Warm Places

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.























































The Photos:

  1. 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.
  2. Parking lot palm fronds, near the Fort Meyers airport.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. a, b: Evidence of a previous fire disappears quickly in the dense vegetation; a market stand after a rain shower at Immokalee.
  7. 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.
  8. An unidentified mix of Florida plants.
  9. An alligator that I braked for.
  10. A Great blue heron and a fisherman share space amicably on Sanibel Island.
  11. 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. 
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Seen at the airport. Fill in the tag line, please! 🙂
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. A roadside scene in Everglades City.
  23. Looking up into a Royal palm (?) (Roystonea regia) near Edison Park in Fort Myers.
  24. Another mix of tropical flora.
  25. a & b: A Great blue heron and a Snowy egret. Both are common in Florida.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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. ) – :
  29. 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.






We may not usually consider flocks of birds to be communities, but I think they fit the definition. Here, a small community of birders is photographing a flock of Black Skimmers at Bunche Beach on Florida’s west coast. When these two communities intersect, the human one derives an obvious benefit, but the bird community can benefit too, when the photographers’ images move people to understand, appreciate and continue to protect habitats and their inhabitants.

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is “Community.” There are hundreds of photographic ideas of community to be found here.


Tides nourish the land, and their dependable changes remind me that if life is difficult now, it will get easier…

Sunset at Lemon Creek Pier

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge is “Change.”  The serene view above is minutes from a  busy New York City highway. Maybe the beautiful colors were caused by pollution, but that thought was far from my mind as I sat on the beach that evening, lost in the sound of gently lapping waves and the changing hues of sunset.

A receding tide offers foraging opportunities for Willets on Captiva Island in Florida.

The ebb tide lends itself to soft focus, also on Captiva.

Just after high tide, the noise is deafening as waves crash hard onto the rocky Washington shores of Rialto Beach.  Bit by bit, centuries of changing tides have carved a dramatic seascape here.

Happily, the only buildings in the area are well out sight – it’s just rock, water, and sky as far as you can see.

Deception Pass divides two northern Washington islands. Water from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, separating Washington from Canada, is sucked in to Skagit Bay through this narrow passage, creating whirlpools and eddies.

The bridge whose shadow you see was built in the 1930’s – it’s WAY up over the pass, but if you’re not subject to vertigo you can walk across it.

On the  bridge, you can look east towards Swinomish Indian lands,

watch the incoming tide as it ripples and flows,

and gaze straight down into paisley water swirling a tidal song of change.

Just to the north, on a rock in Rosario Bay, a gull perches precariously as an incoming tide approaches gently, leaving soft herringbone patterns on the Pacific blue waters.

In the intertidal zone the tide pools are slowly filling back up, wafting kelp in open circles.

Sea anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima), packed tightly into the tide pools, have closed up shop as the tide is out, but a few are starting to reach their tentacles out into the shallow, nutrient rich water.

At Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Olympic Peninsula the tide is halfway out, exposing a dizzying variety of colorful seaweed on the rocks.

Mussel shells tangle with seaweed on the rocks at my feet. It’s getting late, but gulls, cormorants and ducks will feast here til dusk. Tidelands along the Strait of Juan de Fuca  support a complex ecosystem of plants, invertebrates, numerous species of fish and shellfish, porpoises, whales, sea otters, birds…I’m sure there are other living things I left out. People, for example!

In Seattle the ocean is a hundred miles away but the waters are still subject to tidal changes.

Looking west towards that distant ocean, the Olympic Mountains draw a ragged edge on a golden sunset as a lone pleasure boat heads north on an ebb tide.

More Weekly Photo Challenges on the topic of Change – a BIG one! – can be found here.

Looking at Palms

All of the images above were taken a few years ago, at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida.



Here’s another take on palms, in front of the Wilmington, North Carolina courthouse:



And another view of palms, in the Palm House at the Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, New York City:



And my most recent take on palms…









Fronds of the Windmill Palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, photographed at Everett Arboretum in Everett, Washington.

MAPPING A CONCEPT: Weekly Photo Challenge: Concept

Jake’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic is “Concept”.  I like maps as maps and I like maps as concepts – above, a plant found on Florida’s West coast sits on a map of the region, the plant’s tangled arcs echoing the curves of road and shoreline.

My scribbled map of local wanderings in the “wilds” of Staten Island, a forgotten borough of New York City that, if you explore its fringes, can reveal old pot shards at the water’s edge and fields of yellow sweet clover.


Photoshopping a picture of tropical leaves from a greenhouse produces a map-like array of lines and shapes – countries, rivers, boundaries and highways.


The broken glass at an abandoned greenhouse in Yonkers, New York reminds me of a map too. The fragments could be islands separated by canals.


Twigs reach into space like roads reach across a territory; their buds are the exits where something new awaits.



The Boardman Bombing Range in Oregon: No Public Access – says the map.

The Columbia River passing through Longview, and on down into the uncharted parts of a well eaten magnolia leaf.

Today I was planning to post some photographic studies I did earlier this week of  “skeletonized” leaves (their essence pared down to vein structure) and a map of Washington. The leaf  veins are a kind of map themselves, and when they are superimposed over the routes of the map a confusion of lines and scale erupts: the vast spaces represented by the map mix it up with the tiny interstices of leaf veins.  I must have intuited that Jake was going to challenge us to photograph a concept this week. Maps exist as objects but they’re deeply imprinted as concepts in our minds, too. There’s something deeply satisfying about the way maps  reflect our internal sense of order and our external knowledge of the land.

Maps fire the imagination. I like to pour over them at home, make a plan, follow it for awhile, then jettison the map and veer off into the unknown.

And I love GPS, especially when I drive onto a ferry and the screen puts the little car in the middle of the vast blue water.  There’s nothing so pleasurable as turning off the GPS once you’ve reached new territory and exploring until you’re hungry, knowing you can turn it back on again and find your way “Home” anytime.

“A map is by nature interdisciplinary.”  P.C. Meuhrcke

MAP QUOTES:   http://www.stanfords.co.uk/blog/post/Maps-in-literature.aspx



Reflective Weekly Photo Challenge

Reflections are all around us, and can create a surreal sense of duality in photographs – says Jared Bramblett, who hosts this week’s photo challenge at The Daily Post. He’s used a mirror placed on a wooden walkway to wonderful effect – it looks as though the wood planks are reflected in a puddle of water.  I love that kind of playing with the way we see and I’ve been interested in reflections for years – they catch you off guard, often providing an amusing take on your surroundings. So here are a few photos of reflections I’ve taken:


The subject is ambiguous – it could be the man wearing sunglasses, the reflection of the flowering tree in his sunglasses, or the photographer.

Self portrait

The subject is more obvious here – sometimes leaving the screens up all winter provides a texture you can play with.



The Everglades in Florida is full of epiphytes – those cool looking plants that perch on dead branches and gather moisture from the air.



Muscular! That’s what I think this building in Manhattan is. The sky it reflects on this day – poetic.



The Experience Music Project in Seattle is an ode to Hendrix, and the main building is extraordinary. It’s all wild curves and intense colors – so much so that on a bright day (there are plenty in Seattle in the summertime) the building throws its reflections onto the sidewalks, creating patterns that explode almost as wildly as…you know, Jimi.


This sedate building on the grounds of Snug Harbor, a botanical garden in Staten Island, NY, allows afternoon sunlight to cast shadows and reflections simultaneously, creating a complex puzzle of inside and outside.


More complexity – flowers, their shadows, their reflections, a frame without a picture in it – except there is a picture in it – the reflections and shadows of the sky and flowers, which take on a stained glass look.


Taken on the fly with my phone camera, this is what I love to do as soon as weather permits – fling my foot out the car window and maybe take a picture into the side view mirror – there, I have a mirror photo in my reflection collection!


More reflections can be found along with Jared’s photo at:


Travel Theme: Foliage

Ailsa, at Where’smybackpack, has given bloggers a new challenge:  Travel Theme – Foliage. Anyone who knows me, knows I love all things botanical. I must have close to a thousand images of foliage of one kind or another, so I’m going to restrict my offerings to foliage seen while traveling – but you’ll see that restriction still permits quite a bit of latitude.

A yucca plant in Colt’s Neck, NJ, a township in rural Monmouth County.  Love those curls!

Sensitive fern on the Buffalo River in the Ozarks, in northern Arkansas. The Buffalo River “flows freely for 135 miles and is one of the few remaining un-dammed rivers in the lower 48 states.”  The National Park Service warns visitors not to rely on GPS in this remote area, but to use Arkansas road maps. Remember road maps? Flooding caused some of these leaves to be covered in mud; later, new leaves grew among the old.

On the edge of a parking lot in Fort Myers, Florida, tropical foliage is torn and caught on a bamboo stalk.

This old home on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Washington, is almost invisable under layers of moss, bushes, weeds and trees.

More rampant foliage takes over another overgrown roadside attraction – an old tobacco barn in rural Duplin County, North Carolina.

Foliage of a completely different sort – a Tillandsia – an “air plant” that grows by anchoring its roots in tree branches for support while its leaves absorb nutrients and water from the air.  When I placed it on a map of the area where I found it, its leaves seemed to echo the roadway lines.

Undersea foliage: kelp and a bull whip plant lie on a beach on Whidbey Island, Washington.

Western Hemlocks, their foliage drained of color in the gloom of the forest, tower over Lodge Lake Trail in the  Snoqualmie National Forest, in northern Washington state.

You can find more bloggers’ foliage photos at:


Solitary: Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s Photo Challenge, hosted by Cheri Lucas, is “Solitary”. This time of year feels anything but solitary to me, but  there are always moments when people are alone with their thoughts.

When you think about it, just about any kid in the world who has the chance will play with water. I wish there was no hunger and adequate water, especially for kids, because I know some children will never enjoy playing alone like this.

This man has been around and seen a lot, I suppose. On an overcast spring afternoon he enjoyed a cigar and a solitary moment in an alley downtown.  Seattle’s Space Needle brings everything into focus – or not, depending on your aesthetic inclinations.

I was in the right place at the right time on this November evening in lower Manhattan. The Statue of Liberty provides a focal point for this man’s thoughts as the sun sets over New Jersey.

A lone kayaker on Puget Sound, north of Seattle, drifts near a flock of brant. I have yet to see a brant alone, on the east  or west coast – they are decidedly gregarious, and they make the most appealing guttural murmurs while plying the shoreline together for bits of eelgrass and other marine plants.

The Great Blue Heron, however, almost always hunts alone.  But on this warm January afternoon on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the heron stuck close to a solitary fisherman, whose bucket of bait was too tempting to let out of sight.

Running up and over the railroad tracks – another seriously fit Seattlite taking fitness seriously. I’m serious. They’re everywhere, making me feel guilty or inspiring me, depending on my own turn of mind.

This is Larry, who lives alone in an old home in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Though he talked a blue streak the day we met him, he was clearly a man content spending most of his time alone. I think his inspiration comes from inside his own mind and from nature – those trees reflected in the window are about to completely obscure his home, and he told us he won’t cut a single branch, not ever.

A young man leans against the barred window of a water tower, high above Volunteer Park in Seattle. A perfect place for a little solitude.

More offerings from around the world on this weeks’ theme are at: