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The last place on earth

The last place on earth

How many of us have seen this sign before?  At some outpost or outreach of the known world?  A sign will declare we’re at the “Last Place on Earth”.  And some of us, sometimes, believe it.

When you’re headed up the Keweenaw Peninsula (like I was last week) you begin to feel like you’re getting as far away from civilization as possible.  Maybe northern Canada is farther away, but that feels like the nether-lands.  Wherever you are when that sign presents itself is far away from the comfortable cities, far away from established coffee shops, far away from places where you can have a hundred choices of restaurants to visit.  You’re in an Outpost.  And that, in itself, can be charming.

And where shalt thou park?

And where shalt thou park?

And if you’re in this northernmost outpost, where shall you park?  If you’re visiting a monastery (or the Jam Pot–see previous post) you must obey the sign.  Do not park here.  Or the Lord shall possibly have His revenge, if you believe the sign.  Instead, follow the other signs to the parking lot at the other side of the building.  You’ll be closer to Heaven if you do.  Or so I assume.

Sign on the Harbor Haus restaurant door.  Do not touch.

Sign on the Harbor Haus restaurant door. Do not touch.

If you visit the Harbor Haus restuarant in Copper Harbor, do not touch the copper door.  You’ve been warned.  Do you know how hot copper gets in the sun?  I tell you, beware.  This sign is not just here for entertainment. 

Follow US 41 from the Upper Peninsula and guess where you'll end up?

Follow US 41 from the Upper Peninsula and guess where you'll end up?

Answer to above caption:  Florida.  Yes, it’s true.  I have spent days in Fort Myers, Florida and guess what highway runs through there?  You’ve got it.  US-41.  It stretches down through many a state and ends up in Florida.  1990 miles to Miami, or so the sign says.  I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll fly.  Much quicker.

Keweenaw Vortex, eh?

Keweenaw Vortex, eh?

And then there’s the Keweenaw Vortex.  Who would have thought?  Turns out we’re in the midst of a vortex, which probably explains Everything.  Any weird behavior you sense from this area…well, it’s not the fault of the receiver.  It’s the vortex spinning round and round. 

That happens at the Last Place on Earth.  So they say.

(P.S.  outdoors today–in the garden, and on the deck.  I even fell asleep on the deck in mid-afternoon in the shade in the 78 degree weather.  How wonderful is that?)

Dawn along the boardwalk

Dawn along the boardwalk

When we were kids, my brothers and I used to play a game.  When we left home or my grandparent’s cottage up on Lake Huron, we began a litany of “goodbyes”.  Goodbye house.  Goodbye bikes.  Goodbye cottage.  Goodbye lake.  And we especially always said goodbye to a blue-painted barn about a mile north of our small town in the Thumb of Michigan.

This morning, as dawn stained the horizon lemon chiffon, I took a cup of coffee down to the boardwalk.  Today’s outdoor commitment had to happen early.  The car leaves for the airport in a couple hours and the plane wings northward to Detroit, and on to Marquette.  If all transpires smoothly, I should be home by 9:30 p.m. to view the melting snow and (of course) dear Barry.

So it’s time to say goodbye to southern Florida.  I’m ready to go home, even though it’s been a magnificent week.

Goodbye, Vibrant Colors.  (Please come visit us up north soon.)

Oh color!  What gifts you share with us...

Oh color! What gifts you share with us...

Goodbye, pool.  Goodbye, canals.  Goodbye low tides and high tides.  Goodbye rolling surf of the Gulf of Mexico.  Goodbye beautiful Back Bay.  Goodbye seaweed and beach grasses and creatures large and small.

Beach beauty

Beach beauty

Goodbye, Mom and Dad.  I love you guys so much.  You are the best parents in the Universe.  Thank you for sharing this beauty with all of your children.

OK, there’s probably six milion other things to which to bid farewell.  Enough of this!  It’s merely a prayer to fare-thee-well until we meet again, if the Universe so desires.

But shall we just offer one more goodbye to the mostly-invisible dolphins and manatee?  They’re camera-shy.  Or perhaps wanting to show themselves as an unexpected gift on another trip.  Blessings to you in the deep waters!  May you continue to inspire and heal our planet and consciousness.

BUT, never despair, dear readers!  I saw a leaping pair of dolphins last night down in Naples.  Are you ready for this amazing shot…?

How did these dolphins leap from the water into the streets of Naples?

How did these dolphins leap from the water into the streets of Naples?

See you in Snow Country tomorrow.  Can’t wait to say Hello snow, Hello spruce tree, Hello red berries growing in the woods.

Shells in bright green seaweed

Shells in bright green seaweed

Today I walked along the beach, alone.  Thinking about beauty and…well…things we determine are not quite so beautiful.  How every place and every person contains parts which don’t photograph as well. 

Sometimes, when we first visit a place, we fall in love with all the beauty.  Our eye follows loveliness; we admire this and that.  We view the palm trees and sigh at the way they sway in the wind.  Our heart thrills to the surf, to the low and high tides and white beaches and arching dolphins.  Beauty surrounds us.  It’s where our eyes so often follow, the thrill of the gorgeous.

Today the shores of Fort Myers Beach lie strewn with seaweed.  Brownish-greenish seaweed everywhere.  It’s not…how should I say this?…pretty.  My mom and I have a theory (only a theory, mind you) that a rougher sea might blow the seaweed out into the depths.  In the meantime, it lies thick, like an eyesore, blemishing the white shore.

Thick layers of seaweed wash in against the shore

Thick layers of seaweed wash in against the shore

I have another theory that beauty exists in most everything, although sometimes it’s hidden.  You have to search deeper to see the patterns and glow and light which becomes obscured.  A feather resting in the midst of brown mud-like seaweed perhaps reminds us of that possibility.  To look a little more intently for the hidden patterns of beauty, rather than immediately dismiss our minds labeling things as “ugly”.

Feather in seaweed

Feather in seaweed

Several years ago my mom introduced me to a friend here in the condo.  Her name was Kay Fisher Lewicky.  She was in her 80’s then.  She grew up in Austria before World War II, marrying a half-Jewish fellow.  Her family worried for their safety and urged them to move to Paris.  Still, they were sent to the camps.

She said the prostitutes imprisoned in the camp saved her.  She was young then, and the “ladies of the night” convinced the guards not to take her away, and harbored her among them.  Both she and her husband escaped (don’t ask me how) and moved to New York City.  She later became the personal massage therapist for Neil Sedaka and in later years, when he came to this area to sing, a limousine brought her to his shows.

She created and painted shells from the beach, making art and beauty from the leftover chips of shells.  From the “ugly” cracked pieces, she saw beauty and made little creatures which sometimes won awards in local craft shows.

Kay's shell creations

Kay's shell creations

Some folks might deem the following creature “less than beautiful” but look at that symmetry of legs and shell and strong pincers on that crab!  A mother and her son, wading out a bit further than the seaweed, showed me the dead crab in their pink bucket.  “The seaweed killed it,” the eight-year old boy told me solemnly.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I asked him if we might photograph the crab.  He agreed, and we crouched on the sand for the dead crab’s obituary photo. 

Ode to the crab which died recently

Ode to the crab which died recently

Finally, there’s certain shells prized around here for their round shape and five petal-like pores.  Most folks consider them beautiful.  I looked for one this week along the beach, but only broken chips remained.  Once, several years back, hundreds of live ones blew in along the Gulf.  The live ones aren’t so beautiful, or so people will say.  They’re gray and covered with a velvety skin of movable spines.  After they die, the shell remains and bleaches white.  Beachcombers collect them, prize them, carefully protect them against breaking.  Here’s one my folks have here in the condo:

Lucky beautiful sand dollar...yes?

Lucky beautiful sand dollar...yes?

I think an admirable goal is to allow our gaze to expand until we can view beauty in mud, in thickets, in broken shells, in brown seaweed, in broken lives.  Let’s keep trying, shall we?

Hidden beauty behind the condo

Hidden beauty behind the condo

Good evening.  I’m tempted to start counting days that remain here in southern Florida before the big silver & red plane rises through the clouds and soars toward the Midwest.  Tomorrow, Tuesday and then…heading back to snow country on Wednesday. 

But we won’t dwell in the future for more than a second.  Let’s stay here in the present.  I’ll show you some more random photos tonight, probably not embedded in any coherent tale.  The above photo shows the view you’ll see peeking through a curtain of leaves overlooking a backwater channel.  I love tiptoeing back there and peering in the underbrush. 

A wise person looks around for alligators and snakes.  Mom says there’s a small alligator sunning away over on the golf course, about a mile away.  Otherwise, you never see any of the scaly exotic beasts.  If I see one, I want an escape route, especially if it starts slinking this-away.

Close up leaf veins

Close up leaf veins

So, what was today’s outdoor adventure?  Let’s pick two.  The first really fun time happened this morning around the pool.  After looking for a manatee or dolphin for you for ten minutes (sigh…) I gathered a notebook and began writing down by the pool.  Oh can you imagine the joy to write outside?  No freezing fingers!  Oh luxury! 

I probably shouldn’t tell you about what I wrote.  You will scurry away from this blog and never return, convinced you’re dealing with a mentally-suspect person.  But it was such fun!  Since it was Sunday, I was praising life, the Universe, God and the swimming pool with gusto in the white notebook pages.  Trying to put it all on paper, you know. 

But then I got a little carried away and started imagining if inanimate objects could talk…what they might say.  When I started writing about the beach towel on the nearby reclining beach chair, and what it might say…it was probably time to close the notebook and take a hike.   We creative folks tend to get carried away sometimes. (This is an exercise in the book “The Artist’s Way” called “Morning Pages” where you write whatever stray thoughts wander through your mind…a fascinating and fun process.)

Tropical blossom

Tropical blossom

Later in the evening my mom, dad and I took cold drinks out to the boat, along with our books and magazines, and read.  The folks own a deck boat, which resembles a pontoon.  We’re hoping to go out on it tomorrow or Tuesday. It’s been so windy we’ve not ventured out on the Back Bay yet. 

As we were reading, a few boats motored by in the channel.  My mom uttered, “I wonder if there would be an interesting picture…” and just as she spoke a manatee surfaced!  I grabbed the camera, turned it on and focused.  The manatee disappeared.  Never to re-appear.  It’s going to be a gift of the Universe if we photograph one of these elusive fellows in the next few days. 

I bought three books today at Borders, using a Christmas gift card.  No lack of reading material now! 

Finally, one of the best parts of being in Florida:  enjoying the tropical fruit.  Oh look at this papaya cut open!  Are your taste buds salivating?  Leaving you all now and heading to the frig for a juicy morsel…

Yummy papaya (before seeds scooped out)

Yummy papaya (before seeds scooped out)

Snowy egret at the shore

Snowy egret at the shore

When you’re living in a cold northern climate, opening the door and walking outside involves effort.  One must find and pull on the snow pants, the socks, the boots, the coat, the hat, the gloves or mittens, the scarf and sometimes even the neck warmer.  Once outside the cold can pierce you to the core. 

While one can learn to even thrive in cold climates (and perhaps some people thrive naturally) in warm climates the distinction between indoors and outdoors lessens.

One opens the door and walks outside sometimes dozens of times each day when the temperature lingers between 70 and 85.  One can walk outside without shoes!  Sleeveless!  In shorts!  Shirtless!  (Well, some of us can do this publicly without social stigmas, usually the males among us.)

I find the ease between moving indoors and outdoors an incredible luxury.  Perhaps one wouldn’t need a commitment to spend time outdoors each day IF one lived here in southern Florida.  Yet, I know that’s not true either.  In summer, the heat scorches and burns and fries bare feet on pavement.  The heat wilts everyone and everything.  It would take a huge commitment to surrender outdoors to the heat every day.  Once again, it’s all relative.

Morning sparkles on the Back Bay

Morning sparkles on the Back Bay

My mom noticed the glints of sunlight shimmering across the water as we drank our morning coffee on the lanai.  The first rain in weeks had sprinkled the grasses and palm trees and asphalt after we awoke, but soon abated. She sent me scurrying for the camera, down the elevator and outside to capture the diamond-like sparkles.  Effortless.  No pulling on boots.  No bracing for the cold.  Skin met warm air…a certain sense of freedom pervades in this tropical world. 

We hiked out to the beach again, choosing to wear our Teva sandals and wade across the lagoons to the Gulf.  My mom and I admired the birds, especially that beautiful egret above.  Later, looking in the bird book, she said somewhat reverentially, “That was a snowy egret!”  We carefully turned the pages back and forth between egret and snowy egret.  The snowy egret is known for its “golden slippers”. Yes, a snowy egret, indeed.

Long expanse of beach

Long expanse of beach

We waded in the Gulf.  It felt like lukewarm soothing salty bathwater.  Small shells, abandoned by their underwater occupants, littered the sand beneath our feet.  We spoke of possibly shelling down on Lover’s Key sometime this week.

Shells underfoot

Shells underfoot

We sipped a drink at the Holiday Inn before walking home and eating shrimp pasta salad for lunch.  Afternoon:  swimming laps in the pool, cross-ways, head under the water.  Most of the ladies keep their hair dry and coiffed, not wanting to ruin hair-dos with chlorinated water. 

People smile and want to make conversation, but I feel strangely silent and quiet.  Not many thoughts gallop through my mind.  Hands cupping the water, pulling, stroking, feeling the bathwater temperature.  Feeling no separation between water and self, simply the sensations of dissolving boundaries, floating, almost disappearing.

I could get used to this.

By the pool

By the pool

…was I dreaming?  Could it be true?  Had spring fever finally overcome rationality?  Could that be a palm tree growing next to Lake Superior?  Could it suddenly be 80 degrees?  What was happening?  Was I losing my mind??

Palm tree branches waving in the breeze

Palm tree branches waving in the breeze

 Enough joking!  Michigan’s Upper Peninsula couldn’t grow a palm tree if it tried.  And for 80 degree temperatures to hit our thermometers it would be mid-summer.

Instead, I have flown half way across the country to beautiful Fort Myers Beach, Florida, to visit with my mom and dad for the next eight days.

YES!!!

This involved getting up at 4:10 a.m., two airplanes, a bagel in the Detroit airport and a blessed bath of hot air when we finally walked outside at the Fort Myers airport about 2 p.m.   Double YES!!!  YES!!!

Gorgeous Florida yellow blossom

Gorgeous Florida yellow blossom

My camera searched for vibrant colors.  Rich green leaves.  Splashing yellow and red and blue flowers.  From white winter snow drifts to…exotic blossoms.  It feels like one has awakened into a dream of summer.  Summer isn’t a hope and a prayer after all.  It exists.  And I get to play in it for the next week!  (and that means you all can play alongside me…)

Shall I set the scene for you? The condo where they spend four to five months a year has seven floors.  It oversees a point of land overlooking the Back Bay, a brackish backwater filled with dolphins, manatee, pelicans and egrets.  The Gulf of Mexico can be glimpsed out their front door, about a half mile to the west.  We’ll walk there tomorrow morning, through the Bird Sanctuary, a walk infamously known as “Kathy’s Walk”, don’t ask me why.

My parents have been coming here about 17 years now; I’ve visited off and on during those years. Last year I came twice, once with husband and once with daughter.  This trip is solo, as everyone else has other commitments.

Hungry blue heron begging fishermen for fish snacks

Hungry blue heron begging fishermen for fish snacks

So, you want to know what my outdoor experience has been today?  You wouldn’t believe it!  Besides the fifteen minutes lusting after everything green and vibrant and multi-colored in the landscape and wildly snapping photos, I attended a St. Patrick’s Day party down by the pool.  I was introduced to a dozen people, every one named Bob and Bill, and enjoyed the most fantastic potluck. 

I could get used to this kind of outdoor adventure, let me tell you.

Condo St. Patrick's Day party

Condo St. Patrick's Day party

It’s now almost 8 p.m. and I’m almost ready for bed.  Here’s a theoretical question for you.  Should I go down for a soak in the whirlpool before bed?  Let the spa hot water jets melt away and dissolve all those memories of 13 below zero and six foot snow drifts?  Goodnight, dear reader…

Anyone care to join me...?

Anyone care to join me...?

How high is that roof?  Relative to what?

How high is that roof? Relative to what?

Sit down.  Are you ready for this?  I am about to explain the theory of relativity to you. 

If you believed that one, you’re at the wrong blog!  What I’d like to discuss today in the theory of weather relativity.  Temperature relativity, to be precise.

As I was wandering around outside this morning, with the temperature warmed up to a toasty 20 degrees (soared upwards from a frigid seven below zero) I marveled at the warmth.  Tropical.  Comfortable.  Almost time to shed the heavy warm winter coats for lighter fleece jackets.  Forget snow pants!  Forget toasty-warm mittens and neck warmer!  It’s balmy.

Now take a fellow from Georgia who comes to visit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  He lands in this balmy 20 degree day and do you think “balmy” is the word he’ll use to describe it?  (He actually might when he arrives on the plane tonight as there’s been SNOW in Georgia this week, but we’re discussing ordinary March Georgia weather behavior….)

A person arriving to our snow-covered land from 50-70 degree temperatures is NOT thinking 20 degrees is toasty.  His body may be shivering.  He may be bundling up in the warmest possible attire.  He may be thinking he’s reached the North Pole.

How could two perceptions be so different?  Same temperature.  One thinks it’s warm; the other knows it’s cold.  Therein lies the theory of temperature relativity:  the body adjusts to whatever temperature occurs in the particular climate where it lives. 

People in Alaska probably think seven below is tropical after a cold stretch at 40 below.  They’re probably wearing shorts to the post office at zero.  (I still wish I had that photo of the guy wearing shorts to the post office back in December…)

Do we believe this huge mitten in downtown Hancock?

Do we believe this huge mitten in downtown Hancock?

I’m suddenly thinking of trips down to Florida.  Especially my first trip in second or third grade.  We flew into Miami in the middle of the night.  Unsuspecting, we stepped off the plane, walked through the terminal and opened the door.  Sultry hot temperature immediately infused throughout our entire beings.  Our bodies gasped with the shock of it.  Then, melted completely.  It was as if we stepped from a freezer into a furnace.  Yet the furnace didn’t burn…it suffused with delightful warmth and pleasure.

I still feel that during middle-of-the-winter trips to Florida.  Not with such intensity.  But it’s still present.  It feels like we northerners burrow deep within during winter months.  We’re not even fully aware of what deep internal insulation we carry.  We’re not fully aware of  our body’s work to protect itself from ice and snow and cold.  Until, suddenly, we’re standing in 70 or 80 degrees and wearing shorts and sleeveless t-shirts and feeling like we’re shedding layers and layers and layers.  We remember Summer as a body-sensation.

Hmmmm, do I sound like I’m dreaming of summer?  Just when I’m trying to explain to you how tropical twenty degrees felt this morning?  It’s all relative, dear reader, it’s all relative…

P.S.  just picked up that relative from Georgia at the airport in Marquette.  Barry’s brother-in-law is here for five days of ice fishing.  Hope he enjoys the “balmy” weather…

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