Saturday, March 9, 2019

Rudy and Gretchen Portrait; JeanMarie; Our New Home; Kayaking; The Low Country; Pinckney Island NWR; Snake! Signs; Keta Salmon!!!

In our last post, I mentioned our eternal gratitude to JeanMarie for taking care of our beloved Dachshunds, Rudy and Gretchen; imagine our delight when JeanMarie sent us a portrait (suitable for hanging in our coach, where it now is in a place of honor) of our pups...  We were happily enjoying that portrait, which we shall treasure forever, and thanking JeanMarie profusely, until we heard that she had had a serious accident and broken her right knee and left shoulder! OMG, what could be worse??? We visited her in the rehab ward, and in spite of these terrible injuries, was as upbeat as anyone could possibly be. We are wishing you a speedy recovery!!!

On a happier note, our lot in SC has been cleared, and here is a photo of Jimmy B., the master trackhoe operator who cleared our lot in South Carolina. Jimmy B has operated a trackhoe for 27 years with Cleland, and for the uninitiated, he is as much an artist with that 15 ton excavator as a brain surgeon with a scalpel. 

Here is Jimmy using a tree trunk about 20 feet long and 3 feet wide to smooth out the dirt on our lot... he also split a 48 inch oak stump vertically, using the sharp ends of his trackhoe, like a log splitter, but delicately... not only is he a master at his profession, but he is also a very humble man.

The work on our house continues, with the latest progress being over 50 dumptruck loads of dirt to raise our foundation platform over flood level (YIKES!!!). Here we have the foundation forms being placed... an interesting description provided by our dear friends, Irene and Tony Vouvalides, of Helping Parents Heal" "The forms for the foundation are started..." My Lovely Bride (MLB), when hearing of this progress, asked, "What forms do they have to submit and for whose Foundation?"  (She thought it was for HPH, a charitable organization. But I shall not make fun of her... HA!!!)

But life here in South Carolina is not all work - here is MLB preparing to launch her newly painted (candy apple red) kayak on Mackay Creek, near our new (soon-to-built-in-about-a-year-or-so) home...

Bluffton/Hilton Head is famous for good kayaking, and we have had one outing with the Kayak Club in Moss Creek, our new development. On this beautiful morning, eight of us paddled out into the marshes north of Hilton Head Island...

The peaceful solitude was marred only by the occasional car horn from a few miles away... (oh, and also by one of our fellow paddlers who was more loquacious - and loud -  than I might have desired...)

This area of South Carolina is called "The Low Country" because of its near-sea-level elevation; it is the part of SC seaward of the Sandhills, which were the ancient seacoast of this area. Now, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties are the heart of the Low Country. This is a sunset view from our campground, looking out onto Skull Creek on the Intracoastal Waterway. Sailors and powerboaters making the seasonal treks from New England to Florida and back pass right by this spot. 

The campground also has a small marina and fishing dock. Unfortunately, the very cold weather we have experienced since we arrived has chased all the fish away, or made them move to Florida... otherwise I would have caught a lot of redfish and sea trout. Really. No kidding.

A few miles from our new home is the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 4,053 acre refuge consisting of 5 islands and numerous small hammocks (sort of an island formed around small stands of hardwood trees). The islands were developed to raise cotton, and were once owned by Charles Pinckney, Revolutionary War general and signer of the US Constitution. Now there are 14 miles of trails and many ponds used for viewing birds and alligators. I have just started volunteering as a trail maintainer here.

While hiking one day, I was using a tree as a de-watering spot (Rudy has trained me well), and while unable to move, noticed this non-venomous corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) crawling about six inches from my foot! A subspecies of rat snakes, corn snakes kill their prey (mice and frogs, mostly) by constriction. They are often mistaken for copperheads (which are poisonous) and inadvertently killed, but I left him to slither away and surprise some other hiker another day.

After I hike, I am hungry. Since we are new to the area, part of the fun is trying out new restaurants. One day we had lunch at a BBQ place in Bluffton, SC, that was, well, as they say, "traditional, not trendy". The first indication was a sign that lists "s..t we will never have", like Splenda, mayonnaise, mustard, salad, milk, butter, and spoiled brats... this includes their children". This second sign above the trash can also provides a clue to the management's philosophy...

Speaking of food, I must mention the hilarity this bag of Keta salmon provided me at the local Sam's Club... yes, there is a story here that My Lovely Bride might prefer I not recall, but she's in Virginia now teaching at The Monroe Institute, so I'll share this with you if you won't tell... Here is the story as written back in 2013...

I am in deep doo-doo. It’s a long story, so I’ll start at the beginning. I was having some frustrations with repairs to The Coach and with my new Windows 8 computer, which was not connecting to the Wi-Fi at the RV shop. My Lovely Bride took pity on me and said, “I’m going to run out and get some salmon for dinner.” She is so considerate and sweet; she knows that salmon is one of my favorite meals. So, off she goes… meanwhile, I walked the puppies in their favorite rabbit hunting ground. 

We had just returned to our home on wheels when Suzanne returned from Safeway with a big smile on her face. “I’ve got dinner under control. You go sit down and have a glass of wine.” Well, this was going to be a treat. A few minutes later, the dinner bell rang, and we sat down to a feast. Perfectly prepared salmon, spinach and Asiago cheese-sprinkled bread… a meal fit for a king. As we were eating, Suzanne mentioned what a bargain the Keta salmon was… she even asked the fishmonger if it was overdate or anything, because she had never seen salmon marked down to $2.00/pound (this particular type was normally $7.99). He replied that, no, it was fine, they had just over-ordered, and their customers were reaping the benefits of their mistake. Great! I said to her, “Keta salmon… I’m not familiar with that particular fish…” So, I looked it up on Google right in the middle of the meal. (MISTAKE #1)  

I shared with her the Wikipedia entry for “Keta salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), also known as chum or dog salmon, the least commercially valuable salmon. Despite being extremely plentiful in Alaska, commercial fishermen often choose NOT to fish for them because of their low market value…” Also, it’s what the Eskimos used to feed their dogs before Alpo arrived in Univik. (MISTAKE #2)    Okay, I might have survived this event unscathed had I not started laughing and barking like a dog… (MISTAKE #3) Rudy and Gretchen looked at me in awe, but My Lovely Bride looked at me coldly after my fourth round of barking and said very quietly, “If you don’t stop, you’ll be wearing your glass of red wine on your white polo shirt.”  (Sometimes you just never know what’s going to make your bride laugh, cry or assault you.) Smack!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Moving... Grand Oaks; Adios, Florida! Hello, South Carolina! Parris Island; Iron Mike; Anhingas; Maui; Humpback Whales; AFLAC!!!

Okay, the last two months have been INSANELY BUSY... the home inspector gave us a pass about the wild pigs and rattlesnakes, thank goodness! (See the last blog post if that doesn't make sense...) We actually sold our home in The Villages, Florida, after spending eleven (11) years there and making so many wonderful friends. We packed up all our HHG (that's a military acronym for household goods) and put them in storage for a YEAR! But on our last day in The Villages, I went for a walk and took this picture of a pond near our house to remind us of our neighborhood...

During our last week in FL, we were living in the coach at Grand Oaks RV Resort near Weirsdale; it's an equestrian hideaway that few RVers even know about. There is even a carriage museum, and trails, barns and arenas where carriage driving competitions are held. The horses are beautiful...

Sunrises and the grand live oaks were also pretty amazing...

I walked the grounds of Grand Oaks every day, and saw this horse rubbing his butt on a tree; I thought, well, why not?

After 10 days and taking too many candid pictures of the horses, the RV Resort asked us to leave, so we drove our trusty coach up to South Carolina...

... and here we are pulling our coach into our new development...

Our lot still has twenty-some odd  trees on it, many of which will have to be removed to put a house in; but we are saving as many as possible. They are mainly a mix of live oak and laurel oak, with a few pines, palms and magnolias. 

We set up camp in a waterside RV park a few miles from our lot... here is My Lovely Bride enjoying a cold January sunset on the pier. The water's a bit too cold to swim, unfortunately (but a libation of wine helps keep the cold out).

"Walking the docks" is a popular pastime, particularly during cocktail hour, when sailors are known to "splice the mainbrace". In ages past, this meant having a tot of rum; today we have a glass of wine (or two)... which can lead to some funny (and even more "not-so-funny") escapades and photos... (and no, Lynette, I didn't fall into the water...)

After getting settled in, we went for a bike ride at nearby Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit depot, where our Susan went through Marine boot camp many years ago. It was one of the proudest days of my life, seeing Susan graduate from a very tough introduction to one of the most elite fighting forces in the world.

As the sign says, Parris Island "Makes Marines"!

The "Iron Mike" World War I Memorial to Parris Island Marines who lost their lives in The Great War (1914-1918) was erected in 1924, preceding the Iwo Jima Memorial by 28 years. The statue was paid for by subscriptions, mostly from Marines who had fought in WW I at  the Marne, Chateau Thierry, the Meuse-Argonne, and Belleau Wood, to name some of the garden spots where Marines fought the Boche.

South Carolina in winter is a birder's paradise, and as we all know, "Birds of a feather flock together...." this shot of a raft of 56 flocking Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) was taken at Jarvis Creek Park on Hilton Head Island. Anhingas, like cormorants, do not have waterproof feathers. When they dive to chase fish, their feathers get soaked, and they have to sit on a branch or the shore and dry their feathers. The name anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language, and it means snake bird or devil bird. Because they swim partially submerged, they are often mistaken for snakes.

Even though South Carolina is several hundred miles north of The Villages, there are still some nasty residents that we want to avoid...

Late January found us enjoying one of our first real vacations in years, a week in Maui with Tony and Irene Vouvalides, old friends and new neighbors. We went whale watching, and the view of Maui from the boat was impressive... we are near Lahaina, a famous and historic whaling port on Maui's west coast, the leeward (hence dry, compared to the windward, or wet, side).

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are common here, as they spend the winter in the warm Hawaiian waters mating and breeding. They go for months without eating, since their primary feeding grounds are in Alaska during the summer. Suzanne was very excited when she captured this gal on film (well, on her iPhone, anyway). Humpbacks grow to 40-50 feet in length, and weigh in at around 28-33 tons. They dine on krill and small schooling fish (salmon, herring and capelin, typically).

Irene and Suzanne were having a blast on the boat trip!

Tony and Irene are old hands in Hawaii, having visited on multiple occasions. The beaches were beautiful, and the tourists happy to be there. 

This was our first vacation together in Hawaii together, and it was appropriate that we got lei'ed here.

We had some rain during our visit, but most of our time in Maui was sunny and breezy, with occasional light showers moving down from the mountains and creating beautiful rainbows. 

There are many small bays indenting Maui's coast; a charter catamaran found this small protected anchorage. We were staying in a house, though, and didn't have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to check the anchor in rough weather.

While we were gone, our pups Rudy and Gretchen were being taken care of by a friend; JeanMarie even brought them squeaky toy ducks that emit three famous "AFLAC" cries... Rudy and Gretchen love them... (JeanMarie, we have to talk... they are driving me crazy!!!).

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Moving! Rudy's Meditation; Flat Island; Ocala National Forest; Travelers; Oysters; Shellbacks; Army-Navy Game; MLB Speaks; Bobcats; Life Event Center

Well, it's kinda sorta official... we are moving from The Villages, Florida, to Bluffton, South Carolina, near Hilton Head. There are some "ifs", like, if our house sells (we do have a contract, but you never know); if the home inspector doesn't find wild pigs in the basement (we don't have a basement), raccoons in the attic (he said this wasn't uncommon in this part of Florida), or rattlesnakes in the closets (much less common, but potentially a show-stopper for our buyers). We have been in lovely central FL for 11 years, but after meeting Irene and Tony Vouvalides a few years ago, and sailing with them and four other Shining Light parents (Lynn and Jeff Hollahan, and Elizabeth and Cyril Boisson) on a sailboat charter in the BVIs, we decided that we had to move closer... the Hollahans and Boissons live near Scottsdale, Arizona, a very nice place, but too far from the ocean for Yours Truly. (Suzanne's book about our experience, Still Right Here, is highly recommended.)

I told Suzanne that my two man tent would suit me just fine on our lot, but after a "spirited and frank discussion", she said that she was too old to live in a tent; I replied, "Wait a second, I just turned 71... if I'm not too old to live in a tent, why can't you???" (Have you ever seen a woman holding a baseball bat and regretted the words that just came out of your mouth? Fortunately, I am pretty fast on my feet, and avoided her swing). So I picked out a design that I liked... just kidding... this isn't ours; it's a house in Leesburg owned by some guy from New Jersey, probably a "made guy" who obviously invested much more wisely than I.

After listening to My Lovely Bride's arguments for putting a house up on our new lot, I spent many hours meditating over our upcoming move. Rudy and Gretchen also meditated on the topic of moving from a High Density Target Environment (there are many squirrels in our neighborhood). Here are the three of us doing our Ommmm workouts.... Rudy explained that he achieves a higher state of consciousness by reciting his mantra, "woof... woof... woof"... I tried it, but it put me to sleep.

On a more earthly (swampy???) topic, we are enjoying late Fall/early winter here in The Villages. Unlike our friends in the Frozen North (Condon, Montana is 28 tonight, while Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta is a toasty 31), we are enjoying temps in the 60s).  MLB and I got out hiking recently at Flat Island Preserve near Leesburg, FL, just 30 minutes from our house, where a lovely hardwood hammock is surrounded by Okahumpka Marsh and Lake Denham. 

Another hike took us to the Florida Trail in Ocala National Forest, the southernmost forest in the continental US, and home of the largest sand pine scrub forest (it's actually much prettier than the name implies...) really, "scrub"??? Growing on deep, prehistoric (that means even older than My Good Friend Bob) sand dunes, the scrub is a unique plant community that is home to the scrub jay, sand skink, Florida bonamia plant, and many other species, including thousands of black bears, bald eagles, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, wild boars, and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Freshwater springs (including Silver, Juniper, and Alexander springs) produce millions of gallons of crystal clear water every day. Oaks and pines predominate here, and the hiking is delightful. This is also where I had to use bear spray (repellant) a few years ago when a young bear wanted my dinner... or did he want me for dinner???

"The Forest", as Ocala NF is referred to down here, is a haven for many "travelers", some of whom are hippie-types from California... these folks must be relocating from the Left Coast to Florida for our better winter weather, bringing some "interesting" household goods with them...

Shorter winter days give us an opportunity to enjoy sunrise around 0700, and a few are very special...

Speaking of "special", Suzanne has been doing some traveling lately, and when she's on the road, I get to indulge my Cajun heritage and appetite with fried oysters and salad with remoulade sauce, accompanied by a Fat Tire beer. (Note the Tabasco sauce - I make my own cocktail sauce using ketchup, horseradish, Tabasco and lemon juice). Even after 20+ years, she hasn't developed a taste for oysters, unless they are roasted over 400 degree flames at Drago's Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana...

Seafood reminds me of nautical trivia (I am easily distracted).... do you know what a Shellback is? How about a Golden Shellback? I am both! A Shellback is a sailor who has crossed the Equator, while a Golden Shellback has crossed the Equator at either the Prime Meridian (0 degrees Longitude, off the coast of West Africa) or the International Date Line (180 E/W Longitude), between the Phoenix and Gilbert Islands in the Pacific. On several US Navy ships, I think I've crossed the Equator about 14 times, but this Golden Shellback card from 1974 proves that I crossed at the Prime Meridian aboard USS Koelsch (DE-1049), a destroyer escort back in the "Real Navy". Political correctness had not yet been invented and life in the Navy back then was a ton of fun!

Ah, "Navy"... both Suzanne and I taught at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, and for the past 4-5 years have been wagering dinners on the Army-Navy football game (one of the only things we watch on TV all year) with our dear friends Charlie and Elaine Cunis in Longmont, Colorado. 

Up until 3 years ago, Navy was winning every game, but then Army began slipping chemicals into the Naval Academy's water supply, and Navy has lost the past three games. We still wear our Navy "colors" and root on the Midshipmen, but again this year we owe Charlie and Elaine a dinner when we visit Longmont. 

On the subject of sports, I recently went out to Park City, Utah, to ski with our great Navy friend, Bill Hancock. Bill is 76, and a retired US Navy 3 star admiral. His ski buddy is 88, so I figured, "Well, how hard can it be?" I thought I was a fairly coordinated guy, having played soccer in college and cross country skied for several years. I had skied downhill a few times in my early 20s, but not very often. I was taken aback by my klutziness, and called it quits after a relatively minor, but sobering, knee injury - my ski career is over. I will stick to hiking, backpacking and maybe swimming with great white sharks as a simpler, less demanding sport... 

On a more positive note, Suzanne has had several recent speaking engagements, including one in The Villages to the Seeking Spirituality and Edgar Cayce groups. She is a fabulous speaker, and if you haven't heard her in person, you're missing out. Her talks are almost always SRO...

After returning from my Utah trip, I was on a recovery walk when I encountered these three bobcats (Lynx rufus floridanus) in a swale near a marsh not far from our house in Florida. They were enjoying the sunshine on a warm winter's day, and sat looking at me until I got within about 100 feet, when they scattered. Bobcats get their name from their short, "bobbed" tails.

Finally, this sign caught my eye as I was walking a few miles while waiting for new tires to be mounted on our car. Okay, yes, we live in a retirement community, but really, a "Life Event Center"?????