A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Monday, December 24, 2012


 It's Christmas Eve, the big day is near. And as I sit on this island, I have but one major fear.
 People are hustling and bustling and running around. With the sound of the traffic being the day's major sound.  
 So just sit for a minute and block it all out. You will enjoy the moment, of this I have no doubt.
 Imagine for a minute that you might be me, sitting here on a dock, looking out at the sea.
 The peace and the quiet are magical, it's true.
 So, have a day of peace, and Merry Christmas to you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Love a Parade!

Leader of the Parade
      It was the weekend for the " Parade of Lights" in Carrabelle. Carrabelle's a little town up the coast about 20 miles from the island. Every year they host a parade on the.water that brings thousands of people to the little town.
   There's usually fifteen to twenty boats, all decked out with lights and Christmas decorations. Folks on the boats and those on shore sing carols and wish each other a Merry Christmas. There's live music, and free hot dogs for everybody. Even the dogs that have come to join in the fun are treated to a wiener and some water. 
  All the boats line up, with a police escort, and cruise up one side of the harbor, and down the other. This year there were only about ten. But they were ten good ones.
Santa's Boat
    Besides the parade, Carrabelle boasts the smallest police station in the country. It's a phone booth.   No kidding. Next time I get over there, I'll take a picture of it.   
   After the last boat has paraded down the dock side of the harbor, the fireworks start going off. It's a beautiful sight.

   Unfortunately, not all my pictures turned out very well. It was a little tricky for me, not having a lot of experience with night photography. The flash isn't much help at a long distance, so I was constantly adjusting the settings in accordance to the lights on the boats.
                                                                                                       "The End"  

 So I missed getting a good shot of a few of the boats. A good example is the picture of the last boat in the parade. It was a canoe with two reindeer on it, but not many lights. A perfect end to the parade. Sorry I missed it!

Fireworks over the harbor 

    They have a contest for the best boat before the parade starts and the winner gets to lead the way. They also get an invitation to come back to the parade next year. I know I'll be there.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chistmas celebrated on "Island Time"

   Believe it or not, the Christmas season just got started on the island a couple weeks ago. Some might say "it's about time", but it's just part of being on "island time". Nothing is rushed and nothing happens before it should. So with that, it's right on time.

Keeping it simple

   If you want to start celebrating Christmas before Halloween, you can go north a little, up to Tallahassee. But, around here, the Christmas season doesn't get going until after Thanksgiving. And it starts with the "lighting of the lights"  on the island. They don't light one big tree, but all the palm trees that line the street when you come onto St. George.


   It used to be, while the kids where standing in line to see Santa, the so called "adults" would freshen up our eggnog and sing Christmas carols while being  pulled  around the island on a flatbed wagon. It was great fun. But we haven't done that in a couple years due to the fact we haven't had a wagon!   The decorations on the island are modest. Big red bows are popular. Combine the red bows with anything nautical you find around the house and you've decorated for Christmas. Even the lighthouse is decorated with just a wreathe in each window. 

Wreaths on the windows
   The people in The Plantation do the most decorating of anyone on the island. But even there, not many houses are lit up. One reason for that is there's not many people there.   The place to see lights, is across the bridge in Apalachicola. When you drive into town, the first thing you see is the Gibson Motel, blanketed with little white lights. And a few of the shops in town have wreathes and colored lights that give it that feeling of Christmas.

   Another place to get into the Christmas spirit is at the "Parade of Lights" in Carrabelle. Carrabelle's a little town up the coast, to the east, not far from here. It's a parade of boats all decked out for the holidays, floating down the river with music playing, and people yelling "Merry Christmas" from the decks. That's happening next week. (Be sure to check out the next post on the blog. There's going to be a lot of colorful pictures of the parade.)   There's going to be the traditional parade in Eastpoint, the "Christmas Celebration" in Sopchoppy, Christmas caroling at the church, and a few neighborhood parties to celebrate the season.

Christmas Flamingos

    The people here celebrate Christmas in a simple way. No malls, no Wal-Mart, and no black Friday. But lots of good cheer, peace and goodwill. It's nice to know there's still a place where Christmas is mainly in the heart, not in the pocketbook. Christmas the way it was meant to be.


Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 3, 2012

......where the heart is

The East End (taken from the lighthouse)
   When this blog was just a thought, the idea was to let people experience a life that was different from their own. To show you what it's like to live on the " forgotten coast". There have been kayak trips, the perils of storms and hurricanes, butterflies and birds, and harvesting oysters for a living. But you haven't heard much about the neighborhood I live in on St. George Island.

Sunlit houses on the Bay
    When you drive across the bridge, onto the island, you'll arrive just about in the middle. The restored lighthouse will be the first thing you see. ( I'll save the story of the lighthouse for later). You can turn left, toward the east end, where most of the rental units are, or you can turn right, to go to the residential end. They're completely different worlds, on the same island.
    The reason I decided to come to St. George Island fifteen years ago was because of the "dog friendly" policy. Dogs are welcome everywhere. Even in the restaurants.
   Since most of the rental houses are on the east end of the island, that's where I stayed. It was a different house every year, but they were   always close to the beach. With only a week to enjoy the island, every day was spent on the beach, playing with the dogs. After a few years of coming down and lounging on the beach, it was time to check out the rest of the island. What I discovered was completely different from what I had gotten used to. It was like being in a different place.

A house in "The Plantation"
   St. George island has the Gulf of Mexico on the south side and the Apalachicola Bay on the north, and it consists of different sections. The east end, where the rental houses are, also has the state park at the far end. The middle of the island is where you'll find the grocery, restaurants, beach shops,  different vendors selling seafood and produce, and the lighthouse, which is the focal point of the island. The west end is where most of the locals live. At the far west end is a gated community called "The Plantation", where you'll find houses belonging to the rich and famous. Hank Williams Jr. has had a place there for years along with Ashley Judd.
    The bay area on the west end is where I found my heart, and the island became more than a vacation place for me. The sand streets, mature trees, the beauty of the bay, and the people. There's an air of contentment that comes from knowing you don't have to pack up and leave any time soon.   No worries, no rush. Just take the days in stride, and enjoy life. This is the part of the island where I wanted to be.

Sand street on the west end
   When you have photographs, it's easy to describe what a place looks like, or tell of it's geographical location. But it's hard to explain how it feels.

Calm on the canal
   This is only one area on a very diverse island. A little piece of paradise that has something to offer everyone. But you have to experience it yourself to know what part of the island suits you and makes you feel like you never want to leave. But, when you do leave, more than likely, you'll come back again. One visit just isn't enough.

Where my heart is

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Florida Seafood Festival

   This was the year of the 49th annual Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola. It's the largest maritime festival in Florida and every year, tens of thousands of people come to Apalachicola, at the mouth of the Apalachicola river, to join in the fun. Apalachicola is about twelve miles northwest of St. George Island, on highway 98. 

     Some "local flair"
    There was too much to see in two days to get pictures of  everything. And I spent most of my time watching the people. But hopefully you'll get a good idea of what the festival's all about and see enough to know that a good time was had by all.

   Of course, there is a king and queen of the festival. King Retsyo, son of Neptune, is the guardian of the inland waters, the bays, and the estuaries. He also protects the natural resources, and the seafood industry. (Retsyo is oyster spelled backwards). And the queen will travel to other festivals to represent this area and the seafood industry. They're also the grand marshalls of the parade.

"Keeping it Green"
The oyster eating, and the oyster shucking contests, are the most popular events of the festival and bring in thousands of people. There's only a couple dozen contestants, so that leaves a lot of  people to cheer them on. The competitors aren't in it so much for the $100 prize money, as much as they are for the bragging rights. The only rule for the oyster eating contest is that the oysters have to stay down. A serious competitor can keep down around 250 to 300 oysters during the competition. There's a few more rules for the oyster shucking contest. If you mutilate the oyster, you're done. If you nick the oyster, or get a piece of shell in it, you lose points. The goal is to shuck 18 perfect oysters in 2 minutes.
Strolling around under the old oak tree
   When you look at the arts and crafts at the festival, it's easy to see that the people in this area are extremely talented. Pottery, jewelery, paintings, plants, and anything you can think of made with shells, fill the booths lined up under the huge oak trees.  
   And then there's the booth for the local taxidermist, also there to show off his talent. But, this taxidermist only stuffs crustaceans, and lobsters are his specialty. I doubt you'll see that at many festivals up north.   
  One of the very special events of the festival is the "blessing of the fleet". Several clergy, along with the king and queen of the festival, bless the line of vessels that parade down the Apalachicola River.  Shrimp, oyster, and recreational boats, come from across the country to be blessed and protected  from the harms of the seas, and given hope for a good bounty.
   So, add in the Red Fish Run (a race of about three miles around Apalachicola), the blue crab races, live country entertainment (Lee Brice), the rides on the midway, and of course, the best seafood you've ever had, and you've got everything you need for two great days on the river.
   I'm sure the fifty year celebration will be a festival not to be missed. It's hard to imagine how they can fit much more into Battery Park. But, it was hard to imagine someone eating 300 oysters at one time too. But they did it!   

"Kick back and enjoy the fun"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Trip on the Wakula River

"Enjoying the warmth of the sun"

    Kayaking on the Wakulla River was the best trip of the summer. It's not the most recent, but I hadn't started my blog when I went on this trip. My latest kayak trip down Depot Creek, was fun, but not much to write about. Except the three miles we paddled on the intercoastal before we got to the creek. Let's just say I was ready for some easy paddling!

Kayaking on the Wakulla River

   The entire Wakulla State Park is about 6,000 acres. This includes a spring, and the eleven mile long Wakulla River that was created from the outflow of the spring. The river then flows into the St. Marks river, and travels a short five miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
    The four acre pool, or spring is the largest and deepest spring of the five that are in Florida. It's the main attraction for the park, but you have to take one of the tour boats to enjoy it. There's no cost to enjoy the river. You can go canoeing, kayaking, swimming and sport fishing any time. And there are several places along the river to put your boat in, depending on how far you want to paddle.
    Both sides of the river are thick with tupelo trees and old cypress trees with spanish moss hanging from the branches. And the undergrowth of the forest is thick with hundreds of other native plants. It's the beauty of the forest and the uniqueness of the spring, that made it the perfect backdrop for Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies in 1938. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was also filmed here.
    There was a lot of wildlife in, and along the river. We saw turtles, snakes, and a couple alligators, all out sunning themselves on a beautiful afternoon. But the most exciting wildlife came at the end of the trip. A mother manatee and her calf were in the shallow water where we were going to take our boats out. The manatees take refuge here mostly between April and November before traveling down the coast to warmer water. Manatees need to be in water that's at least 68 degrees in order to survive. The water around the spring stays at a constant 70 degrees making it a favorable environment for the mammals. The loss of warm water areas, and colliding with boat propellers, are the two biggest threats to their existence..

The "playful" manatee

   The young manatee showed a lot of interest in me and my green kayak and swam under my boat several times while making a squealing sound.  It definitely acted like it wanted to play. And the water was so shallow in that area, the calf couldn't help but bump up against the bottom of the kayak when it swam under it. It was an unbelievable experience for me. I was lucky to get a shot when it came up to get a breath before going under my boat again.      While the calf was playing, the mother stayed close by. But her level of curiosity wasn't nearly what the youngster's was. You could see the white spots on her back that were scars from colliding with the propellers on a boat.

    I met another character on the river that day. A man taking a three legged dog for a ride in his canoe. The man was convinced the only reason the dog had befriended him was to get rides in the canoe. He said the dog didn't really belong to him, but no one else had claimed ownership either, so a friendship was born, and the dog seemed very happy with his new caretaker. The dog would sit on the riverbank everyday, by the canoe, waiting for his new found friend, hoping they'd be going for a ride. And the man said he was always more than happy to oblige. Sometimes, after the trip was over and they were back on shore, the dog would stay in the boat and take a nap. The man admitted, there were other things he could have been doing that day, but decided the chores could wait until another time.
    I love the way these people think. The days are enjoyed, not wasted. And their priorities definitely seem to be in order.
Best friends

      It was a wonderful day on the river. And it was a trip I look forward to taking again very soon.



Monday, October 22, 2012

Updates - Monarchs and Oysters

The "daisy" weed

    Well, I was mistaken when I said the monarch butterflies were on their way out. Their population has more than doubled!  I've found myself swerving on the bridge, trying to avoid them.
    At the end of September, the monarchs had been here about a week. Then, it seemed as if they had moved on. That wasn't the case. In the next two weeks, thousands more monarchs had taken over the island.
Lantana is also a popular source of nectar
   As beautiful as they are, people are starting to see them as just something else that they have to clean off the windshield and pick out of the grill of the car. The novelty has definitely worn off. And it's true, from a distance, they're not much to look at. But by stopping and taking a closer look, you see things that you wouldn't have noticed with a quick glance. Like this peculiar looking one. It's not exactly your typical looking monarch. 
An albino monarch?
    Now that the temperatures are cooling, I think they're probably ready to move on. Only time will tell. Personally, I think they've made a beautiful showing of themselves while they've been here and they can stay as long as they like.

   The situation with the oysters isn't nearly as pretty as the butterflies.
    I have a friend that works for the local EPA (environmental protection agency), and she has shed some light on the high mortality rate of the oysters. It's not a subject that's been discussed a lot publicly simply because mistakes have been made and at the present time, there is no real plan of action in place to remedy the situation.  
   There seem to be two reasons for the lack of oysters in the bay. The first being the over harvesting that took place when the bp oil spill occurred in 2010.

   As I said before, in an earlier post, (Trouble in the Bay), there was no way of knowing what kind of impact the oil spill would have on the oysters. So to play it safe, the bay was stripped of all viable oysters. The idea was to save the oysters before the oil got here. This panic proved to be unwarranted and disastrous. The oil never got close enough to harm the oysters. Just like there was no way of predicting how close the oil would get, there was no way to predict the droughts that would effect Atlanta, Georgia in the coming years. The droughts effected the fresh water supply that comes from the Apalachicola River to feed the oysters. The combination of these two factors, over harvesting, and not getting enough fresh water, created a situation that the oysters haven't been able to overcome.
The boats aren't this full these days
    Atlanta depends on Lake Lanier for it's water supply. The lake was created in the 1950's by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by building Buford Dam in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint river basin. In 1988, when the corps wanted to divert 20% of the water that was approved for hydropower, flood control and navigation, to Atlanta's drinking water supply, the Tri State Water War began.
    Alabama and Florida argued that it would be environmentally harmful to allocate so much water from the reservoir for Atlanta's drinking supply. The argument has proved to be valid. The oysters are not receiving enough fresh water from the river to survive. And using the water for Atlanta's daily drinking supply has never approved by Congress. 
    A U.S. district judge ordered that Georgia and the corps resolve this issue by July 12th of this year. And if an agreement could not be reached between the three states by then, Atlanta's water withdrawals would revert back to what they were receiving in the 1970's. There are 3 million people now that depend on Lake Lanier for their water. They were facing an impending disaster. But, in June, 2011  the 11th Circuit District Court overturned the ruling.  So now Florida and Alabama are hoping the supreme court will hear their appeal.
   Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama issued a strong statement saying "For too long, the corps ignored the law and the needs of those downstream to protect unrestricted, unauthorized, and unplanned growth in Atlanta. Alabama and Florida can't be expected to bear the brunt of Georgia's poor lack of planning for Atlanta's expanding drinking water use". Atlanta has been illegally siphoning water from the reservoir for decades and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible.
  Here's a little irony to the story. Atlanta refused to fund the dam when the corps built it stating that at that time, they didn't foresee a need for the water the lake provided. Therefore the lake was federally funded. And now Atlanta has grown to be the largest city in the U.S. that is not near a major body of water.
One to rake, one to tong, one to cull
    So now, in order to try to protect  the oyster beds, many parts of Apalachicola Bay are closed for harvesting. Out of desperation, men have resorted to poaching in illegal areas at night causing  many citations to be issued. Since the amount of money that is made depends on the amount of bags that are filled, and the money is split between the men on the boat, most boats now only have one man per boat instead of three.   
   One solution that's been discussed is closing the cut between the main island and Cape St. George to cut down on the salt water coming into the bay from the gulf. This would help to keep the balance that is necessary for the oysters to grow. This would be a huge project so I'm sure they're exploring all the options.
    We can only hope that this issue will be resolved soon. If history is any indication, this is not likely. It appears we're in for a long battle.
* The Army Corp visited the bay today (10/22) to inspect first hand the damage that's been done by restricting  the fresh water supply. In 30 minutes time, they only harvested a hand full of live oysters.

Friday, October 12, 2012

'Big Bird"

    There's no doubt, the birds here aren't like the birds in Kentucky. "We're not in Kansas anymore Toto". The only bird that comes to the feeder, and reminds me of Kentucky, is the cardinal.
   I've come across a lot of different birds on the island and kayaking around the area. To write about all of them in the same post would be impossible. And I wouldn't be able to put up as many of my photographs! So when a certain bird gets my attention, I'll write about it. The brown pelican will certainly get your attention. 
"Old Blue Eyes"
    Brown pelicans are very cool birds. They're not all blue eyed like this one, and it doesn't have anything to do with gender. The males and females all look alike. But some of them have blue eyes and some of them have brown eyes. 
   Compared to what I'm used to up north, these are big birds. Turkey buzzards are the constant big bird in Kentucky! And they don't float on the water. Yet this is the smallest pelican of 8 species in North America. But these "small pelicans" can have a wingspan of up to eight feet.
     I can't imagine Florida without pelicans, but at one time, the brown pelican was an endangered species. The drastic decline was the result of using DDT, an agricultural pesticide. And until 1972, when DDT was banned in the United States, the brown pelican was in danger of becoming extinct.  DDT was used in the late 1800's to control malaria and typhus among civilians and the troops of WWII. After the war, it was made available as an agricultural pesticide.  It wasn't until the 1960's that the harm it did to the ecological wildlife was discovered. Fishermen also saw the brown pelican as a threat to the fishing industry and would shoot them for their feathers, and to protect their livelihood. But the prey brown pelicans go after is, for the most part, not commercially fished. Although, I've never seen them turn down the occasional mullet or sheephead in the bay.
    Today, the brown pelican is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, even though they don't migrate. They're here all year around. I remember a few years ago when the winter months were extremely cold. St. George Island is far enough north that the temperatures can drop pretty low. But that year, the pipes were freezing along with the fruit trees. The brown pelicans really struggled and several of them died.
    But, now the population in the United States exceeds historical levels, and the main threats are overhead wires and abandoned fishing line.
     These birds will plunge from 75ft. into the water to scoop up their meals, sometimes becoming completely submerged. The brown pelican is the only species that fishes this way. The others fish off the top of the water. Naturally, in order to make this dive, it's believed they have the strongest feather of any other water bird.

"Coming in for a landing"

     They'll glide just above the water looking for a school of fish, make their assent, then come crashing down on their victim. Sometimes with success, sometimes not. They can hold up to three gallons in their pouch at one time.(their stomachs only hold one!) When they scoop up their catch, they'll drain the water from the sides of their pouches and  then swallow the fish.    
     Brown pelicans will nest in colonies and fly in groups. They look a lot like geese when they take up flying in the V formation. 
     Their nests here, on the island, are mainly on the ground. Because of their size, they're threatened by very few predators. They'll lay 2 or 3 eggs in March or April and a month later you'll have naked little brown pelicans. The unusual thing is that they don't use their whole body to cover the eggs. They just use their  big webbed feet to keep the eggs warm.
    And there's no generation gap with these birds. You'll see the adults hanging out with the younger ones around the oyster houses, waiting for scraps. Or just sitting on the tops of posts, enjoying the day. Rain or shine, they're just content to sit and do nothing. They don't get excited about much. Until it's time to eat! The young birds don't have the yellow on the top of their head so it's easy to tell which ones are the older ones
    This is not a bird you'll see inland or on fresh water lakes, but if you're out fishing with no land in sight, and you see a pelican, the shore is not more than twenty miles away. 

    I like the brown pelican.They're a laid back bird that pretty much gets along with everybody. They're as graceful in the air as they are clumsy on land. And I like the fact that they don't migrate anywhere. It's nice having them here all year round.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

At the end of the day........

   One of the most beautiful things on the island is the sunsets. It doesn't matter how long you live here, you'll never say, "It's just another sunset". Each one has a unique quality that will take your breath away. It's a photographer's dream.

A "red moon"  sunset
      This particular sunset was a magnificent sight. As much as I like this picture, it falls short of doing the real thing justice. This "red moon" sunset was taken in January 2008. Unlike the "blue moon", this moon was truly a blood red color when it first got above the horizon. But, the sun sets so fast that in order to get a shot of both the sun and the moon I had to stay in the same location. The houses prevented me from catching the moon when it was just above the horizon.

The "red moon"
      A "red moon" will usually occur when it's time for the "hunter's moon". So if you want to check it out this year, the "hunter's moon" will occur on October 27th. But there's no guarantee there will be a "red moon" at that time. But it does always occur during a full moon.
    I've been told, when you watch the sun set over the water, on a clear night, the second the entire sun goes below the horizon, you can see a flash of blue light. You have to be looking at the exact moment the sun disappears and it happens in an instant. I've tried it but I'm not seeing any flash of light. It may be that my timing is off. If it does occur, the problem with seeing it is you have to be looking at just the right moment when the last bit of sun is gone. And I really don't want to stare at the sun, even for a few seconds.

A "sunset cruise"
    The sunsets over the beach are generally red. This is because of the high concentration of salt particles suspended in the air over the ocean..Without getting too technical, the density of atmospheric particles determines the type of sunset you may see. The less particles, the less color.
    In the mountains where the incoming sunlight is encountering fewer assorted particles, the sunsets are generally white. I didn't know this when I took this picture over the bay. I just thought it was an unusual sunset. (I don't alter any of my photographs. What I see is what you see).  

    During the winter months the sun will  position itself ever closer to the gulf side of the island. So the beach dwellers can walk out their back doors and enjoy the beauty of the sunsets from their seat on the  beach. 
 But during the summer months, I have the best place on all of St. George to enjoy the sunsets. I can sit on my back deck and watch it set over different parts on the bay. And even when I can't see the sun going below the horizon, the colors it leaves behind are incredible. The above picture of the bay was taken just last night.  


  When the "blue moon" occurred, it rose on the gulf side of the island. So if you chose to see the moon rise, you were going to miss the sunset on the bay side, which was also a beautiful sight  that night. Just like with the "red moon"  most of the time, you're going to miss one or the other due to the houses in the middle of the island.
   But, for a short time during the winter, you can watch the sun rise and set and never leave your place on the beach. There's not many places you can do that.
    I probably have more pictures of sunsets than anything else. Some of them are easier to capture in a photograph than others. But there are no pictures that can give you the sensation that seeing it in person can. The sun setting over the water gives you a sense of peace like nothing else. 
    So if you decide to plan a trip to St George Island, or maybe, by chance, fate just happens to bring you here, make sure to get a good seat for the sunsets. You won't want to miss them!

   It's a wonderful way to end the day.