FareWell Florida

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Evening came with its cool breeze, inviting deer, turkeys and all of these. Taught by generations past to speak with them at a young age, natures own beauty set a perfect stage. We grew hearing the singing quail, always trying to follow them through their palmetto trail. Foxes met us nightly when the moon would rise, inviting the glow of lightning bugs like forest eyes. When summer nights turned long the whippoorwills would cry their songs. Warm days were made for the creek, following tiny sharks and any they might seek. Not long enough my childhood would last, before I would wish for a time long past.

Soon enough the nearby forest came down with a clatter, With the land so went it’s voice. no more did the bobwhite sing his song or the Osceola strut and chatter. Where once black bear and panther proudly gathered, machines and men now devoured. In an effort to grow we’ve lost more than we can ever know. Confining ourselves making our world smaller, there’s a few who will have to stand taller. Speak for those who have been put in silence save what’s left restore a balance.

Once too late when coast reaches coast, we will have lost what meant the most. In the name of progress they take our history, soon the richness that made a place so enchanting will be something left for a mystery. The land and it’s foundation forgotten for the sake of one generations wallet.  Depleted and drained for a rich man’s selfish gain, not one prairie will be left to remain. Oceans pure teaming with life now so rarely seen, all depend on a dollars seductive gleam.  Day by day land & memory grow dimmer, our chances of restoring falling ever slimmer. Remember the people who lived with and on the land with little demand. The deer who fed in the quiet of endless prairies.

Snail kites soared above a moving river of grass, When the waters flowed in sheets of clear blue glass. Soon the memories will fall in silence, covered in a concrete world of ever growing violence. Conservation came at too high a price, instead we built more places for man to roll his dice.

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The Hunt

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Ahh…The sweet smell of OFF Deep Woods permeates the hot humid air as a legion of wistful mosquitoes thunder around our ears. A star filled sky and rise of a crescent moon sends off the last eerie cries of the wading birds. Lightning bounces off a distant horizon. Our headlights are strapped on and gear in place. There is a mix of nerves and anticipation as we step onto the dark boat. The combination of things can mean only one thing, It’s Gator hunting season in South Florida.g7 g6

Alligator hunting has become something of a tradition for me and members of my family. A way to send off the summer and it’s games. It was inevitable for me to love it, it runs in my blood. Through a few unlikely events I even met my husband gator hunting.  My family came to Florida in the 1820’s. For nearly two hundred years we have put our blood sweat and tears into the land, passing on traditions and stories. I hope we can continue our way of life for another two hundred. My ancestors started a trading post called Browns Boat Landing and worked frequently with the native Indians. Among many things they were guides, plume hunters cattlemen and of course gator hunters. They however had a very different way of doing it than we do today. They would wade into the shorelines of a lake sifting through the muck until they found what they felt was the body of an alligator. They would then lift it to the surface by its head and dispatch it with a pistol. I have been told I have a lot of nerve or courage hunting alligators at all, but I would consider my way of hunting the cowards way in comparison.g1g I’ve heard a story that on one such hunting trip there were several Indians hunting as well but struggling to fill their quota. So as the story goes my relatives decided to work with them and by the end of the day they had so many gators they were able to split them evenly between each group. The largest catch they ever had was over 13ft long. They found its trail through the saw grass and tracked it until they found the dinosaur. They kept hides rolled in salt barrels until someone came to inspect and buy them before taking them up North.g19

Today gator hunting has changed just a little. Now you have to apply to a 3 phase lottery process to obtain an alligator hunting permit containing 2 tags allowing you one gator per tag. You must specify locations you would like to hunt and if you are lucky enough to draw tags your location will be picked from your selection.  Several years back my sister and I decided we’d like to try our hand at it and haven’t stopped since.g11

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g20Lake Okeechobee seems to draw us back every year. Because of that  we’ve had the opportunity to learn the nuances of the lake, our favorite spots and what seems to work and what doesn’t. We usually set out in our boat around sunset. Armed with fishing rods, spot lights, about a gallon of bug spray and the unforgettable bucket of rotting bait. I like to think of gators as the buzzards of the water and the smellier the bait the better. We hunt in 2 ways, we either attempt to “snatch hook” casting a treble hook over the gator and hoping to get a snag or by using bait. The bait is a combination of things that have sat in a bucket for several days.  It is very unpleasant but apparently ambrosia for the large reptiles.

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Lake Okeechobee is a big dark sky and one of the best places I’ve found to see the milky way.  The stars are almost as numerous as the insects. Pea sized meteors burn from red to green across the sky into oblivion. Bats swoop in and out of the glow of our head lamps, some uncomfortably close. The elusive Florida mud snake twists itself up and around our snare, taking a break from its long swim. There are things to be appreciated among the masses of mosquitoes. As the sun sets snail kites drag their talons across the water snatching a final apple snail or two. Dragonflies buzz back and forth finding a reed to roost upon for the night.  Lightning bugs bounce across the water creating a mirror image of themselves against the surface.g16The lake is not an all together quiet place, it is its very own swamp civilization. Birds cry out causing the saw grass to sound like a sort of jungle. Frogs frequently call to each other with their tiny roars. We make our way through the water slowly swinging our spotlight from left to right in hopes of catching red eyes reflecting back at us. Once we find several in an area we begin to attempt the snatch hook approach. This is quicker and less tedious than baiting. You know you are hooked up when an explosion of water breaks the surface.  The fight can last minutes or hours depending on the size of the gator. The 2015 season was kind to us and provided us with gators nearly ten feet in length. The larger of the two digging into the mucky lake bottom and not resurfacing for nearly two hours. Nothing gets your adrenaline going quite like seeing a nearly 10 foot gator surge up next to your boat, mouth wide open displaying an impressive array of teeth.

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At this point every person in the boat plays an important part. We all have our places and work as efficiently as we can. When its time to bring the alligator into the boat it can take everyone lifting in unison just to get it over the side. Once back to our camp we have a couple of hours of cleaning the animal ahead of us, sometimes this can last until nearly sunrise.g4

             I firmly believe in respectful hunting and assuring the animal suffers as little as possible. I am grateful for the life and do not take it lightly.  My family and I use as much of the animal as possible. From the meat to hide and even the skulls.  I do not agree with trophy hunting and I am thankful for everything the animal provides. They are strong, formidable predators and I have a great respect for them and the role they play in the environment.

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                Gator hunting is part of my family’s history and something I hope we can carry on. It is time I get to spend with family and friends enjoying nature and the animals within it. I would rather hear the sounds of nature than the noise of man any day.

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Blue Horizons

keys' (48)Under a glittering star filled sky lies miles of silent ocean. Rising and falling to the will of the wind and moon. Florida is encompassed by moving water. Underneath of which exists a vast untamed society, much of we are still learning about. The sea can be rough and unforgiving or serene and intoxicating. If you are a Diver you know there is nothing quite like rolling beneath turbulent waves and breathing deeply into the calm depths of the sea. I have found comfort on the ocean floor and watched as rain battered the surface. Water inexplicably affects us all in some form or another, Whether for life or love it is something we cannot live without. For me it is both. One of the best places to experience these waters is undoubtedly the Florida Keys.key From deep dark blues to bright turquoise the waters are teeming with life. Growing up in Florida, much of my life has been spent on or in the water. The Keys and their unique chain of islands are home to a huge variety of wildlife some solely indigenous to those Islands. One of those species is the “Key Deer”. This tiny dog like deer is an endangered subspecies of the white tailed deer and found only in the Florida keys. They range from 40-75lbs and feed on a variety of vegetation. Velvet bucks and spotted fawns can be seen grazing along the roadside.

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tttttThe mighty Tarpon or “Silver King” is a common occurrence along docksides and even an attraction if you have the nerve to hand feed one. Thousands of visitors flock to the Islands in a chance to catch a Spiny lobster. Which some have claimed are as frequent as cockroaches.tp The waters are covered in an array of colors. Corals, ornamental fish, sport fish, crustaceans, mollusks & invertebrates all decorate the depths. Jellyfish bob  through the current and make a protective house for small fish and fry. It is an aquatic lovers playground.

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After a short boat ride you can find yourself in 600+’ of water and fishing for species like Billfish, Dorado, Tuna and more. t p

Miles of weed line comprised of a macro algae called “Sargassum Grass” drifts across the water’s surface. This grass is an ecosystem all its own and houses many species within its foliage. It also acts as a refuge for many ocean going fish and makes for excellent fishing. 7It is incredibly satisfying to troll your bait against the edge of a weed line waiting to hear the scream of drag and knowing you’re in for a fight. The predators know this as well and there is no shortage of sharks in every variety.

l One of the most humbling moments is when the sun sinks beneath the horizon and darkness settles in. The stars are innumerable and light up the sky. Lightning can be seen slowly rolling across the ocean’s surface. Florida’s waters are the lifeblood of the state and with      proper foresight and                    conservation will be for                                                         generations to come.

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Abundant Tides

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Florida is a unique state in that it is bordered  by the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ocean. This makes it an epicenter  for a variety of migrating and residential wildlife and people. Freshwater tributaries and creeks flow into the larger saltwater bays and sounds creating perfect brackish nurseries for an assortment of wildlife. This is where many ocean going marine life get their start.s10Species such as sharks, dolphins, grouper and many other large sea dwellers call these places home. Dozens of types of birds depend on this array of spawning for their own chicks survival, feeding upon young fry and crustaceans. Many mollusks and bi valve species such as oysters, scallops conchs and others can be found nestled in the bays sediment helping filter and cleanse the water.s2

There is an incomprehensible number of species thriving and depending on the continuation of this cycle. These ecosystems empty out into our vast oceans and contribute significantly to the s8health and quality of the sea. While many different species take advantage of what the coasts have to offer, one that has possibly exploited it the most is man.  Much of our economy is stimulated by not only the beauty of the shoreline but what it offers. Many  commercial operations depend on the sustainability of the Florida waters. Fisherman, crabbers and shrimpers dot the coastline with their vessels and have for generations.

s5One man in particular by the name of Gustav  Bahruth knows all too well about the latter. Gus is a tough, kind hearted man with a memory like a steel trap. He can splice a line faster than you can pronounce Gustav Bahruth. I should know, he taught me. I’ve been fortunate enough to know Gus for the better part of a decade and he has found a special place in my family. Gus was born in Amityville, Long Island NY in 1936. He and his family were some of the few that actually did well for themselves during the hard years of the depression. They were able to feed themselves with what ocean had to offer and trade with neighbors for things they lacked. They enjoyed clam chowder six days a week.

s9            Over the next decade Gus met his wife Joan while in high school which he said was “good right from the go”. He went on to study engines in college and was offered a good job but nowhere near the coastline. The job lasted 3 months until he took up an opportunity in southwest Florida with his brother and cousin. During the 1950’s shrimping in Florida was just making its start and Gus and his family found themselves as pioneers of sorts. Through a series of unfortunate, and fortunate events they were able to make a thriving business for themselves.

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They would travel the Gulf waters for days at a time following the cycle of the moon, hauling in their nets with hundreds of pounds of shrimp that would fill his boat 3 feet high. Gus described an upwelling of thousands of shrimp that would ride the gulf stream in a cloud and in one synchronized fall, descend to the ocean floor. The goal was to catch the cloud. They traveled as far as to the Yucatan, Nicaragua and Honduras in search of the tiny crustacean. During his career he has endured storms, endless hours traveling the night, boat fires and even seen boats lost to the sea. Shrimpers can come with a bad reputation but for Gus he didn’t see himself as a fisherman but a businessman. He has owned many vessels in his day and seen the coast of Florida change like not many could. He gazes at the water with a sort of a reverie. Recalling memories only he can see.s6

Overall he describes his career as “blessed”.   For many the ocean can be a sirens call. Even now at his “young” age he can’t help but answer. No matter how hard he tries to stay away from it or mature into a more suitable living situation, you can always find Gus in the process of renovating a new sail boat, or driving across the state to sail a vessel down the coastline or maybe looking to snag the next good opportunity. For him it is away to “escape the rat race of life” he is free when on the water.s17s4

The only thing that outweighs his love of the sea is the love for his family. Gus was blessed with a long life with his now late wife Joan, and many sons and daughters. Their love shows in the people they have touched around them.  Fortunately for us, Gus has written down his life’s experiences and journeys on the sea. What started as memoirs has now been turned into a book. I would highly recommend anyone interested in FL history or an exciting life’s journey to read his book.  The book is appropriately titled “I never met a boat I didn’t love” by Gustav Bahruth. You can find it on Amazon.com or shops along Florida’s coast. For a list of shops feel free to contact me.

One lasting thought I was left with after speaking with Gus was a bit of advice. “When something good comes your way enjoy it and make the most of it, Nothing lasts forever”.s3

The Everglades

cloudsThere is no place on this earth quite like the Everglades. It is one of the most bio-diverse and environmentally rich places on the planet.  Expanding over 1.5 million acres of wetlands . Stretching from central Florida all the way to the South Florida bay. It is home to over 350 species of birds, more than 40 species of mammals, 50 types of reptiles and innumerable insects.

wp The survival of the Everglades is also imperative to life as we know it in Florida. There are many ways to classify the Everglades but to me, it’s just part of home.  My Family has been here since the 1820’s and are fortunate enough to be one of the few to own land in the Everglades. Grandfathered in since the 70’s, we maintain our ownership and pride of our piece of FL wilderness.

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As soon as you step into the everglades you know you are in a place like nowhere else. The warm crisp air fills your lungs with a scent that is all together Everglades. Cool mud, orchids, wild flowers, huckle berries and many other thriving flora and fauna envelop you in a glorious symphony of wild.

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Expansive prairies meet against cypress heads. These deep water ponds harbor life giving water through some of the driest months of the year. Here you can find the apple snail that lays her pink eggs across neighboring reeds and cypress knees.

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A variety of native orchids, air plants and other vegetation live amongst the trees. It is home to the mighty Alligator, who wallows out his cave deep into the roots of cypress trees. Here is where the Limpkin sings her mournful song and feeds upon the apple snails. Deer, raccoons, panthers, turkeys and others seek the cypress as an oasis from the unforgiving heat and sun.

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It is an awe inspiring feeling to walk into the heart of a swamp. The Cypress trees tower above you creating the feeling of an amphitheater. The swamps are cooler than the surrounding prairies and shaded with thick vegetation. Rays of sunlight stream in through branches and layers of trees. Cold clear water grows deeper the further you venture into the swamp. The only thing to break you from your reverie is the call of a wading bird or booming roar of an Alligator. gator

Even these places aren’t immune to the dry months. During the driest months swamps can turn into dry bogs,  lush ground cover stretches across the soil where bees flit from flower to flower. Crawdads and Alligators take heed and burrow ever deeper into the cool soil.

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Cypress Heads give way to Pine and saw palmetto rock islands. These highlands are where turkey and quail hide their coveys and search out berries, insects and vegetation. They find sandy ground and bathe themselves in the dust of the earth. Ravens fly from tree to tree looking for an opportunistic snack. Swooping at predators such as bobcats and foxes in attempts to discourage them from their territories.  Bears amble about during the cooler hours of the day in search of a bee tree or maybe even a young cabbage tree to tear into the soft heart.

swamp ss    Once the sun sinks deep into the West, the Everglades gives life to a completely new society  than the one that inhabited the day. I’ve heard the eerie scream of a panther while sitting around a midnight fire and been blessed to sleep under the blanket of stars that abound the night sky. I’ve awoken to a choir of hoot owls lifting their voices high into the night. Their calls amplified by the acoustics of our pine island.

I’ve been handed down stories and lessons from my father and grandfather. They have seen the woods unchanged for the generations before me. They are what many would call true Gladesmen. We lost a great Gladesman the summer of 2014. My grandfather. We do not however lose the lessons and life he shared with us.  I doubt there is a place even in the deepest swamps that my grandfather didn’t know. He taught  me how to speak the language of animals. From land, sea and sky. How to look just right down the barrel of a gun and line the beads up. How to soothe a whole swarm of bees into a box. Explore a swamp & listen to the song of a limpkin. To walk the earth and make stories to tell my grandchildren.  How to disappear into the woods to find myself. To look to the north star & find the light on a dark night. To find my way home. To make family the most important part of  life.  To call to the deer, hooters, gators, quail & turkey. He has handed down a hunger for life to those of us still here. To leave a legacy just as he did.

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