Saturday, April 12, 2014

and I learned hearing aids won't float

I was third in a flotilla of 3 kayaks rounding a sharp left turn in the river when I noticed this very, very near-by resident sunning on the bank of the south branch of the St. Lucie in southern Florida.

My heart skipped a couple of beats as I gently broke eye-contact and continued to paddle quietly down stream hoping I wouldn't hear the splish-splash of him sliding into the river close behind me.

I could envision me accelerating my little boat to water-skiing speed knowing full well who was likely to win that contest.

I was rewarded with silence in my feared pursuit then, at a safe distance, did a slow turn around and positioned myself for the above photo substantially further away from where this episode began moments before.

I was thankful for both a powerful lens on my DSLR camera and a critter that merely yawned at my slender anatomy.

Turns out we saw lots more of his/her pals on our 8 mile geocaching journey including several loitering in sight of cautious residents living along the short, inhabited stretch of our route.

One fellow leaning on the railing of his dock told us he had to throw stones at the gators to discourage their approach to this human occupied territory.

It was a toss-up as to whether we saw more gators or turtles as our little boats slid silently through their
territory.  And the birds; my oh my!  Greg's knowledge of birds is encyclopedic so there was no speculation on our part when we inquired about this one or that; "There's a yellow crowned night heron," he would share as easily as I might note a Cardinal.

Once clear of a short stretch of human habitation the highway sounds diminished and then there was only the blissful melody of things natural.

The river narrowed and meandered and the foliage canopy would open then close as things tend to do.  In eight miles we saw one other group of 3 kayakers and a hiker here or there.

My 1,999th geocache was found on an island where we had to float past the cache location until we found a place to beach our boats.  Then we had about 500 feet of bushwhacking to penetrate the intervening flora.  Long pants were a wise choice for that challenging interlude.

That's Greg's view of Betty and I tussling through the vines and barbs of
countless local wild plant varieties that seemed to prefer we find our amusements elsewhere.

With that cache dutifully logged we beat our way back, relaunched our boats and went looking for the milestone of my 2,000th geocache find, this before the end of my second year in this marvelous hobby.

We found it a bit further upstream; a shiny, little waterproof tube hanging on a tree leaning into the edge of the river and reachable right from my boat's seat.  It's visible under my left paddle in the photo below.  Shortly after logging that cache I was fiddling in my water-tight container for the cell phone and its handy-dandy camera to record this memorable event--and promptly caused one of my hearing aids to sail over the side and plop into the river.

When I told Greg I could see my appliance in the shallow water he eased his boat alongside and deftly hoisted that little critter above the surface where I clutched it into a plastic baggie Betty provided and secured it carefully--doubting it ever would function again.

Our delightful outing consumed the better part of the day and did manage to cover the 8 miles mentioned above, the last couple of which reminded me there is a good reason most folks my age seek less strenuous activity.

Nah!  While the upper body pain feels like the onset of rigor mortise I am confident it will pass long before the next temptation for such an adventure arises.

Amazingly too, the hearing aid, after spending a night incubating in a little container designed to eliminate moisture, returned to life and continues to function.  Amazing!

*            *            *

Greg is Greg Cornett who winters in Vero Beach with his delightful wife Leslie.  They are from the Columbus, OH area.  Betty is Betty Maus from a small town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate NY. She also winters in Vero B.  Leslie was out of town tending to family business while I enjoyed this outing in her kayak.  Thanks Leslie!

Betty fills in for my lady Sue who likes neither water sports nor the creepy-crawly-critters (her definition) who often live in such environments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Saturday, April 5, 2014

On yet another otherwise delightful day of geocaching

We noticed this huge wall of smoke to the east as we approached the Middleton Fish Camp on Blue Cyprus Lake near Vero Beach, FL and were relieved when the camp owners verified it was indeed "controlled".  "Our home is right over there," she smiled reassuringly.

With the winds arriving from a dangerous direction and "Florida Snow"* showering the area this is no place to be without such reassurance.

*(Dark and gray ash from such fires blowing on the wind.)

It was a large fire indeed, but quite a distance away with the huge lake between us and the brushy inferno.

Caching partner Greg Cornett and I quickly scored a cache located in the fish camp, took a look at another and decided kayaks might be the best way to approach that one, then headed south to work on a string of hides bordering the long access road to the camp from SR 60.

This hide was called "Swamp Trail" and we hoofed it from the camp's parking area a half-mile or so down the road then along a diked trail through the palmetto under canopy.  Greg, being also an
accomplished birder, kept a close eye and often his binoculars, on avian critters flitting through the canopy.

Sometimes the birds were difficult to find visually but Greg could identify an amazing number of them by their call.  This cache also became our day's first of four "First to Finds"--a special treat for geocachers who win that oftentimes race to make the first find after a cache is published.

After making this grab we made our way back to the car and headed south along the access road, nabbing seven more caches and the remaining 3 FTFs, sliding out from under the ominous smoke and quietly celebrating a fine start to our cachin/birding outing.

Hope you can tune in again next week when Greg, Betty Maus and I load up the kayaks and head to the southeast branch of the St. Lucie River for a tranquil glide on that pristine waterway--and some more geocaching, of course.


Saturday, March 29, 2014


The sun sprinkled quicksilver on the proud little wavelets that morning as the three of us launched our kayaks and headed across the Intercoastal Waterway from the DJ Wilcox Preserve south of Vero Beach.  Greg, Betty and I were headed toward a geocache hidden on Spoil Island #3.

In fact, there are lots of Spoil Islands up and down this navigable waterway.  They are man-made with dredged "spoil" usually in the form of sand and piled away from the channel ultimately forming islands when they sprout native vegetation like mangroves and sea grapes which hold the sand in place.

They are anywhere from an acre or so to five acres or even more and mature into marvelous habitat for critters, including the human variety, the latter using them for a multitude of recreational purposes like fishing, picnicking, and, of course, geocaching.

The arm numbing effort to propel these delightful little craft is often rewarded with the exuberant arrival of dolphins sliding by, sometimes seeming to smile their approval at our quiet means of locomotion.  Manatees too, although I didn't see any this day; perhaps due to the power boats whizzing their way to and fro.

Betty and I were treated to a brief visit from a very young ray which reflected its geometric shape as our boats closely flanked its gentle passage.
These waters are brackish (a mixture of fresh and salt water).  The fresh water arrives via a sprawling network of drainage canals and the salt water arrives with the inflow of tides through the Sebastian Inlet to the north and the Fort Pierce Inlet to the south.

Naturally these inlets are traffic lanes for sea creatures too, like sharks.  Every time I see a dolphin's fin breaking the water I'm hoping it isn't an aggressive shark with knowledge of the flimsy marine architecture of my little craft, separating me from his lunch.

Alligators too.  Greg saw one this day, "...easily a 10 footer" he smiled as I shivered in the sub-tropical heat.  His sighting was in the marsh-like mangrove channels near our launch place.  These guys, also way above me in the food chain, prefer fresh water so he likely was just prowling along the edge of his preferred habitat.

Greg, a birder of considerable accomplishment, always boated his paddle and smoothed his binoculars into a view of the avian-busy sandbars.  Greg is from Sunbury, OH and our lady companion Betty is from Tupper Lake, NY up in the Adirondack Mountains where her friends are still using snow-shoes for their geocaching.

We wound up paddling about 5 miles that day and I headed home in time to change into my dancing costume then a robust evening of square dancing in Port Salerno.

Sue remains indisposed with crutches so she spectated while I danced with more gusto than was available until I "hit the wall" near the end of the evening and headed for the sidelines before my body headed for the floor and took me with it.
Turns out the recovery was quick and we headed home for a short evening's nap before it was time to rise and shine for a trip to Port St. Lucie the following morning and a baseball, Spring Training game between the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves.

Also turns out it was a humdinger.  The lead changed hands multiple times until the Mets came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by two runs.  They managed to get two runners aboard but also suffered two outs as the door began to slam on their hopes.

Then, yes!  The next Mets batter hit a home run so hard it was still climbing when it crossed the left field fence and the home team celebrated a walk-off, story-book ending.

The high-light of my adventuresome pair of days actually occurred in the doldrums surrounding the 7th inning stretch.  A towering foul ball sailed above our first base-line seats and landed with a ballistic snap on a guy a couple of seats to my right, ricocheted across the neighbor lady's back and came to rest between my right hip and the seat arm.

I managed to win the hand-battle for possession and pondered the ball's meaning to the little boy I had just become with his first-ever ball park souvenir.
Then, I noticed that little girl, likely preschool, who had been watching the foul ball's antics and handed it to the fellow in front of me, asking him to pass it along to her.

Her mom saw what was happening and beamed her appreciation my way while she pointed me out to her gleeful daughter who treated me to a shy little smile.

Life is good.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Replicas of two of Christopher Columbus' three famous ships are bringing history alive on their current good-will tour of the eastern US.  A ship's officer is pictured above on the gangway of the Nina discussing the ship's history with Sue (holding crutches) and NY friend Dee Weeks.

The two vessels were spending several days in the port of Stuart, FL and will be working their way north via
the intercoastal waterway to Maine then the Great Lakes later this summer.  The Pinta is in the background with its furled sails visible.

I stood on the dock and pondered the fact the original Pinta and Nina along with the Santa Maria carried Columbus and his crew across the Atlantic on their voyage which discovered what we now know as the Americas in 1492.

The Nina was 65 feet long.  A great blue whale can reach a length of 100 feet and weigh twice the Nina's displacement of 80 tons.  She had a crew of 24 men betting their lives on an ocean voyage with a vessel just over 1/2 the size of the whale and doing it in a period of time when some folks still believed the world was flat.

Columbus' thee ships originally were common trading vessels of the time.  The Pinta returned home from this voyage of discovery and disappeared from history.  The Nina completed the round trip and returned Columbus home safely then made the second voyage to Hispaniola then Columbus selected her for his flagship.  She ultimately brought Columbus and 120 passengers back to Spain in 1496.

The Nina logged 25,000 miles under Columbus' command.

There is no replica of the Santa Maria because she never made it back to Europe.  And, Columbus was known not to like her because she was "very slow and clumsy".

These two replicas went under construction in 1988 when American engineer and maritime historian John Sarsfield began work on what was to become the first truly, historically correct replica of a 15th century Caravel.

Sarsfield had discovered a group of master builders in Valenca, Brazil who were still using design and construction techniques dating to the 15th century.  Only axes, adzes, hand saws and chisels along with naturally-shaped timbers from local forests were used on Sarsfield's Nina.

The Pinta was built 16 years later and the two ships have no home port.  They are moving 11 months out of the year.  The original Pinta had a crew of 26.  Today they are crewed by 9 on the Pinta and 7 on the Nina.

A ships officer told me they only travel under sail when they enjoy "a prolonged tailwind on a large body of water".  Meaning, of course, they too are rather clumsy.

Both have auxiliary power; the Nina with a single, 230 HP diesel engine and the Pinta with a pair of 130 HP engines.  The ships are black because they covered in pine tar which is naturally water resistant.

The crews had no real quarters on these vessels, sleeping randomly on the open decks and enjoying the cover of this small aft compartment only in inclement weather.  Imagine that for the historical voyage that took a little over 7 months.  Today this compartment is used to display souvenirs. 

Even though they travel mainly by engine power, all lines on the vessels are exercised regularly to insure their integrity for use when possible--and laboriously building marine skills of the deck hands

Dick Weeks photographs the aft end (stern) of the Nina.  The yacht over his right shoulder in the distance was about the same length of the Nina but with substantially more comfortable accommodations.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

by Seward Johnson

Life-sized, cast bronze figures engaged in a variety of daily activities are currently featured at the McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, FL where my lady Sue (left) and visiting friends from Mansfield, OH, Mike and Nancy Truex enjoy this scene titled Eye of the Beholder (1997).

For this presentation Johnson was inspired by Edouard Manet's "Chez le Pere Lathuile"1879 painting of a French street scene.

For those of us less culturally enriched with such obscure facts, the display was memorable nontheless.

We found ourselves marveling at the fact many of the features of the figures were molded in the artistic process, not added to the castings as real apparel then blended in to the creation.

Shoes, for example, looked so real it appeared they had been slipped onto the feet of the castings, when, in fact, they were somehow fashioned into the mold then painted with stunning realism.

Likewise with the incredible detail of texture in some clothing or other accessories.  It had to be draped on the finished product then coated with some sort of invisible, hardened fluid we wanted to believe.


It all was done as part of the creative process.

We couldn't tell that by examination.  Often we found ourselves gently touching the lady's straw hat, for example, and being convinced it had been manufactured then placed on the casting.  Nope again.

A careful reading of the event brochure made perfectly clear everything visible was truly, and only, part of the sculpting and casting process.


Saturday, March 8, 2014


The barrier islands along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline near Vero Beach, FL are largely the result of the growth of mangrove plants--and other marine vegatation--whose, in the case of the mangroves, gangly, above and below water root systems trap sand from the ocean waves, pile it up and retain it--not unlike a snow fence creating huge drifts from a blowing storm.

Here, the Intercoastal Waterway winds its way north and south in the protected lee of those out-islands creating safe passage for mostly pleasure boats in a waterway that extends virtually the entire length of the east coast from Florida to Maine.

Around here they call that waterway the Indian River Lagoon whose mainland shoreline is festooned with yet even more mangrove growth, often creating a labyrinth of canals like the one my geocaching partner Greg Cornett is navigating above.

In several cases we had to rest our paddles, duck our heads and propel our small craft by hand dragging ourselves through the caverns of overgrowth.

Navigating this uncharted, aquatic wilderness is not for the feint of heart.  Greg was my experienced guide but even he was backed-up with the tracking feature of our GPS receivers which record an electronic map of the route we used to travel into this featureless maze so, if necessary, we could use that recorded track to find our way out.

This tracking back-up was itself backed-up by the satellite viewing capability of our smartphones.  This is not the kind of environment where a sensible person would choose to spend the night in a kayak, lost!

Now, add the additional challenge of finding 8 geocaches; all small, say 1 x 2 inch, camoflaged containers containing only a log we needed to sign as evidence of our success.  Greg had found most of them on a couple of earlier outings and increasingly nudged my responsibility for the day's navigational challenges.

We wound up scoring 7 finds of the 8 caches we sought.

On top of that add the fact this was my second ever experience piloting one of these delightful little boats and you have the ingredients for a truly memorable, life's experience.

This is the west shore of the Intercoastal Waterway where we stopped briefly so I could refresh my sunscreen and Greg noticed this pair of mating Horseshoe Crabs (right).
We are facing south in this view with Vero Beach's Miller Barber Bridge in the background.

We also enjoyed seeing some dolphins cavorting in the waterway where manatees also enjoy the aquatic habitat.

Our return trip involved paddling to the left side of the visible bridge, turning east there and paddling yet another channel back to our launch ramp--where I confessed the onset of rigor mortis while attempting to quash the flame in my upper body muscles.

Greg's chuckle was not very sympathetic.