"" Writer's Wanderings

Thursday, February 02, 2023

From Darkness To Light


There is absolutely nothing more beautiful than a Florida sunset unless it's a Florida sunrise. Our condo is on the fourth floor so we have an expansive view facing the Florida Bay, facing west. The mornings are usually calm and there is a peace that I just want to drink in and savor, that and the beautiful skies that God paints as the sun rises somewhere behind me on the ocean side of Key Largo. 

My Bible open for morning reading I can also watch the osprey fly in for his morning catch and with any luck he will pass by the lanai with his catch in hand as if to say, "I've got my breakfast. How about you?"

On occasion there will be a nose that pops out of the water, a manatee taking a short breath before diving down to the grassy reeds again to enjoy his morning snack. A fin signals a special pass by of a dolphin.

The dawn comes slowly, a little gray light changes to a light purple and pinkish sky. Sometimes it's a bit hazy with humidity and it's like looking through pink cotton candy. Some mornings I watch the clouds become coated with the pink sugary light.


Gradually the light grows and the skies become tinted with a pastel yellow so light it is almost white. All the while the myriad of colors are reflected in the waters expanding the serene canvas. 

When next I look up from the pages before me, I see bright blue skies dotted with a few white clouds. Now it's truly time to begin the day. Time for me to forage for my breakfast.

Not too long ago I found a passage in Acts 26 where Paul is describing his Damascus road experience. In an instant a light was blazing around him and the voice of Jesus called to him. His was an immediate acknowledgement of Jesus, an immediate conversion. There are many who do not have a Damascus road experience, a day, a specific time, where they become a believer. Many experience a dawning, a gradual awakening to Jesus.

In that same chapter Jesus tells Paul that he is sending him "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.(v. 18)" Somehow that comes to mind when I watch the darkness of night fade to the beauty of the morning and the brilliance of the day ahead.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

A Desperate Journey

 In the past years we have occasionally encountered evidence of Cuban migrants who were able to make the long journey by water to the Florida Keys and the refuge of the United States. I can't be certain but I believe many are still under the impression that the "wet foot, dry foot" regulation is still in effect.

The "wet foot, dry foot" was a regulation that said as long as those migrating from Cuba could make it to dry land, they would be eligible to apply for legal residency. The law was abolished in 2017 but you still see Cubans setting out in boats that are less than sea worth to make hundreds of miles of journey across open ocean waters. 

A few years ago we crossed US 1 to the ocean side to see a boat that had been abandoned. We were told there were a half dozen men who had made the journey in it. They had a motor that they took with them when they were met on dry land but the boat was left behind trailing its loose duct tape in the water.

Over the New Year's weekend it was estimated a total of 500 Cubans landed on the shores of the Florida Keys. Many relatives in the states follow the landings and the immigration buses to see if their relatives have made it.


A couple of weeks ago, we went to a park on the east side of Key Largo, the ocean side. It's a place that we like to walk around when it's too windy on our side, the bay side. We were very surprised to find four boats abandoned that were obviously from Cuban refugees. One was by itself near a home. By the way, until just recently a homeowner was responsible for disposing of an abandoned boat on their property and cleaning up the fuel leakage. 


A little ways down our path we found three more boats that were clustered together and must have been recent arrivals since we could still smell the diesel fuel that was leaking from somewhere.

Those of us who have lived our lives in the freedom of the United States are truly blessed to not have to make such a desperate journey.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Battle Between The Pelicans And Tarpons


 Robbie's was a place we stopped on our way back to Key Largo from Marathon. We've been there several times before and it hasn't changed a whole lot. There is a place to get refreshments and several souvenir places but the main draw for many is the opportunity to feed the tarpons.

Now feeding the tarpons becomes a real battle between the pelicans and the rather large fish. The tarpon can grow to eight feet long. Most of the ones we've seen have been in the four to five foot range. They are fun to dive with. They gracefully swim beside you and if you are lucky to be diving on a sunny day, the large scales will reflect a dazzling silver color. They seem very gentle underwater but watch out if you're holding a tasty morsel of fish above a tank full of them. I guess that all changes when they feed. A website describes them as being "powerful, explosive and acrobatic."

The facility at Robbie's has two in-water tanks. I think the tarpons can swim in and out but what fish wouldn't want to swim in and enjoy a meal they didn't have to work too hard to get. The problem however is not only competing for the handouts with each other but the pelicans feel the authority to step in and grab the feeder fish the moment it is available.


There have come to be so many pelicans gathered at the dock where the tarpons are that it is almost impossible to keep the pelicans at bay. Since our last visit, Robbie's has installed netting over the tarpon pits with holes cut in them so you can hold the fish over the tarpons and not get bombarded by pelicans. That doesn't mean the pelican won't step in and try to steal the fish from your hand before you can get it into the hole or that they won't take advantage and grab as many as they can get from your pail if you're not careful.

My one granddaughter and I tried feeding some fish through the holes but the other granddaughter just clung to Bob, afraid that the pelicans might bite her. I have to say, the pelicans were about 3/4 her size so I can imagine her discomfort. 

When our fish were gone, we watched several other people who were a little more skilled at feeding. Of course they were down on their knees to get closer, something I couldn't do and my granddaughter wanted no part of. 

All in all it was kind of fun. I wouldn't suggest taking young children unless Robbie's does something more with netting overhead and around the dock to keep the pelicans at bay. At least with the netting that's there, the tarpons can no longer grab a pelican by the neck. Seen it on our last visit. Not a pretty picture.

Robbie's has also upped their prices. It's now $2.50/person to get on the dock and $5 for a small bucket of about 6-8 fish. They also rent kayaks and have fishing excursions from there as well. It's a Florida Keys kind of place. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Turtle Hospital in Marathon


 In all the years we have been coming to Key Largo, we have never been to the turtle hospital in Marathon about an hour south of us although we've been near it to go to the Aquarium Encounter. When we were due to have our two youngest granddaughters visit we wanted a new place to take them. I'd heard a great review from a friend and when we found out the girls had not been there either, we made reservations. 

When we arrived, we checked in and paid for our reservations ($30/adult, $15/child). When the lady who gave us our wristbands realized my name was Karen she said they had a turtle by that name and she would be looking at me when she told us about it.  We waited about five minutes or so for the tour to start. The skies were darkening for one of those Florida Keys showers that usually don't last long and since the first part of the program was 25 minutes inside the hospital, I thought we would be safe. The showers would pass.


Inside the small gathering room that seated about 25 people, I expected that it would begin with a video like so many do but it turned out that the lady at check-in, Mary, would be our guide and educational instructor. She explained that five of the seven world's species of turtles are taken care of there when they are injured or ill and gave us  lots of information about the differences in the turtles and how they survive in their environment.

Of course since this was a hospital for turtles, she went on to explain a lot of the common things they treated there. Fishing line was a big problem wrapping around turtle shells or appendages and causing damage just as it does to so many other marine animals and birds. Lots of junk from the water ingested that needed to be passed naturally with the help of laxatives or in extreme cases, surgery. 


There is a virus that turtles can contract which causes tumors to grow on them. Those that are brought to the hospital are treated with antibiotics and often with several surgeries to remove the tumors. A turtle cannot tolerate a lot of anesthesia so the removal of the tumors often has to be done over time. 

Then came the description of injuries incurred from collisions with water vehicles. Sometimes propeller blades can cause lacerations to the shell which allow infections to start. (We've seen manatees with awful lacerations from careless boaters.) The turtle shell is hard but not so much that a collision with a boat can cause a deformity in the shell and allow air to build up inside. When that happens it affects their buoyancy and ability to dive down to feed.


A picture appeared on the screen before us. "This is Karen," Mary said looking at me with a bit of a grin. "She has what's called Positive Buoyancy Syndrome from a collision with a boat." The turtle's shell had a large bump near the rear and the back end floated toward the top of the water. Mary continued, "Positive Buoyancy Syndrome is also known as Bubble Butt." 

On our way out the door to the holding tanks, I shook my head as I passed Mary. "You didn't tell me Karen had Bubble Butt. Thanks a lot." I heard an insincere "sorry."

Outside, the weather was still promising rain. We walked around many tanks, some larger than others, and most hurricane-proofed where turtles in various stages of rehabilitation were housed. Some of the staff which is made up of Marine Science grads were tending to the turtles, taking blood samples, administering meds. 


There are no volunteers at the hospital only paid workers who have a marine science background. They do get free rooms. The hospital was originally a hotel purchased by Richie Moretti, a retired Volkswagon mechanic who decided to turn it into the facility it has become today. So, the workers stay in the renovated rooms. One separate cottage on the premises is where the two veterinarians stay when in Marathon to do surgeries.

At the end of the property nearest the Florida Bay, an enclosed tidal pool houses the permanent residents of the hospital, those who would not survive in the wild again. They are the turtles mostly with buoyancy issues who cannot be released into the wild. There were I believe 24 residents at the time of our visit and we were given handfuls of food pellets to feed them. The tidal pool ebbs and flows and the opening to the bay is large enough that fish and other marine critters often enter giving the turtles some extra treats.


It was an overwhelming educational experience for all of us and one very interesting fact that I took with me was that a turtle's brain may not be very large but it has crystals of magnetite (the same mineral used in compass needles) surrounding it. It is a built in guidance system which explains the lecture we'd heard on a cruise several weeks before about migrating turtles. 

And yes, we got a shower as well. It was a very gentle rain that fell through the mesh that covered the tidal pool. It only lasted a few minutes and I did not hear anyone complain especially the turtles.

Even if you can't get to the Keys to visit the hospital you can go online and see lots of video and read some interesting blogs. That is also worth a visit so here's the link: The Turtle Hospital

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Birds, Birds, Birds


 Whenever we have the Florida grands stay with us a few days we make a visit to the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary just down the road a bit from the condo. The younger girls especially like going there to see the birds that have been rescued. 

There are lots of owls, some hawks, a couple of turkey vultures, pelicans and some smaller birds as well.

The girls got excited when one of the crows seemed to mimic their "Hi!" They tried "Bye" as well and it sounded quite the same.


One of my favorite birds is the black necked stilt. The bird is black and white and walks on legs that are as thin as toothpicks. I say it is a favorite because in looking at pictures of previous visits, I always have one of the same bird. I can tell it's the same because he has a broken wing that apparently cannot be fixed.

We stood and watched a new addition we hadn't seen before or else it never poked its head out. It was a screech owl, a very small one so we weren't sure if maybe it wasn't a young one. It stared at us and just kept blinking. Once in a while it made a funny noise that was kind of a hoarse throaty sound. Not exactly a screech. It almost looked unreal though, as if it were a mechanical owl.


At the empty broad winged hawk cage that had a sign "Away on Vacation" posted on the door, we pondered where a broad winged hawk would to on vacation. Certainly not north, I hope.


Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Shipwreck: Sara G

 What has been one of our favorite places to go for dinner in Key Largo is a place called Shipwrecks Bar and Grill. It's kind of out of the way and not fancy (far from it) but we always enjoyed the coconut onion rings and the Mahi dinners. On one side of the patio is an open ocean rowing boat that has always been a curiosity. Where did it come from? What's its history? Why is it here?

Sometime in January (I think), an article was written about the boat by someone else who was curious, Ric Johnson. He is the author of an article, Sara G: From Australia to Key Largo. It was cut out from whatever newspaper published it (I suspect one of the Keys newspapers) and framed. The framed article hangs on the bow of the rowboat and tells the story of the Sara G.

The boat was built in Australia of balsa wood and fiberglass and holds several world rowing records. The last owner and skipper was Matt Craughwell who with five others in his crew set out in January of 2012 to row from Morocco to Barbados, a total of 3,000 miles. They made it 2500 miles when the boat was hit by several waves it was unable to handle and was overturned. The crew managed to retrieve the lifeboat from the rowboat and inflate it. They were rescued by a cargo ship responding to their emergency call. 

The Sara G was abandoned and drifted from waters near Barbados to the shore of Key Largo where Mike Hutching, the son of Shipwrecks owner found it and salvaged it. The boat has graced the patio of the restaurant since January of 2013.

And now we know.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

A Day In The Glades


The Florida Everglades is an amazing treasure of natural beauty. When our Ohio son and daughter-in-law invited us to join them in exploring we jumped at the chance not only to be with them but to hopefully enjoy a day full of discovery together. We met them at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center just before the entrance to the park. Being Martin Luther King day, the park entrance was free although we have a senior pass which would have allowed our car entry.

The weather was perfect and there was not a mosquito to be found, thank goodness. Not long into our journey we saw a couple of cars pulled to the side of the road. Sure enough there was an alligator out enjoying the sunny weather. It had been quite chilly, downright cold if you asked a Floridian, for several days and we expected that the reptile population would be taking advantage of the warm sun. This large guy was no exception.


After commenting how close those people were standing to the alligator and how that really wasn't safe, Bob and our son got out of the car and walked closer to it. Meanwhile, the girls stayed in the car and had our phones at the ready should we get a good video of the two of them running. Alligators may look sleepy and calm and too heavy to move fast but they are not. The four legged critters with the sly smile can run up to 35 MPH on land. This one just wanted to sleep and didn't seem bothered by the attention.


We were a little disappointed in the number of birds we saw. Usually there are a lot more and close enough to observe. We did get a close view of a large blue heron fishing and an anhinga but even the anhingas which used to be plentiful near the trails were scarce. Maybe there were too many people although it didn't seem that crowded except for the Anhinga Trail we walked later in the day.

At several places along the way out to the Flamingo Visitor Center at the other end of the main road, we stopped and walked the trails. While we didn't see a whole lot, it was very pleasant walking on the shaded paths. Looking up into a tree full of red berries, we found we weren't the only robins coming south for the winter.

At the Flamingo Visitor Center, there is a marina, a gift shop with sundries for campers, and a food truck! We've eaten there before and it's always been good. This day was no exception. A hamburger, sweet Italian sausage on hoagies with grilled onions and even the grilled cheese sandwich was wonderful. 


After we satisfied the appetite we'd built up with all that exploring, we walked around the marina area and watched several manatees. One of them was a momma with a very young baby on her back. I'm wondering how young the baby was. Baby manatees can't swim when first born so momma has to help them to the surface to breath. She carried the baby quite a ways and we never saw her submerge.


We drove back to the area closer to the entrance to the park which is called the Royal Palm Visitor Center. There is where the popular Anhinga Trail is and where you can almost always encounter an alligator. It was a popular place this day but it didn't seem to bother the alligators who were out sunning themselves. A couple were very close to the trail or right on it and certainly made several of us very nervous as we watched people getting closer and closer to them to get selfies. Warning: the alligators are not tame or domesticated. 



It was a full day at the Glades and we headed back to the condo in Key Largo where our son and his wife joined us for the sunset and dinner after. So much fun being able to spend a day enjoying life with them.

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