Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Christmas... uh, I mean, Valentine Cactus?

Look who finally decided to make an appearance!

My "Christmas" cactus finally started blooming! We had it inside for too long in the fall, so it wasn't getting the six-eight hours of darkness it needs to bloom. We only moved it outside around the holidays, so I knew it would be a late bloomer (Ha ha! Late bloomer! Get it?)

Rainbow River Canoe Day

This past weekend, Kyle and some friends of ours went canoeing down the Rainbow River.

We rented aluminum canoes at K.P. Hole county park and paddled upstream, towards the head springs (Rainbow Springs, where there's a much bigger state park apparently). We didn't make it all the way to the head springs, mainly because you have to return the canoes by 4 p.m.

Having grown up around the Atlantic Ocean and St. Johns River, I am still amazed and thrilled at how clear the spring-fed waters of Florida are. You could see all the way to the bottom, which in some places was very shallow and covered with aquatic grass (Strap-leaf sagittaria), but in others went so deep that there were divers and snorkelers - this is all limestone and sand, making the water appear a gorgeous turquoise. Throughout the sandy bottom you'd see little boils bubbling - water from the springs pushing up through the limestone.

My only other clear-water river experience has been in the Santa Fe, near Ginnie Springs. Sadly, the first thing I noticed at the Rainbow river was how clean it was. I never saw a can or bottle at the bottom of the river (although we did find one beer can floating in some marshgrass).

This is in stark contrast to the Santa Fe around Ginnie, where we never return from a "float" with less than five or six rusty cans and slimy bottles that Kyle picked up along the way. Because Ginnie Springs is privately owned, they can allow people to bring alcohol, and the majority of these park-goers are young and stupid, getting wasted and tossing their trash wherever they are, including the river.

The county and state parks prohibit alcohol, in fact, K.P. Hole prohibited any food or drink in disposable containers. Seems you've got to make rules just to keep the water clean, and that's heartbreaking.

The Rainbow river was so beautiful, and due to the time of year, it wasn't very busy. It was warm enough for Kyle and his friends Adam and Cori to snorkel (with wetsuit-like tops), but not this Florida girl. I don't get wet until June - at the earliest. I was still wearing a sweatshirt, after all.

Cori, who is the best fisherman I've ever met, caught a nice bass - we released him after the photo.

We saw a ton of birds, including a king fisher, bald eagles, cormorants, cranes and anahingas (snake birds, called so for their long, slinky necks - they're fantastic swimmers and fishermen).

The day was wonderful, and reminded me just how lucky am I to live in such a beautiful state.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Poking around in the yard

We're so lucky. Our yard has some lovely winter-blooming plants, some of which I've never seen before. So of course, I take photos and ask my coworker, Tom Wichman, to identify them for me. Tom is the statewide coordinator of the Florida Master Gardener program, and is a capital-N Plant Nerd. (I kid 'cus I love!)

He said the tree with fringy pink blooms in the back yard was commonly called a Chinese Witch Hazel tree (or shrub).

This showy plant, out front with the million other bromeliads, is bellbergia nutans, commonly known as Queen's Tears.

(Web site with photos/info)

I knew this was a camellia, but I had to show it off, because it's so beautiful. Too bad there's only one shrub, and it's hidden way in the back of the backyard! (The previous owners of our house seem to have liked sticking random plants around; we also have a lonely rose bush in the back.)

I was also telling Tom about how we'd like to plant some sort of hedge-like shrub in the front of the house, and since I liked camellias, he suggested a Camellia sasanqua 'Shishigashira'. It grows slow and puts out a ton of flowers.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sandhill Cranes

Before coming back from the holiday break, Kyle and I went to Payne's Prairie to see the sandhill cranes.

We saw almost as many alligators as cranes; okay, not really, but we saw a lot of gators. I'll apologize for the bad photography up front. None of this was close to us, and my zoom is only so-so. So I've altered many of the photos, upping the contrast on the fuzzy ones.

Kyle decided he needed a photo of a real gator with his damn Gator baby doll, which seems to accompany him whenever he brings his camera. Some day he'll have enough to publish a freaking book of Gator baby doll photos. You might be able to make out the doll propped in a branch, but you probably can't see the alligator much further back.

We did see cranes. Thousands of them, actually. They come down to winter, and this year was a bumper crop - estimates were as high as 8,000. Usually there are around 2,000. The temperature and water depth were apparently perfect this year, bringing in the crowds. (Bad-photo warning!)

Along with the gray sandhills were a few whooping cranes, which are endangered. When conservationists started a breeding program, they trained them to migrate with ultralight aircraft. When they were on their own, a few decided that it was safer in numbers and joined the sandhills on their migration path.
I think the high point of the day was when a huge number of them simultaneously decided it was time to move - right then. It was thrilling to see so many moving in tandem. Photos can't do it justice. They make the most amazing sound, a loud, cooing, throbbing noise.

There were a lot of people out to see the cranes, including some professional photographers. One of them pointed out this group of baby alligators, perched on their mother's snout. We would have never spotted them ourselves, but this guy had the biggest lens I've ever seen. I'm sure his photo came out better:

Less cute, and a hell of a lot scarier, was this guy. I don't know how I spotted him, but he was very, very close to us, just lurking in the water.

The prairie is a mix of marshy land and dry, grassy land. I'm curious to see what this looks like in the summer.

It turned out to be a beautiful day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

My wedding photographer

My wonderful friend and former colleague Mark Basse has agreed to photograph our wedding in May. Mark works at Florida Community College, but his real career is photography. He's amazing.

I started working with Mark while interviewing students to feature on the FCCJ web site. After doing an e-mail interview, Mark and I would meet them on campus to ask follow-up questions and take their picture. I would "assist," mainly by holding that reflective unbrella-looking thingy that does something with the light.

Mark's such a great photographer because he puts you at ease, and he takes a great photo of anybody, even students who were visibly concerned about their appearance.

Just fooling around one day, he called out to me: "Hey Jen!" I look up and poof! Photographed.
Can I tell you, it came out so good that I had it framed and gave it to my parents?

I received an e-mail from Mark today - apparently he was going through files and found two photos of me - both silly, off-the-cuff things.

You might recognize this one as my profile photo. It's the one I had framed for my parents:

This is even sillier:

He took both of these with the camera in just one hand, quickly - you should see his stuff when he's actually doing "photography." Looking at them, I get excited about him taking photos for our wedding. I think they're going to be great - what a great friend!

I also think I might want to grow my hair back out . . . .