reviewing it in my camera, realized I had inadvertently included Charlotte in the picture. I was happy with how the picture came out and thought she might like it too so I stopped to ask if I could email her a copy.





My fellow early riser agreed, gave me her email address and we got to talking. A snowbird whose main home is in Indiana, Charlotte also owns a beachside condo that she visits for the month of February.  When I asked her how far she walks on the beach she indicated a stretch of sand covering about a mile, a good distance to travel, especially with a cane.

Of all the things I like about biking on the beach, unexpected encounters tops the list.  Sometimes it's spotting a new bird, seeing a dolphin, manatee, horseshoe crab or manta ray in the surf or watching a fisherman catch and release a small shark.




I once saw a longhaired banjo player plucking out a tune knee-deep in water, have rescued numerous left-behind 'treasures' in the sand and have collected more pretty shells than I probably need.




But getting to know another early riser, a dedicated individual who, like myself, appreciates the quiet wonders of a beachside sunrise is always a very special gift.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Join me on a stroll through the rainy-day yard

Just came back from a rainy day stroll through the yard.  We haven't had a full day of rain for a long time. The plants must be so happy. I can almost hear them slurping up moisture, growing greener and fuller by the moment.

It was wet out there but not too wet to take the camera along to capture a few snapshots.


Growing beneath one of my birdfeeders are several volunteer sunflowers.
It's almost as if the rain is encouraging them to open up their petals.

Looking back at the house from beneath one of the white mulberry trees

Although the trees are not fully leafed out, I was surprised to see a few white mulberries ready to pick 


Pausing on my way up the hill to Ralph's high garden, I looked down on the sheds' pine needle-covered roofs

A volunteer papaya covered with fruit is growing out of one section of Ralph's compost bins


Below are a few pictures of some of the many veggies growing in Ralph's two gardens, the high garden up the hill from the house and the low garden, growing on the west side of our house



Pretty pink-stalked Swiss Chard plants



Peas - three different kinds growing on a fence
I munched on some and picked a bunch only I mixed them up by putting them all in one basket.  Now Ralph has to sort through and separate the English peas from the Sugar Snaps.  The snow peas are easy to tell apart.

Look at that!  Raspberries ripening!

Lots of little broccoli side shoots ready to be eaten for dinner
Yup, I picked some of them too

Ralph loves his greens
Here are containers of two kinds of lettuce and tatsoi growing next to containers of broccoli plants

More lettuce growing in the low garden on the west side of the house

Containers filled with potato plants
I love potatoes the way Ralph loves his greens

Below is a picture of a stinkhorn fungus.  It's not a vegetable and definitely not edible, but nonetheless, I found it growing in the garden next to the pea vines.




After meandering up and down the rows in Ralph gardens I headed over to the starfruit tree to see if any fruit was ripe.  Lots!




Next stop was to check out my flowers.  Ralph grows veggies.  I grow flowers.  Except he puts much more work into his vegetable gardens than I do to my overgrown, weedy flowerbeds.  That's okay.  Even with all neglect, I still have plenty of pretty plants to enjoy.


Honeysuckle growing up the clay wall along with confederate jasmine, which will bloom a little later in the season

The bottlebrush trees are covered with sticky red blooms attracting birds, butterflies wasps and bees

This jewel orchid that I got at a plant exchange
(thank you Mark and Judy Loftus!)
just recently started to flower

A little bit of this, a little bit of that
Many different plants growing together on a low table

My kitchen window garden
Another assorted group of succulents, bromeliads, wildflowers and perennials
in the forefront with white mulberry trees in the distance


Lots of oak leaves covering the walkways




And another edible - a pineapple - growing under the Louis Philippe Rose bushes.  I keep waiting for it to turn yellow so I can pick it but it's taking so long to ripen, I worry that the feral pigs will get to it before I do.  I might just have to pick it while its still green to be sure I won't miss out.



Monday, February 20, 2017

A memorable moment from the past

Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, my youngest child was born in our RV on the way to the birthing center.

I mention this because each of us has certain experiences in our lives that define us as a family, stories remembered and recounted long after the events took place. That’s the kind of story my son Toby’s birth is - a moment as vivid in my memory today as it was a quarter of a century ago.

In 1992, Ralph and I and our three children - Amber, Jenny and Timmy - were living in Kissimmee. I awoke around 5 a.m. on the morning of February 21 with pains in my abdomen that might have been Braxton-Hicks contractions. Or maybe not. After waiting for about an hour, I realized that the feelings I had were decidedly different than the contractions I’d experienced earlier in my pregnancy. So I woke up my husband and told him it was time.

He sleepily responded by asking if I was sure. In a less than gentle way I told him, YES! And he’d better get out of bed and rouse the children NOW because we needed to get going to the birthing center right away!

My husband is an intelligent man. Upon noting my tone, he quickly complied.

It might be helpful to mention at this point that each of my three previous birthing experiences had been long and arduous. It took two days for my first child to come out of the womb. My second took about a day and the third birth was relatively short at only 12+ hours. Needless to say, I expected this fourth and final birthing experience to be more of the same - yet another long, trying effort to bring new life into the world.

To be prepared for the expected marathon, Ralph had equipped our Class C camper with plenty of games, toys and food to keep our three children - ages 12, 11, and 9 - occupied for the 45-minute drive to the birth center as well as during the long, drawn out delivery period we anticipated.

But things don’t always work out the way we think they will.

A little after 6 a.m. with me sprawled out on the camper’s rear bed, the kids comfortably situated in the overhead cab and my husband in the driver’s seat, Ralph backed the RV out of our driveway and hit the road.

In many relationships, the husband is the designated driver or both partners take turns behind the wheel but that’s not the way our family rolls. In our household, I’m the one who steers the wheel. I like to drive and have a good sense of direction, both of which my husband lacks. Because of that, I've always felt nervous on those rare occasions when my spouse is in the driver’s seat. But this time, there was no time to feel anxious or worried. I had a baby ready to be born and a husband who assured me he’d have no problem finding his way to the birthing center. He could do it, he said. All I had to do was concentrate on staying calm.

Calm? Ha! 

Any semblance of calmness I might have had vanished about 40 minutes into the drive when the father of my children called out in a frantic voice that he was lost.

Lost? On I-4?

“Which exit should I take?” he asked via Amber, who was acting as a go-between, ferrying messages from the front of the RV where Ralph was, to the back of the camper where I was laboring with help from 11-year-old Jenny.

As soon as I heard the words, “I am lost,” a howling sound erupted from my mouth.

“YOU’RE LOST?” I screamed. “HOW CAN YOU BE LOST? I’M ABOUT TO HAVE A BABY! YOU CAN’T BE LOST!!”

But we were lost - or, more accurately, he was. Although we were actually only a couple blocks away, those couple blocks didn’t matter because the scream that had erupted from my innermost self did much more than vent my frustration. It caused baby #4 to pop out of my body straight into my young daughter’s arms.

When Ralph realized what had happened - thanks to Amber’s messaging and Jenny and Amber’s combined midwifery skills - he pulled onto the shoulder of the Par Avenue exit ramp and came back to check on me and meet his new son. When he realized we were both well, he returned to the driver’s seat and continued on his way, arriving at the birthing center minutes later where the staff efficiently took charge.


Amber Jenny and Timmy admire their new brother following an memorable trip to the birthing center in the family RV
Circa: 1992


During all the commotion, 9-year-old Timothy was doing what 9-year-old boys do best - being oblivious to the world around him. Instead of freaking out like the rest of us, he was taking advantage of the well-stocked RV, munching on snacks and playing cards in the upper bunk. But we weren’t about to leave Timmy out of the action. Since he hadn’t participated in the actual event like his sisters had done, the birthing center staff invited him to cut the cord, which he did.

Was I mad that my husband got lost on the way to the birthing center? At the time I was, but any anger I felt in the moment disappeared with my new child’s arrival. In retrospect, Ralph’s mistake was the best thing that could have happened. Thanks to his poor sense of direction, I had the fastest, easiest, most memorable birth possible, not to mention a great story that still makes me smile 25 years after it happened.


11-year-old Jenny holding her new brother

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Donkey, mule, burro or ass?

When I take the back road to our Groveland home, I drive along a field fence outlining the perimeter of a large pasture.  The acreage is grange land for a small herd of longhorn cattle, a pair of sandhill cranes and at least one American kestrel.  Lately it has also become home turf for two different kinds of mules. 
  

Two new members of my rural neighborhood 

But every time I pass them, I can't help but wonder...are the new additions to my neighbor's menagerie really mules or are they something else?  Maybe they're donkeys or burros or just a couple of asses?

Since my equine knowledge is sketchy at best, I decided to do some research.  Below are the results:

Definition of a mule:
A Mule is the offspring of a male donkey (called a jack) and a female horse (called a mare)

When a female donkey (called a jenny) mates with a male horse (stallion) the offspring is called a Hinny

A Burro is a small donkey - male or female - used as a pack animal

Ass is just another name for a male donkey, hence the word 'Jackass.'

This just goes to prove that (are you ready..?) females are never asses!  😉


One of my neighbor's livestock is a large shaggy donkey with messy looking corded coat called a Poitou Donkey.  I'm not sure what species his other donkey  




Friday, February 17, 2017

It was a wild turkey morning!

My son Timmy noticed them first.

"There's a bunch of turkeys in the yard."

As soon as I heard his words, I switched gears from working online to real-time interaction with wildlife just outside the house.

While Timmy leaned on the window-seat to watch, I grabbed my camera and zoomed in on a flock of eight females (hens) and one young male (a jake) wandering across an unmown field between the woods and lakes.


The flock of wild Osceola turkeys wandering across the field between the lake and woods


Although Tim and I were more than 50-feet away inside a building looking through a window, the turkeys seemed quite aware of our presence.


Hens paying attention to their surroundings


As you watch the video below you'll notice several birds standing quite still looking toward the camera while a couple other hens seem more intent on finding food in the long grass and weeds than assessing potential danger.




If my son hadn't noticed the turkeys when he did, I probably would not have seen them. During the time when the flock was meandering through the yard, I was in one of those all too familiar online trances that have become commonplace in our computer-connected society.

Now that the interaction is over, I can't help but wonder how many other wildlife encounters I've missed by being too 'busy' doing 'important' stuff online (think: Facebook) when I could have been interacting with subjects of real importance like wild turkeys and other untamed wonders.

Such is a push-pull of the modern world: How to live with an awareness of nature while staying connected via the Internet with the world outside our door.  It's an effort I'm still working on...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A lesson in patience...

Biking down the beach in the early morning I often come upon fishermen knee-deep in the waves holding fishing rods in hope of a catch.

Inevitably one or more birds - often snowy egrets like the shorebird pictured below - will be positioned nearby waiting too.

Birds aren't fools.  They know good things come if they practice a little patience.  There is much we can learn from our feathered friends.






Below is another picture of a similar scene taken on the same New Smyrna Beach shoreline during another early morning bike ride.






In this photo, the snow egret is joined by some buddies.  While waiting for the fisherman to bring in his catch, two of the egrets are biding time by doing a little preening, one is simply standing there and the other - the most brazen of the crew - has positioned itself on top of the cooler on the fisherman's chair to make sure his intentions are clear: "I'm here.  I'm waiting patiently.  I expect you to catch me a fish."

A hawk encounter

On the way home from the beach yesterday, instead of riding on the sand, I took side streets back to our place at Cedar Dunes.  But just before I got there, I noticed a pair of hawks being chased by bluejays. I pulled over onto the sidewalk, took out my camera and captured the pair just after they landed on top of a concrete utility pole. 




For a few minutes, both birds remained on the platform but then one flew off leaving the other behind.  By then the jays, who had succeeded at their mission of scaring the predators away, also disappeared from sight.





I stayed and watched the lone hawk until it too flew off to places I could not follow.





The entire interaction probably took about five minutes but for those few minutes I was transported into a different world.  I love knowing that there's always something special to see if I take time - make time - to be aware of the world outside my door.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Your Tern...My Tern

While Ralph went in the ocean for a quick dip late yesterday afternoon, I stayed on the sand watching a large gathering - called a 'highness' - of Royal Terns (Thalasseus maximus) on the beach.

The Royal Tern, second only in size to the Caspian Tern, is a large grayish-white shorebird with an orange bill and a patchy cap of black-feathers that becomes much fuller during breeding season, which in Florida begins in April.






As my husband cooled off in the salty water, the birds - there must have been about 40 or 50 of them - stood together on the shoreline facing south, the direction from which the wind was blowing.




Standing on strong black legs, the birds took turns (terns?) stretching, preening, bathing and resting after what I assumed must have been a busy day catching fish, crabs and squid, the preferred food of these distinctive-looking, commonly seen beach birds.




Below is a short clip I took of the gathering - the 'highness' - of Royal Terns doing what Royal Terns do when they congregate on the beach.






Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love is all around us

Love...is all around us

If you take the time to look
you might find
Love in plain sight




It's in the heart-shaped heads of cranes...




In garden plants...




And on tree trunks




It grows on stumps, in sand and all kinds of leaves
Once you start looking for Love
You'll find it everywhere





Nature offers us so many ways...




To express our love
to fill our days




 It's up to us to find a way




To make love part of every day 




Happy Valentine's Day
to Nature and all her wonders
May they last forever
💗