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?