Thursday, February 25, 2010

Strawberry Festival Time

March in Florida is just about perfect.  Spring has sprung, the weather is usually in the 70's to 80's and strawberries are ripe!  This is the month of strawberry festivals which can be found all over the state.  The most famous is The Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, a quaint little town along the corridor between Tampa and Orlando.  A ten day bash that draws crowds from all over the world, they devour record amounts of strawberry shortcake each year, all grown locally on over 5,000 acres of land devoted to strawberry plants.  Florida is much more than condos and beaches - in fact, it is one of the top agricultural states in the U.S. 

A much smaller but just as yummy fest is on March 6 & 7, 2010.  It's the Floral City Strawberry Fest (Citrus County).  I'll be there with my Seaphemera Jewelry along with many other art & craft vendors.  This festival is new for me, and I'm trying to meet the promoter's request to have a few strawberry products.  Hmmmmm, strawberries, although the fragrance would be lovely, probably do not make very sturdy earrings or necklaces.  So, a search quickly brought up these alternatives:  Strawberry Quartz and Strawberry Glass.  The quartz is a natural stone with pink striations, the glass manmade with a pretty pale strawberry pink color.  I opted for the glass in both rough cut, which has a frosted look similar to beach glass, and some faceted briolettes which were impossible to resist.  I'm a total sucker for a briolette!  So, I have started playing with them, but I need to get busy since the festival is only two weeks away!  Here are some of the rough stones:
I'm creating some little sterling wire "leaves" to add to the top of the "berries".  The briolettes I matched up with some feldspar beads, and next will be some seashells and strawberry glass combinations. 

I came across some red branch coral in my stash, and decided to call them "Sea Strawberries" - I can do that, right?   I've made several pieces with them as well. 

It's going to be interesting to see how people react to my "strawberry" items.  I'll report back post-festival. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Heron Tree

I live on a little cove in central Florida. It connects to a larger lake - actually, a chain of lakes, which makes for really nice boating. My boat is a kayak. I guess I'm a fair weather kayaker - because recently I realized that I've haven't done much kayaking this winter. Florida has had it's own "rough winter" - lots of rain and cold, windy days. But this weekend has been wonderful. So, yesterday I went out in midday, across the lake and explored a bit. Found a quiet little cove with no houses - just a bit of old Florida wilderness. There I found treasure: several pairs of great blue herons nesting in the bare branched cypress trees. Why do I never have my camera with me when I need it? I could see one standing on the edge of the huge nest and it appeared to be feeding babies - or maybe feeding the mother as she sat on the eggs. Herons were flying back and forth - the dads, I presume, on guard - carefully watching me, the stranger, getting closer and closer. I took it all in for a bit and then headed back - making mental plans to come back tomorrow with camera.

As soon as I returned home I checked the weather for Sunday - darn - looked like a chance of rain as the day progressed, so I knew I needed make an early start. About 9:30 - not very early, but hey... it's Sunday - I put in, the water calm and the sky a lovely blue with wispy clouds. No threatening weather - not even a gator in sight (did I mention I'm a transplanted yankee and dread the first time I see a gator in the water when there is only a half inch of plastic between my butt and his teeth?) I paddled across the cove and under the railroad bridge that separates my cove from the lake.

The lake was like glass, and it was incredibly peaceful and quiet. Only a couple of fisherman in small boats along the edge. I was a little worried that

when I arrived the herons would be out to breakfast. I'm no expert on heron nesting behavior, so I wasn't sure if mom & dad went out to eat together - or if one stayed at the nest. I got lucky - they must have already had the early bird special like lots of the rest of us in Inverness (Rexall Drugs - home of the 88 cent breakfast!) - because the moms were all on the nests, and dads were close by soaring over to take a protective stance at the edge of the nest.

The heron tree is a cypress that sits alone in the water - not along the edge with the hundreds of other cypresses. I guess this makes it desirable to the birds - they have a clear view in all directions. This cypress tree is rather short & wide compared to those along the banks. There are five nests in the tree. The herons are about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall - so you can imagine the size of the nests.

I paddled in through the water lilies, their thick white buds just about to pop open, and spiky grasses still mostly brown from the cold snap a few weeks ago. It was slow going, and I was keeping one eye on the birds, the other looking for gators. They are so darn hard to see until they're right there chomping your arm off. Thank goodness they are way more scared of me than I am of them! I'm sure they saw me coming a mile away and headed for quieter territory.

I got as close as possible, and with my little digital camera zooming in, managed to spy the mama bird's head peeking out of the nest. Hey Dad, it's a dead giveaway when you fly over and stand right next to the nest!

Here's some info about nesting herons:

and on this site you can listen to their calls:

And of course, Wikipedia

As I turned to head back across the lake, I saw another heron sitting on a clump of sticks right on the water. It didn't fly off when I approached. Looked kind of lonely. I decided not to pester it - maybe it was enjoying the solitude.
I paddled back home, under the old railroad bridge that is now a biking/walking trail, and had a nice cup of tea.