Monday, December 31, 2007

The Story of the Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Location: Sumter Oaks Park, Bushnell, Fl

On my last day in this park, the Barred Owl I have been searching for showed up! And I heard his story from some folks who were staying here last year:

Once upon a time, there were two Owls who lived in the great Oak Trees that ring Sumter Oaks Campground. Mama and Papa Owl were very much in love, and soon their nest was filled with cooing baby owlets! Mama Owl went hunting one morning, and probably saw a tasty Mr. Mouse scurrying along the roadside. She fixed her gaze on Mr. Mouse, and began her Dive of Death. Oh, no! Mr. Automobile came around the bend, just as Mama Owl reached the road. Splat! Mama Owl died there on the asphalt. The Humans in the campground found her, and they felt sadness for her and for the motherless baby owlets. "What would become of them?" they wondered. But Mother Nature understands how to care for Her offspring, and gave Papa Owl the wisdom and knowledge to care for his baby chicks. And this he did, and when they were old enough, the baby owlets flew from the nest and began their Life on the Wing. Who knows? Maybe this owl was one of those chicks. Or just maybe it was Papa Owl himself! Probably, though, it's just some owl that wandered into the campground and doesn't really give a hoot about any of this.

Second Seminole War Begins - A Reenactment

Location: Bushnell, Florida

On December 28th, 1835, Seminole Indians fought U.S. soldiers under the command of Major Francis Dade, on a field which would eventually become part of Bushnell, Florida. The battle, the first of the Second Seminole War, is reenacted each year on the weekend after Christmas at the Dade Battlefield Historic Park.

Click for Larger Image of the Battle ReenactmentThere were three Seminole Wars, (First: 1817 to 1818; Second: 1835 to 1842; Third: 1855 to 1858) but the Second is the one that has gone down in
history as the longest lasting war in American history. The conflict between the U.S. government and the Seminoles began during the Revolutionary War when the Seminoles were recruited by the British to fight against Georgian settlements. Long story short, a treaty in the First Seminole War required all Seminoles to relocate, by 1835, to what is now Oklahoma. While many did, some understandably resisted being forced from their home and land. They fought back, attacking plantations and a militia wagon train. Major Dade, with 108 men, was dispatched to reinforce Fort King near Ocala. As he passed through the Bushnell area, the Seminoles ambushed and killed all but two of the soldiers, one of them subsequently dying within a short time. Major Dade was one of the casulties.

In January, 1836, Dade County in Florida (now Miami-Dade) was created and named for Major Francis Dade.

Click for Larger Image of Seminoles Arriving At the BattlefieldAs the reenactment began, the "Seminoles," who had minutes before arrived in golf carts, hid in the thickets. The narrator, who played the part of the eventual sole survivor (on the soldier's side), entered from a path on our left, followed by the two companies led by Major Dade. When they stopped to rest, the hidden Seminoles attacked, "killing" all but two of the soldiers. As the battle ensued, the narrator followed the action from his point of view, which was very much "us versus them," and interspersed with colorful language urging his fellow soldiers to kill the Indians. There was no narrator for the Seminoles.

Click for Larger Image of Victorious SeminolesHistory is a complicated business. Although the victors write the story, there is always another side. The Seminole's story has not been lost, but I found this reenactment to be very one-sided. The only attempt at providing a balanced experience was a folk singer who, before the reenactment, sang some moving ballads about the Seminoles losing their homeland. I would have liked to have seen a joint narration, one soldier, one Seminole. As it was, it felt more like the old "Cowboys and Indians" games we used to play as children, where the cowboys were always good and the Indians were always bad. This was a bit different, though. This time the cowboys didn't have horses or ten-gallon hats, and the Indians didn't lose.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Florida Arachnids

Location: Bushnell, Florida

After braving the crowds at Wally World (AKA grocery shopping), I wandered the campground in search of insects or other small creatures to photograph. The colder weather in Texas had sent most of them for cover, so it was with a sense of excitement that I found a couple spiders that are still out enjoying the Florida warmth. As usual, click for a larger image.

  • A Golden-silk Spider (Nephila clavipes):
    Click for larger image of the Golden-silk Spider
  • A Crab-like Spiny Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis)
    Click for larger image of the Crab-like Spiny Orb Weaver

Friday, December 28, 2007

Dry Camping On The Way To Florida

Location: Bushnell, Fl

I have just spent three days on the road travelling from Livingston, Texas to Florida. I had planned a more leisurely trip, with a two-day stop in Alabama, but I wound up driving more miles on Day One than I had planned, and it seemed a waste to only go two hours on Day Two. So I decided to save Alabama for a return trip, and pushed on to Florida.

I stayed both nights while on the road in a Flying J. Flying J's normally have a front area for cars and RVs, and a back lot for 18-wheelers. The front area has several long parking spots for RVs, and these are where the "dry campers" park for the night.

When I pulled in on the first night, those long front spots were cordoned off with tape. A Flying J employee was on hand to explain that they were setting up a fireworks tent at 5 am, so they were asking RVers to park in the back with the 18-wheelers. When I pulled around, there was only one pull-through site left -- the others were either sites that were against the back fence (requiring backing into now), or doubled in the second row behind a truck that was already parked (possibly requiring backing out in the morning if the front truck had not already left). I don't back well, and doing it in front of fifty truckers who DO back well would be just too embarrassing. I took the last pull through.

The truck to my right had his engine running, and I was hoping that it would not run all night. Of course, it did. Truckers usually run their engines for two reasons -- to keep the fuel from gelling in extreme cold, and to keep their battery charged to power accessories like heaters, refrigerators, and TVs. It wasn't cold enough for diesel to gel or to need heat inside the cab, and I doubt that the driver was planning to watch TV all night. But he didn't seem to be turning it off. So I resigned myself to a sleepless night, but an odd thing happened. I found that the diesel's rumbling provided a kind of blanket of white noise, and I actually had a very nice night's sleep.

The second night I parked in the front of a different Flying J, and had other RVers for neighbors. Here I could dimly hear the background noise of the station -- cars coming and going, piped music on the pumps, people on cell phones -- and, while much quieter than the diesel, I found it to be more annoying. I did sleep through most of the night, but I woke much more often.

I am now in another park run by the Escapees and will be here until January 1st when I will move to another RV park one exit away. Other RVers have told me that a family of barred owls frequent the large oaks here, so I went "hunting" just before twilight. I didn't see an owl, but I did see two wild turkeys looking a bit out of place as they perched high in a tree and made flapping motions towards each other. It feels like summer now, but the weather forecast calls for the first freeze in five years by the beginning of next week. At least it doesn't call for snow!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Holiday Festivities At Rainbow's End

For the Christmas Eve party at Rainbow's End, we were told, "bring a $10 gift, finger food, a pencil, paper, a pin, scissors, tape, and paper." Later it became apparent that confusion reigned -- the person giving those instructions had a Texas accent, and no one was sure if the "pin" was the kind you stick into a cushion, or a "pen" that you sign a check with. A clarification was then made -- we should bring a "rotten pen." Silence descended quickly as we all tried to parse this into something that made sense and actually reduced the confusion. Oh!!! We all got it. A "writing pen"! OK, then!

Christmas Eve arrived, and everyone showed up in their holiday finest. Now for RVers here in Texas, that may be a snowman sweater with blue jeans, sporty reindeer ears, or a Santa hat perched on top of a cowboy hat -- or nothing more than normal attire. Everyone was, however, chatty and festive, and we played a few paper and pencil games and socialized as people kept arriving.

Click for Larger Image of Donna DressingClick for Larger Image of Donna on StageOnce everyone was there, we found out why we had scissors and tape. We divided into teams and moved to rooms that had been set up with wrapping paper, bows and other decorations. We had 20 minutes to "dress" one member of our team any way we liked. We wound up dressing Donna in a "bikini" and headdress. As she came out, I sang Mele Kalikimaka. Let me repeat that. I sang Mele Kalikimaka, with a mike, to an audience. Halfway through I realized I should be petrified, but I found I didn't really care how it sounded. People were, of course, paying more attention to Donna in a wrapping paper bikini and a "Madonna" bra made of foam drinking cups than they were to my singing, so that kind of took the pressure off! We then played a holiday-themed memory game, and a game of Holiday Musical Chairs.

Finally, Santa arrived! He had everyone get in a large circle holding their $10 gift. He then read The Night Before Christmas, slightly altered with the words "right" and "left" added here and there. Each time "right" or "left" was read, we passed the gift in our hands in that direction. It got very confusing and turned out to be a lot of fun.

On Christmas Day, we again got together for dinner. Below is a picture of most of those at the Single's Table (Donna is missing -- she was out searching for Lemon Pie). After dinner, some of us hung around for a rousing game of Mexican Train (I know it sounds vaguely risque, but it really is a domino game). It was a fun way to spend Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Two Surprises

When I walked out of the rig this morning, I found two surprises when I looked at my truck. The first was the frost all over the windshield! It got down to 28 degrees last night. I didn't have the furnace on in the rig, and it was 48 inside. Fortunately, I was snuggled under both a quilt and my low temperature sleeping bag, and the rig is small enough that it heats up quickly.Click to view large image of Frost on the Truck

But what's that on the windshield? Everyone seemed to have one on their vehicle. On closer inspection, it appears that Santa made a Christmas Eve Eve visit to all of us who were naughty! (If you have trouble reading the note, mouse over the image or click to view a larger image.)You've Been Naughty This Year, So Here's the Scoop -- All You Get For Christmas Is This Elf Poop

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Solstice

This is the day when the sun reaches its southernmost point in the sky, and, in the northern hemisphere, marks the point at which the sun will begin to "come back" as the days grow longer. Today the folks at the north pole will not see the sun, and those at the south pole will not see the sun set. No wonder Santa makes his trek at this time of the year -- he's just searching for some Vitamin D!

People have celebrated solstice since they began tracking the movement of the sun throughout the year, and many holidays -- Yule, Saturnalia, Christmas, and the births of Dionysus, Osiris, and Mithra all occur at this time.

Today is a fine day for starting your photograph of the analemma, but there is no reason to try to stand an egg on end -- gravity and eggs are the same today as they will be the rest of the year, and gravity usually wins.

Happy Solstice, everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Perils of Geocaching (or Duck! Duck! Goose!)

Click for Larger Image of Goose on PathIf geocaching is supposed to be my new hobby, I thought I'd better go out and actually find a cache or two. Friday was a beautiful day -- temps around 72 degrees, sunny, and just one of those "gee it's good to be alive" days. So I jumped in the truck and set off for Livingston.

My first stop was a cemetery with an "easy" cache. Right. After wandering around, looking like a fool as I carefully examined all sorts of graves, trees, and bushes, I just couldn't find it. If this is easy, I may need a new hobby! So I drove on to Pedigo Park, where another was located in an area where one could "sit and watch all the ducks."

Click for larger image of Goose Displaying AggessionPedigo Park is a lovely municipal park, with a fish lake, ball field, and a monthly flea market. This time of year, there is also a drive-through display of lighted santas, horse drawn carriages, snow people, toys, and the like. I parked, and found the small paved path that leads to the lake and the benches where, as the cache description stated, I could "sit and watch all the ducks." In the first photo, the benches are under the trees at the end of the path, beyond the goose. I'm sure you are now asking, "but why is there a goose standing on the path?"

Click for larger image of goose showing aggressionThere is a goose standing on the path because he flapped out of the lake a minute after I sat on the bench. He stood there staring at me, making aggressive neck thrusts and occasionally flapping his wings. I hadn't found the cache, but he was making it difficult to look, so I started back down the path towards my car. He followed. I moved. He moved. A couple times he started coming towards me, neck either held high or low and stalking. He charged a couple times and then backed off. Once when he charged I dropped the GPS receiver (you can see it on the ground in the photo), and I had to wait until he retreated somewhat to get it. Of course, when I went forward to get the GPS he charged me again.

He seemed to really get ticked off if I bent lower to the ground, which I was doing when he charged once more. I quickly turned to leave, being quite tired of Sheriff Goose running me out of town, but this time he didn't back off the charge and got the back of my leg with his beak. I did report the incident to the park office, and they will have someone investigate. Maybe they'll invite me for a goose dinner one night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Azaleas In Bloom

December 16th, and -- at least some -- azaleas are in bloom here in Texas. The low tonight is supposed to be 28 degrees (yes, Fahrenheit), so they may be gone tomorrow!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Two Firsts

Click for Larger Image of GeocachersThe First First:
I went Geocaching. Geocaching is a sport that was born along with the easy availability of handheld GPS receivers. Caches, consisting of containers with various objects in them, are hidden in a public place, and then the latitude and longitude of the cache uploaded to the website. It is then up to the geocachers to find the hidden cache, using the coordinates to get close and then searching the area. It is similar to Letterboxing, but Letterboxing involves providing written directions to the location of the hidden cache. This photo was taken by a passing Skip (member of the Escapees, or SKP -- say the abbreviation out loud) who had previously located the cache we were looking for and had stopped by to watch three fools turn over rocks, kick leaves, and look behind and in trees. Mike, on my right, was an experienced geocacher but this particular cache was new to him, and Mark, on my left, was also a geocache newbie. FYI, we did find the cache, and a second one, too, both hidden at the Escapee Rainbow's End park (behind us in this photo).

Click for Larger Image of Habitat for Humanity BuildThe Second First:
I participated in my first Habitat for Humanities build! There were three houses being built on adjacent lots in Livingston -- the Escapees house was in the middle, to our right was the Methodists' house, and to our left was, as they called themselves, "The Christun Motorsickles" group's house. We were to meet at 7:30 A.M., but a torrential downpour coupled with a thunderstorm pushed the start back to about 9:00. The slabs had already been poured and hardened, and a huge pile of wood lay on palettes on the road. We started moving wood to the slab, and nailing specific pieces of wood together that would later be needed in the framing to make doors and windows. I carried a lot of wood around, guarded the blueprint from being disintegrated by water that had puddled in the red clay surrounding the build, and generally tried to help out wherever I could.

Click for Larger Image of Habitat for Humanity BuildAs the day progressed, the weather cleared and got quite chilly (we are expecting a freeze tonight with wind gusts around 40 mph). Our neighbors both had their walls framed and erected long before we did, but we quickly realized that they all had nail guns and we only had Senior Citizens with Hammers. But we managed to get all the walls framed and in place by the end of the day, and it looks great! The next work session isn't scheduled until January, and I will have left Livingston by then. Next time I'm in town I'll have to stop by and see what it looks like!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Warm Weather Holiday Spirit

Location: Still in Livingston!

Click for a larger image of the Polk County CourthouseThis is my first holiday season in a warm climate, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The biggest surprise is that people here decorate with snowflakes, and I'm sure some of them haven't seen one for twenty years! I asked one native if she had ever seen snow, and she said, "Oh Yes!" like it happened all the time. She then went on to explain that she had seen snow once in the 6th grade, and once in the 10th!

Click for a larger image of the Chandelier of LightsLivingston had a "Hometown Christmas" celebration recently with arts and crafts vendors, a car show, live entertainment (mostly grade school choirs for whom singing in key was more a suggestion than a rule), a petting zoo, carriage rides, a parade, and Santa at City Hall. The brochure also said there would be "Propane Street Heaters," but the temperature was in the 70s so I never did find out what they were. It was very odd to me to be at a winter holiday event in shorts, and I kept having to remember that this was NOT a July 4th event.

Click for larger image of a decorated house in LivingstonLivingston did a fine job of decorating the town, from the huge American Flag in lights on the County Building to the Chandelier in lights over the craft tents. Houses along the streets were decorated, too. The parade started after dark, and each float and wagon was lit with battery powered holiday lights. My favorite was the men and women who rode their horses along the parade route. The men were dressed in "rhinestone cowboy" attire, and the women in red and white "Mrs. Santa" outfits, riding side-saddle. The bridles and reins of each horse were outlined in white lights, and the effect was stunning. There also was a square-dance float with a live caller and 16 dancers. The wagon was decorated in red lights, and each person had white lights running down their arms and legs. It was fun to watch the lights floating around as they danced!

Click for larger image of Sally the camelI can't forget to tell you about my new friend Sally. Sally is a 4-month old camel I met at the petting zoo. She was friendly and nuzzly, and did not spit once! She did try to steal the rake from the pony ride next door when no one (but me) was looking, but gave up when the rake got caught in the fence. Maybe she wanted a present, too, and was afraid she was on the Naughty List?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another Night Of Texas Two Stepping

First, let me thank all y'all who took the time to express concern about my drifting toward being a real Texan. Oops.. did I really say "all y'all"? Not to worry, I'm sure it was a one time slip up!

Anyway, I did go back to the VFW on Saturday -- more dancin' but this time with a band. Them 'ole boys had dec'rated that there hall so purty! Lights everywhere and a big 'ol disco ball just a hangin' over the ceiling! So I'm fixin to dance the Texas Two Step all night, but dang if I ain't as bad off as a rubber-nosed woodpecker in a petrified forest -- I ain't got me no cowboy boots! But I didn't let that stop me -- I danced that two step all night in my sneakers! So you see there is nothing to be concerned about. I haven't changed at all.

I really don't have cowboy boots, I don't have a plaid shirt or cowgirl skirt, and I don't have a hat, but I did find a nice armadillo belt buckle that I wore on Saturday. And I learned a couple things about men's Texas fashion: the boots should fit tightly, there are different qualities of "straw" for hats, the degree to which the brim turns up is a personal choice and is accomplished through steaming and shaping the hat, and finally that the hat band is an accessory that personalizes the hat and is usually purchased separately.

I had a lot of fun line dancing and doing the two step -- and this time I was able to get through the moving-in-circles and twirls smoothly, looking more or less like I knew what I was doing. Maybe I should get a pair of boots! Yee haw!