I have always looked to Nature for inspiration and “regeneration.” A short walk in my yard, my neighborhood, or over the bridge almost always brings positive results.
Today, I wanted to share photos from a recent outing where I unexpectedly came upon a multitude of nine-armed starfish at Stuart Causeway, St Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon. I had not seen them for many years during the almost decade of discharges from area canals and especially Lake Okeechobee. To see these striking creatures once again is a very good sign for the recovery of our waterways! And how cool is it that when they lose an arm they can regenerate?
A powerful story indeed!
“The starfish is a resilient creature that constantly regenerates, intuitively navigates the sea, and directly impacts its ecological community. An ancient name for the Virgin Mary, the Star of the Sea symbolizes guidance, intuition, and vigilance.” ~Ancient saying
ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK, ST LUCIE INLET & SAILFISH POINT, MARTIN COUNTY 3-14/15-2020, photos Ed and Jacqui Lippisch
It is an amazing thing, what happens, when you give something time to heal. Life rises from the ashes, it returns. After some of the worst toxic discharge years -2013, 2016, 2018- the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon in Martin County is healing.
Let’s be clear. ~She is not flush, but she is healing.
Ed and my weekend aerials and boat excursion show absolutely beautiful water and God’s creatures on the rise! Seagrasses, once completely gone, are visible, but dormant from winter months, it still looks pretty barren. Hopefully, upcoming visits to the same area will reveal plush meadows by June or July.
These are awkward and difficult times, with Coronavirus restrictions quickly bearing down on us; so I wanted to share some “good news.”
We must not forget to focus on the gift of blue water and the miracle of resurgent life. Life that always returns if given the chance. ~It is all around us.
SEAGRASS EAST OF SAILFISH POINT & MANY BOATING FAMILIES ENJOYING THE SANDBAR AT CONFLUENCE ST. LUCIE RIVER AND INDIAN RIVER LAGOON
BABY QUEEN CONCH ARE RETUNING TO THE SANDBAR! SUCH BEAUTIFUL COLORS!
BIRD ISLAND, JUST OFF SEWALL’S POINT, SEE THE HUNDREDS OF WHITE SPECKS!
CROSSROADS AREA 2019-20 OFFERS BLUE WATER FLOWING IN FROM INLET RATHER THAN TOXIC BROWN OUTGOING FROM LAKE OKEECHOBEE WORSENED BY AREA CANALS
SOUTH- DOWN JUPITER NARROWS -PASSING ST LUCIE INLET STATE PARK & ARRIVING AT PECK’S LAKE ~A CONTINUATION OF THE INDIAN RIVER LAGOON. ~SLOW SPEED ZONES, MANY OSPREYS, JUMPING FISH, A FEW MANATEES &DOLPHINS. PEACE AND QUIET. ~SO NICE TO RETURN AT SUNSET KNOWING LIFE IS SLOWLY RETURNING TO THE ST LUCIE. LIFE RETURNS.
In the 1970s, my girl scout troop often spent the night in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. At the time, almost all of Martin County was undeveloped so it really didn’t hit me – the value in this very special place.
We girls collected dried flowers, seeds, and grasses to be bound with ribbons and given to our mothers; we lay our packs on bunk beds in musty cabins; we hiked through the pines; we sat around the campfire telling ghosts stories and speaking of bears until too scared to sleep; we sat in a rare silence, together, staring at the bright stars while eating marshmallows…
Last weekend, I went back to Jonathan Dickinson ~45 years later, this time with my husband Ed, and our dog, Luna.
Although I have aged, the place was even more beautiful! Almost immediately, I knew that even though I hadn’t walked it’s piney paths in such a long, long time, it had been an inspiration all my life. A seed growing within me.
Ed and I chose to walk the trail of Kitching Creek. My attention was captured by the beauty of the small flowers and I took as many pictures as I could. Slash pine trees abounded, like sentinels, second generation, the magnificent virgin forest cleared in the the 1920s. Woodpeckers flew from tree to tree looking for insects or maybe a place to set up house. Ed walked far ahead with Luna, stopping every time he came upon a number; I would catch up and read aloud from a pamphlet available at the trail head.
On our walk, I recognized some of the same grasses I used for my bouquet in 1974. But I knew this time I would not pluck them from the Earth, but take them to heart as inspiration in our fight for clean water, -the St Luice and Loxahatchee-, and the future of Florida.
~I then I realized that long ago, I already had.
Before drainage there were times the surrounding wetlands, the St Luice, and the Loxahatchee Rivers were wet enough that people could paddle between them. Today the Loxahatchee suffers from too little water and the St Lucie too much.
The mastic tree had been in my yard for many years before I noticed it. Cradled next to a giant strangler fig, the trees’ high branches are mixed together in a very high canopy. Over the years, I realized it was a special tree that I should know more about. Mastic trees are high hammock trees native to Florida, attracting much wildlife and growing slowly to great size. The mastic tree, the hammock tree, the forgotten tree, the tree mindlessly chopped down in my hometown of Sewall’s Point…
There used to be a large mastic at the entrance to High Point at River Road. It was cut a few years ago in favor of pentas and mulch. A few months ago, I discovered another one on an empty lot located at about Ridgeview and River Roads. Covered in a thorny vine, few would notice the huge trunk covered in different colored fungi, like a piece of God’s art. Ancient and otherworldly. A reminder of days long past before non-native plants, floratam grass, fertilizers, and pesticides would replace a tangled forest and contribute to the death of the St Lucie River.
Just recently, my mastic dropped gooey, orange berries and the wildlife ate them with relish. I have been trying to grow the seeds, now wrinkled and brown, in my quest to bring my yard closer to what it was prior to development and help the river and soil, but the squirrels and raccoons raided my pots! Proud to outsmart my four-legged friends, I “ingeniously” figured out how to protect the seeds in an old aquarium. But just today, I learned that mastic trees are male and female. Dropping the orange seeds, I believe I have a female.
I am afraid I might have one of the last mastic trees in Sewall’s Point. She needs a companion if there is to be the return of the majestic mastic. We are calling your name…
When I was a kid, my brother, sister and I lived on Edgewood Drive in Stuart. My parents were great about teaching us to appreciate, respect and love wildlife. Today, many of our actions would be frowned upon. We fed the animals, and at one time or another, had wild pets. It was wonderful!
This weekend unable to garden trapped inside by relentless rain, I started thinking to myself “what did the ecosystem of my childhood backyard really look like?” That was the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Could I find anything that looked like it today? Does my yard, today, resemble it at all?
So I took a drive to the old neighborhood.
St Lucie Estates looks a lot the same but our family house has been knocked down and replaced by one much larger. Also every lot is developed. When I was growing up, our house was surrounded by a number of empty lots and as kids we roamed freely. These undeveloped lots allowed my siblings and I to have native nature right in our “backyard.”
I racked my brain to think of where I might find a comparable lot to the ones in St Lucie Estates. I wanted to see what plants were on it. What trees. The color of the sand.
I drove east on East Ocean Boulevard.
Near Kingswood Condominium I found one lot that looked a lot like the ones I ran around in as a kid. Although drained and full of invasives, the space held a few recognizables: a sand pine, a stand of sand oaks, yucca, palmettos, prickly pear cactus, and other flowering plants and grasses whose names I never learned.
Seeing the Kingwood lot brought back a lot of memories and I thought about how this once familiar habitat is basically gone. This rare Florida Scrub has been covered with shopping malls and subdivisions most sporting heavily fertilized floratam along with a variety of ornamentals.
I wondered why developers just cleared the natives. I am realizing that my childhood home must have been a Florida Scrub environment. For goodness sake, one of our favorite wild friends was the very smart Scrub Jay! We never thought that our house may have destroyed their favorite bushes. We just smiled and lifted our arms strong and high -palms perfectly flat balancing one nut. Always, they came. So smart! So consistent!
Of course Scrub Jays are now a threatened species whose habitat is considered to be one of the most endangered in the world…
~The location of my childhood backyard.
After getting the photos from Kingwood, I decided to drive north to Jensen to visit Hawk’s Bluff off of Savannah Road. Here I could walk and remember the some of the sights of my childhood. This is one of the few places the Florida Scrub Ecosystem has been saved.
~The wind whistled through the trees. I felt timeless. The rain had brightened the usually muted colors. I sat on the bench. Lake Henderson’s grey and purple reflection resembled a Monet. It was beautiful!
I was alone in my childhood backyard…
I raised my arms above my head, hands upright bent -perfectly flat.
Would a Scrub Jay come to visit?
I held my arms up until I could no longer -putting them down- I got up to walk my adult path.
Visit #1 one of the last undeveloped lots near Kingswood Condominium, East Ocean Drive, Stuart, Florida, still reveals native scrub vegetation:
I have this dream that I am enjoying walking around in my garden, I look down, and there is a seventeen-foot python curled up under my house. Sounds ridiculous, but one day this may not be that far fetched.
This past week, the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) https://myfwc.com held their meeting at the Hutchinson Island Marriott, just over the Ernest Lyons Bridge from Sewall’s Point. One of the things they discussed was the overpopulation of Burmese Pythons that are ravaging native wildlife in Everglades National Park and other parts of South Florida.
I have been vaguely aware of this for years. My previous Sewall’s Point neighbor was a python enthusiast. Around 2012, he wrote TCPalm a letter to the editor in the python’s defense arguing that the Burmese Python did not bring itself to South Florida, people did! According to FWC pet pythons have been released since the 1960s but it was after Hurricane Andrew’s 1992 destruction that a breeding facility was destroyed, pythons escaped, the population exploded, and a breeding community arose.
I do believe “in all God’s Creatures,” but this is a nightmare-dynamic for Florida’s native wildlife. Public speakers noted Everglades National Park is “devoid of small mammals.” This is not an exaggeration, perhaps down 98%, and “small mammals” are not just what’s for dinner. Meals also include birds, eggs, bobcats, deer, alligators and who knows what else. Mr. Kipp Frohlich of FWC estimates a range from tens-of-thousands to over three-hundred-thousand snakes could be living in the Everglades. We really don’t know. One was even found in Florida Bay all curled up on a buoy. Oh yes, they can swim.
If I were a python and my friends and I had eaten everything down south, what would I do? I’d slither north…
Opossums, armadillos, and families of raccoons visit my yard a few times a week. ~For now…
Please see links to learn about what is being done to controll and educate ourselves on the python:
Division: Habitat and Species Conservation
Authors: Sarah Funck, Kristen Sommers, and Melissa Miller, Ph.D. Report date: July 2019
*Florida still allows breeders of Burmese Pythons in Florida, but they can only sell the animals outside of the state. All things considered, at the meeting, FWC Commissioner Gary Lester questioning the wisdom in this. I agree. Considering this is how pythons got out of control in the first place.
The Florida Channel videos of FWC meetings in Hutchinson Island; pythons: day 2:
With the mid-term election behind us, it’s time to get to work, and along the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River that means it’s time to get reconnected to Nature during the cool season before the Algae Monster arrives again.
Last week, as the keynote speaker for the Florida Springs Restoration Summit in Ocala, I had an amazing back to nature experience. On a Silver River Guided Paddle Adventure with Dr Robert Knight leading the way, five manatees swam underneath my kayak!
They looked so beautiful, so graceful, so confident, and so powerful!
I could see them perfectly through the clear water of Silver Springs. During the summit, I learned that only recently the spring’s water magnitude had increased to historic levels ~after aquifer recharge of a very rainy 2017, thanks to Hurricane Irma.
Florida springs suffer from lack of water because the Water Management Districts, at the direction of their leaders, over-permit water extraction for more agriculture and development. Also, nutrient pollution haunts the spring-shed due to nitrate leaching of old septic tanks. When flow is low and nitrate high, benthic algae grows on the once white sand bottom of the springs. Almost all Florida springs deal with this issue.
But on this recent day, the day of my tour, Silver Springs was glistening, and its bottom bursting with eel grass. The manatees munched at their leisure, mothers and calves reflecting a bluish hue underneath the clear, streaming water.
As the manatees swam under my little boat, I felt a joy unknown since childhood. “An ancient herd of elephants just swam under my kayak!” I thought, laughing out loud.
And in this moment of pure inspiration, I recalled an image from home of a starving manatee struggling to eat weeds and grasses along the Intercostal. Of course after years of harsh discharges from Lake Okeechobee and area canals, the sea grass forests are dead.
I brought my mind back to this present gift before me. And told the Silver manatees I would return home inspired to fight for all, and that were were indeed, one Florida water family.
A rather remarkable thing happened. There was an owl in my kitchen. Yes, an owl, a real owl.
I woke up, went outside to get the newspaper, and then I fed my fish. When I looked from the dining room into the kitchen, I saw the silhouette of a little owl patiently seated on the back of a chair in our sunroom open to the kitchen. Of course, I did a double-take! And then I thought to myself: “Is it that owl? Is Ed playing a trick on me….?”
Why a trick?
Just a few days ago, I had bought a fake, feathered owl at the Lamp Shop. I attached it to a fake palm tree in my sunroom. You know, the kind of thing with wire for feet, so you can twist it around the branches?
So, in the darkness of early morning, I wondered if Ed had put that thing on the back of the chair just to freak me out.
He had not. I looked again and again, and for certain, a living screech-owl was sitting in my sunroom, in my kitchen. Unbelievable!
I quietly snuck over and closed the surrounding pocket doors to that area. And then quickly went to find my husband, Ed.
From afar, I whispered sounding panicked: “Eddie! Eddie!”
Ed got up out of his chair, leaving the computer with the dogs gleefully trailing behind him.
“Put the dogs in the crates, now!” I said.
Ed looked at me, confused.
“In their crates! ” Again, I stated.
“O.K. he said.” Looking bewildered.
“Turning around, Ed took Luna, an 80 pound, black, German Shepard, and Bo, an old and now crippled Corgi, to the other side of the house…
“What’s up with you?” He inquired, irritated. Not even a “good morning” ?”
“Ed, there’s an owl in our kitchen.”
“What?” He inquired.
“Do you mean that owl you bought at the store?” Ed snickered.
“No. A real owl. I think it was attracted to the other owl.”
“What are you talking about?….” He said…
I slowly slid open one of the pocket doors. Sure enough, the beautiful little owl sat there with its head turned towards the fake owl.
Ed let out an explicative and shut the door.
“The owl must have seen the other owl from outside.” I whispered.
” How did it get in?” Ed quietly asked.
“I don’t know, from you? When you let the dogs out? I don’t know, but we have an owl in our kitchen!”
Ed and I looked incredulously at one another, then smiled.
Gently opening the door, we slowly snuck over, as quiet as could be. Ed started removing the screen from behind the joulosy windows. The owl lifted off the chair and flew about the kitchen landing by the fake owl, but the plastic branch sunk under its weight so it flew off and around the kitchen in high circles without a whisper. Ed and I were transfixed, fascinated. When it landed, we took pictures.
Ed finally got the screen off and cranked the window. It popped open, braking the silence of the morning. Wind blew inside the room.
The owl looked back to its friend, and then, without a sound, flew through the window, and was gone.
I am back from the “River of No Return,” and before I return to writing about the toxic algae crisis, I’d like to share my experience…
Camping? Are you kidding me?! I had not been camping since my parents took the family to Boy Scout Island to see the full moon over the Indian River Lagoon ca. 1978. Five nights, six days camping and rafting in Idaho with friends, the Wigleys, was great fun, but I am certainly aware that I am in no condition to survive in the wilderness!
Let’s remind ourselves – Where’s Idaho? Far out west, just east of Washington and Oregon, and just west of Montana and Colorado. Although a different world, dealing with fires not hurricanes, we do have a connection. We both have federally protected scenic rivers.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, A.K.A. the “River of No Return,” was one of the first eight rivers to be protected under the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968: (https://rivers.gov). In Florida, we have two designated Scenic Rivers: Indian River Lagoon neighbor, the Loxahatchee River, and the north central Florida’s Wekiva River: (https://www.rivers.gov/florida.php). Only a handful of U.S. rivers hold this special, protected status.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon with clean, clear water, challenging rapids, and spectacular mountain and desert scenery flows free for 104 miles. Nonetheless, due to dams along the connected Snake River, the salmon, for which the river is named, are far and few between compared to the pre-gold rush times when the native Shoshone “Sheepeater” people could “walk across” this river of salmon.
There is much talk in Idaho about removing dams, and of course a huge conflict with stakeholder farming entities. Sound familiar? Whether is the Florida Everglades’ River of Grass diversion to the St Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers, or Hells Canyon Dam in Idaho, people are looking for ways to undo some of what has been done to kill the rivers of the United States. Water is meant to flow, and when it does not, eventually sickness sets in, not only for wildlife and fauna, but for people too. It was Stuart’s famed environmentalist and Stuart News editor, Ernie Lyons, who said it best: “What people do, they can undo…” and this I believe is our journey, everywhere.
Since pictures speak louder than words, I will stop here, and say that even though the river was beautiful, and I was super excited to sees two bears, mountain sheep, eagles, and a plethora of other awesome animals – the most memorable experience I have no photo of, ~just a memory~ of endless stars in a black velvet sky with the Milky Way so thick and bright I felt like I could touch it, that I was it…
Remembering that we all are but a flicker in the grand scale of time, and most certainly, part of something much greater than ourselves.
If you feel anything like me, you’re not just tired, but sick of heart from looking at dead animals. The atrocities of our estuaries this year, especially for the Caloosahatchee, are Armageddon like in nature.
It is natural to be saddened, but we must stay strong and find inspiration. When we look around, even on the bloody environmental battlefield, it is there.
Today, I share the beautiful photos of local St Lucie River photographer Stephen Duffy, his Anhinga series shows this symbolic bird in all its glory. These special, yet common birds have no oil on their feathers, so they can both swim underwater and fly above the Earth. Thus the Native People held them sacred. ~The bird that can fly and swim. The bird that can do “anything.” The bird that breaks the wall of water and sky.
When you see the anhinga remember: fly, swim, break through walls, and most important, believe.
When the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon start to deteriorate due to discharges, things start going downhill fast. And when my husband Ed and I start taking and sharing aerial photos, my world becomes a bit chaotic.
Sometimes there are days of hundreds of photos to look through, and knowing the importance of getting them out immediately, choices have to be made. Facebook is a better medium than my blog for real-time info as it takes less time, but my blog is better for historic documentation as it is “permanent.”
So today I am sharing more of Ed’s photos from 6-5-18, and some you may have already seen. Mind you, after heavy rains, stormwater has been pouring in from many canals but, always, like clockwork, after the ACOE starts discharging from Lake Okeechobee, the river looks not just cloudy-coffee brown, but contaminated.
The ACOE started discharging from Lake Okeechobee on 6-1-18, and as most of you know, now, there are not only algae blooms spotted in the lake, as Ed accidentally found on 6-2-18, and others also documented, but also in the St Lucie River. More than likely, there will be more and more algae bloom popping up as the Lake O water makes its way down the estuary, over the tip of Sewall’s Point, towards the St Lucie Inlet. Algae floating down the river is disgusting enough, but toxicity is the real question…
Ed and I will take and share more aerials in the future, to document the algae blooms should they explode, but until then, here are some photographs from 6-5-18 that I had not yet archived on my blog. Sadly enough, although there is no algae in these pictures, I cannot say they will make you feel any better.
Never take the pressure off politicians to build the EAA Reservoir and get it to where it needs to be to clean and filter this water to send south as Nature intended. Government knowingly contaminating its citizens is not an option. Health, Safety and Welfare is a responsibility.
Photos taken 6-5-18 showing SLR/ILR near Sewall’s Point; Jupiter Narrows; Atlantic Ocean/beach over nearshore reefs along Jupiter Island just south of St Lucie Inlet; out in ocean near Peck’s Lake; Sailfish Point/Sailfish Flats area; and Bird Island, a Critical Wildlife Area, for many threatened and endangered birds.