Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Call Me "Director"

I just found out that I'm on the board of directors of a newly formed non-profit organization my friend Alex is starting in the Virgin Islands. That is, I knew I would be on the board of directors, but I just found out we are officially formed! It's pretty exciting. Alex is a master scuba diver, urban planner, and environmental scientist extraordinaire. She created the organization, Nautical Farms, Inc., to grow coral in order to repopulate the decimated reefs of the U.S. Virgin Islands and simultaneously conduct environmental education, which as far as I can tell doesn't really exist down there. It's going to be awesome.

I was generously given a digital camera by Mindy, and I'm stoked to start using it. I haven't taken any photos yet, because I've been too busy. But this weekend I'm going to Austin, and I'm planning to see some of the nature-y stuff around there. I've never been to Austin. The last time I was in Texas I was hospitalized for the first time ever, so I've avoided the state since then. This trip should be more fun.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye

OK, I admit I'm only a little sorry summer is over. I was tired of sleeping in my living room -- especially because I recently bought new, soft sheets that I wanted to enjoy on my bed -- and there is nothing I despise more than roaches, which thrive in the heat and humidity. Plus I'm tired of wearing the same thing all the time and I want to start riding my bike to work more, which I refuse to do from about June to September.

But it is a little bittersweet to say goodbye to fresh Silver Queen corn on the cob, field peas, and boiled peanuts, not to mention a quiet college town (the students came back at the end of August).

That said, the past couple of weeks have brought us beautiful weather here. Some kind of cool breeze floated down from Canada, bringing with it clear, crisp skies and mild temperatures (the 70s). As a final farewell to summer, this weekend I went with Rayne to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, at the north end of the river. It was idyllic. I wasn't in a great mood when we got there, but by the time we left I felt completely, utterly, blissfully happy. Not to sound hokey, but I think there's something really healing in those waters, and I don't mean the nutrient-fed algae.

After we were done swimming, we sat on the ground near the spring, enjoying the sunlight filtering through the trees and the hypnotizing turquoise of the water. I idly noticed a slight rustling in the nearby erosion-exposed, leaf-covered roots of tree on the shoreline. Curious, I kept watching, eventually seeing a snake slide silently into the water. S/he swam rapidly along the bottom toward the spring run. It was so cool! I've only ever seen a snake swim at the surface of water. Two bass chased it, either trying to scare it away or catch scraps from its meals. It was about four feet long and skinny, with dark-gray or brown blotches all down its body. I think it was either a brown water snake or midland water snake.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Poaching Hawks

This year I've noticed an unusual preponderance of hawks in Gainesville. Everywhere I go, it seems, I hear them screaming, or whatever it is called, or see them circling or perching. There's at least one hawk that lives near my house, at least one in my parents' neighborhood, and a couple in another neighborhood where I spend a lot of time.

But the best hawk-watching is at work. I have a large picture window in my cubicle that looks out onto a sort of yard outside our building. A pair of hawks lives nearby, and they like to hang out on the telephone poles, telephone wires, and trees right outside my window, cleaning their beaks, ignoring angry swooping mockingbirds, and turning their heads 180 degrees. They eat insects at the base of the poles and fly around looking for rodents or whatever. They're magnificent.

Photo by Kim

I think they're red-shouldered hawks, and I'm pretty sure they're a mated pair. Their nest is near the top of a pine tree near our parking lot, about 70 feet up. I don't have any [poached] photos of the nest, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. Around May I heard some chicks peeping! But I never saw them fledge. I wonder what happened to them. Did they make it? Do they live nearby?

Photo by Kim

I have a theory about why hawks are so ubiquitous in Gainesville this year. Here it is: This fall there was a huge crop of acorns, bigger than anyone I know from North Florida can remember it being. I postulate that the population of squirrels therefore exploded, and that the hawks chowed on the squirrels, meaning more of them mated successfully, and more of those chicks survived. Anyway, it's all I got.

Photo by Jen

I never "got" birdwatching until a couple of years ago. Before that, I was all, who cares about birds? But there's nothing like living in L.A. for two years to remind you what's so amazing about North Florida. A couple of years ago I started spending a lot of my free time canoeing on various Florida rivers and paying close attention to wildlife. The more I learned, the more in awe of birds I was. There's something very satisfying about paying careful attention to the plants and animals of a place. I'm not sure I can articulate it more clearly than saying it just makes me feel more alive.

Note: I still don't have a camera, as you can see. These photos were poached from my co-workers. (Thanks!) Until I get another digital camera, I'll try to keep the blog up as much as I can with other people's photos.