Saturday, January 31, 2015

Biking Everglades National Park - Shark Valley Loop Trail

This is a re-post from a few years back.  I usually come to Florida in March, but came earlier this year and discovered fewer birds and gators present, so here are some photos from that previous visit.


This morning I biked the 15 mile loop in Everglades National Park for the fifth time.  As I discovered the last time I biked the loop, abundant alligators were the highlight of the bike ride.  This guy was just feet from the trail...

...and this one was napping on the trail and only begrudgingly moved...

On the back loop, I enjoyed seeing this "triple-decker" of baby gators (click to enlarge).  I  cautiously kept my eyes on mama gator who was watching us from the other side of the trail.

Two cormorants entertained us with their diving for food and reappearing minutes later...

...while this male anhinga was drying its wings after emerging from the depths...

This white ibis with its distinctive curved beak was enjoying the sun from its perch high atop a tree...

Again, my favorites were the colorful purple gallinules cavorting on water lilies with their oversized yellow feet plopping on the lily pads...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is one of Florida's four purchased parks -- previously each was a privately owned tourist attraction.  The most well known of the four are Silver Springs and Weeki Watchee.  Rainbow Springs is the fourth one. Homosassa Springs was the home to Native Americans long before others came, and tourism dates back to the 1880s.  It is located on Florida's Nature Coast. at 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, Florida, 34448 ( (352) 628-5343).  The Homosassa Spring is a magnitude one spring which produces millions of gallons of crystal-clear water each HOUR, and serves as headwaters for the Homosassa River.

They offer three Manatee programs daily at 11:30, 1:30, and 3:30, 2 Wildlife Encounter programs daily at 10:30 and 2:30, and an alligator/hippo program at 12:30.  All programs come with the $13 entrance fee.

It is basically a zoo that you walk through -- they call it a Wildlife Park Walk -- on a 1.1 mile loop mostly on a raised boardwalk with the animals in enclosures. Here are a few of the animals in their extensive collection, many of which are rescued animals...

A matched pair of barn owls

A matched pair of barred owls

A pair of bobcats which were constantly in motion as I watched them.  (I wish my cat would learn to do something besides sleep!)

A separate building housed the reptiles.  Here are a few examples...

A venomous canebrake rattler

Venomous copperhead

Venomous Eastern coral snake

The flamingos were out in force.  Here are a few of them...

The Florida black bear was asleep, with front paws outstretched. Six orphaned bear cubs were were  raised and then successfully released into the wild last November.

The Nile hippopotamus named Lucifer, who has appeared in many movies over the past 40 years. He is now 54 years old!

One of the many manatees. The cold weather and cold water has these docile and endangered "sea cows" seeking warm water, so they head for Homosassa Spring.  The park has a unique floating underwater observatory giving an unequaled view of fish and manatees. The park is a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned West Indian manatees.

The endangered red wolf will be joined by a female.  The park participates in the Red Wolf Species Survival project which wants to re-introduce the species into the wild.

They have a large number of colorful roseate spoonbills.

Matched pair of royal terns

Certainly not an endangered species, this little guy was so cute, perched atop a garbage can and munching away...

The whooping crane is the largest American bird at nearly 5 feet with a 7.5 foot wingspan

The colorful wood duck...

A field of wood storks

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Tenth Anniversary of My Near-Death Experience

Today is the 10th anniversary of my near death experience.  Here's a reprint of a blog post from five years ago when I finally felt brave enough to put the experience into writing:

Every day is a bonus day for me since January of 2005, the day I committed one of the most egregious judgment errors of my life, one which nearly ended my life. I was visiting and photographing the site of my new townhome under construction, something I had also done throughout the construction of my first two homes. It was just after work hours and I was taking photos of the first floor studding, ever so careful realizing full well that I was trespassing and that I was alone, but curious as to progress of my retirement home and desirous of documenting the construction with photos -- photos which in my prior homes I often referred to when hanging shelves, tracing electric and plumbing runs, etc.

The air was nippy in the upper 20s and snow adorned the ground. Dusk would soon fall. Realizing full well that I was alone, I was being very cautious, for work sites have boards and nails and the like strewn about, a veritable obstacle course fraught with danger. I had walked the wood decking the day before, and today I was checking the craftsmanship of the studding and window openings erected that day.

After taking a few photos, I headed back to my car, but then returned to see if the sump pump hole in the basement was in the proper location. In the model home, the plumbers had put it on the wrong side of the basement. I had pointed out the error to the construction superintendent, Jon, and he had assured me it would be placed correctly in my unit, an important issue since I wanted the sump pump to be in the workshop, not the family room, when I finished the basement. So I cautiously ventured to the edge of the flooring near the cinder block common wall (on the left in photo above) where I could extend the camera through an opening in the floor to take basement photos.

And that’s all I can recall for over 24 hours.

My sons, Scott and Steve, went to the accident site the next day at the behest of the police to retrieve my blood-spattered vehicle. They talked to the responding officer, retrieved my camera, and talked to the construction boss. Scott, a licensed architect, snuck into the basement and took photos of it and the first floor in an attempt to reconstruct what had occurred. We also secured the police report to assist in determining the sequence of events. Using my photos and those taken by Scott, along with the police report, we later reconstructed the missing hours for my memory.

There were no stairs into the basement yet because the concrete basement floor had not been poured due to several inches of ice accumulation. On the first floor, the plywood covering the stairway opening was only loosely-placed plywood, not the secure solid wood I'd walked on the day before. No guard rails blocked access to the loose plywood. Three 2x4s were standing diagonally on the loose plywood floor and leaning against the cinder block common wall, giving the appearance of a secure floor. A comparison with Scott’s photos from the next day showed the loose plywood and the 2x4s down in the basement (photo below), so I obviously stepped onto the loose plywood thinking it was secure and went down with them, nine feet to the ice floor. My cap and blood are also evident below...

The photo below, taken by my son the day after my fall, clearly shows that the builder had belatedly installed OSHA-mandated guard rails around the three sides of the basement opening and had even spray painted these guard rails orange to make them more visible (they are missing in the photo 2 photos above.). “No trespassing” signs had also been posted outside the garage. In the photo below, you can see the opening on the far right where the loose plywood flooring took me downstairs.

The photo below was also taken by my son and shows the 2 pieces of the plywood flooring that took me down when they fell, as well as the 2x4s that had been leaning vertically on the plywood.

I was probably briefly unconscious from the fall. My head was profusely bleeding from a foot-long cut from the metal straps in the concrete wall. I somehow managed to crawl to the back window, climbed out, made my way alongside the building back to my car, turned it around, and drove two blocks to the corner, and could go no farther. A grandmother awaiting the school bus bringing her grandson home saw me bleeding and flagged another driver who had a cell phone. He called 911, the paramedics declared me a “Trauma 1” case, summoned the Flight-for-Life helicopter, and I was flown to Lutheran General Hospital where nearly three dozen stitches were administered...

...and a CT scan taken. The determination was made that I had cracked three vertebrae (C1, C2, and C5) and they planned surgery the next day to remove bone chips, but an MRI the next day revealed surgery was unnecessary, though I had to wear a neck brace constantly for three months.

For months, I had numbness along the head laceration due to severed nerves. Apparently I landed on my right side since my right elbow, hand, and shoulder were painful to move and my neck had some loss of mobility. Ten years later now, I still have no memory of the fall, of my self-rescue from the basement, or of driving my vehicle for help. I have no memory of talking to the police, of the paramedics arrival, or of my Flight-for-Life helicopter ride to the emergency room. I have only snatches of memory of being in the ER and snippets of the first day in Surgery Intensive Care Unit. But other than some reduction in neck range-of-motion, all has healed.

I have a disdain for the way Americans so readily file lawsuits, even when they are at fault for their own injuries. Examples of this abound in the news and such lack of personal responsibility is abhorrent to me. I realize I should not have been at the site unescorted and that it is a poor excuse to claim that “everyone does it” -- though the majority of new homeowners do make unauthorized visits to their future homes. So despite my lawyer and others encouraging me to sue the builder because he hadn’t abided by OSHA safety rules, I refused to sue. Quite simply -- if I hadn’t been trespassing, I wouldn’t have fallen.

Two months after moving in, I began finishing the basement into several rooms, using that immense project as “therapy” for my body and my mind. I did all the carpentry, electric wiring, wall-boarding, painting, and trim work myself -- albeit slowly and for short stretches of time. I was still wearing the neck brace those first few weeks of construction and needed naps after only a few hours of labor. As the summer progressed, the brace was unnecessary and I took fewer and fewer naps and worked longer hours in the basement and by October the project was done. Here's part of the finished basement...

That Fall, my rehabbing of the basement had likewise rehabbed myself, and I felt strong enough to embark on a five week trip to New England where I participated in a volunteer trail project and two Elderhostel programs -- one biking and one biking, hiking, and kayaking. That was when I truly knew I was fully healed.

But I feel eminently blessed. I am alive and fully mobile. Realizations of what “might have been” rush through my mind often and I cherish what God had done for me in sparing my life and mobility. To this day, my bedtime prayers still begin with, “Thank you, God, for another bonus day of life!” for that is how I feel. Every new day is an extra day granted to me, so I endeavor to make the most of each. My good pal Greg, a guide in Florida, always introduces me to new folks with these words: “Here’s Chuck, who does more in one year than most people do in their lifetime!” May it be so for years to come!

This lifestory is truly a LIFE story, and for the record, I now use the stairs when I descend into the basement!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Volunteer Trail Work: Try It -- You'll Like It!

Our country has a wealth of hiking trails available at no cost to hikers.  Unfortunately, for decades our national land management agencies have not had the funding to properly maintain the tens of thousands of miles of existing trails, nor sufficient money to construct new trails.  So as a trail user for over 5 decades, I have volunteered on 29 trail crews over the last 19 years, and will soon be leaving for my 30th project.  Most of the projects have been through the auspices of the American Hiking Society's Volunteer Vacation program.

I just received the AHS newsletter and they included some astounding statistics achieved by the 2014 volunteers:

THANK YOU to all American Hiking Society's members, donors, and volunteers who helped make 2014 a year of "giving back" instead of "giving up." AHS sent 449 volunteers on 57 trips to maintain 289 miles of trails throughout 23 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands for an estimated value of $404,998 in volunteer time.

These volunteer projects usually last a week.  You arrive on Sunday afternoon, work four of the five week days with one day off to hike the area's trails or sightsee or relax, and leave Saturday morning.  If you'd like to see what a typical week is like, here's a brief 4 minute video I made for AHS a couple years ago.

These projects reward the participants personally, too.  You get to spend a week in a magnificent locale, be part of a team effort to allow others to explore and savor a magnificent part of the world, interact with fine people from all over the country who enjoy the outdoors as much as you do, swap stories with these same people as you work on the trail or sit around the evening campfire, and feel pride in "giving back" to the hiking community.

So check out the available projects for 2015 and see if any fit into your schedule.  You can also look for similar (though perhaps more expensive projects) at The Sierra Club, Wilderness Volunteers, or Appalachian Mountain Club


There was also some good news politically:

 Despite the Administration's and the Senate's proposed funding levels of $350 million, the final numbers on the Land and Water Conservation Fund came in lower than we had hoped but at least held at the same level as the previous budget year: $306 million. Of the total amount appropriated, $28 million will go to projects that will benefit 12 National Scenic and Historic Trails. Please remember though - not one of your tax dollars supports this program, but rather it receives its funds from off-shore energy exploration fees and royalties.