April 8 – Fort DeSoto (just south of St. Petersberg, FL)

This past week was pretty much as the last several, with the exception of a day photo-trip I took to Fort DeSoto, a County Park south-southwest of St. Petersburg and located on Mullet Key. 

Photo from the Internet

My drive to reach Fort DeSoto took me across one of the areas signature landmarks, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

The land that would later become Fort De Soto on one of Florida’s barrier islands was inhabited by Native Americans from about 1000 to 1500 A.D. thanks to the plentiful fish, clams, conch, oysters and whelks from the Gulf of Mexico, supplemented by occasional game food as well as the wild plants they gathered.   

In 1529, the Spanish explorer Panfilo de Nafvaez investigated the barrier islands after his expedition landed near present day St. Pete Beach.  Ten years later, Hernando De Soto came ashore somewhere near the southern part of nearby Tampa Bay.

In 1849, a detachment of US Army engineers, including Robert E. Lee surveyed the area. They recommended Mullet and Egmont (an island off Fort De Soto) become fortified as appropriate site for coastal defense installations.  Both keys could only be reached by boat since they were islands off the mainland. Although no fortifications had yet been built, Union troops were stationed on the two keys during the Civil War (1861–1865) to aid in the Union blockade of Tampa Bay with the Egmont Key Lighthouse acting as an observation tower.

The keys were again abandoned by the military until 1882 when military reservations were officially created on the two keys.  However, it would be several years before actual permanent construction would commence as a result of defense considerations linked to the Spanish-American War.

The main operation on Mullet Key, however, became Fort De Soto in 1900, named for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. The Army post was officially a sub-post of Fort Dade, which was constructed on Egmont Key. These posts were to contain batteries of artillery and mortars to protect Tampa Bay from any invading forces.

Construction of Fort De Soto began in November 1898 and completed in 1906. The foundation was constructed of a seashell concrete formula, and the walls and ceiling used a seashell, stone, and concrete mix.

Arriving on the Mullet Key, you are struck by the enormous American flag at half-mast … in honor of the tragic death of U.S. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick.

A right turn

takes you north and to the remains of Fort DeSoto

The main attractions at the completed post were the artillery and 12-inch coast defense mortar batteries, Batteries Laidley and Bigelow.

Two of Fort De Soto's remaining four 12-inch coastal defense mortars of Battery Laidley. The battery originally had 8 of these guns, two in each "pit"; these guns are in Pit "A". These M 1890-MI breech-loading and rifled mortars, which were built by Watervliet Arsenal of Watervilet, NY had a maximum range of 1.25 miles at a 70° elevation and 6.8 miles at 45°. It took a crew of 12 men to operate them.  Only four of these mortars still remain and these are the only two in North America.

One of Fort De Soto Park's two 6-inch 40-caliber rapid-fire Armstrong guns. Originally located at Fort Dade on Egmont Key, the guns were refurbished and remounted for display at Fort De Soto in 1980.  These were installed to fend off smaller and faster boats.

The tops of the ventillation shafts which cooled the ammunition magazines are visible atop the earthen berms.

Observation towers were constructed on both Egmont Key

Egmont Key's Lookout Tower also serves as a lighthouse

and Mullet Key

Still can not figure out how anyone climbed to the top of this lookout tower

where a nest of Ospresy keep watch to this day.

In November 1922 the Army announced it would soon close both Forts De Soto and Dade. On May 25, 1923, the forts were officially abandoned, and only one caretaker remained at each post.  A number of tropical storms and hurricanes severely damaged the buildings on the post.  A few were destroyed, as was Battery Bigelow in 1932. The Army attempted to sell the post, but there was little interest. In September 1938 Pinellas County bought the areas on Mullet Key for $12,500.

For many visitors, the main attraction is the Gulf Bay Fishing Pier

Although others prefer to wading just off the beach for their fishing experiences

while a lonesome kayaker with a fishing pole trailing behind paddled by the end of the pier.

This was the only evidence of any fish over a few inches actually being caught.

For others the park boasts miles of magnificent white sandy beaches and turquoise and emearld green water …

 

and teeming with Osprey,

Great Blue Herons,

Snowy Egrets,

Pelicnas and Anhingas,

and other wildlife!

Before exiting the park, I drove to the east end where yet another distant view of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was visible from a near-deserted beach where I ate a picnic lunch Debie had packed for me.

On my way back to Sarasota, I took a brief detour to Cortez, a quaint area known for its commercial fishing, white pelicans (although I've photogrpahed them there before, I saw none today) and several "RV Resorts" (most look in need of major upgrades.).

Nearby, were several abandoned boats in desperate need of repairs.

My final shot of the day was of the largest Seahorse I've ever seen … it's gotta be 15-20 heigh!.

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March 31 – More of the Same … and Our Second COVID Shots!

Yesterday morning we received our second Moderna COVID-19 shot. 

Now both of us are "card carrying" members of the COVID-19 vaccinated set.

Other than a little tenderness at the injection site, neither of us has had any side effects from our shots last evening.  Today, I am still feeling great although Debbie began feeling a little off and had a slight temperature.  Hopefully, with another day and some Tylenol she'll be back to normal by tomorrow morning.

On the way back to our campgorund, we were driving beside a Cadillac SUV with the license plate reading "RJ GRONK"

and the guy inside looked amazingly like a former Partiot and now Tampa Bay Buc, Robert James Gronkowski.

We're told that in another 14 days we should have our full immunities to the COVID virus … although no one is sure about the protection they might offer to the several emerging UK, South African, Brazilain and even US-originated variants.   We assume there may be booster shots in our future.

Just as we have for the past month, we are being extremely careful and, yes, wear masks when in close interaciton with others here at Sun and Fun and always when going anywhere off the property.  We assume that this will remain the norm even after the next 14-days.

Since our last post, little has changed in our lives other than the weather has been close to outstanding with daytime highs ranging from the mid-70os to the upper 80os. 

We both walk daily and I am RC sailing two to three days each week.  However, the Camera Club is over for this season.

We did participate in another Craft Show where Debbie, again, sold a number of the baly blankets and hats she had knitted

and I sold several prints and took an specail order for a larger print.

I have been able to do some limited photography, mostly of wildlife and local fauna both here in the park and at the nearby Celery Fields conservation area.

Great Egret Gliding to a Landing

Mud Hen

Common Grackle

Great-tailed Grackle

Morning Dove

Red-tailed Hawk

Great Blue Heron

Tuscock Moth Caterpiller

Mexican Prickly Poppy

Common Water Hi\yacinth

White Water Lily

Allamandsa Scholto Flowe, and its Prickly Fruit

Tabebuia Tree in Bloom

Bird of Paradise

Live Oakss Draped with Spanish Moss

Espostoa Guentheri Cactus 

Moon Cactus

Then a number of plants which have taken root in the gutter above one of the Sun N Fun Post Office's doors

 

 

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March 7 – Art Show, Joe & Jeanne Warwick and Incredible Circus Arts Benefit Performance

The past week was highlighted by my participation in a local Art Show here at Sun N Fun where I sold some additional prints and have one oversized print on order. 

We also had two great friends from our 2011 Alaska RV trip, Joe and Jeanne Warwick, over for a delicious pizza and key lime pie dinner before they left for home earlier this past week.

The balance of the past ten days has been pretty routine, sailing and photo club for me and our morning walks group for both of us … and  many hours spent in and aournd our motorhome as we are still being extremely cautious even though we have had out first COVID-19 vaccination.

However, we did make one exception … this past Friday night we went to Circus Arts Conservatory benefit ("Prevail") performance at the youth Sailor Circus Arena with friends Daniel and Traci at which there were several acts by a number of professionals, including some who have performed with Cirque du Soleil … each of whom had donated their time for a brief engagement.  Prevail will subsequently be available on-line, and although we've seen a prior Circus Arts perforemance on-line, it did not compare with being there in person. 

From a safety point of view, the capacity was only 30%, masking was mandatory, social seating distancing was observed and as we had front row seats there were no people seated in front of us.

Of all the subjects I have tried to photogrpay, a circus is unquestionably the most challenging due to the ever changing blue, red and other colored lighting, each of which can vary in intensity during an act.

There was one sad note, earlier this past week one of Debbie's Pennsylvania friends and participants on her weekly Sunday morning Zoom get-together passed away, although it was not unexpected. Mariana was the seventh friend of member of our extended family whose passing we have learned about since leaving home just prior to Christmas. 

 

 

 

 

 

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February 26, 2021 – Got Our First COVID-19 Vaccinations

Debbie and I received our first COVID-19 vaccination shots this morning in Manatee County, just north of our winter campground, where we had previously registered and appointments were made on randomly on a "lottery" system. 

Once arriving at the park where the shots were being dispensed, everything ran like clockwork.  All we had to do was provide identification proving we were age-eligible, show proof we are "long term" snowwbirds (as there have been problems with people making appointments and driving into the state specifically for the shot and then going home immediately thereafter) and pass a temperature check.  We barely felt the needle and the post-innoculation 15 minute wait-period breezed by.  We never had to leave our car.

Coincidentally, just yeasterday afternoon, we'd also been notified our name had bubbled to the top for an appointment this Saturday in Sarasota County, where we are located and had registered a couple of weeks before doing so in Manatee County.

Interestingly, today would have been my parents 83rd anniversary … when in 1938 the two Newton, MA residents and college (Harvard and Pembrike) students secretly eloped to Nashua NH.  Duing the years we lived in New Hapshire, we traced down and found a photogrpah of the person who married them … and surprised them with a copy on their 50th anniversay.

This past week was pretty much routine, generaly beginning with our 2-plus mile walk with the Suntrekker's Walking Group..

We were exhibitors at a craft show her at Sun N Fun this past Saturday morning where Debbie displayed and sold her knitted baby blankets and a hats, and I was selling some of my photography. 

Last month, Debbie was the sales dollar winner but I eked out a victory this month!

Debbie's "highlight" was with our morning walking group which took a new route over to the Celery FIelds. After struggleing to figure out how to take a group selife, they spotted a net fisherman at one of the several lakes and asked if he could help them … which he was glad to do.

Masked

Briefly Unmasked

The group with their new-found friend.

As they got to chatting with him, their obvious question was, "Have you caught anything?'

Actually, he had

A talipia underneath a smaller [unknown] fish.

 

Neaby was the carcus of a Gar,

an invasive species in Florida.  When caught, prople are asked NOT to throw them back but to leave them on the shore where the birds will dispose of it.

My week started off with yet another trip to my dermatologist where he took another biopsy of a small "growth on my right cheek (hope to have the results back next Monday).

After nearly two weeks of model sailboat race cacellations due to high winds … when they exceed 15-16 MPH they are too strong for the boats … I was able to sail with the Sarasota Model Yacht Club yesterday.  I ended up with a 4th, 5th and several results we won't mention.  In fairness, many of the other dozen competitors have been sailing this class of boats for years and one is a national champion in the DF-95 Class.  Great guys and great fun!

.Oh yes, our other big event was a weekly trip to Publix, our local supermarket, CVS to pick up a prescription and a side-trip to Total Wines (no explanaiton needed).

 

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Good News!

Just after returning to our motorhome from our morning walking group, my phone rang. 

Normally, if I don't recognize a number I do not pick up, assuming if it is important the caller will leave a message.  However, a caller's name appeared, "Department of Health" … and I immediately answered!

The caller informed us that our names had been "drawn" in Manatee County … where we had registered in addition to Sarasota County .and where there is alottery system used as opposed to Sarasota's a first-registered-first-appointment was in effect and we nhave number 40,748 while the county had only reached just over 21,000 … and we were being scheduled for our FIRST COVID-19 VACINAITONS this coming Friday, February 26th. .

We can't wait!

Meanwhile, RC sailing has been cancelled several times thi spast week, incluidng this afternoon due to high winds … as for most of the several classes of sailboats it difficult to to control th eboats in winds above 15 MPH.

 

 

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February 5 – 16 –- Another Week of Great Weather … And One Tragedy

While we watched a parade of storms work their way across the country and the Polar Vortex driven chilly temperatures and even colder wind chills into the teens and even single digits, we’ve been able to endure warmer than normal temperatures, although breezy and frequently cloudy skies.

Our days, however, have not changed much, as we still are taking all reasonable precautions against any COVID-19 exposures.  

Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, was an occasion for us to celebrate as it was 56 years ago on February 14th that we got engaged.  However, Debbie still remembers that I did not get down on one knee or, as far as either of us can recall, ever formally ask her to marry me.  Fortunately, as we approach our 55th anniversary this June, it appears to have worked out!

As I was just arriving at my Sarasota dermatologist for an appointment yesterday morning, I received a call from Debbie describing a tragedy for a fellow RVer parked just two streets from our site at Sun N Fun.

The situation was made worse as the engulfed motorhome was owned by a “full-timer” … and someone we've actually met … and who'd lost his wife a few years ago.  The owner, was actually at one of the bathhouses when the fire brokeout in his refirgerator unit.  A passing waker saw flames shoothing out of the roof and called 911, bringing a rapid response from the fire department.  Fortunately, no one of the nearby units nor his car were damaged.

While his coach and its contents were a total loss, for some unexplained reason he had taken his cell phone, keys and wallet with him to the shower.  This afternoon, a neighbor brought over a ladder and flashlight and he was able to reach in the bedroom window to locate and retireve a Christian cross necklace which had beonged to his wife, nearly bringing tears of relief ot his eyes. 

He knows how lucky he is that neither he nor anyone else was injured nor any other property damaged … and that his motorhome can be replaced.

The management here at Sun N Fun has provided him a park model to live in for the near term and any number of truly wonderful people have offered clothes and other items to help him for the next several weeks. It is heartwarming that in times of crisis, the best in people often comes to the forefront.

This afternoon, Debbie, among others, began collecting donaitons to provides some short term funding to help the victim begin to get back on his feet, collecting from so many generous people.

We’ve seen a couple of other burned-out travel trailers along the highway, but never a motorhome.

Debbie and I feel fortunate we have not suffered any major tragety during our more than 96,000 of RVing travels across the US and Canada. 

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January 15 – February 4, 2021 – Sarasota

Today became our 1,600th day of RVing.

During the past several weeks we have continued to restrict our activities and contacts with other people due to the continued spread of COVID-19 here in Florida.  And, the people we engage with in those limited activities in which we are participating (morning walking group, weekly photography club and radio-controlled sailboat racing both here at Sun N Fun and also at Benderson Park) are masked and respect social distancing. 

Meanwhile, we continue to wait for a call for our COVID vaccination shots.  To be considered for a shot, you need to be a Florida resident or provide evidence of a lengthy “snowbird” residency, for which we qualify.  We are registered in the Sarasota County website with a sequence number of 40,748 (appointments are being scheduled on a first-come-first-serve basis).  As of today they have only processed just over 7,700 people.  We are also registered on the Manatee County site from which appointments are handled on a random basis. 

Sadly, there was a gentleman here at Sun N Fun who refused to wear a mask and subsequently was diagnosed with COVID, was then hospitalized and within a few days thereafter passed away.  It is NUTS not to take precautions.

The weather has been quite cool, although during late January and early February such temperatures (sometimes in the low 40os when we get up and some cool afternoons peaking out in the high 50os) are to be expected.  It has also been much windier than we recall in past years.  Beginning next week, more normal weather is forecast.  That said, it has been a vast improvement over what our friends back in Pennsylvania have been experiencing.

Unfortunately, I have become much better friends with our Sarasota dermatologist who has had a chance to hone his Mohs surgery skills on me twice now.  My ears, arms and face are victims or my genes and too much sun damage from teenage sunburns and exposure during the years I was actively backpacking, sailing and playing golf without proper protection.

We did get together with Daniel and Traci, the “young’ couple across the street from our motorhome for a distanced evening of wine and conversation and this past Wednesday with our sister-in-law Judi Melby and her daughter-in-law, Caroline … Judi having lost her husband on December 29th.

Our one recent foray out of the park was to Siesta Key Beach, normally packed with people with hundreds of locals and snowbirds.

This time, it was nearly empty!

The stronger than normal winds have shaped many unique "sculptures".

And the surf was running exceptionally high.

There were large flocks of Skimmers facing into the wind

as well as Royal Terns

which took flight when approached.

Both within the park and at the Celery Fields nature area, I have had a chance for some photography.

Finally, we have enjoyed a few gorgeous sunsets!

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January 1 – 14 – Sun N Fun

This year in Sarasota is somewhat different that in the past.

Other than our morning walk (everyone is wearing a mask), we have restricted our normal activities and the people in those few those in which we are participating area all masking and insofar as possible social-distancing. 

While Florida is trying to vaccinate everyone 65 and older, the supplies being allocated to the state far short of the demand.  To date, if you wanted to get a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, it has been necessary to register on-line.  I have tried on several occasions to be logged into Sarasota County Health Department’s COVID site in advance of the designated times only to see a message that they were SOLD OUT for all currently open dates.  In one instance we hard about, more than 9,000 people tried to register for 600 shots … with all being taken within 15 minutes.

Debbie has decided to avoid her classical stretch, line dancing, knitting and water aerobics (the latter as it has been far too cold for her).  I continue with my photo class (everyone seated alone at a six-foot table set six feet from any other table) and radio-controlled sailing (masked and by the nature of the activity, people are separated).  Neither of us has gone to Petanque, gone out to eat or visited with family in the area thus far. And due to aa fall due to black ice just before we left home, I am refraining from playing any golf until my right shoulder, on which I landed, gets a whole lot better,

We did participate in a campground "flea market” (masks were required) where Debbie was selling her baby/chair blankets and baby hats and I had my photography on sale.  She was the big money-maker for our twosome!

One morning we took a3.4 mile walk around the Nathan Benderson lake,

which hosts not high national school and collegiate one, two, four and eight man/women shell/crew races but Triathlons, Pentathlons and other U.S. and International events … as well as recreational kayaking.

Along two of the fences near the tower,

representing the finishing line for water races, is Sarasota’s 2020-21 Photoville Fence exhibit, a year-round public photography project exhibited in major parks and downtowns across North America featuring both U.S. and international professional and amateur photographers … in panels of 4 to 5 images printed on a white canvas background.  Some of the themes are artistic while others speak to suchissues as segretaion in 20th century American, historic old buildings across teh country and the brutality of autocratic African regimens.

We also have limited out grocery, drug and other store runs and try to go at time of day when the traffic is at a minimum.

Meanwhile, I have rediscovered jigsaw puzzles, which can become not only time consuming but addictive.

However, despite our self-limiting our activities, we find more, particularly outside, things to do here and the weather, while cool in January, tends to run 20o to 30o warmer than back in Pennsylvania.

Between cellphone calls, Facetime and a periodic family Zoom get-together, we have managed to stay in regular touch with our kids and grandchildren. 

 

 

 

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Welcome 2021 … at Last!!

Shorlty after we signed-off last evening, we were getting ready to take a shower and head for bed when there was a loud BOOM! 

Looking out of our window we saw the sky light up almost overhead.  Exiting our motorhome we discovered that just 30 yeards away a group was launching fireworks.  Graabbing my camera, we were entertained for the ensuing 15-20 minutes.

This morning, after walking with our morning group, we headed over to Benderson park, a 600-acre park that incorporates a 400-acre artificial lake. The lake was excavated to provide fill for the construction of Interstate 75 and created a venue which has since hosted National, Olympic Qualifying and World Championship rowing events and such other competitions as Triathalons and Pentathalons. 

When not otherwise being used for formal events, ~3.0 mile walking/biking path around the lake is busy 12 months a year and the lake used by kayakers.

With friends form Sun N Fun, we took a walk around the lake, stopping for the FENCE photo exhibit, a large-scale traveling photography exhibition reaching over 6 million visitors annually through open-air exhibitions in 9 cities across the North America: Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta, Houston, Santa Fe, Durham, Denver, Calgary, Canada and Sarasota.  The works of as many as 40-50 photographers are displayed in 4-5 photo panels along a chain link fence.  Since its inception, THE FENCE has consistently attracted exceptional work by talented photographers from around the world, providng an opportunity to share powerful photographic narratives with a diverse audience of millions of visitors annually, while providing photographers with a truly public platform and unexpected career opportunities.

While many of these panel exhibits display stitll life and other vanilla subjects,

Rural, mostly one room schools across America

In parts of Africa, soccer balls made of plastic and other trash while the goals are a mixture of sticks and rocks

others hone in on such disturbing and controversial subjects as American's Jim Crow segregation era

 

the brutal regimes in Africa where journalists critical of their government simply "disappear" … some later found dead while the fate of others remains unknown,

and the tragedies of land mines left across the landscape after the fighting has ceased … which can have tragic consequences when triggered by innocent children and audlts who are permanently maimed or killed when accidentally triggered..

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Christmas To New Year’s Eve – 2020

Since arriving at Sun N Fun, we have remained pretty much self-isolated other than walking each morning with a group (everyone masked) and I sailed my radio-controlled boat on Sunday afternoon (again people were wearing masks).

On Christmas Day Night, I grabbed my camera to photograph the decorations around the park when lit up.

Almost directly across the street from our motorome, some friends who own a park model have a displaay we have enjoyed every evening.

It is now jusr after 10:00 PM on New Year's Eve.  Three fifth-wheel RVs which arrived across from us yesterday are each displaying an American flag light display.

As 2020 passes into history, Debbie and I are hoping that 2021 will be a better, happier, less restrictive and healthier year for family, friends and people everywhere!

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