After several days of chilly rain, today burst forth gloriously, and because I know so many of you, my wonderful readers, are living in areas where spring is being exceedingly elusive, I decided that I must go out and photograph all the beauty that is popping out in my own front yard. There is hope! It will come to you soon, but for now, I bring you a little bit of spring from Florida (which has been known to skip this season entirely).
Do you remember my little mojito garden I planted two years ago, when I was a rather dedicated blogger and never failed to fulfill my daily post? That garden has changed quite a bit. The mint, as mint always does for me, failed to really take hold, so it is now a small part of the garden, and I planted clearance pansies toward the front corner. I have always loved pansies, and would like to fill my whole yard with them, but 12 plants is all I could find of the big, blowsy kind I like.
For the past two years, I have been watching my lime tree, waiting for it to burst out in blossoms. I didn’t do much to it, because it’s a tree, after all, and what do you need to do to a tree? Well, about a week or so ago, I found the citrus and mango fertilizer I had bought when I first planted it, and decided to fertilize it. Within a day or two, the lower limbs had a bevy of blossoms! I hope this means that the upper limbs will also grow them as the nutrients move through the tree. Is that how it works? In any case, I plan to fertilize more often now, and hope that I will get some fruit.
The azaleas around the side of the house have been booming for the last couple of weeks now. Azaleas are funny about the heat and cold; these started blossoming on a day with a frost warning, and haven’t stopped since. Some of the blossoms are perfect and beautiful, but others have white spots on them, almost as if the rain had washed out the color.
Last week, on one of the dry days, my husband went out and cut back all the brown stalks and leaves on the banana tree. I have read that you will get more bananas if you don’t cut them back, but I will probably never find out if that is true. It’s amazing how quickly the new green leaves have grown in. By next month, I expect the whole tree to be green and lush, with huge leaves.
Remember the maple tree helicopters from when you were a kid? We would split the seed and put the sticky ends on our noses to pretend we were rhinos! Our maple trees have smaller helicopters, so that wouldn’t work, but they are a beautiful red that stands out against the brilliant blue of the sky.
Everywhere, leaves are bursting forth on the deciduous trees. This is the first spring since I’ve been here that it has been this noticeable; usually it seems that they grow in at different times. Many trees never seem to fully lose their leaves, but this year, they did.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
- Robert Frost
Well, maybe not running, but walking at least. It has been far too long since I did any adventuring, so I headed over to the Devil’s Millhopper. Of course, as soon as I got there, I remembered taking out my camera’s SD card and tossing it on my nightstand where it was doing me no good at all. I did have my phone with me, though, so I used it.
Devil’s Millhopper is a sinkhole that has become part of the Florida State Park system. I have a pass that gets me in all the parks, but I forgot to bring it so I had to pay the $4 fee. Yep, I’m a little out of practice at this whole adventuring thing lately.
To get to the bottom of the sinkhole, you have to walk down approximately 300 stairs. There are landings along the way, and plenty of beauty to gawk at, so you don’t need to feel rushed to do these stairs. There are people who use them as an athletic exercise, just because they’re there.
Every time I come here, it’s a little different. Many of the trees have lost all their leaves at this point, creating a misty screen around the sinkhole.
There was a lake at the bottom, where usually there is a stream, and all the little waterfalls around the hole were streaming into the pond.
One of the hazards of being a rookie Realtor is not having the experience to know what lenders and insurers are going to need for a given property. I found this out the hard way when on Monday, two days before Christmas, I was asked about the WDO (Wood Destroying Organisms) and well water report for a property that was supposed to close on Thursday. These are required by the VA, and someone with a little more experience may have known about it, but I was blindsided. Fortunately, we were able to get an extension to Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, so that we could get it taken care of.
I wasn’t at all worried about the WDO. After all, it’s a concrete block home with no reason to suspect termites (not that a concrete block home is immune to them). The well water report worried me a lot more, because as far as I could tell, the power was off and the pump was inoperable because of this. The power company in Levy County is not exactly the easiest to deal with, and just made things more difficult. On top of that, the health department in Levy County only accepts samples on Wednesdays. Could this deal really be doomed for a water test?
Taking it one step at a time, I called to set up the termite inspection, and decided to research the well issue. Alachua County would accept my water sample, if I could get it. I took my husband out with me to the inspection, hoping he could help me figure out how to get the sample. Wouldn’t you know it, the termite inspection turned up some minor issues that wouldn’t hinder most closings, but this was VA financed and ANY problems with the WDO could kill the deal. (For the record, this is not the house, just an outbuilding that fortunately does not have to be inspected).
However, while I was out there, I discovered that the main switch was off, but the power was on! We got the pump working, got the sample and rushed it over to the Health Department (where the most helpful people in the world work). Then a few miracles occurred and I managed to arrange for repairs, the water sample came back clean, and a problem with the buyer’s insurance was solved. Tomorrow morning, I will be out there again for the final termite inspection, and on Tuesday, this beautiful property should have a new owner.
As a closing gift to the new owner, I’m planning to print out and frame one of these photos. Which one would you want?
The last few weeks have been wonderfully busy for me. I have a new listing, have been showing houses like mad, am working on getting everything settled for my first closing, and have negotiated a somewhat difficult contract. There was a really nice week in all this where I got to go to Pensacola and visit my mother for a week. Honestly, that isn’t really a good excuse for ignoring this blog for all that time. In Pensacola, I did take some photos, but I just couldn’t write about them.
I have missed you, my faithful reader, and I have missed my stomp-arounds, my treks through the wildnerness with my camera. Somehow I haven’t managed to get out and do something about it, but a Facebook conversation with my brother spurred me to get down to the lake. He told me I needed to show off my Florida warmth by taking pictures with sand, as another brother had done. The problem is, there is no sand around here. I suggested the lake, he suggested swimming in it. There are alligators in the lake, and it’s 17 feet deep at the edges, so I am not swimming in it. Just take my word for it, it’s warm here.
The morning lake is a perfect place for calm, with barely a ripple moving across it. At this time of year, there is little activity from the wildlife, and little to distract from just admiring the beauty. I took this time to enjoy the moment, not thinking of the day to come or of anything but the beauty that surrounds me.
I have suddenly gotten very busy with my real estate business in the last couple of weeks. I have several active customers, and a good number of potential ones as well. This is wonderful, except that I am trying to go out of town for the next week, since my mother’s birthday is two days before Thanksgiving and she lives in Pensacola. So, today, the day I am planning to leave, I ended up having to let a termite inspector into a home one of my customers is considering buying in Hawthorne, before heading to my floor duty back here in Gainesville.
On my way to the home, the inspector called with an ETA a little later than I expected, so I stopped by to take some photos at a boat ramp in Hawthorne. The last time I was out here, I shot a few of my favorite photos ever. It was still beautiful, but very different this time. Last year, we were in the middle of a drought when I went there, and the edges of the lake were very marshy. That drought is over now, so there was much more lake and fewer marshes.
This is still a place where the birds love to be. Vultures congregated in the parking lot, and sunned themselves on the benches, while anhingas chose to use the branches of submerged trees to do the same.
Although I love to see birds and wildlife on my adventures, often it is the flora that really ignites my imagination. You, my faithful reader, will probably remember my love for cypress knees. Dappled with sunlight, they make my heart beat ever faster.
Oh, and scrims of trees that let the light shine through, how could I not love these after taking Professor Charlie Hailey’s porch class? The perfect poetry of layers that let in just enough to tantalize.
Not too long ago (okay, you know it was a long time ago because it has been more than a MONTH since I blogged here), I wrote about the Haile Village Center rather scathingly. It is true that there are things I dislike about it, but it is also true that there are many things I do like about it, and that they have gotten right. One amazing thing that they have managed to do in this part of Haile is to get people to actually walk around in Florida, without anyone thinking it’s odd. For those of you who live in cooler areas, or less industrialized areas, that may seem like a small thing, but here in Florida, it’s rather huge. Nobody walks in Florida, unless they absolutely have to.
Saturday morning in the Village Center is the a wonderful buzz of activity, with the main street closed to traffic but open to a green market. Those of my faithful readers who have been with me for a while will know that this is not the only farmers market in town, there is also the Alachua County Farmers Market on Saturdays at the corner of 441 and 121, and the Wednesday Downtown Farmers Market that I have blogged about, as well as several that I have not ever been to. The Haile market has its own feel to it; more like a neighborhood gathering than just a place to sell.
There are dogs who frequent this market, many of them. Every once in a while as I am sitting in my office, I will hear some unfriendly dog noises, but for the most part, the dogs seem very well behaved, strolling casually about with their owners and greeting each other as friends.
At this time of year, the bounty is amazing. In other cities, harvest takes place much earlier, but Florida has nearly-year round harvests, with the down time being in the middle of summer, when even tomatoes and peppers can’t take the heat.
The root vegetables arrive in jewel-tone colors, advertising their deliciousness with their own beauty. There are no needs for words, or dyes, or even a wash of wax to make these mouthwateringly wonderful.
Squashes are ripening now, in startling variety. Butternuts, many kinds of pumpkins, and more are all available.
Ahhh, the pride of Florida and the reason for its being. Pure, juicy citrus has made its appearance. Glowing oranges, ripe and sweet, lead the early citrus crops. Soon baskets will overflow with tangerines, tangelos, and grapefruits as well. For those of you who are stuck with the meager selection found in grocery stores, I’m sorry. Come down and visit us in Central Florida sometime between now and February, take the time to find a farmers market (not a roadside tourist stand), and eat your fill of these glories. Then you can go visit the beach and do all those tourist things.
More sweet golden goodness is available in the form of honey. Cross Creek Honey, the best honey on earth, sets up shop in Haile as well as at the 441 Farmers Market, with all their beautiful honeys ranging from pale gold Orange Blossom to the dark Everglades. Nancy Gentry, the leader of the endeavor is a Master Bee Keeper, and takes great care of her hives and honey. If you cannot make it to a farmers market around here, you can order the honey online. If you have a local farmers market, go there and find the honey. It’s well worth it to buy local honey, since honey is the most commonly adulterated food there is. Grocery store honey has often been found to contain sugar and corn syrup, rather than pure honey.
One of the things that tends to sell out quickly are farm fresh eggs. While I can appreciate their beauty, these just aren’t for me. Unless they are cooked in a baked good, eggs kind of horrify me. But if you are an egg lover, the fresher, farm raised eggs are bolder and brighter than anything you will find in a grocery store. The fresher they are, the fluffier they are, so fresh eggs are wonderful for making meringues and souffles.
Many people probably do not realize that Florida is also a major nut grower. While most operations around here are larger and sell their nuts directly to Blue Diamond or other nut distributors, there are small growers who show up at farmers markets sometimes. Nuts will keep for a long time, and taste good even when they get older, but fresh ones are remarkable. There is a plump sweetness that shines through even in baked goods and candies.
More than just a farmers market, I came across booths with Italian rum cakes, breads, cheeses, handmade pens, and knit goods. Right in front of the office, a masseuse offers chair massages, just a few booths down from a booth with fresh roasted coffee. Who knew Gainesville had a coffee roaster right here in town?
We trekked over to St. Augustine today for a Greek Fest, which is a wonderful celebration of food, food & more food. That was what I thought I would blog about, but when we got there, I really didn’t feel like bringing out the camera, and since I had just discovered that Instagram isn’t really all about making pictures look old (although you can certainly do that), so I stuck my phone in my pocket and Instagrammed the Fest. If you want to see that, I am starkwe19 over there (can you imagine, starkwe was already taken!?).
My youngest, who turns 16 this weekend, got bored quickly and wanted to go to a beach, so after eating our fill and buying half the baked goods they had, we headed off to find the beach, just as the sun was sinking and the shadows were lengthening. I had recently gotten a new lens and thought this would be a great time to try it out. This was my first time using a lens with such a short focal length, so I was excited to about it.
The first thing I noticed is that with a lens like this, you have got to be careful with your horizons. All three of these photos were shot from the same position, i just tilted the camera a bit for each. It’s pretty easy to see why this type of lens is known as a fish eye lens!
In addition to the strangeness of this new lens, the angle of the sun demanded care to frame my shots. Shadows were long, and it became a challenge to find ways to hide my own shadow. Other than turning slightly, one way I worked with this was to find shadows to hide myself in, such as this shadow of one of the beach pavilions that I used in the example above.
Despite my pledge to bring you the lesser-known parts of Florida, I always love to find myself at a beach. People come from all over the world to visit these beaches that are so close to me, and with good reason. The natural scenery is gorgeous, but the man-made interventions are also often stunning.
It was a beautiful day for the beach; low 80s and still sunny. The sky was a stunning blue and the water had just enough wave to be fun. I’ve laughed about the idea of surfing in Florida, because I know the waves are nothing like the California and Hawaii waves I’ve seen on TV, but there were plenty of surfers out there, and they really looked like they were having fun.
It is officially Fall now, and I have seen a leaf or two change color, but what Fall really means in Florida is that the weather is not too hot to bear, and there are flowers everywhere. It was almost exactly a year ago that I told you, my faithful reader, about my son’s sunflowers and ginger. He has since moved out to his own apartment with some of his friends, but his garden is still here.
The sunflowers mirror the sun itself, turning to face it and lifting up their golden heads. Throughout the course of the day, they move their faces to soak up its warm rays. These have much smaller heads than the sunflowers we usually think of, with longer petals and nothing in the way of seeds. Every year, their gawky stems grow in an ugly mass, and every year I think I need to get rid of them. Then suddenly, one day I look out the back door, and there they are! The profusion of blooms makes the earlier ugliness all worthwhile.
In another part of the yard, my son planted bitter ginger. This is not the kind you eat or make ginger ale out of, it is just for beauty. Ginger loves slightly swampy soil, which means it grows very nicely in Gainesville. It’s an amazing plant, with bright green leaves, which unlike the sunflowers are always pretty.
Less obvious are the ginger flowers. Around this time of year, a cone emerges, which oozes a gingery-smelling liquid when squeezed (imagine that, ginger smells like ginger!). From that cone, a small pale yellow flower grows. Like many tropical and semi-tropical plants, the blooms are tucked away like secret treasures beneath the large leaves.
I have been trying for almost a week to get this post done. For some reason, I have been having trouble uploading my photos recently, but I finally have them for you! After all, who wants to read a photography blog with no photos?
One of the things I do as a Realtor is to take floor duty, which is when I sit in the office and hope someone calls in to see a house or list their house. These can be very lucrative calls, but there is no guarantee that you will get any calls in a given day. The other day, I was on floor duty in our Haile Plantation office, and took the opportunity to wander around the Haile Village Town Center once I was done.
For those of you who do not know the area, Haile Plantation is a planned community that gets rave reviews. My architecture professors loved to talk about it, because there are actually homes designed by architects rather than builders. That’s very nice, as far as it goes. Haile Village Town Center is full of charm. It echoes an old town, with storefronts and promenades designed to be walkable.
Except as far as walkability goes, brick sidewalks really aren’t. Especially when an attempt to create more charm means that they are bumpy and wavy. Can you imagine being in a wheelchair and trying to navigate this quaint street?
All of the pretty touches designed to give this area charm end up annoying me. The towns that are echoed in this modern bit of nostalgia were built as modern towns, with new ideas, not as something already stuck in the past. They were built of the most modern materials in the most modern way possible. Creating a new community out of old ideas feels false to me, as does the use of modern materials to re-create old embellishments.
The biggest problem I have, though, with many of these new urban neighborhoods is that they are built to be walkable, but don’t include so many things people need. Grocery stores are often many miles away. In fact, often, these communities are built so far from any other neighborhoods that they cut themselves off from the world. Part of the idea of new urbanism is that everything necessary is available within the urban core, so leaving the grocery store out in favor of boutiques makes little sense. Haile is beautiful, but I wish it were more honest. Can you imagine how much more beautiful this could be with current building sensibilities and methods?
Today was the opening day for college football all over the country. Sure, there were a couple of games yesterday, and there will be a few tomorrow, but the ones that matter happened today. Well, the only one that really matters happened today – the Gators played Toledo and scored a nice victory.
For all the years I have lived here, I have planned my weekends around Gator game day traffic. Most of the time, I was planning to be on campus early, so that I could park somewhere near my studio. Because this was my life before I graduated. Architecture students do not have time for football; they are always working to a deadline.
When I didn’t have to be at the studio working, I did everything I could to avoid being near the university before or after game time. However, since my daughter now has a job on campus, and since she does not have a license yet, and since she had to be at work across from the stadium at 5:00, I found myself wandering onto campus soon after the game ended.
Although the crowds were gone, evidence of the game remained as I wandered through the stadium and out onto the field. Discarded souvenirs, empty food containers, and general debris marred the perfection of the stadium.
Come Tuesday morning, the campus will be restored to its normal beauty.
I moved to Gainesville FL to earn my degree in architecture and never left. You can often find me wandering the many trails with my camera, always on the lookout for our famous gators. When I'm not on the trails, I'm probably walking the streets of a neighborhood, discovering the beauty that each one offers.