Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nature Ride

From the October of 2008 this essay I am re-posting today thanks to my inability to access the Internet this past week. AT&T is forcing me to look back at three year's of posts, which isn't a completely bad thing I suppose. Frustrating but not bad.I have taken quite a fancy to the wide open spaces of Big Torch Key lately, and I recently had a couple of not too rare encounters with local residents near the long empty road that runs across the mangrove swamps of the island. I was actually riding my bike:First up I spotted a black lump on the road up ahead. I stopped and picked him/her up and set the tortoise in a sunny patch well off the asphalt. I have no doubt it will be back tomorrow to warm it's entrails in the road whereupon some unfeeling car will squash it.
I did my best for it.

It's surprising to me sometimes how isolated one can feel in these relatively small islands. Big Torch is really quite large by local standards as the road is eight miles long which makes for a nice workout on a bicycle on a sunny breezy day. When I paused to take in the scenery my ears were filled with only the rushing sound of the wind. I got that same feeling of isolation in my frequent trips to the desert or once when I was in the grass plains of the Oklahoma panhandle. I used to be surprised I could find places in the Keys where I could experience that sense of insignificance. Some people like to live in the middle of it:There are indeed a few people living out here, a clump of homes straddles Dorn Road and there are a few more houses strung out along the rest of the island but mostly it's blue skies, white clouds and green mangroves. And the occasional osprey:I spotted it swooping over the mangroves and snapped a hasty picture, it was then I saw the nest atop a telephone pole. Ospreys are quite remarkable birds, predators of the highest order and yet I learned about these birds in a marine biology class.At first I thought the raptor had a fish in it's talons as it landed back at home base, instead after watching a few minutes it became apparent it was still working on rebuilding the nest. Ospreys keep several nests they use year after year and they like them up high. Utilities sometimes build platforms on poles to attract the ospreys away from electrical poles in use by humans, but their elaborate nests are unmistakable:Ospreys like to eat fish and they can often be seen circling over the waters alongside the highway. When they spot their prey they fold up and dive bomb the water, feet first. The idea is for the bird to grab it's prey with it's talons and haul the thing back to the nest. My marine biology instructor was a sober man not given to joking and managed to make an interesting subject pretty dull. He did however tell a story which I have to judge to be true because of the nature of the man. He said a fish had been found with a pair of osprey feet stuck in it's back. The speculation was that the bird had dive bombed it's prey which had turned out to be too large for it and the bird had been pulled and held underwater by the fish, until it drowned (the bird, not the fish). Ospreys I believe mate for life and share nesting duties. They are incredible birds, graceful in flight and are gifted with a slightly bizarre call rather like a school boy with an off key whistle ( if my childhood is anything to go by). I like watching them fly and I am no birder:My closest encounter with an osprey took me a bit by surprise. I was riding north on Highway One and had just crested the rise on the overpass at Boca Chica when an osprey carrying a torpedo in it's claws flew past my face just ten feet over my head. The fish probably was none too happy with it's bird's eye view of the world but that encounter took my breath away. I quite like herons too:I don't even mind the fake ones they are selling at Bayshore Nursery on Ramrod Key, though I don't think one of these bobbers will ever grace my yard, thanks:It was a good ride even though I didn't reach the end of the road. There is something very refreshing about the long stretches of open road, and pedalling them makes them all the more relaxing it turns out:Good exercises of course but not better than the Bonneville. That, never.