Friday, March 11, 2011

Kayaking Against The Wind

Early Friday morning we motored over to Pine Island to explore one of its estuaries by kayak. Of course,every exploration needs a guide and ours introduced himself as "Mel the Guide, no last name and cash payment only."

We'd had experience canoing and hoped it would translate over to the kayaks and pretty much that was the case.

Mel was quite the guide -- a certified naturalist, he described the eco-system and its inhabitants in detail -- Lots of birds, osprey, pelican, eagle and kingfisher - The estuary sandbed with its grasses - Mangrove trees and the oysters that grow on them.

The oysters filter the estuary waters and make possible the clean, clear water enjoyed by its many inhabitants. The mangroves are making a comeback after being crowded out by the invasive Australian Pine which was imported into the area. Because they have a shallow root system, many of the pine were uprooted by the winds of Hurricane Charley giving the mangroves an opportunity to repopulate the area. There are also programs to plant significant numbers of mangroves.

Mel explained that from time to time dolphin and manatee would swim into the estuary but none showed up while we were there. He managed to fulfill his guarantee that we'd see manatee when he displayed the two that are tatooed on his calf -- mementoes of a female manatee and her offspring that he befriended over a couple of years.

Our biggest challenge was paddling in the open ocean against a brisk headwind -- very hard work and very slow progress. Of course, Mel made it look easy.

Next stop -- Hammond Stadium to watch the Minnesota Twins take on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a spring training game. It looked like a sell out with the parking lot and stands completely filled.

Thanks to Bob Schmidt, we had great seats on the shady side of the stadium. We settled in, got focused on the game, and who do we see in the batter's box but Jim Thome. A treat for us as Cleveland Indians fans.

With our first ever spring training game under our belt, we headed back to the house to pack up and get ready for the next day's trip home.

Bye, Bye. And thanks for sharing the trip.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Stephen King and the Keys Visit

Misled by a map not drawn to proportion, we made the mistake of using Route 41, AKA the Tamiami Trail, to travel to the Sarasota area. Major drag -- one big strip mall interspersed by as many Wal-Marts as could suck dry their respective surrounding local retail markets.

Was there gold at the end of that thar road, you ask? Well, yes there was, of a sort.

First there was our drive-by tour of Casey Key, the existence of which came to our attention by way of a note that author Stephen King had a summer home there. I am a BIG fan of Stephen King in his capacity as a writer and as a citizen engaged in issues of social and economic justice and the lure of checking out a place he had chosen to live was irresistable.

Well, I don't know if he has a home there but, like Captiva Island and many of the other areas we've seen, wealth abounded. Here we were able to get some photos and I've included a few representative "homes," to use the word lightly.

No public beaches here! We continued up to beach on Siesta Key and found a whole congregation of Mennonites enjoying the sun and sand. It was a visual disconnect to see bonnets and head scarves and long skirts and beards juxtaposed with all the people in swim suits and short shorts and tank tops. Felt like a group of folks from Ohio's Amish country decided to take a vacation at the same time we did.

When we finally got to the beach, we learned that wind and fine quartz sand are a bad combination. I do believe that an automobile fender propped on the beach would have been sanded down to bare metal in under and hour.

We put down our towels and beach bags and hit the water for about an hour and found a dune formation well underway when we returned. The sand there is so fine it is like powder and it just drifts when blown. Too much grit, fine as it was, so we let the wind blow us back to the car and off we went to Venice.

Venice is a small town with a main street lined with shops, nearly all of which were closed by the time we got there. We got nearly to the end of the line when we found Vinnie's -- a soda fountain and pizzeria. There we were served pizza slices that were better even than the New York slice we got last summer.

Having learned our lesson about Route 41, we took the freeway (I75) back home.

Not our best day, but any day in the warm sunshine is a good day.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Scooter Babes and a Trip to Marco Island

Well, they wouldn't rent us Harley's until we demonstrated our competence on something a little smaller, so off we rode on a couple of scooters. It was a blast.

We motored to the end of Espero Island and back, checking out neighborhoods along the way.

There is something about riding in the open with the wind in your hair that is a natural high -- convertibles do it for me, as do bicycles, horses, Harleys, boats. . .

Lots of homes in the neighborhoods had converted their yard from green plants to desert scapes with gravel areas.

Although we had proved our cycle prowess on the scooters, we decided to leave the Harley rentals to another day and set off for Marco Island which turned out to be quite an upgrade from Espero and Fort Myers Beach. No tourist look here. Instead, pristine landscaping, tree-lined and high-rise condo-lined thoroughfares, well-behaved traffic and pedestrians -- a place for everything and everything in its place as the saying goes.

We decided our on South Marco Beach as the venue for our evening sunset watch. Lots of shells here, as is the case with Sanibel and Captiva, but different ones. Most notable were the conch, all occupied by sizable snails. Seeing them we understood the signs we'd seen with the admonition "no live shelling." These shells were off limits to collectors unless they'd been vacated by the owner. Also saw more rocks than at the other beaches.

Another beautiful sunset to end our day.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Even Rainy Days Are Fun in Florida!

We wanted to ride scooters! Given the excellent experience we had at the Billy's Bikes on Sanibel, it seemed the place to go for scooters. Then the weather started to roll in. We opted for some driving.
 First stop was the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It is this refuge that makes up a large part of Sanibel that remains undeveloped. It is accessible on foot, by car, and by bike. The mangrove "forests" can be explored by canoe and kayak for a first hand education about the importance of this eco-system.

Darling was a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist who advocated natural resource conservation. He was the founder of the Federal Duck Stamp program and the National Wildlife Federation. His work is the foundation of today's system of National Wildlife Refuges. This link will provide more detail.

Our walking plans got rained out so we drove on up the length of Sanibel and crossed over to Captiva Island. The only road is a two laner with lots of sharp curves and low speed limits. Nearly all the properties were behind walls so we couldn't see much, although it was enough to be certain that this locale was well beyond our means.

The road dead-ended at Alison Hagerup Beach Park. Access to all properties beyond the road -- and there are many -- is limited to golf carts. The beach was nearly deserted, probably largely due to the rain, and that was all to the good. The birds were plentiful and seemed accustomed to the occasional beach walker.

Our sunset this day was a splash of sun peeking through clouds as we drove back toward the causeway and off the islands, headed for home.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Sanibel Island

Sun in the sky and salt in the air -- the way it ought to be. We figured a tour of Sanibel Island on bicycles is a good way to enjoy it.

On the advice of the guy at Billy's Bikes, we passed up scooters and segways in favor of bikes and were glad we did. The island has separate paths for bikes along most of its roads. 
Our first "wildlife" encounter was a gecko. These guys are fast, once they give up the "freeze" disguise. Sarah had a turtle encounter at the lighthouse -- not sure of its attitude to humans, she kept her distance but still got some good pictures. We're told it is likely a box turtle. We also saw a dolphin but it was pretty elusive and difficult to photograph.

Cool plant life, too.

We biked up to the top of the island and checked out the lighthouse and beach. As you can see from the lighthouse plaque, the island was first populated in 1832 -- or so say the Caucasians who created the plaque. In fact, it has a considerable history prior to that time. You can read more at either of these links.

Sanibel has done a good job of managing growth and development. Roughly half of the island is a wildlife refuge, with additional lands set aside each year to prevent more development. The wealthy who make their homes here have settled well away from the central roadways.

On our way back to the up the coast we saw an old cemetery. This was the oldest tombstone there. 

Even with a stop for travel fuel (AKA ice cream) 

we only made it about half the length of the island before we decided to get in some beach and ocean time, spreading our towels at Tarpon Bay. 

The rest of the afternoon was all about walking the beach, cavorting (pretty much Sarah cavorted and I photographed), taking photographs and waiting for sunset. It was a beautiful afternoon.

It was dark as we rode our bikes back to the car and headed home pleasantly exhausted.

Still Friends, After All These Years (I'm the only one still crazy.)

Linda Holland and I met on my first day at Ohio University in 1965. We've been friends ever since and have corresponded regularly over the years -- mostly letters and postcards with email added to the mix in more recent years. What we haven't done is see or talk to each other in all those years -- until this Sunday when we met for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Since the day we made arrangements to meet,  I worried about how it would go -- all for naught, as our day together was wonderful and we are looking forward to our next forty years of friendship.

Here I am as I waited for Linda to ring the doorbell -- forced relaxation pose. The one picture of the both of us that her husband Bob took using my camera came out too blurry to post, so my hope is the ones on  their camera are better.

Beautiful marina view for lunch.

Impressive plant specimen in Linda's backyard. Her husband, Bob, put his carpentry skills to work making the Adirondack chairs.