Three local nature preserves in a single day

We are planning to take the new tandem kayak out for its maiden voyage on Tuesday. It looks like we are going to take it out to Princess Place Nature Preserve, which is home to Pellicer Creek and its related estuaries. This is a sprawling estuary system that leads all the way up to Matanzas Inlet (though I am pretty sure I do not have the upper-body strength to make it that far). We live in a kayaking paradise – there are hundreds of places nearby to kayak (not kidding).

In addition to checking out the kayaking options, we hiked a couple trails there, including one that followed along the big water and one that went to a natural spring.

The trail along the big water had parts that were clearly underwater in high tide. We had to hike through a lot of mud. I understand now why everyone talks about timing tidal rivers and creeks when going out on kayaks. The landscape can be wildly different going out from coming in.

Most of the path looked like a maze of palmettos. There were quite a few armadillos in the area, including one that was the size of a dog. It’s a perk to living in Florida… The trails are full of mostly friendly dinosaurs.

Open water with golden sawgrass.

We also stopped by Long Creek Nature Preserve and the Bulow Plantation Nature Preserve, which I have written about before (see Hiking to the Ruins of a Plantation torched by Seminoles). There was the essential stop for BBQ in between. Here is an osprey nest along Long Creek.

This is Bulow Creek, another beautiful estuary, which feeds into the Halifax River (Intracoastal Waterway) several miles south of us. Plenty of alligators here, judging the number of warning signs.

The forests around the Bulow Plantation Ruins are full of ancient trees. It’s a magical place.

One of the big differences between Florida and places like California is that Florida practices controlled burns in its natural spaces to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. You can see evidence of that on the trees in some areas.

The evolution of fire ecosystems is a fascinating topic to me. Environmental activists nowadays like to treat controlled burns as if they are a controversial topic, but this is an ancient practice that was also used routinely by indigenous people across several continents:

Prior to European colonization of the Americas, indigenous peoples used controlled burns to modify the landscape. These controlled fires were part of the environmental cycles and maintenance of wildlife habitats that sustained the people’s cultures and economies. What was initially perceived by colonists as “untouched, pristine” wilderness in North America, was actually the cumulative result of these occasional, managed fires creating an intentional mosaic of grasslands and forests across North America, sustained and managed by the original Peoples of the land base.

Radical disruption of Indigenous burning practices occurred with European colonization and forced relocation of those who had historically maintained the landscape. Some colonists understood the traditional use and potential benefits of low intensity, broadcast burns (“Indian-type” fires), while others feared and suppressed them. In the 1880s, impacts of colonization had devastated indigenous populations, and fire exclusion became more widespread; by the early 20th century fire suppression had become official U.S. federal policy. Understanding pre-colonization land management, and the traditional knowledge held by the Indigenous peoples who practiced it, provides an important basis for current re-engagement with the landscape and is critical to correctly interpreting the ecological basis for vegetation distribution.

Authors such as William Henry Hudson, Longfellow, Francis Parkman, and Thoreau contributed to the widespread myth that pre-Columbian North America was a pristine, natural wilderness, “a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.” At the time of these writings, however, enormous tracts of land had already been allowed to succeed to climax due to the reduction in anthropogenic fires after the genocide of Native peoples from epidemics of diseases introduced by Europeans in the 16th century, forced relocation, and warfare. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans had played a major role in determining the diversity of their ecosystems….

When first encountered by Europeans, many ecosystems were the result of repeated fires every one to three years, resulting in the replacement of forests with grassland or savanna, or opening up the forest by removing undergrowth. Terra preta soils, created by slow burning, are found mainly in the Amazon basin, where estimates of the area covered range from 0.1 to 0.3%, or 6,300 to 18,900 km² of low forested Amazonia to 1.0% or more.

There is some argument about the effect of human-caused burning when compared to lightning in western North America. As Emily Russell (1983) has pointed out, “There is no strong evidence that Indians purposely burned large areas….The presence of Indians did, however, undoubtedly increase the frequency of fires above the low numbers caused by lightning.” As might be expected, Indian fire use had its greatest impact “in local areas near Indian habitations.”

The best playground ever:

Every Kid Outside

A friend sent me the link to the Every Kid Outside initiative, knowing how much we love history and the great outdoors. Through this program, every 4th grader in the United States is eligible to receive a year-long pass to get into any national park free.

The bipartisan John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation Management and Recreation Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 12, 2019, authorized funding for Every Kid Outdoors for the next seven years.

To obtain the free pass, fourth grade students visit the Every Kid Outdoors website, participate in a short educational activity, and download a voucher. The voucher is valid for multiple use between Sept. 1, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2020 to correspond to the traditional school year. The voucher may be exchanged for a keepsake pass at participating federal lands.

The voucher or pass grants free entry for fourth graders, all children under 16 in the group and up to three accompanying adults (or an entire car for drive-in parks) to most federally managed lands and waters. The pass does not cover expanded amenity fees such as camping or boat rides.

(This is an expansion of the “Every Kid in a Park” program established in 2015.)

There are seven federal agencies participating in the program. You can search for participating lands and waters through the agency links below: 

Matanzas Inlet before sunset

We drove up the A1A to Matanzas Inlet to determine whether it would be a good place for the maiden voyage of our new kayak. (And I think it will.) Matanzas Inlet is a channel that passes between two barrier islands and the mainland, just south of St. Augustine.

I could not believe the volume of shells remaining on this beach at the end of the day.

Matanzas Inlet has a fun (albeit gory) history:

Historic maps made by Spanish military engineers in the 18th century show that the inlet today has moved many hundreds of yards south of its location during the time of the Spanish Empire. In 1740, a British invasion force from Fort Frederica, Georgia blockaded this inlet, the southernmost access for boat travel between St. Augustine and Havana, Cuba. Shortly thereafter, in 1742, a coquina stone tower 50 feet (15 m) square by 30 feet (9.1 m) high, now called Fort Matanzas, was built by the Spanish authorities in Florida to safeguard this strategic inlet.

René Goulaine de Laudonnière founded Fort Caroline in what is now Jacksonville, in 1564, as a haven for Huguenot settlers. In response to the French encroachment on what Spain regarded as its territory, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine in 1565. Menéndez de Avilés quickly set out to attack Fort Caroline, traveling overland from St. Augustine. At the same time, the French sailed from Fort Caroline, intending to attack St. Augustine from the sea. The Spanish overwhelmed the lightly defended Fort Caroline, sparing only the women and children, although some 25 men were able to escape. The French fleet was driven off course by a storm, and many of the ships wrecked on the coast south of St. Augustine. When the Spanish found the main group of the French shipwreck survivors, Menéndez de Avilés ordered all of the Huguenots executed. The location became known as Matanzas (Spanish for “slaughters”).

So the part of the Intracoastal Waterway known as Matanzas River translates to Slaughter River. See also the Spanish assault on French Florida.

We did not stay for the full sunset, but this would certainly be a brilliant place to watch it. In the summertime, this area is one giant party thanks to all of the sandbars. (Floridians really put the “bar” in sandbar.) But it is calm enough now to take the kayak out, I think.

Veal brains and the used bookstore of my dreams in Jacksonville

Our family had a most interesting day today. This was completely unintentional, as I had planned to spend the day painting our kitchen and breakfast nook.

We woke up and hurried to get ready for our local library’s book sale. I had heard wonderful things about all of the books they have available each year, so I attempted to get our family there as early as possible (before all of the good stuff was gone). We did find a lot of good books, but there was hardly anything left on history (my favorite subject). So I was a little disappointed.

After that, we met Elise’s karate class at the pier for the kids to practice on the beach. Her sensei is teaching karate on the beach twice a month now – in addition to the normal twice a week at the recreation center – to get the kids ready for upcoming tournaments. Several of the more advanced kids in the class will be competing (not Elise). She has no idea that having your karate class on the beach is not a “normal” childhood.

Karate on the beach.

We very much enjoyed lounging along the boardwalk watching Elise and her friends practice their katas. We could not ask for better weather, and it felt like the entire town had decided to go to the beach. While we were there, Rodney convinced me to give up on projects around the house and spend the day playing in Jacksonville. And so we did.

We decided to spend the day on a tour of used bookstores around Jacksonville. Good grief, I had no idea that Jacksonville had so many incredible used bookstores. And when I say incredible, I mean INCREDIBLE. This is a very well-educated population, and it shows. I can’t believe we have lived in Florida for a couple years now and not been used bookstore-hopping in Jax before.

The first one we went to was Black Sheep Books, which is an excellent store with extensive history sections. I was unhappy to discover that the place is likely going to close down in June, as the owner wants to spend more time traveling and doing other things after running a bookstore for two decades. Then we went to a big-box used bookstore near Top Golf (I forget its name), which was also impressive.

But nothing could prepare me for the Chamblin Bookmine on Roosevelt Boulevard. This is hands-down the most amazing bookstore that I have ever set foot in. I know you probably think nothing could top places like the Tattered Cover in Denver or Book People in Austin. But they are not even close to the literary wonder that is the Chamblin Bookmine.

Ron Chamblin owns two bookstores in Jacksonville, the 33,000-square foot Bookmine on Roosevelt Boulevard and another 10,000-square foot bookstore downtown. Between the two locations, he has amassed OVER THREE MILLION BOOKS. I am not kidding with that figure. If you are a bibliophile, this store absolutely must be on your bucket list.

One aisle in the Bookmine.
Multiply this by about 200 and you have a sense of the scale of the store.

The Bookmine is aptly named, as it is a cavernous building with a maze of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that keep taking you deeper and deeper, not unlike the tunnels and seams in mines. I did not realize that they offer maps of the store at the entrance, otherwise I would have taken one. You need one. When we made it close to the rear of one section, I ended up getting separated from Rodney and Elise and started to have a legitimate panic attack. I was going to message them, but I couldn’t even figure out how to describe my location. We eventually reunited, but it was intense.

Apart from the sheer number of books in the store, what sets this store apart from others is the quality of the selection. The store has a better selection (by orders of magnitude) than any college bookstore I have ever visited. It is an emotional experience seeing every title you have ever dreamed of getting on a subject, regardless of how obscure or academic it might be. And most of the books are inexpensive, clean copies too. I will never step foot in a Barnes and Noble again – there is seriously no point.

Books, books everywhere.

In researching how this magnificent place came to exist, I found this 2016 article about the owner in the Jacksonville paper:

Forty years ago this month, during the bicentennial summer, Ron Chamblin bought 15 boxes of smoke damaged books and opened a used book store on Herschel Street…

Before he started a book store, Chamblin, who is 74, was unhappy with the course of his life. He’d had an unhappy childhood living with an alcoholic father. He hated high school. He spent four years in the military and hated that. He then went to work writing technical manuals and selling motorcycles. He didn’t like that either. He didn’t want to work for someone else.

So he negotiated to buy the Crawford Bookmine, which Cy Crawford ran out of his Lakeshore home. A fire at Crawford’s house damaged his collection. But Chamblin still paid $7,500 for the Bookmine name and the 15 boxes of books, the most important step in what he called Project Liberation…

For most of his 40-year career, Chamblin worked seven a days a week, though he recently started taking Sundays off. He says he’s taken only three weeks of vacation during that time. He’s owned homes, including his current home on Fleming Island. But for nine years he lived in a room in the back of the Roosevelt story.

After he opened Chamblin’s Uptown in 2008, he spent several years living in a room there.

Probably the most important step Chamblin made in building his used book empire was his acquisition of the old Consumers Warehouse building at 4551 Roosevelt Blvd. He renovated the building and opened with 15,000 square feet of retail space 25 years ago, in 1991.

“I thought we’d never fill the son-of-a-gun,” Chamblin told the Times-Union in 2002.

The building was filled within three years.

Chamblin subsequently bought a plant nursery next door and expanded his retail space by 9,000 square feet. Now, he said he plans another expansion at Roosevelt, an additional 12,000 square feet. Walking through the maze-like corridors of Chamblin Bookmine, with packed book shelves towering over aisles narrow enough to induce claustrophobia, the need for ever more space becomes clear.

One of the things that has made Chamblin a success is his practice of extending credit. People who sell books to him can take their profits in cash. But they get a better deal if they take the payout in store credit. Chamblin said he currently owes about $350,000 in store credit. That keeps his customers coming back.

Some aisles defied categories.

In the middle of our book-hunting, we stopped at the Beirut Restaurant on Baymeadows Road, which is a very cool place to eat. We were out on an enclosed patio. While I do not get into hookah, it was pleasant to smell it. Between that and the Lebanese music they had cranked, it felt like we had been transported to the Middle East.

We had some mezze samplers, which were delicious. But the highlight of the meal for me is that I offered Elise $20 to eat veal brains and she actually did it. She wasn’t at all grossed out by them once they came, and ate most of a platter of them. We have the most adventurous seven-year-old I know. (She also happily put away a dish of liver.)

While eating the veal brains, she joked that she was eating “cow memories.” Hahaha.

At the restaurant, I learned about Arak, a Levantine liqueur. It tastes like licorice and runs about 100 proof. It’s made from grapes and aniseed, and seems very similar to absinthe. The name comes from the Arabic word for “perspiration.” (Here’s a fun piece on how Arak is made.) I also tried some wine from the West Bank, which I can only assume is an acquired taste.

We will definitely be going back to this restaurant, but there are many Middle Eastern restaurants in the vicinity. (Incidentally, Jacksonville has the country’s 10th largest Arab-American community. Arabs have been relocating to Jacksonville for well over a century, with the first Arab immigrant settling in the area in 1890.)

After the restaurant, we went to the Beirut Grocery, which is a couple doors down from the restaurant. We make it a habit to visit international grocery stores wherever we go. Partly that is for the joy of filling our pantry with ingredients from all over the world, but it is a great way to discover new things in general. In our own town, we shop at the Latino, Portuguese, and Asian grocery stores on a regular basis. (They also usually have some of the best cuts of meat.)

Elise loved the Beirut Grocery seemingly more than all other grocery stores because they not only carried Turkish Delight (the real stuff) but HAD AN ENTIRE WALL OF DELIGHTS in all kinds of flavors. I could not resist a bag of fig delights myself (y’all know how much I love figs). They also had dried mandarin orange segments and dried kiwis in bags.

Turkish Delight – so good, it’s sinful.

I also bought some rooibos and cinnamon tea and some soaps. I had no idea that olive oil is used in making soaps.

Another thing I learned at the Lebanese grocery store is that truffles grow in the desert. I saw some tins of truffles (terfeziaceae) from North Africa. They are expensive, but not as expensive as the ones that grow in the forests of Europe. I was tempted to buy one just to see what they taste like.

All in all, it was an amazing day. I love Jacksonville, there is so much to do there.

Touring Charleston, South Carolina… with a dog

We just returned from a long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina. We have one day’s respite and then we are heading to Lake Hartwell (on the Georgia – South Carolina line, but not along the coast) for Thanksgiving. Lots of fun travels this month!

This was our first long trip with our Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, where we were not ultimately staying with family. It was also something of a homecoming for Sherlock, as we got him from a breeder in South Carolina. You could tell he knew he was returning to a place he was familiar with, too. When we pulled off of Interstate 95 onto Highway 17 in the Carolina Low Country, he started going wild with excitement. It was a familiar-smelling place to him. I wondered if he thought he was going to see his brothers and sisters.

Highway 17 passes through endless marshes that are stunningly beautiful. You will experience what James Joyce called “aesthetic stasis” driving through the Low Country on a bright day. I think rural Beaufort County was my favorite part of the entire drive, in fact. The golden sweetgrass and winding cerulean creeks, set against a giant expanse of sky. You see that and you understand why Charleston has produced so many writers and artists.

Although Internet travel sites rave about what a dog-friendly place Charleston is, I would say it was a mixed experience overall. Charleston is nowhere near as friendly as Florida when it comes to taking pets out and about.

It is very easy to find a pet-friendly hotel in the area. On our recent trip to Ft. Lauderdale for the International Boat Show, I booked a room in a small hotel operated by a rather eccentric fellow because I liked his gardens. Rodney begged me to find a “normal” hotel this time, so I went with the Hotel Indigo at Patriots Point. It was a decent place, I thought, and they had live jazz music every night in the lobby/bar restaurant. The chap on the saxophone was wicked talented.

The only potential downside to staying there is that you have to pass over a 573-foot tall suspension bridge (yeah, I Googled its height after hyperventilating en route) over the deep-water Cooper River every time you go back and forth to historic downtown Charleston, which occupies a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers. If bridges freak you out that’s something to consider, though I did make peace with the bridge after our third or fourth trip over it. You have spectacular views of container ships being loaded and the battleships from the top of the bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway to the side of traffic for really brave people (hard pass).

Sherlock’s first night several stories up in the Hotel Indigo was something to remember. We are all accustomed to falling asleep to the sound of the ocean here in Florida, along with the hum of critters from the jungle behind our house (mostly bullfrogs). The only things Sherlock has to bark at are the occasional barred owl – which makes a sound exactly like a monkey – or a whippoorwill. The whir of city traffic all night kept him on high alert.

But the thing that really drove him insane was a flashing light on a nearby building. Once he noticed it, he would not stop barking at it. The hotel room only had a translucent Roman shade to cover the window, so he could still see the flashing light when it was closed. We were afraid we were going to get kicked out of the hotel as a nuisance. We had to pile up pillows on top of the air conditioning unit to block his view of the skyline. But he knew it was still out there.

The two biggest problems you have with a dog in Charleston are (1) finding a place to eat that allows dogs and (2) finding grassy areas for your dog to do his business. With the exception of a few parks at the extreme boundaries of the city, most public spaces are cement or rocks.

(While I am at it, Charleston is not handicap-accessible by a long shot. As you will see from my pictures below, the sidewalks are a mix of materials from three centuries, and even the mostly even path along the Battery has slate stones that collapse slightly when you pass over them. Even agile walkers will find themselves worriedly looking down at their feet instead of their surroundings.)

If you were simply perusing the app Bring Fido, you would have the impression that there are a lot of restaurants in Charleston that accept dogs. And if you are spending most of your time downtown, this is definitely not the case.

People who live in downtown Charleston agree with this observation as well. We started off Saturday morning walking through neighborhoods in the French Quarter looking for a place for breakfast. We chatted for a while with a woman who moved to Charleston from England and was out walking her labradoodle. She told us we were going to have a very miserable time finding any place in town to eat with our dog. At first I thought that was sort of mean, but later we realized she was simply being honest.

Downtown Charleston is a beautiful but highly congested area. It is nearly impossible to find street parking, and there are so many people (and horse carriages) crisscrossing the streets that you can’t drive around looking for a place easily (especially in the dark). You need to park in one of the parking garages and walk. We walk everywhere anyway, so this was not a big deal to us going into this project. We had come to Charleston intent on walking up and down each of the streets and just taking it all in. But it’s not fun when you are hungry.

You can only take dogs in some of the restaurants that have outdoor seating. Because there is so little free space in the city, “outdoor seating” usually means a few small tables on the sidewalk pushed against the building. For those spaces, you are competing with other pet owners and droves of millennials who hang out downtown and will park themselves at a restaurant only to nurse a Michelob Ultra for an hour. (And heaven help you if you are seated next to a table of these ubiquitous hipsters. I had quite the moment of clarity listening to our seven-year-old daughter rattle on about DNA and cloning over dinner while the millennials behind us talked loudly and obnoxiously about threesomes and pot. I don’t think I ever appreciated living among the “adulting” crowd in Florida so much. Gentrification has taken some of the genteel out of Charleston, sorry to say.)

For a port town, Charleston has surprisingly few options for restaurants. Your choices are mostly touristy crab shacks (no thanks, we have those in Florida), Southern comfort food (which is only special if you are not Southern), and weird food millennials like because it has pseudo-scientific health benefits. We tried going to a “French” restaurant for brunch, but discovered it was one of the latter. It had “French” avocado toast and crêpes made from buckwheat flour. Have you ever had crêpes that looked like Pumpernickel bread? I don’t recommend it; they are gross. But you could have your dog on the patio there, so it’s one way not to starve in Charleston.

On our last night in Charleston, we found what was probably one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at in my life, Circa 1886 (located at 149 Wentworth Street, in the original carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion; it looks out on a beautiful courtyard). I’m not going to lie, this place is pricey – like $2,000 Bordeaux on the wine list pricey – so it’s not going to be an option if you are trying to visit Charleston on a budget. But if you are a foodie, this place is special.

Circa 1886 has a menu concept like no other restaurant I have seen. The menu is divided into four quadrants, with starters, entrees, and desserts in each quadrant. Each quadrant represents a culinary tradition from South Carolina. You can pick a meal based on ingredients used by Native American tribes in the region, African elements (for the descendants of slaves), French elements (for the Huguenots who settled in Charleston), or modern South Carolina. The dishes are creative, but the ingredients are historically significant.

Elise ordered the preserved rabbit as a starter, which was a sort of rabbit stew with corn cob bouillon, seewee bean succotash, and bear tallow. Yes, bear tallow. She loved it. Rodney and I both had foie gras, which was served with a lemon rosemary olive oil cake, tart cherries, pistachio, Neufchatel, and peppercorns. We paired the foie gras with a glass of Riesling.

The chef also sent us out a pre-starter starter of salmon mousse with caviar and a shot of some sort soup that I could not figure out (sorry).

For our entree, we all settled on venison steaks served with indigo grits, parsnip, turnip collard green “mixit”, and preserved peach sauce. We had a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the venison, which was an excellent pair.

For dessert, Elise and I had chocolate soufflés with molten ganache and chocolate barley malt ice cream. Rodney had a West African entremet.

As an aside, I have been somewhat amused lately by how the ceremony of presenting wine to couples has evolved. I am accustomed to 20 years of having servers present Rodney with a sample of the wine before we drink it with our meal. (And I have absolutely no problem with that, as the order of being served wine doesn’t strike me as some critical feminist quest for legitimacy.) At two restaurants lately, I have seen that shift. At the first, here in Florida, the server poured a smidgen of wine for both of us to try and confirm. At Circa 1886, the server noted that I was the one who had selected the wine (Rodney told him that I was the one with all the opinions about what to drink – I was born in California wine country, after all), so he presented it to me.

Every bite of that meal was sublime. And this remarkable restaurant allowed us to eat at a table outside with our dog. When we arrived, they had set up a table in the courtyard with a flowing white tablecloth and candles. Next to the table was a dog bowl with water in it. Sherlock went to Charleston and was served by an army of men (and women) in tuxedos.

So I am not entirely down on the culinary scene in Charleston. But if you want quality food there, you are going to have to go all-out for it.

These are scenes from the Battery, which is the southernmost tip of the Charleston peninsula, overlooking Charleston Harbor, and filled with 18th and 19th-century mansions. I learned that the mansions were built (long before anyone talked about climate change) with a sort of nut-and-bolt system of cranking up their floors as the ground sank beneath them. Even in the 18th century, settlers were worried about how to keep their properties above sea level.

The original tiny houses. I’m pretty sure I have furniture larger than this house.

Imagine using this as a garage.

I wonder if these folks worry about waking up one morning to discover themselves smothered in a blanket of ivy that crept in the window during the night. That’s some Hitchcock material right there.

This house was special because it was built sufficiently above sea level to have a basement, which I am sure is actually an indoor swimming pool or aquarium.

A view of the fort Castle Pinckney from Waterfront Park and Charleston Harbor.

A random graveyard in-between houses.

Sherlock watching Elise, who found a playground in the middle of the Battery.

This house belonged to the surgeon general of the Continental Army.

Apparently this is how you patch a pothole in a cobblestone road.

Elise found cannonballs at White Point Garden / Battery Park.

A statue honoring William Moultrie, a South Carolina politician and planter who became a general in the Revolutionary War.

One of the many massive Confederate monuments in the park.

Elise was mostly impressed by the “old-time telephone” in the park. It doesn’t swipe. This is almost as bad as when she sees a big blue USPS box and says “look, Mommy, it’s an old-time mailbox, for when people wrote letters.”

Again, shouldn’t we be intimidated by this plant?

Apparently FEMA is requiring a bunch of houses to be lifted up to something like 13 feet above sea level. We saw several houses in this condition. They lift the house up and then they build a cinder block foundation underneath it. Eventually these houses are all going to be on their own pillars like the bust of some famous person in the ocean’s foyer.

I thought it was nifty that construction on the United States Custom House was halted two years ahead of the Civil War and was finished afterward. “Yeah, we are going to see how this conflict shakes out before we build any more government buildings.”

This is the USS Yorktown at Patriots Point. It was built during World War II for the Navy.

Also at Patriots Point, these are twin 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns. I assume they baked many a Nazi to a crisp.

A very sad memorial to the men on the submarines we lost during World War II, mostly situated around Japan and the Philippines. This was of interest to us, as Rodney’s grandparents were liberated by Allied Forces from a concentration camp in the Philippines. They were imprisoned as Christian missionaries to China during the war.

Part of a Cold War-era submarine, also part of the memorial to lost vessels. I had no idea how massive these submarines were, and each was equipped to start a nuclear holocaust at any given moment.

The interesting thing about Patriots Point is that it is situated right next to the massive suspension bridge. Apart from being a monument to the brave men and women in our Armed Forces, the whole landscape is an incredible physical testimony to generations of American engineering might.

Fascinating city. I am happy to have spent a weekend there.

Some gardening before heading to Charleston

As a boy, in my own backyard I could catch a basket of blue crabs, a string of flounder, a dozen redfish, or a net full of white shrimp. All this I could do in a city enchanting enough to charm cobras out of baskets, one so corniced and filigreed and elaborate that it leaves strangers awed and natives self-satisfied. In its shadows you can find metal work as delicate as lace and spiral staircases as elaborate as yachts. In the secrecy of its gardens you can discover jasmine and camellias and hundreds of other plants that look embroidered and stolen from the Garden of Eden for the sheer love of richness and the joy of stealing from the gods. In its kitchens, the stoves are lit up in happiness as the lamb is marinating in red wine sauce, vinaigrette is prepared for the salad, crabmeat is anointed with sherry, custards are baked in the oven, and buttermilk biscuits cool on the counter.

Pat Conroy, South of Broad

We are headed to Charleston for a long weekend tomorrow morning. If anyone has recommendations for special places to visit in the Holy City, please send them my way. We will have our Jack Russell terrier, Sherlock, with us while we stroll around the city, so we are kind of limited in seeing museums and whatnot.

We are finding some time later today to get some gardening in and play on the beach. Elise and I bought a mango tree that allegedly will do well in a container, so we plan to put it on the front porch where it will get some sunshine. We bought two banana trees, and are starting a banana patch on the side of the house. And I bought a sea grape, which grow rather huge here. I am going to plant it in the front garden to cancel out my outrageous blooms with interesting foliage.

Sea grapes have interesting round leaves.

I am starting to develop a garden plan, so I am hoping to place orders for plumeria and other features soon. The garden center here has a ton of ferns in now, so I might get going on the fern dell and walkway first. It’s hard to do when we are traveling so much lately though.

Fort Lauderdale, Part Two

After the first day of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, we went to downtown Hollywood to eat dinner at Runa’s Peruvian restaurant, which I highly recommend. The area seems to be mostly folks from Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela, and has many wonderful places to eat.

There is a lot of neat street art in downtown Hollywood – here are a couple shots.

The bar menu at Runa’s has a lot of Pisco cocktails. Pisco is a type of brandy that is produced in the wine-making regions of Peru and Chile, invented by Spanish settlers in the 16th century to replace orujo from Spain. It is fantastic.

I ordered a dish of beef tenderloin strips with risotto and a béchamel Huancaina paste, simply amazing. The mixed ceviche was out of this world too (with a wide variety of seafood, including octopus). Even before the food came out, Elise was thrilled that they brought out a dish of fried corn kernels to munch on.

A view of the Atlantic from Ft Lauderdale. The water was beautiful, but I have never seen so many jellyfish in my entire life. Needless to say, we did not spend much time swimming. (Though we live on the beach, so it’s not like it ruined our trip.)

This is pretty much the view anywhere along the ICW in Ft Lauderdale. Boats, boats, boats everywhere.

One of the yachts at the boat show. I was impressed by the balcony off of the stateroom.

So many screens.

On our way out of town, we grabbed some pastries and whatnot for breakfast. Elise was less interested in a croissant than orange mousse. Breakfast of champions.

I ordered what seems to be a Latin American version of baklava.

You know you are in South Florida when there are iguanas everywhere. Some are quite enormous and will run out in traffic.

And that’s the end of our long weekend in Ft Lauderdale.