Saturday, April 11, 2015

Florida's Natural Enchantments

In January, with the holidays over, we flew to southwest Florida for a weeklong visit with friends. Never having been to Florida I had no idea what to expect. Our friends live in Naples, in southwest Florida. It's  a hubbub of activity surrounding multiple developments of condos and apartments, shopping malls and busy streets (sadly taking up space once occupied by old growth forests of Pines, Palms, Banyons, and other trees). The good thing is that the area is in close proximity to some rich natural resources like the small gulf coast islands, the Isle of Capri mangrove hummocks popping up in the bay, many rivers with Indian names like the Calasuhatchee. We especially liked the small town called Bonita Springs with its very "laid back" feeling, nice park and fun local grocery store where we were able to buy some of our favourite Latino food. The Latinos make up a large percent of the population there and we enjoyed seeing how industriously they got about on their bicycles heading to and from work or play. We ate in a good Mexican restaurant on the main drag, called believe it or not, Marias. We enjoyed watching kayakers along the Imperial River, too.
Here I am with friends Rosalie and Jack heading out to do some sightseeing 

One of our favourite outings was the visit to Ft. Myers to see the Edison and Ford Winter Homes and museums.  We spent half a day there gleaning a wealth of information we never knew before about these two men, both  inventors and researchers, who along with Firestone, set up a research project here in the 1920's to try and find a US source for rubber. Edison and his young wife, many years his junior, supported a vast garden and planted trees such as the Camphor tree(used later for Vick's Vapor Rub, among other things)the magnificent Banyon trees, and the Mysore Fig. Edison spent a good part of every winter here to get away from the cold of Michigan and enjoyed the fruits of his inventive mind, having 1,060+ patents earned over 63 years, lots of which are little parts such as early batteries, the kinetoscope, and other bigger things like the first phonograph, with which he made his millions.  We think of him as the inventor of the lightbulb, but actually it was invented by someone else; Thomas Edison merely perfected it.
Edison's great invention, the phonograph. 

Ahead of his time

This is Edison's comfy study. 

Edison liked to fish, too. There are many fish tales about him !

The enormous Mylore Fig on the grounds of Edison's compound 
Edison's friend, Ford, built his winter house on the grounds of the Edison compound and the two often collaborated on inventions, but Ford's biggest interest was his cars. This was his first!  He also invented the first truck---well, at least, the chase and front end. One could buy that and then build on the truck body in wood.

My favourite experiences turned out to be the ones in Florida's natural enchanted spots, such as the day we kayaked around the many island-like mangrove-covered hummocks, seeing snowy egrets, great blue herons and even Osprey in their nest.
Me on the kayak
Mangroves growing on the hummocks

Following our fearless leaders

The intrepid kayakers 


Heron stalking it's prey

Another day of natural wonders was when we went to Pine Island,via the cute town of Matlacha, filled with shops and art galleries.

This art was wonderful---wish I could remember the Artist, a woman, name!

On the Island we toured a natural preserve there protecting the ancient shell mounds created by the Calusa Indains started over 2000 years ago. On the way we passed through an area once rich with Orange orchards and other fruit trees.  We  saw the huge shell mounds,  and also many "Tourist trees" or "sunburn trees" named for their peeling red bark. Their  real name is the Gumbo Limbo tree. If anyone has ever done Limbo dancing, we can see why---the trees twist and turn in beautiful patterns.
Gary Pointing to the "Sunburn or Tourist Tree" 
We visited a small museum there and admired the carved masks of the Calusas.

A shell mound on Pine Island 

A Callusa Indian Mask 

The ultimate in touristic pleasures was the day we went to the Everglades. We had planned on taking a four wheel drive vehicle offered by one of the many tourist spots through the grasslands to spy on wildlife. After  our success on foot, walking the Fuckahatchee trail, a wooden boardwalk through a jungle like environment, we decided we had had the Best!
An Eagle mom watching over her nest...

the Eagle's nest 

From here we watched a Blue Heron stalking 

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The heron

Two alligators, one on top of the other 

A large turtle 
We watched a heron slyly catching its lunch, viewed a bald Eagles nest, inhabited by the female and watched the male swoop down over the nest. We saw alligators, one on top of another and even spied a huge owl's nest with the owner peeking out of it (we never identified its correct name) but viewing it was enough. As we left the jungle we spied a beautiful big orange butterfly known as the Ruddy Dagger Winged Butterfly. Fortunately for us, a butterfly scholar was at our side identifying it as she took several photos.
Ruddy Dagger Winged Butterfly
 We had the thrill of seeing birdlife we had never encountered before, like Rosy Spoonbills, Storks, and others I can't name.
A Roseated Spoonbill 
We continued along the Tamiana trail highway to "Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe," a fun roadside joint next to the river where we ate a meal of catfish burger, beans and rice and cold beers as we watched the antics of a Raven and a red shouldered hawk. What an enchanting day it was. We look forward to more future adventures in the Everglades.

Nothing like a cold beer!
The guys agreed
After our Everglades journey, we went to Clyde Butcher's Photo Gallery. Clyde is an amazing nature photographer and it was like a repeat performance viewing the scenery we had just been observing. Butcher's compelling black and white photographs chronicle some of America's most beautiful and complex ecosystems. His photographs have been exhibited in both the US and in Europe. After our visit, we continued to take our own photos outside his gallery in the large pond next to his building.
The Clyde Butcher Photo Gallery
In the evening we walked the Naples peer, watched the sunset and ended up at the "Old Fogies," a fun beer and music joint where we listened to many talented musicians strumming their stuff.
Friend Jack and I standing on the Naples Peer 

Gary and I watching the sunset at the Naples Beach

We left Florida for our journey south back to our home in San Miguel de Allende with a song in our heart and many fond memories of our time with our friends discovering the beautiful southwest of Florida. Hasta la proxima---until the next time!

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