Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hermine, A Restaurant Called 83 WEST, and The Cedar Key Spirit

The JEEP view on the way out to Cedar Key the day after Hermine passed by. This is State Road 24 as it cuts through Cedar Key Scrub State Preserve.
Levy county is mostly flat, so much of the heavy rainfall had nowhere to go. We are mostly undeveloped also, so rainfall amounts that would be a disaster in much of Florida, caused much less damage here ... and unlike paved over Florida, it soaked into the ground and replenished local aquifers.
On the way out to Cedar Key, the perpendicular side roads that meet State Road 24 seemed more river than road.
Cedar Key and the nearby islands are relic sand dunes from a much larger and drier ice age Florida. They are mostly just high enough to be called islands with very little true "high ground".  The Cedar Key School is one of those "higher" (it's all relative...) sites, so folks brought their boats and trucks here to ride out the storm surge.
This was a common site after the storm. Trees, limbs, and also people's furnishings were lined up along most streets.

83 WEST ... this is the building that was front and center of the Weather Channel Cedar Key coverage during Hermine. The camera was located to the left of this picture near the boat ramp and streamed dramatic footage of 83 WEST and the rest of Dock Street as Hermine battered the town. 

At one point that evening, the remotely mounted Weather Channel camera was taken out by a piece of decking from 83 WEST, ... as if to say, "Enough! Enough of broadcasting our pain to the world!"

You might wonder, "What's it like to be a young, professionally trained chef whose first restaurant is gutted and battered by a hurricane just a few months after the grand opening?"

If you are Chef Jordan Keeton, the answer is not anger and depression, it's an all positive, let's get this mess cleaned up and get back to work cooking and serving great food.

(Personally ... I can't wait until they are serving pickle fries again.)

Disclaimer: Jordan's family and my family are very close, and we think of them as extended family, and once upon a time, Chef Jordan was just a kid in my science class at Bronson High, as were his sister and brother.
So there, you can filter for bias, but you would've seen the same attitude if you were there during the cleanup.

Everyone bustling around the poor battered building had that kind of attitude post-Hermine.

 In fact, that positive, "Let's fix this" attitude was everywhere on Cedar Key.

In the immediate aftermath, Chef Jordan had food that needed to be used, so we took home a giant chub of ground beef, bags of lettuce, fruit,some onions, cheese, buns, etc.

My wife Liz transformed these into many pans of Ziti, salad, garlic bread, and sweet cake ... which we took back to 83 WEST the next day to feed the helpers, and ANYONE who stopped by and needed a meal.
We fed over 60 people that day.
I was one of them and yes, it was delicious.

Hermine's storm surge and wind-whipped waves stripped away the deck planking and tossed valuable restaurant equipment into the Gulf.
When I first arrived on the day of the food, I was looking out a hole in the wall where glass windows had been while 2 guys with masks and snorkels felt around in the murk for sunken equipment. 
These 2 strangers, who described themselves as commercial divers, had arrived with mask and snorkels to help out.
I was peering over the shoulder of a teenaged helper, watching them, when one of the "divers" said to the teenager, "Hey, we need someone to carry stuff over to the seawall as we find it. Get your ass in the water."

The kid hesitated and I stepped up, "I'll do it".
Now, of all the jobs to be done that day, if this had been on some kind of list... I would have fought for it.
Somehow, leaving home with tools and chainsaw, it never occurred to me that recovering things from the water was a need. 
So, I stepped out on to the stripped joists, and lowered myself down into the Gulf.
For the next few hours, as the "divers" found stuff,(with their feet mostly), I toted a wide variety of things over to the seawall, where I lifted them up to other helpers, like Raymond Hood.
In the picture above, the divers had found a trove of beer bottles that had been washed overboard.
Some things we recovered: beer, large table umbrellas from the deck tables, heavy umbrella anchors, tables, glass panes from the windows, a large commercial smoker, hurricane panels, kitchen scales, and other restauranty stuff.

For a moment during this watery work, after I had banged my shins about 20 times on old oyster-studded submerged pilings invisible in the murk,  ... just for a moment, I pondered the fact that this water, only a few days after the storm was probably flavored with a good dose of sewage overflow.
It's pretty common for sewage systems to be overloaded with water during this kind of storm.
So yeah ... after you're in it, wadda ya gonna do?

This ladder has a Raymond at both ends. 
How cool is that?

I'm at the distal end, and Raymond Hood is at the proximal end.
The ladders had been chained down during the storm and we were bringing them inside where they could be useful.

So there you have it, just a snapshot of things that were going on ... and are still going on all over Cedar Key as this amazingly close-knit community pulls together to heal from Hermine.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Black Bellied BABIES!!! ...YEAH BABY, YEAH!!

Here is why the pair of adult Black Bellies would not leave my pond. Somehow, unseen by anyone here, they had nested and raised 8 ducklings to "almost adulthood" without any of us noticing.

Not even Hermine, a category 1 hurricane, could run them off from the cover rich, duckweed coated , tiny pond of mine.
I am so glad.
They are very alert, but laid back about my presence when I sneak around for a few pics.
I don't go down each day, and the dogs and I take a different route when we walk now.
I know they'll go eventually, but this is even more awesome than the brown pelican who showed up years ago.

He was apparently ill and only lasted a few days, but it was odd.

This is the whole family starting to get a little nervous about my presence. They have clumped together, a parent at each end, and are just starting to glide slowly towards cover on the opposite side of the pond.
This was the last shot before I turned and let them be. 
They had reached the flooded willowy, cypressy, swampy side and were comfortable enough to park it for a while.

As you can guess, I'm feeling pretty protective. 
More than once, I've walked down at night when I heard duck chatter... actually, a few days ago I dropped two armfuls of groceries on the way to the house over these ducks.

I had just loaded up for the "bag walk" to the house when a whistle duck racket broke out down at the pond.
I dropped the groceries and ran down there, but either the threat had left or my presence changed their focus.

Whatever the case, they seemed fine and were back to their usual awesomeness, so I trudged back up the slope.
Maybe a hawk or owl had cruised over, I don't know.

My research on Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks shows that they "take readily to nest boxes".

Already got that plan printed and will be making a nest box happen in the near future.

I am so curious as to where they actually nested, but will leave that exploration for a time after everybody has fledged and ... probably left.

Loving it while they are here though.