I was making some changes to Suzanne's mom Ruthie's utilities the other day when the electric company rep said that she had to speak to Mrs. Smeltzer directly. Suzanne got on her cell to Ruthie, and we were able to "patch" the utility with their customer while I held up two handsets; it was just a little bizarre. I think Alexander Graham Bell (who made the first telephone call in 1876 with the words, "Mr. Watson - come here - I want to see you.") would be impressed by how his invention has developed.
Now, for all you Northerners who think Fall Colors don't exist here in sunny, warm Florida, take a look at this photo taken on December 20, 2014, here in The Villages. Our bald cypress trees (Taxodium disticum) do in fact change colors before shedding their leaves in December/January. The bald cypress is the state tree of Louisiana, and is widespread throughout the south, particularly in swampy areas and along rivers. They have long been used for making shingles; Kerrville, Texas, and Kissimmee, Florida, are both known for their cypress shingle production in the 19th Century. Another interesting fact is that scuba divers have located a submerged cypress forest under 60 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico; the trees have been dated as about 52,000 years old, and are so well preserved that when cut, the wood still has a fresh cypress sap spell. (Had our ancestors not driven SUVs back then, perhaps sea levels would be much lower today...)
I've found a beautiful, uninhabited island to visit... okay, maybe not in this lifetime, but maybe if I'm ever reincarnated as a one-inch tall Lilliputian. This small rock lies near the cypress trees in the preceding photo along a tiny stream here in The Villages. I envision pitching my tent on the hillside at left, building a tree house in the towering green seedling and launching my kayak for fishing expeditions in the stream... okay, maybe I'd better plan on airdrops of food supplies...
"Big Blue", in this case, does not refer to either the New York Giants or to Michigan's football team, but rather to the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) we watched standing sentinel on a rooftop near Sumter Landing, a couple of miles from our house.He may have been looking for his next meal, or simply loitering while digesting a fish or frog, but he looked a noble figure in any case. American Indians thought that herons symbolized patience and good luck, but some tribes also portrayed them as restless loners, since herons are usually solitary except during mating season.
While one can find beauty in nature even in a suburban environment, as the previous three entries prove, My Lovely Bride and I were ready for a road trip. We enlisted our good friends Bob and Jan, who also have a motor coach, to spend 3 or 4 days with us at Hillsborough River State Park northeast of Tampa. Here we are with camp set up, surrounded by towering pines and yes, cypress and oaks as well; and lots of squirrels for Rudy and Gretchen... our Itasca is on the left and their Thor on the right.
One of the first orders of business was going for a 5 mile hike on a loop of the Florida Trail, which paralleled the Hillsborough River before turning back into dense, jungle-like forest. I made the mistake of letting Top Sergeant Bob set the pace, and for an old guy, he really impressed me with his speed. (In a past life, Bob worked for Julius Caesar as a centurion marching his cohort across Europe.) We finally got Bob to stop for a break on this comfy log... Some historic trivia: the original width of the Appian Way, Rome's major highway, was designed at 13 feet to allow six legionnaires to march abreast with full battle gear. Speaking of full battle gear, you my note that My Lovely Bride is wearing her new pack, loaded with the same weight she intends carrying on every training hike leading up to our Camino trek next year.
Biker Chick also dragged me out twice for cross-jungle adventures on our mountain bikes. There were trails to follow, but the canopy overhead was almost as dense as the forest beside the trails, and they were rooty and frequently studded with bits of karst limestone, making the ride quite bumpy. I felt like one of James Bond's martinis, shaken, not stirred, by the end of our rides. (As you can see, Suzanne is wearing her Navy jersey, in honor of the Naval Academy's 13th consecutive victory over the West Point in the Army-Navy game last week. Sorry, Colonel Cunis, I had to mention that, and yes, we are so looking forward to the meal you lost in that bet with My Lovely Bride.)
Meanwhile, My Good Friend Bob had taken a walk along the Hillsborough River, and when he returned, suggested that I should go for a swim. Somewhat surprised, we walked down there to find a ten foot long gator lurking just fifty feet away, waiting for anyone bold enough to ignore the sign...
Here's a close-up of the same gator. Most of his mass in underwater, so you don't have a feel for the size of these critters until...
you are out kayaking and see another big one on the bank as you are paddling by... what really gets your attention is that he's looking at you like you're a piece of filet mignon and he hasn't had dinner in a week. Fortunately, as long as you stay in your boat, there is little to fear from these guys, so I gave him a wave and we paddled on.
We found serenity and natural beauty galore, and very few other paddlers, since we were visiting mid-week. The water was so still that Suzanne was able to get great pictures with perfect reflections.
Finally, I have to share a very appropriate birthday card I received from Bob and Jan... the inside greeting read, "The world is your territory just waiting to be marked!"