Monday, July 27, 2015

Speed Bumps On The Way To The Mail Box

Confession ...
I am a fast walker.
I blame it on the Park Service. 
Rangers range after all, and it's important to cover ground on patrol.
In the Smokies, years ago, as an NPS volunteer, I remember being amazed at the uphill pace of the experienced Rangers who were showing this flatlander the ropes.
Eventually I got there.

I'm not particularly long-legged, not at all, but I like a wide stride.
Sometimes I get in trouble for walking too fast :), but
it's actually uncomfortable for me to walk slow, 
... unless you put a camera in my hands.

Then I'm all creepy, slowy, stoppy, waity, shusshy, hold,
 wait a minutey, stalky, s-l-o-w.

I took a slow walk to the mailbox last week. 
It took longer than expected, but there were so many speed bumps.

Speed Bump # 1: The "Space Trolley" oak.

Years ago, this laurel oak was one anchor in our own personal Zipline.
The Space Trolley ranks right up there as one of the coolest toys, Santa ever brought the kids. It was a 50 foot long double steel cable that anchored into two large oaks. From this, you hung the Space Trolley which consisted of a pulley type wheel that rode the wires attached to a hanging seat and handle apparatus.

The operation was simple, you just load a kid on it and give it a good hard shove.
Okay, so after smashing kids into the side of the oaks a few times, we realized that a "gentle push" was better since ... if you reached the tree, your outstretched legs were your only brake and there was no guarantee that you would even arrive at the tree legs first... the trolley swiveled as you zipped along.

The Space Trolley is long gone, and even this oak is slowly going. I took it down a few years back due to its proximity to the house.
All that's left is the stump and a bit of trunk which these mushrooms are slowly digesting.

Speed Bump # 2: The light.


The mailbox is about 300 feet from the house, and the twisty driveway is over to the left in this view.
I could walk down and back using the driveway in about 10 minutes, but the light through the trees and bouncing off the cypress down at the pond caused me to pause briefly for a photo, and then follow it.

Speed Bump # 3: This orange fungus.

This lower limb has died, ... shade pruned by the branches above it. Starved for light, it succumbed, and now is being digested by yet another fungus.
Pausing to appreciate recycling and the carbon cycle, slowed me down just a bit.

Speed Bump # 4: The Pond.

The pond is my favorite place here at PFHQ.  It's in a state of constant flux.
A few days before this photo was taken, the wet part had shrunk to only a few deep troughs that I had dug out a few years ago when it was completely dry.

My goal at the time was to harvest the shallow final few inches of water into a few deeper holes in order to give the pond denizens a better chance at survival.

The week before, the troughs were the only part of the pond holding water and the luckiest fish, frogs, tadpoles, and such had crowded into them.
At the time, even though my plan had worked, I remember thinking it was only going to buy them a few days, maybe a week if the rains didn't come.

And then they came...
Like every day came.
So things are good down in the pond right now and the water has crept up even more since the above photo was taken.

Speed Bump # 5: Post rain Cypress cones.

This cypress tree came to PFHQ as a seed in a truck load of hydrilla weed from Manatee Springs State Park about 20 years ago.
The park was cleaning the noxious invader hydrilla out of the spring with a mechanical harvester and they offered the piled up weed to gardeners.

So I sheet composted my garden with it.


In the spring, up came baby cypress and river birch trees.
I potted a few and later, my little girls helped plant them down by the pond.
The fact that the trees are making their own seeds now is just one more reminder of how fast time flies.
That fact is always worth a moment's pause.
So, I did.

Speed Bump # 6: The Anole at the pond edge.

I love our anoles. This one is a true native, we actually have more of the native than the exotic browns.
In fact, right now I'm thinking I haven't seen an exotic brown anole HERE for a long time.

Thank you black racers.
The browns are ground lizards while the native Carolina Anole is more arboreal.
Brown anoles are groundbound ... mostly.
We have lots of black racers here.
Black racers eat lizards.
Black racers don't climb.
I see what's going on here and I like it.

I had to slow down a bit to ponder those connections and it cost me some time.
Speed Bump # 7: Blue Dasher.
I really was about to move on and continue my quest for the junk mail that awaited me, but while I was crouched down eyeballing the anole ... who was eyeballing me back ... this awesome bit of bluenicity landed right in front of me.

So ... you guessed it, more time was spent shoving the Olympus Tough camera in his face for macro shots.
He was totally cooperative for more time than I deserved.
Much obliged.

Speed Bump # 8: Making ripples in duckweed.
Do I really need to explain the why of this one?
I thought not.

Speed Bump # 9: Duckweed itself.

There's something so perfect in this tiny, fast growing plant's simplicity.
It takes time to crouch down and ponder such a thing.

When I decided to cross the pond on the submerged dike of one of the troughs I created, the duckweed parted for a moment and then closed behind me.


As predicted, it was almost all junk mail down at the mailbox.
I can't really count the mailbox as a speed bump as it was the objective of this quest.
At this point, the walk had taken much longer than needed, ...what with all the speed bumps...  so I decided to return via the driveway.

The dogs were probably wondering where I was and the driveway had less speed bumps.



Speed Bump # 10: Coreopsis and a native bee.

I thought the driveway was relatively free of speed bumps, but someone must have put this one here when I wasn't looking.
Most of the coreopsis is down near the pond, but this seed found a suitable spot to  ... wait for it ... "bloom where you're planted."
So cheesy.

After the coreopsis speed bump, I headed up the drive towards the house... not really expecting anymore speed bumps, ... but open to them if they should appear.

So this ... I'm not sure speed bump does this justice.
This is more like the spike strips that officers use to stop a fleeing felon's vehicle.


It dates from this era, and it may not be that same holster, but the little boy who left it hanging on that palm was about this age when he forgot where he put it.

Over 9 years ago, I wrote about finding this hanging artifact.
It was in better shape then, but that's time for ya.

So, even though I thought I was in the clear for a brisk return to the house, the holster demanded a few moments of remembering the day that day.
I was working on the driveway and he was bouncing around asking a million questions, playing in the dirt, and "guarding" me.

Every once in awhile, I rediscover this holster in the brush at the base of the cabbage palm.
I always take the time to wedge it back onto the tree when I do... even though there's less and less of it each time.

It always makes me smile.


This turned out to be the last stop along the way.

The rest of the walk was uneventful and the junk mail was safely delivered to the kitchen table... a little late perhaps, but there's a reason why they call it, "Snail Mail".

Speed Bumps.



Monday, July 06, 2015

PIPEFISH BABIES... NANOCUTENESS

 During the Seahorse Key Coastal Ecosystems Camp, we seined the seagrass many times and pipefish were a common catch.


Long and slender, like a seahorse stretched to its limits, the pipefish is wonderfully adapted to life in the undersea pastures of the  Big Bend Seagrass National Marine Preserve.


Don't be fooled by their "seahorsian" faces, they are voracious predators of all things tasty and tiny in the seagrass.

In the grass, they cling to the blades, and gently sway as the grass does, becoming, for all intents and purposes, just another blade of grass.

... Until tiny fish larvae, or other minuscule things swim close and then they strike with amazing speed.

If  amazing camo, body shape, and great predator skills were all pipefish had, ... that would be awesome enough, 
but  wait ...

This is an adult MALE pipefish with a couple hundred newborn "pipelings" that he has just birthed after being placed in the bucket.


If you are familiar with his close relative the seahorse, you already know that males of these two similar fish species carry the eggs in a ventral pouch until they hatch.


He's not really pregnant, the female produced the eggs, he's just incubating them in a relatively safe place.


During their courtship entanglement, the female laid her eggs in a groove near the pouch where they were fertilized and then sealed inside.

The evolutionary advantage in this strategy is that while he's incubating the current clutch of eggs, the female can get busy producing the next set.

This way, A LOT of baby pipefish enter the dangerous world of the ocean, increasing the odds that at least some of them will reach adulthood.



A tiny 2 day old pipefish.




Nanoperfection.



The adult and his young charges were all released after everyone in the camp had a chance to "ooh" and "awe" over them.

There was a lot of that.

I didn't "ooh", but I'm pretty sure I "awed".