Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

IMG_1213

my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

Advertisements

To See the Sea Again…

I started reading In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex earlier this week. My bookmark is resting on page nineteen but already I’m pining for salt air, sea breezes, and the stinkeye one gets from those mean ol’ pelicans. I don’t know if I really miss Florida or if I just miss the small fishing and shrimping villages located up and down along the Atlantic coast. Either way, reading about this whaleship and the crew and the harbor town and the island of Nantucket and all the things that remind me of home just seem to remind me of…well, home.

The ocean, the rivers, the marshes, the bridges. Even the cargo ships and cruise lines have a special place in my heart. I feel silly for even entertaining the idea of not returning to Florida this summer. So, so silly.

our camping float-by

a container ship on the St. Johns River, heading out to cross the Atlantic

100_4069

Mayport shrimp boats – it’s a way of life

100_4068

Mr. Ed is our favorite tugboat.

a06d8e87-7891-4c33-8a54-89f53a6a6b5d

Atlantic Coast pelicans are much nicer than Gulf Coast pelicans.

Untitled

another container ship, returning overseas

Fernandina Jan10 046

at the harbor-front in Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Jan10 039

more Fernandina boats

Dames Point Bridge

Dames Point Bridge that connects North Jacksonville to Arlington, Southside, and the Jacksonville Beaches. A cruise ship makes it way out to sea by navigating under this bridge with barely a few feet of clearance at low tide.

Florida Marches

Spring is slowly, slowly pushing its way through. Strangely, I’m a little hesitant to rush it it only because I know severe storms and tornadoes become the norm this time of year. It snowed in parts of Oklahoma a few days ago and today we were enjoying seventy-degree weather. I’ll probably never stop complaining of the wind, though, which seems to accompany these bursts of warmer weather making it a little more difficult to enjoy the outside world. We’ve been enjoying the hot tub much more lately since night time temps tend to hover around 40 or 50, on a good evening.

I am missing Florida, too. The greenery, the lushness of it all, even the goddamn kudzu. I can’t really say that I wish I was there. According to Sam Champion, my favorite national weatherman, Oklahoma City has been warmer than Jacksonville. One day, we were even warmer than some cities in South Florida. Winter – it’s time for you to go home now.

These photographs are from some of my previous years’ March adventures. Florida usually provides a nice warm spring/summer atmosphere this time of year. Beachworthy, even! Since nobody anywhere in the country seems to be basking in any of that kind of weather, feel free to enjoy these photographs of the botanical gardens in Gainesville and Jacksonville. While there are no photographs of me, I can assure you I was wearing shorts and flip flops on both occasions. My toes, already painted in a deep green polish, are screaming to be released from the confines of socks and shoes. Seriously, Winter – go home already.

Untitled

bamboo

daffodils

groud cover

100_5045

garden window

The Shark Trackers

It was one of the first times I had wandered out past my waist, the non-swimmer that I am, and into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Jacksonville Beach. My entire family was on the shore and plenty of others, all perfect strangers, were in the water with me, or so I thought. I suddenly noticed people heading back to shore and the people who were already on shore were pointing at the water, where I was still standing in water higher than my waist.

Then it hit me: I wasn’t alone out there. While nobody was pointing at me or in my general direction, it hit me. No, this time it really hit me, whatever it was. I got bumped, smacked, clubbed from behind, whatever you want to call it, by some ocean animal large enough to knock me off balance. Naturally, I panicked and hauled ass back to land.

After I slogged my way through the water with the help of the surf and made it back to shore, which can be achieved rather quickly when a girl believes a shark has tripped her up 30 yards out, I stood next to my mother who had no idea what was happening. My father was no help, either. Finally, I looked out and saw dolphins swimming in a circle, discernible only by their fins. I have heard stories of dolphins protecting potential prey and preventing them from becoming shark victims. So, was it a shark or dolphin that made contact with my legs? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but wouldn’t this story be ridiculously awesome if I actually knew it was a shark?

You’d better believe I’d be telling everyone I knew that I survived a shark attack! Instead, I’m relegated to repeating I got bumped by something in the ocean, possibly a tarpon.

See? There’s no oomph to that.

Anyway, over the next few years, I always paid attention to reports of shark attacks around Jacksonville’s beaches. Usually a lemon shark or a bull shark was to blame for nipping at some poor surfer’s calf or, in one instance, taking off an unsuspecting beachgoer’s foot while he stood in only three feet of water. True story, I swear. The victim was an active-duty Navy guy just out for a stroll at the beach. The absurdity of it is why I remember it so well. Three feet of water, people!

What all this rambling really leads up to is this: Ocearch!

 

Imagine my surprise when I learned that great white sharks actually frequent the shoreline near Jacksonville! I think this is the most exciting project happening today – unprecedented shark research, tagging, tracking. We will learn so much! Sharks are some of the most misunderstood and reviled creatures on the planet, and I cannot understand why. As it happens, I have a greater chance of being killed in a tornado this spring here in Oklahoma than by a shark when I head back home to my Florida waters this summer. Also, back in 1987 there were more people attacked by squirrels and wild rats in New York City than were attacked by sharks in the entire world.

I’m so proud that Jacksonville is the beginning site and home base of the first-ever great white shark expedition in Florida. As I write this, Lydia, who happens to be a fourteen-foot long great white tagged only two days ago off the North Florida coast, is hanging out a few hundreds yards off of Mayport, just south of the jetties where that Navy guy lost his foot a few years ago.

This is news you can use, people.

Preparing for Spring

Spring is coming! At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. From the looks of things, central Oklahoma has a long way to go before the trees start bursting with green and the flowers bloom vibrant again. I doubt I’ll even be convinced of a warming until I hear my first buzzing bee. Only then will I believe it’s actually happening.

My spring fever is spiking right about now for two reasons:

1)      Daylight Saving Time is right around the corner!

2)      This is the season when the azaleas start to show off in North Florida.

I started thinking about this a few days ago when I saw my hometown of Jacksonville was getting drenched with much needed downpours while Oklahoma was under the threat of a crippling blizzard. Our blizzard never even hit Oklahoma City (phew!) but I hope all that rain in Florida helped push off the drought.

The following photos were taken last year in March at my friend’s house outside of Gainesville, Florida, a few weeks away from where we are right now and after a very mild winter. Their colors only last for a short while, but they are a welcome sight to anyone who has become bored of the standard green of loblolly pines and palms.

After reading that last sentence back to myself, it sounds ridiculous. Who would ever become bored of evergreens and palm trees? It sure beats the dead shit scenery I’ve been looking at here for the past three months – leafless trees, brown leaves covering the ground, snow, melting snow, mud, muddy dog paws in my house. So, in short, azaleas just make what is already pretty prettier.

IMGP3208

IMGP3211

IMGP3226

IMGP3214

It’s your turn now, Oklahoma. I see you have a spectacular wildflower show in the springtime and I’m quite anxious to experience it for myself!

Also, I’m eager to get my hands dirty and dig a native flower garden, to grow my giant sunflowers that will greet me every morning from outside my bedroom window, to find fruits and vegetables at the farmers market (instead of buying all that frozen bagged stuff at the grocery store, which feels like a form of blasphemy in this local food-networked city).

We have an emergency weather radio, a basement, and a tornado siren a few blocks down the road. I’M READY.

(En)lightened

Over a year ago, Matt, Elle, and I celebrated our first Christmas together by visiting three cities in three separate states: Orangeburg, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; and Saint Augustine, Florida. My photographs from that trip came out so shadowed and dark that when I uploaded them onto my computer, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of time I would have to spend to make them all somewhat presentable. I just never did it.

So this morning when I plunked myself down to finish the last four pages of a riveting (*choke*) essay on Catholic and Protestant styles of Baroque art, I decided after an hour of navigating art forums that it was the perfect moment to adjust some of the pictures. I went with Saint Augustine first since that was the biggest batch.

I’m learning that with this subject of piety there is no sure guarantee that inspiration and/or motivation will strike. But I have always been a better writer under the building pressure of a deadline. Also, I find that, for me, sometimes procrastinating isn’t necessarily a putting off or shirking of responsibilities. I am the kind of person who will allow someone to walk away from an argument and I would expect to be given the same respect from my opponent, to clear our heads and cool down, if you will. This is what my relationship has been like with Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, filled with more hate than love, actually.

So, here are my lightened photographs of Saint Augustine, Florida – one of my favorite cities in the world and aptly named after Augustine of Hippo, who many Protestants and Calvinists consider to be one of the theological fathers of the Protestant Reformation. Would you believe I had no clue of the connection between my photos, this city, and my research paper until I wrote this last paragraph? I find this a bit odd, if not entirely ironic, that even while trying to clear my mind of all things Catholic and Protestant, there never really was any chance of escape.

Nicely played, Augustine. Nicely played.

IMGP1440

Flagler College (the former Ponce de Leon hotel)

St. Augustine Lighthouse

looking up at the St. Augustine lighthouse

IMGP1419

Castillo de San Marco

IMGP1445

IMGP1444

IMGP1351

Crescent Beach

IMGP1421

St. Augustine Beach

Good morning!

IMGP1453

gorgeous hibiscus

(I do know that the Enlightenment happened after the Reformation/Counter-Reformation, but it was a huge influence on the period and really…I just couldn’t help myself with that title.)

Our Box of Vitamin C

Just in time for flu season, this year’s citrus crop from my parents was – oh, I have to say it – fruitful. Ha. I couldn’t help myself.

tangerines from Florida

We received our package yesterday filled with tangerines grown in my parents’ backyard. Each year around Christmas or after the New Year, depending on the first frost and citrus fruits’ finicky harvest schedules, my mom and dad send boxes of tangerines and Valencia oranges to my family in Wisconsin, who traditionally send blocks of Wisconsin cheese and cheese curds in return. This year, Matt and I were able to get in the trading game a bit when we shipped my folks two gallons of pecans in return for these tangerines. Perhaps I should send some pecans to Wisconsin in exchange for some real Wisconsin cheese curds.

Huh, why didn’t I think of that earlier?

I remember a long time ago reading in one of the Little House books of one particular Christmas morning on which Laura and Mary each received only an orange in their stockings. Can you imagine? The grueling hardships like those of pioneer life are things I wish to never have to endure, unless by choice, and that’s unlikely. We live in a world that gives us what we want every day, every season, every year, but I can only guess that my excitement upon opening this box of tangerines was very faintly similar to how the Ingalls girls felt on that Christmas morning.

**********

So I have finally decided to get my first flu shot in my life seeing as the country has gone completely mad with flu-scare stories. Does an early start to the flu season mean it will be a more dangerous virus? Should my healthy 11-year old get one, too? Why can’t I just run away into the woods with my family and our box of tangerines until everyone learns how to wash their hands? Oh, so many questions.

First Foggy Morning

My husband opened the back door yesterday and reported to me, “Honey, there’s fog.” Joy of joys! That only meant one thing: there was MOISTURE in the air!

a hint of fog

This is the only time I have ever experienced fog here in Oklahoma. There was one time a few months ago that I thought we were being overtaken by fog but I was quickly corrected when a friend informed me, “No, that’s just dirt. The wind picks it up from elsewhere and it blows into the city.”

I don’t get you, Oklahoma. You and your wind. Bah.

This week has been gorgeous, though. Last year when I was visiting, I felt like I was being held hostage by a cold front that had inconveniently moved in the day I showed up. We got one good day of weather, a sunny and warm Black Friday. The next day, we were back in the car again and heading home to Jacksonville, Florida, where there is always moisture in the air.

A few Oklahomans have tried to convince me that their state experiences heavy doses of humidity sometimes. I must say, with all due respect, that it might just be one of those subjective topics. I felt no such thing when I moved here, though I’m probably immune. I would probably fare just fine if dropped into the soup bowl of New Orleans in the middle of August, armed with nothing more than a bottle of water and sunscreen. However, as a commenter pointed out to me in another post, her summertime experiences in Kansas introduced her to what she called the “giant hairdryer”.

I concede. Dry heat totally killed me this summer and the wind (again, that damn wind!) wasn’t much help. This dry heat with its “giant hairdryer” is a strange and bizarre phenomenon to this coastal girl. And I missed being able to tell the time of day by the afternoon thunderstorms, fueled, no doubt, by the excess humidity that the southeastern U.S. is so famous for. Here in Oklahoma, I had to actually look at a clock.

So, dear fog, please feel free to make a home here in Oklahoma. I do miss you.

Swamps in Oklahoma

bald cypress trunk

It’s hard to believe that this distinctly southeastern tree was so unrecognizable to me here in Oklahoma. My neighbors across the street have a beautiful bald cypress in their yard, yet for months I had no clue what it was without it being accompanied by swampland and alligators. Not that I want alligators hovering around all the time. I’m quite happy these days being able to walk near a body of water and not have to be on the lookout for surfacing eyeballs and slide trails, thank you very much.

That photograph above is from my walk through the Jacksonville Arboretum in North Florida earlier this year. It looks right at home doesn’t it? The lush greenery, the ferns, the cypress roots digging right into the soggy ground. So you can understand why I was really surprised to learn that Oklahoma has a small but happy colony of native bald cypress trees. They live and thrive in the southeastern corner of the state, right at home with the swamps and alligators! (Yep, apparently Oklahoma has swamps and alligators.)

A local tree expert told me not too long ago that bald cypress trees find it difficult to grow in this area where so many ecoregions collide, although my neighbors’ tree says differently. Sure, I was disappointed at the reality of never having one in my yard but it’s not like I have to go far to see it.

Besides, I found some cypress stumps in the nearby city park, sans alligators.

IMGP6403

IMGP6342

And for any of you alligator enthusiasts out there, this is Virgil. Our office building on the campus of University of North Florida was right next to a retention pond which became home to a few different species of animals, naturally. Herons, turtles, softshell tortoises, catfish, and a couple of alligators. Virgil was “relocated” after he decided to run across the feet of our maintenance director who was trying to clean up the pond a bit. Virgil thought he was fishing. Virgil II showed up a few months later. We weren’t alligator-free for very long.

Virgil, the office alligator

A Partial Hometown Tour of Jacksonville (Gangnam Style)

A few comments about this video:

00:14 – That’s the Jacksonville Beach Pier. After two of its wood-built predecessors (the original and the replacement pier) were either destroyed or heavily damaged by a few different hurricanes and tropical storms (Floyd, Fay, and Bonnie), the city finally decided to build one with concrete pillars.

00:22 – Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

00:47 – Matt and I had our first date here at River City Brewing Company and dinner with my friends and family when we celebrated getting married. That’s the Main Street Bridge in the background where we also walked on our first date. Dawww, sentimentality.

01:11 – I have a bone to pick with this shot. Never in all my attempts to drive through the St. Johns Town Center have I seen such clearer traffic and better behaved drivers. It’s not about the cop, either. Town Center drivers are usually assholes. I’m impressed by whatever power has been yielded over these Town Center shoppers. Truly, truly impressed.

02:32 – Friendship Fountain was finally cleaned up (thanks, city tax dollars!) and it’s beautiful at night. The fountain changes colors and music plays around the park with the Main Street Bridge lit up in the background. It’s where we held an impromptu photo shoot with our aforementioned wedding celebration peeps. The photos didn’t come out very well though, because unfortunately nobody who attended our dinner was a photographer or even knew how to take photographs at night. Ooops. But here’s my best attempt at such a picture:

downtown Jacksonville, Friendship Fountain

Friendship Fountain & Main Street Bridge

02:51 & final scene – Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is the guy wearing the white shirt and that awesome ‘stache! He’s a Pakistani-born American businessman, not a terrorist as some bigots originally tried to have us all to believe. There are more Arabs in Jacksonville than most people probably realize so I think it’s time America just got the f*** over the whole “all Arabs are terrorists” thing.

I’m not sure when I’ll be going back to Jacksonville (important decisions are being made on November 6th and I’m not talking about the election, folks!), but it’ll be my first time back since July. Although it doesn’t look like much has changed, except the Jaguars are actually losing more games this NFL season, I am so eager to return! Oh, but gaaawwwd the drive…

Mayport shrimp? Fernandina Beach’s salty air? Tangerines from our backyard citrus trees? YES, PLEASE. Also, I’ve made a deal with my mother in which she will send me as much citrus as possible (grapefruits, valencias, and tangerines) in return for the pecans that are raining down from our Oklahoma backyard’s trees.