Saturday, September 22, 2007

Anastasia Island - St. Augustine FL

We traveled to St. Augustine, FL, our favorite day-trip when we want to mix city-doings with time on the beach. The morning was overcast and drizzly, so we spent a couple of hours visiting our favorite haunts in St. Augustine. We breakfasted and toured the Leitner Museum during the rainiest part of the day. The museum (a former hotel built by Rockefeller's Standard Oil partner Henry Flagler) has some fascinating but rather pedestrian personal luxuries of some of the wealthy northerners of the late Victorian period. Overall, my impression of the museum is that it is more of a mausoleum - and the few recently (more or less) acquired collections (donations) on display are not up to par with what one might expect in such a grandiose building with the history that it has.

A very brief history of the ancient town and the Flagler era is found at this webpage, home of the bed-and-breakfast at the historic Wescott house.

The sun came out, and we lit out for the beach at Anastasia Island State Park. Winds were blowing onto the shorefront at about 30 knots. Red flags warning of dangerous riptides were flapping. We spent a lot of time just lazing in the wind watching the water from beach chairs (which tried to blow away if you didn't sit on them!). After a while I went a-walking - combing the lines of stranded sea-wrack for tropical drift fruits and seeds (seabeans) blown ashore by the weather. I walked north for over a mile picking as I went along, saving just the best one or two examples of each of the types seabeans I encountered. is a great resource to help you identify and research those fruits and seeds you might have brought home from you last vacation to Florida, and to get in touch with other folks who collect these interesting oceanic oddities.

A brief list of the species I took home, more or less in order of abundance:

  • "Indian Almond" - Terminalia catappa
  • Spondias mombin
  • Manicaria (a palm fruit)
  • Saccoglotis "grenade fruit"
  • "Sea Heart" - Entada gigas
  • Dalbergia - flat coin-shaped legume
  • Manchineel - poison ivy tree
  • 2 other yet unidentified disseminules
A series of my seabean collections spanning several years and various localities is housed in the Paleobotany Collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

As always, I collected a pile of plastic trash while beachcombing. I concentrate my efforts on a single color to make it more interesting. This day the color was blue, so I returned with an amazing array of blue refuse, including a toothbrush, several butane cigarette lighters, a mismatched pair of child's penguin hair barettes, and a bazillion lids and seals from beverage bottles. The scourge of plastic floating in the oceans and being cast up on the world's beaches is a legacy that will long outlive us and our children and that will bear witness to our species' wasteful and harmful habit of discarding our chemical leavings everywhere. Visit the Greenpeace animation showing the Pacific trash vortex to learn more about the journey of plastic trash in the world's oceans. Scientists estimate the Pacific gyre now has a carpet of plastic trash about the SIZE OF TEXAS.

The 2-or-so mile walk, while beset with wind, was not unpleasant. The beach was anything but crowded, so one could lose one's self in activity and introspection. But my eyes kept burning. I learned later that that stretch of north Florida was under red tide alert. My eyes watered and burned for 2 days.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Hiking Torreya State Park

My wife and I journeyed to Torreya State Park for a weekend camping/hiking trip for my birthday.

We left after a leisurely morning, bound for breakfast on the road and a previously reserved campground. I'm a professional botanist, and during the dozen or so years in Florida had yet to explore this botanically-rich park on the banks of the Apalachicola River. I'll say from the outset that we had a most remarkable and enjoyable weekend. For the weekend we packed a cooler full of frozen water, snacks and food for 2 days, our hiking and camping gear, a small fold-out table, and our old portable color television. I'll mention the TV later.

We stopped for breakfast in Bristol, a small community not far from our destination. We ate at a country-cooking restaurant called" Pouncey's", a name that baffles us still. I immediately thought "cat" upon reading the name, and had no idea that that intuition would play into the tale that follows. We dined on an "adequate" meal of scrambled eggs, corned-beef hash, biscuits and gravy, grits and home fries. The wife went to the restroom while I paid. Suddenly there was a noisy commotion in the kitchen attended by shouting, banging, and the sounds of struggle. Peering in the windows of the swinging waiters' doors into the kitchen I observed a young female cook and an older waitress clash amid a storm of profanity. When the shoving and shouting turned to thrown punches, screaming and hair-pulling, two young busboys leapt from their vigil at an unused table to stare at the ruckus behind the doors. The cashier who had been processing my bill camly turned and said in a wonderful drawl to the boys, "I wouldn't stand there, last time they went at it they were throwin' kitchen stuff and eachother right out those doors".

I watched with a little glee and a lot of concern at the full-blown
pouncy cat fight while wondering if I hadn't ought to collect the wife and run for cover. Two other ladies from the kitchen tried to break up the fight to no avail; it took two additional male kitchen staff members to subdue them and stop the fighting. Try as they might, they couldn't stop the profanity. As I finished paying, the older of the two combatants quit on the spot and stormed out in a flurry of profanity. The cause of the battle: a side order of biscuits that wasn't ready. I think the scene was about as redneck a thing as I have ever seen. Of course, my wife missed the whole thing, minus the sounds of the commotion ringing through the walls.

We continued on our way and arrived at Torreya shortly after noon. We checked into our campground and began to explore the area. We immediately realized we'd picked a wonderful site, #17 in the Weeping Ridge camp area. This particular site has a westerly view from the bluffs of the Apalachicola River and is adjacent to an open area with a short trail that leads to an overlook of the river bottoms and the lands beyond. We set up our tent, got situated, then went for our first walk of the weekend. We hiked down roads to the Gregory House, an antebellum mansion situated atop the bluff overlooking the river 260+ feet below. We found a trail leading north from the mansion grounds, and soon found ourselves hiking past civil war cannon emplacements notched into the top of the bluff. The trail wound down the bluffs to the river bottoms, then turned south along the river, eventually leading up the bluff back to the camp. We spotted 2 wild hogs among the towering cypress, winged elm, sycamore, and tupelo trees in the river bottom. One of the large hogs was black and white. It was a great start. We got back to camp, showered, and prepared for dinner and some television watching.

Not just any television. It was Saturday evening, and we were determined to watch British comedies on the local PBS channel out of Tallahassee. We lit several votive candles and set them around the camp area, lit a large citronella candle, and spent a quiet evening alternately watching the sunset and wry comedy on TV. As dusk fell, a tiny bat flew right between our heads as we sat side-by-side laughing at the antics of the British actors. A few more bugs came out as we began to tire from our hike and from sitting in the camp chairs. We simply took the TV and its table into to tent and continued watching from our bed until sleep compelled us to retire. We felt like we'd discovered the ultimate lap of luxury with the sunset, our flickering candles and watching television under the stars.

The next morning we found a much longer and harder trail to occupy us. We hiked from the picnic area near the Gregory house along a trail that took us past the CCC stone bridge, Rock Creek, and through upland areas of the park. The trail traversed deep ravines with thickets of the rare Torreya tree, up and down the ravines and ridges that finger through the park, across broad expanses of sandhill scrub with rocky cliffs and amphitheaters, back down to the river bottoms, and straight back up knife-edge ridges to the shoulders of the bluffs. We drank the rest of our water on that hike, but were rewarded with a diverse array of topography and plant communities that one couldn't imagine could occur in one half-days' hiking. During this second days' hiking we saw a white-tail deer (immediately after my wife mentioned "here" is where I'd expect to see a deer), and a barred owl. This hike was very, very strenuous to we who had become used to walking relatively flat areas over longer distances. The wife's summary during the drive home and remembering afterwards proclaimed that that second hike "spanked our butts". I don't exactly disagree. But I'd return in a heartbeat, straight to that lovely campground #17, and do it all over again.

Below is a list of common names of the 50 or so tree species I identified during the hiking in Torreya St. Park, more or less in the order in which I remembered them as I wrote them down after each hike:

Tulip tree (grand examples)
American beech
2 different hawthorns
Basswood (linden tree, lime tree)
Water oak
American holly
Carolina silverbell
Red mulberry
Florida sugar maple
Winged Elm (state champion here has lost its crown, and status, alas.)
Sand pine
Loblolly pine
Slash pine
Bald cypress
Needle palm (you mightn't ever see so many in the wild as here)
Red buckeye
Southern magnolia
Mockernut hickory
Wax myrtle
White oak
Southern red oak
Swamp chestnut oak
laurel oak
Southern red cedar
Southern live oak
Boxelder maple
Red maple
Yaupon holly
Red bay
Wild cherry
Laurel cherry
Black gum (upland tupelo species)
Crab apple
Turkey oak
Bluejack oak
Longleaf pine
Witch hazel
Chickasaw plum
Swamp tupelo
Ashe's magnolia

The Torreyas were among the most memorable trees, and to see thickets of them was magical, since they grow wild nowhere else on earth. I saw the largest sparkleberries I'd every seen; lovely individuals of this arborescent blueberry. I must return again to ferret out the elusive Florida Yew, which also is found in the park.

The 2 park staff members we interacted with during our stay were very obliging and helpful. They helped make it a most wonderful weekend. We returned with a couple of pounds of locally-harvested tupelo honey as a souvenir.

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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Evinston-Micanopy Bob Cunningham Memorial Walk

Today was another in our series of Evinston to Micanopy round-trip walks. We call it our Bob Cunningham Memorial Walk, after a dear outsider artist friend who joined my wife and I on one of our Evinston-Micanopy-Evinston round trip walks one year, only to break off from us and the walk a quarter of the way through and relocate to Iowa the next day, never to be seen by us again. The walk from Evinston to Micanopy is 4 miles, making the round trip an even 8 miles.

We began our outing with a long chat with Freddy Wood, his wife Miss Sue Wood, and Freddy's brother Ashley (Ash) in the Wood and Swink store where our post-box was located when we lived in that lovely hamlet prior to
purchasing our 1935 restored bungalow in the northwestern part of the county. We sat in ancient chairs near the wood stove which supplies heat to the Wood and Swink store during the winter months. We hadn't seen Freddy and Sue since the Evinston-Cross Creek paint-out in February, when we last walked the route. Freddy farms the land behind the store in the photo, above, and Miss Sue is the long-time post-mistress. Freddy's father was postmaster for several decades until his wife took over the job. The store and post office has been in the Wood family since the turn of the century, a store that is listed in the National Register of Historic places. I was pleased to learn that in two or three weeks time okra, peas and tomatoes will be ready and for sale in the store. My wife and I relished eating vegetables that were picked by Freddy that day, when we lived in Evinston before. We really relished knowing that buying and eating Freddy's produce had been a continuous community tradition for many decades before we lived there, among just a handful of families. We'll show up there in 2-3 weekends, cash and carry-bags in hand.

The first four miles of the walk went fast, since we were fresh and walking in the cool of the morning. We took note of bird calls, blooming plants and other natural features along the sandy roads to Micanopy. Upon arriving, we lunched on sandwiches and soup at our usual haunt, the Old Florida Cafe.
A cowboy-hatted, cowboy-booted, jeans-wearing man with an enormous gray Brahman steer, a big white goose, and a liver-spotted Australian shepherd-dog offered rides to passersby across a little alley near the center of the road that runs through the short antique store lined main street.

That same managery minus goose, can be seen in this rainy-day video clip recently posted on YouTube by some other happy visitor to Micanopy. We laughed when the cowboy mounted his massive steer and rode around the sunny thoroughfare, white goose and liver-spotted sheep dog tailing behind, the animals maintaining a polite and ordered distance as the great cow with rider stepped out its measured pace along the street.

The return walk back to Evinston was completely different from the initial walk. The sun was fully up in the sky, the road was hot, and the humidity and temperature had risen appreciably. We were forced to shake off the languid feeling of having eaten a delightfully full meal, and had to stretch muscles that thought they were finished exerting for the day. Out came the hats to shade the sun from our brows and eyes. Limbs and feet felt the heat of the day, and the return walk dragged on in comparison to the earlier effort. We were tiring, and feeling the "stretch" part of the walk, and were drinking frequently from bottles of the previously frozen water we'd carried with us.

Despite feeling the burn from resuming the walk in the hotter part of the early afternoon, we were happy. We had water to spare; there were shady breaks at regular intervals; and we anticipated the satisfaction that we would soon complete the last of an 8-mile walk during the high-summer heat in Florida.

Evinston was quiet when we arrived. We simply got in the car and drove away, promising to walk the route again with friends, or without, when the weather cooled a bit. The whole journey, including trekking, lunch, and travel time to and fro, was about 6 hours. We'd do it again in a heart-beat or two.

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