Wednesday, June 29, 2011

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Florida has the typical  state bird & state flower

The State Shell is the Horse Conch.  I found this on on Sanibel Island back in January 2011 on the Captiva side of the newly-forming sand bar.
  I guess it stands to reason that we would have a state stone also.  Any idea what it is? Obscure rocks on the beach that have really cool geodes in them for $200 Alex!   What is Agitized Coral?  ding, ding, ding.... Exactly.  What the heck is it.  According to "Coral is the outside skeleton of tiny ocean animals called polyps, which live in colonies attached to hard underwater surfaces. When alive, polyps combine their own carbon dioxide with the lime in warm seawater to form a limestone-like hard surface, or coral.  Agatized coral occurs when silica in the ocean water hardens, replacing the limy corals with a form of quartz known as chalcedony. This long process results in the formation of a "pseudomorph," meaning that one mineral has replaced another without having lost its original form. In 1979 agatized coral was designated the official state stone."  I've had several pieces in my possession & didn't even know it.  Even worse, there are three main places in Florida to find Agitized Coral and the best one is my hometown of Dunedin at the beach on Honeymoon Island State Park. 

The Agatized Coral is on the bottom row in the middle.  It's too pretty to keep inside a box.  I've put it on a shelf where the sun can shine on it.

Family:  Poritidae
Genus:  Goniopora
Species:  ballistensis
Collected by Cousin Joan on Honeymoon Island State Park near Tampa, FL.  This coral is known to the rock hounds who cut & work it as Tampa Bay Coral.

 I've found loads of spectacular shells on Honeymoon Island over the years but I had never even heard of Agatized Coral until last week. My Cousin Joan came to visit from the Dunedin area.  She brought me a huge geode-looking rock that she had found while shelling on Honeymoon Island. She explained to me that the agitized coral on Honeymoon Island is from where they dredged the bottom of the bay in the construction of the causeway back in the 1960's. She finds it all the time while she is shelling & has bucketfuls of the stuff. Ten years ago Joan had gifted GeeGee a shadowbox display full of Honeymoon Island shells .  One little cubby had Agitized Coral in it but I just missed it somehow. I was probably looking for any sharks teeth.
The 3 pieces hiding in the shadowbox

Here's a link to the Florida Museum of Natural History's collections of fossilized coral

So in addition to shells & sharks teeth I am adding Agatized Coral to my beachcombing shopping list. When you live in Florida shells & fossils are never too far away.  After a strong rain take a look at side of a dirt pile or ditch.  Next time you walk on a shell road or driveway take a closer look at what you are standing on.  You have to have the eye.  When you are used to looking for shells one has to mentally switch a brain groove to see the sharks teeth.  I'll be switching my sharks teeth to Agatized Coral the next time I visit Honeymoon Island.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"But there are other beaches to explore. There are more shells to find. This is only the beginning." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea

The view on the way over the Sanibel Causeway.  The rainbow ends right where we are heading.

Joan (front), Connie (back left) & Capt. Brian 

Looking forward to a great shelling day

As the skiff "Muspa" slipped her way out of McCarthy's Marina on Captiva Island and into the glimmering waters of Pine Island Sound it became apparent that the amazing rainbow I had seen earlier crossing the Sanibel Causeway had been pointing in the right direction. Capt. Brian Holaway of the blog Capt. Brian's Observations on the Water invited me to join him on a shelling trip to Cayo Costa State Park.  As a native Floridian I have been around the Gulf of Mexico my entire life but I don't boat or own a boat so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to visit Cayo Costa which is an island only accessible by boat. Coming along with me are my cousins Connie & Joan. Let me just explain that we Southerners have a quirky habit of adopting any close friend and calling them a cousin.  Our parents all went to high school together. As young married's our parents purchased houses directly across the street from each other.  I am as close to them as I am to any blood relation.  We grew up together on the beaches of Honeymoon Island & Clearwater Beach sunning, shelling, cast netting, camping, & carousing. Who better than to share Cayo Costa with? Good times, I say.

Capt. Brian pointed out the fish house that belonged to Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist Jay Norwood Darling or "Ding" as he is known to Sanibel folks. Ding is responsible for arranging a federal lease of 2,000 acres of Sanibel land that designated it Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge in 1945 & saved it from over-development.

Cayo Costa State Park has 9 miles of  pristine beach & clear, calm water but you can only get there by boat.

As we travelled north on Pine Island Sound, Capt. Brian pointed out a baby dolphin swimming to our right.  Not only does Capt. Brian hold a US Coast Guard Master license but he is a Master Naturalist in coastal systems as well.  As we motored along he not only pointed out the local wildlife,trees, & plants but shared with us what landmarks we were seeing on the coastline. He pointed out the famous political cartoonist J.N. "Ding" Darling's fish house turned residence although no longer occupied & also where then President Teddy Roosevelt used to anchor his boat in the early 1900's.  We passed the beach where Hurricane Charlie made landfall on August 13, 2004.  That was a sober moment for all of us remembering how that storm had devastated our area.  The combination of salt air & the waves smacking on the bow of the boat must have shaken loose some memory cells for us girls because the reminiscing commenced.  We laughed and teased each other about many an adventure gone wrong.  Thankfully we pulled up to Cayo Costa before anything really embarrassing was shared.  Capt. Brian anchored us right at the beach & helped us disembark.  "Nice office" I quipped to him as he helped me off the boat.  He just smiled the smile of a person that loves what they do for a living.
It was hard to decide which way to go with so many shell & wrack lines.

Millions of shells line the beach

Nice Sea Star.  He's alive so we took a picture & put him/her back in the water to make more little sea stars.

Cayo Costa State Park is like stepping into a vintage Florida postcard.  Miles of shell-lined beach stretched out before us and the only inhabitants had feathers on - not a bathing suit.  There were dunes with purple & white morning glories creeping up the sides to explore.  The lagoon in the middle of the island was created by a  storm from last year & is surrounded with black & white mangroves, palm trees of all sorts, & millions of tiny fiddler crabs.  The no-see-um's & skeeters chased me from the lagoon and back to the beach where I proceeded to find a quite a few shells that you don't hardly see on an accessible beach any longer.  After a few hours of combing the beach for treasures we got back on board and heading to the other side of the island to eat our picnic lunch.
Dunes are the low ridges of sand on top of the beach that protect it from storm surge. The roots of the beach morning glory & sea oats help to anchor the sand and prevent beach erosion.

It's a totally different environment the farther up into the island you walk (& more bugs too)
You know you are a serious sheller when your back is the most tan part of your body.
My favorite finds from Cayo Costa:

(top) Tellinella listeri

(Röding, 1798)
Speckled tellin

(middle) Eurytellina lineata
(Turton, 1819)
Rose petal tellin

(bottom) Semele purpurascens
(Gmelin, 1791)
Purplish semele

Capt. Brian's boat is a 1981 Fishawk aka a Florida skiff but if they were going to trick-out a mullet boat this would be it.  The Muspa is large enough to accommodate 6 people comfortably but the boat is small enough to navigate the shallow waters of Pine Island Sound (which can be 1 1/2 feet in some places) & also get up close to tidal creeks, bayous, & keys. Capt. Brian designed his shade canopy & spray dodger for the ultimate comfort in any kind of weather. When the sun was starting to turn us girls slightly lobster-ish the shade canopy was erected and it kept us out of the sun but did not obstruct the views in the least.  Capt. Brian actually camps on his boat and sets his tent up on the bow of his boat under the spray dodger that he had a zip-up door installed to keep the critters out at night.  A new floor was put in the skiff in 1999 by the famous Boca Grande wooden boat builder Francis Knight.  His boat is reminiscent of the kind of boats that ran on Pine Island Sound 100 years ago. 
 Muspa was the last of the Calusa to go to Cuba in the 1700's. (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)
Connie enjoying her tasty homegrown tomatoes

Capt. Brian designed the shade canopy for ultimate comfort & visibility.  The spray dodger to the bow keeps you dry & warm in the colder months.  Capt. Brian sets his tent up under it when he camps on his boat.

We finished our tasty lunch that included pickled okra & homegrown tomatoes from Connie's garden.  Our Captain offered us ice cold watermelon & fresh mango.   What a wonderful way to share a lunch on the water with friends - old & new.  So as our tour was winding  down  Capt. Brian had one more treat in store for us.  As a self-professed "closet Anthropologist" he has studied  Botany, Archeology, & Tropical ecology.  He has a passion for the local ancient culture of the Calusa Indians.  The coastal bays & estuaries from Tampa Bay south to the Everglades are dotted with the Calusa's ancient shell mounds which have been dated back to 1500 AD although as a people group the are much older than that.  These shell mounds are all that remain of the Calusa. At one time there were as many as 50,000 Calusa. As the diseases of the Europeans like smallpox were introduced to them & stronger tribes warred against them, their peoples either died out or fled to the everglades where they were absorbed over time  into the Seminole Indian population.  They could have also travelled as far a Cuba.  Capt. Brian took us for a close up look at a shell mound.  We quietly, almost reverently crept past the towering mound of oyster shells, lightning whelks & horse conchs that were once used for food & tools.  Huge gumbo limbo trees lined the top of the shell mound.  The Pine Island Sound has a rich Calusa heritage that not many Floridians are aware of.  Capt. Brian is a member of the founder's circle of  Randall Research Center on Pine Island.  They have an active archological dig going on and are committed to keeping the Calusa history alive.
A Calusa Indian shell mound

This would have been the heart of a Calusa village

Bursera simaruba or the Gumbo Limbo trees line the top of the shell mound.  It's also called the Tourist Tree because it is red & peeling.
Manatees looking for a meal off the eel grass
Thanks for a great day! (l to r) Connie, Capt. Brian, & Joan

No man bag for Capt. Brian - he has a bucket.  He retired his 12 year old one for a new shiny one.  It's filled with all his essentials.  That "EB" sticker is from me designating that Englewood Beach has been in the house.
I'm just saying.......

So for us Florida girls we had a terrific day out on the water.  Mullet were jumping, manatees sighted, sting rays were swooping, & many shells were found.  Any ole captain can take you out on a boat but a guide like Capt. Brian that has Cayo Costa in his heart & soul takes your shelling adventure to an entirely new level.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. ~Elwyn Brooks White

On the Englewood, Florida beaches we do the Sharks tooth squat not the Sanibel Stoop. (Credit: Fotobug)
Living close to the beach requires a tremendous amount of discipline. The sun gives you that "Come Hither" look as you drive to work.  Doing laundry & cooking dinner can easily get kicked to the curb for a favorable low tide or blustery NW wind. (The way I see it  there's always take-out & wearing the same shorts twice right?) Last September I started a project that gave me a great excuse to head to the beach as often as possible - The Jar.

The sharks teeth I was collecting needed a dedicated home.  On those occasions when I actually did the laundry the tell-tale ping ping ping would send me running to stop the spin cycle.  I would then pick all the wayward sharks teeth out of the bottom of the  washing machine.  I'm sure my Whirlpool warranty does not cover shells or the teeth of a big fish. 

The big jar had been pushed back on a shelf awaiting a purpose anyhow. Since last September I have been collecting those sharks teeth one handful or pocketful at a time as I walk the late afternoon beach and enjoy the sunset. Over the last 9 months I have watched the sharks tooth level go up & down. I just love to give them away.  I have to keep myself in that cycle of reciprocity - of giving & receiving - of the tide coming in & going out.  Some have gone as far away as the Netherlands. Others have just been given away here & there to friends and family. So great news! The jar is finally full, nobody went hungry, & I do have clean clothes on. 

I started filling my jar last September 2010

The jar was filling up quite nicely as March 30, 2011

I have recently added kayaking to my list of housework detours (Credit: Momma AreGee)

From Jun 14, 2011

I wonder how many are in the jar?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"I did not want to live out my life in the strenuous effort to hold a ghost world together. It was plain as the stars that time herself moved in grand tidal sweeps rather than the tick-tocks we suffocate within, and that I must reshape myself to fully inhabit the earth rather than dawdle in the sump of my foibles." — Jim Harrison (Julip)

My poor shell bucket has been empty.  Shelling on the SWFL coast has been sort of flat the last few months. Good shelling requires a combination of things.  Tides, winds, moon phase all play a part. The biggest factor is location, location, location.  Sanibel is the shelling epicenter on the west coast of Florida with the best seismic shelling waves extending to Cayo Costa on the north and  south to Bonita Beach, Naples, & Marco Island. The really sweet shelling spots can only be reached by boat.  That's why I practically jumped for joy when shelling guide Capt. Brian Holaway of Captiva/Sanibel Island  invited me out for a shelling excursion next week. 
Heading out in the month of May (his favorite month).  Capt. Brian likes the warmer temps & the clearer waters.He says "the water seems more alive with stingrays & tarpons cruising by, the sea grass is floating on the surface of the water, & the days are longer." (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)
Cayo Costa Island is only accessed by boat (Credit:Capt. Brian Holaway)
Lightning whelk on the flats (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)

What boat ride is not complete without a dolphin visit? (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)

I started following Capt. Brian's blog because of his stunning photography. His passion for the water less traveled translates through the lens of his camera showing us coastal wildlife, Florida native plants, & the outer islands of SWFL in all it's stunning beauty.   Capt. Brian's Observations on the Water is not only a journal of his shelling guide trips but also his travels which range from camping in the Everglades to exploring in Panama.

 Capt. Brian has lived on Captiva Island since 1994.  His fascination with the history of ancient Caribbean cultures has  lead him to study Botany, Archeology,  & Tropical ecology. He has even traveled to the Amazon to study the relationship between people & plants.  As a coastal Master Naturalist through the University of Florida, Capt. Brian can tie up the pieces of what you see, what you find, & where it came from all  together for you.  Actually, the mystery of where all the shells have gone has been solved - they are all on Capt Brian's back porch. So, if I come up empty handed on our trip - I know where I'm headed next.
Capt. Brian's private collection displayed on his back porch (Credit: Capt. Brian Holaway)

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one." - Dr. Seuss

My favorite beaches are usually off the beaten path. My parking spot is with the beach crowd but I usually end up walking a distance to get to the sand less traveled. That's where the best shells & sharks teeth are and it is noticeably quieter.  The families with small kids & teenagers throwing Frisbees, balls, & each other tend to stay close to the facilities. I have often  looked at some of the little sandbars & mangrove islands  out in the bay & wondered if I could talk my water-challenged hubby into at least a small pontoon boat.  The last time he motored a rental boat the hubs backed it into the dock receiving a nasty look from the rental guy. The other time we lost a propeller on a rock which was an extra $40 bucks on top of the boat rental.  We are not boat people.  

Lil Shorty has come to my rescue. My girlfriend Lil Shorty has loaned me her sit-on  kayak.  She loves to kayak but her work schedule & proximity to the water has put a kibosh on her paddling. She offered this kayak novice the use of her boat for awhile so I could try the sport out.  Come on, how hard can this be? I looked at a few web sites for info. After watching a video on flipping over I felt certain I could perform "the belly button maneuver". You have to roll the kayak back over, pull yourself up to your belly button, and flop yourself back in. Lil Shorty also brought the paddle & a seat so I just had to borrow a PFD.  Whunu? I always called it a life jacket but apparently cool boating folks refer to it as a personal floatation device or PFD. Well, I certainly want to personally float if I end up in the bay .  There was also  the matter of my camera so a waterproof dry box was purchased as well.  With my gear & the suggested snack & bottle of water I was off for my maiden voyage.
Comination PFD & fishing vest - look at all the pockets

Watertite dry box holds camera & cell phone
I'm at least pointed in the right direction

Most kayak websites suggest you tell someone where you will be paddling for safety reasons. I decided on Stump Pass because if my paddle plan failed with the Hubs hopefully one of the park rangers would notice my SUV still sitting in the parking lot at the end of the day & come looking for me. Parking  directly in front of the launch area to the calm intercoastal bay side of the park I unloaded all my gear.  After waving to Ranger Betty to insure she saw me although being kayak incognito with hat, sunglasses, PFD, & big sun shirt she probably wondered who the heck was waving wildly at her. 

 I climbed on top of the kayak & planted myself in the seat. I decided to paddle into the wind & close to the mangrove line until I got my kayak sensibilities going.  Happily, it turns out that I have a knack for this kayak thing.  I got my stroke going & my balance was kicking in. I made a 3 mile loop around the bay stopping at each sandbar & little island I had formally longed to check out.  I saw dolphins, sting rays, & tons of birds.  Floating in a secluded cove  & peering down into the turtle grass that was just teeming with fish & huge horse conchs I just let the wind push me along. 

I've been kayaking 3 times now.  I've found that I like early morning calm seas & light wind the best.  At fifty- cough cough any exercise I can get is a good thing. Although I'm not kayak racing  or marathons, the workout I am getting from just my mangrove meanderings has already stopped some underarm flappings. Paddling is a great upper body workout. So I'm going to keep paddling along & take advantage of a good thing as long as I can but who knows...maybe the Hubs would be interested in a two-seater kayak.

After you get a closer look one realizes why mangroves are so important to our coastal water systems. Birds in their branches & oysters at their base to filter the water. Their roots are an underwater baby fish nursery of all kinds.

So nice to pull under a mangrove & just watch the activity for a while

This fella went back where I found him at the base of the fallen tree

Sand bar at Stump Pass 

Locals call this area ski alley