Saturday, September 19, 2015

Back to basics.

It's been a while since I last touched base with you guys. And by "you guys" I mean my three readers who aren't friends or family.

Hi. How's things?

I've been doing a lot of thinking. Dangerous, I know. The next year is going to be filled with employment for me; I'm downsizing to a much smaller living space and I'm getting at least one extra job so I can save a lot of money - fast.

Why? I want to pay cash for a travel trailer and get outta dodge. Third time's the charm, as they say.

I'm also going to get a lot more serious with this blog and other social media platforms. I'll end up with a dot-com soon enough. My ultimate goal is to support myself via several different streams of income and get out of this suburban lint trap that my life has become.

So this is my proclamation. I'm giving myself a year to pay for the RV, and then I will go from there.

I apologize for the lack of photos in this post-- I'm submitting this from my phone and it doesn't like Blogger.

Talk to you soon.

Friday, May 15, 2015

St Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park

I'm riddled with cooties this weekend (I've got an upper respiratory infection), so I'm taking this time to update the blog instead of feeling sorry for myself.

Ok, I'm feeling sorry for myself, too.

I have one of those Florida State Park passes (thanks, sis!) that allows me free entry to all Florida State Parks, so I took my dog kayaking around St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park in April. I wanted to see the sunrise, so I got up extra early, packed up the van, woke up the dog, and hit the road. 

The park is only accessible by boat, which means it's hardly ever crowded. There's a convenient kayak/canoe launch directly across from the park's main docking area. I got there at 6:15 AM -- and saw the sign that said the launch site wasn't open to the public until 7:00. Seriously?! If it weren't for the other people waiting in the lot, I would have cheerfully flouted the rules with a swish of my ponytail.

Once the launch was "officially" open, I lugged the kayak down to the bank, got Duchess settled inside, and we began our journey.

The sun was still shimmying above the horizon when we took off; I'm glad for that. I paddled across the often-choppy waters of the Intracoastal Waterway without incident -- though I did hear the distinctive sound of a marine mammal surfacing to breathe behind me one time. I didn't catch a look at the culprit.

I dipped my paddles quietly, creeping alongside the mangrove-studded shoreline. I eyed the fiddler crabs who eyed me right back from their mangrove root perches, and listened to the characteristic "snap-crackle-pop" sounds of the mangrove forests. 

"Wait... what?" you ask.

No, really. I always assumed it was the crabs who made those popping sounds, but recently my curiosity got the better of me, and I did a bit of research. The popping sound comes from an odd little critter called the Pistol Shrimp. From Tropical Topics newsletter (July 1994):

"A characteristic noise of the mangroves is a loud crack or pop produced by the rarely seen pistol shrimp which inhabits the more fluid soils in wetter parts of the mangroves. The sound is produced by the animal snapping its enlarged claw which contains a unique peg and socket arrangement. It is thought to be a territorial signal and/or a noise made to deter predators."

The more you know....

Yup. That's a pelican.In the spirit of exploration, I let the numerous mangrove alleys guide me along for a while. I know the area well, and I had my map and compass, so I had no fear of getting lost. The sun traced an arc over the trees, and the birds started going about their business. Brown pelicans dive-bombed for breakfast in comic fashion, and egrets glided from their roosts with silent grace, their breeding season plumage ghosting behind them.

Dawn relinquished its tender grasp on the preserve and gave way to the bright morning light. I aimed the kayak toward the water trail that wove through the park; I only had a few hours to spare before being forced to flee the unforgiving Florida sun.

In the shelter of the mangrove islands, the water rested like a blown glass table top. It made for a delightful paddling experience. I spotted a few Belted Kingfishers (a favorite of mine). After a while, Duchess felt confident enough to climb up onto the prow as I paddled on.

The waterway narrowed and the clearance under the kayak became shallow indeed. I had to duck my head and skim my paddles on the water's surface to navigate one channel. It sounds exhausting, but it was a blast.

That narrow channel opened up to a shallow "lake" between the mangrove islands. At this point, Duchess elected to hop out of the kayak and stretch her legs. I laughed at the spontaneity of her slow, deliberate wade through the shallows.

I let Duchess have her fun in the sun, and finally called her back to the kayak. I had to step out into the disgusting, foot-sucking muck in order to get her back in the kayak. It was an ordeal, I won't lie, and the kayak was filthy afterward, but Duchess had fun. I think it's important for a dog like her (prone to nervousness and anxiety) to have positive experiences with things that are still new to her. It's a big confidence builder.

Once we reached the far side of the "lake," I began to hear the distant thundering of ocean waves. I paddled faster, looking for the break in the mangroves that contained the path to the beach. I found it a few minutes later, and dragged my kayak onto a root- and leaf-carpeted bank. 

Duchess hopped out of the kayak, shook her body as was her custom, and darted off to explore the immediate area. I recalled her to my side, grabbed her leash, and together we walked up to the beach.

The beach did not disappoint.

A sprawling expanse of undeveloped ocean-side beauty, there are few beaches like it on the Florida coast. I took a stroll back and forth along the beach, wiggled my toes in the sand, inspected the rocks and shells strewn about, and finally laid out my yoga mat by a massive piece of driftwood and did a few sun salutations.

It was glorious.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Doggy Paddling around Munyon Island

I took my dog out for a morning on the Intracoastal Waterway today. The weather was perfect; warm and breezy. Duchess and I both had a blast.

We started out in a sheltered lagoon area near John D. MacArthur State Park shortly after the park opened at 8 AM. The tide was high, and fish were continually launching themselves up out of the water; some of them sustained impressive air time. It was really encouraging to observe a thriving fish population in an era of over-harvesting. 

I passed under a bridge and out into the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway and started checking out the area's birds. I spotted several flocks of Brown Pelicans, a nesting pair of Ospreys, myriad wading birds, and petite Least Terns were in abundance. 

I also caught a glimpse of a sea turtle coming up for air. Oh! As of this write-up, there has been one documented sea turtle nest this season on MacArthur beach -- belonging to a lovely leatherback sea turtle. The park ranger said it's been a slow season so far.

We made landfall on a little spit of land, and I let Duchess out to romp around. She was positively giddy about being able to run around on her own private beach, so she started racing around at top speed. It makes my heart sing to see her feeling so obviously happy and liberated, because she is prone to anxiety in new situations. I am really glad that she enjoyed her kayaking trip.

 After our stop on the little island, we ventured forth into the nearby mangrove alleys. The tide was starting to head out, so the current was swift and the water was receding in the area; it made for some new sights and smells for Duchess to take in.

 Once we made it out of the mangroves, I headed toward the docks at nearby Munyon Island. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the motion of something brown-grey and rather large surfacing and descending. At first I thought it was a large sea turtle's back, but upon closer inspection, I saw that it was a manatee's head! The water was too brackish to get a decent photo of it, but it was really cool to see one in the Intracoastal (I hugged Duchess and laughed in my excitement).

I aimed back toward my launching area, and began the leisurely paddle back to "camp." By that time, Duchess was completely relaxed, and took a short siesta while I moseyed along. It was such a wonderful voyage for the both of us, and I think Duchess gained a lot of confidence today, which I believe to be the most important part of the whole journey. I'm deeply pleased with her, and I kept letting her know that she was a good girl and that I was proud of her (phrases she knows well!) throughout the day.

I'm truly looking forward to our next paddling adventure together.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Weeki Wachee Wander

What a perfectly gorgeous day for kayaking. I had been wanting to go "play with the manatees" before the Florida weather became unforgivably hot and humid. As fate would have it, my day off coincided with one of the coldest days of the year, following a week of cool temperatures. When it gets cooler, the manatees head to warmer waters -- in a lot of cases, they congregate in freshwater springs and near power plants. That combination of weather events practically ensured manatee sightings.

It was FREEZING. The first thirty minutes I spent on the water, I was physically shivering. I was wearing my fleece hat, jacket, and even my fleece neck gaiter (don't laugh, I live in Florida). The cold weather made the warm spring water throw steam into the crisp morning air. It was like paddling through a dream. 

As the current guided me down the river, I took the time to sit back and observe the natural world going about its business. Small schools of fish commuted up and downstream in an orderly fashion. Occasional spring vents pressed up through the river floor, making the underwater foliage dance and sway. I spotted several deer breakfasting along the water's edge, as well as an otter weaving its way through the shallows. 

The water was an unbelievably breathtaking shade of turquoise. I felt an immense amount of gratitude for being able to experience this river on such a perfect morning.

I stopped for a quick mid-morning snack on this sandbar, watching the water swirl past me. 

Finally, I decided to get moving once more; it was far too cold to stay still for too long. As I shivered down the river, I began to wonder when I'd see manatees -- even one manatee would send me home happy. I silently told myself not to get my expectations up, and to just enjoy this beautiful morning, when --

ELATION! Manatees in motion move so much faster than I expected them to. This manatee was cruising against the current with speed and grace -- a current that had all but carried me to this point in the river. In an instant, I no longer felt the frigid, insistent wind. The manatee slowed as it glided past me and surfaced a few yards away from my kayak, then submerged and continued on its upstream journey. It was such a special moment for me, because it was my first time observing a manatee in the wild.

I paddled contentedly onward, enjoying my surroundings. (The Weeki Wachee River is really picturesque; if you have an opportunity to visit, do so.) I reached a spot in the river called "Hospital Hole," which is a 100-foot deep sulphur spring in the middle of the river - a favorite haunt for manatees. I counted at least ten manatees in that spot alone. They would rest with their heads under large rock overhangs about ten feet below the surface, and occasionally come up for air. There was a brand-new baby among them, covered in its infant "fur" and without a scar upon its precious back. Its mother would help it to the surface to breathe.

I spent over an hour in that spot, listening to the manatees breathing, and letting the sulphur spring's swirling current carry me in slow, wide circles around the manatees. It was so therapeutic. If anything is worth waking up at 3 AM to drive four hours for, that was it. Absolutely perfect day.

This is what "nesting" looks like for me.

In a fit of inspiration, I made a console table for my living room. Shout out to my mother for letting me use her driveway as a makeshift workshop.

The console has a sort of rustic/industrial vibe, so I added some decorative hardware in the form of brackets and bolts. They're spray painted with Rustoleum's Oil-Rubbed Bronze. It's a great effect; I've since used it on two lamps, several Breyer horses, and the pig which resides on my kitchen counter.

Obligatory detail shot below. This table was stained with Minwax Special Walnut. I purposely chose boards with crazy knots to enhance the wabi sabi, jolie laide look that I love seeing in furniture.

So here it is, all set up in my living room, accompanied by the aforementioned Breyer horses and lamp. And Harry Potter.