A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

Leopard Correct 2

Leopard at Mala Mala

Nature has never been “my thing.” I’m more in tune with books and technology – a Kindle freak and a camera junkie. Our kids had the usual assortment of pets – from dogs and cats to rabbits and hamsters. Our family frequented zoos, of course, and even took a photographic safari to Mala Mala in Africa, but actually seeking out animals in the wild on my own was absolutely foreign to me. The closest I ever came to nature was when a wood duck plummeted down our fireplace chimney in Minnesota and had to be rescued.

Eventually we moved to Texas and I was forced to confront nature in the raw. When a wolf spider the size of my fist decided to explore my VW convertible, I exploded from the car screaming, “Ragno, Ragno –Aiuto! Aiuto!” I couldn’t think of “spider” or “help” in Spanish and reverted to Italian; the Hispanic groundskeepers at our office looked heavenward for spiritual succor and hastily backed away from the hysterical woman screaming in a foreign language!

At times baby copperheads slithered down the hall outside my office, fire ants found me particularly delectable, and once a Portuguese Man-o-War wrapped itself around my thigh at the Galveston beach. I learned to check out my surroundings in Texas.

But now I live in Southwest Florida. Sometimes when I sit on our lanai in the early morning, I feel as though I am channeling Walt Disney! As the sun brightens the treetops, baby bunnies and squirrels have been known to peer through the screen at me, owls hoot in the nearby nature preserve, anhingas pose on the creekbed rocks behind our condo and stretch their wings to dry. The setting is so idyllic that when I rouse myself to refill my coffee mug, I would not be surprised if bluebirds tied an apron around my waist and told Cinderella to get to work!

Not HONY, but AOSWF

Having lived mostly in “the North,” I am enamored by the Animals of Southwest Florida. My camera (a Nikon P600) has been key to helping me discover nature in detail. With its 60X optical zoom, I see things through the camera that I could never see otherwise. I love shelling at Barefoot Beach where osprey shelter their young 30 feet above me on nesting platforms.Osprey (Once a friend and I watched a young osprey learning to fly in fits and spurts; I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take pictures!) Sometimes I use the camera on my phone to photograph the shore birds as they snatch minnows and crabs in the ripples. Gopher tortoises poke their heads out of their burrows, then emerge to stroll to nearby grasses for a leisurely snack. Cranes, herons and pelicans eye fisherman and try to steal their bait.

Egrets fish and ibis grub in our back yard. Dolphins gambol in the wake of the pontoon boat ferrying us to an island beach, where even the jellyfish are Disney benign!Dolphin A couple of weeks ago, I saw the beach rangers  gently carrying platter-sized jelly fish from the shallows back into the waves. I could feel those burning man-o-war tentacles grasping my thigh as I remonstrated with the rangers – surely they should at least have gloves and shirts on their bare hands and arms! But, no, they patiently explained, these were moon jellies and not dangerous to humans.

Birds, dolphins, jellyfish were all good subjects, of course, but I was eager to photograph an alligator in the wild. Our neighbors regaled us with tales of eight foot gators sauntering down the road in front of our condo; but when pinned down, they confessed that it was five or six or maybe ten years ago – not recently. I went on lengthy walks, checked out ponds, looked in reeds for sleeping logs, but to no avail. The keepers at the Naples Zoo told us that alligators feed at night, that they were uninterested in humans unless someone had been foolish enough to feed them. Regretfully I concluded that gators were unlikely to be cruising my suburban neighborhood. I was ten years too late.

Call of the Wild

Our young grandson loves netting minnows in the creek behind our condo – hanging on to tree branches to get a longer reach into the brackish, murky water. Our son-in-law (he of intrepid driver fame in a previous blog) likes to cast for bass from the bank and has caught some big ones.

Late one afternoon I heard a call, “Cyndee, better get your camera!” I ran to the creek before the big one got away. A cast – SNAP! An unseen fish grabbed the shiny lure, then spit it back into the water! Another cast – another snap! Only this time the “fish” was visible – a log with sharp teeth, beady eyes and large nostrils. And it looked annoyed that the shiny lure was not a silvery bass!Alligator

I took lots of pictures of our creek visitor, but I confess that I am no longer quite so carefree about walking near the ponds and reeds looking for wild life in the neighborhood. I’ve photographed more gators lurking in the water and sunning themselves on the shore of the nature preserve during the day, but I remain reading my Kindle comfortably on the lanai at night. I’m still channeling Walt Disney, of course, but in the evening I’m more in tune with Peter Pan and the ticking croc, than with Cinderella and the bluebirds!

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Relax…Breathe…

The highway digital sign crying “Silver Alert – Missing elderly man in gray Mercedes, License XXXX” signaled our entry into Florida. Having spent the last twenty years living in the suburbs of DC and Houston, we are accustomed to snipers, car-jacking , kidnapping and Amber alerts, murder and mayhem…missing children, but not missing seniors!

Loving the Beach!

Loving the Beach!

Whenever we relocate, we approach the adventure as if we were moving to a foreign country – new foods, new vocabulary, new customs. We followed the same process with this move to the Naples area.

We quickly adapted to the new foods: Tex Mex has been replaced by Italian and fresh seafood restaurants.

New vocabulary: “In Season” no longer means to wear white after Memorial Day, but refers to the time of year when tourists invade the Florida beaches.

New customs: Relax…breathe…relax…  Keeping up with the 80 MPH traffic on the Interstates around Houston has given me a heavy foot and an attitude. Traffic on Highway 41 (Tamiami Road) to Fort Myers is nearly as congested as it is on Beltway 8 in Houston, except that it moves at 1/3 the speed; instead of eighteen wheelers and super big pick-ups rocketing past us on the Interstate, a plodding phalanx of luxury cars block all three lanes. We are trying to learn to calm our ulcers and enjoy the pace.  After all, we are retired. We don’t HAVE to be anywhere! Relax..breathe…

All the News…

I am a print newspaper person. Yes, I have my Kindle for books, my tablet for research, my phone for email, and my computer for blog writing. But I love my paper and coffee in the morning, even though the news is 24 hours old and I’ve already read the highlights on Google.  Embarrassed though I am to confess it, my favorite part of the Daily News is the police reports!

The first one I read hooked me forever:  a motorized wheelchair had been found in downtown Naples; if not claimed in 90 days, the wheelchair would be turned over to the finder.

I pondered with another cup of coffee: did the chair take off on its own? did junior high kids joy-ride in a stolen wheel chair, and then abandon it? was the occupant of the chair suddenly raptured?  Did he appear in heaven wearing his clothes, but leaving his wheelchair behind?

After the murder and mayhem of Houston, the domestic “violence” reports here are lifted from the 50’s. A few of my favorites from the last weeks are:

  • The couple who were arrested because he scratched her neck and left a red mark after she struck him with a phone charger cord. This is violence?  Have they never heard of assault weapons?
  • A woman who attacked another with a hair dryer. That was the whole story in the paper. I want to know more! Was the dryer set at full power and on hot? Did the victim’s hair stand on end?
  • The adult who threw a soup can at the teen-age boy who had not started his chores. The boy had a bruised arm and “the soup can was taken into evidence.” With some fast thinking by the “perp,” this report could have been the gentler version of the Alfred Hitchcock episode where Mary killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then roasted it and served it to the investigating officers. Why didn’t the guy have lunch before the police arrived?

And the crime stopper:

  • A man was arrested for operating a dental office out of a one-car garage. He picked up people at the local grocery store and drove them to his place of business. He quoted undercover agents $350 for a root canal, and was charged with practicing dental hygiene without a license! Where can I get a license for flossing? Target? CVS? Walgreens?

Barefoot

Lest you think I don’t like it here, let me extol the virtues: really nice people, amazing photo ops, great restaurants and beaches. Beaches and more beaches, and all within a few minutes’ drive! We often have to remind ourselves that that we don’t have to “go back” in a few days – we’re not on vacation. We actually LIVE here!

Now if we could only learn to relax…

It’s a Small World, but a Big Decision

My aunt once announced that Perk and I had to quit moving because she had run out of space for us in her address book. When I calculated the number of places we have lived over the course of our marriage, I realized that we averaged a move every three-four years – sometimes to a new city, sometimes to a new place in the old city. I started keeping an inventory of our worldly goods, so that we could divest ourselves of them more easily with each move. We’ve pared down considerably.

???????????????????????????????When we were moving from Minneapolis, I measured my bookshelves in the new DC condo and made tough choices; as an English teacher, I had collected books for decades. Our son carted boxes of cherished volumes to the used book store until the manager cried, “That’s enough! We can’t take any more!” My son sorrowfully choked, “But I don’t know what to do with all of these. My parents aren’t with me anymore.” Assuming that we had moved on to that great Barnes and Noble in the sky, the manager relented and took all 3,000 (yes, three THOUSAND!) books.

Where in the World?

This next relocation, however, is disconcerting because we have no parameters for our decision-making.  Being retired, we do not need to worry about the commute time to the office, the quality of the schools, or even the city we live in. We only need to think about where we want to go, and it’s a big world out there!

As a Type-A Virgo, I had to invent some boundaries for myself.  We began by thinking about what we wanted in a new location:

  • A destination place We are gregarious, accustomed to lots of house guests. Apparently our delightful presence is not enough of a draw, because NO ONE accepts our invitations to come to Houston.  As my friend Ann Flanagan said, “Once you’ve seen the zoo and the beer can house, what else is there to do?”

    Beer Can House

    Beer Can House

  • No snow We lived in Minneapolis, Chicago and sometimes snowy DC for most of our lives. I’ve learned how much more room you have in the trunk of your car when you don’t have to carry bags of sand, snow brushes and jumper cables. I rarely complain about the rain in Houston … I don’t have to shovel it!
  •  Clean beaches I love sitting in the sun and smelling the salt water, wading in the surf and feeling the sand slip from beneath my toes. I don’t want to know what could be slipping from beneath my toes on the shores of the Potomac or on the red tide beaches of Bolivar Peninsula!
  • Things to do We like street fairs and open air concerts, science museums, funky art galleries, baseball games and people-watching.  We like to be outside, dressed in casual clothes and munching goodies purchased from sidewalk vendors.

After we considered the above four bullets, we still had too many options – California, the Carolinas, a Caribbean Island?  We added criteria:

  • Affordable
  • Healthy lifestyles
  • Friends to show us around

We were making progress, but decided that we needed input from the most important people in our lives.

Gulf Coast Sunset

Gulf Coast Sunset

Yes, we consulted our grandchildren. Where did they want us to live? Where would they like to visit us? I loved that their first response was “Paris”, but it’s too expensive for many visitors, snow sometimes clogs the Champs Elysees, the Seine is not for wading.  Their next choice was inevitable …

…and so we’re off to Florida. It’s a Small World after all!