Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why I Went To The Space Coast Bird and Wildlife Festival

Here's the reason ... no, not the gopher above. I can step out into my yard and see an entire gopher colony.

The picture below is the reason.

(Photo by Phoebe)

If you don't read Julie Zickefoose's blog, or haven't read her book, " Letters From Eden ", you are forgiven, but only this once.

Let's get on that, okay?

Julie is one of those folks who must have got in line about 3 or 4 times when they were handing out talent. She's a writer, poet, painter, sings in a band, and ... I'm going to stop now, because I'm feeling somewhat akin to a stump.

Of course, talent is one thing, but I believe she works really hard to make things happen.
It always bugs me when someone attributes a person's accomplishments all to talent, ignoring the hard work that makes success possible.

Saturday, I hit the road early and drove across the state to Titusville, home of the Space Coast Bird and Wildlife Festival. This is an amazing festival with a seemingly endless list of classes, speakers. field trips, and displays.

A gopher tortoise walk with Julie was scheduled for 1400 hours at a county park called The Enchanted Forest. In an email several weeks earlier Julie had shared that she would be speaking at the festival and it would be a good chance to meet if it wasn't too far away.

I marked my calendar that day and informed the family that I would be in Titusville on the 29Th of January, so no family emergencies were allowed on that Saturday.

The young guy who was our guide on the gopher walk did a fine job. The event started with a bang up PowerPoint presentation in a classroom setting ... I covet his PowerPoint for my classroom.

As I looked around that classroom, surrounded by gopher lovers, it occurred to me that I was probably the only one in the room who had eaten gopher stew. The older folks were probably retirees from nongopher northern climes. One exception may have been "Crackerboy", a fellow Florida blogger. I didn't ask such an incriminating question.

Of course, the younger ones had grown up in a time where the gopher is a protected species and the idea of eating one now is a little akin to making roast Osprey for Thanksgiving.

(I have NOT done that.)

The gopher tortoise's protected status wasn't always the case. They were a legal game animal when I was a kid. It was very common for a church fundraiser or political rally to advertise "Fried mullet and gopher stew" during my childhood.
I clearly remember watching the man next door butcher live gophers ... not a pretty sight and probably not one that any of the people with me in that room could picture.

I kept that bit of gophertrophic information to myself since the legal disclaimer above might not have been enough to keep the crowd from staking me to the nearest fire ant mound, had they known.

After the classroom session, the group moved out of the park visitor center and we walked out along a trail that took us through both hammock forest and open scrubby gopher habitat. Gopher tortoises are not forest dwellers, they need open, sunny, fire maintained habitat. (Longtime readers know I have a colony of about 10 gopher tortoises who share PFHQ with me and that I manage the land around their burrows for optimum gopher-zenness.)

Personally, I think the park staff needs to burn their scrub again. The scrub oaks and palmetto are short at the Enchanted Forest, but way thicker than the open grass and forb growth that gopher tortoises need. (Miz S, this forb's for you)

When someone asked about brown trails of sawdust on sabal palm fronds, it was the girl from Ohio who dug around and found the culprit.

Julie and a friend investigate a palm frond.

She carefully teased apart the sawdust structure on the frond and found a tiny pupa case.

The culprit was apparently some type of moth. In the photo above, she's sharing that discovery. I thought this moment with the palm frond was a serendipitous example of what she does.

Julie looks a little closer, sees what we miss, or... take for granted, and then shares it in her writing and her art.

It was pretty cool to see her in action ... also tres cool to meet her two children, Phoebe and Liam.

Reading her blog, I always think, "These two kids are growing up in about the most wonderful environment possible."

If you read it, you know what I mean.

That ideal environment seems to have paid off.
They both stole the show briefly that evening in a question and answer session after Julie's presentation.
I'm sure she's used to this.

Julie gives a dynamite presentation that will take you through a range of emotions as she describes life on her much loved home in Ohio.

If you get a chance to go listen to her speak, do so.

FC, Julie, and Crackerboy. (photo by Phoebe)


tai haku said...

and I thought I had a cool weekend. I'm rather jealous of you americans and your big birding festivals.

Moultrie Creek said...

"fried mullet and gopher stew" . . . obviously you've been to a St. Ambrose Church festival or two. They're still a lot of fun and the chowder-makers work hard to pick up the slack.

kevin said...

Sounds like a pretty cool class. I'm sure they would have been impressed with your gopher stew recipe.

Island Rider said...

I wanted to go hear her speak, but was returning from Guatemala on that day. Another time...

Glad you had the opportunity.

Bill said...

Good one, Raymond. JZ will like it I'm sure...especially since every word is true.

On count 1, guilty.

I have another image of you guys that's pretty good. Drop me your email address and I'll send it to you. Bill at crackerboy dot us.

Enjoyed meeting you. Wish you could have shared the whole day with us. Good company. We'll do it sometime.


Murr Brewster said...

Great post, graceful writing. What's missing in that last photo? I think it's me. Florida is looking better all the time.

Word verification was "szick."

Bill said...

We said a couple of times that what was needed to make the day complete was some gold and Murr. (Forget the frankincense; reminds me of my misspent youth as an altar boy.)

Here's a link to the photo, Raymond. If you want the full-size file for printing, email me.

Julie Zickefoose said...

What an honor and a thrill to meet you, FloridaCracker. The time was much too short and I was hardly over being starstruck before you retreated back into the scrub. I had a feeling you could have taught everyone in the group a lot about gophers. Imagine: this animal's gone from being abundant enough to be served at church suppers to endangered in our lifetime.
Thank you so much for taking the time to come see us in Titusville. I hope our paths cross again before too long. Keep up your soulfully amazing writing about the Real Florida. It's a service to the planet and to all lovers of good writing, photography and synthetic observation. Plus, we love the words you make up.

Word verification: essen. As in "Wir essen das Gopher-Schildkrote!"

Caroline said...

Green with Envy!

Two of my favorite bloggers, Florida (it is -30 windchill at the moment), gopher tortoises and my blog Friend, Marge all at the Festival.

Dani said...

You got to meet Zick!!!!!!!!

robin andrea said...

I just love knowing that two of my favorite bloggers had a meet up! Seeing pics of you two together is a delight. And how wonderfully cool, too, that you got to meet Phoebe and Liam. Looks like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday.

KatyP said...


Have you forgotten? When I think about how we (Em, Raymie and I) grew up, I can't think of anything better.

So, thanks. :)


Julie Zickefoose said...

You ought to know about a fairy-tale upbringing, immersed in nature, for one's kids. Is there anything better than a shout-out for Dadrifficness from your own offshoot?

(I am trying so hard to copy how you coin words. Failing. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)

Mary said...

I smiled and nodded throughout this wonderfully written post. I wholeheartedly agree with you:

"It always bugs me when someone attributes a person's accomplishments all to talent, ignoring the hard work that makes success possible."

She works very hard.

"She's a writer, poet, painter, sings in a band, and ... I'm going to stop now, because I'm feeling somewhat akin to a stump."

I share the same sentiment. :D


nina said...

Julie's the best.
I've never heard of an occasion when she wasn't able to flip a leaf to reveal a dozing bat, dissect a wad of sawdust to expose some cool insect life stage,...
She knows to look for things.
And, like you say, there's a ton of study and sweat behind who she is.
What a treat to have her walk with you.

Miz S said...

Did you know that Forbs represent a guild of plant species with broadly similar growth form, which in ecology is often more important than taxonomic relationship?

Great, another blog to read. LIKE I HAVE TIME. *sneaks off to bookmark new blog*

Your little Katy-bug made me say "Aw..." Lucky kids, lucky parents. It's a beautiful life.

Shutting up, now. xoxo

Elaine W. said...

FC! You were literally in my backyard! No Space Coast Birding Festival this year for me, that durned old making a living thing and helping the Environmentally Endangered Lands folks evaluate a recent purchase for prehistoric sites (yes). Julie Z. is a treasure, sorry I missed her.

Thunder said...

Nice post, but she's not fooling me the real reason she was down there was because of this lousy weather we're having up here!
The presentation was just a means to the end! ;-)

Dani said...

You got the sweetest kids!

R.Powers said...

We have a festival for everything.

LOL! It was either that or Cathedral Parish school. The girl next door went there and ...

Wouldn't you agree that beef is a fine substitute in any gopher stew recipe?

Cathy S,
It was great! Glad you made it home safely!

I had a feeling you might have. LOL!
Thanks for the pic link.

Florida ALWAYS looks good. Maybe not during some elections, but otherwise, pretty dang good...

I enjoyed it so much. Wish I could have hung around to go manatee gawking at BS the next day!
Obviously, I am the starstruckee here.
And yes, it is nice to have a little DNAling give positive feedback.
It was always my intention to give them an extraordinary growing up experience.
Thanks for the encouragement and firm kicks as needed.

You should have seen the weather! As good as festival weather can ever get.

WOOHOO! Where's my bucket list?

Wish you were there! It was a fine, fine day.

Love you baby. Thank YOU. Lump in throat prevents proper typering.

Thanks. I appreciate the kind words and the empathy ... you know, the whole stump thing.

She would have made a hell of a teacher, although I think she is exactly where she needs to be.

Miz S,
Aren't forbs fabulous fun?
Julie doesn't know it, but if you bookmarked her,she is about to enjoy the same sharp wit and humor that I look forward to in every Miz S comment and post.

Wow! What you were doing sounds worth missing the bird fest!
With our new state "leadership" we will need every piece of protected land we can get.

I think she actually went home just in time to get slammed with this monster ice storm.

kevin said...

FC, I would agree about the beef being a fine substitute for gopher. A lot easier to get too.

Of course drinking beer and pulling gophers was a lot of fun. Cleaning them, not so much. Sometimes the screams still haunt me.

Anonymous said...

We didn't eat gophers, but I remember lots of loggerheads and green turtles turned upside down laying on the floor of the fish house. I watched my daddy dressing some for us to have fried turtle. I never cared for it because it was tough. It's a shame that because things are plentiful we don't realize consequences of overuse until it is almost too late. Nancy

Unknown said...

During my tour of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with biologist Dan Green, we learned that under all those thick layers of Brazilian pepper they are removing to improve and restore habitat, they have discovered hundreds of gopher tortoise dens. This is a surprise, since they thought, as you've commented, that the tortoise needed much more open space to do well. Not so, apparently. So many interesting discoveries they are making out there, all in a day's work!

Unknown said...

Did I say "hundreds"? That should be "dozens" . . . good grief . . .

roger said...

JULIE! FC! wow.

nice nature pics too.

Vicki said...

This post reads like a chapter in one of those books that you like so much you never want it to end. Since I am in both the FC and the JZ fan clubs i enjoy datil peppers and a Cannon G-11 and everything the two of you write. Thanks!

Bill said...

MMMMM Gopher Stew.


Nicole M. said...

FC, Came to you by way of Julie Z's blog. I love her blog, and now am hooked on yours. Hope you don't mind, I will stop by from time to time and chime in. I love the tortoise and immediately fell in love with your pics! Thanks!