Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Koreshan Unity Settlement

Koreshan Unity was one of several communal societies at the turn of the century.  They, as well as the Shakers, Mormons, and Harmonists, all were striving to search for the ideal life.  Dr. Cyrus Teed Koresh (Hebrew for Cyrus/shepherd) came with his followers to Estero,Florida in 1894.  He was a physician who was searching for a better way of healing.  While working in his laboratory one night in 1869 he had an "illumination", or vision,  and seventeen years later the Koreshan Unity was formed in Chicago.  The tenets of this organization were founded upon the ideals of communal living and property, the belief in Dr.Teed's religious and scientific theories, and celibacy. It was to be Utopia, or the "New Jerusalem".   The walls of that new city, a walled fortress if you will, can be seen outside the founder's house.
 The great city never became constructed.  What did get built by the industrious Koreshans was a printing facility, boat works, cement works, sawmill, bakery, store and hostelry.  In 1961 the four remaining members deeded the settlement to the State of Florida as a park and memorial.
The Koreshans also built an art hall which served as a center for many cultural events.  Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford, with their wives, were known to have attended many of the Koreshan theatrical and musical offerings.  In the lower left corner of the picture notice an open globe with the earth inside of it.  They believed that the entire universe existed inside a giant hollow sphere.  In the 1970s one member of the Koreshans was asked whether she believed that she lived inside the earth and Vesta replied :  "I did until the boys landed on the moon. When that happened I knew it could not be true."  Women out-numbered men in this society, they comprised the Planetary Chamber or the governing council of the settlement.  They lived in the house pictured below, each person had a room which could be entered from the outside porch.
The park has reconstructed many of the settlement's buildings because of storm damage.  There are about at least a dozen or so structures which can be toured, and park rangers available to answer questions.  On the grounds are also botanical gardens because the Koreshans planted many exotic plants.  I will have more on that subject in my next posting.

Monday, December 29, 2014

St.Pete Beach, Florida

Happy Holidays to all our faithful readers!  Again, sorry for the hiatus between postings.  We spent the Christmas holiday with our daughter Melissa, husband Spencer, and son Nathan at a condo on the beach in St.Pete.  It did seem a bit strange to walk on the beach with Christmas carols playing in my head.  Nathan had his first experience with crawling on it,  and once he got over the strangeness of the texture, he took to the sand like a duck to water!  However, he never seemed to get the concept that sandy hands should not rub the eyes!  The picture below was taken at sunset and he was looking right into its orange hues.
Nathan would rather stand than crawl, his great-grandpa Deiter thinks he will be walking in ten days.
 While out walking on the beach we found another treasure besides our grandson.  John noticed the above starfish, with its tentacles moving.  Since it seemed to still be alive, I returned it to the water.  It was up on the beach where many feet would soon trample it.  What a beautiful, delicate sea creature!  Sunsets in Florida are beautiful, as you may see below.  While watching the sun set a pod of dolphins swam past us.
 On one of the days while in St.Pete, we drove over to Fort De Soto Park.  The 1,136-acre park occupies five keys.  The fort itself, pictured below, is on Mullet Key.
 From 1,000 A.D. to 1,500 A.D. Tocobaga Indians lived here.  In 1849 Robert E. Lee was one of five engineers in a boat anchored off shore to consider it as a coastal defense for the Confederacy.  No fortification came about at that time.  The Spanish-American War in 1898 was the impetus to fortify the island, because of its proximity to Cuba.  We were fighting the Spanish in Cuba at that time.  In November of 1898 a wharf and the first officers quarters were built, other buildings soon followed.  However, the fort did not see any military action until WWII, when an area north of it was used as a bombing range.  We spent some time wandering around the fort and a couple of museums before walking on the beach.  Mullet Key lies between Tampa Bay on the eastern side and the Gulf of Mexico, which lies on its western shores.   Yesterday, Sunday, we returned to Fort Myers.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Our trips to Pine Island and Estero Island

On our drive over to Galt Preserve on Pine Island I happened to see a large bird land on a tree by the roadside.  We pulled off the road to get a closer look at him with our binoculars.
As much as I could figure our, checking my bird book later, it was a roadside hawk.  It is a tropical species of hawk, which has a slimmer body than other hawks.  On Estero Island is the Mound House, a building which is the oldest standing structure on the island.  It sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian mound.
Off to a side of the home is the location of a swimming pool built in the 1950s.  A guide took us to an underground room, which is part of the pool cavity.  Here we could view a remnant of the shell mound built by the Calusa Indians about 2,000 years ago.  The mound was built by layering deposits of earth, shell and old garbage.  It was a society that mainly relied on shells as tools and weapons.  Finding a conch shell on this site, with a perfect round hole in it,  led anthropologists to deduce that the Calusa used the shell both as a hoe and a club.  A stick fits firmly into the hole in the replica pictured below.
Our guide also took us on a tour of the grounds to show us some of the plants and trees.  Most fascinating to me was the Moringa tree, also known as the Miracle tree.  It is a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree of which its seeds, pods, leaves, and roots can be used.  The leaves are very high in vitamins and protein.  The seeds are full of oil which can be used for cooking and cosmetics.  In third world countries the seed is also used for water purification.  It has been described as a "most generous giver of life".   Its flowers bloom year around.  We saw one flower on the tree, as well as the presence of many long seed pods.
Equally interesting is the anchiote or, better known to us, the annato tree or shrub.  The pulp surrounding the seed is made into cakes for further processing into dyes, its yellow color is added to butter and cheese.  The dried seeds are also used as a culinary spice.  Our guide handed me a seed pod, pictured below.
John and I have seen the coontie plant before here in southwestern Florida.  Its evergreen leaves are fine in texture and resemble those of a fern.  There were many in this park, they can't be missed at this time of the year because of the presence of their bright orange cones which emerge from the ground under the plant.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Fort Myers

Thomas Edison was a large presence in Fort Myers, in many ways.  I think that we will keep running into that fact anytime we drive into the town.  John and I toured two historic homes the other evening, and in one of them there were many pictures of Edison with his friends.  In 1907, Thomas Edison proposed to  the city that he plant Royal Palm trees from his home all the way into town.  Eventually the city lined the street with additional trees and it earned the title of The City of Palms
We spent some time walking along First Street, which became the heart of a new town in 1885.  The town was built on the site of an old abandoned fort.  An historical marker, maybe it was the one pictured above, indicated that the first royal palms were planted back in 1897.   We wandered off the main street and down a side alley where we were drawn to some outdoor shops, and here I will digress to another subject.
While in the Keys we saw many palms loaded with coconuts.  People would pick them up out of their yard and place them out in their trash.  Others would load them on tables set them outside to sell them for 25 cents.  John and I had to chuckle at the cart filled with coconuts which we found at Fort Myers.  An enterprising man found something else to do with them - decorate with a sport team's logo and sell them for $25.00!  We were certainly drawn to the colorful display, but still had no use for the coconut.
Pictured above is the public beach at Fort Myers.  We drove with my sisters and Melissa over to Sanibel Island last Saturday looking for a beach to hang out on, maybe look for shells.  Sanibel failed us in that regard,  parking was costly for many of its beaches, and there was a lack of shells.  We ended up at the beach in Fort Myers and found some colorful shells as well as many birds which I did not identify until I got home and checked my bird book.  Pictured above are skimmers and at least one royal tern.  Skimmers are the black and white birds,  they have long orange and black bills.  They are the only bird that has a lower mandible longer than the upper.  A better picture of the royal tern is pictured below.
 Gulls, terns and skimmers are a "large diverse family with strong wings and powerful flight", according to my Birds of North America published by National Geographic.   Also hanging out on the beach while we were there was a large flock of willets, who did not seem at all bothered by our presence.  A stranger walking past us noted that one of those birds seemed lame because he was hopping about on one foot.  I, however, noticed that there was more than one of the birds hopping on one leg- just seemed to be something that the willet usually does!  They are in the sandpiper family.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Edison and Ford Winter Estates- Part Two

Thomas Edison purchased the house pictured below, which he called Seminole Lodge, in 1885 for $2,750.  In 1886 he married Mina Miller and their honeymoon was at this winter estate.  In 1906 he bought the house next door and converted it to his Guest house.  His property included 13 acres along the Caloosahatchee River. By 1928 he had built a pool, botanical laboratory, study, and a tea room on his estate.
The relationship he had with Henry Ford is a fascinating story.  Henry Ford was the chief engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company in 1893.  He shared with Edison his ideas for building an automobile, and Edison encouraged him as well as served as his mentor in the ensuing years.  In 1914 Ford visited Edison at his winter estate.  In 1916 he purchased a winter home next door to Edison which he called The Mangoes.  According to our tour guide, Ford in reality did not like Florida for a variety of reasons.  However, he did come down for Edison's birthday in February.  They did a lot of fishing and camping together.
In comparison to Edison's home, Ford's house is a rather simple building in the Craftsmen style.  His home is furnished with period antiques, unlike Seminole Lodge which still has furnishings original to the home.  Ford's living room, pictured above, features a double mantle and French doors.
In Ford's garage are several of his earlier automobiles as the "Tin Lizzie'' as well as a Model A Ford.  On the left, in the picture above, is an early Ford pickup.  Our tour guide informed us that the work "pickup" refers to the fact that originally when ordered it came by rail in a crate.  The owner was then called to pick it up- hence the name.  The truck had to be then constructed using the wooden crate for its upper frame. 
As many of you are aware, Edison patented numerous inventions over his lifetime.  Part of the estate tour took us through a museum which displayed many of them.  After inventing the tin foil phonograph in the 1880s, Edison tried to find commercial uses for his invention.  Pictured above is his "Dollphone", a talking doll that could recite nursery rhymes.  It was a 22 inch doll that sold for $10.00 to $25.00, depending how deluxe you wanted your doll to be.  Out of the 3,000 Edison made, only 500 were sold before he recalled them.  However, it paved the way for him to later make many achievements in the recording industry.  Another surprise for me was the fact that there was an Edison Portland Cement factory- in the early 20th century it was one of the largest producers of cement in the United States.  There is so much more I learned while visiting the winter estates, what I have written are some of the highlights.  I will conclude this with a picture of another one of the blooming plants which we saw in the gardens, called Turk's Cap- another interesting name for it is Sleepy Hibiscus.  It does look like the closed flower of a hibiscus!

Edison and Ford Winter Estates

My guess is that our readers have been so busy with Christmas preparations that no one has noticed that I have not posted on this site for about a week.  For John and I it has not been Christmas but family December birthdays which has kept us busy since we arrived in North Fort Myers a week ago.  Melissa and her son Nathan flew down from St.Louis on December 12th, which is her birth date.  My sisters Julia and Linda also came to visit us for the celebration of my birthday, which was the following day, the 13th.  Melissa and Nathan have stayed with us, so my excuse has been that it is a bit difficult to get to our computer.  John did manage to check our e-mail once.
 For me playing with our little grandson has been way much more fun than sitting at the computer.  As you can see in the picture above, he is a busy little guy!  Unpacking Mom's suitcase is so much fun.
We visited Edison and Ford's winter estates four years ago.  For that posting I focused on Edison's Botanical Laboratory and how he work with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone to produce America's own emergency source of rubber which could be grown and quickly produced in the states.  For that project acres of research beds and raised gardens were started to grow plants which could be tested.
Pictured above is a sculpture of Mina Edison, which can be found in the estate's garden shop.  I mentioned in the previous posting of four years ago that Edison's wife Mina also played a part in establishing gardens in their estate, as her orchid lane.  She and her husband hired Ellen Shipman, a landscape architect, to design a garden and small pool to reflect the moonlight.  Moonlight gardens were popular during the early part of the 20th century.
Mina was influential in modifying Shipman's design to suit her own vision of a formal garden which also provided a casual area for guests to gather.  The tall flowering red bush in the left upper corner of the picture is a bougainvillea, a common plant of Florida.  Usually the flower is red, however I did find a pink bougainvillea on the estate.  We learned from our tour guide that the white flower of the plant lies inside of what is called a bracket.  Pictured below is a close-up view of the flower.  Part of the fun of touring the estates is seeing a wide variety of tropical plants and trees as the banana, allspice and coffee bean.  Fortunately for us, every plant is labeled.   My next posting will focus on the buildings of the estate.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Beach Time at Bahia Honda State Park

Our last day in the Keys, just had to do some time at the beach!  The day started out cool and windy, but all was good in that regard by afternoon.  The sun was up high and quite warm.  Instead of heading for the beach immediately John and I chose to first walk the Silver Palm Trail at the park.  The trail forms a loop through a hammock, mangrove area, dune and along the beach.  The silver palms along the trail represent one of the greatest concentrations in the state.  They are becoming increasingly rare as people illegally remove them from their natural habitat to plant them in residential areas.
We picked up a park brochure which helped us on our self-guided tour of the trail.  It claimed that the palms will eventually be shaded out and a dense canopy of branches will be formed by the Gumbo Limbo, Poisonwood, Jamaica Dogwood and other hardwoods
.  This is just not the time of year to find many blooming plants or bushes.  The lantana bush had a few flowers on it and there was a smattering of morning glory flowers, what a surprise when we came upon an orchid!  Coming down to the Keys last week we noticed many roadside stands selling this flower.
 At the end of our trail, just as we were starting on the beach trail, we encountered a yellow-crowned night heron.  He paid us no mind, as he was busily snapping up insects out of the weeds, at least that is what we think he was doing.  We were able to get quite close to him and he did not even glance at us.
It was a great day at the beach for birdwatching.  Pictured above is the ruddy turnstone, which is in the sandpiper family.  He has a striking black-and-white head and bib.  We saw many turnstones running along the shore.  They use their bills to flip aside pebbles and stones in search of food.  We also saw a double-crested cormorant and a willet off in the distance feeding in the water, as well as one young ibis feeding along the  shore.  The beach also has a goodly amount of colorful small shells, I can never walk by them without putting a few in my pocket.  The beach also had basket sponges, I so wished that I had a garden here in Florida - they would serve as wonderful natural planters!
Yesterday, Tuesday, we moved our home to Fort Myers.  Part of that trip was along a canal where many shorebirds as storks, egrets, herons and anhingas were hanging out- either along the shore, in the water, or up in the trees.  We even saw several alligators sunning themselves along the shoreline.  Flashing yellow road signs along the highway warned us to watch out for wildlife crossing the road.  Fortunately we never had to brake suddenly for any creatures!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Lignumvitae Key

In my previous posting I wrote about the hammock on this Key.  While in the tropical forest the park ranger pointed out to us the many typical trees of this forest and how they adapt to growing in a dark hammock.  He pointed out to us a young pigeon plum tree which has large shiny green leaves.  Standing next to it was a an older tree of the same species, its leaves were tiny, green and dull in appearance.  As a young tree it grows large leaves to take in a lot of nourishment from the sun and rain so it can grow tall and reach up into the canopy toward the sun.  The strangler fig, another common tree in the hammock, grows on a host tree and strangles other trees around it as it grows.  At Windley Key we saw the roots of that tree in many places, even curling down large limestone walls.  In the same ficus family is the short-leaf fig which drops aerial roots from its branches to avoid competition from other trees for light and land.  One of the oldest of the short-leaf fig trees in the area is found on Lignumvitae
Lignumvitae is the name of another tree, its name means "tree or wood of life".   Native Indians discovered that it has curative powers for arthritis and the common cough.  I know that I have been occasionally been taking a synthetic form of a substance from that tree for years, called guyacam- or, better known as guaifenesin.  The tree can be found on the northwestern corner of the Matheson house.
Also on the grounds of this park is an old windmill, with a platform built at its top.  Currently there is a large nest on it which is the home of an osprey family.  The park ranger said that it is the home of Desi and Lucy who return here every December to start a new family.  One of the parents was sitting on the nest while we were there.
What I have loved about the Keys are the many colorful blooming tropical flowers and trees.  A row of oleander bushes line the path up to the Matheson house.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Florida Hurricane of 1935

Saturday morning we drove to Key Islamorada to see the memorial for the victims of the 1936 Hurricane.  Packing winds of 200 miles per hour and creating 18 foot tidal waves it killed over 500 people.  Some of the people killed were WW1 veterans who were building piers on the Keys.   About 300 of the bodies were cremated and lie beneath this memorial.  The memorial is made of  the Key coral limestone.
Our next stop of the day was Key Lignumvitae Botanical State Park.  The Matheson house, built in 1919, is on the grounds of the park  The owners of the home built a hurricane house a year or so after the storm hit.
It is made of concrete, and never been used   We originally had not planned to visit Lignumvitae Key because of the costly boat ride to it, and also the fact that it is open to the public on only a few days out of the week.  However, on Saturday the boat owners waived their fee and the state park increased theirs a small amount to celebrate Christmas on the island.  The park still held to its rule in not allowing anyone in the hammock unless they are accompanied by a park ranger.  The hammock on this Key is a virgin tropical forest.  The ranger pointed out to us its canopy, which is much higher than the one we saw at Windley.  There is no underbrush in this forest, only very tall trees.  It is a beautiful place, even though infested with many mosquitos!  I will write more about our visit to this Key in the next posting.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Windley Key Fossil Reef

Many years ago, after the ocean water levels stabilized and lowered, an ancient coral reef was exposed and created what became called the Florida Keys.  In my previous posting I mentioned Flagler, who built the Overseas Railroad.  He needed a source of fill for the railroad, and purchased the property on Windley Key to use as a limestone quarry to meet that need.  After the railroad was built it was discovered that the limestone is quite decorative with the ancient coral reef imbedded in it, if sliced evenly and polished it could be used as a decorative stone for building construction.  Key Largo Limestone is used on the face of many buildings in southern Florida, as well as the post offices in Miami and St.Louis, Missouri.   Pictured below is the part of the quarry where the limestone was sliced into blocks.
It is strange that I have walked past buildings which had the ancient coral animals in the limestone and never gave a thought about it!  At the park office we were given a booklet to use for our own self-guided tour of the quarry.  The booklet encouraged us to look closely at the different kinds of coral imbedded in the limestone, of which there five different types in this quarry.  Pictured below is the brain coral.
Part of the fun of walking the trails of this park was not only seeing the old quarry beds and the equipment used to retrieve the limestone, but also learning about the thin layer of soil in the limestone cuts which support a variety of botanical life that exists in a subtropical environment.  One of the trails took us through a hardwood hammock (hammock comes from the native word "hamaca" meaning a shady place).  With the assistance of our book we were able to discover such trees as the gumbo limbo, the mahogany, strangler fig, and poisonwood.  We were especially warned by the park ranger not to touch the latter, exposure to that tree can cause a skin reaction like that of poison ivy.  Black sap spots on its yellowish-orange bark is a clue to its identity.   There are many of those trees here, which is fortunate for the white-crowned pigeon who eats the berries of this tree. This is one of the few areas in the Keys where that bird can be found.
Speaking of birds, our day ended at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary.  Seeing the sunset at the shore there and hearing a barred owl sing out his distinctive call was a special moment for me.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bahia Honda State Park and Deer Key

We have had some uncomfortably cool days this past fall, so no surprise that we suddenly decided to go all the way south into Florida and get very warm.  We are now parked on Fiesta Key, and wearing shorts and walking in sandals!  We are parked by the Gulf of Mexico.
Some of you who have been faithful followers of this blog site may be aware of the fact that 5 years ago we visited one of the Keys, which was Key West.  This time we have close to a week here, which gives us a chance to explore a few of the other Keys.  The Keys, or islands, lie off southern the coast of Florida.  There are many of them, linked by 42 bridges.  Historic U.S. 1 is the only road connecting them, and it covers 126 miles.  We headed south on that highway yesterday and our first stop was Bahia Honda State Park.  Its name in Spanish means “deep bay”.  The channel between the old and the new bridges of Bahia Honda is one of the deepest natural channels of the Keys.  In the park is a remnant of the old bridge which was built by Henry Flagler in 1905.  The railway remains were converted into what is known today as U.S.Highway 1 (a newer bridge has since replaced the first one to accommodate the high volume of traffic).
We hiked up a hill to view a section of the old bridge, and from here we had a panoramic view of the island and surrounding waters.  We took some time to explore the park which has some of the Key’s best white sand beaches.  Unfortunately the tide was in, so we did not walk on the beach as planned.  We will have some other days for that.  During the brief time we were in the park we chanced to see a variety of birds, including the kingfisher, osprey, and bald eagle.  We have also seen a lot of the brown pelican.
 At National Key Deer refuge we set off on our bikes to look for the deer who wandered here from the mainland years ago when the Keys were connected.  Rising sea waters stranded the deer and now they are protected in a refuge which covers 25 islands.  Over the years they evolved into a smaller deer, they now average two feet in height.
Two physical features of this deer are the black nose and a black streak on its white tail.  We only saw them off in the distance while riding our bikes.  The bike path took us to the Blue Hole lake, which we visited hoping to see more deer there.  The deer are able to survive in this refuge because of the presence of such fresh water lakes.  I was not satisfied that I had taken any good pictures of the deer, so we returned to our car and drove to No Name Key, which is another area where the deer can be found.  We drove through a subdivision to get there, and were surprised by the many deer we found wandering through the yards. That did give me a few photo opportunities.  When we stopped the car for pictures one deer came up us, stuck his head in my window, and tried licking my camera.  I was eating an apple and was tempted to share it with him, but there were many signs warning us against that.  I think that people are feeding them, or else they would not appear to be so tame!  The current population of them is at 800, according to a park brochure.  they have no natural enemies, if anything kills them off it will be cars.  Unfortunately searching for the deer took up most of our afternoon, and, after eating supper, it was late and we needed to head for home.  I sure wish daylight savings time was not in effect here, then it would not get dark by 6pm.