Saturday, March 28, 2009

Not very many bicycling venues contain a message warning of free ranging bisons and alligators but the one pictured above near Gainesville, FL clearly did. Below that, my biking companions Ted Kmet, (left) Lynn Rush, George Kmet and Becky Minnick enjoy a peek at the vastness of Payne’s Prairie which does, indeed, contain a small heard of bisons and absolutely countless alligators.


The prairie basin and surrounding uplands have been a center of human activity dating to 12,000 years ago. It was the site of the largest cattle ranch in Spanish Florida in the 1600s. Seminole Indians were the native inhabitants in the 1700s.

In 1871 rains flooded the basin and for a few years Alachua Lake there supported the use of steam powered boats for human and merchandise transportation. In 1891 Alachua sink, the main drain for the basin, became unclogged and by 1892 the marsh character of the basin had returned.

Today, Payne’s Prairie, Florida’s first state preserve, is designated as a national, natural landmark. It hosts more than 270 species of birds. Small herds of American Bisons were reintroduced in the 1970s in an effort to restore the area to pre-European settler conditions.

And, in the relatively small area we were able to explore, the visible alligators were truly countless.

They were mostly docile appearing in the warm sub-tropical sun but they were wild beasts in their native habitat unfettered by any man-made barrier.

Visitors freely roamed within fathoms of these creatures that were mostly slumbering on the watercourse banks or partially submerged in vast pads of aquatic weeds.

They were everywhere, and, on closer examination, everywhere more.

I was concentrating on doing an alligator portrait with my most powerful lens when the three behemoths of my attention exploded from their slumber in a mini-maelstrom of thundering water—and disappeared.

They disappeared before I was able to engage my aging bones in a successful retreat.

I was very grateful it was some other critter that had attracted their violent attention.

Local resident and our host for the week’s visit, Ted Kmet, told of once walking one of the trails with his way suddenly blocked by a large gator. He wisely reversed course to give the creature its space—and encountered another one slowly crossing the trail behind him. Patience rewarded him with safety.

The prairie is a place of marvelous natural beauty but visitors are well advised to beware.

Alligators have 80 teeth. More than a million of them were recorded in a 2006 Florida census. Males can exceed 15 feet in length and weigh 800 pounds or more. They are capable of short sprints in excess of 30 mph.

Pay attention!

I usually struggle to achieve 30 mph on my bicycle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


A tortoise is a land turtle.

We found this creature and lots of his kinfolk along the Withlacooche State Trail, at 46 miles, the longest paved multi-use trail in Florida. On our recent visit we rode about 16 miles south and back from Inverness in Citrus County, some 60 miles or so north of Tampa.

The turtle’s burrows were a common sight all along our ride; often accompanied by one of their inhabitants browsing on yummy vegetation nearby.

I managed to ambush this one with a silent approach on my bike then flopped to ground level, forcing it to make a slight detour around me to his nearby burrow.

It rewarded me with an expression of only mild annoyance as it hustled on at turtle velocity toward the comfort of its digs.

They are the only tortoise native to the US and the only one found in Florida.

Their burrows are up to 30 feet long with a den at the end. The burrows are used by more than 300 other critters that enjoy them for protection from bad weather, predators and fire.

These tortoises mate during April and May and the female will lay her eggs in a sand mound where they are often destroyed by predators. She can go as much as 10 years between successful breeding seasons.


Saturday we take a peek at Payne’s Prarie, a 21,000 acre natural wonder just south of Gainesville, FL where this alligator, festooned with a bonnet of aquatic weeds, prowls for its lunch.

Please stop by!

Monday, March 23, 2009


It looked like God spilled blue ink on the celestial dome that day as this alertly-perched Osprey went about the business of making little Osprey's. I like to think the ticket to much of nature's visual bounty usually only requires the expense of a little effort.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


...where “the folks up north will see me no more when I get to
that Suwannee shore.”

It is those lines from the George Gershwin version of Stephen Foster’s song that rattled around my head as we launched our canoes that day.

This famous 266 mile long river drains the Okefenokee Swamp of southern Georgia and dumps its blackwater meanderings into the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s Dixie County just north of Cedar Key.

In the top photo my boat partner Lynn Rush helped skillfully propel our canoe downstream while we both pondered the cross-stream, course selection of our expedition leaders—with a silent chuckle, of course.

Later we observed the large turtle in the second photo, basking on a mid-river log as we boated our oars and slid stealthily toward him; ranging to within mere feet before it splashed a hasty retreat into the slowly flowing water.

In the next photo we landed our canoes on one of the river’s countless white sand beaches and enjoyed a bit of lunch; never once seeing another human while we relished our six mile float downstream.

In the bottom photo a high-water mark is clearly visible on yet another, white sandy shore, showing the river’s normal water depth.

The river widens slowly as it wanders seaward, ultimately piercing the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.

Now, having experienced just hours adrift in this pristine and fabled river course it is easy to understand the song’s lyrics which celebrate the thought “...the folks up north will see me no more....”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Outdoor adventure companions George and Ted Kmet (pictured) plus Lynn Rush and I prepare to launch a six mile glide down the Suwannee River from this north Florida canoe outfitter’s cabin. Please stop by Saturday and glide along with us as we explore this river made famous by Stephen Foster and his song “Old Folks at Home,” the state song of Florida.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This from recent headlines:

Updated: 03/17/09 07:34 AM

Obama mulls making vets foot bill for service injuries


'WASHINGTON—The Obama administration is considering making veterans use private insurance to pay for treatment of combat and service-related injuries.

The plan would be an about-face on what veterans believe is a long-standing pledge to pay for health care costs that result from their military service....'

Yup, that's your newly elected commander in chief proposing to send our service men and women off to war then force them to use private insurance to cover the cost of injuries they may suffer.

What a guy!

While his squeeze is out hustling votes from GI families by wringing her hands over service families having to live on food stamps while the husband is off fighting our wars for a few hundred bucks a month of military pay, the chief squeezer wants to destroy the honorable tradition of a country taking care of the men and women it asks to defend it.


Monday, March 16, 2009


Sometimes a photograph deserves a peek purely on the strength of its composition. I make this offering in that spirit. This is part of a huge complex of boardwalks on Cedar Key, FL. It has been sharply cropped and tattooed by crisp shadows from the sub-tropical sun.

The water visible is estuary to the Gulf of Mexico on Florida's northwest shore near a maritime village of the same name.

This humble abode in that village stomped on my consciousness while I peered longingly from a nearby bridge while perched on my bicycle. Visions of me enjoying this as a permanent residence while sitting on the dock with a fishing pole ricocheted through my sun-drenched dream.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Armed with my coffee and camera I made an interesting discovery while exploring our Florida host, Ted Kmet’s, back yard that morning.

Spanish Moss is not attached to the tree upon which it grows.

It is neither parasitic nor symbiotic. It simply hangs there in its near gossamer splendor and plucks its moisture and nutrients from the air.

I discovered this while examining a particularly attractive specimen that was virtually glowing at eye level; back lit by the early morning sun. I carefully unwound its tentacle-like growth from the tree branch and noted it simply lives there in a gentle embrace.

Scientists call it an epiphyte, or, air breathing plant.

It uses its long, thin, scaly stems to wrap around the host tree and dangles from the branches. The leaves are covered with cup-like, permeable scales that “catch” its food from the air and from pockets on the surface of the host.

It appears like a pendulous, silver geometry of spider webs in the host trees; a slow-motion choreograph as it swirls on the morning’s soft wind.

The moss plants reproduce by their tiny seeds being dispersed by the wind and birds. Small fragments of the plant also easily reproduce themselves.

It was harvested for years and used as a stuffing material in automobile seats, furniture and mattresses. Today, it is a popular mulch and used widely in the floral industry. It is sometimes draped along fences to provide privacy screening.

In the large photo above a huge, live oak tree hosts a silent convention of the moss plants on Ted’s neighborhood street while the inset photo shares the plant’s exquisite detail in a close-up view.

I remember first encountering this visual delicacy when visiting St. Augustine those many years ago.

To this day, sight of the moss bathes my consciousness with warm shivers of tropical dreams.
Still curious? See

Thursday, March 12, 2009


During our recent vacation from the blog we spent a week bicycling, hiking and canoeing in the vicinity of Gainesville, FL as guests of summer cycling companion Ted Kmet. Local bicycling friends Lynn Rush and George Kmet, Ted's brother, joined me on this expedition.

Saturday we will launch a series of stories on that delightful visit beginning with a peek at Spanish Moss which grows in profusion in the Southern US--mostly from Florida to Texas--and, second only to palm trees, causes visions of warm tropical beaches to dance through my consciousness during our long winters.

The above photo was done in Ted's back yard while enjoying the morning's first coffee.

We'll also take a peek at the Suwannee River, Gopher turtles, 'Gators and some spiffy miscellany.

Hope to see 'ya Saturday!