Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jam Session at The Oaks

Click for Larger Image of Jam SessionAt times, it seemed like an American Idol audition, but without a Simon-esque judge cutting off the key-challenged singer after a few garish seconds. But most of the time it was an amazing array of talented musicians doing what they love best.

The hall was already decorated for Valentines Day, with red curly metallic streamers dropping from the ceiling and paper cupids on the restroom doors. The musicians filled the stage and then overflowed into chairs the front. There were 31 of them at the jam session last night, each with their guitar, banjo, ukulele, fiddle, or keyboard -- and, in one case, even a concertina. They took turns playing the song of their choice, with the rest of the musicians playing or not as they wished.

The opener was a woman who sang "And the Band Played On," ("Casey would waltz with the strawberry blonde...") which she probably knew so well because she remembered when it was in the Top 10. Then a woman yodeler, a succession of George Strait wannabees, and a beautiful rendition of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" on guitar, all interspersed with serious fiddlers and pickers doing bluegrass classics. Canadian John played guitar and harmonica on "Bean Blossom Special" while the others did their best to make train noises on whatever instrument they had. Then an audience participation number -- we all sang the "Poor Old Charlie" line in the chorus of "(Charlie on the) MTA." You could almost see the snorting ghost herds during "Ghost Riders In the Sky," except they all skipped over the "Yippie Yi Yaay" part -- what were they thinking? Without a trace of irony, a portly redneck in a cowboy hat, his protruding stomach barely covered by a black t-shirt that declared, "Do Something With Your Life -- Get me A Beer" tearily sang a very long, emotional rendition of "One Day At A Time (Sweet Jesus)."

It has been fun staying at this "Music Lover's" campground, but tomorrow I am leaving for the Florida Keys and the Winter Star Party. I'll miss the music here, but not the tinkling of acorns falling on my roof!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Lawn Ornaments

Location: Bushnell, Florida

Click for a Larger Image of the Lawn OrnamentBird baths, quizzical garden gnomes, mirrored "gazing balls" on painted concrete pedestals, ducks with propeller wings, and wooden cutouts of the backsides of country folk gardening -- these lawn ornaments pale in comparison to the mother of all lawn ornaments, the plastic pink flamingo. And if a plastic flamingo can make it big in the Lore of the Yard, why not other big tropical birds?

Snowbird roosts and seasonal RV park lots in Florida are often decorated with objects that can be described as quaint, homey, whimsical, fanciful and kitschy. That's when I'm feeling charitable. At other times, bizarre, laughable, eccentric, outlandish or perhaps just weird come to mind. So why not have a life size Sandhill Crane, one leg raised in the air, perched in the middle of your yard?

My first thought was, "if they're going to have a plastic crane, they should at least have a couple of them." But then I understood in a flash when the lawn ornament slowly blinked at me, and then set his raised foot on the ground.

Click for A Larger Image of the Sandhill CraneIt was a majestic Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) who had been standing perfectly still in the middle of the lawn, oblivious to the people fixing their roof behind him and the walkers, bikers and occasional cars on the road directly in front. Eventually he moved about 5 feet and then stopped again. He didn't seem to mind me being there, and when I finally moved off he had re-stuffed one leg under his body, and was again patiently waiting for ... whatever a Sandhill Crane stands in a yard and waits for. He wasn't telling.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A needed kick...

Sometimes I just need a kick in the you-know-where to get me moving, creativity-wise. I got that kick today at the Photoshop Seminar. The seminar was Photoshop CS3 for Photographers, taught by Photoshop guru Ben Willmore. I feel all inspired now!

For someone used to driving in rush hour traffic on the Baltimore beltway, the drive to Tampa this morning was not bad. I, however, am no longer that person, so I found it to be annoying and irritating -- especially when we all were clicking along at 70 mph, and then came to a stop for no apparent reason, only to again resume flying at a breakneck pace a short minute later (this series was repeated more than sanity would accomodate). I just kept reminding myself that I only had to do this drive once, and most of these other poor folks do it every day.

I got downtown after only getting lost once. Yes, I had the GPS on, but two highways run close together as you enter Tampa, and the GPS B*tch thought (and I use that term with a degree of charity) that I was on one moving-like-molasses highway when I was actually on a totally different, but parallel moving-like-molasses highway. When I realized my mistake, I could SEE the correct exit, but the huge cement railings did their job and kept me in my lane -- meaning I had to fight the traffic for another mile before I could turn around, most of it stuck behind a proud Southerner, his huge Confederate flag defiantly twisting and flapping from the pick-up's bed and pretty much blocking any hope he'd have of actually using his rear-view mirror as anything other than a fuzzy dice hanger. Finally, I got to the Convention Center, got parked, registered, and had a fine rest of the day at the seminar.

In addition to the great Photoshop things I found out, I learned:

  • Adobe was named for a creek
  • B & H photo was named for "Bertha & Herman"
  • Ben Willmore is also a full time RVer!

Thursday, January 24, 2008


These little lizards hang out in the saw palmettos that cluster under the live oaks in the park. They are usually skittish, but sometimes they don't see the camera as a threat if you move towards them slowly and smoothly and don't let your shadow hit them.
Click for larger image of green lizard
Click for Larger Image of Brown Lizard
Tomorrow I'm going into Tampa to attend a Photoshop for Photographers Seminar. Sadly, I'll need to set the alarm and battle rush hour traffic. I'm not looking forward to either, but I think it will all come back to me!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stormy Weather

Location: Bushnell, Fl.

Last night, a fierce squall line swept across Central Florida. Two prominent bands of storms were heading from the Gulf towards Sumpter County where Bushnell is located. My weather alert radio kept going off as county by county were added to the Severe Thunderstorm and then the Tornado Watch lists. Sumpter County was on them both. The sky, which had until then been just cloudy, started to take on a menacing feel. The light got increasingly dimmer and turned vaguely greenish, the air got very still, and even the birds stopped chirping. That "bad storm coming feeling" surrounded everything.

People in the line of the heaviest storms, still to our south-east, were being advised to take immediate shelter in a strong building and to stay away from windows. Wind gusts were reported to be up to 80 mph and hail the size of pennies was falling. The most secure buildings in this campground are the rest rooms, but there are several hundred RVs and park models here, and only four sets of rest rooms. Luckily, one is only about 100 feet from my site, but I would be sharing it with the residents of about 150 other units.

As I was putting together a bag of things I'd want to take if I had to evacuate the RV, the alerts suddenly got more serious -- a tornado had been spotted 21 miles away, heading directly for Bushnell at 55 miles per hour. The rain began to fall fast and hard, and I could hear thunder getting closer. It was obviously time to head to the rest room. So I grabbed my bag and ran through the rain to the restroom, where everyone was packed in like sardines, obviously worried and trying to make the best of a scary situation -- but safe and dry.

Okay, almost all of that is true, but the packed in like sardines is, unfortunately, not. There were seven of us all together -- three other humans and their three dogs -- a Schnauzer, a Lhasa, and a cute curly haired mutt. That's it. No one else seemed to feel that being in an RV, in the midst of tall oak trees, with a tornado due to arrive in less than 20 minutes, merited any concern whatsoever. I just don't get it.

We passed the time in the restroom chatting and listening to a weather radio, and petting the dogs who seemed to appreciate the attempt to take their minds off the booming outside. Fortunately, the storm passed without incident -- we had torrential rain, strobe lightening, and a fair amount of wind, but no additional tornadoes. The rain slowed to a drizzle, and we returned to our RVs while the storm continued on to Orlando.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I haven't been doing a lot lately other than getting caught up on reading and working on images. I have a cold, the weather is rainy, and my touristy trips have been limited to Wal-Mart -- not the best place to get "Wish You Were Here" photos!

Click for Larger Image of Truck with PVC TailgateSo I looked in the archive, and found this example of RVer creativity to share. If you are not an RVer, you may not know why you sometimes see a deep notch centered on a pick-up truck's tailgate. These allow the hitching pin on a fifth wheel trailer to slide into the truck's hitch (bolted in the bed of the truck) without lowering the tailgate. If you have a normal tailgate, you must open it, hitch, and then close the tailgate. I have a short bed truck, however, and I run the risk that the tailgate in the down position will hit the RV during hitching. My solution was to simply take the tailgate off, which works -- but it means I can't transport anything else in the bed of the truck when I travel. A notched tailgate is on my list, so when I saw this home-made tailgate in the park I had to check it out.

Click for Larger Image of PVC TailgateThe tailgate is made with sections of PVC pipe, which allow it to be customized for this truck and the height of the hitch. I talked with the man who made it, and he said he used PVC glue to hold the pieces together, and then painted it to match the truck. He cut notches in the side to match the pins on the truck that hold the tailgate in the closed position, and added some wood reinforcement to the sections that connect to the bottom of the truck. It feels as firm and sturdy as any other tailgate. While I don't think I will actually do this, I thought it was a great do-it-yourself project -- RVers are a creative bunch of people!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Drama on the Low Seas

Location: Bushnell, FL

Click for Larger Image of Turtle NosesWithin the campground, there are three fresh water ponds -- really pits left over from some excavation that have filled with rain water -- and, as is common in Florida, each one has a resident alligator. The alligators here are quite small as alligators go, somewhere around 4 foot long, but big enough to hunt the turtles and waterfowl that also call these ponds home. And there are a lot of turtles -- in this photo, each bump breaking the surface of the water is a turtle nose.

Click for larger image of Black Bellied Whistling DucksThere is also a healthy population of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis) in one of the ponds. These waterfowl have black bellies, bright orange bills, and startling white wing patches that are displayed when they fly. I did get to hear their call -- it is a very pretty, clear trilly whistle (hence the name). They are very much a southern species -- their northern-most range is Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, and they are typically found in South America. Their name in Spanish is quite interesting: Pichichí or Pixixi.

But this morning's drama was all about the other ducks that live on this same pond. They had been splashing and preening on the shore of the pond when they spotted a nose moving towards them through the water. This nose was not a turtle nose! As the alligator got closer, they got more and more agitated and moved onto the shore, always keeping an eye on the predator. The alligator continued to stalk the ducks, dipping underwater as he closed the distance to his duck dinner. From the shore, it was not hard to figure out where he was submerged -- all beaks pointed directly towards the approaching gator. When he got near the shore, he broke the water's surface as he watched the now very focused ducks, apparently trying to decide if a sprint might net him a meal or just be a waste of energy. After about a minute, the alligator must have decided that the ducks were out of reach as he then submerged, the ducks calmed down, and then they waddled off. The drama was over.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

M-I-C, See Ya Real Soon! K-E-Y, Why? Because...

Click for Larger View of Disney Balloon SellerI've been in Central Florida for a couple weeks now, so I decided it was time I visited Mickey. Walt Disney World is about a hour and a half from here, and, depending on the route you take, you can run into rush hour traffic going in and out of Orlando. The day before, Florida experienced what is arguably the worst accident of recent memory: a 70 car pile-up on I-4, caused when thick fog and smoke almost instantaneously reduced visibility to zero. This accident happened between Orlando and Tampa, and was not on the road I was taking to WDW -- but I-4 was still closed 24-hours later (it would not reopen until the following morning), and roads all over the area were likely to be affected. My "Disney Strategy" has been to be there when they open and hit the popular attractions first, so I set the alarm (yuck) so I could both beat the traffic and the crowds. But when I looked out the next morning, leaving early was not an option -- it was another day of heavy morning fog, and I was not willing to risk a repeat of the day before just to see a Mouse, even if it is Mickey. So I waited until it about 9:30 when the fog had burned off before leaving. Besides, it's mid-January. How busy could WDW be?

Click for Larger View of Micky PumpkinI got to the Magic Kingdom around 11, and discovered "very" was how busy they could be. There were kids and parents and even some retirees everywhere (and, since this was the middle of the week, why weren't all these kids in school?). I pushed on because I wanted to see the newly re-done Pirates of the Caribbean. When I got there, the line was about 20 minutes, so I sighed and started the "line crawl." The revised attraction turned out to be, mostly, a pirate here and there redressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, complete with dreads and eyeliner. Click for Larger View of Making Micky FruitI have always liked Pirates, but now I just found it to be tedious. I exited, had lunch, and found the lines were even longer than before. The crowds were really starting to annoy me (really, WHY weren't these kids in school?), so I took the monorail to Epcot where the visitors were mostly retirees, and almost everything was a "walk on." I got to revisit some old favorites like the Test Track (better than a coaster) and the Living Sea, and saw how they make Mickey Vegetables in The Land (see photos).

Click for Larger View of Spaceship Earth and IllumiNations EarthSpaceship Earth (inside the huge silver geodesic dome, seen here with the IllumiNations Orb that is waiting to be towed to the center of the lake for the sundown show) was supposed to be closed for renovation, but it was open for "testing" when I was there -- so I got to see the changes. The journey through history on the way up has been shined and polished, and emerging into the starry sky at the top of the dome is still impressive. The major change is the ride down. A touch-screen monitor is now in your car, and you are asked some basic questions about your travel and adventure preferences. Then an animated sequence, based on your responses and featuring "you" -- is shown. The image of "you" is taken at the beginning of the ride, and if no one is seated in one (or both) of the seats, a cartoon figure is displayed instead. It was interesting, but I missed having more to look at on the way down. Here are a couple of stills of "me," my cartoon companion, and our rocketship (as always, click for a larger image):Click for Larger View of Me and My Spaceship

I kept wanderng, and when I got tired, I left -- and realized I had walked all the way around both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, including the World Showcase. Now only two more WDW theme parks to go!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Living at The Oaks RV Park

Location: Bushnell, Florida

A bluegrass session may spontaneously break out (note the charming lady bass player who wore her beads to the hoe down):

Click for Larger Image of Musicians
The pool is open in January and discovered I can still tread water (the regular way OR using only my arms OR using only my legs -- take THAT, Esther Williams!), float on my back while watching white puffy clouds sail by, do the sidestroke, or just veg out:

Click for Larger Image of Pool
The park's name is "The Oaks" and the name refers to all the Live Oaks here. They are lovely with Spanish Moss on them (and how quintessentially Florida!):

Click for Larger Image of Oak and Spanish Moss
HOWEVER -- these lovely oaks also have lots and lots of acorns, and those acorns, sometimes with the help of wind and sometimes with the help of squirrels, come tumbling down. Remember the old story about thunder being Thor bowling? Well, the acorns falling on my aluminum roof sounds like Thor is playing a fast game of marbles -- I can hear each one hit, and sometimes they also bounce and roll. But, hey, I'm an aThorist, so I'm really going to blame gravity! One of the "old timers" here said this is a particularly plentiful year for acorns. Lucky me. Click for Larger Image of Acorns

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Weeki Wachee

Click for Larger Image of Cyprus in RiverIn 1947 a man named Newton Perry opened the Weeki Wachee spring to tourists. The spring is so deep that the bottom has not yet been found; the water is crystal clear and almost entirely composed of fresh water; and the temperature is always a swimable 74 degrees. 64 million gallons of water surge from the spring each day to form the Weeki Wachee River (first photo). Eight miles later it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Click for Larger Image of Great Blue Heron and NestPerry looked at the clear, deep spring and saw opportunity -- the site, he reasoned, was perfect for an underwater show. He had been a Navy Frogman, and quickly discovered that a person could use a pressurized air hose to breath underwater. He built the underwater theater that would allow the visitors to look through a glass window and see the shows performed 16 feet under the surface. And then he hired mermaids.

The air hoses allowed them to stay underwater for long periods of time as they performed choreographed dances, drank soft drinks, and even ate bananas. They also helped with the advertising -- when not in the water, they would run to the street -- in their bathing suits -- and "lure" cars to Weeki Wachee.

Click for Larger Image of Mermaid Drinking SodaI had heard, off and on, about the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee, so I decided to go see them. While I was waiting for the show to start, I took a very nice half-hour boat trip on the river that flows from the spring. The river was so clear that it was very difficult to tell how deep it was. We saw great blue herons (see image of heron with nest), lesser herons, pelicans, turtles, ducks, and lots of fish.

When I sat down to see the Mermaid show, I started chatting with the woman next to me who was there to see her daughter swim in the show. It turned out that she, too, had been a Mermaid. Since the spring where the Mermaids perform is open to the river, fish or animals can swim in. She told me that once when she was in the water an alligator joined them! He didn't threaten anyone, but they sensibly cut their number short and got out.

click for Larger Image of Mermaid and ManateesThe first picture here is one of today's Mermaids drinking the traditional soft drink underwater. The second one is one of the Mermaids during the show -- but look to the upper left of this picture (click for a larger version) and you will see two manatees that swam into the spring and joined the show. It was ironic -- the mermaid legends are thought to have begun when sailors spotted manatees and mistook them for the half-woman half-fish of legend. They must have been at sea a long time!