Monday, March 25, 2019

Epic SuperMoon Paddle

Heron silently takes flight over Crane Creek as dusk descends into darkness.
MeetUp. Messed up. My bad. Fortunately my rough start was not an indication of how the rest of the evening would unfold for the last "supermoon" until February 2019. ....

Pelicans roosting on the island off Front Street Park, Melbourne Florida.
Our paddle was scheduled for 7 pm at Front Street Park. I arrived about 20 minutes prior, still dressed in my work garb, with my kayaking stuff scattered hither and yon in various and sundry places in my kayak-topped Prius. I set to rectifying that.... Presto chango into the restroom. Donned my headlamp for later use. Organized my waterproof sack with my camera, an extra clothing layer if needed, my camera and my wallet for safekeeping. Grabbed my life jacket (ak PFD or personal floatation device). 

But I still didn't see Tom's prominent truck with its tall kayak racks. Tom's the usual organizer of Space Coast Paddling Society's MeetUp events, and offers to rent kayaks for those of us who want them, which I didn't need this time.

Sheryl, smiles as we round the Indian River Lagoon stretch between Front Street Park and Crane Creek's entrance.
I messaged Sheryl. somewhat of a "regular" Space Coast kayaker with her husband Dave with a "Where are you?" She called, and I managed to drive further from where everyone else was waiting, rather than closer. Duh! If only I had simply stopped looking and driven exactly down to where we all launched together for the previous Space Coast full moon kayak. Enough of us brought our own kayaks that night Tom's iconic "tower" was unnecessary - hence my difficulty in looking for something that was not there. 

Ande mugs for the camera as we pause in the Indian River Lagoon.
She and her partner Dorrie paddled in their nifty folding Oru Kayaks.
Within a few minutes, despite me, the seven of us ("regulars" Tom, Sheryl, Dave myself [we all paddled together to watch a rocket launch a week before], and three new to our group women paddlers) were off, entering Indian River Lagoon. 

As luck would have it, our timing couldn't have been better.

Two days before, much water fell from the skies, nearly nonstop, one of the rainiest stretches we've had since arriving on the Space Coast six months prior. Technically, the Super Moon was full the night before, though it was cool, windy and too cloudy to light our passage.  We knew the moon would still look just as full to us this night, and we'd be able to see it!

Dave and Tom chatting on the Indian River Lagoon before we push off.
We practically glowed in the near luminescent light.
The rain wiped the skies clean. A few days past the vernal equinox, the new Spring air was warm, in the 70s with little humidity. A soft dusk was settling in, with peach and periwinkle brushing the edges of the horizon.  The water was flat and reflective, unruffled by the light breeze. Perfect conditions for gliding along in kayaks.

Manatees swirled gently around us, teasing us with breaths from the surface too short to snap photos. Dolphin fins broke the surface near a pelican-covered roosting spot.  The moon was still nowhere to be seen, so we were in no hurry. Eventually we rounded the corner past Chart House, and entered Crane Creek.  A handsome heron a stone's throw from the restaurant posed for Sheryl and her iPad before gracefully taking flight. Then off to our left, we were rejoined by more dolphins.... 

Sunset over Crane Creek, Melbourne Florida.
The skies turned turned tangerine, the creek edge silhouetted by spiky palm fronds and and sprawling leafy oak branches.

Again we paused. becoming one with the evening, the moonrise yet to come. A shared sense of wonder and contentment flowed among us, connecting us as much as we were to the waters upon which we paddled on that enchanted eve.

Dorrie watching for more manatees and dolphins just off Front Street Park. Melbourne Florida.
Companionably. we got to know our newbies, Hilary and Ande and "like the fish" Dorrie and headed up the creek. Dave filled me in on one of his favorite stories -- a sweetly romantic tale about how he and Sheryl got together after not seeing each other for twenty years. When we quieted, the cicadas rattling song crescendoed in a wave of sound, joined by the wash of our paddles, dipping and releasing as we made our way onward.

Darkness settled in.Our eyes adjusted to the dimness, (mostly!) taking care to duck from the encroaching trees and shrubs. There was still enough light to paddle. As Crane Creek meandered, we missed the moonrise from behind the treescape.  

Instead, we appreciated the glorious clarity of this starry Florida night sky. Fanning out from Orion's belt, we took in the bright reddish star Betelgeuse, making our best guess at finding Taurus and Aries and the planets Mars and Uranus with the help a night sky mobile app.

Tom and Hilary chatting on Crane Creek, rudely illuminated by my flash.
Eventually, it was time to make our way back. Returning to the broad entry of Crane Creek approaching Indian RIver Lagoon, at last we saw the moon.

Moonlight over Indian River Lagoon marker 5 by Front Street Park.
Cynically, Tom quipped, "Is it a marketing thing? I've never heard of so many 'super moons' in my life until recently and we've had three in a row this year." Tom may be onto something... the phrase "supermoon" wasn't even coined until 1979. While there are typically about three "supermoons" a year ("increased size" due to closer proximity in their rotation), it does seem to get a lot more press. As well, our perception of the moon's size is a bit of an illusion.  Maybe here on "The Space Coast" it's natural that we make a bigger deal of the celestial, especially since it's often warm and clear enough to enjoy it. 

I mused aloud to Tom... "Was a good salt flats area?  Broome Australia unabashedly promoted their "Staircase to the Moon" where the moon clambered its way across the flats." Perhaps we could copy -- errr -- claim our very own "Staircase to the Moon" here on The Space Coast. It might even be better as the skies were too cloudy for me to see the Broome "Staircase to the Moon" when I was there. If so. I would hope that Space Coast could resist following suit on Oz's annoying overpricing of "pearl meat" aka oysters in Broome.

Train trestle on the way into Crane Creek.
My camera was too slow to capture the train racing past in the darkness on our way back.
Just before leaving Crane Creek, as a final soundscape salute, a train roared across the trestle bridge above us.  Again, we paused and took it all in.

"That. Was. Magical!" I declared as we neared the end of our paddle. "Have you ever encountered that much wildlife in a single paddle?" I asked Tom.

"It was ok," he deadpanned, then admitted he didn't recall seeing that much variety in one spot in such a short span of time before. I couldn't see him smiling in the darkness, yet knew he was.

This antenna at Front Street Park makes for an easy return marker. It's all lit up at night.
We helped each other get our kayaks ready for the road, including a dis-assembly demo of Ande and Dorie's fascinating origami-inspired Oru kayaks.  They're  about 12' long, made of a plasticized version of corrugated cardboard, weigh roughly 25 pounds and compact into a very carry-able valise-like carrying case.

While we munched the honey containing energy balls I brought for post-paddle, recipe courtesy of another newfound Florida friend, Dave,  a former beekeeper, waxed about bees.  

"C'mon, Dave, we're all freezing!" urged, Sheryl.  Goosebumped and shivering (temps dropped into Florida-"chilling-cold" 60s at 10-something pm), we gave our goodbyes. Tomorrow awaited with another all-too-early weekday work morning.  All good things must eventually come to an end, though moments like these, nestle in our memory banks for many happy returns.

Thanks Space Coast Paddling Society, and especially Tom, Sheryl and Dave.
Moonlight over Indian River Lagoon and my kayak loaner from West Marine, Melbourne.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Florida

The road untraveled called.... we were Vero Beach bound to catch up with friends, and Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was a top rated hike in the area, awarded a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence. Also intriguing, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was the very first National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to Theodore Roosevelt 116 years prior, as a place to protect egrets and other fancy feathered birds from plumage hunters.

The island trail mostly parallels mangroves, which you can sometimes peer though, though mostly their dense growth blocks as well as preserves the views of a thriving ecosystem.   
This section of Pelican Island trail gave a good view of the mangrove and the Indian River Lagoon beyond it.
The orange leaves stand in bright contrast to a near monochromatically green landscape.
The trails are more roads, broad and straight with some very gentle curves. Enthusiastic visitors reported seeing pelicans and a rich array of other bird life and even otters were sighted.  We, however, we not so lucky.

A welcome sunny array of flowers on a mostly gray day.
Boardwalk to Joe's Overlook, Pelican Island.
Problem is, Maritime Hammock, which we bypassed to check out Pelican Island spoiled us. 
Lush fern arches. Mangroves. Marshes. Alligators. Indian River Lagoon views. Meandering trails. All that and a bobcat less than 50 feet from us and a pair of tortoises loving it up in their burrow. Lucky timing and the general flora and fauna at Maritime Hammock set a high bar to beat.  Comparatively, Pelican Island was a little disappointing for us.
View from Joe's Overlook, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Granted, we recognize some of what makes one page magical and anther a bit, well, meh, is luck-of-the-draw timing.

We spent a sunny afternoon at Maritime Hammock and it exceeded our wildest expectations.

Placid blue heron at Pelican Island. Notice the white tuft below the head on the neck?
We visited Pelican Island on a gray afternoon but with higher expectations. The day we visited the light was flat, though we were grateful we didn't get rained on. We saw a few cars, but passed no one on the trail. In the quiet, we heard glimmers on animals we did not see. We passed surprisingly serene herons who watched us pass without taking flight, and even spared us the usual grumpy heron croak. Cicadas serenaded us; their sound conjures up fond memories from our early Caribbean cruising days.

One of several of the same type snake we saw together at Pelican Island.
Closer view of the snake (via zoom lens), which was happy to hang back and did not threaten us at all.
Our hike's highlight was seeing seven slender small snakes all in one spot. Mating season, perhaps?  

Noticed these vibrant scarlet-magenta flowers were also prolific along Highway 1.
While there wasn't a great variety of trees and shrubs compared to other places we've hiked, we did see some unusual flowers, a fair amount of butterflies and dragonflies large and small.

More flowers to brighten the otherwise dull day...
These look like bee balm or monarda; grew similar flowers in my garden in the Pacific Northwest.
Next time we head toward Vero seeking to stretch our legs seeking new sights, we'll likely opt for two smaller spots, Round Island Beach Park, South of Pelican Island North of Vero,  and perhaps opening our wallets* to visit the highly rated McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach.

*$12/person in the high season, $10/person in the low season. 

What will happen when this strangler fig succeeds in chocking out this palm?
We are grateful that Pelican Island exists, protecting the Indian River Lagoon, and paving the way for other protected areas in the region and across the country. And we appreciated our leisurely, 3-mile, hour and a half walk there, even if we didn't get all that lucky on the wildlife lottery.

Closer view of the fig's unhealthy embrace.
And the most welcome sight of all was our inspiration for the trip in the first place - seeing our cruising buddies, Ron and Dee, who we hadn't seen for five years. We got to know each other in Jacksonville Florida's Ortega Landing, and had the pleasure of cruising together in the Bahamas. They're still cruising (and were passing "our way" for new sails from Mack Sails of Stuart Florida), with no near-term plans to stop. 

Inspiring cruisers and all-around nice folks, Ron and Dee Claus... at Vero Municipal Marina dinghy dock.
We look forward to seeing where we'll meet again!

Friday, March 15, 2019

3-2-1 Blast-off! Space Coast Rocket Launch

Tom, our MeetUp kayak instigator is in the white shorts, gathering us troops before we pushed off. There were six of us.
"You haven't seen a launch yet?" my fellow Space Coast Paddling kayakers asked, incredulously. They accepted that since I moved here less than 6 months before, that maybe that was understandable.  Nonetheless, this area calls itself the Space Coast and its so integral in this regions identity that it even snagged the countdown 3-2-1 as the phone area code.

"Still, you're a virgin," quipped Tom, our kayak leader, hosting the "pop-up" trip tonight.

Indeed, I wanted to check that very "I've seen a Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch" box and was there for that very reason. The last Delta IV rocket was due to launch tonight, sometime between 6:48 and 9:05 pm.

The skies were clear. The temps were pleasant, in the 70s. It was, however, windurfer-windy. The weather was definitely better for his purposes than ours that night, but hey, 2 outta 3 aint bad.

Me, waiting for the rocket launch. Thanks, Sheryl Williams for taking the photo.
Now it was just a question of whether the rocket would actually launch. It's far from a sure thing; cancellations are commonplace. 

Dave tapped a good  launch update website via his phone and kept us apprised. There were some issues, and delays.... The sun set. The night sky slipped in, Orion's 3-star belt easy to spot.  The wind and current steadily swept us closer to the rocket launch site, which was quite aways away from our kayak launch site.

Rocket in the background. My kayak, borrowed from West Marine, is in the foreground. Photos don't do it justice.
Finally, at 8:24 pm the rocket launched.  First the launch pad lit up like a roman candle. Then in all its fiery reverberating glory, the rocket was up. It seemed to hang, looming large for a moment, then became an orange speck.

Going, going, going (and soon it was gone). The last Delta IV rocket launch, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
We got in a good workout fighting the wind and current the whole way back. Upon arrival, we stalled, giving our legs a moment to un-jelly. 

"That," declared my veteran rocket launch watchers, "was a good one."

I had no basis of comparison, but it was pretty damned cool to me!

in the darkness, we helped each other load up our kayaks, and went our separate ways -- until the next Space Coast Paddling Society MeetUp.

My first launch, and hopefully not my last.

Location Location
We launched off the end of Sea Ray Drive, Merritt Island, Florida.

Monday, March 11, 2019

More Weird Florida Wildlife

Armadillo.  Standing but not leaping. Photo credit:
First, there was the manatees.

Alligators came along for the ride.

And now...

Saw two armadillos playing at Turkey Creek Sanctuary, my favorite walk-around spot just a few miles from my home.  Then Wayne got to see one with me at Blue Springs Park.

and if you can't get enough of these goofy creatures, for more, check out this one, too

armadillo cartoon 

More coming...

Florida wildlife. It's definitely weird, but in a mostly wonderful way.

Location Location
Turkey Creek Sanctuary is in Palm Bay Florida. Blue Spring Park is near Orlando, in Orange Florida.