Monday, June 30, 2008

Florida's Toilet

I subscribe to Brown & Caldwell's Water List, which is a weekly update of all things Florida water-related. I learn a lot from this free service. Today's most interesting (and disturbing) read: "Florida's Toilet," a new report by the Clean Water Network of Florida, that scarily details, as the subtitle promises, "How sewage discharges are fouling Florida’s Gulf of Mexico tributaries, estuaries and coastal waters." I highly recommend anyone who cares about Florida at least skim this report.

Here are some choice excerpts:

"The public assumption is that raw sewage is piped to a wastewater treatment plant, and all of its contaminants removed by treatment technology. The reality is that most of Florida’s sewage collection and treatment systems either do not treat wastewater to a high enough standard in the first place, or because of accidents, poor maintenance, or overloaded systems, they allow a large number of bacteria, toxins, nutrients and other contaminants to enter the environment.
Septic tanks, which are increasing in use, instead of decreasing every year in Florida, hardly treat the sewage at all. Secondary treatment does not remove all the excess nutrients, pathogens and toxins. And all the systems that handle human sewage, especially the older ones, are plagued with mechanical failures, leaking pipes, and other problems that cause contaminated wastewater to be released directly into the environment on a frequent basis. The chances of a system owner getting fined or other enforcement penalties for these spills are slim to none.
[Besides coming out of butts and smelling terrible,] Sewage is not a minor risk; it is highly toxic. In addition to excess nutrients, it may contain a host of pathogens, including bacteria that cause dysentery and cholera; viruses that cause hepatitis; disease-causing protozoan such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia; and intestinal worms. Sewage also contains a chemical laboratory full of toxins, either originally in the sewage itself, such as those ingested in pharmaceuticals, or a byproduct of the treatment process, such as chlorine compounds. While treatment may remove most of these hazards, many may survive secondary systems or accidental releases."

We're literally s___ting where we eat (and swim, and drink, and fish ...)! Even small children know this is a bad idea! What is wrong with us?!

The bracketed text above is my addition.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rainy Day Adventure

After we went swimming a couple of times in Manatee Springs, and ate lunch and read the paper, we decided to go canoeing. Right when we reached the car, though (to retrieve the canoe), the rain that had been sprinkling on us off and on since we had gotten to the park began pouring down in earnest. I've never really minded getting rained on (unless I'm stuck in an inner tube on the Ichetucknee River), but the thunder and lightning were not reassuring. I called off the canoe trip.

Rob, always laid-back, suggested an adventure. "Should we go to Cedar Key?" He asked. I acquiesced.

We drove away from the storm with the windows down, listening to Neil Young.

Believe it or not, although I grew up only an hour away from this old port town, I've only been to Cedar Key once, when I was twelve years old. I've been missing out.

It's located on an island on the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by tidal flats.

Downtown is really -- and I want to emphasize that I normally avoid this word -- quaint. Cedar Key used to be a pretty bumpin' port back in the day. Some of the buildings are over one hundred years old -- old as heck for our humid, hurricane- and termite-infested state!

One old building didn't exist. Someone had simply left up the facade -- windows and all -- in front of an empty lot.

Granted, summer is actually the off-season in Florida -- all the Yankees and snow birds go back up to their native climes for the dog days -- but the pace in Cedar Key seemed relaxed even by slow season standards. Golf carts are an extremely common way to get around the island. This companion waited patiently outside a bank for his owner.

As in many beach towns, many artists seem to settle in Cedar Key. That makes for random art around town and art galleries run by artists.

This sculpture was in the yard next to the building that had the mosaic around its front door, pictured above.

I couldn't resist -- the resemblance was uncanny.

At one end of downtown is a little park with this view of the gulf. The pontoon boat was returning from a tour.

We went for a drive around the island. Next to an old cemetery was a reeeeeally long boardwalk out into the flats. We saw tons of birds.

Cedar Key is actually one in a chain of keys, or islands. The keys are federally protected sanctuaries and serve as nurseries for aquatic life and important stops for migrating wildlife. Much of the land in the area is also state preserves. This is why Cedar Key doesn't look like Daytona Beach! Conservation works, people.

Another Springs Trip

Because he's been helping another friend open a restaurant, I haven't seen my friend Rob in a while. So when he asked if I wanted to take Tuesday off to go canoeing, I of course said yes.

Rob's on restaurant time, so we didn't leave Gainesville till around noon. Ominous skies.

Well, whatever -- I got out of the office and got to go to a new spring, Manatee Springs in Levy County.

It's a state park, so there was lots of interpretative signage around. This one was called "Waterfront Dining for Thousands of Years." It basically said the American Indians/Native Americans who used to live by this spring probably had a pretty sweet life -- plenty of food, a mellow climate, and a beautiful spring to swim and bathe in. I've often thought the same thing.

Manatee Springs is a 1st magnitude spring, which means it flows at a rate of more than 100 cubic feet per second. I can tell you that that's a pretty strong current when you're trying to swim against it. Evidently it is the largest spring flowing directly into the Suwannee River.

The spring is named for the large, slow-moving aquatic mammals that enter it in the winter, when the 72-degree water is warmer than wherever they're coming from. Rob needed to let off a little restaurant stress.

The vegetation around all the springs I've been to is fairly consistent. You have your old-growth oaks.

Cypress trees. (In the middle of a lush lawn, in this case.)

Saw palmetto.

Gotta love the friendly local fauna.

I feel like I'm forgetting something.

OH! The spring! Yeah, that was ok, I guess. If you go in for that sort of thing. Crystal-clear, deep water, few other people ... yawn.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Food & Drink

Now to the important stuff. Food and drink!

We really enjoyed the fruit of Michigan's loins. I'll start with the tour we took; we went to two wineries and a cherry processing plant.

The first winery was actually a sort of conglomerate of businesses. It was a CSA (a form of agriculture in which subscribers help purchase seed and get a weekly bag of seasonal, fresh produce), a bed & breakfast, a stable (where b&b guests could keep their horses), a petting zoo, a farmer's market (a store with locally produced products) , a winery, a creamery (for making cheese), and a wine shop/tasting room. Whew! They keep busy.

Here is the farmer's market.

Straight ahead in the below photo is a cave for wine and cheese. Oh, to be a hermit in that cave!

Winetasting room.

Winetasting bar.

Winetasting menu.

Emily and Kim at the winetasting.

A glimpse of the creamery through windows in the winetasting room.

Another room of the creamery (visible through another window in the winetasting room).

Next we went to a cherry processing plant. As might be expected, it was a loud, dirty warehouse that smelled like chemicals.

We went into another warehouse where workers were sorting cherries -- which are yellow because they've been soaking in some kind of chemical bath to prepare them to become maraschino cherries. It was even louder and smellier. Pretty fascinating. We had to wear hairnets.

Then we went to another winery. This one specialized in sparkling wines -- red, white, and rose -- and was a lot smaller than the first (thirty acres as opposed to 160). We sat out by the grapes for our tasting.

We had Sex, all of us, right there on that table. Relax, it's the name of a wine -- the one in the glass below.

When the conference ended, we had a half-day to hang out in downtown Traverse City. We went to a teahouse. I love teahouses. They're always peaceful and I can happily drink a lot of tea all day long. We got a pot of some kind of white tea with herbs and a pot of cacao-mint black tea.

That night we went to a restaurant that served meals made with all local ingredients. Here's the menu.

First course: I got a white bean soup with red wine in it. Actually there were only two things on the menu I could eat (not counting dessert), since I'm a vegetarian. So it was the soup and an arugula salad. So delicious. Oh, and I got some chocolate dessert thing too.

Kim got the trout. I wanted her to show that it was, like, half a fish. I harangued her into taking this photo.

I actually tasted her fish. Which is kind of crazy since I have never, ever eaten seafood (well, except once; see below). I have had an extreme aversion to fish and crustaceans and all that other stuff since I was a kid -- even when I ate lots of meat back in the day. (Please don't comment about how great shrimp, crab, whatever is. I've heard it all before and remain unconvinced.) But when I was in NYC I tried ceviche, which is evidently some kind of raw fish, and I liked it. (We were at a very expensive Japanese restaurant, which may be why it was good.) So I figured, maybe I should try cooked fish. It was nasty.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Northern Light

I always forget how different the quality of the light is up north. But I can't really explain how. Our first day at the conference, we walked downtown to eat dinner. The walk was along a bay on Lake Michigan. It was gorgeous.

It sprinkled as we walked along a canal.

Then a rainbow came out. I haven't seen one of those in a while.

Our hotel room was right on the bay. Kim and I watched the sun go down several nights.

The gloaming might have been my favorite time of day, though.

Rain Lily Explosion

After many dry weeks, it started raining again. Hallelujah! One of the first storms yielded hundreds of rain lilies in my backyard.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Away Again

I neglected to mention that I was leaving town for a few days. I'm in Michigan at a conference until tomorrow, and will be back on Monday with some cool photos of Lake Michigan to post.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kayaking on the Santa Fe

Back to the Santa Fe Saturday for some kayaking with friends. It was a gorgeous day and when I jumped into the crisp water at Poe Springs my insides lit up with happiness. There's something to be said for feeling like there's nowhere in the world you'd rather be than where you are.

Springs not located directly in a river follow the path of least resistance to the nearest river -- this is called a spring run. The Poe Springs spring run is short but treacherous with slimy, sharp limestone. Waders must tread carefully. The water is still really low from the current drought. I've been in this spring run when it was a good two feet deeper than it is now.

The Santa Fe River is considered a blackwater river for its high tannin content. (Blackwater rivers also tend to be high in acidity and suspended organic matter.) Poe Springs is a 2nd magnitude spring, spewing over 44 million gallons per day -- 2nd magnitude springs flow at a rate of 10 to 100 cubic feet per second. The water flows forcefully out of the spring, down the spring run, and into the river. The mingling of the two waters can be clearly seen in the below photo.

Pure happiness.