Cedar Key Again

20130130-103438.jpg After our rocky-but-turned-out-fine start in Naples with the flat trailer tire we were relieved to finally arrive at the Low Key Hideaway in the late afternoon. (Click on the link to see the gorgeous photos the owners, Pat and Cindy Bonish, took from the campground dock). Craig and Jean were already set up so greeted us with a welcome glass of wine on the dock.

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The next morning we rode our bikes into town for breakfast and a little sight-seeing. On the way home we walked our bikes through the Southern Cross Sea Farms parking lot which was covered with what looked like fish nets. I asked a worker why the nets were just laying there with trucks driving over them and he said “come on back at 1:00 PM for the tour”.

Of course, we went back for the tour and it was amazing. Cedar Key had a fishing industry which was put out of business with the stroke of a pen 16 years ago when Florida banned fishing with nets so there would be some fish left for the tourists to catch. They switched to clam farming and now this area is the largest producer of clams in the US, where 500 people harvest nearly 200 million clams annually. Southern Cross produces the seed clams that farmers buy to plant on leased areas of sea floor. Two years later they harvest mature clams.

Scotty, the company’s marine biologist, gave a great tour explaining the month-long process from fertilization to a salable seed clam about an eighth of an inch in diameter. We saw 19 day old clams that looked like grains of fine sand to the naked eye but exact in every detail copies of their momma under the microscope. The ‘nursery’ was a series of plastic tubs containing in total 48 million baby clams. Clams eat by filtering single cell organisms from seawater and it takes a lot of itty bitty critters to feed 48 million growing bivalves so a major part of the nursery activity is producing the food. They raise many different species photo-plankton in these 5 gallon water bottles.

20130130-113231.jpg The seed clams are wrapped in the nets we saw laying in the driveway, put on the sea floor and pulled up two years later covered with tasty hard shells. The used nets are laying in the driveway so sun light and tires can remove most of the sea weed and other sea things that grew on the net along with the clams. On an ecological note, the clam farms improve bio-diversity and one clam (by virtue of building its shell from the minerals in seawater) removes as much carbon from the environment as an acre of pine forest.

Tuesday dawned chilly and cloudy so we lazed around the campground then went into town for cappuccinos and a change of scenery. The knowledgable young barista was a Cedar Key native and recommended we visit the The Shell Mound Unit of Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge which was a short drive up the coast. This was a good choice for an easy hike and an interesting history lesson.

The shell mound is literally a mound of clam shells roughly 28′ high and covering a five acre area. Indians living here from 1500 BC to 1000 AD piled up shells, bones and other refuse (looked like 100% shells to me) to create an area raised above the dead flat marsh land to provide more breeze and less bugs. Not much to take a picture of but interesting to see a hill covered with trees, grass, etc with nothing but shells on the sloping edges.

There was a very nice nature trail through the swamp linking little islands with boardwalks. The sky cleared so we stopped at an observation deck overlooking a pond to bask in the sun and spotted a blue crab methodically working the edge of the weeds grabbing little things we couldn’t see and shoving them into his mouth. I know this sounds dumb but it was a great live-in-the-moment experience to watch the crab work while enjoying the pristine natural environment and warm sun. I bet we just stood there leaning on the rail for half an hour.

After the clam lesson even the vegetarians decided they would like some clam chowder for dinner. When I asked Pat, the park owner, to recommend the best place for chowder in Cedar Key he replied we could get the best clam chowder in the whole world at Tony’s Seafood Restaurant. They, in fact, won the world title three years in a row at the chowder cook off in Newport RI. It was good, no doubt helped by being in the epicenter of fresh clams and equal parts half and half and heavy cream.

We bid Jean and Craig farewell and left for Enterprise Wednesday morning to spend Thursday and Friday with the kids (and Sue can get another healthy dose of the grand children). We will be home in Michigan for a few days, then to Chicago to visit Matt and Renee in their new house, then off to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. I’ll update the blog after we are back in the warm sun.

A last picture from Cedar Key taken from the campground dock as I tried out the panorama feature of my new iPhone.

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Naples

20130122-181429.jpg We left Sue’s folks right after lunch Thursday for the ninety minute drive south on I75 to the Rock Creek RV Park in Naples. It took another ninety minutes to get set up and have the park maintenance man change the power receptacle to accommodate our 30 amp plug and turn on the water. After a little angst all was made good. Jean and Craig arrived later in the afternoon; we had a good time catching up after not seeing them for a month.

Friday morning we walked through the old Naples commercial district window shopping and looking at all the exotic cars in this very upscale town. The morning started out cool but by noon the weather had warmed enough have a nice lunch at an outdoor restaurant. Afterward we walked down to the beach and out onto a very long fishing pier for the requisite tourist group picture.

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Later went to Delnor Wiggens Pass State Park beach. A OK beach but bad red tide with hundreds of dead fish on the beach and with an occasional strong smell that would get me coughing. We drove a half hour to get here though so walked a ways anyway and were rewarded by seeing an osprey methodically tear up and eat a large fish.

20130122-213657.jpg He was able to pin the fish to the tree branch with one foot, hold on with the other, and tear bits of flesh off with his beak. The nest with babies peeking out was a hundred yards or so down the beach.

Saturday we packed a lunch and drove down to Collier Seminole State Park at the northwestern edge of the Everglades. We rented canoes and figured we would paddle down the Blackwater river for about an hour, find a nice spot to pull up the boats for our picnic and paddle back. Turned out the river winds through mangrove swamp for 13 miles to get to the Gulf.

20130122-213934.jpg Absolutely nothing but mangroves. We tied the canoes to a mangrove root to avoid drifting backwards and ate our lunch in the boats. Took an hour and a half to get back paddling against the outgoing tide but it was all fun and the cheapest canoe rental ever – five bucks an hour and the lady let us slide on the extra half hour. A round of ice cream cones in pricy Naples cost as much as renting the canoes.

We ended our day at the park by checking out the antique walking dredge they used to build the highway through the swamp in the 1920s. Craig and I both enjoy looking at old machinery that is simple enough that we can figure out how it worked without needing an electrical engineering degree.

Sunday morning we packed up to head north to Cedar Key. To our dismay the trailer had one very soft tire which wasn’t dead flat but didn’t have enough pressure to move the air gage stem at all. Craig and I took turns pumping up the tire with a bicycle pump (wasn’t as hard as it sounds) and lucky for us there was a tire store open Sundays just a couple of miles away

The tire store had two mechanics and no other customers so we were in and out in about 15 minutes. When I went into the office to pay, the guy said ‘don’t worry about it, just tip the kid’. We definitely owe someone a good deed for this.

Adios Scherer SP

20130116-090400.jpg We packed up yesterday morning and drove down to Sue’s parents’ house in Port Charlotte. A couple of days planned for visiting and trailer updates before meeting Jean and Craig in Naples Thursday afternoon.

Our last two days at Scherer were great. Sunday we finally took advantage of the park’s canoe rental and went for a paddle. A small river bisects the mile wide property and no gas powered boats are permitted so it is a quiet, pristine natural channel. Lots of birds and scenery floating under moss draped oaks.

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After lunch we were just puttering around the campsite when we heard music coming from the nature center just a few hundred feet away. We wandered over to find an ice cream social provided by The Friends of Oscar Scherer. Two bucks a scoop and an open air stage with The Dunn Deal, Caroline and Jim Dunn playing folkish, countryish fiftyish music. Fun to listen and tap your foot to.

After intermission, during which I went back to our trailer and installed a mirror in the bathroom, Hungrytown took the stage. Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson are a charming young (at least a lot younger than us) couple from Vermont playing sixties style folk music but all modern songs written by Rebecca.

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We chatted with them a bit after the performance and learned they bailed out of the rat race nine years ago to perform full time playing the Northeast and Midwest in the summer and traveling through the South in the winter, most of the time living in their VW camper van. They decided they wanted this life style and would just figure out how to live on whatever money this life style could provide. Good for them!

We found out there will be a folk music fair here at the park 3/23 and 3/24. Tried to book a site for that weekend but the park is sold out. We were able to reserve a site at Myakka SP, maybe ten miles away, so we definitely will be back for more folk music.

Monday we went for a bike ride and then decided to try paddle boarding. The rental facility SUP Englewood was only a trailer in the parking lot at Nokomis Beach but the young woman, Nicole, who got us going could not have been nicer, even offering Sue her sun glasses and lending me her floaty strap for mine. Sue wrote about this in detail a few days ago.

I was thinking for sure I would fall in a few times while I learned to balance but the water was calm and neither of us ever did fall off. It was fun as it sort of feels like you are walking on water, not as fast as paddling a kayak though.

After a short (too much sun) beach walk we went back to the trailer and I spent a couple of hours on the Internet and phone setting up campsite reservations for the rest of the winter. We had hoped to just sort of drift around but the reality is Florida state parks are mostly sold out well in advance. Several people told they make their reservations as soon as the booking window opens, eleven months in advance. We were able to fill all the time from now until March 31 by finding parks that had a few open days here, a few there. We were able to stay here at Scherer eleven days only by moving to different sites twice. There are lots of private campgrounds of course but our short experience is that the state parks are half the price and twice as nice. For instance at Cedar Key we had giant RVs maybe 20’ away on both sides, here we can barely see our neighbors through the dense foliage separating the sites.

Another thing we really enjoyed here is walking at night. Once you get more than a few hundred feet from the actual campsites it is pitch dark black. There hasn’t been a moon but the loom in the sky from the lights along US 41, about a mile away, provides just enough light to see the white sand trails once your eyes get adjusted. Almost every night has been crystal clear making for a beautiful night sky with Orion prominent in the south and Jupiter shining brightly directly overhead. Interestingly we are too far south to see the whole of the Big Dipper. The two end stars on the handle are below the horizon.

Stand Up

20130114-180914.jpg Today Dennis and I went stand up paddle boarding by Nokomis Beach, what a fun experience!! Nicole with SUP Englewood was a big help. The day was perfect for it; sunny, 80 degrees, warm shallow calm water, and only a slight breeze. I had been watching people do it for a couple of years and talked about wanting to do it. Yet I almost found myself saying “no” I didn’t want to go.

In my mind I had started a litany of good reasons not to go. The first was the possibility of injury. Next, perhaps it was too hot and sunny in the middle of the day; earlier or later in the day would be better timing. Money is always a good excuse. Finally, I hadn’t slept well and my shoulder muscles were sore from canoeing yesterday.

Luckily I stopped myself from saying “no” and analyzed what was preventing me from embracing this opportunity. I realized it was the fear of taking a risk, specifically the risk of not being able to do it. If I had been unable to get up I would have been embarrassed, felt foolish, uncoordinated and old.

Instead I had a wonderful time and neither of us even fell off! It was so peaceful paddling down the river listening to an osprey call to it’s young with only the swish of my paddle disturbing the stillness. I can’t wait to go again!!

There’s something liberating about not pretending. Dare to embarrass yourself. Risk. -Drew Barrymore

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Tiny Kitchen

I love to cook – at least most of the time. Invitations to our home generally include dinner, usually fairly gourmet and made from scratch. My cookbook library is large and items for the kitchen are fun to shop for. In my pantry I have more spices waiting for intriguing recipes than some grocery stores.

So with some nervousness I embraced the challenge of gourmet meal preparation as a minimalist vegetarian in our tiny trailer. Currently my kitchen consists of a portable one burner butane stove by Iwatani, a counter height refrigerator, a bar sink with a faucet that is too small, and a tabletop Weber propane grill.

I chose not to have a microwave oven because I rarely use the one at home except for leftovers. Most leftovers can be reheated on a stove; it is just easier in a microwave. I have considered a toaster oven but so far I have been creative with the grill and burner for any toasting, roasting, or baking needs. So the space for a microwave or toaster oven serves as a fresh fruit and vegetable storage area, wine rack, and a convenient place for utensils.

We picked the Iwatani butane gas burner after Denny thoroughly researched portable gas burners. This burner is a beautiful piece of machinery and works perfectly. It is quite a bit more expensive than other burners but worth it. PS: It’s not made in China.

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We may get an induction burner in the future because the gas burner adds water vapor to the air, causing condensation on the windows when it is cold or damp. Most sites have electric power for an induction burner and we have to purchase butane cylinders and dispose of them for the Iwatani. In addition, there are times I would like two burners and having gas or electric gives us options dependent on the type of site we have.

We use the Weber grill outside on the picnic table. It works great and is small, but with a decent size cook surface. The heat is variable enough so that we have not burned anything yet.

The refrigerator being small is a challenge for a vegetarian. I use an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables when I cook. To solve this problem I just shop more frequently, like most of the world, and make creative use of any leftovers or the stray carrot.

This week we plan to install a larger faucet so we can wash dishes without splashing all over the countertop.

I snuck one cookbook on board and of course I have the Internet for recipes and inspiration. For those of you that are curious I brought Heidi Swenson’s Super Natural Cooking as my cookbook of choice. Some of her recipes can be found at 101 Cookbooks.

Scherer III

20130112-103555.jpg Its been a peaceful, summer’s-just-drifting-by, four days since I last posted. Visited Sue’s folks in Port Charoltte, walked, rode our bikes, went to the beach, surfed the Internet, basically just chilled.

We had to move to a new site on Thursday to be able to stay here at Scherer park. It’s is such a nice place we are hoping to score a couple of more weeks in March.

We had a lovely dinner & movie date Thursday. First an early dinner at Indigenous. This is a really nice restaurant just two blocks from the movie theatre in downtown Sarasota. Sue got a toasted-then-boiled farro based vegetarian dish and I had fresh local snapper which the waiter said came from a particular boat in Fort Myers earlier in the day. Here’s Sue enjoying a pre-dinner glass of wine

20130112-105347.jpg We don’t usually order desert but justified it by agreeing to split just one and promising each other we wouldn’t get popcorn at the movie. It was delicious, a Parmesan cheese cake covered in Chocolate Grenache with other good stuff trailing across the plate.

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We walked over to the theatre after dinner to see Life of Pi in 3D. It’s certainly a good story which gives you a lot to talk about afterwards. The visual effects are stunning especially in 3D. Highly recommended.

Yesterday afternoon we checked out Siesta Key beach, about 8 miles north here. We had read it was rated #1 in the US and skeptical me is thinking “yea right – by the Sarasota tourist bureau”. Well it was probably the nicest beach I’ve ever been on. Beautiful powdery white sand, practically no shells or stones or seaweed, miles long and I bet two or three hundred yards wide in most places. We walked along the edge of the surf for a couple of hours enjoying the sun and breeze.

20130112-111631.jpg Some clever sand castle builder wrote ‘siesta key’ in big block letters which you can sort of see in the picture.

In a few minutes we are headed for Boca Grande for lunch at a beach side grill (called IIRC, The Beachside Grille), a walk on the beach then dinner with Sue’s parents.

Florida Scrub Jay

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This evening listening to Nashville Skyline by Bob Dylan, while making dinner on a one-burner gas plate, in a camping site far from home, I realized I was doing what I wanted to do forty years ago.  Life has a serendipitous way about it that we don’t always appreciate or recognize.

Yesterday Dennis and I hiked out to see an eagle nest with two fledglings in it.  A volunteer with the park service was there to supervise and had set up a telescope for viewing.  My immediate reaction was disappointment because the nest was so far away that even with a telescope the babies were only visible as a movement above the top of the nest.  The previous spring we had been at an eagle nesting site in Tennessee and were close enough to see one of the parents deliver a live fish to the fledglings and watch them kill and devour it.  While a bit gross it was fascinating.  Viewing these eagles in the nest was nothing compared to the previous year’s sighting.

As we stood there waiting our turn at the telescope a beautiful bluish bird appeared and began to interact with the crowd.  It was flying near everyone and even landed on one man’s back.  It turns out that this crowd pleaser was a Florida Scrub Jay.

They are endangered and there are only 22 nesting pairs on the west coast of Florida.  Their sociable nature has put them at risk as well as the loss of habitat.

The Florida Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is the only species of bird native to the state of Florida and one of only 15 species endemic to the United States.  scrub jay 2-1

We had come to see the eagles but had in fact found the much more rare and beautiful Florida Scrub Jay that delighted and amused us.  I spent the evening in a trailer far from home listening to Nashville Skyline.  Serendipity happens, just not always on our terms. 

Scherer State Park II

20130108-175743.jpg Today was a typical summer day – cleaned and killed ants in the morning then went out to lunch and then to the beach.

We noticed a growing number of tiny little black ants yesterday evening and by this morning we had to move to defcon one, all out attack. Sue, the environmentalist, cleaned with vinegar and dumped some ant infested food while I went to Lowes to get ant traps plus ant killer spray. Screw the environment it’s them or us!

By noon the trailer was sparkling clean but smelled like an EPA superfund site. Time to leave. We went back to Ophelia’s – the place where we had breakfast and free drinks yesterday morning. We were pleased to learn happy hour starts at noon so got two for one glasses of wine with our pasta. The wine plus good food helped put the ant problem into a more realistic “first world” category.

After lunch we headed back to Nokomis Beach for a nice long walk in the edge of the surf. Today was perfect beach weather- sunny, puffy clouds, 82 degrees. A gelato on the way home topped off a terrific afternoon.

Here’s a couple pictures of our camp site (#70).

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There’s a river behind us which you can just barely make out above the black chair back. Here’s a picture of it with the setting sun.

20130108-181756.jpg The crummy camera in my iPad doesn’t do it justice.

It’s gotten dark while I’ve been sitting out here typing and now there are bugs crawling across the screen attracted to the light. Time to sign off.

Scherer State Park, Venice FL

20130107-212209.jpg Our four night reservation in Cedar Key ended Friday and we were honestly kind of sick of the cool wet weather so were happy to head south Saturday morning. Florida has a nice website for their state park system with real time availability by campground and site. By this time most of the parks are 99% sold out for the winter but I was able to find a spot for Saturday night and then a different spot for four additional nights at Oscar Scherer State Park near Venice. We picked it for its latitude, about 50 miles south of Tampa, but were pleasantly surprised to find out just how nice it is. The camp sites are about 75′ apart with a little strips of jungle separating us from our neighbors. It’s right on US41, the main highway along the coast and only 6 miles from Nokomis Beach a really nice beach and very uncrowded in spite of our visiting on a sunny 83 degree Sunday afternoon.

When I went to the park office Sunday morning to register for the second site I asked if there were any sites available after our next four days. The lady checked her computer and said ‘I don’t believe this but there is a site open for eight consecutive days.’ We signed up for five of those days and then plan to spend two days at Sue’s parents house in Port Charlotte, 40 minutes drive south of here, before we meet up with our friends Jean and Craig in Naples, FL.

The proximity to Sue’s folks was a plus for this location as we are in easy driving distance for laundry and mom’s home cooking. In fact it was cloudy and wet this morning so we went to Port Charlotte for a nice lunch and visit and I got a chance to finally wash the car and vacuum out the inside. We stopped for breakfast first at Ophelia’s Pasta House because we saw their sign of on the way to the beach yesterday advertising a $3.49 breakfast special. Not only was the $3.49 special tasty but they also had complimentary Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Gotta love the hyper competitive restaurant market in south Florida.

Ophelia’s had a guard Egret posted at the front door to keep order. It was real, the black Lab was fake. The stuffed dog was to call attention to the doggie special they served in the outdoor seating area – a dog bowl of chicken and rice for $1.75.

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Cedar Key II

20130104-230354.jpgTuesday afternoon was lovely as the sunset photos below show. The next two days the weather was not what the chamber of commerce would want you to know about.

Wednesday was cool and foggy – one of those days when it seems like the fog is going to lift but never does. We did a little gift shop browsing, grocery shopping and had a nice lunch at Kona Joes. They had a great quiche made with fresh local blue crab and wonderful coconut cream pie, almost as good as the pie Debbie O used to bring in when we worked at Vogel’s. The rest of the day we snooped around Cedar Key a bit more and spent a lot of quality time with our computers.

The fog turned into a steady light rain all day Thursday. We made the best of it by driving to Manatee Springs State Park, about 25 miles NE of here. We took a back road (there are only three roads out of Cedar Key) and I noted we drove 18 miles without seeing another car. The park is the site of an underground spring that well… springs from the ground and flows a quarter mile to the Swanee River. The flow is over a million gallons a day which creates a noticeable current. The water is crystal clear and we could see one Manatee just sort of napping on the bottom. They come here in the winter to get warm as the springs are a constant 72 degrees year around. After a half hour of clomping around in the rain we headed into Chiefland for lunch. A Google search showed six Mexican restaurants so we figured a competitive market would make for good food and picked Los Avinas. It was good. More quality computer time ensued, some of it in front of a roaring fireplace in the campground club house. This is Florida?

Today dawned sunny but cold. Did some chores in the morning, lunch, then rode our bikes to the Cedar Key Museum. It was nice but underwhelming, some seashells, arrowheads, a diorama of Indians at the sea shore, etc. Surprisingly, for a place so dependent on fishing and shipping they only had one old rotting hulk of a boat. Stopped at Mile Marker 8 Lounge for a glass of wine and some steamed clams. This place is the US capital of clam farming so the clams are good and cheap. The second floor dining room overlooked a large dock that was the O’Hare airport of pelicans and cormorants. A big bird landing or taking off every few seconds.

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The day ended with a chips and salsa party a few spots from us. A few days ago I noticed a converted bus on site 6 with a Technomadia sign on the window. This rang a bell as I had read some of a technomadia travel blog when I was doing research before buying the Snoozy. I looked up their blog again and sent them an email saying I’d seen their blog, we were in the Snoozy on site 11 and maybe we could say hello in person sometime this week. Chris wrote back inviting us to their salsa party at 5:00 today. It was great fun, we got a tour of their totally geeked out 1961 bus and met some really interesting people. They were all full time RVers; I enjoyed their stories of chucking it all to hit the road. Sue met a retired Methodist minister who had been at Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia at the same time she was in the early eighties. We also spent some time getting to know Debbie Yager and Bo Reynolds, a singer/songwriter couple who had just decided to hit the road full time a few months ago.

Before they got their bus Chris and Cherie lived for three years full time in a 17′ Oliver fiberglass trailer about the size of ours. They were interested in the Snoozy so snuck out of their own party to come over and have a drink at our place. Since they were our guests they got to sit down.