Category Archives: Trawler

In Search of the Calusa 3

About Randell Research Center, Pine Island, Lee County, FL -an extension of the University of Florida, both Ed and my alma-mater.

This post will be my final post in a series entitled “In search of the Calusa.” Today is number 3. You may have already read 1 & 2.

In Search of the Calusa 1

In Search of the Calusa 2

Pine Island’s Randell Reaserch Center was the perfect place to end Ed and my west coast Calusa journey in May of 2022. It made a huge impression. A big shout out to my Uncle Russell who brought the center to our attention.

The research center and heritage trail is located on the northwest side of Pine Island, an island that is seventeen miles long making it the largest on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Although Ed and I were traveling via our trawler, Adrift, we rented a car and drove about forty-nine miles from Captiva Island to the center.

The Randell Reasearch Center consists of fifty-three acres and is the heart of a huge shell mound of more than a hundred acres. At the center, one can interact with a volunteer expert, walk the Calusa Trail, and then look through artifacts and literature in the museum.

-Adrift docked in Sanibel/Captiva. Its draft precluded a boat outing to Pine Island.What made this experience different than Ft Meyers (1) or Marco Island (2) is that the Calusa village on Pine Island is basically intact. Thus it was here that Ed and I felt we finally met soul of the Calusa. The walking trail is about a mile long and a series of artistic and informational signs tell the story of the Calusa and the lands they inhabited. I have taken pictures of some of the signs. If you wish to read, click on the image and it will be enlarged.

The Calusa were a fascinating and impressive people. Standing tall, long-haired, painted  and beautiful, they skillfully constructed towns, built relationships with distant tribes, engineered extensive hand-dug canals, partook in canal-connected “aquaculture” holding-ponds to feed their people, experienced a deep spiritual life, and respectfully buried their dead. This society created complex and self-sufficient living with influence as far away as Cape Canaveral.

It was interesting to me to learn that the Pine Island site was originally named “Tampa.” Apparently, only Big Mound Key near Charlotte Harbor and Mound Key in Estero Bay are comparable in sophistication. All of these communities lived from the overflowing bounty of their estuaries and with shells, fish, and animal bones built what became multi-generational mounds rising from the landscape. These were the great cities of their time and perfectly located for life. The Spanish documented 60 smaller Calusa towns by 1612.

As one walks through the varied landscape, the tallest mound provides an observation platform. These sacred places are where for at least 1500 years these amazing people worshiped, loved, lived  and politicized, until unfortunately decimated by European Contact.

Ed and I were so honored to experience their home. Thank you to those who preserved rather than developed these lands. May the spirit of the Calusa Warrior be with us as we fight today to bring our estuaries back to full life.

-The Caloosahatchee River pours out into Pine Island Sound, beyond,  and into the Gulf of Mexico.-Ed with volunteer at welcome center and library.-A portion of the Calusa Trail.-Remains of a Calusa shell mound.-Another mound, the shape clear to see.-Walking on along the mile long trail, Ed spots an osprey chick!-Ed reads one of the many interpretive signs along the Calusa Trail.-The site is on the Nation Register of Historic Places. -A marsh rabbit says hello!-DAILY LIFE-BROWNS MOUND COMPLEX-Atop the highest mounds is a boardwalk.-It was hot! Bring your mosquito spray! -CALUSA SOCIETY-ON TOP OF THE WORLD -A nice place to sit and ponder the ways of the Calusa.THE PINELAND CANAL-Remnants of the two and a half mile, six foot deep canal, dug by hand using “buckets”! This canal cut ten miles off a journey to Matlacha Pass. The Calusa constructed many canals across the marshy landscape of South Florida and these canals were part of why they had such wide reaching influence. -Photos of the canal and bridge today… -A sign in three sections: EARLY & MIDDLE PINELAND -A view along the trail.-SPIRITUAL LIFE -PRESERVING THE PAST -SACRED PRECINCTS-PINELAND SINCE THE CALUSA -A walk through time…-Library information and artifacts -The Calusa made weights of shells for their fishing nets. -Quahog clams are often a part of the great mounds. You may see these clams around today.-An impressive people; we remember them with honor…

In Search of the Calusa, 1

-Museum exhibit, Mound House, photo Ed LippischOn May 2nd of 2022, Ed and I began one of my favorite adventures. We went in search of the Calusa, one of Florida’s most famous native tribes. It was in spirit that we found them and they, indeed, were everywhere…The trawler left Stuart going through Lake Okeechobee to Ft Meyers. Lightening and thunder exploded with great force over the Caloosahatchee as Adrift slowly approached Legacy Harbour Marina. As first mate, I refused to walk to the bow to dock the boat for fear I would be struck. “Don’t you realize Florida has more lightning strikes than any other state?” I called through the wind and rain. Ed gave me the evil-eye until I did my job, and the storm was lessening. I stepped out into the elements, crossed myself, pulled up the hood of my rain jacket, and grabbed the lines.

My prayers must have worked as almost immediately the sky began to clear.  After, cleaning up, Ed and I got off the boat, now in good spirits, and walked towards downtown where right away there were signs of former Calusa villages…The following day, my UF friend, Mindi Morrall, met us and we began the second part of the trip to the Mound House, this time by car, located about seven miles away on Ft Meyers Beach. We quickly realized that the Uber driver was from out of state and was not aware that any “Calusa Indians” had ever lived in Florida at all.

The Mound House is considered the “Crown Jewel” of Fort Myers Beach. In April of 2019, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It was selected for its historic and its archeological value. The Calusa built the shell mound underlying the mound house over many centuries. A timeline marks their presence in the region from 500 B.C. through the 1700s.

The Calusa lived from the riches of the estuary environment eating tremendous amounts of mollusk and fish, piling remains into very tall mounds -some taller than thirty feet- over centuries. In the 1500s the Calusa were the dominant people in what today we call “South Florida.” The word “Calusa” is thought to mean “fierce people.” They were not farmers, but fisher-hunter gatherers, and as their name states, fiercely independent. The Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon, was attacked and fatally wounded by this tribe upon his return to La Florida, the conquistador’s first visit being in 1513.

I have always felt it is the spirit of the Calusa Warrior that helped bring a turning point to the estuaries of the St Lucie River and Caloosahatchee. Today, I will briefly share this experience as an introduction.

This image by the Florida Museum of Natural History shows the “radiation” of the Calusa.

Photos of our meeting the Calusa:

-Entrance to the Mound House, Lee County, FL-Mindi was taller than most Calusas and I was just about the height of the Spanish!-Road to the Mound House built in 1906 atop the thousand/s year old Calusa shell mound-Ed and Mindi wait for the tour to begin. Estero Bay in the distance. -Presentation by Mound House Preservation specialist. Welch & conch were used for many different tools and other utensils. The Calusa are famous for their masks and art.-Location of Mound House and other sites of the Caloosahatchee

-An Atala butterfly on a Strangler Fig tree, the sap of tree used by the Calusa to make paint. -Examples of Calusa replica artifacts -many are some of the most famous in the world. -Looking into floor of  the Mound House built in early 1900s. Shells! -Of great interest was where a display in the ground where a swimming pool had been excavated and shell layers of the mound beneath the house could be closely viewed “over time,” layer by layer.-Necklace of the four corners

Escalante Fontaneda’s Memoir 1575

The Mound House was a great introduction to the Calusa. But there is much, much more! Ed and I will take you there next: Marco Island & Pine Island…

 

Tales of the St Johns – Palatka to Sanford

East Palatka, St Johns River selfieHow does one tell the story of the St Johns River?  Believe it or not, the St Johns River starts close to home in the western marshes of Indian River and northern St Lucie counties. Drained and destroyed for agriculture and now in the process of being restored, the waters of these wetlands wind north, melding with springs, creeks, and rivers finally exiting into the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. This is the mighty St Johns!

When Ed and I began our trawler excursion this year, I really didn’t know what to expect. I read as much as I could, asking my mother to share history, but even so I was really unprepared for the experience. The St Johns is so long (310 miles) and covers so much territory. It runs through twelve counties. I couldn’t even find it on one map. With the Mainship’s  four foot draft, only a portion of the river was navigable (Jacksonville to Sanford) but it is much longer than that. So again, how does one tell the story of the St Johns River? A part at a time.

  1. Stuart to Ortega
  2. Ortega to Palatka

Today’s part, 3, Palatka to Sanford, is longer than the previous two and will be the final tale of our journey. By the way, as 1st Mate, I didn’t miss a line! 🙂On September 11, 2021, Adrift departed the shores of East Palatka headed for Sanford. We were excited. There would be famous things to see along the way like, Rodam Reservoir, Lake George, Welaka State Forest, Astor, Hontoon Island, Blue Springs State Park, and Lake Monroe. We had overnighted at Corki Bells close to the 2,757 acre Horseshoe Point Conservation Area the night before. As with the entire St Johns, in some areas the water appeared impaired and in others not. By the conservation area the water looked healthy. The fish were jumping.  It was this morning that we saw the first eagle.

“Ed is that an osprey or an eagle? It has a white head. Oh my gosh! It’s an eagle!”

Over the course of the next two days, Ed and I saw a total of sixteen eagles, mostly in pairs.  They were staring down at us from tall cypress trees; they were sitting on channel markers eating fish; they were swirling overhead. It was incredible! None of my photographs are good enough to share, but I did take a photo of a mural at Corki Bells that gives the feel of these soaring majestic eagles, especially on Patriot Day. -Map showing St Johns River cut of Cross Florida Barge Canal to the Ocklawaha River

PALATKA

One cannot tell the story of the St Johns without telling the story of the Ocklawaha. Not too far south of Palatka’s conservation area lies a cut from the St Johns River into the Ocklawaha River -scared by the history of Rodman Pool and Kirkpatrick Dam. In the 1960s and 70s Marjorie Carr and Defenders of the Environment garnered public and political will to halt the ecological nightmare of the still infamous Florida Cross State Barge Canal. Today activists calls continue to free the damed Ocklawaha.

I had read so much about the 1800s Riverboat trips to Silver Springs and how they define the history of Florida itself -so much so that there is a giant painting by Christopher Still in the state Capitol entitled “Ocklawaha”and historic documents and photos of the river are housed in the archives of the University of Florida. She is a part of the St Johns we must never forget.

-Dredged cut  into St Johns River- the beginning of the Cross Florida Barge Canal-Historic postcardsRiverboat mural of the Ocklawaha, Florida State CaptiolUFLibrary Theodore Hahn’s Ocklawaha historic documents and photos

LAKE GEORGE

The winding waterway south of Palatka is treed with cypress, sable palms, and other trees I didn’t know with only a few small towns along the way. We saw turtles, alligators, wading birds and more eagles!  After about five hours we made it to Lake George the second largest lake in Florida and interesting enough, although the river is fresh at this point miles from the ocean, the lake is brackish -due to salt water springs- leftovers of an ancient Florida sea. The first clue we were in a different ecology was the abundance of hundreds of seabirds: seagulls, terns, and smaller birds I did not recognize. It was as if we were at the ocean! Shallow, eleven miles long, and six miles wide, Lake George is known for quickly- rising dramatic storms. Sure enough, when we entered the lake it was a beautiful day, by the time we were exiting, cumulonimbus had developed over the eastern edge forming thunder, lightening, wind, and white caps.

-Seabirds line the wooden guide to exit Lake George

ASTOR

Just south of Lake George lies Astor, a small hamlet that friend Captain Paul, who we’d met in Ortega, recommended. Ed and I stayed at Astor Bridge Marina. After a creative docking assignment, Ed and I exited Adrift stumbling upon the gigantic William Bartram Memorial Oak that had almost been obliterated by Highway 40 -basically cutting this little town in half.

As most of us were taught in school, in the mid 1700s William Bartram returned as he’d first come as a boy with his father to famously document the St Johns River Valley’s flora and fauna. The records remain a baseline today. For me it was serendipitous to find the  memorial tree and learn that Astor was a location that William Bartram had actually overnighted. Between all the eagle sightings and the memorial oak, I was feeling inspired to continue my own  journey for the St Lucie River. -William Bartram Memorial Oak, Astor, FL

AN ACCOUT BY WILLIAM BARTRAM

There was an exquisite sunset that evening. Sitting on the upper deck, as Ed sipped a vodka, and I drank white wine, I read Ed an excerpt from William Bartram. An account of a storm on Lake George as shared in Tales on the St Johns River, by Hallock.  Behold the little ocean of Lake George!” How absolutely full of wildlife the St Johns River Valley must have been when the Bartrams visited Florida in the 1700s! His accounts of birds, alligators, deer, bears, wolves, fish, the tannin-clear waters, and native people is especially amazing . I started to realize the St Johns Valley is equally important to the Everglades.

SANFORD

-Ed fixing the water pumpOn the morning of September 12, 2021, we departed for our final St Johns destination, Sanford on Lake Monroe. Docking was easy at Monroe Harbor Marina. Ed wanted to go get a pump as our water pump was failing, so I looked around  while he went to the office. Immediately I recognized  something because I’d been reading that William Bartram book. I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of dime sized banded mystery snail shells.

The grackles had eaten the mollusk and thrown the shells aside. I remembered Bartram’s account about the native people of Lake Monroe eating these by the millions to sustain themselves, creating middens, and that some of these middens remain today. What a name: Banded Mystery Snails…

-Lake Monroe approaching Sanford-Banded Mystery Snails from Lake Monroe, Sandford, FLWhere is Sanford anyway?To the east of Sanford lies Cape Canaveral and to the west Mount Dora. My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Dell Rawls Henderson, was born in Plymouth, Florida, not too far southwest of Sanford, close to Lake Apopka. The metropolis of Orlando lies south and Sanford International Airport, once a naval air station, now operates worldwide. Sanford has had its up and downs but now it is growing!

It was a fun change from being anchored out. There were good restaurants. There are great historic districts. Goldsboro was interesting. It was the second black incorporated township in the Inited States!  And the Sanford Museum?  It told the story of how the city grew up from agriculture south of Lake Monroe and Swedish immigrants role in its success. Once the citrus crop froze in the late 1800s, Sanford became the “Celery Capital of the World.” I never knew that!

-Sanford Museum with celery columns  -Sandford’s famous downtown clock -St Johns Riverboat tours  on Lake Monroe a big hit since 1850! -Downtown is historic and modern -The best pancake breakfast and coffee Ed and I ever had! Colonial Room Diner-Having fun! Many homes had natural yards for butterflies and birds in the historic district. -Veterans Memorial Park, Lake Monroe It’s hard to share everything so I have just noted highlights. What a great experience the 2021 St Johns trawler excursion had been!  It was sad to leave but it was time to get back to the St Lucie. Our farewell was a  beautiful and crystalline day and Ed and I shall cherish  it forever. “Goodbye St Johns! Thank you for sharing! Thank you for educating! Thank you for un-plugging us from social media! Now please safely take us home.”

So on September 15, now tried and true, Ed and I left Sanford to head back up the St Johns and then down the Indian River  towards “Stuart on the St Lucie.”

-Heading out of Lake Monroe-A mirror of beauty, the St Johns… -Returning home…

Watch a video of the beautiful St Johns River 

Tales of the St Johns-Ortega to Palatka

-Suspension bridge, Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka.Today’s blog post continues the story of Ed my recent trawler excursion along the St Johns River. It was September 9 and we had been Adrift for eight days. Definitely starting to “mellow out,” the world as we knew it seemed a million miles away.

In order to reach Palatka, we’d departed Ortega at dawn. With the wind at our backs and overcast skies, Ed guided us past some of the most beautiful small towns and shorelines of the St Johns River: Mandarin, the home of Harriett Beecher Stowe; Hibernia, where Margaret Fleming taught her slaves to read; and Green Cove Springs, location of the famed “Fountain of Youth, and the “Mothball Fleet.”  So much history and Palatka would offer even more. St Mary’s Episcopal Church built in 1878, shoreline, Green Cove SpringsGetting from Ortega to Palatka took about five hours. As we nibbled on apples and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we looked down on a tannin colored, wide, curvy, and heavily treed St Johns. I had to wonder how much different it looked during the St Johns Riverboat era, long over a hundred years ago. The river’s path was taking a significant swing west. Dark clouds had formed and the ominous Seminole Power Generating Station gleamed like a dark sentinel as we slowly approached Palatka.“Is that Georgia-Pacific?” Ed pointed from the upper deck to what looked like billowing smokestacks.

“Yes, the area of the paper mill, and a coal-fired power station I think.” I yelled back from the bow.

“Isn’t Palatka the place you read there was once a giant lumber yard?

I shook my head up and down. “Wilson Cypress Company, established 1891-the second largest cypress mill in the world! I can’t imagine cutting down all those giant trees!”

-AdriftWith a few squalls but no major issues, we pulled into the Boathouse Marina, where Craig, the dock hand, greeted us with firm direction and a friendly demeanor.  As were tying up, I saw the remains of an old riverboat along the shoreline; a gator slipped into the water. “I’m gonna love this place.” I thought. And we did!

Before we went exploring, Ed wanted to take the dingy out and go across to East Palatka. It was windy and clouds were in the distance but I agreed. We made it across and explored but on the way home the engine sputtered and died.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Ed said.

I remained silent. Ed fooled with the battery. Watching the clouds rolling in from the west and checking my phone, I could see it read: “Lightening in Area.”

“There is lighting Ed. You better start rowing!” Ed looked sternly into my eyes. “That’s why I have the paddles!” he replied. I knew this was not the time for discussion. So like a modern Cleopatra I sat looking at my phone while Ed rowed across to Palatka proper. Luckily, Ed did a great job and we made it safely across. Ed immediately got a beer and went over to look at the old riverboat and see if I could find the alligator. Paltka is like a time-capsule of Florida history: railroads, riverboats, and wonderful historic homes. Our favorite excursion was Ravine Gardens State Park, one of nine 1930s New Deal state parks in Florida. The park is an ancient ecological wonderland with two ravines up to 120 feet deep featuring walking paths, gigantic trees, and wildlife. Its springs and waters trickle to the St Johns. It is part of the famed Bartram Trail of 1773-1777. It was a quite a hike and beautiful!  -Court of States, “Hi mom and dad!”I was born at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, 1964! -The Amphitheater  We also enjoyed the “The Hammock,” part of Palatka’s authentic Historic District. These homes were built during the city’s hay day of railroad crossings and Riverboats. Palatka is the City of Murals. All together there are twenty-three! On the way home from Ravine State Gardens we followed the on-line guide and visited almost all. A great way to share the past. Palatka has a great historic downtown right in the middle of the murals and the homes. They have not taken down their Confederate statues but the conversation is alive and well!Before I close on this chapter of Palatka, there is one more story I must tell. The public docks were within vision of the marina. For two days and nights Ed and I had seen crowds of locals throwing cast nets off the dock and this went on for hours. One night there was thunder and lightening and I awoke around midnight. I got up and looked outside. To my surprise the people were still throwing their cast nets! I woke up Ed.

What do you think they are catching?” I asked. “There must be something really incredible in those waters! What do you think? Catfish? Mullet? What could it be?” 

Ed kept snoring and when we awoke the next morning, the fisher people were still there. When we went to dinner that evening at a great Mexican restaurant, the fisher people were still there! On our walk home, I just couldn’t take it anymore.

“Let’s go visit the dock Ed!”We walked in the dim light onto the dock filled with people. Old folks, children, women, men. They were casting their nets into the water methodically, one throw at a time. Ed and I watched, walking along the far side of the dock, trying not to get in their way. We strained our eyes to see.

“Shrimp Ed! “They are catching shrimp!” They were not bring up many, maybe ten to twenty at a time. Each person had a five gallon bucket. Little kids would pick up the shrimp that got free and place them back into the bucket. I saw one they’d missed at the edge of the dock that certainly would have shriveled up.  I snuck it into my hand. I looked at the people working.

“May I take a picture?” I asked one of the sitting men.

“Sure,” he said. “Are the shrimp here all the time?” I inquired.

“No mam. They are here just once a year. This is the St Johns River shrimp run.” Ed and I smiled. We walked to the end of the pier. “I can’t believe it!” Ed said, “I never would have guessed!” I threw the shrimp that had been snapping in my hand as far off the dock as  possible. “Stay low.” I whispered, hearing the shrimp are caught as they ride a rising current.

“Incredible,” Ed said grabbing my hand.

So many things we didn’t yet know about the wonderful St Johns River. Next stop Astor.

Watch a video of the locals shrimping!

Shrimp Op-Ed 

 

Tales of the St Johns-Stuart to Ortega

So my blog has been quiet for a while. I have been away, but today I look forward to sharing with you Ed and my recent journey. On September 2, 2021, Ed and I began our trawler excursion number two.  Last year we christened “Adrift” by completing the Southern Loop. This year our goal was something a bit more unfamiliar, the St Johns River.

Always worried about leaving in the heart of hurricane season, we were pleased that the weather was nice leaving “Stuart on the St Lucie.” Inching around the southern tip of home, the peninsula of Sewall’s Point, we headed north on the Indian River Lagoon. Honing our skills, we anchored-out the first night in Wabasso, and again the second night in Titusville. The third night we docked at the Halifax Harbor Marina in Daytona; and the forth at St Augustine Municipal Marina.

St AugustineIt was St Augustine that awoke us from our South Florida slumber. Historic St Augustine lies at the intersection of what is named the Matanzas and Tolomoto Rivers and sits directly across from the St Augustine Inlet.

Docking at the marina went well, but our departure, not so much. In the pastel clouded morning, as wading birds and rock pigeons flew in every direction, Ed and I pulled away to continue on to Jacksonville. As we were slapping ourselves on the back for “an exit well done” the strong current pushed our craft aside sending us in the direction of two enormous yachts. We were headed for collision. Time froze, Ed and I could not believe our eyes. It happened so fast!

I followed orders grabbing a starboard line, but realized there was really nothing I could safely achieve. The force of the tide was overbearing. Ed’s instincts kicked in, he exercised full power, stern hitting a lone piling that swung wildly as we pulled away.

I heard a gentleman holding a cup of coffee yell to Ed: “Nice save!”

Ed and I looked at each other incredulously, both knowing it was more luck than skill that saved us. Miraculously, there was no damage other than our egos. From here on out, Ed and I paid great attention to the tides and currents of the region.We didn’t talk much that day, and the Tolomato River region revealed its most beautiful residents to sooth our spirts. At one point along the miles of bright green marshes, forty-two roseate spoonbills flew past! It was spectacular! Eventually we entered “the northern part of the ditch, better known as the Intracoastal Waterway and suddenly we we entering the mighty St Johns River.

Jacksonville

The Intracoastal and the St Johns intersect just west of the inlet at the Atlantic Ocean and Mayport, one of the largest naval stations in the United States and historic fishing village. As we veered west, Jacksonville came into view. It was impressive and intimidating. The river was wide and ships the length of skyscrapers filled the shorelines. I kept looking down, thinking I could “see” the tide. This river made the St Lucie look like a brook. In spite of the size of the river and the heavy industry, I kept noticing what appeared to be Monarch butterflies flying low across the water to the other side of the St Johns.“Unbelievable,” I thought. “How do they do that?”