Friday, December 26, 2008

New Year's Resolution

I am making a New Year's resolution this year. I am doing it here, in public -- so that perhaps I will be a bit more likely to fulfill this little "promise-to-self". It is a one-word resolution -- can't get much more basic than that. One word that has the potential to impact my life, and the lives of those around me in so many ways -- economically, ecologically, politically, physically, artistically, emotionally, spiritually.... One word. Simplify. For 2009 I want to simply, well, simplify. Easy, right? Not!

Voluntary simplicity is nothing new -- in fact I've been studying the philosophy for a number of years. Use less stuff, spend less, pollute less, unclutter your home, your office, your brain... reuse, recycle, relax. Man, do I wish I could relax. At this point in my life -- empty nest, good job, good health, you'd think that might not be so much of a problem. But holy moley is my life at the virtual border of "out of control". When you're 55 and still wondering what you're going to be when you grow up... When you're working 60 hours per week (at least I'm working)... When you always feel like you need to move on to the next thing in order to just keep pace with yourself... When you're doing photography and people seem to like it, but not enough to pay the bills, but you love it more than almost anything... When you realize that the happiest times of your life were when you were on stage performing your own songs, and you want to write more but can't find the time, when the band calls and you have to say no... When you feel guilty for all of the social engagements, gigs, photo safaris, and pleasure trips you have to turn down... Perhaps it's time to ease up, pick a few priorities, narrow the scope. Simplify. Think about what makes you happy and focus on that.   In my fantasy world that would be:
  1. Photography
  2. Music
  3. Writing
  4. Reading
  5. Work           
In the real world, numbers 5 climbs to the top and the rest shift down one. Food on the table, need for lenses, bandwidth and all that, you see.                                                                                       
SIMPLIFY. A one word promise to myself. Life saving, I think. Sanity saving, certainly. There are plenty of other blogs dedicated to simplicity, uncluttering, Zen living -- and most, if not all written by and targeted to 20 or 30-somethings. Let's see how it goes for a 55+ over-committer.

 I'll let you know how it goes. Weekly updates. Promise.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Ghosts of Slavery in North Florida

Mrs. Muse and I took a Saturday off from the insanity of the holiday season crowds and drove up to Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island for lunch and a little strolling around. Instead of hitting the interstate (I-95) for the 50 mile drive back down to Jacksonville, we decided to take the less traveled and more scenic A-1-A through the marshes and small islands of coastal northeast Florida. On the way toward the Mayport Ferry crossing, we came upon the Kingsley Plantation National Historic Site -- an important piece of regional history that we have never visited in our two decades in the area. The plantation, named for it's second owner, Zephaniah Kingsley was populated by several hundred slaves, along with its owners. The first photo is how I imagine the ghosts of those slaves must view the "master's" house -- remembering their labors in the production of cotton, oranges and indigo.

There is no doubt of the amazing northeast Florida rural beauty of the place. This next photo is the view across Ft. George inlet (the plantation stands on Ft. George Island) that is seen from behind the main house looking east. Still much as it was in the early to mid 19th century, the trip back to the site is traveled on a one lane unimproved dirt road through heavy tropical vegetation -- literally a drive back in time. Walking among the ancient cypress and palm trees I could sense that the spirits of the earlier inhabitants of that piece of beautiful, yet sad land were still there. The black slaves of 150 years ago live in small tabby built shacks about a half mile back from the scenic spot shown above. Here is what remains of those less-than adequate residences...

"Tabby" is a mix of oyster shells (taken from the waste and burial middens made by the Timaquan Indians -- the island's original inhabitants -- and ground limestone. Holes for ventilation, dirt floors and empty windows provided quarter for up to 300 African slaves, most of whom were first or second generation and still spoke their native African languages. In the twentieth century these important historical remnants have been heavily vandalized by visitors who found the soft tabby walls easy to carve (as seen in the final photo below).

I have always had a strong sense of history and a special interest in archaeology, but something about this place affected me more deeply, more strongly than the usual visit to an historical site. I could so easily visualize the children of slaves running through the trees, the pain, anger and sweat of black laborers, the arrogance of those who would be so brazen as to believe that they could own another human being as property. This was a place worth visiting, and one I will certainly return to -- to feel, to meditate in and on -- to record visually and to interpret -- and to be among the ghosts of the families who occupied those beautiful acres in pain and in vanity not all that long ago...

Thursday, December 4, 2008


I'm trying out a photoshop plug-in by Topaz Labs called "Topaz Adjust". It gives the user a variety of interesting adjustment options that can create some interesting effects. Here are a few examples... (Click on the photos to view them in larger sizes and get more information about them on my Flickr photostream).

Gone Camping
Florida Off-Road Vehicle

Scrub Jay III
A Florida Scrub Jay

Stepford Sunset III
Central Florida Sunset

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Florida, Nature's Way...

What may be the opposite of Disney World (see previous post)? A weekend of primitive camping with family and friends, six miles deep into the Seminole State Forest. Not another human in sight,we camped in a stand of live oaks near a pine wood and a small pond. I saw more deer than people, and more pine warblers than cars. There was sign that at least one black near was near at night, but we never did spot one.

It was a bit cold for Florida -- 40ish at night. but our fire provided plenty of warmth. We could hear the occasional car from the road six miles to our south and a few planes overhead. Other than that the stillness and quite was amazing. Of course we made a bit of our own noise with a guitar at the campfire and a choir of smoke choked voices (cleansed with a pretty fine bottle of wine, or two, or three....)

The photo at right is the road in to our camp, roughly five mile from civilization. The one immediately below is the pine woods at about 3:00 p.m. as the autumn sun rides low... The rest speak for themselves, I think.

A Light in the Forest

A Pine Warbler making an effort to understand my attempt at bird sounds

My brother-in-law reading fireside

Well, it was the weekend of the Ohio State Michigan game, afterall...Go BUCKS!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Disney, My Way

I have mixed opinions about Walt Disney World and Epcot and their associated resort developments in central Florida. The naturalist in me, which is clearly the stronger part, mourns for the disastrous destruction of central Florida wetlands habitat on land that was virtually stolen from its owners and politically maneuvered into a public policy exempt tax district allowing the entertainment megalith to do as it pleased (and pleases). On the other hand I really like to see kids smile.

I attended a conference there this week -- and without actually entering any of the theme parks, decided to photograph Disney my way. No mice. No rodents of any kind. I wanted to find the art in the sprawl of buildings, fake waterways, and contrived money-sucking entertainment venues. 

Here's for starters -- will add more to this post over the next few days...

Palms and balconies reflected in the water between the Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels

The Disney Dolphin, after dark

Real Bird, Fake Beach...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night in America

Short and sweet...
Here's to hope. The possibility of a better tomorrow.
I'm an American -- and there's nothing wrong with that.

Let the healing begin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

North For The Fall

Mrs. Muse and I made our annual autumn pilgrimage to the Brandywine Valley region of north Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania this past week. I have the good fortune of commuting between  north Florida and north Delaware routinely, and get to live the best of both the southern and mid-Atlantic lives. At this time of year, that means leaving the relative warmth and humidity of Florida for the autumn chill and color of the north...

The photo above was shot at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvnia. I have shot some version of this scene every year for the past three at about this time. Tis is a two-exposure overlay, called an Orton process in which one image is overexposed and blurred, creating a "dreamy" effect by eliminating the sharp edges and bleeding the colors a bit.

This one was also shot at Longwood. I found the mix of new and mature blossoms with the bare seed pods after the blooms were done to be a great contrast and a statement of autumn's mixed blessings.

This last one is among my favorite photos from the week. The old (refurbished) colonial-era house-on-the-hill sitting beneath the amazing color and fullness of protective trees. So representative of the Brandywine Valley history and geography -- almost something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Invasion of St. Augustine

To divert ourselves from the disappearance of our retirement funds, a veritable gang of Jacksonville area photographers set out to annoy the tourists of St. Augustine this past Sunday morning. I've photographed America's oldest city dozens of times, and was looking to capture something other than the typical snapshots of tourists, historical re-enactors, and Spanish-inspired architecture. Here is a small sample of my shots (an a link at the bottom to many more images by my comrades of the day....

Fall in Florida -- a flower gone to seed...
No, I have no idea who he was...

A wildflower growing out of the 400 year old coquina wall of the Castillo de San Marcos

And as promised -- click HERE for a fuller view of the day's creativity

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Message To America's Banks

Today I decided that it would be appropriate, given the state of the economy to which they have driven us, to give America's banking executives the bird.

A Florida Scrub Jay. Like the free-spending American consumer, a threatened species

A Grey Pelican, heading in the general direction of the economy.

A stealthy great egret, heading out of town like a congressman fleeing Washington after the bailout vote.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Liberty, Justice and Slugging It Out in America

I am not a political blogger, though my undergraduate degree is in Government -- and the old interest is sometimes sparked by current events. I spent quite a bit of the last week in bed or on the couch (mostly sick as a dog), afforded the rare opportunity to catch up on the popular media's take on presidential politicking in this most important election year. I watched both major party conventions with interest, paid reasonably close attention to the Sarah Palin interviews on ABC, and have been exposed to a barrage of partisan ads from both sides that raise the fine art of mud-slinging to new levels of audacity.

I have friends and acquaintances who come down on all sides of the debate, including at least one who believes that both parties are the devil incarnate bent only on increasing their own power at the expense of all that the rest of us hold dear. We hear about a nation divided against itself -- how much deeper the divide is than it used to be -- and how wonderful life would be if we were all on the same united page, one side or the other depending on the advocates personal political proclivities. But I have to tell you that this is nothing new...and perhaps most surprising, it's the glue that holds our grand experiment in democracy together. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Factionalism. Our party distinctions, and our willingness in America to tolerate them - to bend without breaking - is what makes this all work. It has since 1789 when Thomas Jefferson (my personal hero) and Alexander Hamilton split Washington's second administration into America's first political parties -- Federalists (Hamilton) and Republicans (Jefferson). IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not confuse the "natural rights" Republicanism of Jefferson with the modern Republicanism George W. Bush....

The personal sniping was in fact, much worse back then -- recall that Hamilton was killed in a duel by fellow New Yorker and political rival Aaron Burr. At least now, the ammunition is limited to the lies leveled in the press, in campaign ads, and on the internet. Other than the guns and pixels, things really haven't changed much, which, back to my original point, is a good thing. Had we not had the factional focus of organized and recognized political parties to act as the shock absorbers of philosophical animosity we would have very likely ended with a Revolution that ended much as the French Revolution did -- the guillotine, firing-squads, rampant armed adventuring around Europe, forsaken treaties, a shrieking Citizen Genet, Napoleon, and alas, Elba. In our case we would have fallen to England from the sea and the north, and Spain from the south. 

So it is our factionalism, amidst the blessing of our national diversity that sustains us. Political parties are a good thing...and there's one for every American -- just check it out here

Now there remains that small issue of the uninformed electorate -- and therein lies the great danger... But I shall leave that to another day. Hey! I never said that this blog was going to be a focused thing.........

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Brief Time Out

Sorry for the prolonged interlude. I have been traveling and more recently sick as a dog. As soon as I get my wits back (give me a couple of days), I shall resume posting at least a couple of time per week... Thanks!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tropical Storm Fay

I shot this photo of a monarch butterfly last weekend -- about the same time that we first started tracking tropical storm Fay's course up the Florida peninsula. I wonder where this natural artistic creation is riding out the storm that we now have upon us. Here in south Jacksonville the heavy rains started yesterday, but the winds didn't hit us until about 2:00 this afternoon. We have sustained winds over 30 miles per hour now and gusts to near 60. Many of the taller plants in the garden in which I took the photo are now flattened. We have a few limbs down in the yard and quite a bit of small tree "trash" as nature makes her way through and tidies her world up a bit. Another reminder to the swarm of humanity that decided that coastal Florida would be a great place to build -- you can't ultimately contain the environment -- the environment will always contain you... and butterflies.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How the Florida DEP Spells River: T-O-I-L-E-T

Tell me; does this sound like a reasonable approach to you? Your personal physician fills a syringe with a nice little Ebola virus suspension drawn from system of an infected child. Then the doc takes that syringe and places it in your vein – say the big one at the crook of your right elbow. Now let’s push the plunger – that’s it -- all the way down. As the lovely concoction is disbursed through your bloodstream, the kind, trusted old doctor says: “There, now; doesn’t that feel better? Trust me, it won’t hurt you, and it might help the child.” Ridiculous you say? You bet – because that child is already dead, and soon you will be too – but believe it or not, this is what the State of Florida is about to do on a ecosystem scale. 

The Georgia-Pacific Corporation operates a plant along the banks of the St. Johns River down near Palatka, Florida. For years it has been discharging its toxic effluent into Rice Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns – the “child” in our little analogy above. The Florida Department of Environment Protection (DEP), whose charge it is to protect and preserve the State’s environment, has, in it’s infinite wisdom and obvious concern for the welfare of  Florida’s natural ecology, granted Georgia Pacific a permit to built a four mile long pipeline from the plant into the main flow of the St. Johns river. This will divert the toxic trash from the already dead Rice Creek into the larger St. Johns. According to DEP (our trusted physician): “The flow capacity of Rice Creek is not large enough to assimilate the improved effluent. The discharge will be relocated directly to the St. Johns River that has much more assimilative capacity to maintain water quality standards”. The full Q&A page on the DEP website is locate here: - Go read an judge for yourself. 

The St. Johns flows from south to north, thus will the millions of tons of GP pollution flow north through miles of pristine riverine habitat to Jacksonville, and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean at Mayport. Too bad it doesn't flow south -- then maybe the brainiacs in Seminole County (central Florida), who plan to draw millions of gallons per day from the St. Johns for residential and irrigation use would think twice about their plan to help with the destruction of the lower St. Johns river ecosystem. Of course that would have also required the regional planning gurus to have thought once about the impact of unrestrained population growth in the area. Oh...wait...they did think once. They thought about the cash that would line their pockets and the pockets of their developer buddies. They certainly did not consider that they were committing time-release ecocide. 

On the upside, taking positive action to help preserve and protect out river, Wayne Weaver (owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise) and his wife Delores Barr Weaver announced a challenge grant on behalf of the St. Johns Riverkeeper. For every dollar donated to the legal defense fund (used to support legal action against the Seminole County water withdrawal plan), the Weavers will donate two, up to a total of $150,000. 

It's small wonder that our river is on the "at-risk rivers" list, when GP wants to use it as a toilet (with the blessing of the State DEP), and central Florida wants to use it as their personal drinking fountain and lawn sprinkler.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Secret Places, Sacred Ground

Last Saturday I officially became a Florida  Freshwater Wetlands Naturalist, having completed the first of three 40- hour courses in the University of Florida-IFAS Master Naturalist program. I then started immediately into the Coastal Systems class -- life is busy -- but life is good. I am taking the classes in order to be a more informed advocate for the preservation of Florida's natural environment, to better inform my "eye" for photographing what I so dearly care about, and to continue my life-long learning process -- something we should all take care to do.
The field-work during the wetlands class was incredibly informative and inspirational. Learning the science was important, but learning to interpret what one sees, and even more learning how to see the natural world was the most beneficial aspect of the process. I hope to be able to pass some of that along both here and in the "real" world. Among the coolest things I was taught is how to use my "wide-angle" vision to see to the edges of my peripheral vision, rather than focusing on a specific object. We are so habituated to look strait ahead -- at a TV screen; at a computer screen; at a PowerPoint presentation; at the work before us, that we miss probably 75% of the activity in our field of vision. I stood amazed as our guide last Saturday pointed out a small pygmy rattle snake at the edge of the trail, literally inched from my feet, that I never would have noticed. Then, equally amazed as he headed down the trail in front of 15 of us students -- who suddenly realized we were leaderless until he came up laughing from behind after eleven of us walked past him where he was simply leaning on a tree, hiding in plain sight.

So the next day I headed out early, on my own, to one of my secret spots in the northeast Florida wetlands (what's left of it), and practiced broadening my point of view -- looking ahead, but looking at everything, aware of my full field of vision, being quite, being invisible, being observant. Maybe I got lucky -- maybe I actually got it right -- in any event, here's what I saw:

This handsome fellow is a juvenile cottonmouth -- a water moccasin. He was contentedly sunning himself in the shallows of a small black water creek, seemingly as curious about me as I was about him. This is the best of three photos that I took. He never moved -- and allowed me to observe him until I was ready to move on.

Just beyond this wetland the terrain rises a few feet to a sand hill habitat, where within two minutes of leaving the water snake, I caught a glint in the dry scrub to my right, where I found this beauty:

This is a black racer -- about three feet long -- probably believing that I could not see her from less than 3 feet away. She is non-venomous (though will bite if cornered), whose best defense is her incredible speed. I got two quick frames off before she bolted, disappearing in the under-growth like a flash of black lightening. 

For me this was a great day -- it can hardly get any better -- and with every encounter in the natural environs of Florida, and every class with my expert teachers, I appreciate it more. More knowledgeably, more reverently, more respectfully -- and more determined to advocate for its protection and preservation. Really: don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

This Week's Quicky....

Down to the last week of the Freshwater Wetlands Systems module of the Florida Master Naturalist program. Tonight I deliver a brief interpretive program on invasive plants and animals and our group project is due for presentation on Saturday. Next week I start the Coastal Systems module -- so no rest for me! Below are a couple more "Florida Project" photos. Enjoy!

Black Creek - Clay County, Florida

Red bellied woodpecker performing tricks on our backyard feeder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Busy Times...

Just a quick fly-by to drop a couple of words... I've been taking the Freshwater Wetlands Systems course for the Florida Master Naturalist Program, and will be taking the Coastal Systems course next, and so will be pretty tied down time-wise for the next six weeks. Bottom line: very little time to post much of anything. Will do my best to at least get a few photos up per week (I can always make time for my camera).... Here are a couple of my flying buddies:

A Zebra Longwing (Florida's State Butterfly) in our garden

A wood stork with a prize from the duckweed. Jacksonville Zoo

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Florida Project

Before the European settlement of Florida more than 50% of my adopted home state was freshwater wetlands -- wetlands that provided habitat for all manner of native flora and fauna, that provided natural flood control, that cleansed the groundwater aquifers of pollutants, that created natural beauty that was appreciated by too few for too long.

A "strand" swamp - Jennings State Forrest, Middleburg. Florida

Since the arrival of our ancestors, more than 30% of the formerly existing wetlands have been drained for residential development, "flood control", and agricultural use. The process continues, particularly along the coastal and recreational corridors. As I think back across the 22 years that we have lived in east-central and northeast Florida, the amount of human encroachment on the natural environment of the Sunshine State is astonishing. As a northern invader myself, I understand the allure of Florida -- it's warmth and economic opportunity. Admittedly, I have to keep my hypocracy tucked into a back pocket when I turn a critical eye and voice or vote upon those who would continue the development trend of the last century. But I have learned to love this place -- this ecology -- all places and native environments, really, but Florida all the more because I live here, and have learned to appreciate it's simple, original, natural gifts. Thus The Florida Project. My own effort, as a single voice, as a member of larger organizations, as a citizen-voter, as a professional, as an artist, a photographer, a songwriter -- to make some small impact to preserve, at least in memory, some piece of this miraculous natural geography.
Black Creek -- a tannic "back-water" river -- northeast Florida

I'm not at all sure what the end-product of this will be -- a book, a blog, a consortium of existing nonprofit organizations, a CD, a documentary, some combination or all of the above. But something it will be. Made out of the threads of my spare time for now as I continue to meet the calling of an important and very meaningful career, something it will be... it is far too important for it not to be. Stand by -- and let's see what happens.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sunday In The Garden

I went to church this morning. The altar of my choosing (my choice as I believe religion to be a singularly personal determination) was the leafy edifice of my backyard gardens. My blessings there are almost, now, too numerous to count. I was ministered to by the energy and elegance of hummingbirds...

I was inspired by the naturally perfect choir of mocking birds and cardinals, singing ethereal anthems of sheer joy, dressed in their liturgical cassocks of gray, white, brown and crimson.

I was comforted by the prayers of butterflies, baptizing themselves in the sweet nectar of our phlox, porterweed, lantana and pentas.

And I gave an offering of corn, peanuts, and black seed -- eagerly collected by the phalanx of squirrels living in oaks, magnolias an pines of our neighborhood.

My Sunday morning peace is found in the lessons learned in our suburban Florida backyard where we have built (are building, actually) a small sanctuary - a tiny place of shelter for ourselves and a few of the other creatures who have risen from the earth according to nature's grand design. Hallelujah and Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Nature's Fireworks

I am one of those unusual Americans who just doesn't much care for the usual fourth of July fireworks displays -- especially the neighborhood another-spent-bottle-rocket-on-the-roof kind that started on our street before July even turned its page on the calendar. I startle easily - always have. Never cared for sudden explosive noise. I don't like the crowds. I'd like to think that the celebration of our patriotism can be rooted in something other than recalling the sounds and sights of warfare. That's not to say that I won't be flying old glory on the front of the house -- we do at every opportunity. I just prefer my freworks to be of a subtler, more peaceful, serene and natural variety. Like this....

My choice for celebrating our Independence Day is to honor those who gave their lives for my freedom by sharing the gifts of beauty and creativity that their sacrifice provided me the opportunity to capture. God bless America! Have a safe and happy 4th no matter how you choose to spend it, or wherever you are.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Brief Guide To World Domination

In my on-going search for inspiration and revelation I stumbled upon a blog written by 30 year old Chris Guillebeau -- The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris is a pretty amazing young man, whose world travel and social-entrepreneurial adventures you can learn about by reading his blog. Earlier this week, Chris posted his personal manifesto: A Brief Guide To World Domination.
Chris essentially believes that you can achieve your personal destiny while at the same time making the world a better place -- and that you can do these things without having to conform to other people's expectations of how your should get there. "Remember one thing", he writes, "You don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to". All you have to do is answer and act on two "simple" questions: 1) What do you want out of life? and 2) What do you have to offer the world that no one else has? Question one is about what your personal goals and passions are, and question two is about what you have to give back that will make the world a better place. I over simplify, so you'll have to download and read the report yourself to get the big picture. twenty-nine pages and worth the read.

At my age you might think it's too late to start thinking about world domination -- but I prefer to think otherwise. In both vocation and avocation I'm just now coming to understand my opportunities for self-realization and cultural impact. Can I clearly answer Chris's two questions? Not yet, but I'm working on it and getting closer. Find you passion(s). Identify your talents. Use your abilities for the greater good. Read Chris's report.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Gardener's Tale - Part I

We have a fairly large backyard, by suburban north Florida standards at least -- about 180 feet deep. Over our almost 20 years here we have used traditional neighborhood landscaping -- St. Augustine grass lawns (northerners often refer to this heat-tolerant, broad leaf, course southern grass as being similar to their northern crab grass), border and foundation hedges, an orange tree or two, a few Florida long-leaf pines, a magnolia tree, water oak, a colorful assortment of crepe myrtles, and a few flower beds around the edges. I put down a brick walk between the back porch and a concrete tile patio behind the orange tree a few years back, added confederate jasmine as a spreading ground cover base for our "wooded" corner under the magnolia, and put in our first butterfly garden in the center of the yard (in the hole left by the removal of an old pine) last Memorial Day weekend.

The thing about traditional suburban Florida landscaping, particularly St. Augustine grass lawns, is that 1) they are always thirsty and require a great deal of water to keep green and healthy, and 2) they are nitrogen hungry -- requiring regular fertilization (not to mention chemical weeding and destructive insect control). In order to have the neatly manicured, bright green Florida lawn (that mimics the traditional green lawns of the north, from which most of us have fled) we Floridians basically have to wreak environmental havoc upon the local bio-systems. Our nitrogen rich run-off and grass clippings wash into the neighborhood drainage systems, into the ground water, and ultimately into the St. Johns river, creating algae blooms that suck out the oxygen -- killing the native flora and fauna. We are desperately damaging the central fixture of the northeast Florida geography - our river. Because of central Florida's water-lust, Orlando and several of it's neighbors have developed plan to drain up to 400,000 gallons of water per day from the St. Johns. Mrs. Muse and I (both being members and volunteers from the St. Johns Riverkeeper) decided that, in our own small way, we needed to do something. Remember hearing the phrase "think global, act local"? That's what we've decided to do. So we've spent about half of this year's vacation time by beginning to remove the St. Augustine lawn in the backyard and replacing it, a few feet at a time, with native ground cover and other local plants with low water and nitrogen appetites.

We had started earlier this spring by carving out a second 10 x 10 foot butterfly garden, using plants sent by Mrs. Muse's mom in memory of my mother, who passed away in January. I had also removed an additional 60 square feet of St. Augustine and replace it with confederate jasmine in the farthest back point of the yard. Then, a few days before we left on our trip north, I sprayed an herbicide on an irregular quadrilateral section, roughly 15 feet deep and 40 feet long -- close to 600 square feet.

When we returned last weekend, the grass was dead as planned. Pronging and raking it out required only a few hours of manual labor as St. Augustine grass is a shallow-rooted surface crawler. The recalcitrant remains that were left could be removed by hand, concurrent with re-planting.

The fun part was yesterday's trip up to Trad's Garden Center (highly recommended!) to wander the acres of plants and make our selections. We knew for the most part what we were looking for before we went -- confederate jasmine, variegated confederate jasmine, ornamental peanut (they didn't have any) -- then added a few items for interest on the recommendation of Trad's staff -- yellow creeper (a ground cover with small yellow flowers), creeping fig (a fence climber), yellow bulbine (a bunching flowering perennial), and tri-colored confederate jasmine.

Today's job is to get this stuff in the ground. I don't have a plot plan on paper for this, but I have one in my head...
I will post a photo or two of the completed planting -- then continue with periodic updates on our adventure in Florida xeriscaping. The plan, at least for now, is to take out half of the grass in the back yard, leaving a couple of small islands of St. Augustine between the back porch and the gardens. Stay tuned.....