Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Exclamation Points!!!

I'll spare you the year end in review. For New Year's Eve I like to clean out my desk, get rid of junk in the closet, remove animal bones from the back of my car and check for belly lint. It's my way of starting fresh. So for your amusement and to continue my tradition - here is the clean up post where I offer a few photos I've taken during the year that I had no idea where to put throughout the year. Fort Myers Beach (Feb 08) - I called and tried to explain that I was worried about the economy. They didn't listen either.

Manatee Park, Fort Myers - No crabs, no diving, but falling backwards into the alligator inhabited water is fine.

Fort Lauderdale
Fort Myers Beach - This was all the wife's idea.

Coral Springs - What kind of monster forbids kites?!?

Cligman's Dome, North Carolina - It was cold. And no one was looking.

Cherokee, North Carolina - Tempting....

I don't know why I find this amusing.

Regional Southwest Airport, Fort Myers - Something's not right? Yeah I flew on Jet Blue. Never again.

Montreal, Quebec - The old man is faking it. He has his cane backwards.

Montreal, Quebec - Amusing to me. I imagined the artist desperately trying to convey a scene of violence with stick figures.

Fort Myers - I was cold. And no one was looking.

Fort Myers Beach - Sister sister...she's not a nun...obviously - poses with the Photo-Op-Cop.

Home - This happens more often than you would think in my line of work.
This post didn't end well. Thankfully 2008 did. Here's to a fantastic 2009.
New Year's Resolution - Use less exclamation points in my writing and live more exclamation points. I think I can do that! hmmm.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kingdom of the Monkey Skulls

Another for my mother (12/27/2005) - Three years gone by but your voice echos through my adventures.My father once joked that when archaeologists discover this site in the future they'll theorize that an ancient race of tiny people lived and thrived here. In fact, the ground beneath my feet today was the site of my childhood home and the Florida Monkey Sanctuary until 1988. Many monkeys found refuge here. More were born here and some were buried here. When my mother sold the property 20 years ago, many of the monkey cages were torn down. I returned in 1993 to see what had become of the place. An older man had moved in with his even older mother and I was content to know that the land was well taken care of. Flash forward to 12/27/2008 and today's visit. The house has been torn down and burned due to termites. The owner long since gone. The land is now used as a horse ranch. The neighbor's yard is less than welcoming. I don't test the dog or my speed. But we have permission to walk our old property. Beautiful old oaks cast their branches out over sandy soil. Margaret, a Clydesdale and my first horse (and the first word I ever spoke - Mah-gwet!) is buried here.What appears as a ditch is a dried up moat that encircled two islands. Peter's Island (named for my grandfather) was inhabited by squirrel monkeys in the 70's until a Florida Panther swam across and taught her kittens how to hunt. The bridge was built by my dad and me when I was 13. The next owner built the handrails, but our bridge to nowhere actually went somewhere. As a kid the island was completely forested and seemed to be a dense impenetrable jungle that I would always try to explore.Spread across the 10 acres were several corn cribs that functioned as housing for several hundred primates over the course of 20 years. On past explorations I had discovered little remains of the Sanctuary but I forged further into the "creepy" corner of the property and found three round concrete slabs that once were the foundations for the corn cribs. A shallow pool remains. My sister Tiffany called it creepy and I think she was referring to the NW corner. The NE corner was always creepy to me and I would run as fast as I could - from what I don't know.
As I explored further I instantly recognized the distinct aqua blue color of the swimming pool that once belonged to a troop of Weeper Capuchins. On rare occasions I would have the good fortune of hosing out the cages. The pool was always the toughest to clean. It was a task normally relegated to my mother or father. I must confess that while hosing the cages, certain monkeys would come down and shake the cage. I don't know if they were tainting me or playing, but I would spray them. They looked peeved but they always returned. I tell myself they were having fun. An orange tree grows at the edge of a concrete slab. No doubt the consequence of a discarded seed or two. The monkeys and apes were fed Monkey Chow as well as grapes, apples and oranges that my family prepared for them. (Marshmallows were always a vice of several sugar-loving simians). Today the ancient ruins from the 70's are lightly covered by tropical vegetation. Water pipes remain buried beneath leaves and soil. Bones of long past primates rest just beneath the surface. To the casual observer, all of these subtle clues might be dismissed. To me, they are my Machu Pichu. Relics of my childhood that echo a memory of my mother.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Solstice Tree

Whatever you celebrate this month - enjoy the day, week or month. Personally I'm celebrating the return of the light and the longer days since the Winter Solstice. More sunlight! I decided to drag the old artificial X-mas tree out of the closet and set it up. This tree has been in the family since I was little - so standing next to it - and being as tall as it was a strange feeling. I can't remember when we last put it up. But the cat loves it. Since I have no idea where the family ornaments are, Ma-Le and I decided to take the pine cones, sea shells and apple snails that we have collected over the years and turn them into ornaments.
I strung the lights and Ma-Le spent an afternoon putting them all together. I think she did a fantastic job and we put all of these natural nick-knacks to good use. She simply placed the Apple Snail shells over the lights and they glow brilliantly. Ticonderoga approves and was nice enough to pose for a holiday photo for all of you. Happy Everything and I hope the happiness continues all through the New Year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Light it Up

Forget Rockefeller Center. There is no tree more ornate, more spectacular or more literally full of life than what I witnessed a few nights ago. In the middle of the seemingly unending urban sprawl that is the megalopolis of Miami/Fort Lauderdale/West Palm Beach is a little pond rimmed with Bald Cypress that remains as a vestigial wetland behind a massive executive building complex in Oakland Park.

I had stopped just a few hours after sunset in search of a geocache and was wildly distracted by the squawks and croaks that emanated from the darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I fixated on the ever shifting white spots that decorated a Bald Cypress in the middle of the unlit pond. As I continued to listen and watch, a near full moon began to rise directly across the pond, illuminating the Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and White Ibis that had all taken refuge in this well protected tree.
How fantastic to be in the right place at the right time. Could a scene like this be what inspired the early pagans to decorate trees around the Winter Solstace, a tradition that evolved into today's Christmas trees? Either way - it would inspire my holiday decorations in the days to come.....

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Armadillo Poop

Do you have any idea what Armadillo poop looks like? Depending on the species, the age, the size and even the gender of an animal - scat can be varied but there are certain ways to identify who pooped and I'm fairly good at it, but I've never considered Armadillo poop.

A night hike in the western cypress swamps of the Everglades turned up a few interesting piles on Saturday night and a walk across one of the levees that stretches into the Everglades on the east coast from Miami on Monday revealed a few more droppings. Coyotes are making their way into southern Florida and their scat can be identified by the relatively large size of the poop.

This one was about 4 inches long and full of hair and bones. They usually leave it right in the middle of the trail for others to find. Marked with their unique scent - it's essentially a coyote's e-mail - butt mail as it were. That's how they communicate with other coyotes. There are about 400 or so Black Bears in the Big Cypress area of the Everglades (SW corner). They do poop in the woods but also on the trails like this massive pile we found while hiking at night. It probably could have filled my baseball hat. It was full of saw palmetto berries and other vegetation which makes up a good portion of their omnivorous diet.
Otter poop is so unique it gets its own name. They call it spraint and it has a very musky odor. I actually got down on hands and knees to take a whiff, which I don't think is as odd as someone coming up with a word for otter poop. The other easy identifier is the circular bits in the poop. Fish scales. Otters eat crabs and fish for the most part but the fish scales are not digested and get left behind. Fantastic. Another easy way to identify scat is if you actually see it coming out of the animal. Had the Raccoon not just pooped, I might have startled it enough to do so. I was alone on this walk so there is no need to admit that the startled raccoon leaping off the levee into the sawgrass caused any such reaction in me.

This Raccoon scat is full of palmetto and other berries. Nowhere near as much in the pile as the Bear but just as ornate and textured. And then there is the Nine-banded Armadillo. First let me point out that you should pronounce it Arm-uh-dee-yo. Few say it right if you ask me. Next time you go to a Mexican restaurant ask for tor-till-uh chips. You wouldn't. You'd say tor-tee-ya. So say Arm-uh-dee-ya. But I digress.
My hike brought me one and a half miles from pavement where I was the only human being within 3 square miles. Staring down at my GPS - I ambled along and nearly kicked this Armadillo. They have terrible eye sight, horrible hearing and a fairly good sense of smell. When this one was within 2 feet of me - it sniffed the air, snorted and popped a foot in the air before darting off into the scrub. Unlike other Armadillos - the Nine-banded flees as opposed to curling up into a ball.

It surprised me to see it out here. They eat grubs, ants and other insects but this area seemed too desolate of a landscape for the Armadillo to find enough food and yet here it was. I knew there were raccoons and otters out here. I saw their scat. But I hadn't seen any signs of Armadillos and I wondered - "What does Armadillo poop look like?"