Tag Archives: Davida Gypsy Breier

Why Nassau?

So why Nassau? Arguably, Nassau caters to tourists, not travelers, with its omnipresent cruise ships and Paradise Island’s Disneyfied version of the Caribbean.  As our regular readers know, we attempt to be more travelers than tourists, so why go to a tourist hot spot? In reality, we went to New Providence Island, with Nassau a playing small part of the trip.

In the spring we started planning a trip, our first real family vacation in two and a half years. We wanted to relax for a change. We wanted an actual vacation. We wanted to go somewhere that would make two exhausted adults and one rambunctious 11-year-old happy. We picked New Providence because the travel there was relatively quick and easy and more importantly, our frequent flyer points covered the airfares (but not the taxes and fees*).  We found an affordable cottage with a kitchenette that was mere feet from the ocean.

In those respects, a trip to the Bahamas was cheaper than Utah and Seattle (they were other discussed possibilities). Those areas were in peak high season, while the Caribbean was a month into hurricane season.  We decided to splurge on two things – a rental car, so we could see the whole island, and a boat trip to the Exumas.

We hope you enjoy the upcoming series of posts about New Providence Island and all of the wonderful things to discover beyond Paradise Island.

Photo by Garnet

* The taxes, fees, etc., assessed by the Bahamas came to $287.97 for all three plane tickets.

 

 

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve


I was in a windowless conference room yesterday when began perusing a map of the St. Petersburg area. I noticed a green spot about 10-15 minutes south of the hotel and decided I would check it out in the brief gap between the end of the conference and the TSA peep show. It turned out to be an excellent way to spend a solid hour and a half. (Note: I had to take a projector and laptop for the conference and couldn’t take my camera, so these are all phone photos.)

Bald Eagle
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk

There is a small nature center, where you pay a nominal admission. Behind the nature center are aviaries where birds of prey who can’t be released into the wild are housed. There are hawks, owls, an eagle, a kestrel, and vultures. I walked the boardwalks on the swamp woodlands trails, listening to the cries of birds and watching anoles skittering across the planks. On the Lake Maggiore trail I saw herons, nesting fish, an alligator, turtles, ducks, and more. It was perfect. You can rent kayaks from the park as well.

Boardwalk, Swamp Woodlands trails
Green heron and a big fish
Egret and palm fronds
Seriously beautiful day

I wanted to see a gopher tortoise and headed over to the Sand Scrub trail. The diversity of ecosystems in such a small park is impressive (it is 245 acres). I went quickly from wetlands to pine trees in sandy soil. Despite being April 1st, it was hot in the sun and the park is clever with its water coolers in shaded shelters. I did see a tortoise briefly as he headed into his burrow.

Sand Scrub Trail
Shelter and water cooler
Water cooler

From that trail, I went to the Wax Myrtle Pond, which had two completely unexpected pieces of art flanking the top of the pond. There were turtles and birds and very few people, despite it being a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. I imagine the park is teeming with activity at dawn and dusk.

Armadillo ahead!
My new favorite armadillo statue
My new favorite armadillo statue

On my walk back to the nature center, I saw not one, but two gopher tortoises walking along the main trail. Both were gracious enough to let me stop and ogle them.

Gopher tortoise
Gopher tortoise

The park also hosts events, including summer camps for kids, and they have an upcoming Earth Day Zine Workshop. Wildlife and zines – two of my favorite things!

If you go (you should totally go):

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Address: 1101 Country Club Way South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Phone: (727) 893-7326
Hours:
November 1 – February 29
Tuesday – Friday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm • Saturday 7:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm • Monday Closed
March 1 – October 31
Tuesday – Friday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm • Saturday 7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am – 7:00 pm • Monday Closed
Admission: $3 Adult, $1.50 Child (Age 3 to 16), Free (Age 2 and under)

Chicken Run Rescue

We were incredibly lucky to squeeze in a quick visit to Chicken Run Rescue at its new location, just south of Minneapolis. Chicken Run Rescue started with its founders, Mary and Bert, rescuing cats and dogs in urban Minneapolis in the 1980s. As vegans, they saw the need for advocates and direct action for chickens and began working with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control. The birds who made their way to Mary and Bert’s home had been intended for slaughter, used for their eggs, for fighting and ritual sacrifice, and as hatching projects. The number of homeless birds has increased exponentially since they opened the sanctuary.

The recent upsurge in keeping backyard chickens has been detrimental for many birds. The Star Tribune noted an increase in stray birds in a 2013 story, “In 2001, Chicken Run rescued just six birds. Last year, Clouse and her husband, Bert, fielded almost 500 surrender requests for ‘urban farm animals,’ mostly chickens, and rescued more than 30, many with ‘special needs,’ such as chickens that lost feet to frostbite or reproductive cancers linked to constant egg-laying. Some of the rescues have been waiting for new homes for more than a year, she said. …‘I knew this was going to happen,’ Clouse said of the explosion in surrendered and abandoned chickens. ‘All the other sanctuaries and shelters have noticed an increase. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.’”

As Mary told me, “Chicken Run provides the birds with sanctuary and foster/adoption placement when appropriate. Teaching and assisting others to help birds in their communities is accomplished through vibrant volunteer and education opportunities.” Promoting birds as sentient individuals is a core part of their outreach, as is adopting a plant-based diet.

Below are a few of the birds I had the pleasure of meeting. Mary provided me with a few of their stories (also below). Check out the Facebook page too.

mnoct2016-0261

Fremont

mnoct2016-0986-2

Zazu

mnoct2016-0919

Fifi

mnoct2016-0907

Obie

mnoct2016-0884

Cristhina

mnoct2016-0849

Genevieve

mnoct2016-0832

Ms. Machowski

mnoct2016-0809

Akers

mnoct2016-0775

Perry

mnoct2016-0748

Akers

mnoct2016-0743

Sadie

mnoct2016-0722

Shopper

mnoct2016-0715

Xavier

mnoct2016-0710

Mavis Davis

Mavis’s story: “Mavis Davis (aka Mabiff Dabiff) named after our beloved friend Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns. With a severely crossed beak, she has trouble pronouncing s’s and v’s. Her beak deformity was likely the result of poor nutrition of her mother and in her young life.”

mnoct2016-0688

Derek

Derek’s story: “Derek was our 848th rescue. He and his sister, Rachel, arrived here in September 2012. They were apparently Advanced Placement students — they were found wandering on the U of M campus but couldn’t find their way back to the dorm. Fortunately, another kind student took them under her wing and contacted us. Good thing, they were only a few weeks old. They have grown up here with us. Rachel is still here too. Derek became a member of the Justice League, he and 2 other roosters, Butler and Quincy, went everywhere and did everything together. He has outlived his buddies and after their passing (heart disease very common in roosters), he was very depressed, not knowing where he would fit in without them. He recently got a job looking after hens, sometimes Renee, and Elisa, sometimes Janet and Carrie. He wasn’t sure at first just how to tidbit for them and supervise them, but now has it mastered. Looking after hens is hard wired into roosters, their purpose in life. Derek says its good to have a job.”

mnoct2016-0681

Rajij

Rajij’s story: “Rajij is our 827th rescue. He is a timid juvenile Malay, probably born in December 2011. No spurs, barely a bump on his ankles. He and his brother Satar were discovered by police during a drug bust in North Minneapolis, each locked in a dark basement closet. They were both remarkably calm, quiet and healthy despite having plenty to protest about their life so far. They were constant companions at CRR. Satar passed away in 2013 and Raj grieved for him for a very long time. Raj is now our senior resident rooster and reviews his troops every morning with a powerful sense of duty and eagerness to serve. He loves having his head groomed, we keep a comb handy to preen him and keep those feathers gorgeous.”

Fort De Soto Park and Egmont Key

july2016-0244

Way down at the mouth of Tampa Bay sits Fort De Soto Park. Within that park is access to Egmont Key, a state park. Fort De Soto is a large county park offering beaches, camping, a dog beach, a historic fort, trails, and multiples of habitats for Florida’s flora and fauna. It has been named a #1 beach by places that rank such things. It is also a nesting spot for many kinds of turtles and birds. I’ve now visited twice, once in winter and once in summer, and it is a truly lovely spot. The entrance fee is nominal.

july2016-2196

At the Fort De Soto Bay Pier you’ll find a concession stand, bathrooms with showers, a postcard-worthy beach, and the ferry to Egmont Key. Only accessible by boat, Egmont Key is a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary. The lighthouse there has stood since 1858 and Fort Dade was founded on the island in 1923. Now mostly ruins, the island is cordoned off for nesting birds and sea turtles, but there are swimming beaches and trails. I visited Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas two weeks prior and Egmont Key reminded me of Fort Jefferson, but the trip cost about 90% less and the ferry ride over to the Egmont Key took 20-30 minutes instead of 2 1/2 hours.

july2016-9338 july2016-9331

After the excitement of the car accident the night before, Garnet and I were looking forward to a peaceful day of swimming and adventuring. We took the first ferry over and while onboard, he met Jackson, a boy his age who was visiting with his grandparents. We exited the ferry and within three about minutes we excitedly found a gopher tortoise near the lighthouse. There is a large population of the tortoises on the island.

 

july2016-9313 july2016-0275 july2016-0255

The ruins of the old gun batteries were fun to explore. We walked out to the beach on the west side of the island. The water was ideal and boaters had anchored near shore. With the boys safely splashing around, I went exploring and blundered into a nesting area for skimmers. The birds told me I was intruding even before I spotted the signs. The chicks were running around being absurdly adorable.

july2016-9314

july2016-0332 july2016-0317 july2016-0313

The ferry offers an optional snorkel tour and Garnet, Jackson, and I went off to do that for a bit. They took us to an area of sea grasses, but the water was a bit murky in the shallows. It was fun watching the boys claiming to see fish and rays that weren’t really there. Once you are on the island, you are free to stay and take whichever afternoon ferry works for you and the boats sell snacks and water. Pay heed to the warnings about dehydration, especially in summer.

july2016-2207 july2016-2216

Overall, Egmont Key and Fort De Soto Park are well worth exploring. Having been twice, I feel like I have another 5-6 visits ahead of me to get a true feel for the place and intend to return.

july2016-0343

Floating Amid Stars: Snorkeling the Florida Keys

july2016-keys-2046

Birdwatching is a globally popular hobby and continues to grow. I’m a huge fan of birds and enjoy watching them, but I love to fishwatch even more. Somehow, that hobby has never taken hold like birdwatching. I don’t get it. I mean, you have to stand there on a ground like a lump watching the aerial dynamics with birds. With fish you can actually join in and swim among them. When was the last time you got to fly with a flock of starlings or glide with an eagle?

july2016-keys-1774

I love the Florida Keys because they meet so many travel wants and needs. My greatest want, the one that I daydream about and that pushes me to return repeatedly, is the water. More specifically, the fish and other wildlife that inhabit the waters off the Florida Keys. I don’t visit captive animal attractions – I prefer to watch animals in their natural environments.

july2016-keys-2063

At some point, I lucked into snorkel gear (mask, fins, snorkel) at a yard sale and later upgraded to a better snorkel with a valve. The fins are small enough that I can pack them in my carry-on luggage. Over the years, my kit has expanded to rubber-soled water shoes, a point-and-shoot underwater camera, DIY defogger spray, and many ziplock bags. If you are going to snorkel more than a handful of times it is worth having your own equipment and it also means you can check out offshore spots spontaneously. Some of the best spots I’ve found have been just offshore and do not require a boat ride. While boat rides are part of the fun, they add up if you are traveling on a budget. Snorkeling is one of those things that can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it.

july2016-keys-1947

I like to go to the Keys in summer because it is off-season, the crowds are smaller, and unless there are storms afoot the winds tend to be calmer, which means the waves are smaller and the water is clearer. I learned the hard way that going in the winter can make for terrible snorkeling.

july2016-keys-2018

I feel I should note that I am a snorkeler, not a diver. My ears let me freedive about 8-10 feet and that is it. Diving is also expensive and there are restrictions about diving and flying within 24 hours. I’m quite happy bobbing along the surface, suspended between worlds.

july2016-keys-2074

These are spots I checked out in July. I also read Snorkeling the Florida Keys by Brad Bertelli before we left and found it very helpful.

july2016-keys-1780

Cheeca Rocks

We took the 3:00 p.m. Happy Cat Snorkel Boat out from Robbie’s in Islamorada the day we arrived. The boat took us a few miles offshore to Cheeca Rocks. It was hot and the water was very clear. We saw several sea turtles and huge schools of small silverfish. Unfortunately, this charter attracted the kind of people I want to smack the shit out of. I watched a young woman “petting” the coral. You don’t “pet” coral. When she bobbed up for air I yelled at her to stop and she claimed she didn’t know any better. EVERY SINGLE snorkel charter I have ever gone on tells you this will kill the coral. Look, don’t touch. Then someone else with extra-long dive fins started treading water near the coral heads. They did decades’ worth of damage in seconds. I get that you have fancy-ass dive gear and are proud of it, but you don’t need long fins in calm, shallow waters.

july2016-keys-1855

Indian Key State Park

The next day we went back to Robbie’s and rented kayaks to go out to Indian Key. We were given a tour of the island by Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours, run by the aforementioned Brad Bertelli (that will be a post of its own shortly). Afterward, we entered the water on the northeast side of the island. The waters around the island are very shallow and we saw conch, starfish, baby sharks, parrotfish, and watched nesting ospreys from the water. It was a nice little spot.

july2016-keys-2145

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor is one of my all-time favorite snorkel spots. There are rock formations just off the beach and while the action is often there, I’ve seen a school of cuttlefish in the shallows. It was crowded the afternoon we went and the winds and tide had the water rather turbid. Overall, it was lackluster this trip. You can snorkel the same place 10 times and never experience the same conditions.

july2016-keys-2155

Key West Marine Park

Another offshore snorkel spot in Key West is the Key West Marine Park, located on the east side of the island. The pilings and debris make for great fishwatching, as they are ideal for juvenile fish and invertebrates, but the morning we went the tide was moving and the winds had kicked up. The water was so turbid that it was almost disorienting. I will definitely go back next time and hopefully the conditions will be better.

july2016-keys-2071

Sand Key

We sailed with Captain Dennis on his boat Breezin out to Sand Key. Again, there was some wind up, so we moored on the rubble side of the key. Snorkeling can be very different depending on where you moor and the wind/water conditions, even within 100 yards. In this case, we were in an area that would be easier to swim in, but the rubble zone belied the health of the reef on the opposite side. The water was bath temperature. I watched and listened as a school of parrotfish munched loudly.

 

july2016-keys-1935

Dry Tortugas National Park

By far, the best snorkeling this trip was out at Fort Jefferson. It is in my top five snorkeling spots, period. Fort Jefferson has been on our list for years, but the tickets aren’t cheap. This was finally the year. Located about 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are in the middle of nowhere, but the fort is rich in history. There are two decaying docks, which offer ideal food and shelter for the tropical fish that surround the island. You can put your head down and watch 10-15 species of fish swirling below and then look up to see nesting brown noddies at the tops of the dock pilings. The clarity of the water was amazing and it was a pleasant swim around the exterior of the fort. The height of day was blistering, but the ferry we took out to the island put out a delicious spread and made sure everyone had enough water.

july2016-keys-1993

july2016-keys-1955

Turtles, rays, and larger fish are great, but I am just as happy seeing common nursery fish and invertebrates. If you are willing to take your time and look into crevices and among the sea grasses you’ll be rewarded. I still haven’t seen an octopus in the wild, but I’ll keep trying until I do. Swimming with huge schools of small silverfish is like floating amid the stars.

july2016-keys-1921 july2016-keys-1943

Like Ramen Left Out in the Rain

july2016-9265

I volunteered to help organize a conference for work. An unexpected perk was that I needed to go to Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL to conduct site visits at three hotels and one museum. One of the hotels comped a night’s stay. I realized that Garnet was old enough to entertain himself while I worked and invited him to join me for a bit of adventure.

We had completed all four visits and intended to spend the evening swimming at the hotel pool. A thunderstorm disrupted our plans. We were up in the room watching the sky flash in the distance. Garnet was rather agitated because he wanted to buy a perfect birthday present for a friend. It was almost 8pm. I thought about how I felt at that age and asked if he wanted to go shopping. He nodded.

So off we went into the rainy, tropical night. We were in St. Petersburg, on Central Ave. waiting to turn right on 3rd Street. The light had changed, but there were pedestrians crossing the street. Behind me, a black Saturn Vue XR saw the light change, but missed me stopping for the pedestrians and slammed into the back of me when it skidded in the rain. I completed the turn and pulled over in front of a row of bars and restaurants. Seconds later a distraught young blond woman appeared beside my door, the rain and tears streaking her mascara. Garnet was upset by the noise and my sudden seriousness, but I assured him we were okay.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an indigent man trying to make the chaos we created work for him. He was taking a grocery bag and hitting passing cars with it, then pretending the car had run over his foot. No one was stopping. I calmly told the crying girl to go back to her car. It was her first accident too.

I called Budget, who took the report and told me that in the state of Florida cops often don’t come out for minor accidents. There was a rap on my window. It was a bouncer from one of the nearby bars. He said that the indigent man was claiming that the woman who hit me had run him over. I got out in the rain and followed him over to the sidewalk where the man was in his death throes. I laughed. He was overacting his part something fierce. Pedestrians were stepping over him.

The bouncer said they had to call the cops and that we should wait. The bouncer said that the guy was a known local drunk and that the cops weren’t going to take his word over ours. So back to the car I went, glad that the hedge blocked Garnet’s view of the scene.  It was then I realized the indigent man had been hitting the passing cars with a bag of ramen. The bag was now run over in the crosswalk, noodles crushed, scattered, and rehydrating in the rain.

I didn’t want to leave the girl to face the cops on her own, but they still hadn’t arrived after 15-20 minutes. I saw something going on in the rearview mirror and assumed another bouncer was confronting the guy, who had made a miraculous recovery. The first bouncer reappeared at my window and told me another bum had arrived on scene, saw the guy playing dead and called him a scumbag. They got into a scuffle and went off into the night. He suggested we leave, quickly, and if the cops ever came they would handle it.

Later, I would realize that I had gotten my learner’s permit in Florida and almost 30 years later was in my first real accident in the same state. You can say what you want about Florida, but the state has the best writers. I mean, where else can you have your first car accident resolved by a bum fight?

 

 

Perspective

July2016-9301

I learned to love to travel as a child. So did Patrick. When Garnet came along we hoped he would also love to travel. We took our first real trip together when he was 11-months-old. We dressed him in a bear costume, hoping that if he cried on the flight people would at least be ameliorated by the overwhelming cute of a small bear-like child. He barely cried and it soon became evident that he was one of us.

Each year, we took trips that were more demanding – longer plane rides, more hours in the car, longer hikes, different locales, weirder motels, less sleep, more snack-based meals. He adapted to everything and we enjoyed sharing new places with him. There were always limitations imposed by traveling with a child, but that was okay. One of the main reasons to travel is fresh perspective and by taking him we had that two-fold.

A work trip presented itself recently that was a bit different than most. I needed to conduct site visits at three hotels and one museum. One of the hotels comped a night’s stay and I had frequent flyer points to cover a plane ticket. I invited Garnet to join me. I explained I had to work all-day Friday, but that we’d be free to adventure all-day Saturday. I knew he’d get bored waiting, so I asked him to help me. I gave him my old camera to use and asked him to take photos of the places we were visiting.

I’ll admit it, I was just hoping to keep him occupied while we spent the day conducting tours. That isn’t what happened. He asked helpful questions and his use of the camera was natural and innate.

Something about the camera shifted the dynamic. I could see what he saw. Further to that, he was sitting in the passenger seat beside me for the first time on a trip. He took photos of clouds, signs, and the dashboard. I saw what was interesting to him. He was curious about how the camera worked and I started to teach him about light, shutter speed, composition, and perspective. We were less parent and child and more like traveling companions. It was wonderful.

When we got home we worked together to pick his best photos. I showed him about cropping, adding contrast, and general editing. He showed me which photos were his favorites and why. He teaches me more than I could ever hope to teach him. These are some of his photos from the trip…

July2016-0203
Fort De Soto State Park
July2016-0228
Great Egret
July2016-0236
Flag in the breeze
July2016-0191
Passenger seat perspective
July2016-0181-2
Passenger seat perspective II
July2016-0176
On the road
July2016-0162
Plans for the day
July2016-0147
Having coffee
July2016-0023
Dali Museum
July2016-0034
Dali Museum, self-portrait
July2016-0044
Dali Museum
July2016-0048
Descending the stairs at the Dali Museum
July2016-0059
Still Life at the Hilton
July2016-0083
Hotel site visit
July2016-0086
Hotel site visit
July2016-0107
Where the day took us
July2016-0130
Roadside attraction under construction