Monday, December 9, 2013

Bald eagle!

We were driving to the grocery store (on our adopted road, of all places) when we saw a woman pulled off the road and taking a photo of something high up in a tree. (I call it a tree loosely. The wetlands around here have these fantastic old trees that are actually dead. No leaves or needles, no bark or branches even. Like nature’s utility poles, just waiting for the next hurricane to take them out. They make great nesting places for birds of prey, however.) Marcus glanced up and saw it, and immediately pulled off the road himself. “An eagle,” he shouted. “A real bald eagle.”
We got out of our car, pulled out our phones, and started snapping away. Cars, on what we consider to be a not-too-widely-traveled stretch of road, starting pulling off left and right, everyone jumping out of their cars with cell phones in hand. The eagle calmly turned his head from left to right, surveying the crazy people below him. 

I don’t know which excited me more: seeing a bald eagle in the wild or seeing all the people who were excited about seeing a bald eagle in the wild. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stop bleeding Lake Okeechobee!

My husband and I left south Florida in 1987, and never planned to return. But a trip to visit family in 2009 accidentally brought us to the Treasure Coast, and we fell in love with the area. In 2010 we came down to find a home. After two weeks of looking and not being able to decide where to live, we decided to pack it in and try again another time.

We reached this decision as were driving south over the Roosevelt Bridge. As we crested the bridge, I looked to the west at the beautiful boats at Sunset Bay Marina, the late afternoon sun shimmering across the river, and the wide expanse of green beyond the river. “This is where I want to live,” I announced. I had never been more sure of anything in my life. Little did we know that from that vantage point, we could see the dock of the house that we would find the next day.

We spent the summer of 2010 exploring our wet backyard - the South Fork, the North Fork, the wide water between downtown Stuart and Rio, Manatee Pocket, the sandbars, the inlet, and the lagoon north to Ft. Pierce and south to Jupiter. This was truly the Treasure Coast, and the waterway was its mother lode. 

I started volunteering at Florida Oceanographic and became fascinated with local marinelife. We took up snorkeling and explored the mangrove islands in the lagoon, delighting in the nursery of fish, crabs, and birds that lived there. On one particularly stellar day at high tide off Sailfish Point, the water was as clear as our swimming pool. A green turtle swam past our boat, and then we spotted a manatee with her calf. We quietly pulled our boat onto the beach of a nearby island, careful not to disturb a flock of roseate spoonbills that rested in the mangroves.

In the summer of 2011, we were surprised when the Corps of Engineers started releasing water from Lake O into the river. The Lake O releases were something we had heard about after we moved here, but we were under the impression that it happened rarely, usually in anticipation of a hurricane. 

We had no desire to swim in water laced with fertilizer and pesticides, and would sit on our dock in the eerie stillness. The baitfish were gone, the birds were gone, and the dolphins, rays, and manatees we often saw from the dock were gone. The oysters at Shepard Park across Frazier Creek were no longer spitting water. It was as quiet as a graveyard.

And now the Corps of Engineers is bleeding the lake again, and every rainy summer promises to bring more of the same. We have only been in the water once this season, and now we have a sickening neon-green algae in the shallows by our dock where our Great Blue Heron used to feed. The view from the Roosevelt Bridge today is one of devastation and loss, laced with a sickening brown foam.

We have to stop the bleeding. As stewards of the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the country, we have a responsibility to protect it.

What can we do? Start by writing a letter and sending it to every one of our Florida legislators. Tell them that it’s time to stop protecting the sugar industry and time to start protecting a unique natural resource. Let our governor know that it’s time to stop ignoring what is happening to our state. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or lengthy. Just put it in an email and send it. It’s time. 

Contact information is on the FOS website ( Click on “Get Involved,” and then “Contact Your Legislators.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Check out my new travel website!

Adam helped me create this website so you can track our travels in Great Britain this fall. Okay, and there are some photo slideshows of past travels too - both US and foreign. Check it out!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


I was walking the beach Thursday night looking for loggerhead turtles. I was a guest of the Florida Oceanographic Society’s turtle scouts whose job it is to locate nesting loggerheads on the beach two nights a week for a permitted, guided turtle walk. The turtle walk begins with a talk on sea turtles at FOS’s Coastal Center on Hutchinson Island and ends (hopefully) by witnessing the actual laying of eggs on the beach. It’s a marvelous program in my hometown of Stuart, Florida, during the months of June and July.

But while we were scouting for loggerheads, we came across something even more unique: a leatherback turtle. There are three species of turtle that nest on the Treasure Coast beaches: leatherbacks, loggerheads, and green turtles. The leatherback and green turtles are endangered, so even if you were to see one hauling herself out of the water, which would be rare just given their numbers, you would not be permitted by law to approach her and observe her nesting. The loggerhead, on the other hand, is only “threatened,” and it is possible to observe one nesting on the beach IF you’re in the presence of a permit-carrying turtle guide.

I have seen loggerheads nest before and hawksbill and green turtles while snorkeling in ten feet of water off the coast of St. John, USVI, but I never thought I’d get to see the largest of all sea turtles, the leatherback, the only remaining species in the genus Dermochelys and considered to be the most quickly declining large animal in modern history.

We stood staring at her for several seconds before comprehending what we were staring at. After walking the beach for an hour and a half scrutinizing every dark mass on the beach, it was a surprise when one of the masses materialized into a turtle. And not just any turtle, it was a mama leatherback the size of a chunky coffee table almost at our feet. They are enormous animals, weighing up to a ton; the sheer size of it startled us into stepping back and allowing it to progress up the dunes alone in search of a nesting place.

Animals give birth every day, but watching these giant reptiles emerge from the ocean (its natural habitat), crawl over the sand (not its natural habitat), and dig a hole in which to deposit her eggs is to witness something awe inspiring. Have you ever seen the flippers of a sea turtle? You just try crawling over abandoned sand castles and escarpments left by storm surges on those paddles! Then, try digging a hole with them!! (My turtle scout companion once witnessed a loggerhead with only one rear flipper dig her nest in the sand.) Despite the obstacles, they have an amazing capacity to persevere. And then, by no means the easy part, they give birth, rest for a bit, cover their nests and pack them down to protect them from predators, and make the slow trek back to the ocean, never to see their babies hatch. Thousands of eggs, laid in batches of 50-100, so that one turtle may survive to adulthood. Given the odds, it truly is a miracle!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Food Truck Invasion!

Finally! Food trucks have arrived in Martin County. With one son living in Portland, OR, and the other in Austin, TX, we have been food truck fans for years. Although an article in the local paper stated that food truck popularity arose from the recent recession, they have been alive and well in Portland and Austin since well before the recession. Maybe Stuart is just not weird enough. (Portland and Austin have a friendly Keep-our-city-weird competition going on. What does it say that my two children chose to live in these cities?)

The food trucks invade Stuart’s Memorial Park every Monday evening this summer from 5:00 until 9:30. Bring some friends, lawn chairs, bug spray, and maybe an umbrella (for either rain or shine), and enjoy. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried the Banh Mi (Asian barbecued pork sandwich)!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Where have I been?

I haven’t posted in nearly five months, and I have missed it. A project of a different sort has consumed every scrap of my free time. All non-essential projects (the fun stuff), like writing and scrapbooking, were put on hold while I researched an upcoming trip to Great Britain. Not that I didn’t enjoy the research, but five months of it can overwhelm.

Since I was a child good literature has teleported me into the settings of the written word. Some settings were so vivid I couldn’t tolerate the film versions. But no literature has affected me more than British literature. I longed to see the hedged farm towns of Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, walk the hills in Jane Austen’s Hampshire, and soak in the beauty of the rugged Scottish Highlands of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, the damp castles of Mary, Queen of Scots, the desolate moors of the Brönte sisters, the rocky coastline of Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall, Robin Hood’s forest in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and the soaring cathedrals that inspired Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. I started a “classics” book group with a couple of friends just over a year ago (we don’t usually read anything published after 1900), and the rich novels we have read and discussed have rekindled that spark to see the lush, green countryside of Great Britain.

Last winter my husband handed me an article from the Wall Street Journal about couples who retire, sell their homes, and travel the globe one rented house at a time. They may stay for a few weeks, a few months, or even years before moving on to the next. I was instantly drawn to this vagabond lifestyle. While I’m not ready to give up my home (because despite my love of travel, I am a homebody at heart), I began to think about the possibility of long-term travel. Two to three weeks in another country is not long enough to immerse in the culture. If we rented houses, I reasoned, we could really get to know a place. We could shop and dine with the locals in our adopted villages, buy rounds at the pub, and establish a cache of friends all over the world.

I planted the seed in my husband’s mind. I wanted him to love the concept before he considered the bottom line. After all, we wouldn’t be selling our home. We would still have to pay for utilities, insurance, and other homeowner essentials while we also paid to live in a second home. But his love of travel prevailed, and the idea took root.

So we have the airline tickets. I have secured 18 B&B’s. (Despite my desire to stay put in one village for the entire three months, day trips to all the places I want to see just aren’t feasible. We are, however, staying a full week in as many places as possible.) And the rental car is waiting. After spending five months planning a three-month trip, we have nothing to do but sit back and anticipate.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The birds are back!

We left Stuart last September to spend a couple of weeks in Nevada and California. During that time, the Army Corps of Engineers determined that Lake Okeechobee was approaching dangerous depths - 15 feet - and posed a risk to the surrounding area by threatening to burst its seams (the dikes) and cause devastating flooding. They started bleeding the polluted lake through its two major arteries, the Caloosahatchee River to the west and the St. Lucie River to the east, in order to relieve the pressure. 

When we got home from our trip at the beginning of October, we looked forward to going out on the boat. Friends told us not to bother; the waterways (not only the St. Lucie River, but also the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Lucie inlet) were a disgusting mess, and the Corps was still bleeding the lake.

We waited patiently for the bleeding to stop, but it continued another month. We made frequent trips down to our dock during that time, and what we saw broke our hearts. The bait fish had left the river, and so did the birds and our beloved dolphins who ate them. 

We have no idea what has happened to the oyster beds that locals were working so hard to restore. I read that an adult oyster, which can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, would not survive three months in the freshwater river we now had. (The salinity level, which usually hovers in the teens (parts per thousand), was then around 0.5 - essentially fresh water.)

They finally stopped bleeding the lake during the first week of November. We went out on the boat a month later. The river still felt like a cemetery. 

Last week we went out again. As soon as we got down to the dock, we felt the difference. The birds were back! Huge flocks of terns. We watched a pelican try to swallow a fish that seemed way too big, even for its flexible throat pouch. And - wonder of wonders - our great blue heron was wading along the shore by our dock eyeing the fish in the shallows.

Dolphins? Not yet, but we are hopeful. Where there are bait fish, there is hope.