Month: May 2017

I’ve been “for the birds” most of my life…


The Pileated Woodpecker inspired one of my favorite childhood cartoon characters, Woody Woodpecker. Not only could I see examples of those majestic birds daily in the woods along the ranch’s creek as I walked to and from the bus stop on State Road 62, but I also often saw one or more of the other common woodpecker species flitting about in the shadows of the oaks and pines:  the Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Pileated, Red-Headed, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.




From “Cranes,” the 23rd chapter of Growing Up Floridian:


My interest in “birding” or birdwatching began at age six when my maternal grandmother made her first visit to the ranch in Manatee County from her Springfield, Massachusetts home to see her daughter and grandkids. As she and I walked along my favorite haunt, the ranch’s dark, lazy creek, a flash of black, white, and tantalizing red cast a flickering shadow amongst the water oaks and lit at the base of a huge pine tree. Gram grabbed my shoulder, squeezed, and pointed silently at the crimson crested head of a crow-sized bird who confidently hopped about the tree trunk in an upward spiral.

“That’s a pileated woodpecker,” she whispered.

“I see them all the time, but I never knew what to call them. So, I just call them big hammers. Smaller birds that act the same I call little hammers. There are four of five different ones.”

Two weeks after Gram returned to New England, she sent my first copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Birds, which allowed me to attach accurate names to many more soaring, darting, flitting shadows that populated my rural boyhood wanderings. The pileated, red-bellied, red-headed, hairy, and downy woodpeckers, described in great detail and compared with one another in the text, became more tangible and ordered in my mind.



Milking the cow…literally…


As I took this photo with a Brownie box camera, my mother milked our cow, Lulu, and gave a few squirts of milk to Rattler, the wandering mongrel.



From “Lulu, a milk cow,” the 7th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

The rude introduction I received from our Jersey milk cow occurred one early December afternoon when I was seven. I had just returned to the ranch at the end of my second week in the first grade at Parrish Elementary School. I heard, before I left to catch the bus with my brother, that our father had found a cow that had recently given birth to her calf. The calf was kept by the local dairy farm in hopes the heifer would grow into a better milk producer than her mother, who only gave a little more than a gallon of milk twice a day. That quantity was more than enough for a family of four, and she delivered enough cream in that milk to allow us to create milk-based staples.


In the style of John Holmes: “Map of My Country”


Writing in the style of a poet is a way to practice creating poetry while creating original poetry. The poem, “Map of My Country” by John Holmes, is a powerful self reflection. 

In 1954, Holmes typed a copy of the poem with lengthy annotations, explaining the choices behind the evolution of the poem. This annotated version has been recreated here:

One way to write in the style of a poet is to go line-by-line through a poem and ask a question that would get at the heart of the line. Then, the writer could answer that question in the rhythm and with the substance of the original line. What follows is Holmes’ poem and my attempt to write is his style.

Memorial Day connection:  According to Adele J. Haft in “The Map-makers’ Colors”: Maps in Twentieth-Century American Poetry in English,” the Navy adopted John Holmes’ “Map of My Country” (Holmes, 1943; see Holmes, 1999) for the “libraries of its ships and stations” (Eyges, 2007, 117). The first of several American collections dominated by map metaphors, “Map of My Country” opens with a sprawling twelve-part poem (3–34), an autobiography so expansive that it not only pays homage to the American people and places that enriched Holmes’ life, but also charts his generation and the literature that molded those who lived through two World Wars.

“Map of My Country” by John Holmes

A map of my native country is all edges,
The shore touching sea, the easy impartial rivers
Splitting the local boundary lines, round hills in two townships,
Blue ponds interrupting the careful county shapes.
The Mississippi runs down the middle. Cape Cod. The Gulf.
Nebraska is on latitude forty. Kansas is west of Missouri.
When I was a child, I drew it, from memory,
A game in the schoolroom, naming the big cities right.

Cloud shadows were not shown, nor where winter whitens,
Nor the wide road the day’s wind takes.
None of the tall letters told my grandfather’s name.
Nothing said, “Here they see in clear air a hundred miles.
Here they go to bed early. They fear snow here.”
Oak trees and maple boughs I had seen on the long hillsides
Changing color, and laurel, and bayberry, were never mapped.
Geography told only capitals and state lines.

I have come a long way using other men’s maps for the turnings.
I have a long way to go.
It is time I drew the map again,
Spread with the broad colors of life, and words of my own
Saying, “Here the people worked hard, and died for the wrong reasons.
Here wild strawberries tell the time of year.
I could not sleep, here, while bell-buoys beyond the surf rang.
Here trains passed in the night, crying of distance,
Calling to cities far away, listening for an answer.”

On my own map of my own country
I shall show where there were never wars,
And plot the changed way I hear men speak in the west,
Words in the south slower, and food different.
Not the court houses seen floodlighted at night from trains,
But the local stone built into house walls,
And barns telling the traveler where he is
By the slant of the roof, the color of the paint.

Not monuments. Not the battlefields famous in school.
But Thoreau’s pond, and Huckleberry Finn’s island.
I shall name an unhistorical hill three boys climbed one morning.
Lines indicate my few journeys,
And the long way letters come from absent friends.

Forest is where green ferns cooled me under the big trees.
Ocean is where I ran in the white drag of waves on white sand.
Music is what I heard in a country house while hearts broke.
Not knowing they were breaking, and Brahms wrote it.

All that I remember happened to me here.
This is the known world.
I shall make a star here for a man who died too young.
Here, and here, in gold, I shall mark two towns
Famous for nothing, except that I have been happy in them.


From the “Epilogue” of Growing Up Floridian:

“Remapping My Country” (with respect to John Holmes)

Massachusetts, a rectangle, ends as a boot,
kicking back the salty waves of the Atlantic,
a barrier island sheltering Cape Cod Bay,
where people can stop for a Sandwich between
Plymouth and Provincetown.
Buzzards Bay intrudes at the ankle,
while Vineyard Sound is ground under the heel.
Nantucket looks longingly at the toe
and westerly at the dust kicked up over Martha’s Vineyard.

My snow-suited youth understood little about latitude lines
crossed when visiting a grandfather’s stone house in New Hampshire.

Reds and yellows of New England falls
dappled the rural hills in memories
of September jaunts to Vermont.
The sight of lobster traps in stacks pulled forth
scents of Old Bay seasonings bubbling around
red claws and protruding feelers that fed
galloping appetites born in piles of playful leaves.
Road signs spoke only of overlooks, not of what to look over.

Parental tales of trips taken twenty years earlier
in a Hudson Commodore did not realistically inform the imagination swaying in the back of a Mercury Comet.
A child’s mind must explore his own byways,
and he must sculpt his own dragons in the clouds.
A black bear on a stone wall frightening chipmunks
did not intimidate a latter day Mohican Cooper inspired.
Fly fishermen down a distant stream did not decorate
the AAA triptik followed up the east coast.

A Studebaker Daytona, ten years later, on the same route
populated by Firebirds, Fieros, Camaros, and Thunderbirds,
shared the roadway with 18-wheeled behemoths jockeyed by
ratchet-jawed rooster cruisers defying the double nickel.
The flat tires fixed on the shoulders refocused the destination
that was not intended as a permanent relocation but as a
waypoint during an exploration.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, written in the year of my birth, set a traveling rhythm twenty years later.
His journey was not retraced, but the spirit was embraced.
The only Mary Lou I knew populated Ricky Nelson’s song
on a worn out eight track tape,
but letters from Floridian tourists set new waypoints that
beckoned off interstate exit ramps.

Brautigan’s Confederate General at Big Sur altered my reality.
Trout Fishing in America took me down a humorous path.
Richard’s images entwined within me on western mountain slopes and rolled down shimmering highways into setting suns.

Topographical symbols reveal the contours of my life.
Straight, curved, dashed, and solid lines link moments.
Circled cities connected by yellow highlighted routes merge
melodic memories that bridge kaleidoscope reflections
with echoes resounded through my years.

1950’s Bicycle memories


My parents decided my brother and I could share a bicycle as Christmas present in 1957. They must have been enticed by a Sears catalog ad:



Fortunately, they were not frightened by bicycle safety manuals of the 50’s that vividly etched in the minds of readers the dangers of poor bike riding practices.








From “Christmas Bicycle,” the 2nd chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

Gleaming in the morning’s first rays stood a brand new J. C. Higgins bicycle. White accents on the fenders offered sharp contrast to the fire engine red frame and the shiny black white-wall tires. A big kid’s bike. No training wheels. I realized I did not know where to start. I had never ridden a bike before. I thought about waking my brother, Smokey, but his sleeping late behavior on this Christmas morning was going to cost him this time. I was going to give the bike a whirl first.

Caressing the brown leather seat, I tried to figure the easiest way to guide the bike off the porch. Wheeling the metal pony in a tight arc, I brought the front tire to the edge of the steps with a black plastic handlebar grip in each hand. The front tire’s rolling bounce on the initial step started a momentum that a sixty pound body could not control. Black grease teeth marks descending along the left leg of my jeans testified to the dangers of taking on a ride that might be too big for me.

Soundtrack of my life…


Creating a “Soundtrack of My Life” can be a self-reflective exercise to explore one’s self through connections to specific pieces of music or songs that symbolize moments in a person’s life with an explanation of the connections. A person could just cobble together a list of songs that were memorable over the course of his or her life, but why were the songs significant? One way to begin is to create a timeline of one’s life by identifying each major event, important event, or just memorable event with a brief written description of that moment. Then, remember or find a song’s lyrics that connect to the event and explain the connection. I used this exercise in both middle school and high school classrooms. The results were often quite remarkable, particularly when young students found that contemporary, popular songs they liked did not connect to their important moments in their lives. The students had to explore older songs and a variety of genres to make the connections they felt were important. When I introduced the idea to adult friends, a frequent response was, “That’s a lot of work.” I agree there is some thought involved, but using a computer and iTunes makes the task enjoyable and fairly easy.  The result can be a playlist that is enjoyable to hear once in a while when nostalgia tugs on one’s brain. I offer here a PowerPoint version of my soundtrack followed by the written version.

Soundtrack Taylor2b


Although I was born in Boston, and was considered a Yankee during most of my early years, I spent my formative childhood on a ranch in rural, central Florida. So, the cowboy image has significance in that I grew up in an environment that celebrated the rodeo-Florida Cracker Cowboy way of life about which many present-day Floridians know little. The cowboy persona blurred and merged with a Gulf coast sailing/fishing “salt-water cowboy” mentality when I moved to Pinellas County and spent my teen-age years and young adulthood surrounded by a marine environment. The violence of the Vietnam War, the deaths by assignation of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, and the civil unrest of the entire country vividly colored my thoughts about who I was becoming and what I wanted to do with my life. Blue skies, clear water, and sailing adventures dominated several years spent wandering the country, going to college, and rocketing about listening to Elton John, James Taylor, and much great music of the 60’s and 70’s. While I explored paths open to me and thought few people really knew me, I have always concluded that the years spent with important people in my life was enjoyable, offered opportunities to grow, and foretold of more good years to come.

According to Robert Frost, “a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom,” and I think life and responses to songs should follow a similar course. Nature has delighted me from my formative years on a ranch in Manatee County through decades of exploring what Florida has to offer from the Keys to Pensacola, and, more recently, on a morning runs along Boca Ciega Bay in Gulfport that offered views of dolphins breaching, ospreys snatching fish, pelicans diving, and Great Blue Herons patiently waiting for a baitfish swirl. My life has been influenced by turbulent events in the Sixties, intellectual explorations in the Seventies, loving relationships through the years, and a focused career in teaching that ties many of the moments together. Music always presents a score for my most significant moments no matter whether the sounds come from live concerts, vinyl records, eight-track tapes, cassette tapes, cds, or Ipods. As the years have rolled by, singular songs or performances etch echoes that resonate and pull smiles on my lips, release sighs into the air, and coalesce memories into momentary consciousness that delight the senses and offer reflections to ponder.

As a boy growing up in a rural Florida cowboy environment, I knew more names of rodeo champions than those of Major League Baseball’s homerun hitters or the NFL’s leading quarterbacks. Although I did not hear Michael Martin Murphy’s voice until the early Seventies singing romantic ballads like “Wildfire” and “Carolina in the Pines,” his 1990 song, “Cowboy Logic,” captured a philosophy that I was not so much taught as shown though the actions of the everyday cowboys in my day-to-day boyhood life and though stories of the Western television shows and movies I watched and the paperback Westerns I read. When Murphy sang,

“If it’s a job, do it. Put your back in to it.
‘Cause a little bit of dirt’s gonna wash off in the rain.
If it’s a horse, ride it. If it hurts, hide it.
Dust yourself off and get back on again,”

I knew he telling the truth as both he and I saw the world. I fell off my share of horses, bicycles, and slippery decks, but I always got back up and tried again. My parents, coaches, and teachers grew up in an era of “if you’re hurt, just walk it off.” That cliché applied to many aspects of my life, including sports, education, and romance.

When he sang that a cowboy has “…got a simple solution to just about anything,” he captured a core philosophical note I have most often lived by: life should not be that complicated. He also argues

“If it’s a fence, mend it; If it’s a dollar bill, spend it
Before if burns a hole down in them jeans
If it’s a load, truck it. If it’s a punch, duck it.
If she’s a lady, treat her like a queen.”

I did actually learn to mend fences (literally) as a boy, but have not been so efficient at mending fences metaphorically with people in my life, as I tend to let people who cause problems drift from my life. I have also never been one to accumulate much in terms of monetary wealth and so have never had a pair of jeans that burned. I have driven pickup trucks most of my life; my favorite, a ’49 Ford, I drove until I tired of having only a hood vent for air conditioning. I have successfully ducked most punches thrown my way, but a couple have landed that delivered lessons both physical and emotional. And most of the women in my life I have tried to treat royally with varying degrees of success; those romantic actions call to mind a voice and a song I have listened to since I was a teenager.

In 1968, Lou Rawls released Soulin’, a recording I wore out after a few years, and after replacing the first record, I later replaced that one with tapes, both 8-track and then cassette. The song I most listened to that caught a romantic teenage mind was “It Was a Very Good Year.” In the song, images of a lifetime of romance is offered in simple vignettes for ages seventeen, twenty-one, thirty-five, and the autumn of one’s years. “When I was seventeen…small town girls…And soft summer nights” were my romantic focus, with those soft summer nights often spent on St. Pete Beach with a background chorus of waves rolling on the sand. Before “I was twenty-one,” I saw and heard Lou Rawls in person on a nightclub stage in Denver, Colorado. The melody came to life in a number of ways because there were plenty of “…city girls/Who lived up the stair” during the time I spent in the west and then wandered back east. Years later, “…girls/Of independent means” came and went “when I was thirty-five” or so, bringing this song sung by both Rawls and Frank Sinatra to life again and again.

Now that one could argue “I’m in the autumn of the year,” I do think most of my years have been “very good” and will continue to be so. Each year I have viewed as an example of “…vintage wine/From fine old kegs” which have been enjoyed “from the brim to the dregs.” Life should be lived in this way: savoring each moment one can while accepting tasty sips along with the bitter lessons that do seem to have to come from time to time. Some of those moments can be personal, while others are shared within the culture or nation.

Too many shared bitter moments happened in the 1960’s, and three of them were captured in a historical retrospective through Dion’s 1968 “Abraham, Martin And John” written by Richard Holler that reached number four on the Billboard hits list. When I first heard him sing,

“Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he’s gone,”

I felt a palpable wave move through me as I vividly recalled the events of John F. Kennedy’s assignation five years earlier, his funeral, his three-year old son’s salute as his father’s coffin passed, and the effects on the entire nation. I, like many others, thought Kennedy, the first national figure I admired, would lead this nation in positive directions.

The losses of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in subsequent years, emotional body punches to the nation and to those of us who perceived the renewed hope they offered, profoundly altered my view of the world. Dion struck powerful notes when he linked Abraham Lincoln, King, and the Kennedys, described them as friends, and painted the image of seeing Bobby “walk up over the hill,/With Abraham, Martin and John.” In a seventeen-year old’s mind, Dion’s soulful, doo-wop voice became very reverent in this song and expressed a shared veneration of those leaders that so many felt.

One of the ways to recover from tragic events is to look in new directions; often songs can offer inspiration for those directions. In 1969, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells reached number two on the Billboard charts, and although years later Tommy James and co-writers, Eddie Gray and Mike Vale, explained that they wrote a “a sort of semi-religious poetic song,” the message suggested to me, clearly, if someone was open to new ideas, “peace and good brotherhood” could be achieved. Those ideas resonated with me, and, as much as any other single message, got me to examine what I wanted to do with my life, helped inspire me to choose a career in teaching, and look at the world in a more positive light rather than a cynical one the experiences of the 1960’s could have produced. Over the years I have seen that “people are changing,” and, in my limited influential role as a teacher, I have tried to help students understand possibilities of “a new day…coming.”

The beginning of a romance often signifies a metaphorical new day in one’s life; that new love focus gives someone a redefined hope for a positive future that may last. Nat King Cole’s romantic ballad, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” first captured such a possibility for me. Although I am not aware of consciously hearing the song when Cole took the tune up the charts to number twenty-four the year I was born, when I did begin listening to the singer’s ““unforgettable” voice, with its honeyed velvet tones in a rich, easy draw,” I was hooked. Having “Red sails in the sunset,…carry my loved one home safely to me” created an image that sent a young heart racing whenever Cole’s voice floated out of stereo speakers. In St. Croix’s Christiansted Harbor years later with a camera at sunset, I happened to photograph a small sailboat with red sails maneuvering to the dock and knew I had to return to the States to find someone I had left behind. I “went sailing no more” for quite a few years.

Although I never had an interest in becoming an astronaut, a friend in the early 70’s nicknamed me “Rocketman” because I traveled about the country from one end to the other in either a tiny Volkswagen Beetle or by hitchhiking and seemed to be zooming off in some direction for the slightest reason. “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long Long Time),” a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, reached number one on the charts in 1972. There were times when, halfway across the continent from friends, I was “lonely out in space,” and was “not the man they think I am at home.”

Many of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin songs like “Your Song,” “I’m Still Standing,” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” connected to specific moments in my life. In one romantic moment, I can remember saying, “I don’t have much money but boy if I did/I’d buy a big house where we both could live.” Of course, I never did have enough money to buy a big house. In another moment after a relationship breakup that ended badly, I realized I was “still standing better than I ever did/Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid/…Picking up the pieces of my life without you on my mind.” There are times when anyone wonders if he will regain stability to stand on his own again after a major disappointment. After having a number of romances that failed to blossom as desired, singing the blues took on a more realistic meaning, and I could understand “why they call it the blues” because “Time on my hands could be time spent” in more enjoyable ways if I could solve the gender differences dynamic more successfully.

No matter what the relationship dynamic, parts of one’s self can be kept hidden from others. I have been well aware of a reluctance to reveal my innermost self at times or well aware of the consequences that have resulted when I did. The song which best explored that emotional response, “You Don’t Know Me,” a song written by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold in 1955 and sung by Arnold that year, reached number 10 on the country charts. Although at age four, I did not likely hear the song, I did hear Arnold’s version on country stations in the car as a child since my parents turned the dial to country music on any trip. A more contemporary version by Kenny Loggins (1977) on his Celebrate Me Home album offers a vibrant soulful version of the moment when

“You give your hand to me
And then you say, “Hello.”
And I can hardly speak,
My heart is beating so.
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.”

My friends and associates today may not see me as “afraid and shy” or someone who would “let my chance go by,” but those moments have occurred and probably will again.

Perhaps a soundtrack to one’s life reveals that inner self that other communication vehicles do not. My foundation in old western or country values has directed a large portion of my life. I know a solution exists for every problem. Each year, even those visited with traumatic events, became a “very good year,” and the years have segued into the beginning of a very enjoyable autumn. Although too many bitter moments through the years have been endured by me and the nation as a whole, I still believe we, as a united population, will walk together “up over the hill” someday. In my hopes lives the idea that in my lifetime a leader will emerge who will persuade the world community that a “new vibration” worth tuning into offers peace and brotherhood. As the days continue to rocket by, I am not so much concerned that people don’t know me as I am that people know themselves and offer themselves the opportunity to sail safely into a sunset with a loved one and make the best of their lives. As I listen to new songs that prompt smiles or tug at the memories born of yesterday’s tunes, logic and love blend to remix notes of delight, tease at the edges of wisdom, and lay the tracks for the continuing soundtrack for my life.

“Soundtrack Found Poem”

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
A new day…was…coming
People… were…changing

Ain’t it beautiful?

Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?

When I was twenty-one,
it was a very good year.
I…packed my bags…
and I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
’til touchdown brings me ’round again.

“Well, there ain’t no way to know.”
“Kid, you’ve still got a ways to go.
When I was thirty-five
it was a very good year.
Look over yonder.
What do you see?
Red sails in the sunset, way out on the sea.

You think you know me well.
Well, you don’t know me.
I’m not the man they think I am at home.

When the times are hard and the chips are down,
I’m just a friend…with…
a simple solution to just about anything.

I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs,
from the brim to the dregs
… poured sweet and clear…in…a very good year.

Gator tales

From the Bradenton Herald this week came the headline, “Nine busted for poaching alligators and taking more than 10,000 eggs” on a news story by Mark Young. The article indicated that the “Florida Attorney General’s Office announced nine individuals ranging in age from 22 to 73 were busted Wednesday on a variety of charges related to poaching alligators and illegally harvesting more than 10,000 alligator eggs.”

Recently, a fairly large alligator was photographed crossing a green on one of the golf courses I have played.

(An American alligator walks onto the edge of the putting green on the seventh hole of Myakka Pines Golf Club in Englewood, Florida in a photo by Bill Susie.)

These alligator moments brought to mind my childhood encounters with alligators and, unfortunately, memories of my father’s contributions to the decline of the alligator population in the 1950’s through his poaching practices. At the time, he could get $4 or $5 a foot for hides, so on a successful night he could make $80 to $100 because he never took more than two gators on any given night. Since he only made about $3000 a year as a ranch hand, that extra cash helped pay for automobile and rodeo expenses.


From the 16th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

Tanned gator hides tacked along back-porch walls, which bore witness to our father’s midnight flashlight-directed hunting prowess, dismayed us. In the outside closet off the carport where our father parked his 1958 Ford Ranchero, rolled bundles of salted gator hides waited for a visit from the quiet Cuban who showed up in the middle of the night every three or four months. Hides came off the walls and bundles disappeared from the closet suddenly every once in a while. Invariably, the next day an officer from the Florida Fish and Game Commission would drive on to the ranch and have a terse conversation with our father. We were never privy to those conversations, but we knew some cleverness had taken place when our father began grinning as the FFGC truck would disappear into the tree line. How he knew about the visit ahead of time we never found out, but he never got arrested for poaching.

Memories of Dogs…

I used My Dog Skip by Willie Morris (1995) as a read-aloud in middle school classrooms for about 12 years, which means I read the entire text aloud six times a year at a rate of about 2 1/2 pages a day. Reading the text to the classes would take about 8 weeks. I would pull vocabulary words from each section,  would have students write definitions for the words in the personal dictionary sections of their notebooks after an oral discussion of the terms, and would give students extra credit on their essays for effectively using up to ten of the words in a major written assignment. So, I got to know the book fairly well…and never tired of reading the memoir over and over.

Willie Morris began with:

“I came across a photograph of him not long ago, his black face with the long snout sniffing at something in the air, his tail straight and pointing, his eyes flashing in some momentary excitement. Looking at a faded photograph taken more than forty years before, even as a grown man, I would admit I still missed him.”

Of course, Willie Morris was one of several writers who inspired me to write a memoir and sent me in search of old pictures of my first dog.


Note: The shadow indicates I’m using my mother’s Six – 16 Brownie box camera.

From the 11th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

“Rabbit Chase”

Timidly emerging from the tree line, the black and white mongrel sniffed the air and peered up the dirt road. I saw him from the picnic table bench that summer day because the small black animal sharply stood out against the white, dusty, shell-packed road that curved away from the trees, split in two just beyond my family’s house, then ran by the ranch’s other two houses, and reconnected in front of the wide two- story barn. Each split ran in front of those two ranch-hand houses separated from each other by a wide flat piece of clover-covered pasture, in the middle of which sat a creaky old windmill that pumped water into a ten-foot long concrete water trough.

The dog started up the road, looking from side to side as if some danger might pop out from behind the mature pine trees populating the pasture on both sides of the road. The mutt, clearly undernourished with visible rib lines apparent under his shaggy coat, had a white blaze on his chest, a white patch on his right ear, and a couple white-stockinged front feet that brightened his otherwise dark wispy form.

I waited until the mutt was almost in front of the house but still a hundred feet from the picnic table before I spoke.

“Hey, boy,” I called in a quiet, soft tone.

The dog looked, ducked around with his tail between his legs, and started back the way he came, but glanced toward the table and paused. His tail wagged twice before he continued down the road.

Sandhill Crane population seems healthy locally

Seven different pairs of Sandhill Cranes herded offspring around the River Run Golf Course last Friday. The chicks ranged in size from about 10 inches to over 4 feet tall. Two family groups less than 100 yards apart loudly proclaimed their rights to the territory for about five minutes. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contends the resident population of Florida Sandhill Cranes is between 4 and 5 thousand birds, while another 25,000 greater Sandhill Cranes migrate to Florida in the winter. There are six subspecies of Sandhill cranes—greater, lesser, Florida, Cuban, Mississippi and Canadian with the Cuban, Mississippi and Florida subspecies of Sandhill cranes being non-migratory. National Wildlife Federation link with subspecies info.


Link to Will McLean’s “Courtship of the Sandhill Crane


From the 23rd chapter of Growing Up Floridian :

The loud rattling kar-r-r-r-o-o-o I often heard at sunrise as a boy on the central Florida ranch immediately brought to mind the image of an elegant, gray bird of almost five feet in height that stalked both the marshes and flat open land I roamed. The long black bill, white cheeks, and brilliant red cap marked the sandhill crane as the classiest member of my favorite Florida birds. Long running strides the bird used at takeoff coupled with the powerful wing strokes that propelled the crane aloft were athletic moves which defined the stately bird as a beautiful symbol of wild Florida.

Although I often saw Sandhill Cranes on golf courses up and down the state in later years, my most enjoyable view as a child was a sunrise takeoff when several of the birds were silhouetted against the red-orange sky as they gave their rolling calls that bounced off the tree line and came echoing back. Several others wading in a marsh below, would looked up, and give an answering call. Several times in more recent years, I have observed a pair of cranes sail overhead across I-75 into the sunset as I returned to Florida from a trip north. Each of these sights was a classic National Geographic moment I have enjoyed over and over again.

Guest appearance at the Beach Bazar in downtown Gulfport

Lynn and I spent a pleasant, although rainy, Saturday evening during the bi-monthly Art Walk selling a few copies of Growing Up Floridian at the Beach Bazar.

Poetic drama in the Caribbean

I saw this scene unfold while working on the Yankee Clipper, part of the Windjammer fleet, in the Caribbean in 1972. When I saw Don Ray’s painting, I had to get a print and was inspired to capture the battle in poetic form. The real life drama was caught on film:


Caribbean Collisions

(In response to Don Ray’s painting of a flying fish being pursued by both a Magnificent Frigate and a dolphin fish.)

Fins folded, the flying fish lifts,
bursts from beneath the sea’s surface
to glide at forty-five miles an hour
across the crests and rifts.

Coryphaena hippurus, chartreuse purple flashes,
agitated dark dorsal flags flying,
dart underneath in patterned pursuit
anticipating winged dashes.

Overhead, a frigate’s black wings reflect cobalt blue;
narrowed in diving descent,
his deeply forked tail alters flight
and allows hooked bill to pursue.

Adapted after a million years of predation
silver herring aircraft take off
with the lower lobe of the caudal fin whirring
in instinctive defensive navigation.

Feathered pirate, Fregata Magnificens,
descends, snaps his hinged, hooked trap,
plucks the airborne sard,
claims the prize, and ascends.

Undeterred, dorado drive pinnate prey
through waves into gusts to glide
over furrows and undulating ridges
to bank off swells in an aerial ballet.

A dance of the eons is enacted on the oceanic tide
by a triad of species entwined;
evolved adaptations of flight and fight
on a sun dappled sea collide.

M. Taylor

A take on “Floridays” by Don Blanding and Jimmy Buffett…plus a tribute to both

Chapter 27 of Growing Up Floridian, “Who was Jimmy Buffett’s Unpopular Poet?” takes a look at my early connection to Jimmy Buffett, and Buffett made an interesting connection to an artist who was famous a bit before his time.

Don Blanding  (1894-1957) was a poet, novelist, and artist of the Tropics. He wrote Floridays in 1940.






“To You”

A book of sounds and scents and sights
Of Florida-days and Flori-nights,
Flori-stars and Flori-moons
And Flori-suns of Flori-noons.
Flori-fragrance on the breeze
And blended blues of Flori-seas.
Patterns drawn with pen and words
Of Flori-folks and Flori-birds.
An hour of friendly chit-and-chat
Of flori-this and flori-that
With pictures when you care to look.
I hope you like this Flori-book.

Don Blanding, “Im Mo Ko Lee”
Fort Pierce, Florida, 1941.
From Foridays.

“To Jimmy Buffet” (In the style of Don Blanding)

Buffett’s songs of rhythms and aromas and crazy ways
Of Flori-beaches and Flori-bays,
Flori-boats and Flori-jets
And Flori-casts of Flori-nets.
Flori-catches in the Keys
And bleached blondes in a Flori-breeze.
Measures sung with guitars and drums
Of Flori-tales and Flori-chums.
Melodies of camaraderie in tropical climes
Of Flori-bliss and Flori-rhymes
With images that grab your eyes
And take you on trips through Flori-skies.


by Jimmy Buffett 1986
For Don Blanding, Wobby Wiemer and “Groovula”

I come from where the rivers meet the sea
That’s part of why I’m so wild and fancy free
I was early into crazy ways
My folks said, “;It’s just a phase”;
They were hopin’ for better days

Now in my line of work I seem to see a lot more than most
Write ’em down, pass ’em around
It’s the gospel from the coast
Reflections not just replays
Takin’ time to escape the maze
Lookin’ for better days …

Pale invaders and tan crusaders
Are worshipping the sun
On the corner of walk and don’t walk
Somewhere on U.S. 1

I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra violet rays
Lookin’ for better days

I’m back to livin’ Floridays
Blue skies and ultra violet rays
Lookin’ for better days, lookin’ for better days
Lookin’ for better days
Lookin’ for Floridays

(Better days, better ways)
Everybody’s lookin’ for
(Better days)
Somewhere beneath the shinin’ star
(Better days)
Take me won’t you take me to
(Better days)
Sure could use a few
(Better days)


How do Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a buzzard, and a hummingbird come together?

On the third hole of the Buffalo Creek Golf Course, a wake of buzzards often circles overhead. Whether that action is a symbolic comment on my golf game or not, I am not sure, but any time I see a turkey vulture or a black vulture, I am reminded of the poem, “To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence.” The hummingbird connection is twofold: Lynn and I just took a trip to AZ to see my mother-in-law, Martha Bodenchuk, and to visit Patagonia’s Paton Center for Hummingbirds…and I wrote a poem in the style of Ms Douglas in response to a hummingbird.

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS April 7, 1890 – May 14, 1998

Ms Douglas’ “To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence” was published most recently in Florida in Poetry, in 1995.

“To a Buzzard Swinging in Silence”

by Marjory Stoneman Douglas

I never knew how fair a thing

was freedom, till I saw you swing,

Ragged, exultant, black and high,

Against a hollow, windy sky.

You that with such a horrid gait

Lumbers and flops with red, raw pate.

I never knew how beauty grew

From ugliness, until you flew

With soaring, sombre, steady beat

Of wings rough-edged to grip the fleet

Far coursing horses of the sky —

To ride, to ride them gloriously.

Oh, brother buzzard, you whose sin

On earth is to be shackled in

To horror, teach me how to go

Like you, to beauty, sure and slow.

Like you, to slip such carrion ties

And lift and lift to high, clean skies,

Where winds and sun and silence ride,

Like you, oh buzzard, glorified.


In the style of Ms Douglas’ poem,

“To a Hummingbird”

I did not understand how bright a thing

was winged flight, till I viewed your skyward fling,

shimmering, motionless, then darting away,

emerald against the bluest day.

You with an elongated, pointed beak,

amid tubular flowers holding the nectar you seek.

I did not understand how sheer speed

from tiny wings could lead,

with twisting, turning, tattooed tacks

on courses flown on invisible tracks,

to flights of dreams of silver days.

To gaze, to gaze along the slant of heaven’s rays

and find the summit of ambition

in the constant ambrosia-seeking mission.

I must be taught to search like you

for life’s most vibrant enticing hue.

Like you, to taste sensual dessert,

Like you, to move in symphonic concert

and flit and flit in cloudless realms

beneath the gods’ anointed helms

where buds and blooms and aromas waft.

To you, oh hummingbird, my hat is doffed.

1954 Boston Garden Rodeo

Jock Mahoney, known only as the Range Rider in the 1951 to 1953 TV western Range Rider, was one of the celebrity attractions of the 1954 Boston Garden Rodeo. He appeared during the 11-day Boston rodeo with Dick Jones, who was his saddle pal in the 79 episodes of the Range Rider. Mahoney also played the lead in Yancy Derringer, the popular but short-lived western in 1958 – 59.


From the Harvard Crimson:
“Lest the West” by Edmund H. Harvey, October 23, 1954

A rodeo is something that has to be smelled to be believed. The World’s Championship Rodeo in Boston Garden…All the best broncs are there: Country Butter, Sling Shot, Pig Eye, Drunkard, and the best riders and the prettiest girls. Also, The Range Rider and his Saddle Pal…The Range Rider (who) wears blue suede shoes…after the calf-roping contest,…time for the Range Rider (Jack Mahoney) and his Saddle Pal (Dick West)…The Range Rider jumps on a horse, but he does it three ways under a spotlight. Saddle Pal is a stooge who tries to do all the things that Range rider does but just thumps against the horse’s side. After each mounting he looks around at the crowd, and shouts, “Well, howdya like the Cavalry split-the neck mount? Didya like it HUH?” Everybody yells and claps and the Ranger Rider mounts another way (which I forget what they call). This goes on for a while and the Range Rider and Saddle Pal stage a fight. Then, they ride around the arena and throw their hats to the people that have applauded the most. This is the feature attraction…

My mother – a cowgirl by desire


This past Mother’s Day led me to reminisce about my mother’s mention, years ago, of her adventure of riding in the opening parade of the 1954 Boston Garden World Championship Rodeo held between October 20th and October 31st. I went through some old photographs and found the purple and gold ribbon she wore that identified her as a Parade Guest when she carried one of the flags on horseback in the opening ceremonies. Pictures of her on horseback from her teenage years through early adulthood always captured her in her happiest moments.

From the 6th chapter of Growing Up Floridian,“Faye Blackstone”:

Faye, who enjoyed an audience, described how she and Vick met when they were both rodeo performers, and a picture of them getting married on horseback in 1937 was evidence she pointed out to back up her story. She told us that she started riding and trying to perform tricks when she was younger than we were. A few pictures of her as a young girl getting progressively older climbed up the wall near their bedroom door. One wall of the living room was divided in half by pictures of Vick riding bulls, roping calves, bull dogging steers, and riding broncs with a saddle and without, while the other half held pictures of Faye barrel racing, standing on a horse at a full run, hanging off the side of her horse almost touching the ground, and bouncing off the ground into the air about to remount as a horse ran through a rodeo arena. Others pictures captured Faye riding in colorful opening parades of rodeos in Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and the Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne.

“My mother rode in a rodeo parade in Boston Garden once,” I proffered.

Faye looked up from pouring glasses of milk, tucked a blonde curl behind her ear, and agreed, “I know. Your mother and I have talked about those days a few times. She was very pretty back then and is still a good lookin’ woman who can sit a horse well.”

Celebrating that 1960’s TV Western atmosphere

     My aunt and uncle, Pris and Mike, with my cousins, Valerie, Pam, and Leslie, came to the Quarter Circle A Ranch on State Road 62 about seven miles outside of Parrish the fall after my brother died. In this picture, Aunt Pris poses with Val, sitting tall in the saddle; Pam, holding Leslie; and me on a little pinto that would rear on his back legs if I dug my heels in and pulled back sharply on the reins.

         The television airways were dominated by western tv shows: Bonanza, Cheyenne, The Dakotas, The Rifleman, Stoney Burke, Marshal Dillon, Laramie, Wagon Train, The Virginian, The Wide Country, Rawhide, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, Have Gun – Will Travel, and Gunsmoke. With such a lineup of westerns each week in the fall of 1962, there is little wonder we all wanted to be cowboys and cowgirls.

My first book signing event

Please join us on May 20th during Gulfport Art & Gallery Walk 3rd Sat. 5/20/17 Gulfport FL 6-10pm to meet the author, Michael Taylor ,who will be signing copies of his book Growing Up Floridian which is currently for sale at Gulfport Beach Bazaar. #meettheauthor #gulfportbeachbazaar

Indiantown, 1956

         My brother and I embarked on our careers as bandits when we arrived in Indiantown. With our toy guns, Mexicali hats, and inspiration from the Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) and Pancho (Leo Carrillo), we raced through the palmetto scrub looking for wrongs to right.

Exploring Floridian Reflections


12 year-old me in July of 1963 with my 4-H Hereford steer getting ready for the Manatee County Fair.



                     Inner cowboy adrift on literate shores


      The Six-Word Memoir is the challenge to describe one’s life in only six words: My rural, Cracker-cowboy, Florida childhood took a detour when my parents were divorced, and I spent my teenage years on the beaches of Florida’s west coast. My passion for reading led me in and out of college and along twisted paths and hallways of educational institutions. A variety of teaching positions on several levels actually enhanced my appreciation of well-written literature. Teaching Shakespeare, Frost, Poe, and MacDonald have offered stimulating journeys that invigorate my mind. My explorations were most rewarding when youthful student intellects engaged and shared the adventures.

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