Saturday, January 22, 2022

A Jaunt Through the Jungle

 There's nothing like exploring the wilds of Florida - and believe me, they're still some wilds left - on horseback. And the weather's just perfect for it now. So a couple of times recently we've loaded up the Windsong Farm trailer with its amenable cargo of Cheyenne, Digger, Teagan et al and descended on the local nature reserves. 

 First was a foray into Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park a little way east on 1-75 and which gained some notoriety last summer as the site of the police search for Brian Laundrie, who'd murdered his girlfriend out west - a sad story that captured the headlines for weeks. Then it was the summer rainy season and the park was flooded, one huge, practically impassable swamp. Grisly remains only came to light when it started to dry out. Now, in the winter, it  turns into a picturesque jungle of palm tree groves and old oak trees draped with Spanish moss, with just the occasional rustle in the bushes to remind you that this is no city park.

Soft paths meander past ditches of murky blackness. The dry palmetto fronds rustle, the occasional snake slithers out of the way and the horses are constantly on the alert, ears pricked, well-attuned to real or imagined danger. Once, on a previous ride, Teagan shot straight upwards like a firework from all four legs. I never saw what he'd seen but he may have had good reason. Fortunately he landed in the same place.

Prairie Creek Preserve is closer and here we ride  among trees trailing thick vines (the old Tarzan films were made here) along the wide, languid Myakka River, looking much as it would have done centuries ago with the odd alligator basking on its sandbanks -  or, on this particular day, swimming nonchalantly along - vultures wheeling and a heron fishing in the shallows. The water is brackish - the horses won't drink it but alligators don't mind. This last time, an armadillo trotted across the path - a little visitor from prehistoric times (I saw one once, click-clacking across the road in our neighbourhood). Here many of the sandy paths are churned up by feral hogs and we wonder at large feline footprints. Probably bobcats rather than panthers. Then briefly back to the real world and hikers smiling, "What pretty horses!' and a girl with a tiny, panic-stricken Pomeranian thrashing in her arms, "He's never seen a horse before!" Then it's quiet again, just us and the meandering river, glimpsed through palmetto fronds. "I can see bubbles!" Jennifer said, craning her neck, "Oh" she said, "Not an alligator", as a lone kayaker paddled past. Believe me I would not like to kayak on that river. You're much safer on a horse. 

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Warm and Sunny January

 Dateline, Golden Beach, Florida

  The lovely weather continues apace and my year-round friends are frustrated. They'd like to have a chance to wear woolly hats and scarves. We would rather not. Hubby gleefully scrutinises the western New York weather forecast every morning. I look at it here and there and sometimes forget to change the website back to Venice, Florida. You can get a nasty shock first thing in the morning - Huh, WHAT?!  Snow and ice! High of 13 degrees! (Fahrenheit that is.) It's like one of those nightmares when you dream you're back at school taking exams. The Christmas and New Year visitors have largely departed and - until it gets busier again at the end of the month when the short-term "snowbirds" come down - life has returned to the New Normal. Well there have been some exciting moments - an alligator's been found in someone's swimming pool, local ladies have been making quilts for the tornado victims in Kentucky and they've set up a new Covid testing site at the Community Centre, the queues of cars stretching all the way round the island (well almost). 

Building everywhere continues, with an old house being pulled down, it seems,  every day and you have to weave around trucks and cement mixers and builders' vans parked along the narrow roads. - a shame for the pastel-coloured little island houses. They squeeze the new monstrosities into tiny spaces and once you've put in the obligatory glorified bath that passes for a swimming pool and giant, ugly cage over the top of it, there's hardly any back garden left. I know I should say "back yard" but I can't bring myself to do it. One of those "divided by a common language" moments. Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a feature on the British Royal Family's homes and described Buckingham Palace as having "London's largest private backyard". Ugh! That those stately gardens could be called something properly belonging to scrap metal and prisons! 

Monday, January 3, 2022

Here's to a Better 2022....


That's what everyone's saying. Sounds familiar?  "I feel like a sitting duck", my neighbour said gloomily  as we all await the Omicron Tsunami. Still, it was a beautiful Christmastide in Venice - sunny and warm almost every day and plenty of signs that people were getting together with their families. The joggers and runners appearing on the streets, kids looking for sharks' teeth on the beach and wobbling along on their new bikes, the unfortunate frequency of private jets screaming into little Venice airport and fireworks going off at all hours and not just on New Year's Eve.  Evidently the adults have all had electric bikes for Christmas - they are everywhere, creeping up on you silently with their sinister fat black wheels. A friend estimated they now constitute 80 per cent of the traffic on the bike trail. It seems to defeat the purpose of riding a bike in the first place.

Meanwhile I've been counting the different modes of transport for Santa - no electric bikes as yet but so far among the spottings this year a jet ski, an aeroplane, a steam engine, a sailing boat  and of course an elephant, which I pointed out last year.

We will keep our lights until the 12th day of Christmas as usual - though the Epiphany now apparently falls on the 2nd of January, the nearest Sunday to the 6th, because they think people are too lazy to go to church on the 6th. Not true here in Florida I'm sure.
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2021

More From a Florida Christmas

 A front garden sample...

And another....

And by contrast...


A Happy/Merry Golden Beach Christmas!

   OK, now time for some Christmas cheer - so here's some....

The Coastguard display at the Arboretum - 

where people and groups decorate individual trees and bushes to make a veritably fairyland.

It was almost back to its old self this year, though they cancelled the official opening night. But there were people strolling and admiring, kids running around, two little girls scraping away at Christmas carols on their violins. Here's one for the aforesaid Buddy

A dad walking past tried to explain to his very literally-minded offspring what the dog was up to. His guess was as good as mine.

Meanwhile the Living Nativity was back again behind the WaWa garage.

Along with numerous goats, "You can feed all the animals!" said one of shepherds at the gate which makes a refreshing change.

And carol singers (they call them "carolers" here).

And here's the archetypal Florida garden Christmas display

The Christmas palm tree. Well come to think of it palm trees are probably more authentic than Santa and reindeer  in the snow. As we await the Florida end of the Omicron deluge most people are getting on with their lives and trying to make the best of Christmas. Merry here, Happy in the UK. Wherever you are, enjoy it!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

This is Not the Dog Beach

  Ah, peaceful Golden Beach at dawn, with the pinks and greys and blues of the sky and just the odd lone fisherman.

 And the shore birds out, looking for breakfast.

It's a magical time, to walk and think and gaze out over the water and collect shells and I cherish it.

Trouble is, no matter which direction I take, I manage to meet my nemesis - a dog walker. 

He'd just blithely walked past the sign. 

Well  actually that sign is an interesting variation. Mostly they say "No Dogs on Beach". I wonder what sort of other animals people have been bringing to the beach to inspire it.  There are plenty of animals already on the beach - crabs, rabbits, raccoons, bobcats, but they don't read too well. Or pretend they don't.

A couple of weeks ago a man was standing by the water and calling his dog to join him, "C'mon Buddy!" Buddy was a bit reluctant at first.

"I see", I observed, "that your dog can read and you can't."

Buddy then proceeded to chase me, getting more and more excited, his lead trailing and nearly tripping me up until I had enough, "Will you please call your dog!"

The man evidently decided to punish me by doing nothing. Finally after a major loss of temper on my part, he emitted a reluctant, "C'mon Buddy". Needless to say, Buddy took no notice. 

The trouble is, they have a rule but absolutely no way of enforcing it. If every dog owner in Venice - and they are legion - decided the rules didn't apply to them we'd have complete mayhem.

I hasten to point out that there is a dog beach just down the road, so they have no excuse.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Shamrocks, Snakes and a Tortoise or Two

 After our British Pub lunch we checked out Shamrock Park, which sounds as though it should be a genteel bit of suburban greenery with a duckpond and a bandstand. In fact it's a real wilderness.

That's one of the good things about Florida. It gets more built up by the minute, with new gated communities popping up all over the place but they can still be cajoled to leave some wilderness behind. Shamrock Park sits alongside the intracoastal waterway, which divides Venice Island from the mainland.

I once overheard a chap at the farmers' market who claimed there were Komodo dragons in Shamrock Park. Possibly, possibly not. "Perhaps he meant iguanas", my neighbour said. Iguanas being those giant lizards from down south that fall out of trees in the winter, frozen solid, but then perk up again when it gets warmer. We once saw one the size of a dachshund waddling along the pavement in Palm Beach. It gave me a turn, I can tell you. 

 We didn't see any iguanas - or Komodo dragons - in Shamrock Park but we did see a small snake.

Which was quite enough excitement for one day. Of course the other famous inhabitants of Shamrock Park are my old friends (see below) the gopher tortoises, with all the rules and regulations surrounding these most mollycoddled of Florida's fauna. 

In fact we hadn't even got to the park yet when we saw one inching its way along the middle of the road.  I wondered whether we should stop and help it out of the traffic but that would constitute disturbing it and I didn't want to be sent to Guantanamo Bay. I hoped it could muster a turn of speed if necessary.

Then on the path by the intracoastal waterway we saw another one, 

...evidently looking for some lunch. I wanted to point it in the direction of the British Pub but sausage rolls probably weren't its thing.