Wednesday, January 8, 2020

West Summerland Key

The recent cold front is lingering a little bit bringing night time lows in the mid 60's and crisp cool winds under empty blue skies. It is perfectly lovely and the reason why northerners want to own million dollar wooden tents loosely described as "houses" crammed into the narrow streets of Key West. No parking, no offsets, no services, no snow.
This was the scene when I arrived at West Summerland Key and unloaded one anxious dog. Rusty was ready to explore even though he's been here often he loves sticking his snout in the bushes and rolling in the grass. I come here often because I enjoy the raised views from the only hilltop in the Lower Keys and also because I can spend happy time trying to find different angles and views to photograph.
Some people, more up-to-date than I, call this place Scout Key, so named for the scout camps that flourished up the highway prior to the devastating visit of Hurricane Irma. West Summerland Key is a name that appeals to me owing to its unknown origin and lack of symmetry. The island known as Summerland Key, home to a post office and zip code, lies 10 miles to the south on Highway One,  which puts this island east of the main Summerland Key . Why this island was designated as "West Summerland" no one knows and the incongruity of it being muddled with the real Summerland Key also labeled as west of  it pushed geographers and perhaps postal officials as well to cast around for a new name. Scout Key fit the spot and the state department of transportation made it official with a little sign. Which I ignore when I arrive on West Summerland Key..
Whatever the name it remains the same lump of rock raised artificially by Henry Flagler's engineers to enable trains to climb to the Old Bahia Honda Bridge in 1912. And that elevation gives people like me pleasure as I have an actual hill to stand atop of and enjoy. The dead trees left by Irma were much prettier before September 2017 but in their starkness they also provide grist for my photographic mill.
By the way you may not know that none of these islands were named before the railroad arrived. The ones that had people on them, two or three at most, had names but all the rest were mapped and named when the rails arrived. Marathon was so called because it was a marathon job to complete the track laying to the Knights Key ferry connection to Big Pine before the big bridge was built. The other islands like Ohio and Missouri got their names from the homesick railroad navvies working on the eighth wonder of the world.
Lake Surprise south of Homestead got it's name because they didn't have aerial surveying or satellite views in 1905. They say Cudjoe Key where I live, pronounced the Anglo way - "Kud  Joe" - was named possibly for a runaway slave who pioneered there or because the word is a corruption of something else or because no one knows.  Ramrod Key was named for a British ship that sank on the reef south of what was formerly known as Roberts Island.
This strange and oddly attractive bush looked half dead but was apparently going through some sort of molting process.  Shadows and light all jumbled up in the anonymous bush.
This damaged area under the bridge is coming back. I climbed the hill for the first time in months to see what they were doing and they are doing a nice job. All those sandbags are going back to cover what the hurricane uncovered.

Looking west at the setting sun, there used to be a pump house near the beach, built in World War Two to help push fresh water to Key West Navy bases from Miami. Irma put paid to the structure which had been empty for years and now it's become a pile of photogenic rubble, as you shall see a few paragraphs further down. Keep scrolling!
I told you he was excited to explore:
The old bridge is being preserved at the other end where the state park at Bahia Honda keeps it serviceable for use as an observation platform. 
This end is crumbling.
And the crumble seems to be happening quite fast:

They call it Bahia Honda because it is, as the Spanish name makes clear, a Deep Bay. That was why they had to build an elaborate railway bridge to cross the bay in 1912.  Indeed it was in some respects a more complicated engineering feat than the Seven Mile Bridge which was just a matter of plodding along dropping cement into casements for seven miles. Here they had to figure out to go dozens of feet deep into the bay. The construction of the highway bridges was compared to the contemporary Panama Canal for engineering difficulty and strokes of brilliance in getting the respective jobs done.
Irma tore out these cement steps, below, leading down to sea level and very useful they were to me on my walks:
I take their loss, along with the destruction of the trees as a personal affront.
Here at last are the remains of the pump house:
The old water pipe was replaced in 1982 with the opening of the new main road to Key West which also carries the larger diameter water pipe alongside. Greenery and shrubbery in Key West was encouraged by the arrival of a secure flow of water. Prior to 1942 the city survived on rainwater cisterns and growing ornamental attractive trees and shrubs was not practical:
Lime stone rubble. Picturesque while horrid to walk on.

I met a  family with not much English who found Rusty delightful and he returned the compliment. He is very clear whether he likes someone or not. In the event he doesn't get a good hit he circles away giving them a wide berth so I follow his example and give certain people we encounter a wide berth.
It was an event filled and enjoyable end to a  sunny winter day was our West Summerland walk:
I see cars pull up in the rough parking lot alongside the highway. They stop for a moment and most keep going while a few step out and snap a couple of pictures and the hardiest of them totter down to the beach to do some combing. Florida is a subtle state lacking as it does mountains and sweeping vistas and other obvious points of beauty. 
I find if you take the time to look closely you will see things worth looking at. I plan in 2020 to keep on walking the mangroves, as well as downtown Key West while taking my dog and my camera with me. I shall report back from the edge of this experience.
I hope in a  few years when I take my leave of absence from the Keys and travel for a while, someone else will take pictures so I can look from afar and see how the place is doing. I don't find the over saturated sunsets selfies and palm trees populating Instagram's Key West page fulfill my needs.
I like this place.
I hope these pictures express some part of that.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Lost In The Mangroves

A few pictures of us enjoying the wilderness, far from holidays, crowds and traffic.

Florida Keys winter with Rusty.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Garcia's Seafood

Van and Philip made early reservations at Garcia's a sixty year old tradition on the Miami River.It's atmospheric but is the food any good? Big question that...
First of ll you can walk your dog through the hall to the back deck if you want. At first we left Rusty in the car but my eagle eyed wife spotted a dog water bowl among the tables so she went out to get him and walk him in. One point for Garcia's right there. 
 Let's be honest, the view is wild. Down the river you can see what Philip calls Manhattan South, a city threatened by sea level rise and intensifying hurricane seasons, but a  city that doesn't give a shit. And in that crude brash way that Miami has, it tells the world it doesn't care by throwing up mile upon mile of high rises. There are cranes out there pushing more columns of metal and cement into the sky even as you read this. Miami Beach is actively pumping the ocean out of its streets at high tide but metro Miami is growing relentlessly.
Philip (white hair on the right) told us of friends they have, because he and Van are unnaturally sociable...anyway this friend is renting a loft in Little Haiti for $2700 a month and lucky to get it. Gentrification is sweeping Miami as retiring New Yorkers have apparently discovered Florida's amazing tax benefits.
 In the picture above you can see a floating billboard which I managed to photograph as it displayed an ad for a South Beach food event coming up when TV persons will escape the drab urban snowfields Up North and do silly things under the palms down here to raise money for charity and to raise their own self importance. Beware then, I am hip by association, as I drift through the modern sunny capital the union of north and south America.
Oh yes, we ate food too. Staff at Garcia's are professionals and extremely friendly even as they are capably handling your order and your wife's high maintenance "on the side" requirements. The crab cakes were made of crab and quite delicious. Each one was a $15  starter ( we no longer call appetizers "appetizers" as they are now British "starters." Whatever, I told you we are hip).
 Van looking pensive as well he might. A sudden winter rain storm blew down upon us as Layne went to the car to get Rusty. She got soaked and closed the car windows and Rusty came skipping in delighted to see me and fascinated by all that was going on around him as usual. As I watch Rusty absorb the world around him I pity those poor dogs that live on chains or never get out.  I know dogs love sharing our lives no matter how much we are told animals aren't like us.. 
 Meanwhile the fish was for us, cilantro sauce and some spicy Peruvian yellow sauce which my wife and I shared.
The waiters were as friendly and welcoming as you'd like without being intrusive and as darkness fell
 the clouds opened up and a burst of thick heavy rain fell on the proceedings like a curtain of water. The tables at water's edge got drenched and the early birds who snagged prime seating had to retreat. I kept eating my fish while a small stream of water went down my back. the awnings did their best but the rain was heavy. and then a cargo ship came down the river, backwards, right past our table.The tug at the back got pulled sideways for a while and nearly went under water or so it seemed...all ended well of course and they disappeared round a corner in the river. Just another working night on the Miami River. For us it was a special night out in Manhattan South! Great stuff indeed..
Rusty kept his equanimity and sat underneath the table watching the world go by. I never gave him a single french fry while he sat there either. On my word your Honor it wasn't me. Vicious slander.
But it was me that got us into the flan for dessert. Of course no one else wanted to admit to wanting a great  big glop of sugar but each of us had a spoon to taste the thing. It was excellent, not sweet but surrounded by liquid nectar. So there: no wanted it; everyone enjoyed it.  
Anthony Bourdain liked this place, at least he said he did on his TV show. I can see why, as the place is rough hewn the welcome is genuinely cheerful and the fish is perfect. Get there before six in the evening if you want to avoid the lines, if you aren't famous or on TV or something. I'm none of that so we were driving home a little the damper for our experience by 7:30. That's neither very Miami nor very Latin Americans but here's the thing: I'm actually not at all hip, not even in the capital of southern hipness,Miami.