Posts Tagged ‘florida’

Photo: Stephanie Hanes/The Christian Science Monitor.
A jogger runs on a path in Babcock Ranch, Florida, on Nov. 3, 2022. Babcock Ranch, which calls itself America’s first solar-powered town, survived Hurricane Ian with little to no damage.

When does the bottom line get in the way of building something to last? Too often.

But there are always outliers. At the Christian Science Monitor, I learned recently about housing developers in Florida who give “careful consideration of how the built environment will respond to an increasingly harsh climate.”

Stephanie Hanes writes, “As Hurricane Ian moved toward Florida’s west coast in late September, Amy Wicks drove around this rapidly growing community, trying to figure out what she hadn’t thought of yet. She checked for any debris that might be blocking water runoff paths; she took note of the restored wetlands; she hoped that no alligators had taken up residence in the drain pipes.

“Eventually, she returned to her own home here, hunkered down with her husband and three children, and listened as freight train winds moved over Babcock Ranch, a 4-year-old planned community some 20 miles inland from Fort Myers. At that point, she says, she could only hope that the unique storm water system she had designed and monitored over the past decade would be up for the task. …

“The storm sat overhead for nearly 10 hours, dumping more than a foot of rain on this swath of old Florida cattle ranches and newly built cul-de-sacs.

“By the time it subsided, it was clear that something extraordinary had taken place in Babcock Ranch. Created as a sort of laboratory for green development in Florida, and intentionally designed to survive extreme weather, the town proved remarkably resilient in the face of a Category 4 hurricane.

“Unlike surrounding areas, it did not flood, in large part because of Ms. Wicks’ years of planning and her unique stormwater management design that mimicked natural systems rather than fighting them. It did not lose power, thanks not only to its 700,000-panel solar grid and battery backup system, but also to the power line hardening developers undertook with their utility provider, Florida Power and Light. And because Babcock Ranch owns and operates its own water plant, which also survived the storm, it was the only town in Charlotte County that did not go under a boil-water alert. …

“Across the state, there is a small but growing effort to build more resilient communities in Florida – an effort to shift a yearslong pattern of rapid development that many here say exacerbates water shortages and other environmental risks. …

“With a constant flow of new homebuyers – an average of nearly 1,000 people move to Florida each day, according to oft-repeated state statistics – developers have tried to acquire as much land as possible, and as quickly as possible. That often means buying up faded ranches or long-ignored swaths of swamps and forest – green-covered lands that must be flattened and cleared to make way for housing developments and roads and shopping centers.

“Indeed, to meet building codes that require homes to be graded above street level, developers will typically bulldoze the landscape, dig storm ponds, and then use the fill from those holes to prep building sites, explains Timothee Sallin, co-CEO of Cherrylake, a landscape company working across the Southeast that has become a leader in sustainable design.

“Traditionally, developers would replant that denuded landscape with the types of species that outsiders tend to think about when they imagine Florida – green St. Augustine grass, colorful azaleas, draping bougainvillea. The problem, Mr. Sallin says, is that these plants aren’t native to the state, so they require a lot of inputs to stay healthy, such as water, fertilizer, and pesticides. They also struggle to thrive in soil devoid of organic material and nutrients.

“ ‘The developers have to mass grade a site to build efficiently and economically,’ he says. ‘The most efficient thing to do is to raze it and bring in fill. But that creates soils that are difficult to work with.’

“Meanwhile, because the natural topography of the land has been erased, and the natural water collection systems of wetlands and marshes eliminated, the man-made drainage system becomes the only way to capture water. This can be a problem in some storms – particularly those with unusually heavy rains thanks to climate change.

“All of this, says [Jennison Kipp, a resource economist with the University of Florida and the state coordinator for Sustainable Floridians] creates a system without resilience, suffering from both too much and too little water. ‘The landscapes are on life support,’ she says. …

“According to the state’s central water authority, the region will face a 235 million gallon a day shortfall by 2035 unless demand and usage patterns change. This is one of the reasons why when 27,000 acres of ranch land came up for development just south of Orlando – part of a 300,000 acre swath owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – executives at the development company Tavistock decided to approach the project differently. …

“To plan Sunbridge, which is about two-thirds the size of Washington, D.C., [Clint Beaty, senior vice president of operations for Tavistock and the lead on the Sunbridge project] and others at Tavistock coordinated with representatives from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Sustainable Floridians, and other groups. They came up with a plan to use native landscaping – even eschewing the popular St. Augustine grass for the more drought and heat resilient (although occasionally browner) Bahia grass. They are saving and relocating some of the old live oak trees on the property. All of the new homes will be wired for solar panels and electric vehicle plug-ins, and one model house version boasts Tesla solar shingles and a battery backup system.

“Meanwhile, to help move away from fertilizers, scientists have built a living laboratory along a walking path at the development’s community center, called Basecamp, where they are testing the viability of different species of native plants as well as different sorts of compost amendments to soil and the impact on pollinator species. Mr. Beaty is also working to figure out how to arrange for large scale composting and food-waste recycling for the community.”

More at the Monitor, here. No firewall. Subscriptions welcome.

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Photo: federico-giampieri-R0lftflMYPw-unsplash.
Generations share the love of fishing.

Today’s story is about a guy who provides outings to fatherless children — on Father’s Day and year-round.

Cathy Free wrote about him at the Washington Post.

“It was hard not to notice the 8-year-old boy across the street who stormed in and out of his own house. The boy, a neighbor of William Dunn in Lakeland, Fla., did it often enough that Dunn wanted to see if he could help.

“ ‘I wondered what was going on in his life, so one day, I decided to ask him,’ said Dunn, 57. ‘He told me that he didn’t have a father, and I realized there might be something I could do for him.’

“Dunn had grown up fishing with his dad and had helped him for a time with his lobster business in the Florida Keys.

‘Fishing always brought me peace and it taught me how to be patient,’ he said. ‘When you’re on the water, you can forget about your problems and just appreciate the moment.’

“Dunn, who has three children of his own, approached the boy’s mother and asked for permission to take him fishing.

“One Saturday afternoon on the water soon led to another, and pretty soon he was teaching the boys’ friends and other kids in the neighborhood how to rig a line, hold a fishing pole and reel in a big catch. That was 15 years ago.

“Since then, he’s taken groups of kids out almost every weekend to fish. Most of them didn’t have father figures in their lives, and had never fished before.

“Some of them were foster kids who had shuffled for years from one home to the next, he said. ‘They’d been through a lot and they’d seen a lot, and their lives were difficult,’ Dunn said. ‘But when they were fishing, all of that faded away.’ …

“In the beginning, Dunn spent a good chunk of his paycheck from his job selling tires to help fund the weekend fishing expeditions on charter boats, he said. Then in 2018, he started the nonprofit Take a Kid Fishing Inc. in Lakeland, a city with dozens of lakes located between Tampa and Orlando.

“In the past 3½ years, he and a small group of volunteers have introduced more than 2,500 kids — most without fathers around — to the experience of spending peaceful time on the water, and the exhilaration of nabbing a fish. …

“ ‘I’m the youngest of six and I always had a great relationship with my dad,’ he said. … ‘He told me that fishing isn’t about what you catch — it’s about the memories you make.’ …

“Through public and private donations to his nonprofit, he said he’s able to go deep-sea fishing with up to 20 kids at a time, or take smaller groups on Saturday lake outings on a charter boat.

“ ‘We only keep the fish we need and toss the rest back,’ he said. ‘And at the end of the day, I’ll help to fry up the catch and feed the kids fish tacos for dinner.’ …

“Terra Pryor of Lakeland, Fla., said all three of her children have struggled emotionally since their dad, Richard Pryor, died in a car accident in January 2020. ‘I was especially worried about my son, Jayden, who was 10 then,’ said Pryor, 32. ‘He was really close to his dad and felt he needed to take over the man of the house role immediately … I was wondering what to do to help him, and then I learned about Take a Kid Fishing.’

“Jayden, now 12, has become a devoted fisherman thanks to regular outings with Dunn, he said.

“ ‘Will has helped me to grow by taking me fishing,’ he said, noting that he once caught a shark that Dunn helped him to cut loose.

“ ‘I hope he knows I mean it when I say, “Thank you,” ‘ Jayden said.”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Sciencing.
As boa constrictors from Latin America increase in Florida, bobcats that love boa eggs may help to keep them in check.

Story lovers of a certain age assume that the champion snake challenger of all time is the mongoose — to be precise, a brave cobra-fighting mongoose in India called Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

But in Florida, where non-native boa constrictors are increasing, other snake predators are gaining attention. Recently, scientists were surprised to learn that one of them is the bobcat.

Matt Kaplan reports at the New York Times, “The voracious appetite of the invasive Burmese python is causing Florida’s mammal and bird populations to plummet. With little natural competition to control the big snake’s numbers, the situation looks desperate. But new observations suggest that the bobcat, a wildcat native to Florida, might be able to help.

“A team of ecologists collected evidence recently of a bobcat devouring python eggs in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida, and last month reported their findings in the journal Ecology and Evolution. It’s hard to say whether this individual cat was more adventurous than the average bobcat, but it suggests one potential way the python’s proliferation could be limited — by other animals eating their unhatched young.

“The event was captured by a motion sensitive camera that a team led by Andrea Currylow, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, deployed in June 2021 near the nest of a large female Burmese python. The camera had been put in place to better understand the reproductive biology of these huge snakes. A few hours after installation, the snake slithered away and the camera snapped shots of a bobcat arriving and eating python eggs during the early evening. …

“Apparently the feline decided that it rather liked what it had found because it came back for another snack three times that night. The next morning the bobcat returned to cache uneaten eggs in the ground to consume at a later date. That evening the bobcat returned again, but, this time, the python was back on her nest. Weighing about 20 pounds, the feline was clearly aware that the 115-pound python posed a serious threat and, rather than trying to eat more eggs, it padded around the nest at a safe distance for a few minutes before leaving.

“The next night the camera took a photo of the two predators in a face-off. Apparently, the bobcat felt the clutch was worth fighting for because it returned in the morning and aggravated the python enough to prompt an attack. …

“Precisely how the duel ended is unclear but when the researchers arrived that evening to collect the camera, they found the snake sitting on a badly damaged nest.

“ ‘We thought the snake must have caused the damage herself by somehow crushing her own eggs,’ Dr. Currylow said, ‘but then we saw the photos and, well, it was just incredible.’ …

“While it is possible that this interaction was just an isolated incident, it is also possible that native species are beginning to respond to the presence of the python. …

“Reptile eggs are already a part of the Florida bobcat diet. Bobcats are known to eat sea turtle eggs, and these may have similarities to python eggs. …

“Of course, the big difference between python nests and those of sea turtles is that the snake nests are usually guarded. But Dr. Currylow also points out that female pythons typically go without food until their eggs are about to hatch. That might be the main reason the bobcat survived its adventure.”

We’ll see. The boa may adapt, too. I remember how the mother cobra, Nagaina, felt about her eggs in the Kipling story.

More at the Times, here. For more on the boa invasion, check out the Smithsonian, too.

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Photo: West Volusia Beacon.
Charles Peacock, a paraprofessional at New Smyrna Beach High School, tells the Volusia County School Board that he has recently been made homeless.

It pains me to think how little most of those entrusted with educating America’s children — daycare professionals, teachers, teachers’ aides — are paid. We are talking about work that any country should give the highest respect and reward.

In today’s story, a popular Florida teaching assistant confesses that he cannot find housing on his income. The shame he feels should be for us.

Kyle Swenson wrote at the Washington Post recently about the moment Charles Peacock went public.

“They called his name and Charles Peacock hustled up to the microphone to address the Volusia County School Board. The public comment period gave him three minutes. He had practiced his speech, but the 40-year-old knew that somewhere in that time frame, his emotions would overwhelm him.

“He introduced himself as a teacher’s assistant — called a ‘paraprofessional’ in the district — at New Smyrna Beach High School, a school of nearly 1,900-students near Daytona Beach, Fla. The divorced father of three detailed how overworked he and his colleagues are, how the ranks have thinned due to high demands and low compensation.

“Then he paused, knowing that his next sentences swung from workplace complaint to raw confession.

‘I myself, like most others, have to work multiple jobs in order to simply scrape by. I put in 80-plus hours each week, every week, between four jobs to barely make it,’ he said, the words bobbing along on muffled sobs.

“ ‘After four years with the county, I make a minimum salary which equates to less than a thousand dollars per month.’

“Peacock stopped, took a breath, and looked at the board.

“ ‘I personally have been made homeless,’ he said. ‘At least one of your employees — one who is great at their job, has been nominated for para of the year, who loves his students beyond measure — is homeless. Living out of his car. Crashing on couches from time to time. Getting showers at friend’s houses. I dare you to look me in the eyes right here, right now, and tell me that this is okay.’

“His three minutes were up.

“Peacock … represents a large number of Americans who struggle outside the reach of public policy because they don’t fall inside the traditional definitions of poverty. He was homeless, but he technically wasn’t poor.

“Untangling the difference for the board, or explaining it in public, was nothing compared with knowing that after the meeting that his family would now have questions.

“ ‘It wasn’t hard facing the board,’ he said later. ‘Facing my kids was harder.’

“Peacock’s typical day starts at 7 a.m. He is at the school by 8 a.m. He is done by 4 p.m., but then it’s off to a local bar where he works security. That gig ends between midnight and 2 a.m. Weekends, he umpires youth baseball games.

“For all of this scramble, Peacock estimates he makes somewhere between $22,000 to $25,000 each year.

“ ‘It was exhausting, and I was not the only one of my colleagues trying to keep this kind of schedule,’ he said. ‘We were all exhausted.’ …

“For decades, poverty experts have warned that the federal government’s official measurement misses a larger chunk of Americans. One measure that has since emerged has been pioneered by the United Way: the ALICE threshold, or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Since 2009, United Way and its partners have used the criteria to take a high-definition snapshot of people in Peacock’s position — those living above the federal poverty line but scrambling to pay for necessities. …

“After his divorce, Peacock could only afford to rent a bedroom in a friend’s house. The profession he had chosen — he makes $11.65 an hour — alone could not support his basic needs.

” ‘I make next to nothing doing a job that I love,’ Peacock told the board in November. ‘But when does that love get outweighed by the need to survive, and dare I say, thrive? … If I’m in this situation, how many other paras are on the brink?’

“He decided to speak before the board and publicly detail his own situation. ‘That was difficult, trying to swallow my pride.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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12 Asian elephants have arrived at White Oak Conservation.
Stephanie Rutan / Via White Oak Conservation

Because of the heat wave, I went out for my walk at 5:30 this morning, while it was still pleasant. I saw a bluebird, a couple rabbits, and a snapping turtle that crossed a bridge and launched herself 20 feet into the river. That was her choice.

The subjects of today’s story went a long time without having choices like the ones snapping turtles, wild rabbits, and bluebirds enjoy. Having spent many years doing tricks in the circus, they now reside at a 135-acre sanctuary where staff say they can hide for days at a time. Life is not completely natural, but it’s better than the circus.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “For about two decades, elephants that performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were sent to a reserve in central Florida when they became too old to balance on two legs and parade around arenas doing tricks and dancing for large crowds. …

“In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun moving to a 135-acre sanctuary, one that is not affiliated with the circus that for years was accused of mistreating and abusing the gentle giants.

“Three weeks after being let loose in the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla., the first group of elephants has been exploring the new surroundings, and staff members say they don’t see some of them for days at a time. When they do spy the large animals, they say, they are swimming in the deep end of a pond or having a dust bath, followed by a nap in the shade. They also snack on watermelon and banana buffets.

“Employees say it was an emotional moment to watch the elephants walk out of their barn together for the first time into the lush acreage.

“ ‘There was more than one wet eye that day,’ said Michelle Gadd, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. …

“Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants in 2016, ending a 145-year tradition, after pushback from the public about the pachyderms being forced to perform. … A year-and-a-half after the elephants were retired, the circus closed shop because of declining ticket sales. …

“Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter arranged to purchase all 32 of the former Ringling Bros. elephants and have them transported 200 miles from Central Florida to Yulee, outside Jacksonville. The Walters bought the 17,000-acre White Oak sanctuary in 2013, and have been expanding it since. …

“Eventually, the elephant portion of the refuge will cover 2,500 acres and feature nine linked areas with enough water holes, forests, grasslands and wetlands to support the entire herd, said Nick Newby, 41, who leads the elephant caretaker team and helped plan the habitat.

“ ‘We wanted it to be as natural as possible, and we wanted to consider the social dynamic as well,’ Newby said. ‘Elephants are very sociable animals, so we like to study them, see what their personalities are like and then try to mix and match them with other elephants they might like to cohabitate with.’ …

“For Newby, who has worked with elephants for 18 years (mostly in zoos), there was a sense of elation as he watched the animals wander through their new home.

“ ‘It’s all about the elephants, so to see them out there doing natural elephant behaviors like swimming, was exhilarating and rewarding,’ he said. …

“Asian and African elephants are endangered in the wild because of loss of habitat and illegal poaching, [Gadd] said. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, while less than 50,000 remain in Asia.

“Wildlife conservation studies have shown that between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are held in zoos or are still used by safari companies and circuses around the world. …

“Plans haven’t yet been developed for the public to view the elephants from afar, but Newby said the ultimate goal would be for somebody to look through a pair of binoculars at the White Oak refuge and feel as though they were watching elephants in their natural habitat.

“ ‘The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild,’ he said. ‘It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Twitter via at Deadline

Years ago I read an article in which a dermatologist lamented how conflicted he felt when he saw a stranger on the street with an obvious skin cancer. Should he tell the person to see a doctor? Should he mind his own business? I was shocked that it was even a question. If you see a stranger with her coat on fire, are you going to say it’s not your problem and walk away?

Thank goodness there are Good Samaritans out there. One woman who failed to mind her own business probably saved the life a young television reporter recently.

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “As a television news reporter in Tampa, Victoria Price is accustomed to finding her inbox full of emails from viewers offering story ideas, criticism and praise, along with the occasional fashion critique.

“When she opened an email in June that had a small message in the subject line but was otherwise empty, Price, 28, was tempted to dismiss it as a bad joke or spam. But then she impulsively decided to hand her phone to her boyfriend, Ryan Smith.

“ ‘I said, ‘”Look at this weird email I just got,” ‘ recalled Price, an investigative journalist for NBC affiliate WFLA. A woman from out of state had seen a report by Price on the evening news a few hours earlier and had spotted something that troubled her, she said.

‘Hi, just saw your news report,’ the viewer wrote. ‘What concerned me is the lump on your neck. Please have your thyroid checked. Reminds me of my neck. Mine turned out to be cancer. Take care of yourself.’

“Price, who had never noticed anything unusual about the appearance of her neck, said she didn’t think the message was worth taking seriously. Smith thought otherwise. …

“Several weeks later, after she had had an ultrasound and a blood panel screening, Price received startling news: She had papillary thyroid cancer that had started to spread to her lymph nodes. Her doctor recommended that she have surgery as soon as possible.

“ ‘It was explained to me that I had a large nodule growing right in the middle of my thyroid, and it was pushing my gland so that it bulged from the side of my neck,’ Price said. ‘That’s what the woman who emailed me had noticed. Fortunately for me, she reached out about it.’

“On July 27, Price underwent surgery at Tampa General Hospital to have her thyroid removed. Her surgeon also removed 19 cancerous lymph nodes, she said, and she was relieved to learn that she didn’t immediately need to do any follow-up treatment apart from daily hormone replacement medicine. …

“A few days before the surgery, in a post on Twitter, Price alerted WFLA viewers to her diagnosis and thanked the observant stranger who may have saved her life.

“ ‘As a journalist, it’s been full throttle since the pandemic began,’ she wrote. ‘Never-ending shifts in a never-ending news cycle. We were covering the most important health story in a century, but my own health was the farthest thing from my mind. Until a viewer emailed me last month. Turns out, I have cancer, [and] I owe it to one of our wonderful @WFLA viewers for bringing it to my attention.’ …

“Now back at work, Price said she hopes to launch a foundation before year’s end to promote thyroid cancer awareness for young adults.

“ ‘I’ve learned that for young people, particularly women between ages 20 and 35, this is the most commonly diagnosed cancer,’ she said, with about 53,000 people diagnosed every year. …

“If not for that alert viewer, Price said, she might have gone for months without knowing she had a problem. … ‘It’s very humbling to know that this person took the time to shoot me this little email. Your health is your wealth — without it, you don’t have anything. …

” ‘I’m so incredibly thankful for what she did. If she hadn’t sent that email, I may have never seen my doctor, and the cancer would have continued to grow. I just want to thank her from the bottom of my heart.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Samsung
Sixth-graders at the Downtown Doral Charter Upper School in Florida worked with teacher Rebeca Martinez on a device to detect sediment buildup in a storm drain. The students’ project, which aims to stop flash floods, was among five grand-prize winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

To my way of thinking, no amount of money is too much to pay teachers like those guiding the middle school students in today’s story to tackle a science competition. Whether in public or private school, teachers build the future, but since most students are in public schools, the type of education there is the most critical and most in need of funding. Every child should have opportunities to stretch themselves.

Lela Nargi reports at the Washington Post, “In late May, storms flooded streets in Miami-Dade County in Florida. The floods made cars sink and turned roads into brown rivers.

“A team of local middle school students has a plan to stop this ongoing problem.

“Alyssa Neuber, Bianca Verri and Jose Pirela are sixth-graders at Downtown Doral Charter Upper School. They designed a device to warn city workers when and where there is a danger of flooding. The team is one of five grand-prize winners of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest. The contest asked for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) solutions to the biggest challenge facing a school community.

‘I’ve been living here my entire life, and all of us have encountered problems with flooding,’ says Bianca. ‘We knew that was the problem we were going to tackle.’

“Flash flooding can happen when storm drains get plugged up and, especially during hurricanes, overflow into streets. It’s the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States.

“The students’ device uses a laser system called lidar, which stands for ‘light detection and ranging.’ The device, if approved by the city government, could be attached to Doral’s 2,575 storm and manhole drains — one device per drain. If a drain gets clogged with sediment, the device could send a computer alert to the city’s stormwater management office. Then the stormwater manager could send someone to clean the drain.

“ ‘We had our class help us in the beginning to find information about how we were going to use lidar,’ says Jose.

“The three STEM whizzes then started to work more closely with their science teacher, Rebeca Martinez. They figured out what each of them is good at. … Class parents who were engineers and website coders helped them figure out the details.

“Starting in March, the school was closed, so team meetings went virtual. Luckily, says Bianca, ‘We already had a prototype device, and we just had to tweak it some more.’

“They also had to pitch their idea virtually to contest judges. …

“A team from Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, California, made a wildfire alert. At Fairfield Senior High School in Fairfield, Ohio, students designed an app to prevent deaths of kids left in hot cars. Students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham invented an app that helps people recycle. And in Wisconsin, kids at Omro High School created a sensor that lets ice fishers know when it’s safe to walk on frozen lakes.

“Each of the five teams won $100,000 for technology and supplies for their science classrooms.” More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Laurie Wolf at National Geographic
A screech owl in a Florida backyard was caught cohabiting with a duckling.

My sister had an idea that I’d like this story about an owl and a duckling, and she was right. Nature has a way of delighting us even if we’re grumpy, and according to a new Gallup poll, Americans are grumpy lately. Writes the New York Times, “Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. … Last year, Americans reported feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade.”

I can identify with that. But as it’s too rainy today for me to calm down with a walk in the woods, I will indulge myself in a vicarious bit of nature therapy from National Geographic.

Jason Bittel interviewed the amateur photographer who captured the scene above in her backyard.

” ‘Oh, we have an owl chick. This is wonderful!’ These were Laurie Wolf’s first thoughts when she noticed something small and fluffy bobbing up and down inside the nest box in her Jupiter, Florida, backyard. An eastern screech owl had taken up residence in the box about one month before, so she suspected it was an owl hatchling. But the truth was far stranger.

“As a storm rolled in and the sky darkened, Wolf and her husband caught a glimpse of the mother owl poking her head out of the nest box. And right beside the owl was a tiny, yellow-and-black duckling.

“ ‘The two of them were just sitting there side by side,’ says Wolf, a wildlife artist and amateur photographer. ‘It’s not believable. It’s not believable to me to this day.’

“Concerned that the predatory owl might eat the wood duck chick, Wolf contacted a raptor expert, who confirmed the duckling might be in danger. A local wildlife sanctuary agreed to care for the animal if she could catch it.

“But just as Wolf and her husband were about to intervene, the wood duck chick leapt out of the box and ‘made a beeline’ to a nearby pond, and she hasn’t seen the little critter since. …

“ ‘It’s not commonly documented, but it certainly happens,’ says Christian Artuso, the Manitoba director of Bird Studies Canada, who made a similar observation back in 2005 while he was studying eastern screech owls for his Ph.D. In that case, the female owl was actually able to incubate and hatch three wood duck chicks. …

“Parent ducks will sometimes lay an egg or two in someone else’s nest—usually another wood duck or another closely related species. …

“But shouldn’t the female owl be able to realize she’s sitting on the wrong eggs? After all, wood duck eggs are not only more oblong in shape than owl eggs, they’re also about twice the volume.

“Artuso says it’s impossible to know what a wild owl is thinking, but that it could be a case of what scientists call supernormal stimuli.

” ‘The parents might be thinking, Oh my god! This egg is huge! We’re going to have the best baby in the world!’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Alfredo Sosa
The newest solar farm of Florida Power & Light Company [FPL] is equipped to generate 74.5 megawatts of power, enough for approximately 15,000 Florida homes.

Large numbers of Americans are not as concerned as I am about fossil fuels and how they hurt the planet and until recently have not supported sustainable energy. But as the cost of renewable power comes down, many of them are giving wind and solar a new, pragmatic look.

Eva Botkin-Kowacki writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “There’s a new crop sprouting in southern Florida. Amid fields of sweet corn, squash, and okra dotting the landscape outside Miami, rows and rows of solar panels now soak up the Florida sunshine. …

“Despite being the Sunshine State, Florida has long lagged when it comes to tapping into the abundant rays overhead. But now that is changing as utility companies in the state have begun to recognize solar power as a vital component of a diverse energy future. …

“As solar has become more economically viable, the state’s utility companies now see opportunity more than competition in the technology Florida utilities’ newfound embrace for solar power echoes trends seen across the country, as the renewable energy source has shifted from a fringe indulgence for wealthy environmentalists to becoming a conventional part of power production. …

“With abundant sunshine, Florida ranks ninth in the United States for solar potential. But as recently as 2015, just one-tenth of a percent of the state’s power came from the sun. …

“Solar is still a bit player in Florida. At the end of 2018, solar power made up just 1.07 percent of the state’s energy portfolio, according to the [Solar Energy Industries Association] reports. But the rapid acceleration reflects a broader shift happening nationally. …

“Some of the ways Florida stands out among states make it a particularly good indicator of the renewable energy’s newfound status as mainstream. Many leading solar energy states, such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and California, have installed solar as part of a legislative push to diversify the energy sector in pursuit of emissions reductions. Policymakers in Florida, however, have not set specific renewable energy requirements or even aspirational goals. …

“The utilities want to maintain their control over the market, says Professor Fenton of the University of Central Florida. In 2016, they fought to amend a law that required them to purchase the electricity generated by customers’ rooftop panels at the net retail rate. … The recent foray into solar is a testament to the increasing economic viability of solar power. …

“ ‘[In 2016], the price point was just becoming right for us to be able to have it make economic sense for our customers for us to go and begin building large solar energy centers,’ FPL spokeswoman Alys Daly says.” More here.

One thought: As my friend Jean, of the environmental-education nonprofit Meadowscaping for Biodiversity, reminds me, it’s important not to cut down trees for solar arrays. Trees help the environment even more than solar energy. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

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vvzodywnvei6rlikbya67or4yePhoto: Charlotte Kesl/For The Washington Post
Leroy Wilson outside his home in Marianna, Florida, a day after Hurricane Michael hit the panhandle.

I believe that when a hurricane is coming and you’re told to evacuate, you should evacuate. But this story about a homeowner who refused to leave is pretty great anyway.

Like the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs,” Hurricane Michael huffed and puffed, but the homeowner’s brick house not only stood strong, it welcomed neighbors whose houses were not so strong.

Read what Patricia Sullivan and Frances Stead Sellers wrote at the Washington Post about why the Marianna, Florida, native couldn’t bear to leave his house. It adds a whole other level to the story.

“The modest one-story brick house on Old U.S. Road,” they report, “meant more to Leroy Wilson and his family than a roof over their heads.

“Their ancestors lived on this land as slaves before Wilson’s grandfather acquired five acres here in 1874, right after emancipation. … So as Hurricane Michael ripped the top off a 50-year-old dwelling next door, brought a tree down on Leroy’s daughter’s home and snapped nearby pine trees like pencils, the Wilsons stayed put in their brick house on Wednesday, opening the doors to neighbors whose homes were succumbing under Michael’s powerful winds.

“ ‘I wasn’t going anywhere,’ said Wilson, 74. …

“Sixty miles from the coast in Jackson County, this city of about 10,000 rarely suffers through hurricanes. Known as ‘The City of Southern Charm,’ Marianna has experienced storms that have taken down trees and power lines, but it has been largely spared the devastation regularly wrought in coastal towns. Hurricane Michael was different.

“ ‘It hit everybody hard,’ said Annell Wilson, Leroy’s wife. ‘We prayed a lot.’

“[Leroy’s son] Lamar, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said he dismissed class around 5 p.m. Wednesday after getting a text from his sister describing the devastation in his hometown and he began making frantic telephone calls to his relatives. He knew they would not leave their land.

“ ‘To be able to own several homes you built with your hands, to protect the home your mother built, that your grandfather toiled for, it’s noble,’ Lamar said.

“And in this case, dangerously noble. His sister lost her home; his brother’s house is barely habitable.

“But the little brick house protected the Wilsons and the people they took in. It lost its water pump and its shutters, and the wind drove water in under the window panes. But the structure stayed intact — and by the end of the evening, more than a dozen members of five families were seeking shelter there.

“ ‘That’s what we do. We all help each other,’ said Annell Wilson, 73, Lamar’s mother, describing how she settled her unexpected visitors and got them fed, and then stuffed towels along the windows to mop up the water that seeped in.”

More at the Washington Post, here. No word on a wolf coming down the chimney or the canny homeowner setting a boiling pot in the fireplace to welcome him, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.

Don’t you love it when life imitates art? (Having said that, I still urge you, “Don’t sit out a hurricane when told to evacuate.”)

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Photos: Dina Litovsky/The New Yorker
Many Amish families have been taking winter vacations for years in Florida, where the women’s volleyball game is a popular nightly event.

It’s fascinating to me how the Amish culture carries on generation after generation, an apparently calm little world in the midst of the turmoil that is America. Recently the New Yorker magazine followed a group of Amish families on their winter vacation and came back with a collection of charming photos.

Alice Gregory writes, “Each winter, for close to a century now, hundreds of Amish and Mennonite families have traveled from their homes in icy quarters of the U.S. and Canada to Pinecraft, a small, sunny neighborhood in Sarasota, Florida. Arriving on chartered buses specializing in the transportation of ‘Plain people’ from areas such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Holmes County, Ohio, they rent modest bungalows and stay for weeks, or sometimes months, at a time. …

“Originally drawn to Pinecraft’s affordable real-estate prices and off-season farming potential, the first Amish families began coming in the mid-nineteen-twenties, with the idea of growing celery. They found the soil disappointing, but not the comparatively languid life style. Now, without barns to raise or cows to milk or scrapple to prepare, the typically stringent rules of Anabaptist life are somewhat suspended in Pinecraft. …

“Earrings, usually forbidden, can be seen glittering from beneath white bonnets, and houses are outfitted with satellite dishes. … Swimming, volleyball, and shuffleboard are encouraged; ice-cream cones are a nightly ritual.” Check out some terrific photos at the New Yorker, here.

Although I don’t know of any special vacation spot like that in New England, I do know that Amish people sometimes travel to Boston. I see family groups from time to time at South Station. And I always feel a kind of admiration for their lack of self-consciousness in settings where they must know they stand out.

The first all-female Mennonite bocce-ball game in Sarasota, Florida. The players’ husbands stand on the side to cheer.

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The street art in St. Petersburg, Florida, is a selling point for tourism. It started with unwanted tagging on buildings and evolved into murals authorized by building owners and respected by taggers.

Tampa Bay Times art critic Lennie Bennett has the backstory.

“In recent decades, murals have become a way to spruce up bare walls of buildings and to discourage graffiti. St. Petersburg has street murals in many areas but there is a concentration of them along the downtown Central Avenue corridor. To see them at their best, you need to walk through the area. Even if you travel the route regularly by car, you’ll miss many of them because they adorn the once-drab back walls facing alleys.

“An incentive for owners of the buildings, says [Florida CraftArt executive director Diane Shelly], is that they were regularly ‘tagged,’ meaning a graffiti artist would use an exterior wall as a canvas or to scrawl messages with spray paint. ‘It’s illegal and the city has a graffiti removal program,’ so city workers come out and use whatever paint is available to cover up the tags, which led to a different kind of unsightliness, she said. ‘But taggers respect art, and most won’t tag an existing mural.’ …

“Shelly commissioned Derek Donnelly to create a mural that would replace those painted-over areas and discourage future tagging. ‘A Moment to Reflect ‘was created by Donnelly and Sebastian Coolidge, another well-known street painter whose most beloved work is probably the image of a young man with elongated limbs stretching for an orange on the exterior of the clothing store Freshly Squeezed at First Avenue N and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

” ‘Reflect’ is the largest of the Central Avenue murals, stretching up four floors. It depicts a businessman wearing a green tie, the color associated with CraftArt’s neighbor and sponsor of the mural, Regions Bank, discovering his creative side. ‘I think it’s the largest free-hand mural in St. Petersburg,’ Shelly says, meaning it wasn’t done using a grid method or projector. …

“Because of the murals’ growing popularity, some business owners rehire the artists to freshen up the works rather than painting over them.

“But in [the experience of Leon Bedore, or Tes One] ‘You end up learning that all murals are temporary art and not intended to stay up forever. (When painting illegally) I felt lucky to have one up for a night. A week was amazing. When an owner didn’t have one removed I thought, ‘” might be on to something if they’re keeping it up.” ‘ ”

The Tampa Bay Times article by Lennie Bennett is here. A comprehensive tour of the murals is here.

Photo: Creative Loafing

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Tim is an architect and WordPress blogger who is concerned with, among other things, how real communities develop organically. He has a strong sense that creating places top-down should not be regarded as sustainable place making.

Being a bit of a contrarian, I’d love to think of a contrary example, but so far I can’t.

Here Tim takes off on a planned community in his neck of the Florida woods.

“The problem with the Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village project is that nobody will live there. … The planners, architects and developer of the project say the project is all about real place making.  Fortunately, we have a large amount of accepted research and knowledgeable writing on the subject of place making dating back over 40 years …

“First, 2 things need to be clear about place making – 1) It is a human phenomenon that is, therefore, very personal, varying, and not measurable; 2) ‘Real’ place making happens anywhere, and anytime there are humans present. …

“Wasteful land use in the form of a high percentage of non-places is the critical flaw with all drive-to places that claim to be urban or have high quality place making at their core. They simply do not, and they perpetuate the car-centric development pattern that exacerbates quality-of-life negatives in South Florida – traffic, loss of identity, and the replacement of real places with faux places.

“For Love Street / Jupiter Inlet Village to become the real place in claims it will be, it should do the following:

  1. Embrace the residential patterns that are still in the area, and were once far more prominent, and include residential units of a similar urban village quality.
  2. All parking should be metered, and of the on-street variety, and the parking lot should be replaced with a public green.
  3. Retail, commercial, and office space should be geared toward neighborhood uses, with the goal of replacing vehicle trips with bicycle or pedestrian trips to a very high degree.
  4. The lighthouse promenade must actually align with the lighthouse, and, thereby, solidify a framed street scape view of this landmark in perpetuity for all to share in. The promenade is presently a few degrees off, and focuses on a point well east of the lighthouse.

“Development and redevelopment projects are not inherently bad things, in fact, many developments create great pedestrian and transit oriented places that foster living, working and playing within a tight-knit community. However, developments that pretended to be great place makers, and really are not, represent a continuation of the very harmful growth patterns of the last half-century in disguise.

“Jupiter Inlet Village can be a great place, and an asset to the community, but it will not get there by pretending to be something that it is not.” More at Tim’s WordPress blog, here.

Map: https://www.jupiter.fl.us/index.aspx?NID=884

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There are people who like to cook and people who like to fish, but if they are not in the same family like John’s in-laws, the caught fish may never get eaten.

Fortunately, there are now a growing number of services that will enable you to catch your fish and eat it, too.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright describe a few at the Boston Globe.

“Fishing charters are wildly popular along the sunset coast of Florida. The Gulf Coast, from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater, has some of the best deep sea fishing in the country and plenty of days of sunshine and calm seas. It’s dubbed the ‘grouper fishing capital of the world,’ but mackerel, snapper, barracuda, tuna, dolphin, wahoo, hogfish, and more are also plentiful.

“Most charters guarantee that the boat will bring back fish, and they often include free fish cleaning and ice. But what do you do with your catch if you’re staying at a vacation resort or local hotel? These restaurants in the St. Pete Beach area will gladly prepare your keepers: You catch ’em, they’ll cook ’em.”

The reporters list these spots: Friendly Fisherman (150 John’s Pass Boardwalk, Madeira Beach, 727-391-6025, www.gofriendlyfisherman.com); Sea Critters Café in St. Pete Beach (2007 Pass-a-Grille Way, 727-360-3706, www.seacritterscafe.com); Conch Republic Grille (16699 Gulf Blvd., N. Redington, 727-320-0536, www.conchrepublicgrill.com); and Maritana Grille (3400 Gulf Blvd., 727-360-1882, www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar/dining). Descriptions of the delicious preparations here.

My husband and John have often brought back bluefish after going out on G Willie Make-It’s charter. G Willie (Bill) cleans the fish you want and sells the fish you don’t want to local restaurants.

Not everyone loves bluefish, but the first one of the year says summer has arrived.

Photo: Pamela Wright for the Boston Globe
Eating on the outside deck at Sea Critters Café, where you can get the fish you caught turned into a meal.

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Candice Frederick, of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, recently posted research by Katherine Ellington on an African American artist who was new to me.

From Ellington notes: “Augusta Savage was among [a] group of artists who came to Harlem from the Jim Crown South in search of opportunity and where her creative expression could thrive.

“My quest for Augusta Savage (1892 –1962) sculpture led me to a first-time visit to the Art and Artifacts Division of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. … As a young girl in the early twentieth century, Savage began shaping ducks out of red clay found in the backyard of her home in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Savage’s work gained local attention when she entered and won a prize at a local county fair, which led to community support for further study.

“In 1921, she moved to Harlem after studying at State Normal College for Colored Students (now Florida A & M University). Savage later completed a four-year program in sculpture in three years at Cooper Union. …

“In 1931, Savage … opened the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts — a fine arts training ground for over 1,500 students including many well-known Harlem Renaissance artists such as Charles Alston, Ernest Crichlow, Norman Lewis, Morgan Smith and Marvin Smith, Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence. …

“In 1934, Savage became the director of the newly established Harlem Community Art Center, after she was commissioned by the 1939 World’s Fair. Around that time she created “The Harp” as a series, but it was destroyed during the cleanup after the fair. …

“Savage’s art was often in response to the fight against racism. She used a variety of methods, shaping clay and plaster, casting bronze, and later years, carving marble and wood. In the Augusta Savage collection, there are works that illustrate themes such as nineteenth-century romanticism and African and Greek culture. As a trained portraitist, her busts include Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson and Gwendolyn Bennett.”

More here.

Photo: The New York Public Library. Image ID: 1654255
“Harp,” by Augusta Savage

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