Tag: Manatee County

Red-tailed Hawks

After seeing two different magnificent Red-tailed Hawks on golf
courses last week being attacked by mockingbirds and crows, I was reminded of one of those spectacular moments in nature I have seen periodically throughout my life.

When I was twelve, my father, offered such a good deal that he could not pass on the opportunity, bought two horses. One, a tall rangy black gelding, he thought would make a decent roping horse, and the other, a seven-year-old bay mare, was designated as a horse my mother and I could ride for pleasure. In no uncertain terms, he said he expected me to be on the horse every day after school when my chores were done. After I milked our cow, I headed to the barn. Thrilled that the mare, Bailey, was almost mine, I dutifully saddled the horse, rain or shine, and rode the familiar pastureland of the Quarter Circle A ranch for an hour or two most days. I learned after one soaking to tie a rain slicker on the back of the saddle, and the adult size worked to my advantage by draping over the entire saddle, so I stayed quite dry even in the heaviest downpours.

As I rode back toward the barn one afternoon, I heard a high-pitched ki-ki-ki-ki overhead followed by a piercing scream and another scream a little farther off. I turned in the saddle to my right and caught three large blurs cascading through the sky going away from a stand of tall pines toward a section of flat open pasture. Two mature Red-tailed Hawks were attacking an immature Bald Eagle and driving the larger bird toward the ground. The loud screams came from the hawks, while the high-pitched chittering came from the eagle. I was surprised first by which bird delivered which sound because I had watched plenty of Western movies and Wonderful World of Disney television shows. I associated the louder voice with the eagle since that was almost always the sound played on a movie or television soundtrack immediately before or after an eagle flew overhead on the screen. The hawks were the screamers.

In the real life scene played out before me that day on the Manatee County ranch, the hawks force the eagle to land on the ground and dive-bombed the young bird for the next fifteen minutes while I sat on horseback mesmerized. The young eagle finally got enough confidence to take a couple hops and flew low over the ground before trying to ascend. Since the eagle was headed away from the stand of pines, the hawks seemed to be satisfied with letting their enemy get away but still took turns diving at the escapee until all three were out of my sight.

I rode over to the pines and found the source of the conflict. The Red-tailed Hawks had built a huge nest in the tallest pine, and three chicks’ heads peered out in different directions. The youngsters looked like they were only a few weeks old, were partially fledged, and clearly not capable of flight. I checked on the nest over the next two months and did get to see one young hawk take off on what might have been a final departure from the nest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From “One-eyed Buck,” in Growing Up Floridian:

 

Six months after my father’s lack of patience resulted in the loss of the horse he planned to train for calf roping, he made an unusual choice for a replacement: an American Quarter Horse that could only see out of one eye, his right. Given my father’s temperament and the six year-old horse’s high strung nature, the man seemed to be challenging his own self-control, but the roping partnership worked, and man and beast competed in local rodeos with some success. When the Quarter Horse was four years old, but already being trained as a competitive roping horse, the big buckskin refused to step up into a horse trailer. His owner at the time, Raymond Sinclair, had an Australian Shepherd dog that followed the man everywhere and was a great herder. When the horse would not do as he was asked, the dog ran up and nipped at the cowpony’s rear feet, causing the horse to leap into the trailer. A stiff wire that formed part of the air vent had been broken and bent in at just the wrong height and angle. The horse’s eye, injured in that accident, lost all sight as far as the veterinarian could tell.

Wild Hogs in Florida

A NPR Morning Edition news report last September by Jessica Meszaro, “Meat Industry Turns Florida’s Feral Hogs Into Prime Pork,” reminded me of my encounters with wild pigs on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County in the 1950’s, particularly shortly after my family moved onto the ranch in 1957.

My father quit his ranch hand job on the Circle T spread near Lake Okeechobee for a similar position on the ranch outside of Parrish. Although the pay was not much greater, the opportunity to build his own new house, have a cow to milk, have chickens for eggs and meat, have a steer to butcher once or twice a year, and have a garden as benefits enticed both my parents. His salary of $250 a month, supplemented by beef, chicken, eggs, milk, housing, and utilities, allowed him to buy a decent truck, a serviceable car for my mother, and a horse he could train and use in local calf roping competitions. He felt he was in hog heaven.

Wild pigs added to that sense of wellbeing. He and Vick Blackstone, the ranch foreman, decided one way to lessen the destructive impact of hogs on the pasture land Vick was trying to develop to improve beef production would be to trap the feral pigs, keep them in a pen for a couple months to fatten them on grain, and butcher them for food to feed the ranch families. They built two large wooden traps out of two by ten pine boards that stood eight feet tall and were fifteen feet by fifteen feet square. A single hinged trap door four feet square propped up by a two by four driven slightly into the ground served as a simple mechanism for capturing the pigs. The traps were pre-baited with livestock feed, tomatoes from the local commercial farms, and, occasionally, carrion (road killed raccoons or possums) with the trap door tied open for a couple weeks so the hogs would get used to the structures. Once the traps were set for captures, my brother and I were often sent to check on them.

The first capture of two yearling hogs proved entertaining as my father and Vick took turns roping the 75 pound pigs as though they were calves, tying them off to posts, jumping down into the trap to hogtie their rear feet first and then their front feet, and putting burlap bags over their heads to reduce their struggles. The hogs were dragged out through the trap door, thrown onto the bed of a pickup truck, and driven to their brand new sty. My brother and I happily took on the new chore of daily feedings. The unpleasant task of mucking out the sty also fell to us after a fence with a gate divided the sty in half, so the pigs could be enticed with food to gather in one half of the enclosure while we closed the gate. We cleaned the empty half and repeated the process to clean the opposite half. We made sure we never leaned over the fence when we poured feed into the troughs. After the hogs got over their initial fear of being near people, they would charge toward the fence in efforts to get at us for days as if they were defending territory. That charging behavior occurred most frequently when sows were captured along with two to a half dozen piglets. One 250 pound sow that had three piglets grunted and charged us every day for three months before she was finally slaughtered and sent to a butcher.

Pork chops, roasts, and sausage filled our freezer. Pork and beef dominated the dinner table because the chickens were only replaced every 18 months or so. We gathered eggs every day from the thirty chickens that were kept in a wire cage that was suspended from the barn rafters, but the complex process of slaughtering and plucking chickens took most of a day, a task both Vick and my father put off until their wives repeatedly complained about not having chicken as a meal alternative.

Small herds or drifts of pigs were common sights along the length US 98, US 19, and all the other rural roads in the 50’s and 60’s, and, because the state was much less developed, the feral pig population did not get the attention the animals get today.

Wild pigs have become a problem in Florida as hundreds of thousands roam the state and destroy pasture land, crops, and residential property. There’s an effort now to turn the pest into a profit. According to William M. Giuliano in “Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management,” “Wild hogs are now found in every county in Florida and in at least 35 states and Canadian provinces, including most of the Southeast. Florida’s wild hog population is second only to Texas’s; the state is estimated to have more than 500,000 wild hogs in a relatively stable population (there are from 1 to 2 million wild hogs in the southeastern United States). Some of the highest hog population densities in Florida can be found north and west of Lake Okeechobee in areas with large forested tracts, dense understory vegetation, and limited public access. Hog numbers tend to be lower in areas with intensive agriculture and urbanization, and little water.”  The  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contends “the wild pig (Sus scrofa), also called the wild hog, wild boar or feral pig, is not a Florida native…and prefers oak-cabbage palm hammocks, freshwater marshes and sloughs and pine flatwoods. Wild pigs can reach weights of more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. They usually travel in small family groups or alone.

Laura Reilly, argued in 2014: “One solution to Florida’s wild pig problem: Eat them.”  She put forth that “Anna Maria restaurateur Ed Chiles’ three moderately priced indoor-outdoor restaurants, Anna Maria’s Sandbar, Mar Vista on Longboat Key, and Anna Maria’ BeacHhouse, showcases Florida foods, which includes Braised Punta Gorda Wild Boar Au Jus with Beagle Bay Organic Sauerkraut. That is a pretty upscale treatment for meat coming from “descendants of pigs brought by Hernando de Soto in 1539.” She did address a question most restaurant patrons would ask: “But is this wild pork safe? Field dressing wild hogs puts hunters at risk of brucellosis infection, and then there are the specters of dangerous diseases such as trichinosis, pseudorabies and leptospirosis. According to D.J. Conner, who regulates animals coming in and out of the state for Florida’s Department of Agriculture, if it’s cooked thoroughly (the USDA says that means an internal temperature of 160), it poses no greater risk than commercial pork.”

From chapter 9, “The Barn,” of Growing Up Floridian:

Lessons in how steak, pork roasts, and fried chicken got to the table were taught in that barn, too. Every six months a steer was grain fed for a couple of months before he was butchered to serve to families. Wild hogs were as frequently trapped, fed, and slaughtered. The anatomy lessons offered during those very real life moments identified livers, hearts, stomachs, and intestines in three vivid dimensions. Every eighteen months the chickens were replaced after they were slaughtered and distributed to the ranch families. I was not quite prepared for the spectacle of bringing to life the adage of “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” Even at eight years-old, I had heard the saying many times but did not realize such a behavior could happen. When Vick and my father set up a huge iron scalding pot over a fire in front of the barn one Saturday morning, I had just finished cleaning the chicken area and washing off the red wagon with the hose at the back of the barn. Both men had hatchets and oak stump chopping blocks set near the bubbling pot. They went into the chicken cages, brought out two chickens at a time, and chopped their heads off. Then, they tossed the headless bodies into the grass. The white unbalanced forms ran or stumbled around the area for ten to twenty seconds, sometimes going fifteen to twenty feet away from where they were tossed. The actions of the headless chickens were the strangest I had ever seen, and I was hesitant about eating chicken for some weeks afterwards. After all the chickens were dispatched, both men plunged the bodies into the scalding water, plucked the feathers, dressed the birds, and wrapped them in white freezer paper. I carried a box filled with white packages to my mother so she could place them in our freezer.

 

The blink of a firefly…

One evening on a recent trip to the north Georgia Mountains, firefly flashes reminded me of the rare times I witnessed lightning bugs on spring nights in Manatee County, Florida. My brother and I were often sent to bed shortly after dark, so perhaps fireflies appeared more often than my childhood memories suggest, but I can only recall a few such magical evenings. I have observed the floating blinks of light on more frequent occasions in northern parts of the county throughout my life; however, Gardening Solutions on a University of Florida educational website contends “Fireflies,…not flies or bugs, but…actually beetles…include 56 species found in Florida.”

So, the bioluminescent creatures are out and about in Florida; an interested person just needs to know where and when to look for them. Marc Branham,  a University of Florida associate professor of entomology and one of the world’s foremost experts on fireflies, argues, “In Florida, some species are only out for about 23 minutes every night. It’s not 30 minutes, it’s not 20 minutes, it’s 23 minutes.” That is a small window for observations.

Perhaps firefly enthusiasts should ponder the words of Crowfoot, a Blackfoot chief, who said before his death in 1890, “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

From the 3rd chapter, “Nighthawks,” in Growing Up Floridian:

On rare nights in the spring, a few fireflies blinked at the edge of the trees and deeper into the swamp. I knew what the little points of light were because my brother and I caught fireflies the last summer I spent in Massachusetts when I was four. I had not seen any for the first several years on the ranch and did not know their appearance was typically so brief in central Florida. These fireflies were too quick to catch and disappeared into the tall weeds, staying close to the ground in contrast to my northern experience when the bugs would slowly rise from the grass and float into the air or on into the trees. The northern species was slow enough to be caught by a young kid, and I could vaguely remember filling a small jar with blinking lights.

Dragonfly afternoons…

What we, as humans, do not know about dragonflies, which have been around for more than 300 million years, is substantial. According to an NPR report on the studies of Martin Wikelski, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University in New Jersey, “Dragonflies are long-distance fliers that travel similarly to migrating birds,…build up fat reserves, wait for favorable winds, take rest breaks, and reorient themselves when they lose their way….(and) radio-tagged dragonflies (have been recorded) traveling 100 miles (160 kilometers) in a day.”

Science Magazine reports that”…the winged wanderer,…a mere 4 centimeters in length…may make migrations of 14,000 to 18,000 kilometers as it searches for pools to lay its eggs.”

As a boy growing up in Manatee County, I observed many different dragonflies and damselflies, but did not know there were over a 100 different species in Florida and 331 species in North America. I enjoyed the lilting flight of the Ebony Jewelwing as much as the power dives and slashes of the green Eastern Pondhawk. Catching a few to take a closer look at them became an obsessive challenge for a couple years.

From “Dragonflies,” the 16th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

Sneaking up on a dragonfly is much harder than one might imagine. I spent quite a few hours of my youth on the ranch perfecting stalking techniques with limited success. Dragonflies perched on the top strand of the barbed wire fence that set the boundary between our yard and the surrounding pasture. I wanted to catch the crafty fliers to examine the different species and simply take on the challenge of catching them by hand. Trying to use my pillowcase butterfly net was not realistic. The dragonflies were far too fast and agile in the air. I already knew how to catch butterflies by hand, so I taught myself how to sneak up on a dragonfly that was perched on the fence and grab one wing in each hand simultaneously. Many attempts failed, but once I caught the first one, I knew hunting success was possible, and the challenge of snatching an elusive dragonfly never failed to motivate patient efforts.

Fox squirrel or skunk…which?

In Florida, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Striped Skunk can be mistaken for each other, particularly if the squirrel is one of the dark color variations. Both species have an habitual behavior of walking through grass in an ambling fashion with their bushy tails arched up over their backs to the back of their heads. Both have fairly pointed, narrow heads and inquisitive dark eyes. Although Eastern Fox Squirrels are most active during the day, and Striped Skunks are more active at night, both animals can be seen searching for nuts, berries, and insects in the early morning hours.

My mother, who had an easy affinity with all kinds of animals, hand fed chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and skunks at my grandfather’s house in Moultonborough, New Hampshire as a young woman and had a scurry of fox squirrels she fed on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County ten years later. The chipmunk picture was taken on a 2016 on a visit to my grandfather’s former residence, and little guy is likely a direct descendant of those clever little beasts my mother used to hand feed.

A recent encounter with a rabid raccoon by a hiker in Maine reminded me of the only rabid animal I ever saw during my years on the ranch. That bobcat my father shot after the stumbling crazy-eyed animal staggered toward him in the barn one morning. Since the local veterinarian was coming to the ranch that day to tend to some of the horses, the bobcat’s body was put aside for him. The vet confirmed the bobcat was rabid on his next visit to the ranch, and spent some time warning my brother and I of the dangers we faced if we ever came face-to-face with a potentially rabid animal. Fortunately, none of my mother’s wild companions confronted her after contracting rabies, but my father did not think the practice of “making pets of giant furry-tailed rats” was reasonable. My mother disagreed…and won that argument.

 

 

 

From “Fox Squirrels not Skunks,” the 11th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

On my maternal grandmother’s first visit to the ranch, she arrived on a Friday evening about dusk and had little opportunity to see much of the surroundings before night fell. When I came out for breakfast the next morning, she was already seated at the dining room table with her back to the back door of the house that was entirely jalousie windows from top to bottom. A movement outside the door caught my eye, and, in turn, my movement caused my grandmother to look behind her. With a shriek, she bolted out of the chair and was behind me in the middle of the room in a heart beat.

“A skunk!” My grandmother shouted.

My mother, who was preparing breakfast in the kitchen, laughed, came striding across the floor with a couple of peanut butter laden crackers already in her hand, and replied “That is just one of my little friends.”

She opened the back door as the fox squirrel stepped down off the stoop and sat upright with his front paws outstretched, waiting for his treat.

“You have always had a way with animals.” My grandmother reminisced. “I’ll keep my distance all the same.”

Rodeo belt buckles…

  

 

 

Vick Blackstone walked like a cowboy, talked like a cowboy, and dressed like a cowboy because he was the epitome, in my mind, of what a veteran cowboy should act and look like. Actors who portrayed cowboys on television like Clint Walker, Chuck Conners, James Garner, James Arness, Clint Eastwood, and Robert Mitchum may have looked great on the the screen, but real cowboys like Vick were more scarred and worn. One of the affectations Vick enjoyed were the belt buckles he won as a rodeo champion, and he changed buckles and belts fairly often. When ever I encountered him, I tried to guess which event would be featured on the buckle before I looked.

 

 

From “Cowboy Hat,” the 5th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

As we started to the barn, I noticed Vick was bow-legged, and his stride was an awkward mix between a slight limp and an exaggerated right leg extension.

“Why do you walk like that?”

“Son, if you had been thrown from as many horses and bulls as I have, you might have a hitch in your giddyup too. Too many rodeos. Too many eight second rides.”

He wore a silver belt buckle adorned with a cowboy on a bucking horse that read Saddle Bronc Champion 1942, one of many I saw over the years. I learned that Vick Blackstone was a well-respected rodeo performer when he was young and still had to ride once in a while in competitions despite being almost 50, an age when most riders had retired from all rodeo events. Vick did not talk much about himself to us, but we overheard conversations or his responses to questions about where he earned the championship belt buckle he wore on any given day. He was respected as a five-event cowboy, a competitor riding bulls, riding broncs bareback, riding broncs with a saddle, roping calves, and bulldogging. For twenty-five years, he won championships on the rodeo circuit across the country from when he was seventeen in 1930 until he was well into his forties. Once, a truck driver delivering feed to the ranch asked him about “that Largo rodeo when you won all five main events.”

 

Traveling the Skyway…for the first time.

The original Sunshine Skyway Bridge, opened in 1954, did away with the need for the Bee Line Ferry boats that transported people and cars from Pinellas County across Tampa Bay to Manatee or Sarasota County.  Jerry Blizin revisited the event in an article in the St. Petersburg Times published on October 20, 2009. The extra 50 miles the bridge saved travelers helped mitigate the distaste they had for both the $1.75 toll and the fear generated by the bridge’s height.

Smokey, my mother, and I traveled across the five year-old Sunshine Skyway Bridge in 1959 to visit my maternal grandmother in my mother’s 1948 Morris Minor, which was slightly more powerful than a Volkswagen Beetle. We were not sure the car could reach the 150 foot summit since we could barely keep up with a cormorant that matched the car’s 45 mph as we headed north on the low span. Neither my brother nor I had been anywhere near 150 feet off the ground before, so the trip unnerved us both, and we clutched the armrests as our heads swiveled in every direction. When a dolphin breached, a pelican dove, or a mullet jumped, we gasped and pointed. We were chattering monkeys when we recounted to Gram Barr our adventure of leaving the flat palmetto scrub of Manatee County and soaring to the top of the Skyway Bridge, a mere 36 miles away. The Pinellas County beach environment contrasted sharply with the backwoods Florida Cracker territory the Quarter Circle A ranch provided.

Years later, I found trips over the old bridge were peaceful and particularly beautiful under a bright moon.

A second span added in 1971 altered the simplistic beauty of the origin engineering marvel, and the shipping accident in 1980 that destroyed the southbound span ended the nostalgic romance the original Skyway engendered.

 

 

A recent newspaper article described the current efforts to hold a half marathon race over the new bridge on New Year’s Day, but there was no mention of opening ceremony run in which I participated on January 11, 1987.

 

From “Travels on State Road 62,” the 4th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:

On the rare days when my mother had to go to work early, she would drop my brother and me off at the elementary school. The seven-mile journey to the two-story school on Highway 301 was slow because State Road 62 did not have a legislative champion, and, thus, was nothing but miles of patches and potholes that would take a toll on even the most durable cars. My mother’s 1948 Morris Minor automobile, a simple little beetle-shaped beast, took the bumpy ride while emitting a groan every so often. SR 62 connected to 301 in Parrish, and we would be dropped off in front of the school so my mother could continue on to the hardware store in Palmetto where she work as a secretary. As we motored along, static-filled am radio stations during my first grade year played Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up,” Debbie Reynold’s “Tammy, ” and my mother’s favorite, “Old Cape Cod,” by Patti Page, which she said reminded her of fun times on that Atlantic beach.

Summer time is rodeo time across the country…

The current edition of Rodeo News features the article,   “Back When They Bucked with Pat Ommert” with her picture from a performance years ago, which, in turn, reminded me of the years spent on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County, Florida with Faye and Vic Blackstone, who are both in the Cowboy and Cowgirl Halls of Fame.

Faye was one of Pat Ommert’s contemporaries and was credited with inventing some of the trick riding maneuvers rodeo performers still use today.

 

I noticed in both pictures that the women used white trick riding saddles, and I found a picture of Faye’s favorite saddle in Florida Cattle Ranching online.

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the cowgirls of that era were photogenic, and the camera liked Faye.

      

 

 

 

From the 7th chapter of Growing Up Floridian

Until Smokey and I were invited into the Blackstone’s house one afternoon for freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies by Faye, Vick’s wife, we really didn’t know how famous they were in the cowboy world. They had been managing the Quarter Circle A Ranch since the early 1940’s, and we knew they both still performed in some local rodeos. A couple of pictures hanging on the wall in the kitchen of Vick as a young bronc rider caught my eye, and, as I walked closer I recognized a much younger Vick.

“Wander through the house, boys, and look at all the pictures if you want,” Faye suggested.

The entire house was almost an art gallery or photo exhibit dedicated largely to the cowboy and his cowgirl. Vick and Faye had been photographed on horseback in many well-know rodeo arenas, standing beside beautiful horses, performing all kinds of rope tricks, and standing with many famous people. Action photos caught them as young rodeo performers at the top of their profession.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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