Welcome to my "Florida" blog

Being a third generation Florida native, I'm completely enamored with the diverse beauty of this gorgeous peninsula. For most of the year the weather is divine which makes exploring its unlimited nooks and crannies fun and easy.

Wherever I go I appreciate nature and the world around me. Come along with me as I share the places I visit and perhaps a few other amusements I find interesting along the way.

(FYI: Every post prior to January 1, 2009 was previously published and imported from my garden blog)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Week in St. Simon's Island


Our family has congregated to St. Simon's Island, Ga for Thanksgiving week.


Our three grown children with their spouses and their children are all staying in the same house at the beach.






No time for writing much. We've been very busy having great family time.

It's going to be really strange to cook in a partially equipped kitchen but we'll manage.

Yesterday a photographer met us at this 1700's church to take family photos.
Here's to wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving Day and week.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Florida: Blue Skies and Crystal Clear Waters


There is nothing like the drive northward up the West Coast of Florida. So many miles of untouched and preserved nature coast to be experienced just a quick hop from the main highway. It's very different from the white sandy beach coast southward.

Bald cypress stands border so many waterways and help to preserve the very "old Florida" appeal if you take the time to breathe it all in.

The rain came through on Saturday and brought with it a drop in temperature to the thirties that night. We were sitting in a stadium in North Florida for a college football game with blankets wrapped around us. I liked it. Cold weather is always a refreshing change after the long hot summer.

The rain cleared the way for Sunday's stunning, autumnal, sunny skies of crystal clear blue and temps in the low 60's. Perfect.

Perfect for an afternoon detour on our drive home from N. Florida. Hubby and I took a stroll through Manatee Springs State Park in Levy County. We started out our little adventure on this walkway that followed ...

... along side the springs (the water is crystal clear and very cold) that feed into...

... the beautitul Suwannee River.

Back at the springs I decided to take a dive to see what was in some of the underground caves. HA! Did you fall for that little bit of mischievous information? Actually, I decided to take a picture of the brave souls that were diving in those freezing waters. There are caves very deep beneath the surface.

About 50 yards out from the walkway I heard the repetitive, cackling-like rattle of a Belted Kingfisher and then caught sight of the blue fellow diving in the water and perching back up on the brush. It was so far away and there were so many trees in between it and me, I didn't think the photo would turn out at all. But these people-shy birds are such a challenge to photograph and I've only had one other sighting in a year, I'm including this rather blurry photo anyway. They are most unique in appearance, and unmistakable in their call.

Lots of green slimy algae growing on the limestone that has piled up next to the springs. According to the stats November and December have recorded the most sightings of manatee right there in the springs where they can be touched and petted by visitors.

In the end this is the only manatee we saw. I guess we didn't time that one very well.

Turtles sunning on the fallen tree will have to take the place of the manatees for us this trip.

We continued on through some natural pathways into wooded hammock areas for more of a reminder of the natural Florida I love.

Fallen trees with an abundance of lichen and mosses are indicators of healthy air and a healthy ecosystem. Every living thing serving its purpose in the understory of the hammocks.

Even though there have been freezing temps in North Florida already there were still wildflowers surviving nicely.

Even some butterflies (it's brown too- so look closely) still fluttering about in the grasses...

We don't get this kind of color generally in my part of Florida but "up north" there were reds and yellows mostly to be seen from the affects of much colder temps they experience.
This is a beautiful time of year down here in the south. These mild autumn/winter months are my favorite to get out and explore our beautiful state.
Thanks for coming along. Now it's time to get out and pick the beans.
Meems

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Week in Wildlife


There's been a whole lot of gardening going on at Hoe & Shovel over the past couple of weeks. And do you want to know every little thing about what I've been doing? I kind of doubt it since it mostly involves fall clean up projects. Lots of trimming. But also I've done some planting. So far I'm working away at a good trimming and pruning of the shell ginger, the confederate jasmine that grows along the length of a 30 foot fence, the snow bush, the plumbagos, the palmettos, the schefflera. Just about everything has or is needing a good tweaking to ready for the winter.

I still have a list a mile long that I won't bore you with... well, maybe I will in another post.

While all these hours of gardening ensue there are so many wonderful creatures that keep me company. I already showed you the peacocks that came strutting through the garden this week.

I'm so thankful the mild weather here is suitable for year round butterflies and wildlife activity. They are such a pleasure to observe in all their colors and forms floating about the garden. I'm often distracted by their follies.

This was the first time I've photographed the Queen Butterfly. I believe this is the male. He's a bit tattered and torn.

As is this monarch on the tippy top of the flax lily btw.


And another on the scarlet milkweed.


Red cardinal

I don't usually even care to photograph the squirrels since they are such an irritation most of the time. But they are kind of cute I admit scurrying about these days picking up fallen acorns and hiding them or perching to eat them.




Red Bellied Woodpecker in a quick visit to the bird feeder.


We got some blessed rain yesterday and all is clear and bright today. We are slated for our first "real" cool front this week. Woo-Hoo! Highs in the mid 70's by the middle of the week. I'm looking forward to gardening Monday in some autumn coolness.

Hope you are enjoying your weekend. Meems

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If it Struts Like a Peacock...


The voices of daybreak around Hoe & Shovel are typically dominant with high-pitched screeching of many red-shouldered hawks flying about searching for breakfast in and out of the tall cypress trees. Often we hear the rich, loud, rattling call of the sandhill cranes as they fly over to nearby water areas for their morning hunt.

Yesterday's dawning brought the same welcome voices only with the addition of a loud honking sound. Before the bevy of peafowl were spotted in the back yard they were heard. First, at a distance but I could tell they were not too far away in the neighborhood. One of their calls sounds like a quickly tooting horn. I don't know how else to describe it but it is unmistakable. They have many noises and calls. All of which are undeniably loud and unique.

Peafowl are the largest members of the pheasant family.
Hearing the sound of a peacock is kind of familiar. Not too long ago, there was a peacock that lived across the street for a while. He would sit atop the neighbor's roof and toot his horn often as well as cry out his mating call. I liked hearing it but I must admit I often commented to hubby how glad I was that it wasn't sitting on our roof all night. They wake up really early... much like a rooster letting the whole world know it's time to get up. That particular one hasn't been there for several months now.
My camera was nearby when I spotted a group of peafowl strutting along the foliage behind our screened lanai. I attempted to get around them in order to photograph them but they were not keen on my stalking ways and fastly scurried over to the next yard. It was nearly impossible to get a good photo. I took lots of bad ones.

The male peacock that used to live across the street was prone to occasionally wander over here and take a little perusal through my yard without too much harm. Sometimes his six-foot long tail feathers trailing behind in tight spots did more damage than what he ate. Yesterday there were five peahens and peacocks altogether. Although no males with the long tail feathers among them. It takes 3 years for them to develop the long regal feathers they are famous for. They are grub, snake, insect, small animal, flowers, and green grass eaters. I've read that they can mow down a garden in short order or leave it alone depending on their mood. They are mostly ground foraging birds as they are not great flyers.
After my chase for a decent photo I spent my day in the garden. I saw they wandered around next door for a while. Over the course of a couple of hours I heard them at a distance a couple of times. But I never saw them again and I haven't seen them or heard them today.

That doesn't mean they won't be back. They are probably living somewhere close by. Even though I don't really want them eating my flowers (too bad it isn't slugs only they eat - I'd be inviting them over for dinner) I am certainly intrigued by their size and magnificent coloring. Both males and females sport that regal crest upon their heads.

There were many more critters in the garden with me yesterday. I'll try to post some of them later.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Another Small Town, Another Beach, Some History












The last day of our vacation, hubby and I made our way north over the Florida/Georgia border to another small, sleepy town hollowed out on the St. Mary's river. From here we boarded a ferry boat over to Cumberland Island... the only way to get to the island is by boat. Virtually uninhabited by humans for its entire history, there are clues from Indian inhabitants and then Spanish soldiers and missionairies who lived there in the mid-1500's.

The soft grassy marshes so familiar in this part of the country come into view first as we approach our destination from St. Mary's.

With their wealth of nutrients the marshes support large populations of fish, shellfish, plants, and birdlife.


The island is now managed by the National Park Service and seeks to keep the land as untouched by humans as possible.

Horses donated by the Carnegie's roam the entire island. They are grass-eating feral horses and because they are not fed, watered, or medicated by the park service only the strong survive.

We were warned not to feed or try to pet any of the families of horses we might come across while visiting. The stallions keep members of other families at bay by marking out their territories.

Wild turkeys were a common sight along with armadillos (which I have an aversion to since they commonly dig up and destroy plantlife here in my garden).

There was a time when Thomas and Lucy Carnegie built a 28,000 square foot mansion in the mid 1880's. This is the remains of what was their winter home. When it burned down in 1959, it had not been occupied for many years. Lots of interesting facts about how this family was self- sustaining on this private island when they acquired 90% ownership of it. They had running water, an indoor built-in swimming pool, they grew all their own food, and maintained lush gardens on several acres. Of course they had over 200 servants that worked for them and lived in supporting buildings. Most of these buildings are gone now with only a few remaining that the park service occupies for various maintenance facilities.

Not many of the original structures have been restored but the wash building for some reason still has the equipment that was used by the families' servants.

Hundreds of live oaks that have been standing for hundreds of years occupy much of the wooded area. We walked for over 3 miles once we landed. It was nice to have the shade of so many beautiful trees.

Speaking of walking. This is the magnificently wooded trail that leads to the Atlantic beach side of the island. I imagine this is much like what my own neighborhood here at Hoe & Shovel might have looked like so many years ago before homes and roads were carved out. These types of trees and palmettos are what canopy so many yards on our street.

Opening up from the darkness of that forested walk we emerged onto the brightness of the beach. The change was just that sudden. The white sand dunes were tall and then low and horse tracks and deer tracks trailed through them.





Miles and miles of practically unoccupied Atlantic shoreline. I'm not a shell collector. But the tide was out so we couldn't help but pick up some very large and unique shells as we walked along to the sound of lapping waters and gulls feeding along the shore.

Starfish left behind on the sand after the tide went out. This one still wiggly, we urged it back to deeper waters.

Always fascinated with dragon flies, I noticed this quite large one, perched on the grass of the dunes as we were exiting the walkway from the beach.

On the boat ride back to the mainland after almost six hours of traversing this beautifully natural place, we were treated to more of nature's display and habitat of various birds. This huge flock decided to leave their roosting position in the snags and limbs on a small island visible as we passed. Literally hundreds of them gathered to fly in somewhat of a formation over the open waters as if signaled by an unseen call and as if they knew exactly where they were heading.

At first I thought they were wood storks but I'm fairly certain they are white Ibis. If anyone knows for sure, I'd love to hear from you.

The day was a highlight for us. We were outside all day with hardly a soul around us most of the time. We had packed a picnic lunch that we ate in the cool breeze on the river side of the island while watching the wild horses saunter passed us on the shoreline. We took the trails least used to explore the woodsy areas of the island and then ended up on the beach. Because the park service doesn't offer any food or drinks we were responsible to carry on whatever we thought we might need while there. It was just lots of fun and dare I say romantic.

The little river town was adorable too. We walked around to see the restored 1800's homes and ate on an open-porch restaurant overlooking the river. We tend to wonder outloud if we like these kinds of towns so much because we don't live in one or would we like to live in one because we like them so much. :-) We don't know the answer to that one yet. So for now, we'll keep visiting and we'll keep talking about it.