Two Hurricanes in Three Weeks: Lisa’s Story

Lisa regularly flies from Orlando to Texas to visit her elderly parents. However, her most recent trip was one she’ll never forget. On August 24 her plane to Dallas was delayed. She missed her connection to Beaumont and was forced to take a later flight. After spending hours waiting in the Dallas airport, she wondered if it was an omen of bad things to come.

Lisa was aware of Hurricane Harvey’s location in the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t think it would affect Beaumont.  Her parents, Glenda, 84, and Lindy, 90, had a relaxed attitude.  At their age they’d seen many storms come and go along the Texas coastline. The weather forecast predicted thirty inches of rain for their area. Her parents thought it would never happen. Still, Lisa encouraged them to go shopping for extra bottled water and food, just in case they might not want to go out in the rain.

On Saturday, August 26, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi and looked like more of a threat for Beaumont. Lisa encouraged Lindy to fill up his gas tank. He did. That night bands of rain arrived and continued off an on for four days. Lisa emptied the rain gauge in the yard every time it was full. They received thirty- five inches of rain on their property.  The family was amazed their home did not flood, nor did they lose power. Every time the water would rise on the patio, the bands of rain would stop long enough for the water to recede.  Lisa attributes this miracle to the prayers of friends and family.

On Thursday morning she turned on the faucet to make coffee and there was no water.  Flood waters from the Natchez River contaminated the city water treatment plant. The local news reported the water would be off for several days. Lisa and her parents were resourceful. They gathered buckets and coolers and put them in the back of Lindy’s pickup truck. Lindy drove to a nearby soccer field which had become a retention pond.

IMG_0390

Lisa helped her parents carry buckets of water from the flooded soccer field to the truck. Back at home, they used this water to flush the toilet. They still had bottled water to drink, but wondered how long it would last.  Without water, it was necessary for every store and restaurant to close.

Originally Lisa planned to visit Beaumont for five days. With the airport closed, and roads flooded, she was stranded. Still, her main concern was the welfare of her parents. She knew they had to find a way out. If they could evacuate to her sister’s home in Dallas, her parents would be safe and she could get a flight back to Florida from there. She managed to access a Texas Department of Transportation website that posted passable driving routes.  One road, Highway 90, was passable.

Friday morning Lisa, Lindy, and Glenda threw their suitcases in the back of Lindy’s truck and started driving. The trip was frightening at times, especially when they drove onto a bridge across the flooded Trinity River.  A drive which  normally took six hours turned into nine, but they made it. Along the way they watched scores of vehicles coming toward Beaumont to help people evacuate. The lack of water forced those in hurricane shelters to leave.

Lisa flew home from Dallas to Orlando September 2.  Within two days she and her husband Bill were busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. Because of her experience with Harvey, Lisa’s first thought was to stock up on bottled water. Panic ensued. Publix and CVS had no water left on the shelf. She bought empty containers at Target, filled them with water and placed them under their carport. Hurricane Irma was a long time coming, and the path kept changing. Finally, the morning of September 11 hurricane force winds hit Orlando. Lisa and Bill’s power went out and stayed out for a week. City water was unaffected.

Between the two hurricanes, Lisa states her experience with Irma was much more difficult. “Living without air conditioning in Orlando’s heat and humidity is a big challenge.” By Friday night she and Bill checked into a hotel. Their power came on the next day.

Prior to all of the hurricane madness, Bill and Lisa had planned to take a cruise scheduled to depart from Puerto Rico. It was cancelled of course, by another storm named Maria. Lisa was fine with the cancellation. “I didn’t want to see a third hurricane.”

 

 

Advertisements

Nature’s Classroom at Faver-Dykes State Park

Camping during the Florida summer is not for wimps. Our trip to Faver-Dykes State Park challenged us in ways we have never been challenged before. Located in a remote area fifteen miles outside Saint Augustine, the park is known for being “off the beaten track.” We pulled our Viking trailer over the bumpy dirt road to the entrance of a small campground. As the campsite was not level, my husband, Herb made several attempts before he successfully parked our trailer in the soft sand. Soon a park vehicle stopped nearby and a ranger stepped out to welcome us. The ranger took an interest in our dog, Buddy, the best beagle ever.

Faver-Dykes Trip 028

Early the next morning we decided to hike the 2.6 mile Hiram-Faver Trail. Guess what? The trail was named in honor of Hiram Faver, who donated the land to the state for a park. Go figure!  On our way to the trailhead we walked by the park office. The friendly ranger who  welcomed us yesterday came out of the office to say hello. He asked where we were headed. I told him the Hiram-Faver trail. “Oh,” he said, “you better watch out for ticks out there.”

“We’re prepared, ” I boasted. I wore long sleeves and long pants and tucked my pantlegs into my socks. I also sprayed my legs with bug spray. The ranger focused his attention on Buddy. “I always put a tick collar on my dog. Then the ticks never bother him.” Suddenly I realized that Mr. Ranger was more concerned about Buddy than we were.

“Buddy is on special medication to prevent ticks from harming him,” Herb responded. At the time I wondered, how bad can it be out there?

Faver-Dykes Trip 063

We began hiking with Buddy in the lead. July is hot in Florida. Herb and I kid each other that real Floridians can handle the heat. But we forget that we aren’t real Floridians. We’re actually transplanted Buckeyes from Ohio, and Buddy hails from North Carolina.

Faver-Dykes Trip 053

As we approached Pellicer Creek, we felt a delightful cool breeze off the water. We saw a bench and sat down to enjoy our granola bars and bottled water. Buddy had a drink, too, and relaxed in the grassy area at our feet.

Faver-Dykes Trip 056

I took out my cell phone to take pictures.  I noticed I had phone service. (Something not always available at the campsite.)  Herb looked across the river and spotted a cell tower. What luck! We had a great time sitting on the bench, texting pictures and checking our email. I even posted a couple of photos on Facebook.

After about twenty minutes, I noticed something crawling on the front of my shirt. “A tick!” I yelled. Herb rushed over and brushed it off. Then I spotted a tick on his pants. I brushed it off him. “Let’s get out of here.”

We hiked back toward the campsite. I still wasn’t very worried. So we saw two ticks. Big deal. We’re only a mile from the campsite. All will be well.

When we reached the campsite, we sat on the ground with Buddy and examined his belly. I lost count of the numerous ticks attached to his legs and stomach. I felt terrible. What did I do to my dog?

I grabbed the tweezers from the first aid kit and Herb and I combed through his fur with our fingers. It wasn’t easy to remove the ticks from Buddy’s skin. They were small, brown, shiny, and wanted to stay put. When I pulled the first tick out I didn’t know what to do with it. It latched on to the tweezers and wouldn’t let go. Then it started to crawl onto my hand. Yikes!

Finally I got the idea of dropping the live tick in a cup of water. It worked. I removed at least thirty ticks from Buddy. We covered the cup with a second smaller inverted cup to keep the ticks from crawling out. If possible, we wanted to keep them out of our campsite. We wrapped the tick filled cup in a plastic bag and dropped it in the nearest garbage can. Hopefully they didn’t escape.

Buddy was a trooper. He didn’t complain, and relished all the attention. Ticks are strange. Unlike other pests, you don’t feel it when they dig in to your skin. No sting, no itch. Unless you check yourself and your family from front to back and head to toe, you don’t know you have them.  I know, I removed three from my ankles.

Hikers beware! July is peak season for ticks in Florida. Nature has many lessons to teach, but we will not attend the July session of the school of ticks again.

 

The Attack of the Killer Snails

Recently I planted twenty pretty pink vincas.  Since the summer rains returned to Orlando, I thought my new flowers would do well. Little did I know the rain activated a hungry army of garden snails. When my trowel scraped through the soft soil it was like a dinner bell announcing, “Come and get it. Dinner is served.”

IMG_9704

Snails like to feast on plants during the dark of night. When morning arrives they take cover under the soil. The day after I planted the flowers I noticed some sawed off leaves lying near the base of several stems.  Oh no, I thought.  How can I stop the snails from destroying my garden?

I remember the snail war of 2015. That year I introduced a successful tactical weapon.  SNAIL BAIT!  I don’t like to use snail bait because of our beagle. Although the label on the package explained the product was safe for pets, Buddy nibbled on some of the pellets and became ill. At the time I was so scared I made an appointment for Buddy to be examined by our vet.  Upon receiving the results of his blood test, the doctor informed me Buddy was alright. However, he suggested I discontinue the use of snail bait in my garden.

Back to the battle at hand. My mom suggested I put broken eggshells around each plant. The snails hate walking on the sharp edges, and leave. I ate two eggs for lunch to build up my artillery.  Still, two eggshells couldn’t begin to defend twenty plants.  An avid gardener herself, Mom sympathized and donated a few more eggshells to the war cause.

My brother offered another idea. “How about fireplace ashes? I heard they keep slugs away, maybe they’ll work for snails.” I liked his idea because I still had some ashes in our patio fireplace that we burned last winter.   Besides, I didn’t really want to eat more eggs. I carefully ringed each plant with ashes to build up my fortifications before another nighttime attack would ensue.

The next morning I rushed out to the patio to check on my plants. Let’s put it this way. If I was keeping score it would be Snails: three / Debra: seventeen. (Remember, I started with twenty.) Sadly, I carried three vinca casualties off the battlefield.

Desperate, I sought advice from the internet. When I searched “snails” a number of links came up. I watched a YouTube video which explained how to harvest garden snails and eat them. Yuck! In the video a man gathered the snails and boiled them in beer. Then he removed the shells and sautéed them in garlic butter. I want to kill my enemies, but I don’t want to eat them.

During my research I learned snails breathe air. If sealed in a zip lock bag the snails will suffocate. That’s a good plan as long as a person can get up early enough to pick the slimy pests off the plants before they retreat into their underground tunnels for the day.

I’d also heard of setting out little saucers of beer to drown the snails. That idea seemed hit or miss. With my luck the snails would feast on the flowers before they belly up to the bar! All of these methods took too much time.  I wanted a solution now.

Yep, you guessed it. I chose the nuclear option. I drove to Home Depot for a box of snail bait and quickly placed the pellets around each suffering vinca before nightfall. The box was labeled non toxic and safe for wildlife. The snails eat the bait, stop feeding on the plants, and crawl away to die.

But what about Buddy?  Suddenly  I realized  I could keep our dog away by fencing the area.  I used our patio furniture to build a fence around the bed and filled in the openings with pots. Someone once said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

IMG_9728

This morning I surveyed my brave vinca troops. Snails: zero /  Debra: seventeen.

 

A Nameless Season

img_7847-2

 

Feet upon the pedals

Moving down the road

Wheels are spinning faster

Cares are letting go.

Shivering in the shadows

Under live oak trees

Pendulums of dingy moss

Swaying in the breeze.

Riding through a clearing

Bright sun warms my face

Days are getting shorter

Time is hard to place.

Autumn is a toddler

Playing guessing games

Silent when a stranger

Wants to know his name.

Haven for the snowbirds

Flocking to the scene

Florida hums a simple tune

In the key of green.

I wrote the poem, “A Nameless Season” after biking around Lake Baldwin.

Like all Floridians, I look forward to the first serious cold front that arrives in October.  Every year I celebrate the cooler temperatures with a bike ride. As I ride I look for natural signs of fall. The leaves on the trees are still as green as ever. Flowers are  in bloom. Welcome to life in the sub-tropics.

Florida is located between twenty-five and thirty degrees north latitude.  We experience more than eight months of temperatures greater than fifty degrees Farenheit. Florida has  two seasons, summer and non-summer. Summer is rainy and hot. Non-summer is cool (comparitively speaking) and dry.

Even so, Floridians like to think our seasons follow the same four season calendar as the northern United States.  In October, we decorate our porches with pumpkins, bales of hay, and yellow potted mums. We hang wreaths of orange and red leaves on our front doors.  We do our best to create our own miniature replica of what fall is “supposed to be.”

As an educator, I tried to explain fall to my young students who were born in Florida or Puerto Rico. They didn’t get it. “What do you mean, the leaves change color? That seems impossible.” They knew when it was summer because that meant they were out of school. As far as fall goes, it’s a time when Halloween happens.

I miss the fall season I experienced in Ohio as a child. October brings back memories of jumping in piles of raked leaves and drinking apple cider. I miss Sunday drives through wooded hills ablaze with scarlet and gold.

Florida’s seasonal changes are subtle. The leaves of the Bald Cypress tree change from green to red. Even though the Bald Cypress has cones, these trees are deciduous. They lose their leaves in winter. (Which I think happens in January.)img_0067

Live oaks remain green practically year round. As soon as Live oaks lose their leaves in February, new leaves immediately appear. They change from dull green to bright green. I cannot rely on the Live oak to tell me if it’s fall.

img_7835-1

Every time I see a Chinese Flame tree I think its leaves have changed color. Don’t be fooled.

img_7914-1

What appear to be orange leaves, are actually seed pods.

img_7945

Have spring and fall have merged into one nameless season?  However confusing this time is, I revel in it.  I’ll trade a few weeks of spectacular color for year round bike rides any day.

img_5466

 

 

 

Web of Wonder

 

img_7696-2

One September night I noticed this spider web above our back door. The web looked scary. What if the architect dropped in my hair when I walked through the door?  As I looked closer, I appreciated the beautiful way it glistened under our porch light. The spider worked  hard to create a masterpiece. Why should I tear it down? After all, the web snared flying insects before they entered the house.

I strained my eyes to try and find the spider. The web hung several feet above my head. In the center I made out a small orange fuzzy looking ball. If that was the spider, it looked harmless.

I asked my family to take a look. Our daughter was visiting at the time. She knew  the spider was  a spotted orb weaver. “I had one build a web on my balcony,” she said. “I didn’t tear it down because it built an amazing web. It died after a few months.”

For her sake I didn’t disturb the web that night. But after a few more days, I wondered how big this web could get. What if I can no longer get through the door without feeling its sticky threads on my face?

I had an idea.  I’ll gently sweep out the web. The spider will probably stick to the broom. I’ll place the broom in the alley overnight and give the orb weaver a chance to escape without killing it. Then my daughter won’t think  I’m a murderer. I’ll be rid of this problem. I grabbed the broom and quickly carried out my plan before I could change my mind.

The next day I discovered the web was back in the same place. I couldn’t believe it. The spider must have hidden behind the porch light when I swept the web away. In twenty- four hours it rebuilt its web.  Then I saw it. I realized the orange fuzzy ball really did have legs and was scurrying down toward me. Yikes!

 

img_7718-2

I took a deep breath and my fear slowly dissipated. The spotted orb weaver was definitely a master builder. My plan to get rid of it failed.  Why don’t  I just let it be?  So I did for another week…

Until the exterminator came for his routine visit. “How are things?” he asked.

“I only saw one roach this month, and it was lying on its back.” I replied. “But there is a large spider web above the back door.”

The exterminator smiled, “I’ll take care of that.”

After his visit, I didn’t see a trace of the web above the door. I kind of missed the spotted orb, but after all, it was only a spider.

During the first week of October we prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. We expected the worst, and were relieved when Matthew did not make a direct hit on the Florida coast.  Orlando experienced winds strong enough to down trees in the area.

The day after the storm I noticed our porch light tilted sideways. As I looked closer I saw a smaller web hanging between the light and the side of the house.

Unbelievable, I thought. This spider is some escape artist. Its web was swept down. The door frame where it made its home was sprayed with poison. Somehow the spotted orb weaver built another web that withstood forty mph winds.  It will not leave until its ready. So now I wait. Maybe I’ll wear a hat when I go out.img_7704

 

 

Florida’s October Surprise

img_7762-2

Dear Fellow Floridians,

Like many of you, I’ve watched approaching hurricanes with anxiety and dread.  I’ve turned on the local weather every few hours.  I’ve prepared to the degree I can prepare. And like you, I’ve seen storm warnings that didn’t materialize. So as Hurricane Matthew churns its way through the Caribbean Sea, I wonder, what will happen this time?

I remember Hurricane Charlie in 2004. My daughter drove to Orlando when forecasters predicted the storm would make landfall near Tampa. Charlie surprised everyone when it missed Tampa, but passed through Orlando.  We never really know what is going to happen until the storm is closer.  Hurricane Matthew has that same kind of unpredictable nature.

So fellow Floridians, instead of worrying, let’s try to relax and think of positive things associated with hurricanes.  Since we have the opportunity to survive without power, we won’t be dogged by political ads on TV.  Without hot water, or maybe even any water, we can have bad hair days and no one will care. We can have romantic dinners of cold canned food by candlelight. After the storm passes, we can grill all the meat that defrosted in the freezer, and invite our neighbors over. We just need to look on the bright side.

All that wind and rain is good news for roofers. Building supply companies all over the country will benefit.  Downed trees provide work for tree removal companies. Local stores benefit from the sale of bottled water and batteries. A good hurricane can stimulate the economy.

Surfers love the high waves that only a big storm can provide. The storm surge can dredge up sunken treasure from pirate ships. Gold might even wash up on shore. A hurricane can deliver great finds for beachcombers.

Teachers and children love vacation time from school. Power outages encourage old fashioned activities like reading books, drawing, and writing.

During the days prior to a hurricane’s arrival, local weather reporters become big celebrities. This is their time to shine. They  stir up the drama and excitement! Today I tuned into Channel 13 to see a weather reporter predict the wind speeds of Hurricane Matthew for early Saturday.

img_7764-2

I hate to say this, but it looks like we’re doomed!

img_7759-3

 

Going Bananas!

The summer heat and humidity of Orlando can drive you bananas! So why not see a bunch in their natural state?  One morning last week I strolled through beautiful Leu Gardens. This lush respite from city life made me feel like I was in a real rain forest!

IMG_6454

A variety of plants thrive in the tropical stream garden. The path is quiet and shady with benches to sit and breathe in the beauty of your surroundings.

IMG_6502

I’m not a botany expert, but I like plants, especially flowering plants. I was amazed at these colorful blooming bromeliads. Some bromeliads shoot out tall spikes to show off their flowers, but some have tiny flowers deep inside that you can only see if you look really close. In the photo below the blossoms are those minute lavender triangles inside the center cup that retains water!

IMG_6440

Many insects and other animals depend on the water that is stored in the cup like center of a bromeliad. (By the way, bring insect repellant!)

IMG_6476
These bromeliads are growing out of a “host” plant.

 

The most well known bromeliad is the pineapple. Did you know they were named by early European explorers who thought they looked like pine cones?

IMG_6501

While in the tropical stream garden, I learned that bananas don’t grow on trees! Instead they grow on stalks. Each flower spike develops a “banana heart”. After fruiting the spike dies, but new offshoots grow out of the base.

IMG_6497

Some banana stalks are only ornamental.  The ornamental bananas have colorful flowers but their fruit is inedible and full of small, hard seeds.

IMG_6478
Ornamental Banana
The Tropical Stream Garden is one of many places to visit within Leu Gardens. It is a lush oasis of rejuvenation and refreshment in the marathon of life!