Saturday, March 2, 2013
More Old Southern Memories
No, Dawn, you are not looking at spring in Michigan but winter in south Florida, these pictures coming to you from from quite a different place and years after they were taken. Yes, today’s post is a reprise of one of two trips we made to Everglades City and environs. The little waterside restaurant is (was?) in Everglades City. Along the Gulf coast of Florida, common restaurant specialties are blue crabs, stone crabs, and alligator. Sometimes there is mullet on the menu, as well. Remember the line from the song, “Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high”? I always thought the “fish are jumpin’” part was hyperbole, but no! The fish really do jump right out of the water! They hurl themselves into the air! Those are mullet, and their antics never ceased to delight, amuse, and entertain me. Mullet is a small, bony fish, but when you’re in Florida, it’s local, and enjoying local food is a big part of being somewhere else.
Remember the day we went out into the ocean looking for an island with a beach? Here are a couple more scenes from that excursion.
The photo directly above is sea grape. Sea grape manages to be both ubiquitous and wonderful, a neat trick.
Not far from Everglades City is Chokoloskee Island, which is pronounced by Chucka-luskee. There is an old store on the island that dates back to the days of Mister Watson, so memorably captured in Peter Mattheissen’s Killing Mister Watson, which I began reading in Michigan before this trip and finished in Everglades City. Why do I have no pictures of the store? Well, you can see the pictures -- and read about the murder -- here. When we visited the island, there was a sweet little restaurant, colorfully decorated, with a menu that featured interesting vegetarian choices, and towering over the little building and its flowery outside deck was this tall tree. Now that is something you don’t see in Michigan, either! Papaya! It you would like to try growing a papaya tree from seed, click here to see its life unfold.
To the north of Everglades City is a nature preserve called the Fakahatchee Strand, where a remnant of Florida’s oldest cypress trees escaped being felled to become ship masts—or, more recently and much less nobly, garden mulch. Please do not use cypress mulch in your landscaping! Cypress, like mangrove, is crucial to flood control and is “harvested” for short-term profit at the expense of homes and businesses and lives! Companies harvesting the trees will tell you that they replant, but establishing a seedling cypress is infinitely more difficult than planting pines in Michigan fields, because the seedlings cannot survive prolonged, intense flooding exacerbated by the removal of the mature trees. Storm surge easily uproots them and washes them away. In other words, the flooded land from which centuries-old trees is taken will not necessarily be hospitable to seedlings because it is no longer the “same” habitat.
Look up. Look down. There's something to see wherever you look. Look carefully.
‘Strand,’ by the way, is an important word in Everglades vocabulary. In what looks to the first glance like stagnant swamp, there are almost imperceptible moving currents constantly refreshing the water. You might think of the cypress strands and rivers of grass as wet prairies and the hardwood ‘hammocks’ as islands comparable to prairie oak openings. When a delicate natural habitat like this is destroyed, restoring it becomes a huge, expensive project.
My delight in jumping fish was matched by David’s enthusiasm for strangler figs. He could not stop marveling at these subtropical parasites -- but neither could he be serious for long.
Here is a good summary of different kind of Florida habitats. It is another world from Michigan and equally beautiful and captivating in its own unique way. Here in northern Michigan, it’s a very different winter story.