Monday, May 9, 2022

Peace and Quiet At Last

 Dateline: Golden Beach, Florida

  It's frustrating, in my current largely incapacitated state, not to be able to make the most of that blissful Florida coastal time when a lot of the northern visitors have started to leave. Traffic is lighter, the beaches and restaurants are emptying a bit and it is lovely here, with the rainy season not quite started, hurricanes not yet on the way and the sea turtles starting to nest. Well I can enjoy it a bit. There's less gardening noise and even less building noise - although the new house on our street still hasn't been finished. The workers turn up sporadically, half-heartedly saw a few things and then hop off home. The house has a gleaming metal roof which looks terrifyingly hot - and when it rains it must be like living inside a steel drum. But metal roofs seem to be all the rage at the moment. It seems it's a very long time since the old house was knocked down and the new one started. Everyone hopes we'll soon lose the portaloo, the beeping reversing trucks and vans and cars parked all over the place and get our street back - until the next demolition that is. But it will never be the same again, with the new white edifice with its grand entrance and tiny window slits like some fortified castle, lording it over the smaller houses. Personally I saw nothing wrong with the old house - not to mention the beautiful tree which was sacrificed in the name of progress. But sadly it's happening everywhere on the Island.

And speaking of hopping, the other day, with my new-found freedom of using a walker instead of crutches, I managed to hop and shuffle from the car to the boardwalk at Caspersen beach. (Golden Beach doesn't have a boardwalk - you have to negotiate the sand dunes and I'm not quite ready for that.)

See what I mean by emptier?  Maybe I'll be able to get a swim in soon.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

I Come Hopping Back.....

 Dateline, Golden Beach Florida

Thank you for your patience! If anyone is still out there, that is. Alas I have been out of action with a bad skiing accident (so much for our trip to Europe!) but I hope I'm now on the mend (graduating from hopping on crutches to shuffling behind a Zimmer frame - or walker to my American friends) and getting all too used to bring waited on hand and foot and ordering poor hubby about. He in turn has come up with magnificent gourmet meals and a show of patience that is  more than stoical. I am immobilised for a few weeks but at least not quivering in a basement in Mariupol, for which I fervently thank God.  While we were away the frangipani burst into bloom

though unfortunately the rest of the garden is a sad shadow of what it should be. There's been a drought for a few weeks and there's a vista of shrivelled annuals, depleted honeysuckle and a passion flower vine stripped by the fabled caterpillars I was mistakenly nurturing. And where exactly are all those butterflies? The electricity people came and chopped down a palm tree we didn't even know we had, so that's left a big gap. Frustratingly I won't be able to do anything about anything, probably till we're back in the autumn.
Anyway that's a quick progress report. More to come soon.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Florida Springs Forward

 Our white orchid tree...

.... has really outdone itself this year!

Who says Florida doesn't have seasons? The tree looked sad and scrubby all winter but it's suddenly burst out. Meanwhile the pink one in the front, which is supposed to bloom in winter, still looks sad and scrubby.

The other marker of spring is the huge crowd heading for the beaches. This is the busiest time for traffic, for tourists ambling across the road without looking, for columns and columns of cyclists doing the Florida thing. The beach car parks were already overflowing just after dawn this morning (the clocks went forward last week and it's pitch black in the mornings) and the gazebos had all been nabbed, presumably by people having breakfast. It's a time when year-round residents put on a superior expression and retreat to their air-conditioned houses, keeping their heads down until the tourists all go home again.

But meanwhile, an ethical dilemma. I was pleased to see what I believe is a gulf fritillary caterpillar on my new passion vine.

Nice, I thought, that we're doing our bit for the butterfly population. Well, where there was one, there are now at least ten, all chomping away. He obviously told his friends, "C'mon lads, suckers in Golden Beach!" The poor plant is sacrificing itself  for a greater good. I've decided to grit my teeth and let nature take its course - but there jolly well better be some butterflies.

We will miss developments over the next month. Because yes, at last, we're actually going back to Blighty. It's been a long time and I feel my old stamping-grounds may be much changed. So watch this space...

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Winter's Back!

 Bleak and blustery at the beach this morning. 

Although there was a warm wind blowing, it seemed ominous - I suspected it would soon turn cold, which it did.  Adding to the atmosphere a flock of black birds tried to fight their way against the wind.      I'm not sure what this is but it's been there a while, so it wasn't blown in this time.

  The Farmers' Market was cancelled, the car show, to hubby's sorrow, was cancelled and the phone kept ringing with severe thunderstorm warnings, which in fact failed to materialise. A tornado threatened in the morning also failed to materialise, for which I wasn't too sorry. The rain bucketed down - a relief after several very dry weeks.

  It's interesting how the weather changes here - from hot in the morning to - they say, down to 40 degrees F tonight, so I've had to cover the planters again. It will be a shock for the plants - the Confederate jasmine's been blooming for a couple of weeks.

And just the other day we were riding again in Deer Prairie Creek Reserve, mopping our brows, dry sandy dust blowing in our faces. The horses were OK as they'd just been clipped. Yes, even in Florida, their winter coats sprout and need attention and they have to wear rugs at night.  

   Evidently we'd missed some excitement.

 Special it might have been but I'm not sure how succesful the hunt was. Some people who rode earlier said they'd seen three of the blighters still very much alive and kicking.  And busy churning up the ground again. Going later in the heat of the day we saw very little in the way of wildlife - a black snake slithering out of our way,  a couple of kayakers on the Myakka River, which was too high for the alligators to bask on the banks. Someone suggested they'd opened some gates somewhere to get ready for the rain. But we did see some gorgeous birds overhead, swallow-tailed kites, probably on their way north.

Sadly this isn't my photo.  

And then driving home from the park this bucolic scene.

Cattle grazing peacefully. Florida isn't all golf courses and gated communities. Yet.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Ospreys (Don't) Go Shopping

 A little light relief in these crazy times - I was coming out of Publix supermarket the other day when I heard a loud and frenetic cheeping. I looked up and there - right in the car park was an osprey nest atop a long pole, no doubt specially erected for them. Funny that I'd been there so many times and never seen it before.

The birds didn't seem to care about the cars, the traffic jams to get out of the exit,  the shoppers trundling their trolleys. They could look smugly down their noses at them - they don't need to queue up at the fish counter with the earthbound hoi polloi.  Actually the ospreys here think they own the place. They long ago set up residence atop the Cathedral conning tower - sorry, I mean spire - which is about as high and safe a place any.

And here are some at one of the marinas.

I've seen them fishing in the Gulf - always too quick to catch a photo and having a leisurely breakfast perched on telegraph poles - or utility poles as they call them here.

 Note the fish tail to the left. And we're always coming across crabs in the road that they've dropped. You've got to hand it to them.  The world has gone mad but for the ospreys life goes on. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

I Heart Golden Beach

 Appropriate for the day, here's another of those beach shell designs, created by person(s) unknown for our delectation.

At least I assume so - unless they're some secret code or the beach equivalent of prehistoric cave paintings.

Publix supermarket is a mass of red balloons and boxes of lurid red and pink synthetic-looking cupcakes. I'm still puzzled about the fact that Valentine's Day in America is not the exclusive domain of lovers  - no - people send Valentines to their grandchildren, nieces and nephews, classmates, in fact every Tom Dick and Harry they can think of, along with sweets and goodies. Maybe this is all a strategy by gift and card manufacturers. I think it rather takes the romance out of it but perhaps that's just me.


Thursday, February 10, 2022

It's Still Cold!

   My neighbours say you can spot the locals as they're all wearing puffa jackets and woolly hats while the tourists struggle in shorts and T-shirts trying to pretend that they're enjoying their so-called break in the sun. I can remember feeling like that myself when we came down for a week a few years ago and I didn't bring any winter clothes and shivered in stubborn denial. It doesn't seem to have deterred people coming here. You can't get a downtown parking space for love or money. That's life in the Season. (nb the Season here has nothing to do with Royal Ascot or Henley.)

Golden Beach has been looking a little bleak...

Not to mention blustery

Though the ever-changing colours are still impressive and someone has been enjoying themselves making pretty patterns out of the shells..

There seems to be a new one every day

And in case you get lost....

If it gets a bit too blowy on the beach, you can always saunter around the neighbourhood

Now where exactly am I?

Let's try thataway....

Well at least today the skies are blue and it's much much much much much worse up north.

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Big Freeze Hits Florida!

  All right, it's not like Up North with its bombogenesis but when Florida gets cold, it really feels cold. Once you winter in a warm climate you lose a lot of resilience. Plus you don't have the right clothes. Especially if you've just come down for a couple of weeks in the sun. (I saw a woman walking her dog this morning wrapped up in what looked like a long woolly dressing gown. "Don't look at me!" she said, "It's all I had!") Over the weekend temperatures overnight dropped to freezing. Before that, hubby and I had rushed around covering flowers with sheets - like wrangling with a runaway parachute in the blustery winds and trying to weigh it down with paint cans and hubby's boat anchor. Others had the same idea.  Some of the streets looked like one of those horror films with Egyptian mummies, except they were wrapped plants and bushes.  On Saturday, down at the beach,  the Gulf was all whitecaps and the wind shrieked around our ears.

On Sunday there was supposed to be a gathering - after a long gap - at our beach access. No buffet because of You Know What, just bring yourselves and your own drinks. It was fun but only a few people showed up. I thought it was because of the cold but it turned out there was a football (the American kind) game with the Chiefs playing the Bengals. Apparently the Chiefs got their just desserts after their cruel victory over the poor Buffalo Bills last week.  It was a lovely evening, the sea much calmer but too cold to stay for the sunset.

And this morning there was frost on some lawns, cars and roofs but not on others. And when we uncovered the flowers, we'd lost the contents of just one planter but not the others. Odd, that. Of course freezes in Florida always bring out the Frozen Iguanas stories. I notice the British media loves them.  Here they are old hat. Yes the frozen iguanas do fall out of trees but I've never heard of anyone around here being hit on the head by one. In fact no one around here has actually seen a frozen iguana. Though they do exist, I'm sure. And most of the iguanas recover. What puzzles me are the instructions to drag the iguanas to a safe pot by their tails. If they're an invasive species why are they telling people to rescue them? I hasten to add that if I saw one I would rescue it too, being an alien species myself.

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!