Month: June 2020

How Many Alligators Are There in Florida? 1.25 Million!

So, what happens when you take a 5th generation southern California native and uproot her 2600 miles away to the semi-tropical southwest Florida gulf coast?

Well … these are the “selected” shells. I limit myself to one handful per trip, only ones I’ve never gotten before. I now know the names of many of these. The orange ones are scallops. Like the little ones we eat.

So I really like Florida. It reminds me of when I was a kid in California. It’s not crowded like L.A. and Orange County have become. There’s still plenty of room for enthusiasm and exuberant displays of individualism.

This here is Gatorz in Port Charlotte. A homey, down to earth kind of place. This here below is a “gator” as in 6-foot alligator I saw crossing a divided 4 lane highway in Englewood. We have a small one that lives in one of our nearby ponds.

So I was driving down the highway on the way to walk around downtown Venice, FL and this car is stopped in front of me. Why is he stopped? What’s going on …

Ohhhhhhhhh. This massive gator was just completing his stroll across the busy, divided highway. I managed to get my camera out to capture him just as he hunched his massive body and started to insert his snout into the bushes by the side of this big housing development. This guy was just owning the entire road. I had only seen big gators sunning themselves before and this guy’s massive, catlike muscular movements amazed me.

So, not being an expert or anything, what I have to say is that these animals are in no way awkward, lumbering, or “slow.” No way could a person outrun a determined gator. So let ’em be. I am in awe and I learned – there are 1.25 million alligators in Florida. They are no longer endangered.

So, I see sea turtle nests on all of our beaches. Everyone who knows me knows my feelings about any type of turtle or tortoise, but I especially love sea turtles. On our honeymoon in Kauai, I got to snorkel around the island and I was able to swim right alongside a sea turtle for at least 2 minutes. They are so graceful and gentle and powerful.

So you can’t really see in this longer-distance picture, but there are sea turtle nests all along the green strip of vegetation on the beach. This is Don Pedro Island, one of the state parks you can get to only by boat.

I’m anything but an expert but one of the things that decided me about leaving California for Florida (among the many, many things) was that my impression after only a week’s visit to SW Florida was that the environment in Florida was a lot healthier than California. For someone who’s spend her whole life outside in California and seen the degradation of the 60s and 70s and the renewal of conservation and clean air efforts – whatever battle this was, is one I think that has been at least temporarily, lost. Not only is there what I glumly called “the diaper zone” in all hiking areas (a 1-2 mile radius around any parking area where you’ll find discarded diapers, beer cans, bottles, etc.), we went to Sanibel and Captiva in January because I’d finally gotten fed up with searching for the least, tiniest sea shell up and down every beach in the state at all hours of the day and night.

If people don’t think there’s something “wrong” with the fact that there are no sea shells on California’s shores – I could find no “official” information about this, and while younger people at conservation organizations would readily say they agreed with me – the shells are GONE – this isn’t something that I can currently find any information about. But trust me. Seashells were never as numerous on California beaches as they are on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but they were there. Now?


I wanted to come to Florida not just for the shells but everything else. The clean, soft white sand beaches, the kindly (at least when there’s no storm) Gulf waters, the sun (sure – it’s Skin Cancer central – what do I care?) and the incredible variety of wildlife. Not just the 1.25 million gators but the birds, the fish, the rays, the dolphins, the manatee. The little dark bunnies and the petite dark squirrels. The gopher tortoises and sea turtles.

This is the Tiki Hut white bird (great egret). There’s another one just like him who hangs out at Pinchers in Fort Myers Beach – that guy’s named Henry. This right here is Henry, waiting for his oyster. He likes shrimp and oysters — who wouldn’t?

There is an additional group of fellow residents here in Punta Gorda with whom we share the community. I haven’t gotten a good shot of the young dolphins that fish in the early morning or evening in our canal. But I have gotten some pictures of the birds. We’ve got Big Boy the massive Muscovy duck and his girlfriends (there’s another younger male whom they prefer, but Big Boy, a distinguished older gentleman, occasionally gets them back — as captured here on camera).

Big Boy was living under my Jeep for a while … but he’s moved back to a larger pond nearby.

So if you are out on the water you’ll see a lot of water birds, like this cormorant. They like to sit on the channel markers and dry their wings.

The waters are literally full of fish—all kinds of fish—all ages, all sizes, all types, from snook to snapper and grouper.

It is really hard to take a good picture of a moving animal in the surf but I was glad I got this picture of a young brown ray. I saw these guys “playing” in the surf in January and thought “they’re so active!” No doubt – these were males chasing females to catch them and mate.

Having petted any number of rays, they don’t feel anything like what you’d think. They’re warm and their skin feels like skin. You can feel how strong their muscles are. They are obviously intelligent and have very distinctive personalities.

Which brings us to — this is my best picture of a manatee. There is a large group that gathers at Jensen’s Marina on Captiva.

Manatees are exactly what people say: “the cows of the sea.” There’s obviously a strong bond between mother and calf. These animals spend most of their day grazing and they are — let’s see, how to say it politely —  not the most active creatures in the world. They basically float in shallow water and eat sea grass. The rules for all the canals, marinas, docks, and intercoastal waterway anywhere around here are meant to protect the manatee from harm and preserve the sea grass they depend on. So many fish live in this seagrass, too.

In addition to these animals, we have chickens (white Ibis) which flock exactly like chickens but are Egyptian-appearing birds, and an unbelievable array of sea and shorebirds, from sanderlings to sandhill cranes.

I was walking on the beach on Manasota Key and came across a sandhill crane observing a boy of about 10 who was fishing. The crane was gauging his angle of attack if the boy had managed to catch a fish. I didn’t have my phone or I would have taken a picture of this amazing scene.

And we have many pelicans, both white and brown.

The one at the bottom left of the frame had sidled near to Bruce on the beach and was looking at him with a profoundly loving expression. He seemed like a young, naive and affectionate pelican. I hadn’t realized until I came across this friendly group on Sanibel Island how pretty pelican faces really are. They have a light covering of fur-like feathers and really gentle-looking, soft eyes.

Which brings me to dolphins. I can’t say I have any one favorite type of animal over another. To me, all animals are wonderful and I’ve even managed to overcome my instinctive dislike of horseshoe crabs. I keep telling myself, “maybe they are really nice despite the way they look.” But I really love dolphins. Those we had plenty of in So Cal. The dolphins here on the Gulf are supposedly the same common dolphin, but they seem smaller and livelier. This is my best dolphin picture, from the Everglades.

Yeah yeah I know. Well at least my thumb isn’t in the picture.

So as I noted, we have a couple of juvenile dolphin who fish in our canal in the early mornings and at dusk.

So, I have only been living in SW Florida for a little over two months and visited for a week in January and I have already got a huge number of pictures of animals and birds.

There are so many state, local, and city parks and beaches here. And they’re all free or very low cost to visit. When I first went to Sanibel, I was stunned.

“You can pick up the shells on the beach?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the ranger at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge (worth a post on its own — I’ll get ’round to it). She explained anyone was welcome to collect any empty shell, but leave living animals on the beach. Having been “fooled” by at least three massive lightning whelks burrowing into the sand, it’s very possible to pick up a perfect-looking shell that looks perfect because it contains a living animal.

So every day there are hundreds of thousands of new shells on the beach. People pave with shells here. The very land of Florida is made from sea creatures (coral and shells). The mangroves and the shells make new land. That is the Everglades 10,000 Islands (where the dolphin picture was taken).

People fish here, heck they fish all day and night long and guess what? There’s fish being born and growing all the time. There are thousands of tiny sprats hiding under the docks outside our small place and this is just one dock among thousands within a mile of here.

So, you know how they talk about Florida in California and on the news. Florida is full of stupid rednecks, right? It’s full of flesh-eating bath salt maniacs and people who get DUIs on riding lawnmowers.

Well. I moved from a place that was rapidly becoming totally hostile to natural life and human life — my native born home, California.

And I don’t see any of those things here. I have yet to meet a stupid, ignorant person here in Florida and I have met a lot of intelligent, knowledgeable, and caring ones. I see nature and animals thriving here. I feel the life here.

I can’t describe this feeling adequately, but maybe you’ve felt it. I’ve felt it several times here, from the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel Island to Don Pedro Island and the Everglades. I’ve felt it driving along country highways on the way to unspoiled, uncrowded beaches. It’s a feeling of wordless, overwhelming joy in life. It’s the feeling where you know there is something more, something vastly bigger than your own small self, and that there is a force of life and nature that’s all-encompassing and so, so powerful.

I’ve felt it on Kauai too. But it had been many years since I felt it in California.

And that makes me sad. Because my former home was once one of the most beautiful and life-filled places on the planet.





Space X Launches 2 crew into space May 27 2020

Now I Can Cross Watching Astronauts Blast Into Space Off My Bucket List

I never thought I’d see a crewed rocket blast into space at Cape Canaveral, yet — here I am. I also never thought I’d live in Florida, and likely would never even visit the state, yet — here I am.

I do remember Apollo 11 landing on the moon and I remember Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the flag. I recall sitting on the living room floor in our house in the orange grove cross-legged, eating an Oreo and drinking a 6-oz glass of milk. The living room walls in the grove house were cedar panels. I remember Rebel sitting next to me, his big head and floppy ears resting on his big old paws. Rebel was a phlegmatic Basset hound with deep brown, mournful eyes. I had learned to walk by clinging to his ears and toddling.

It seemed very easy for these two guys to hop out of the Lunar module and caper around the moon. At age seven, I thought the big rocket was just like the small rockets one of our teachers had launched at school. In my mind, flying to the moon was maybe a little farther than flying to Paris. My child’s mind told me that the astronauts were just like The Little Prince only instead of a nice costume and scarf, they wore puffy, funny suits.

The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery

This is in my child’s mind. All through school, we drew peace symbols, stuck “ecology” stickers on our notebooks, and learned about the Apollo astronauts. I was certain that by the time we were all grown up, the world would be a beautiful, green, peaceful place, and astronauts would be flying all over the universe.

Just like Star Trek.

I was too young to be allowed to stay up and watch Star Trek. But by the time I was in third or fourth grade, it was on every day after school. Most days now, I can’t remember everything I’m supposed to do, but nearly every Star Trek episode is burned into my brain. Within 10 seconds of the show’s first scene, I can tell which episode it’s going to be, from the idiotic ones like “Space Hippies” or “Landru” to profound ones like Harlan’s episode.

So at the same time I was eating the Oreo, drinking my small glass of milk, and wondering at the stars, it was the height of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy had been in their graves one short year.

I didn’t know what war was. When Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was only a few blocks away in the waiting room of a doctor who was planning hip surgery on my beloved Bampy (my grandfather). I heard them say Bobby Kennedy had been shot on the small white radio in the waiting room, and I heard the nurses crying.

“Can’t the doctors fix him?” I asked.

No — the doctors couldn’t fix him.

How could I imagine I’d grow up to write a book about Buzz Aldrin or accomplish the few goals I had as a female science fiction writer?

And so I never imagined I’d see two men go into space on a big rocket. But so I did.

Space X crewed launch May 27 2020

Nothing about Cape Canaveral or Merritt Island was like what I thought it would be. One way to see the launch is to take a boat on the Banana River as close as you can get. You motor out as fast as you can and wait. The countdown you hear on TV  is delayed from the real launch. So by the time those at home see the launch, the rocket has already reached the clouds.

It is not as loud as I’d imagined. The rocket looks like a small glowing needle rising through the sky.

It’s beautiful.

It’s also small and frail and very human. It’s as frail as the Wright Flyer I saw over my head, and the Apollo space suit — thin white canvas — that I saw at the Air & Space Museum in 1993. Also on that trip I experienced this.

It was difficult for me to write this because there are so many feelings of hope and pride and disillusionment and grief mixed together when I think about space.

I just searched my name on Amazon to link one of my books and despite the fact I have published 40 books, it was suggesting another person’s name. I had to work very hard to find my own book.

Small and frail and like specks of dust are we all.

As we rode out (twice — the first launch was scrubbed due to late spring storms) in the boat, there were so many others on their way. This flotilla leaving Cocoa Beach was mostly small yachts, a few sailboats, several jetskis, little skiffs, and a scattering of speedboats. There were people up from Miami in the group, but most were local, aside from Bruce and me and a couple of others from Florida’s west coast. A few had also flown in from other parts of the country.

Every soul I saw save three were … hard to say it … whiter than me.

And this wonderful launch I saw had two worthy astronaut heirs to the Apollo 11 crew, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Do people even know their names like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Do people know any of the Space X astronaut names?

A lot of people know the name of the man behind this current launch: Elon Musk.

As we just moved from California, I would estimate at least 10-15% of the cars on the road back home were his vehicles. And I do give Mr. Musk credit for resurrecting the name and ideas of a once-nearly-forgotten man: Nikola Tesla.

But I bet I haven’t seen more than four Teslas on the road — including on the Space X launch days — in the 75 days I’ve been living in Florida. Dodge Boys and Carroll Shelby rule here.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Florida. I love the beauty of the sea here, the rich nature, and the incredible feeling of just being here. We are in a small town in SW Florida, Punta Gorda, and it’s very much like the small town in Southern California where I grew up in the orange grove and had my cookie and milk and watched the astronauts walk on the moon on that long-ago day. I keep wanting to take pictures for my friend Merry Mary and my friend Cathy because the City Hall is so nice here, and the houses are so much like Redlands, but tropical.

Gambit loves it here.

You see amazing things every day here.

If I can remember back to that long-ago day, over 50 years ago, I was a little girl eating a cookie, drinking cold milk, and dreaming of the stars like Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, and at the same time, there was a terrible war no one wanted or understood, there were people protesting in the streets for the most basic of rights, and my mother had died of pancreatic cancer leaving a 3 month-old baby (me) and a ten-year old son (my brother Sammy) and her husband, my father, behind.

And I think it has been so hard for me to write this because in so many ways, not because things have gotten worse, but because things have gotten easier for so many people. But in the way of the world, when the basics of our lives ease, it grows so difficult to understand the important things.

We lose track of what’s important. We trade values for money.

I see and hear the same statements today as I heard not long before that moon landing day while playing outside in the driveway as my Bampy sat on the porch with his friend from the Sheriff’s office drinking a “highball.” I never heard my Bampy’s voice raised in anger before, but I heard it this day, and stopped riding my tricycle. He stood and said loudly, “Get off my porch ___________ if you’re going to use that word. You get out and don’t come back.”

And this was the first time I had heard that word. I’m sure you can guess what that word was. The “N” word.

Maybe they were talking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe they were talking about somebody else. But I do know that ______________, who had served with my grandfather in the Sheriff’s office in Redlands when he was Constable during World War II, got up and left and never came back to our house again.

My grandfather was specific in his lessons to me. He wasn’t a man of many words, but he’d often tell a brief story or two while we drove around the grove in his Rambler. I was small and couldn’t do much but felt very proud to help him open the flumes or sometimes, even lift the gates so he could light the smudge pots. That was in the days when they still smudged.

The feel of the damp sandy loam, the smell of the earth, the dark dust on the orange tree trunks and limbs, and the shiny dark green leaves and the smell of orange blossoms. I’ll never forget.

It was the same then as it is now.

When I saw the Mercury capsule that had carried John Glenn into space and back at the Air & Space Museum in 1993, I was struck speechless by how small it was. I could encompass its battered and blackened heat shield with my arms. It was barely large enough to hold his folded, strapped-in body.

They say at times the atmosphere dips so low that the peak of Everest is above it.

And sitting with my little cookie and my glass of milk, I didn’t know the difference between the air and space. I didn’t what Everest’s death zone was, nor know what it took to launch a person into space. I never wanted to be an astronaut nor thought it possible for me, but I didn’t understand the rules of society that made the Space X crew pretty much the exact same type of crew as Armstrong and Aldrin back then. I know those rules backward and forward now.

Did I know then that Gene Cernan would be the last man on the moon — to this day? Not at all. Who could have imagined what would have happened after that hopeful day of pride and achievement, July 20, 1969.

So, I think, it’s about what we imagine and wish will happen next. In this, I can’t fault Elon Musk and do not want to fault Space X as much as I dis-admire the racism and colonialism that has provided him and his company with the funds to pursue space ventures. As much as I disapprove of our government’s appalling corruption which has denied the space program the funds it needs, so that a “private business” can pursue space business and our government can declare we have a Space Force like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. It stands to reason there are other life forms out there — and we are building things and approaching it as colonizing, violent ripoff artists.

Space should be for every person, not just a select few. And there are many things we need to leave behind in general, from racism and gender bias to the drive on the part of some to endlessly rob, cheat, steal, destroy and kill.

I watched every Star Trek show over and over as I grew up. Star Trek obviously didn’t include money and the “money” and greed-oriented characters (as well as gender biased) were personified by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. A dreadful man, as I recall.

It doesn’t seem like there’s much opportunity for the average person to have anything to say about the way things are going these days. All the same, to those who are continuing to treat others badly and who are so egotistical and value-impoverished, I want to stand up like my Bampy did and say “Get the hell off my porch and never come back!”

Keep going into space, by all means. But the right way, for the right reasons.










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