Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Flora Of Key West

Let us rejoice that not every corner of the continent is gray and bleak and covered in frost.
Red mangroves know no season, they secrete salt into their leaves that when full turn yellow and die and drop off. But they do it year round as the mangrove has adapted to live only in salt water. 
It comes as a surprise to discover that in the Keys, where there is never any frost, tropical fruits will grow more or less wild. It is a grave offence to pick bananas or mangoes or other fruits without the owner's permission. Something about tropical fruit growing in these United States brings out the pilfering instinct in some people.  
The Malabar Almond tree on Frances at Ashe Streets has lost the sign that was hanging on the trunk for as long as I can remember. Howard Sands died at Chateau Thierry in France in July 1918 and his family planted  a sapling in his memory making the tree about a hundred years old. Susan Gardner was the last guardian of the tree and she died in 2015 after a  lifetime of sweeping the sidewalk and maintaining the home she inherited.
Image result for key west malabar almond
So naturally the sign is gone, the history cleaned up and the house is on the market rendered bland and inoffensive for maximum return. That's how they transform Key Wesr, it's  luxury home now.
Flowers growing through fences are a fairly common sight in Key West:
Vegetables painted on light poles isn't:
To see the rest of  Pohalski Lane just click.

Fresh new buds springing forth in January in Key West:

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Motorcycle Ride

Middle Florida 2008

I had owned my Triumph Bonneville 865 about eight months when I was sent to a training class near Clearwater in May 2008. Now that my Bonneville has been drowned by Hurricane Irma and with my dog young and energetic and eager for road trips I see no point in replacing it with a Street Twin or a Moto Guzzi 750, my preferred options, I wanted to look back at how much fun I had with over a decade and a hundred thousand miles. I miss it, the best motorcycle I owned, easy to ride, reliable and good looking. 
It was a fine trip up to Palm Bay, an anonymous strip of chain stores located north of Clearwater and west of Tampa. It's 430 miles north of Key West and I took 11 hours to make the ride, wandering wildly on my "road ready" Bonneville:

South Florida is mostly sugarcane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, miles and miles of straight roads and waving green leaves. In the distance one can see factory cities, sugar cane plants that process the raw cane:They belch smoke when they are processing and provide big black smudges of sky to alleviate the open beauty of the fields. Sugar cane is an appalling crop, it sucks the nutrients out of the soil requiring huge amounts of fertilizer to be poured into the soil annually. The harvesting of the cane is such hazardous and horrendous work the companies import labor from the Caribbean (Jamaica principally) to wear armor in the hundred degree heat and slash at the cane with machetes. All this and the industry gets huge subsidises to make it viable. And the fertilizer runs off into Florida Bay and the coral reefs of the Keys. The fields are picturesque though...
Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake in the nation, second only to Lake Superior. However prolonged drought combined with an excessively precautionary draining of the lake before hurricane season has left the place almost dry. I looked over the top of the levee and could see no water, just miles of reeds. Riding round the lake all one can see is a high berm of grass:
The weather for my trip was about perfect. It was about 80 degrees but south Florida was swept by cooling breezes all day long and at times I was almost (almost!) chilled, by the un-summer like breeze. The Triumph ran strongly, humming along at 70 mph along the dead straight roads. I kept stopping off to take pictures and ease my butt, because the seat, though authentic for a 1960's looking motorcycle is a bit hard.
Central Florida is a very rural, very different from coastal Florida and this area is home to trucks and tractors:Moore Haven, county seat of Glades County was ravaged by the great hurricane of 1935, the one that trashed the railroad in Matecumbe Key, and the town itself appears never to have recovered completely. They have built a rather attractive waterfront walkway with trees and benches in a park like atmosphere:And the waterway itself is a cross-Florida stopping place much favored by traveling boaters. Though most land oriented tourists rarely bother to come inland to see these places...
Further north the state becomes less tropical, no longer frost free and filled with rolling hills and orange groves. Indeed Florida is bisected by a limestone spine that rises dozens, dozens I tell you, of feet above sea level. So much so they have turned Highway 17, a roadway that criss-crosses Highway 27 into a scenic route. It is scenic too. Check this out, a view across a valley!
Hillcrest Heights indeed, and I keep insisting Florida isn't flat. This is the land of rolling hills, open parkland masquerading as cow pastures and gorgeous pine forests. I was in the middle of orange grove country which is where your winter Florida fruit comes from, these funky little trees:And when they crush the fruit as they load it into trucks, fruit laboriously handpicked by emigrant pickers, the air is redolent with the smell of fresh squeezed orange:
Central Florida is also the home of retirees, less wealthy perhaps or less attuned to urban life. they come to towns called Winter Haven and Frostproof to spend their winters in tiny cottages or immobile homes, the retirement they always dreamed of. And they may be far, relatively from tidal waters, but they build their own beaches and docks around the many fresh water lakes that dot central Florida:

Friday was a great day in the saddle for me, swooping hills, winding roads, empty of traffic and mine to enjoy in perfect weather. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Free Parking

There is a movement across the United States to allow motorcycles to lane split or filter in traffic. California is the only state that allows motorcycles to pass between cars in slow traffic though some other states are looking into it, notably Arizona. Lane splitting is the norm in the rest of the world and is one reason motorcycles make so much sense in modern congested traffic.
In the US the main reason to ride is to have fun because motorcycles are dangerous and danger is to be avoided at all costs lest we feel alive for a few short moments during a commute usually carried out by tin can with hot coffee, telephone and music available to deaden the boredom. Key West, small flat and located in a warm climate year round makes for ideal two wheeled commuting especially as it's a town with limited street parking. Enter the scooter,
Motorcycle parking on the streets is abundant and free, furthermore you can share parking spaces if you trust the car driver, though any vehicle in a car space not paid for will get a parking ticket. 
For many people who usually drive cars the freedom of scooter parking is frequently a bit confusing, though cutting corner st intersections and passing cars on the right, though illegal, is often done and sometimes scooter riders pay the price and get knocked over. Danger is real especially when you forget your precautions and good sense.
I doubt lane splitting will come to Florida in my life time. Drivers are entitled and angry much of the time and the idea that they could get used to some jerk on two wheels getting an advantage in a traffic jam would probably drive them to open fire. Never mind the California Highway Patrol endorses lane splitting as a way to reduce motorcycle accidents and reduce motorcycles getting rear ended in traffic slow downs.
I find two wheels a good bit faster in town even without lane splitting simply by taking advantage of the scooter's ability to fit through narrow lanes and it's ability to change direction easily. I don't follow tourist traffic down main streets in winter. Nor does anyone on an agile scooter  avoiding massive trucks and cars.
Gas prices go up in synch with scooter sales in the United States but when gas prices are low and stable as they are now the impulse scooter sale is much harder.  I don't view my Vespa as a money saving tool or even as  a climate change defender, it's fun and I enjoy it and that's good enough for me. Sure it gets 70 miles per gallon or thereabouts but tires wear out much faster than a car and they cost a hundred bucks apiece by the time they are installed. Modern Vespas are good runners but they need the usual motorcycle maintenance schedule and that takes work or money and I hate getting greasy... Two wheels is fun for me and that's why I ride.  
Free parking is nice and lane splitting would be nice (if they didn't shoot me from the peanut gallery) but I have been riding since 1970 so I know what I like. Renting a  scooter on a  whim is easy in Key West and you don't even have to have a helmet. And if you don't know how to ride this is not the town to practice. Too many people think Key West equates to Disneyland because they are on vacation but people fall off and die or have to get flown to Miami ($60,000 for non residents) fpr expensive nasty injuries. Scooter riding is dangerous.
I don't fixate on the dangers, I am always surprised by the need to find danger in every human activity that gets the blood flowing. It's almost as though being comatose is the desired state. 
I expect a fairly decent bill when my orange scooter comes back from the latest service but it will be worth it. Jiri on Stock Island does good work and I am looking forward to warmer weather. 
My old reliable, the other 150cc I own is still going strong after 30,000 miles and 14 years. I got it in 1994 with 250 miles ridden by the previous owner who dropped it and gave up after putting a  tiny dent in the leg shield. It's never been my primary ride, bridesmaid always to my motorcycles or my hopelessly unreliable classic two stroke Vespa yet this one is fast, 65 mph easily, and has never stopped by the side of the ride unless I wanted it to. Italians build good scooters. You should ride one. And park it for free in Key West from time to time.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Rusty And The Mangroves

I took these pictures a few days ago when it was warm and sunny and Rusty  and I were out enjoying the views.
On my grumpy days  I'd like a bit of variety, a hill or a valley, an oak forest, a  view from on high.  On my less grumpy days I like to see January looking like this in the northern hemisphere.
Rusty likes the cold weather of the recent fronts. He sits out in the breeze sunbathing and comes into the house his fur hot and his nose ice cold. So I was a bit surprised to come home to no greeting one day as I got off the Vespa. He was curled up under the car doing his injured feral dog protecting himself routine. He's done this before injuring his paw and then going into hiding in the bushes by the driveway so I knew something was wrong. Later I went to see hi and he hobbled out and squealed piteously when I touched his front left paw.
So there I was, my wife laid up with the cold I was just getting over and my dog laid up not eating, barely moving and moping on his own couch. The living room was a first aid post and I am not as good at playing nurse as my wife is. 
I don't know what Rusty finds in the mangroves, he reminds me of myself playing explorer when I was a kid  in the forests surrounding my home. I think he survived by hunting when he was abandoned, he must have done, and I suspect it's in his genes. to prowl. He doesn't seem to kill anything especially as there isn't much to kill except possibly crabs. In town he avoids chickens after being chased by them on the streets. These days he barely toys with iguanas anymore, occasionally catching one and walking away when it plays dead. To my relief he seems to have lost his killer instinct. We are  hunter gatherers at Publix after all and he does very well by my wife's food prep.
He goes splashing off and if I get bored I whistle and he comes trotting back though on my days off I let him come and go for a while until he gets tired. How he penetrates the roots and makes his way through them I don't know. Between us we take pictures and hardly leave footprints even. I have noticed a lot more trash and human waste on the trails I walk each week. I think of these places as rarely visited but it seems that for some people they make for cheap camping. I wish they would clean up after themselves. I suppose I look odd to them following my dog with a plastic bag but I'm no fan of stepping in shit anywhere.
I see tire marks but I don't investigate, I prefer to maintain my fiction that these open spaces, silent and bare belong to Rusty and I alone for an hour or two after dawn. It helps me to sleep soundly taking a walking with the dog after a night at work. Its  a bit like taking a walking in a desert only this desert has small green bushes and lots of salt water. So when Rusty loses his appetite for walks I find myself missing these wide open spaces. It feels absurd to delay going to bed to take a walk by myself.
I suppose one could protect Rusty from himself but I think that a life lived without taking a  chance isn't a life lived a t all. What measure of risk you can endure varies between people. And dogs I suppose. Luckily for my dogs I like lots of walks and walks with variety. Unluckily for Rusty he has to learn to negotiate the debris field that seems to have penetrated all corners of these islands  since the passage of Irma and the litterbugs that came in the wake of the hurricane.
I see the pleasure of a camp fire I just don't understand the motivation that says to leave garbage in the wake of you experience out in nature.
The injured dog in recovery pose. He never took to the open bed I thought was more comfortable but prefers the smaller bed that keeps him wedged in place. So be it. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Hurricanes And Tourists

The newspaper says Hurricane Irma has set back tourism this winter by almost half so the county tourism people are planning an eight million dollar campaign to overcome the perception that the Keys are reduced to rubble like Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. The deadline was set this week to clear debris off Highway One and along the Lower Keys they are doing pretty well:
Not so long ago that stretch of the shoulder on Ramrod Key was  a giant unending heap of debris, a staging area for collection and removal. From below to above, it's gone:
It took lines of trucks to get stuff cleared away. It went on daily totalling apparently possibly four million cubic yards throughout the islands. Though how they measure it I'd don't know. By whatever standard they measure it was supposed to be five times the amount of trash generated by Hurricane Wilma in 2005 which in my memory was a breeze compared to this one.
My own main side street has been the collection point for trashed trailers at the Venture Out RV park and wrecked homes and their contents on the canals in the subdivision. Finally it's gone and now getting swept up. 
It looked ghastly for months:
For visitors to Key West there's no reason to stay away as the city is almost unscathed except for a few pieces of trim here and there and a few trees and they are honestly not noticeable by their absence in the grand scheme of things. I haven't been up the Keys for a while but a friend in Marathon says things are looking pretty normal there these days. I intend to go look. I am steeling myself to check out Bahia Honda park and the back streets of Big Pine where the greatest damage was sustained but neither place is a reason to stay away from the Keys. Not now.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Burgers Galore

I don't know what's going on but I told my wife I was caught up in some kind of burger eating marathon. Two days  ago I had a burger in Marathon, and very good it was too. That night my wife, tempted no doubt by my descriptions wanted a burger so that was dinner and yesterday Robert sent me a text, as though on cue. We have our preferred place and we've been coming here for some considerable time. I took his picture in 2016 before Hurricane Irma wrecked my motorcycle:
Beer and Burgers, Key West
Sitting out at the counter at Bier Boutique on First Street, was perfect yesterday as the north wind hadn't properly kicked in and temperatures were quite mild. Rusty had been getting quite a few walks all morning before and after my exercise class so he was ready to relax:
Robert was also ready to do his duty so I could nothing other than follow his lead. I had a cheeseburger with some thick bacon rashers and barbecue sauce while Robert had the day's special which involved a bison patty salami mozzarella and balsamic sauce which he elected to have wrapped in rabbit food. They are very accommodating.
You collect your biodegradable (non Styrofoam) container from the window and there in front of you is a massive selection of beer and cider and all you have to do is ask. Luckily as it was Robert's turn to pay I didn't even have to proffer any plastic. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't like Bier Boutique and they deliver food and beer if you are snowbound, or not feeling like getting up, in Key West.
Eventually we had to tear ourselves away from our comfortable perches and wide ranging  conversation as Robert had to be busy and I had a dog (and a hamburger)  to walk. I followed Rusty as he led me to Higgs Beach where I saw the shrimp boats at anchor hiding from north winds. They had calmed down a bit but now a new front is hammering the Keys with strong winds.
They can sit south of key West in flat water and wait for 30 mile an hour winds and temperatures down to the mid 50's to dissipate by this weekend. Today's predicted high, as i write is 60 degrees. I wonder why smart alecs Up North point out they have snow. Sure and is that unexpected? If you live in Colorado or New England do you have the sense to gear up for snow? Cold damp sea air makes it much colder here especially for people used to 80  degrees. I have no ski gear, our spare blankets are more like throws and when life is predicated on being outdoors this cold snap gets boring fast. I haven't ridden the Vespa in two weeks. By contrast I don't mind 100 degrees and high humidity in summer I listen to  those smart alecs complain about 80 whole degrees in a  July "heatwave." Must be tough.
 It was cold enough for easy rider Harley types to bundle up and wear helmets. 
It's cold enough to convince me to ride the car to work until this seasonal stuff goes away.