Critters in the Garden

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I enjoyed the critters in the garden the last time I went. There were lots of butterflies but they seemed to be an uncooperative lot – and were really skittish when I moved too where I could get a good picture without a lot of clutter.

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There were lots of other little critters that were very interested in me so I had time to use a tripod.

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When this critter wasn’t moving I couldn’t tell if it was facing to or fro as both ends looked the same. When he did move, he moved fast. I wonder if he can change direction without turning around. There were several of them and I don’t think they are friends of the garden because they had pretty much defoliated this tree.

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They do seem to know how to work together – whether this is good or bad depends on perspective. Maybe today we need to keep our perspective focused on the good within us.

Exploring Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

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We had visitors from Michigan over the week-end and they enjoy seeing critters of all sorts so we took them into the Florida Everglades. On a previous visit we went on a dirt road in the Big Cypress National Preserve called the Loop Road. This time I wanted to explore some of the dirt roads in the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, a large area to the west of Big Cypress. It was just my kind of day.

Our first stop was the Big Cypress Bend 3,200 foot boardwalk that I read about in O’Keefe’s excellent book The Photographer’s Guide to the Everglades. Even though we went right where he told us to go we didn’t find it. Instead we found an abandoned portion of road that was originally the Tamiami Trail (US 41 from Tampa to Miami). The alligator above resides in the canal along this walk. The next three photos were also taken from that walk.

I would still like to find the boardwalk and there is a number to call in the guidebook.

What we did find was the Janes Scenic Drive off Florida 29 going north. It is an eleven mile dirt road that goes to nowhere and back through the different ecosystems of the Everglades.

_DSC0049Travel was slow so we only went about half way before we turned around. Returning was even slower because I was driving and I know the spots where I had wanted to stop but couldn’t tell they were good until Jim had passed. A section of this scenic drive runs east/west and the raised parts are culverts that allows for this very slow flow of the very wide 6 inch deep river from Lake Okeechobee to the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

Much of this water flow is through saw grass plains that are seen in the photos above. Driving down the Tamiami Trail through these plains, we seen large wading birds congregating at small ponds and nesting in far off stands of pines and bald cypress.

My favorite experiences are traveling through the cypress swamps to find birds fishing in the shallow water and seeing alligators sunning themselves. You should know that I enjoy being somewhat close to the alligators in the winter months when they are in semi-hibernation; not that hungry nor eager to attack. In any case, I understand that Alligators have the power to cause damage to my body.

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We saw several birds but this one was one I wasn’t familiar with and was in the process of communicating sweet nothings with a potential mate a ways away. When I processed the photos I realized that we saw two different birds. I think it is a Least Bitten heron, and maybe the one on the left is an adolescent.

Here is the one on the right with the mating plumage down.

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We also saw the green heron on the left and many black vultures (right).

As we were nearing the end of the Janes Scenic Drive, we could see storm clouds building on the horizon and it started to sprinkle a little.

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Succulents in the Garden

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What a grand morning in the succulent garden at the Naples Botanical. I have taken a liking to succulents because of this garden but never have I enjoyed snooping around as much as this morning. It was the first Tuesday after Daylight Saving Time so my normal 8 o’clock arrival saw the 7 o’clock sun. Because of this change in time and light, I went first to the eastern side wetland section of the garden to catch to catch the low morning light on the marsh foliage and water. The succulents are on the way back from there so I wandered through while the temp was still on the cool side and the light was less harsh. Usually it is one of my last stops of my morning photo stroll. Please join me.

There are old world succulents and new world, although I didn’t notice where one stopped and the other began. I think my aesthetic gene is stronger than my scientific one.

I spent time admiring how hard structures are used among the succulents – and how the succulents then mold around, maybe hug, the rocks.

This is blooming time for many of the plants, and the weather has been gentle to them. Perfect for photographing.

The color and graceful curves of this plant was like a siren’s call.

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And how could I resist photographing a plant named “Mangave – Spotty Dotty?”

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The small blooms on the tip of this cactus caught my eye, but when I processed my photos I realized that it needed the softness of the adjacent plant for the beauty of the cactus to be fully realized. I wonder how much of our individual beauty is dependent on the contrasting beauty of those around us?

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I met Amanda who is in charge of the succulent garden and spent a little time talking with her. She and a volunteer were filling the back of one of their work carts with the debris from cleaning a small section. It is a constant task given the 12 month growing season and well, life requires a little tidying up every once in a while. She told me that they had added 600 plants in the past year and as I learned in my garden in Michigan, every plant that is added in a garden requires ongoing work. Thank you, Amanda, for your work so I could have a great morning in your garden.

A Walk in the Swamp

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No, we didn’t go for a walk through our nation’s capital. We visited the Bird Rookery Swamp Trails, a part of the land held by the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed (CREW) trust. This reserve is off Immokalee Road south of the better known Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary run by the Audubon Society.

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What a wonderful walk, although we did just a small portion of the 11 mile loop. There is a quarter mile gravel/shell path to the beginning of the boardwalk, and then the boardwalk is about a mile long. After that there is a dirt path that has scattered roots and protruding rocks so some caution while walking is needed. From reading reviews the path also is in places a narrow walkway through tall grass and a trolley lane used when logging was done in the area (people complained in the reviews that alligators lie across the paths or sun themselves very close to where people pass). The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a shorter walk of 2 1/4 miles (with a 1 mile shorter option), all of which is boardwalk, making it barrier free. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary charges adults $10 and this sanctuary trail is free (with a donation box by the parking lot).

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Cypress Knees

I was looking for a quiet walk and the opportunity to take some photos. Almost all of my photos this winter have been from the Naples Botanical Garden and I was looking for a different kind of landscape.

I have been thinking that I’m getting used to the southern Florida landscape – after spending 10 winters here. It has been a big adjustment to having just two seasons – rainy/hot and dry/cool. Being from Michigan I kept looking for the drastic seasonal change in plants and landscape. The southern portion of Florida is dominated by the Everglades and whenever we went into the Everglades, or those areas like the Corkscrew preserves that have been dedicated to water and wildlife preservation, my brain sees the exotic, not the vegetation that I recognize and find nourishing to my soul.

It’s not that I don’t know swamps, the area of Michigan where I live was described by settlers as a mosquito infested swamp that was uninhabitable. But Michigan swamps have deciduous trees, oaks and maples. These swamps that I’m visiting in Florida are mainly cypress – and I’m growing to love them.

My soul takes pleasure from the horizontal branches and soft needles of the cypress. I smile at the cypress knees.

 

I also take pleasure in photographing the plants and animals that are a part of this environment – giving me an image to revisit and research so I can learn names and characteristics.

 

If you know the name of the big white flower, please let me know. I believe it is a member of the morning glory family because of the lines on the petals and it grows on a vine (I think).

Jim and I stopped frequently and quietly shared how much we were enjoying the quiet sounds of nature. This might be an area to return to when I hear the Everglades calling me. Jim doesn’t want me to go into the Everglades alone because of the prevalence of alligators and lack of cell phone reception, so this may be a good alternative.

 

I am linking this to the RDP Saturday: Walk. Maybe you can link your ideas about “walk” to the fun.

Cooling it in the Garden

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Since October we have been unnerved by noise at our Florida condo. The teeth jarring noise of jack hammers taking up tile and reciprocating saws going through steel beams. Wood saws vibrating onto our cement ceiling, going down the walls, across the floor, and up our bodies. Wooden mallets hitting the edges of wooden floor planks at just the right velocity to reach our temples. Owners around us are just finishing up renovating their condos and now the association has contracted to have railings fixed. Railings that are medal and embedded in cement. More nerve jangling jackhammers.

My Tuesday morning photography walks at the Naples Botanical Garden have been my sanctuary from the assault on my senses. Fibromyalgia, in part, involves a malfunctioning of the nerves that carry pain signals to the brain. Too many get through the spinal column and then the brain amplifies the signals. My nerves are fried so I seemed to focus on the simple as I walked around. I tried to limit the amount of stimulation I studied through my lens.

I focused on simple pleasures…

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and strolled down paths that are familiar.

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I was drawn to nature’s groupings that emitted a sense of peace…

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and lingered near the plants that touched my whimsy.

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Prairie Dogs Searching

And as I strolled I found some surprises to distract my focus on my frustrations.

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Sometimes life is just plain hard and I’m so fortunate to have a beautiful place to escape to, a place where nature has been nurtured to be its most beautiful. During this season of assault by noise, I found healing by sitting on benches while my senses took in the beauty of my surroundings. Yes, nature does have the capacity to heal.

 

This post was submitted to Lens-Artist Photo Challenge #33: Nature.