Saturday, April 20, 2013

Portrait of Fractal Nature

Cypress knees poke up through the swampy waters, perfectly themselves, completely of place they are. Yet they are also fractal images of other things. Here is a Zen garden of its own creation, needing no silent monks to maintain them. Here is an island chain in miniature, with moss for the vertical forest of some precipitous Pacific archipelago, or some South China mountain range. I wonder, if one looked closely enough, if a tiny temple might be perched somewhere in these craggy peaks, there in joyful worship of its own very nature, the nature of us all. For do we not all, on seeing such a place, exult in some inward place, some hidden temple of the heart?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cypress Swamp Dreams

The soft, delicate spray of needles of a bald cypress glows with a living light in the early morning hours. There in the shaded confines of the forested swamp, amid large and dark trunks and covered by the dense canopy, I stood still and silent, at peace with the moment, asking nothing more.

There were many birds about, the small ones flitting about in the trees, the larger ones sailing in on outstretched, motionless wings, or filling the forest with strange, haunting calls from afar, quavering screams that seem of another age entirely. These kinds of places don't just feel wild, they feel ancient, a part of the long unbroken continuum. 

This is the way things used to be.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Six Mile Cypress Slough

I did go back to Six Mile Cypress Slough, as I said I would. How could I not? I knew I'd found something special. My thanks go out to the students who initiated the whole preserve back in the '70s, high school kids who recognized the value and took it to the county commissioners, convincing them and the citizens of Lee County to tax themselves to save it. Much land has been added to the Preserve since, and it is an extremely valuable wildlife corridor and refuge for birds and mammals of many kinds. Such corridors are increasingly rare in our country, and this is especially true here in Southwest Florida, where rampant development has taken a very large bite out of the forests and swamps. But a place like this gives hope to the cause, and someday, and perhaps even now, roaming Florida panthers may make use of wild strips like this as they slowly repopulate the area.

For this is a place of life. Much of southern Florida is, in a way, half desert. I mean that in the sense that there are wet and dry seasons, and the dry seasons are very dry, often with no rain for months. The dryness for half the year is a major limiting factor on living things here, and of course, those dry adapted species must also be able to handle all the rain in the summer. Further, the soils tend to be poor, sandy soils that drain quickly, holding less water and leaching out nutrients faster. It is the wetlands where the biodiversity really thrives here, and this is one such place. The soils are black as night, full of organic material, and of course, water. Even in the dry season, most of the place is still damp, and of course much remains under water altogether even then.

I came to this place just after dawn, having risen before the sun to make the drive out there, for the double reason that dawn is a time of greatest activity for living creatures and that the inverse is true for the human flocks; therefore, I had come early for the relative solitude. The crowds would come later. I again stuck to the boardwalk the whole way. Someday I plan to do some bushwhacking, or more accurately, swamp wading, to get into quieter zones away from all the people. Perhaps find a well sited hummock or stump, and sit quietly for a few hours, seeing whatever comes and whatever is, grokking the wildness of the place.

There was one pond where I spotted several alligators, small ones like this one, young from a few years back, or so I was told. Most were motionless in the weedy shallows, basking in the sun, but this one swam right past me where I stood on the platform, heading for a dry log in the sun on which to do his own requisite reptilian sun worship. A larger one, maybe a 7 footer, had appeared briefly not long before, gliding across another, larger lake, ducking under the glassy surface hardly as soon as I'd spotted it, having raised the camera excitedly just in time.

Not a hundred yards further on, I saw something I'd been wanting to see, though not greatly expecting: a pileated woodpecker. These crow-sized birds favor old growth forests, large birds needing dense forests of large trees, and especially large standing snags, for their nest holes. I knew the swamp housed some, and here I had the great and unhoped for luck of seeing not one, but two, presumably a mated pair, and seemingly unconcerned with my presence.

I stood there taking dozens of pictures while this one hacked at the stump, most of them coming out as a mere red blur. She hardly paused to even look at me, though I was only a few yards away from this supposedly shy and retiring species. Sort of like National Park syndrome, where the creatures know they are safe from hunters and become bold. It was a real treat for me to watch these two. I have only seen pileateds on two other occasions, and then only very briefly. After observing them a while, I think they are misnamed. They should have been called axe-headed woodpeckers. That one in the tree was showering down bark with a vengeance, with each peck sounding out a solid thwack.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Time Lapse

So, I have a little treat for you guys today. I ended up buying a time lapse camera the other day, always wanted one and finally the one I'd been watching went on sale, plus free shipping. Ended up spending $168 for this Brinno TLC200, and thanks to the sale saved maybe 50 bucks, so that's cool by me.

I got excited and had to use it right away. It helps that I had the second half of the day off work. I admit it didn't come out as well as I'd hoped, but here's a time lapse (or really, a stop-motion) video of me kayaking about in a couple canals here in Cape Coral. Next time, I'll try to remember to level the camera, as well as setting the interval to 1 second rather than 2. That's as low as I can go with it, but it would clearly make a difference, cutting the jumpiness by half and slowing it down. But I'll share it anyways, just to give you a more animated view of my neighborhood. I take you with me as I explore for the first time a couple undeveloped canals I scoped out on Google Earth.

Now, I'd like to point out, most of the canals in Cape Coral or the rest of SW Florida don't look wild like this. For some reason I ended up living in an area surrounded by relatively built out areas (say, 75% built), while my actual area is probably only 20% built out. Just born lucky, I guess (ha). So, some of the canals around here have a lot of trees. Non-native, invasive trees, mainly, but trees nonetheless. And cattails, sedges, reeds, and other vegetation. Beats paddling past stuff like this all day:

First thing they do when they build a house, it seems, is scrape the lot clean of life and build a sea-wall (though a few homes have no wall), thereby eliminating the main attraction of living in the area (in my humble opinion). I mean, if all the city's canals were lined in cement walls, devoid of the strips of riparian habitat, they'd be little more than water roads and, lets face it, open sewers, what with the murky pea-soup water filled with garbage, pesticides, fertilizer runoff, and effluent from the many old and leaking septic systems that the city has yet to deal with. [[deep breath]]

photo snagged from Google Earth
Of course, in the wealthier areas of the city, mostly the south part near the Caloosahatchee River, the homes are huge and all have pools, are nicely landscaped with palms and flowering shrubs, and don't have big piles of broken concrete in the back yard as the [vacant] home on the right does in the first picture. Most will have boat docks and, in the salt water ocean-access canals, boat lifts. Pretty nice neighborhoods, really. It reminds me of bicycling with my dad back in metro Detroit; we'd sometimes get over to the richer suburbs, and he'd always say how nice it was to bike in such upscale places. Me, I don't really want to look at stuff like that. I always preferred the farm country, open spaces with greenery, or the often-wooded rails to trails. Give me nature any day.