Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dancing with Avocados

All my friends tell me I have a green thumb but I just like the work of making something grow. As long as I can remember I have always had plants around me. I’m one of those people who gets a cutting from something and then begins to grow them like mad. This is where the green thumb part comes in because plants seem to respond to my touch. All kinds of plants! In fact, the only plant that has refused to fall under my spell are African Violets. They are a rather high strung lot and despite lots of care have consistently resisted the pull of my caress so I stir clear of them. Everything else if fair game.

I like avocados but Alex loves them and probably if given a choice would eat nothing else. One day recently I decided to try my hand at growing them. Alex gave me a million reasons why they would not grow but I pressed ahead anyway.

As always click each photo for a better view.

First comes the rooting
The rooting process is pretty straightforward in that you should first eat an avocado and save the seed. No problem there... Let the seed dry out and next suspend it in a glass of water with toothpicks.

This little beauty is almost ready to go. I found out that in order to get fruit (an avocado) you have to have at least two trees so I have several in various stages of sprouting.

After about two to three weeks if lucky and patient you will begin to see signs of life sprout out through the top of the seed. You almost feel it is a chick trying to break free from an egg and you should provide encouragement.

Dirt and growth
Little by little the sprout works its way out of the seed. Once it does it is time to place it in dirt. I know this is going to sound strange but at this point you want to slow growth. The leaves at the top should be pinched back to allow the trunk to get strong and hardy, otherwise it will grow too fast and become stringy. The stringy part is important because they don't like wind.

While growing these I learned all Hass avocado trees are descended from a single "mother tree" that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass, of La Habra Heights California. He patented the tree in 1935.

The makings of a tree
Following the pinching stage the plant begins to get stronger and stronger, and once the trunk is strong enough the plant will override the pinching process and sprout more leaves to get taller.

It is truly a sight to behold as the tree gets bigger and bigger. And, true to form Alex asked me to grow one for him. He is now the proud owner of the beginnings of an avocado tree. I will keep you updated as we grow our avocado farm. If we only get a few avocados it will be well worth it because I learned in some cultures they are considered aphrodisiacs and contain 60 percent more potassium per ounce than bananas. Is this a great fruit or what?

Next stop... Jackfruit!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Age of Loneliness

Despite the fact that there are times when we are two armed camps on an issue, there is something to be said for having a partner in crime. And that is how I view Alex, part Father at times but generally the person I can go to who is willing to share my joy in doing dumb stuff.

And yet, looking back there was a time of searching and loneliness. The other day I was looking up something and ran into some music by Enigma that was the embodiment of that time. I found the video on Youtube and thought I would share it with you. There is something very haunting about the chant that runs through it...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

But Is it paparazzi?

Last weekend was a walk on the wild side in that I had a chance to try out a new telephoto and a wide angle lens I recently bought. It was uncharted territory for me in that Alex is the one who normally takes people shots, I like close up's like this seaweed below (as always, click on each photo for a better view)...

or landscapes like this one that magically looks like a raised impression of a footprint on the beach.

But with the telephoto lens you somehow find yourself taking candid pictures of people from far away. I did not go crazy and catch people doing all kinds of odd things but simply ask that you bare with me while I give you my version of being a paparazzi.

Alex and I agreed to meet further down the beach as we went our separate ways to take pictures. I secretly followed him with the telephoto lens and liked this shot because everyone seems to be in motion except him.

Later, these two girls share a private moment of secrets that only girls know about.

And then the wide angle view of the St. Augustine inlet

Off in the distance, in another direction there was this classic 50's kitsch motel with cheesy flamingos. I zeroed in and the result is priceless

I was able to get up close and personal with a crane.

And remember the view from the lighthouse a couple of weekends ago? Well here is the opposite view from off in the distance on the ground with a sailing ship passing by.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Climbing the Stairway to Heaven...

Alex has talked to me for ages about going to the St Augustine Light House and I have avoided it as long as possible because as I have mentioned before... I am afraid of heights. I tried every trick possible to get out of going but nothing worked and it was off to a stairway to heaven adventure.

As always click each photo for a better view

We arrive at the site and the sign at the entrance gave an indication that the place is loaded with light house history, some of it dating back to 1586.

After paying for admission and a short walk down a path, we instantly arrive at the lighthouse in all it's glory. Looking at it, my eyes just kept traveling up, and up, and up.... If you look closely at the top there is a small ring that is the observation post which is where we are going to climb.

The tour guide told us the light house keepers were generally a strong lot because every two hours they had to climb 219 steps to the top of the tower carrying fuel in a 30 pound bucket to adjust the light. I thought about it and realized all I was carrying was a very light camera and the view would be more than worth it... So I took a deep breath and decided to give it a try...

I climbed a few steps and realized I didn't feel bad at all and decided to look up. There was this magnificent sight that reminded me of a sea shell or for the mathematically inclined a fractal. A beautiful sight indeed! I kept going.

Right about this level I could see the coast line and wondered despite the drudgery of the work, during the day the keepers must have enjoyed living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The structure in view from the window is the keepers house which is large and roomy. It had to be because keeping the light house was a family affair. Everyone in the family was called into service to perform some function to keep the light house going.

Talk about a room with a view. You can barely see the top of the keeper's house now but there was the inlet, highlighting a crisp sunny day... also butterflies in the stomach, red alert!

And here is my reward. It is a wonderful sight with a clear view for miles of the entire inlet. I will admit that my heart was pounding and I stayed well back from the railing but it was more than worth it.

And to add to the excitement of the trip was a display of the various types of lens used at the light house. The Fresnel lens was the preferred model because it's separate section design made them lighter and also allowed the light to be seen for far greater distances.

You can see from the photos they were technological marvels for their time that are still used today in traffic lights and even the headlights of your car. And, they look like huge diamonds!

Going down was a lot easier than going up and as we did I congratulated myself on making it to the top.

And, as we drove away and could see the light house in the distance I realized how much I enjoyed taking the stair way to heaven.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Brian the Folk Singer...

We had a wonderful Easter weekend and spent much of it in St Augustine, Florida. One of the most exciting aspects of the trip was a chance encounter with a Dulcimer player. We happened to be sitting in a park having a late afternoon lunch and could hear music in the distance.

As always, click each photo for a better view

It was a strange yet wonderful sound and we wandered over to listen. It seems this musician (we found out later his name was Brian or "Brian the Folksinger") had just joined in with some street musicians and was playing this strange instrument called a Hammered Dulcimer. I have seen a dulcimer before but never one like this. According to Brian his is a 5 octave solid body electric Hammered Dulcimer. Take a look below to see what that looks like...

I was really captivated by both the sound of the instrument and the folk-reggae songs Brian sang while he played, his voice has a haunting quality to it. You could tell he was quite versed on this dulcimer by the way he was able to walk up to a group of guys he had never met and start playing music that made you want to tap your feet and just feel happy. And I will add I have never met anyone who was as friendly or as cordial as Brian before and after playing his music.

I later did a little research and discovered the Dulcimer is an instrument that is common to almost every culture, just under a different name; and Brian's was really unusual in that they normally only go as high as three octave. Second, it seems the hammered dulcimer is experiencing a revival by a number of performers including the Blue Man Group. If you get a chance by all means visit Brian's website to learn more about the man and his music.

Look over the instrument and let me know if you are aware of a similar instrument from your culture and it's name.

I have included a video clip of the music that got our attention and ask that you keep in mind it was recorded in an open park in addition to it being a windy day. Despite those disclaimers it is still beautiful music. Enjoy!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Visit to Old Florida

Awhile back we returned to Gainesville which before we met was Alex’s point of entry into Florida. Once we began to date, every other weekend involved a drive to the little town he lived in just outside of Gainesville. Since then I have always had a soft spot for the area and a park in Worthington Springs because it gave a glimpse of old Florida and the rural way of life.

As always, feel free to click the photos for a larger view.

It is near the section of the State featured by Marjorie Rawlings in her novels "The Yearling", and "Cross Creek". To go there is like stepping back in time and pictures like the one below make you almost expect to see Rawlings step out of the mist.

This one too brings up images of warm Summer days and laughter around the swimming hole that is the creek that runs through the area.

I became a little fixated on this bridge that was designed to allow you to walk through the swamp. It had become warped by rain and weather.

To get this shot I laid down on the bridge to get a view no more than a foot above the boards on the bridge. It gives the feeling of literally going down into the swamp and in my mind back to the time of Rawlings.

Back in time to a sense of simple beauty when life too was a lot more simple...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Is it Possible to Wander Too Far…?

Last weekend we had a big laugh and also had to ask ourselves if it is possible to wander too far.

On our way back from the Kingsley Plantation we kept passing a power plant set out in the woods away from everything. The night before we had been in the area and Alex had even taken pictures of what seemed like a thousand lights lit up against the night sky. After we passed it a couple of times I decided we should stop and see if they offered tours.

Alex is always up for a new adventure and it is unusual for him to express reluctance to snoop around and take pictures but this time he kept saying “I don’t know…” but I pressed the point and we continued. There was this smoke stack that was huge and I wanted a shot of it in all its glory.

We pulled into the parking lot and looked up at the smoke stack which now seemed ten times larger than it had appeared from the entrance. As I searched for the identification outlined in the instructions at the gate Alex kept saying “I don’t know…” but I would not be denied. This was a chance for a picture and I was going to get one.

I walked up to the office door, opened it, introduced myself to the security guard and explained that we wanted to know if we could go on a tour and take some pictures. He in turn asked if I had some special type of identification and I said “No” But why should I have to have it! The recent rate increase and subsequent rise in my utility bill should be more than enough to allow me to wander around and take some pictures.

The security guard gave me the strangest look and then replied “This is a nuclear power plant and there is NOTHING to see here.” I stood there for a moment just sort of letting the words sink in and then replied “You’re Right!” and hurriedly rushed for the door.

Back at the car I relayed my recently acquired information to Alex who responded that he thought I knew, as we even more hurriedly drove away. The tower I thought was a smoke stack was a cooling tower.

And so, in our never ending search for adventure… we almost had a chance to meet Homer Simpson!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Richest Woman in Florida

Sometimes you encounter a story that is so wild that it gives new meaning to the concept that we humans are a complex race. I was doing my usual search for places we could wander around and take pictures and stumbled upon a mention of the Kingsley Plantation. It was close-by which added to its appeal, and off we went.

What we discovered once we got there was far stranger than anything we could have imagined. It seems the Kingsley Plantation is named after Zephaniah Kingsley who was involved in shipping molasses and slaves between the Caribbean, New England, and Africa. He frequently bought slaves from members of the Wolof nation in a region that is today part of Senegal. By a strange twist of fate the slave trade family from whom he bought slaves found itself captured and sold into slavery and the daughter Anta Majigeen Ndiaye was sent to Havana, Cuba. When Kingsley found her in Havana he bought Anta and later married her upon his return to Florida.

Feel free to click each photo for an enlarged view.

The couple had four children and while Kingsley continued his slave trading voyages, the running of the plantation fell to Anta or Anna Kingsley as she was called in Florida. In less than ten years she would become the wealthest woman in Florida and one of the largest land holders in the northeast Florida area. Their seven plantation operation produced timber, cotton, citrus, and rice crops which would be sold throughout the world.

The Plantation House

We were really disappointed we could not go inside the house because of termite damage, but you can see it is a comfortable structure that faces the ocean inlet making it easy for Kinsgley ships to come in and pick up shipments.

I joined several photos together to give a panoramic view of just how large the house actually is. In the style of the day the building on the right is the kitchen which was generally kept away from the main house due to heat and fires.

The Task System

The Kingsley Plantation relied on the "task" system of operation in that each slave had a task to complete for the day and once that task was completed they were free to work their own gardens to add to their rations. Under the "gang" system, work was done under the supervision of a driver who compelled the slave to work the entire day. According to the tour guide, during harvest time under either system the slave was expected to work 15 to 16 hours per day.

Slave quarters ring the plantation in a semicircle as you enter the grounds which makes me think these land owners were proud of their possessions and wanted visitors to see them as they entered.

Each slave house was a two room arrangement that had a front room with a fireplace and a second room that must have been the bedroom. It appears small by present day standards but I could see where at that time it probably gave a sense of ownership. The tour guide indicated that they even were allowed to have locks to protect their possessions.

The Influence of Indigo

Initially the plantation produced indigo which was very popular during the era because the British and others loved the color blue. However there were pollution problems and the smell was so bad no one wanted to live near the site of production.

This major drawback resulted in a search for other crops especially when you consider that it took 100 pounds of material to produce 4 ounces of indigo that sold for $40. When British rule ended the production of indigo disappeared.

Sea Island cotton

They finally settled on Sea Island cotton because it could grow in the salty soil of the area. Unlike the cotton we saw in Charleston S. Carolina, Sea Island cotton could grow up to seven feet tall and bloom continuously from June to December.


There was high demand for this cotton because it produced a cloth that was very much like silk or satin and made the Kingsleys very wealthy.

Wealth and Flight

This wealth did not sit well with other plantation owners in the area and once Florida was purchased from Spain, laws were passed that made it difficult if not impossible for Anna and their mixed race children to remain in the area. Zephaniah ultimately moved Anna to Haiti where she could continue to operate as a free woman. After Zephaniah's death in 1843 Anna sued and won the right to inherit the property given to her in his will and lived out her days in the Jacksonville area.

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Complex stuff indeed...