Water Drop

Half or full way island?
A brief history of Planation Island

Technically speaking,

Plantation Island isn’t an island, or is it?

Plantation Island, looking south to where Halfway Creek spills into Chokoloskee Bay

Chokoloskee a little further off coast, on the other hand, is an island. It’s located in the background of the photo to the far left and pretty close to the mouth of the Turner River where it empties into Chokoloskee Bay. Chokoloskee is a shell midden that dates back to the coastal empire of the Calusa Indian Tribe that dominated south Florida in pre Columbian Times. Believe it or not, it’s maximum elevation is nearly a whopping 20 feet above sea level. That’s higher than most if not all of Naples. Up in 1953, Chokoloskee was a true island community. The only way to travel back and forth to the mainland was by boat. That changed with the construction of the Chokoloskee Causeway that provided an overland route (visible as a thin sliver in the photo above).

Another view of Plantation and Chokoloskee Islands

Compare that to Plantation Island that was built along the banks of Halfway Creek in or around 1968. How did Halfway Creek get its name? Answer: By merit of its location about halfway between Turner River (Chokoloskee) and Barron River (Everglades City). As for its height, my guess is its just a few feet above sea level, or a solid 10 feet lower than the island the Calusa built. And if you consider its surrounded by a creek and mangroves on all sides, despite being on the mainland I think its designation as an island holds up.

Self-named strand?
The answer may be lost to time

Do you ever wonder …

How and why things got their names?

As seen looking Northeast

Case in point is Kirby’s strand. Why Kirby Storter and not someone else? I can only imagine he loomed large in his day. How else could he have succeeded in being honored with both a strand and boardwalk in his name. Yet he wasn’t a titan of industry as was Barron Collier, although he worked for the latter as a carpenter and electrician, as well as overseeing construction of Tamiami Trial. If I were to guess, it was probably during that stint that he looked at one of the groves of cypress trees that the Trail intersects and decided that he wanted to name it after himself. Naming something is the easy part. The real trick is making a name stick.

My hunch is that had something to do with a map that overtime became accepted as fact. I never knew the man, nor does anybody living today. But I know the strand and it wouldn’t feel right with any other name.

Mysterious curve in the road
The destination that time forgot

Have you ever driven on a road …

That has a mysterious bend?

View from the bank of Deep Lake

Available on Apple Podcasts and Podbean

Top on the list for me is State Road 29, and more specifically the semi-circular curve around 9 miles north of the Tamiami Trail. I’ve been driving up and down that road for over twenty years. And at that curve I always have the same thought: Why in the world did they build the road so close to Deep Lake? At its closest point the road comes within 500 feet of the lake, not that you can see it. More prominent are the stately royal palm trees that rise above the forest of cypress on either side. Further in their is a hammock of high ground and next to it the lake. And not just any lake, it’s the swamp’s deepest lake: Five times deeper than Lake Okeechobee and under 1 percent its volumetric size. But still: Why would anyone build the road so close?

Answer: Modern-day engineering actually curved the road away from the lake. It’s not much of a curve, but it’s better than it was. In the pre-cursor of what eventually became SR-29, Deep Lake was actually the destination that people went to see, and where the road ended in fact. Compare that to today . Most people drive by Deep Lake not even knowing the Lake is there, with a handful of those drivers left to think: “–What’s up with this strange curve?”

Animation of a water control structure

Dual views of S-12A
And why its photo worthy

How many times …

Have I photographed the S-12A?

Sky view looking West (into Big Cypress National Preserve)
Ground view looking East into the Everglades

Answer: More than any other structure in the Everglades, or anywhere for that matter. The reason? Probably its proximity explains it best. I drive by it or near it all the time, and what kind of hydrologist would I be if I didn’t periodically stop and give it a look? But there’s more to it, too. Yes, it’s just a monolith of concrete, really nothing to write home about at first glance — but don’t you think it has an art deco look? US Army Corps structures are a study in good engineering, too. They are impeccably maintained and sturdily built. Then there is the surrounding scenery, too.

But most of all for me it’s this: The S-12A was my introduction to the Everglades. I happened upon it by myself in my first month on the job in the structureless realm of Big Cypress National Preserve. The above monolith of concrete was my gateway into the Everglades at the same time it was a giant concrete sphinx.

As for the riddle of the Everglades, every time I stop by the S-12A I pat at its concrete hulk and say under my breath. “Someday, someday we’ll figure it all out.”

Swamp’s falling foliage
And why it bests the fall "leaf change" up north

In the summer swamp, everything is green.

That gradually gives way in fall to a study in black and white.

The swamp mosaic turns green and gray during the fall, helping make it visually pop. But is it as scenic as the “leaf change” Up North?

Well, probably green and gray is a better way to describe it. Slash pine and cypress comprise the majority of the swamp, and in some places are pretty much all you see. While a connoisseur of the Big Cypress landscape can easily differentiate the cypress from the pines during the spring and summer half of the year (and for the more botanically inclined, all the other green-leafed trees, i.e. gumbo limbo, pop ash, willow and pond apple to name a few): It isn’t until mid October with the browning and then falling of the cypress needles that the boundary lines between cypress, pinelands, prairie and hammocks really start to pop.

While I may be biased, and don’t get me wrong I love the summer clouds — There’s just something super scenic about the cypress losing their needles and turning gray. Partly it’s the contrast to the perpetually green pines, but it also has something to do with the abundance of water still on the ground. October is high water season in the swamp.

The mosaic is more than just pinelands and cypress. As shown above, taller cypress domes are separated by a sea of dwarf cypress and dotted by hardwood hammocks as shown in the foreground

Everyone raves about the fall foliage in the deciduous forest of the Northeast, but we can’t forget that cypress is a deciduous (albeit also a conifer) tree, too. South Florida may not have your traditional “leaf changing” season of multitudinous orange, yellows and reds. However, the cypress needles – by browning and falling – put on an autumnal show all their own. Better yet, it lasts quite a bit longer, too — for four months all the way to February.

But to see it in its most glorious form, you need to see it when the water is still up. Disclaimer: This may involve getting your feet wet. Water is shin to knee deep depending on where you walk in the swamp.

Fall foliage along Turner River road, looking north. Can you see the open marl prairie in the distance towards Upper Wagon Wheel Road?

In sum, for me, if I had to chose: When it comes to the autumnal foliage event, I’d take the swamp’s “falling of the needles” over the continent’s “changing of the leaves” every time.

Full disclosure: My proximity to the swamp probably sways my opinion (to a degree).

Long walk off short pier
It wasn't always a dead end

It’s a short walk on Naples Pier before you have to turn around.

But did you know it used to be the only road out of town?

Brief history of Naples Pier

That was before south Florida had roads.

Residents, tourists and supplies all traveled to Naples by boat.

What we know today as Old Naples was the entire town.

All the rest of modern-day Naples was swamp.

Most recent closure

Today the closest remnant of the swamp is twenty miles away.

Now that is a long walk!

End of the road?
Long walk off a short pier

Naples pier seems like a short enough walk:

Just a thousand feet more and it comes to an end.

Naples Pier is a historical landmark

But, in the time before roads, that’s where the journey just began.

The only way in and out of Naples was by boat.

That made Naples Pier more a beginning than an end.

Swamp buggy parade
A south Florida tradition

Everyone loves a parade, right?

In early November there’s a big one in Naples.

The first swamp buggy of Naples?

The parade is an annual tradition in Naples, FL.  Held every fall, it serves as a local reminder that good outdoor weather (after the stormy summer stretch) has finally arrived. (Caveat: we’re still waiting for it this year.) Of course it’s not riding a swamp buggy on asphalt, but getting it tire deep in water out in the woods that that has local hunters and outdoorsman and women moving into high gear.

Or in other words, time to get the buggy out of the garage!

Historical sign from Collier County Museum

Here’s more information on swamp buggies …

Including the difference between a Glades and Palm Beach buggy, for all you swamp buggy connoisseur out there.

definitions may vary

Deepest lake?
Or is it only pond worthy?

By most metrics,

Deep Lake should be called a pond.

Assorted views of Deep Lake

Considering that it’s only 300 feet across …

And its circumference is 300 feet less a quarter mile, that sounds more like a pond. But if you consider that its open pool is five times deeper than Lake Okeechobee’s 20-ft depth, and – here’s the icing on the cake – that it isn’t enclosed by a 35-ft tall levee, thus allowing its waters to naturally overflow into the swamp.

By definition, that sounds like a lake to me.

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Ode to Oasis VC
A farewell song to a ranger who knew it well

The best thing about a song around a campfire …

Is doesn’t have to be perfect.

That’s what makes Stuck Inside of Oasis (with the Cypress Blues Again) the perfect campfire song. It’s not sung brilliantly, even if the video of Oasis that accompanies the song was shot in broad daylight (with growing cumulus clouds in the background). And I mess up quite a few lyrics and chords – also typical of campfire fair.

The song was written and first sung as a farewell song to a long-time ranger that spent many a long day welcoming and talking to visitors to Big Cypress National Preserve.

More recently I put the song to video, and in listening back I now see it in a much different light. As much as a farewell song to a good friend, it’s as an ode to a rather odd but endearing building called Oasis located in the middle of the swamp.

To me it’s nothing less than a hotspot of the universe.

Listen to the music video here.

P.S. Please share with a friend!

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Stuck Inside of Oasis
A belated farewell song to a Swamp Scholar

The plight of being a park ranger …

And being stuck in a visitor center.

The song as sung by Bobby Angel

Nobody knew that better than Ranger Rudi.

And nobody knew its history better either.

His secret?

A photographic memory and reading a lot didn’t hurt. But mostly it was his penchant for delving into deep conversations about with anyone he met.

The original lyric sheet (as sung at the Brass Tap)

History was never a closed book with Ranger Rudi.

You rarely saw the man without a book in hand, dog eared at various spots. His pursuit of history has been a life-long never ending quest.

Read more