With sunlight wan and thin here in the Northern hemisphere, this may be a good time for images from warmer places.
For two years running – in 2010 and 2011 – I left ice-cold New York behind and flew south to Fort Myers, midway up Florida’s Gulf coast. It was delightful! Between forays to well-known places like Everglades National Park and Sanibel Island, I roamed the region in a rented car with an eye out for ordinary local scenes. The best part of traveling to my mind is the serendipity of unexpected discoveries, and the discoveries that excite me the most are found in everyday, quotidian spaces, where locals engage in activities unique to the place, buildings display an unpretentious native style, and objects seem to speak a local dialect.
Florida gave up many such surprises – the restaurant with seven vultures hunched on the roof and a vintage pink Mercedes parked in front, the local man fishing atop a precarious mangrove root sticking out of the water, a humble block of pastel vernacular housing just outside the Everglades, a small cemetery hidden away in the dense foliage…
All ordinary in their place, but new and wondrous to my eyes.
The flora and fauna did not disappoint either. I feasted on tall palms and wide beaches, Roseate spoonbills and snowy egrets…but I gave a wide berth to the alligator crossing a sandy, one lane road I was driving. No need to tempt fate. Use the zoom.
Here’s a selection of images from those trips.
- Nine-armed Sea Star (Luidia senegalensis) at Sanibel Island beach. This video shows one slowly crawling back to the water in Naples, an hour north of where I was.
- Parking lot palm fronds, near the Fort Meyers airport.
- U Pick Citrus sign, Lee County. Once you get away from the coast you find the agriculture. Cattle, goats, chickens, bees, oranges, vegetables – there are hundreds of farms in Lee county; there were 844 farms listed in 2012.
- a, b c & d: Scenes from Smallwood’s Store, an historic general store built over the water on an island at the edge of the Everglades. The store is now an informal museum devoted to early life in the area, displaying items like a child’s schoolwork and a bedroom arranged as it may have looked in the 1930’s. Hurricane Irma did some damage this year, but the store is standing and repairs are planned.
- A produce market in Immokalee – cheap and local, what could be better? Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc here. The authorities were apparently more interested in policing the wealthier coastal areas than protecting residents in Immokalee, many of whom are undocumented farm laborers and their families, from Haiti and Latin America.
- a, b: Evidence of a previous fire disappears quickly in the dense vegetation; a market stand after a rain shower at Immokalee.
- All dressed up and nowhere to go? The four inch Lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) moves slowly for a grasshopper. Unlike most we’re familiar with, it walks and climbs more often than it jumps. These charmers can spit a spray of toxic chemicals when threatened. They damage crops and are controlled by picking them off, setting traps, and using insecticide. Here are some creative ways locals have dealt these critters a blow or two.
- An unidentified mix of Florida plants.
- An alligator that I braked for.
- A Great blue heron and a fisherman share space amicably on Sanibel Island.
- a & b: Sanibel scenes – Willets (Tringa semipalmata) probe for insects and other goodies along the waves’ edge. Sanibel is known world wide for its abundant shells.
- A handsome group of White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) next to a shopping mall in Fort Myers. Look closely and you can see a gray youngster in the background.
- A Brown pelican perched on a piling in Everglades City. These big birds can have a 6.5 foot (200cm) wingspan. They make dramatic plunge dives for fish, unlike the even larger American white pelican, which catches fish by dipping its pouch-shaped beak in the water while swimming.
- a, b, c & d: Local scenes, including a man fishing at dusk from a precarious perch on a mangrove thicket at Rookery Bay, a roadside check cashing establishment, and a heron/egret roost at dusk.
- A family barbecue at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve/ Ten Thousand Islands. There used to be hermits living in the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades area. I don’t know if there are any left, but a local high school class wrote about them back in 1980.
- A congregation of alligators, Everglades National Park. (Yes, a congregation is what you call a group of gators!). The American alligator is at the southern edge of its range in the Everglades; the American crocodile reaches its northern limits there.
- Seen at the airport. Fill in the tag line, please! 🙂
- Homes in Everglades City, population 402 in 2013. The link is to an interesting NY Times article about this historic, out of the way little town.
- The Depot Restaurant in Everglades City, with an old pink Mercedes in the lot and a venue of vultures (really, that’s what a group of vultures is called!) on the roof. There were more vultures by the garbage cans out back. This restaurant is now closed.
- An old cemetery outside Fort Myers. Poring over a map, I noticed a “Cemetery Road” on the outskirts of a small town. I figured it must lead to a cemetery, probably an old one. It looked out of the way and intriguing, so I drove there. It was a great find and I enjoyed reading the old headstones, observing the mementos placed on graves, and photographing. This man died in 1981. Thirty years later, someone had left a handful of flowers on his grave.
- A spontaneous collage. I placed a plant fragment (Tillandsia fasciculata) I picked up on the map I was using, and photographed it. Most of the places I explored are visible on this piece of the map.
- A roadside scene in Everglades City.
- Looking up into a Royal palm (?) (Roystonea regia) near Edison Park in Fort Myers.
- Another mix of tropical flora.
- a & b: A Great blue heron and a Snowy egret. Both are common in Florida.
- Birders scope a flock of Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) at Bunche Beach Preserve. The Black skimmer is one of my (many!) favorite birds. It’s lower mandible is longer than the upper mandible so it just drops its jaw, as it were, and skims food from the surface of the water (link to photo). Of course, this requires the ability to fly steadily just at the surface, making them really fun to watch.
- Beautiful Bunche Beach Preserve hearkens back to the old Florida, before rampant building obliterated so much land. Volunteers tore out all the invasive species here. A tidal wetland with beaches, inlets, and mangrove forests, the preserve is known for great birding. Fresh raccoon tracks marked the edge of this inlet.
- Spectacular little Sanibel Island is very scenic, but the town can be crowded. As I write, it’s 73 degrees there. It’s 36 degrees here. ) – :
- A roadside sunset outside Immokalee. Immokalee is an agricultural center, and is home to many immigrants who work fields of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and citrus. The name means “My Home” in the Mikasuki language of the Miccosukee people. After being pushed out of their original territory, a small group of Miccosukee managed to resist resettlement in Oklahoma by escaping to the Everglades, where they adapted to the unique environment. A road built in 1928 signaled the beginning of assimilation; since gaining US government recognition as an Indian tribe, they have built a golf club and gaming resort, and an “Indian Village.” On this day it had just rained and then the sun came out, setting the road on fire. A fitting end to a stay in Florida.