Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year from the Garden

 New Year's Eve has sort of crept up on us - with no socialising to speak of,  I almost hadn't realised we were there - just time to stick a bottle of bubbly in the fridge so I can sip it in solidarity with friends far away. No one around here has had time to do much else in the past few days than sit grimly 24/7  at their computer screens waiting for possibly mythical vaccination appointments to free up. Florida, in its wisdom, sprang the news on us that, unlike most other states, it had some vaccines available for us of a certain age group. One friend was inordinately lucky to grab an early appointment before too many people heard about it. They are using a system normally set up for booking tickets to pop concerts and like pop concerts, the vaccination events (sic) have so far sold out in thirty seconds.  We will probably still be sitting pathetically glued to our screens this time next year.  But let's forget about that for a bit and celebrate a little horticultural lookback over the past few weeks. (I confess the garden's been a bit neglected of late - well it has been chilly, though not up to western New York standards.) 

Florida is different. There are weird and wonderful things in the garden I'm only just beginning to get to know. Witness this collection of bizarre fruits. Top left a balsam pear - normally attached to a ratty-looking but tenacious vine that inches its way everywhere it's not meant to be. Followed by a ripe balsam pear with lurid red seeds, like something out of a sci fi film. And to the right, two calamondins, far too sour to eat raw but they smell delicious and if you stew them with some sugar for a while make powerfully-flavoured preserves. 

Out of the blue, a monarch caterpillar perched on Florida's version of milkweed. He disappeared after a couple of days. I like to think I saw him fluttering past.

The new blue sky vine threw out one gorgeous flower - in December.

(It actually has a few more now and is going great guns.) And one of the team of giant lilies my friend kindly donated a couple of years ago suddenly brought forth.

Sadly the flower had a brief life. Too heavy for its stem, I found it lying forlornly on the ground. Some kind of support is in order should its companions follow suit. It did survive for a bit in a vase.

Though after a while the strong, strange, slightly-off scent drove us to ban it from the house.

Less spectacular but perhaps even more of a delight was this little thing.

That had somehow grown out of concrete but still looked pretty chipper. That's the spirit! Let's hang on to it for a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Let's Have a Fun Florida Christmas

 Let's count our blessings. The lady at the checkout at Publix supermarket said "Merry Christmas" not "Happy Holidays".  And unlike Easter, we'll actually be able to get to church, although we had to make reservations way ahead of time, have to get to the Cathedral half an hour before and stand in line, masked up,  to be checked off, sit where we're told to sit and so on. But it's so much better than doing it virtually.  

  Sadly no big family Christmas, though there'll be enough zoom sessions with various sets of relations to make it seem almost like a string of parties.

   We actually got our tree in time this year so didn't have to make do with a straggly one.

Here it is, being strapped on top of the Volvo. What Volvos were made for of course, though they wouldn't expect 80 degrees and palm trees.

Having said that, the local paper is threatening "polar chill weather" (60 degrees or so, going down to, horror of horrors, 38 overnight) for Christmas Day, so we probably won't be having a picnic on the beach but we might manage a walk. That's after roast beef and Yorkshire pudding (turkeys are so last month) and wonder of wonders the German deli not only stocks  British bangers  but also goose fat - roast potatoes! Hurray! But sadly no chipolatas.
 And of course, here, Christmas has its own Florida touches. Though where Santa on an elephant comes into it I'm not sure.

Someone must have sold the street a job lot. A couple of houses down...

There was another one! 

Around the corner, he'd arrived by helicopter.

But a bigger fad this year seems to be Santa flamingos.

They are everywhere, including the city arboretum.

And by gosh, they're saying Merry Christmas! That's Happy Christmas of course, to my British friends. Have a good one!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Essential Workers?

 So the vaccines are going to come rolling in soon - let's pray it all goes smoothly. I fear an unseemly row over who deserves to get one first. I can't help thinking of people wrangling over the too few lifeboats on the Titanic and wonder if this might be replicated in the long lines that will undoubtedly form at CVS and Rite Aid pharmacies. (Especially if they prioritise over 65s. That's most of Florida's population. Well almost.) These sort of things can bring out the worst in people. I note that a certain 30-something Congresswoman had herself filmed getting her vaccine on social media. Well good for her - no one wants anyone to get seriously ill. But hang on a minute, did I get that right? Who should the first, precious vaccine shots be going to? Elderly, vulnerable people in nursing homes?  Nurses and doctors and carers?  Homeless shelters?  Essential workers? All those people without whom daily life couldn't go on and who willingly put themselves at risk - bus drivers,  teachers, workers in food factories and supermarkets,  police, politicians.... politicians?  I suspect there are those who take the view that there are few less essential workers in this world than politicians. But it seems they are first in the queue. Perhaps they think they are setting a good example. Oh dear, with some people that might have the opposite effect. I hope there won't be a backlash.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Too Much Excitement

 It was Wednesday afternoon. I was watching the football, Liverpool v Spurs. Harry Kane about to step up for a free kick when this happened:

The television screen went blue, screeched and buzzed. A robotic voice warned of imminent danger of death from an "extremely dangerous" tornado and barked in apocalyptic tones, "Take Cover!" I was about to make for the coats cupboard which is about the only part of our house that doesn't have windows, when I realised the warning was for a county about an hour to the north of us. The tornado did indeed do some serious damage, upending telegraph poles, smashing buildings and flipping a pickup truck. Thankfully no one was hurt. The warning was in time. But it made me think. This sort of thing doesn't happen much in Blighty, nor indeed in rural western New York. Florida may be tamed and manicured but sometimes you get the feeling you're teetering on the edge.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Don't Follow the Crowd

 You know what they say about tourist hotspots like Venice (the other one) and the Lake District? That they may look impossibly crowded but you only need to show a little independent spirit and deviate a few streets from where the hordes gather and you'll have the place to yourself.

  Such, we found, was Caspersen Beach, happily just down the road. While everyone was converging seawards from the seething car park, lugging  chairs and parasols and picnic coolers, we walked against the traffic, towards land. And a lovely tranquil nature reserve.

It looked, I'm guessing, pretty much how it would have looked in the days of the pioneers. Which of course was a tough time. Snakes, alligators, panthers, mosquitoes, heat and humidity. But if you could stand all that and had a sense of humour, it must have been one long adventure. Now we have to get our thrills in small, carefully managed parcels. Though there are, of course, still alligators on the golf course. Nothing in Florida is ever completely safe.   

And just to add to the historic atmosphere, we discovered some intriguing fossils.

And wonder of wonders - could that possibly be a  rare scrub jay sitting on the tree? I'm no expert but we were standing right by the sign that said "Scrub Jay Habitat".  So I'll carry on believing. A pity they're not called something more appealing and they don't look as gaudy as blue jays, which are the noisy neighbours of birdworld, vulgar, brassy and two-a-penny. But scrub jays are as authentically Floridian as you can get. Thankfully, here at least, at the moment, they're safe from golf clubs and gated communities.

Goodness knows what else you might find lurking out of sight in the jungle.

We meandered along quiet paths, hardly meeting another person. Just hearing the rustling of the palms and the strange cries of birds. Until we got to the intracoastal waterway and got a hefty reality check.

And a glimpse of another possibly endangered species.

Probably feeling a little disappointed now but still flying the flag. At least they were having fun. Gazing on the beauties of nature does tend to puts things in perspective.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Get Me One of Those!

 I sense yard sign creep - or front garden sign creep to us English speakers. The things are getting more and more numerous. For one thing, a lot of election signs are still up - notably and defiantly the Trump ones. One nearby house has changed its display to a forest of large, handwritten placards accusing a certain politician of stealing the election, with a photo of said politician with a large caption proclaiming, "Cheat!" It is not a good advertisement for democracy, though, since the signs haven't been vandalised yet, not a bad one for free speech. 

  Having said that, I don't mind the election signs that much, especially as - OK, in normal times - they disappear once the excitement is over. Likewise the estate agents' signs and the ads for builders and pest control. They have to earn a living. No, what I have decidedly mixed feelings about are the rash of sanctimonious virtue signalling-type slogans that seem to have multiplied everywhere. They say things like "Hate Has No Home Here", or "Integrity", or "Honesty" or "Tolerance" and such like. Not that I disagree with the sentiments in themselves but methinks they protest too much. And, since the slogans have proliferated over the past four years, I suspect they're not politically neutral. (Any more, dare I say,  than the word "Peace",  when used by the old Soviet Union and its stooges,  was politically neutral). A popular sign lists several maxims, one above the other, in different colours and fonts, on the lines of "everyone welcome here." I would dearly like to call their bluff. Turn up on the doorstep with a suitcase and say, "Gosh, thanks! Your house is much bigger than ours and a bit nearer the beach, so I think I'll move in."  I could be really naughty and dress up in a red baseball cap and see what their reaction is then. But as I frequently stress, the blog does not take sides in American politics.

 Still, I was very heartened when a friend sent me this:

Clearly I am not alone. Ooh, please, can I have one?

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Golden Golden Beach

 Golden Beach at sunrise on mornings like this reminds me of just why we're here. It doesn't get much better than this.  A tranquil sea, dawn pinks and blues, miniature waves  lapping and tickling, pelicans swooping and rocking on the water, turnstones and sanderlings scurrying on their clockwork legs. 

An osprey flies overhead with his breakfast takeaway and a sudden "plop" behind me as a tern dives, then another and another, while a tiny plane from the wakening airport putters out over the ocean.  While below just the odd hopeful shark tooth prospector, a fisherman lining up his rods, a white sail on the horizon.

 And clambering back over a still empty wooden walkway, past Sharky's beach pavilion, the smell of disinfectant and early morning masked cleaners scrubbing dutifully, skirting one of the last remaining bits of wilderness by the Coastguard post, a red-shouldered hawk on  a dead tree watching from high above. 

Then in  a few strides back again to manicured front gardens and squirrels skittering back and forth across the road, tiny acorns from the live oaks crunching under my shoes. It's not yet the hour of the leaf blower but of cyclists bowling past with a "Good Morning!" and the grass on the short cut to our house still soaked in dew. You can almost think that everything's right with the world. Maybe it is.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Happy T-Word

 I have to consider the sensitivities of the chaps in the photo at the top of the page, so I'll whisper that today is T**********g and a very quiet one at that. A lot of romantic just-the-two-of-us celebrations going on around us, a lot of those turkey breast  (sorry lads) roasts for two flying off the shelves. Like us, my friend had bought one but bemoaned the fact that her hubby, unlike mine, liked dark meat. I said that, in retrospect, we should have got a bird between us and split it in half. Still there is plenty of bonhomie around. On our socially distanced morning walk people waving and saying Happy T**********g. There must be something good and warm and fuzzy coming out of all this gloom. My friend is a yoga devotee and I couldn't resist sending her a snippet from the local news. The latest thing, apparently is "Yoga with Tigers" at the local Big Cat Habitat, which rescues lions and tigers from dodgy owners. One assumes the tigers will be socially distancing.

Happy T**********g everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

An Egret's Dilemma

Hmm... which way I wonder?

 Looks promising

Well maybe not - on second thoughts let's try thataway

No - wait a minute - that way! C'mon! Let's go!

Er - um - doesn't look right. Now where am I?

Oops! Perhaps not

Now what? Oh well, let's turn round again

Huh. Breakfast yesterday, breakfast tomorrow but never breakfast today. 

That's life in 2020 folks! 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

After Eta

A couple of days after the storm and the beach was still, how shall we put it, exhilarating. My surf-loving friend who's moved from California said the waves had been up to seven feet the day before. "Did you get to surf?" I said jokingly, "Of course", he said seriously.

The benches had lost their legs. Is someone going to shovel all that sand back?

 Early the following morning, walking the other way, it seemed half the debris in the Gulf of Mexico had swept up,

Including some potential works of art 

Some fascinating vegetation

Signs of some minor devastation - for someone

And some less than fascinating nasty junk - sticks of wood with sharp nails sticking out, broken beer cans with jagged edges, all reminders that there's no such thing as an earthly paradise.

    Making the best of it though 

Were the fishermen

Of all types

There was still a lot of water in odd places. This new channel had appeared

Behind the trees to the left, a little overgrown and forlorn, is the classic midcentury house once owned by Walter Farley, who wrote the Black Stallion books. In those days people still rode horses on the beach. It's one of the last really authentic old beach houses left among a load of new trophy monstrosities.
  And the likely swamp down the road has a lot more water than usual.

Passing a large puddle I remembered an alligator expert saying, "In Florida, if you see a puddle, expect an alligator." Since the puddle was opposite the golf course, an alligator habitat of choice, I gave it a wide berth. I haven't seen any in the likely swamp but you never know.
to be continued...

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Eta and the Frogs

 Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

  A lot of excitement the past few days as the perverse Tropical Storm/occasional Hurricane Eta behaved like a squirrel crossing the road, constantly turning circles and changing its mind about which way to go. So Sunday and Monday were windy and rainy, Tuesday a little better and Wednesday (yesterday) a windy deluge. We brought the garden furniture and hanging baskets in and looped over the curtains in the lanai (the netted cage at the back that Florida houses have, presumably to keep the mosquitoes out). 

Of course the photo, taken through the netting, doesn't show anything much - in reality the branches were swaying around like seaweed under water and the rain was bucketing down. One neighbour's front garden was a pond.

We are tropical storm newbies - this is the worst weather we've been though in Florida but our neighbours said it was nothing as bad as Irma in 2017.  Though phones and hubby's marine radio were constantly buzzing and elongated high pitched beeping with tornado and flood warnings and the lights ominously flickered on and off and on again interrupting the dishwasher and hubby's Zoom meeting. "Please let me back in!", I heard him begging plaintively.
  The strangest thing happened when it grew dark. Hubby went to take a look outside and rushed back in saying, "It sounds as though there's some bird in distress." An eery screeching emanated from somewhere underground, getting louder and louder and seemed to be echoed by a similar loud screeching down the street. It was loudest at the drain grill. I thought of those big leggy birds that abound in Florida - perhaps that's the sound they made if they were trapped and struggling, swept into a drain pipe by the storm and powerless to escape. I called my neighbour who said she wasn't about to risk her life for an animal though she might for a human. Then she listened for a bit and said, "It's probably frogs". 
  "Frogs! So loud? Surely not. We wondered if we should call the RSPCA - or whatever they have here."
  "I'm sure it's frogs. They're probably having a party. I know you're a very caring person but I don't think you need worry". 
   The sounds went on all evening and into the night, multiplying until there was practically a symphony. The screeching began to sound more like croaking. I realised my neighbour was probably right. Well certainly right. Brekekekex Ko-ax Ko-ax. Appropriate for a Greek-named storm.
  In the morning, the frogs were silent, probably badly hung over. The water had receded, though in some parts of our neighbourhood, near inlets and such, the water mark had clearly reached half way up their drives. A wet sun emerged and the sky was blue. We went for our morning power walk, passing friends with their dogs, "Got off lightly there, didn't we!"  

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Are We Done? Part 2

 In 2016 I was, being a woman, mildly embarrassed to hear Hillary Clinton bang on about how proud she was that the Democrats had selected a woman as their candidate. Now there's a big song-and-dance about the first woman vice-President. (men of course didn't get a look-in in this case). 

I'd like to remind my American friends that it's 2020 not 1920. Compatriots of Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Jacinta Ardern, Marys Robinson and McAleese,  Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Benazir Bhutto, Kazimira Prunskiene, Edith Cresson, Violeta Chamorro, Tansu Ciller, Hanna Suchocka, Gloria Arroyo, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Luisa Diogo, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Michele Bachelet, Cristina Kirchner, Yulia Timoshenko, Dalia Grybauskaite, Laura Chinchilla, Dilma Roussef, Julia Gillard, Yingluck Shinawatra, Alenka Bratusek, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Bidhya Devi Bandari, Sheikh Hasina and many more like them* might be forgiven for saying, "So what?"

*Question: Were all these vastly different female leaders in so many vastly different countries mostly chosen because they were women or because they'd get the job done? Tough one that....

Are We Done?

 The blog, as a foreigner, doesn't wish to take sides in the subtle complexities of American politics. It would like, though, to offer a few observations.

"I'll be very happy when we don't see those any more!" Quote, pre-election, from a Florida neighbour  pointing to a front garden election sign.

"Republicans for Biden".  Election sign around the corner from us.

"I just wish I didn't have to wake up every morning terrified about what he's going to tweet today," Quote, pre-election, from another Florida neighbour.

"Of course  I hope Trump will win again and of course he will win again but I really worry about election fraud," Quote, pre-election,  from a friend up in rural western New York.

"We're desperately praying",  Quote, post-election,  from an anxious pro-life friend in the mid-west. 

I can't help pointing out without prejudice that, despite shooting himself in the foot at every opportunity, despite loud and near universal loathing, from day one of his presidency, from the mainstream media, the political and cultural establishment, Silicon Valley, academia, Hollywood,  big business, big cities, celebrities and Covid 19, the Donald still managed to up his vote, Notably from non-white voters. And he almost won.  And despite all of the above, the Republicans may still keep the Senate and have increased their numbers in the House of Representatives. There's a message there somewhere. Future presidential hopefuls had better start looking for it.

And now we can all start worrying about Tropical Storm Eta which, while everyone was distracted, suddenly decided to turn round and head straight for Florida. Wish us luck.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Walking Catfish

 My neighbour shuddered, "We'd had a lot of rain. I opened the garage door and there outside was a walking catfish! Yeugh! It was horrible. And it was.." she paused for effect, "Still alive!"

"A what?"  I gulped, "But we're nowhere near water!" Nearish to the beach perhaps but so far as I know, catfish don't like seawater. I took in the horror story and googled walking catfish. No, it wasn't April Fool's Day. They do exist. 

(Alas this is not my photo.) And they walk, propelling themselves along on their fins but on dry land. Or damp land, usually after it's been pouring with rain. We don't have streams in our street but we do have drainage ditches and they just love those. In all the time we'd been coming here to Florida, I had never seen one. Well just like the Number 9 Bus you don't spot one for ages and then they all come together. A few days ago my neighbour messaged me, "I think you should know that there's a walking catfish in your front garden. Not very big. About 8 inches." Correction, being American,  she actually said, "front yard." I didn't see the message for a couple of hours,  which with hindsight was a good thing. When I finally plucked up the courage to go and investigate, the creature was no longer in our front garden but in the road and also, sadly, had gone to its reward, having evidently been flattened by several cars - no mean feat on our quiet dead-end street.  It looked like the one in the picture only less shiny.  Like a bit of old tyre, actually. I messaged my neighbour thinking to point out it was slightly on her side of the street but then relented in the interests of public spirit and said that, unless she wanted it for supper, I would dispose of it. "Thank you but we have other dinner plans", she replied.

 It appears that the catfish are of Asian origin and therefore considered an invasive species. (Please do not take this the wrong way.) If alive, you're not supposed to transfer them elsewhere, though I believe some people put them in a bucket and take them to the nearest pond. Our nearest pond has several alligators so I'm not sure if that would be helpful. My Indonesian friend assured me they see walking catfish all the time over there and they are delicious to eat. However she added ominously, "My mother would never cook them". 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Hanging on to Hope

 Talking about success stories in the garden, I forgot to mention the beauty berry. 

My neighbour's advice to cut it right back in the spring bore fruit in every sense of the word. The berries are quite magnificent.

Decorative rather than edible but you can't have everything.  Speaking of decorative, hubby called out, "rainbow!" and I dashed out to get a picture. Of course the phone refused to take it until the rainbow  was nearly gone. But you can't have everything.

At a time when Covid 19 is gleefully upping its game, thumbing its nose at the world's prayers and precautions, when  the eerie echo of football without fans looks set for the duration, when the head of the Catholic Church makes remarks akin to the Chief Rabbi musing on the health benefits of bacon butties,  when the height of political debate in the world's superpower consists of two old men hurling insults like drunks in a pub and we're fast losing our grip on which way is up, we have to cling on to some small signs of hope.