Why would you write about a pottery store? Punta Gorda, Florida

Some retail outlets are so unusual and successful they become tourist attractions.  Wall Drug in South Dakota comes immediately to mind.  But one is much closer to us: Pottery Express and Bamboo Farm in Punta Gorda, Florida.  As the name says, they sell pottery and bamboo, but you have to see it to believe it.

It is actually about ten and a half miles south of downtown Punta Gorda because it started out as a farm.  On a recent visit to find an herb container for our lanai, I met Gustavo who hails from El Salvador.  He told me he and his business partner Debbie started the bamboo farm on seven acres of scrub land shortly after Hurricane Charlie passed through the area in 2004.  They soon expanded into “all things landscaping,” and now Charlotte County promotes the business as a “destination” to visit.

Five of the seven acres are open to the public.  They have over sixty thousand pieces of pottery on display and twenty-seven varieties of bamboo.

The pottery comes primarily from Columbia, Mexico, Spain and Vietnam.  They also sell furniture from Indonesia.

One picks up landscaping ideas just walking around the property.  There are several small gardens, one with a large water feature.  There are large warehouses with pottery for both indoor and outdoor use.  Stacks and stacks of pottery, statuary and fountains are found throughout the five acres

I recall fighting to keep bamboo taking over our lawn and our neighbor’s when we lived in Washington.  Pottery Express says their bamboos are “non-invasive varieties of tropical clumping bamboo.”

Alie enjoys pottery.  We own small pots collected around the world, so it is hard to keep her away from their fine art pieces.  However, for now she settled for a few inexpensive Mexican Talavera items, vibrant ornamental pieces made in the tradition of sixteenth century Spain.

The farm is an interesting place just to visit.  But if you do wish to buy, the staff are extremely helpful, and signs explain the best uses of their products.  They even have golf carts to take you around and to bring heavy items back to your car.

Click on photos to enlarge.

For directions and more information, visit potteryexpress.com.

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On the edge of the swamp: Everglades City, Florida

Atlantic Coast Railroad depot: 1928-1956, now a restaurant

St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the United States.  Nonetheless, portions of Florida were still wilderness into the twentieth century.

In 1912, C. G. McKinney, a  Chokoloskee island store owner, wrote complaining that two letters sent to him went to Everglade [now Everglades City] despite the fact that Chocoloskee was bigger.  Chokoloskee had ten families and two businesses.  Ted Smallwood ran the other.

Chocoloskee was an island; Everglade wasn’t. So in 1923 when Collier County was carved from Lee County to the north, Everglade was made its county seat.

A gator greets diners in the old railroad depot.

Hunters, fishermen and wanderers came though the area in the early 1800s.  Seminoles were said to have planted potatoes along what is now the Allen River.  Conflicts between the groups led to the Seminole Wars throughout Florida.  In one of the last battles, an Army surveying crew destroyed a Seminole plantation west of Everglade in 1855.  Eventually, almost all Seminoles were forced to move to Oklahoma with just a few fleeing into the Everglades Swamp where their descendants live to this day.

I enjoyed a great home-made black bean gumbo.

Barron Collier, who made a fortune in advertising, began buying millions of acres of Southwest Florida land in 1922.  In return for the creation of a county in his name, he agreed to finance the completion of the Tamiami Trail begun in 1915 from Tampa to Miami.  Naturally, the road would run through his land.

Everglade [as it was known then] was a company town and the headquarters for the construction of the new highway through the swamp.  Canals were dynamited and dredged along the road, and the fill was used for the roadbed.

1928 courthouse

Barron Collier gave the money for construction of many of the buildings in town and promoted a highway and railroad to Immokalee to the north.

The railroad depot was used in the 1957 film Wind across the Everglades starring Burl Ives and The Sound of Music’s Christopher Plummer.

Everglade became Everglades City in 1953.  The county seat was moved to Naples in 1962.  Today, the population has fallen to about 400 people.  But it still retains an “old Florida” flavor.  People hunt, fish and boat.  But today’s boats are more likely to be kayaks than “gator boats,” and most of the fishermen are tourists.  Everglades City proclaims itself the “Stone Crab Capital of the World.”

Nearby is the Gulf Coast Visitor Center for Everglades National Park.  It is the entrance to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Reserve, an environment very different from the rest of the park.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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The Bear’s Ears: Utah

The Bear’s Ears dry west slope in 2009

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke visited the Bear’s Ears in Utah this week as part of a review of National Monuments.

President Obama declared the area a National Monument despite the opposition of the Utah Congressional delegation and many local people.

I haven’t researched it and take no position.  But the Bear’s Ears are a milkshake memory for Alie and I.

2005 looking back through juniper scrub

This blog’s long-time readers may recall my in-laws had a milkshake in 1947 that got richer, thicker and more delicious every year that passed.  No milkshake, including that 1947 one, will ever equal the memory.  We recognize that fallibility in ourselves and know some wonderful memories are probably “milkshakes.”

In mid-May 2005, we left our 5th wheel trailer in Blanding, Utah and took the truck west on state roads 95 and 275 to Natural Bridges National Monument.

This 2005 photo doesn’t do the deep greens of the distant meadows justice.

We didn’t have a GPS, and our map showed a dirt road, Elk Ridge Road, going north from 95 back to Blanding, so we took it.

The winding road twisted and climbed its way up the side of the ridge through desert plants, then scrub juniper forest and across a short mesa.

2005 looking north and east after passing through the Ears

Then we went through the pass between the Ears [9058 and 8929 feet high].  We were astounded.  We were in an almost alpine meadow.

There were green meadows with snow-melt ponds surrounded by tall pines.  We then descended into an aspen forest.

Alie asked “where’s Bambi?”  She was rewarded by the immediate presence of a deer in front of us and two more by the side of the road.

Subsequently we were glad to have a big 4-wheel drive truck when parts of the road turned into muddy quagmire and we had to ford the north fork of the San Juan River.  We continued the last few miles to Blanding once again in a more desert environment.

Driving the approximately 42 miles was a bit of an adventure.  But it was the surprizing beauty hid behind the Ears that will forever remain in our memories.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Smallwood Store: Chokoloskee, Florida

Ted Smallwood photo in the Smallwood Museum

American history is relatively young.   But even in the U.S., we tend to think of “pioneers” as belonging to the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  However, pioneers were eking out a living in Florida as late as the twentieth century.  For example, it wasn’t until 1892 that there was regular mail delivery in southwest Florida to the new post office in Comfort, soon renamed Chokoloskee, more than fifty miles to the south of Fort Myers and another fifty miles on to Key West.

C.S. “Ted” Smallwood became Post Master on Chocoloskee in 1906.  He remained Post Master until retiring in 1941 when his daughter took over until 1973.

What made them “pioneers” was that it was hard to get there from here no matter where “here” was.  One traveled by boat through mosquito and alligator infested waters.

Chokoloskee Island has an oyster shell base.

You might call Chocoloskee a typical Florida real estate development.  The developers took an oyster bar and made an island out of it.  But in this case, the developers were the First Americans, and it was about two thousand years ago. Passing fishermen from the First American Glades Culture dumped shells from shellfish on the reef which gradually rose from the water.  Sand filled in.  Mangroves took root. Very gradually the original oyster collection became an island.

Calusa people moved in and added shells deliberately building mounds. At twenty feet above the water, it was the highest land in the area.   They established villages, fished and traded with others along the Gulf coast.

The Spanish came.  Disease and war wiped out the Calusa.  Seminoles, related to Cherokees and Creeks, moved to the island in the early 1800s along with occasional Caucasian hunters, wanderers, refugees and outlaws.

“Indian Bank:” Seminoles did not like to use paper money. They stored their silver with Smallwood in this box.

Modern settlement began in 1874.  There were five families on the island when Ted Smallwood arrived in 1897 to open a store.  He had his post office, store and trading post at his home on higher ground about a hundred yards inland but moved it to the water in 1917 for easier access to his settler and Seminole customers arriving by dugout and other boats.

Seminoles often traded hides, pelts and plumes.  Not cured, they hung from ropes in the store until dried after which they could be sent to Key West and on to New York.  Smallwood kept the Seminole’s cash safe in a box in his store.

The island wasn’t wired for electricity until 1955.  Until then, kerosene was the principal fuel for everything from lanterns and cookstoves to heaters and refrigerators.  Smallwood got a generator in 1945.

They blew a conch shell horn to tell island families the mail boat had arrived.

No conch was blown, but in 2017 Ray and Alie arrived in a car from Everglades City south of Naples.  We drove over a bridge.  The first bridge to the island was built in 1956.

American history is a young history.

The Smallwood Store is now a non-profit museum.

8-foot gator boat “Pit Pan”

Click on photos to enlarge.

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The Red Cross at a fire: Naples, Florida

A Red Cross ERV

Abandoning our travel theme, this post is about a recent local Red Cross activity. Perhaps some information will be new for you.

Southwest Florida had above average rain in 2016 fostering luxurious growth.  The last five months have been the 6th driest spell on record.  All that brush is now tinder.

Three fires broke out April 20th.  One grew to 400 acres in Lehigh Acres and two encompassed over 7000 acres in Golden Gate, outside Naples.  The Red Cross provided support to evacuated citizens, police, fire and other first responders.

I counted 26 different police and fire departments in the staging area.

The Lehigh fire was caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette.  The Golden Gate fire was caused by a lawn mower that struck a spark off a rock.

Thirteen homes were damaged in Lehigh and four were a total loss.  One firefighter was injured. Golden Gate has many five and ten acre undeveloped lots.  Three homes were destroyed.

The American Red Cross provides support during disasters like floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados.  But the most common disaster is a house-fire.  A few years ago, national statistics said the Red Cross responded to a house fire every nine minutes.  A house fire is sad on the news; terrible hurting someone you know; and a disaster when it is your house.

Smoke makes nice sunsets.

When emergency responders are called out for an extended time, the Red Cross provides food and water to those on the scene: emergency medical technicians; police; and firefighters.  If authorities determine it is needed, an emergency service center will be opened to help evacuated people.  Sometimes overnight shelters are needed.

In some countries, the Red Cross and Red Crescent are branches of the government. In the United States it is a private organization which receives no federal funding.  Ninety-six percent of the work is done by volunteers.

Cateen at St. Agnes Catholic Church

Volunteers opened shelters Thursday night.   They also opened a canteen at a church in Golden Gate fire to feed the emergency responders.

On Friday I worked on an ERV [emergency response vehicle].  The ERV usually takes food and water to people near the fire.  However, a Forest Service spokesman said “The fire was throwing embers a quarter to a half-mile in front of itself. We’re talking about extreme fire conditions.”  It was too dangerous for Red Cross volunteers to move in close. We settled in close to the canteen and gave snacks, water and Gatorade to firefighters returning to the line.

He struck a pose when I asked to take his picture.

Alie reported to the Disaster Operations Center on Saturday.  Most of the year, she helps train volunteers.  During a disaster, she is responsible for the Safe and Well Program which tries to connect people with their families in other locations.  This time, she worked in Planning and Information.  She tells me she is “just a secretary” but she is often drafted to prepare the “situation reports” every bureaucracy needs.

On Saturday, we moved the ERV to a larger staging area at the southern end of the fire.  I counted police, fire and Forest Service personnel from twenty-six departments — even the Seminole Indian Tribe Fire Department was there.

The U.S. has a long tradition of neighbors helping neighbors.  After we left Friday and before we arrived Saturday, members of the Living Word Family Church brought in food and drink.  We assisted where we could, including obtaining food donations from local restaurants, but it was not necessary to open a Red Cross canteen Saturday.  The folks from the church were there.   The Salvation Army opened a feeding station Monday.

Church volunteers serve meals; The pastor wears a Minnesota Vikings cap.

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Sunday, and the Red Cross started going door-to-door to see who needed help.  A Naples ERV crew continued “canteening.”

Regular readers know we travel more than most.  Since 2004, we have found volunteering at the Red Cross to be a rewarding activity that requires us to be trained but does not demand we always be present.  We help when we are home.  We help when we are needed.  Perhaps you would be interested too.  Learn more at redcross.org.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  As I write this, the fire is 75% contained, but firefighters continue to work along the 25 mile-long perimeter.

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A better than average pony ride: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Several large cruise lines purchased their own Caribbean islands.  By doing so, they provide their guests with some beach time fun and also have a captive audience for their own profitable excursions.

Carnival Corporation has ten major brands including Aida, Costa, Cunard, Princess, Seabourn,  Holland America and others.  Holland’s logo is Henry Hudson’s Dutch explorer ship the Half Moon, and so the corporate island is Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

Guide

One can lounge on a beach, rent a private cabana, jet-ski, play with stingrays, look at fish snorkeling or in a glass bottom boat, kayak, bike, hike and horseback ride.

Having snorkeled together at St. Thomas, friends Brendan, Traci, Marcia and I chose to horseback ride.  Wayne, who once had a horse throw him and roll over on him, chose not to go on this one.

Wayne need not have worried.  In this lawsuit-conscious world, Holland America took every precaution to protect its guests.  It was rather like a child’s pony ride.

Traci

But it was fun.  They even had steps one could walk up to mount the horse [nice for those of us with knees destroyed by marathon runs].  We were given helmets and encouraged to wear long pants to protect against the brush and a sadddle’s chafing.

Once mounted, we walked along a sandy trail past fenced pastures where horses roamed along with goats and chickens.

Returning to our start, we dismounted and changed into bathing suits or other

Traci & Brendan at Half Moon Cay

clothing that could get wet, life preservers and soft shoes.  Meanwhile, the horses’ saddles were changed out for what was little more than a thick foam pad with no stirrups.

Thus equipped, we headed for the beach and plunged into the sea.  It was an uneventful ride except for one horse that wanted to swim toward our ship.  Nonetheless, I have to say it was fun.  We didn’t gallop in the surf like movie stars, but we did swim with our horses — and that is not an everyday experience.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  If you cruise frequently, consider buying 100 shares of stock in a parent company. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean give generous on-board benefits to shareholders.  That amounts to an exceptionally large dividend, and in recent years the shares have appreciated as well. [As the brokers say, however, past performance is no guarantee of the future.]

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Snorkeling at St. Thomas

Yellowtail with a Sergeant Major in the background.

This blog post will not be tagged “photography.”  We have a new pocket camera that takes photos underwater, but I haven’t mastered it.  I tried.  I fumbled with the buttons.  I accidentally made a movie — mostly of the sky — and ran out of memory.

Nor would I recommend a cruise-sponsored snorkeling tour for someone who seriously wants to see fish.  People new to the activity splash around and frighten the fish.  Guides legitimately concerned for your safety herd you along in a “school of tourists” with little chance to explore on your own.

Marcia and Wayne

But I had fun at St. Thomas anyway because I was with Wayne and Marcia, and Brendan and Traci.

Wayne retired recently as a sheetmetal worker who put copper roofs on steeples and domes.  Marcia, a nurse almost as old as us, seems enthusiastic about everything and loves to ride motorcycles.

Brendan and Traci from New Zealand were on their honeymoon.  She wore her wedding dress to the first formal dinner and looked lovely.  Everyone in the dining room was taken with her.

Traci and Brendan

They met online.  Brendan was uncertain about seeking a relationship on the Internet, so he called himself Justin Case. Traci didn’t catch on and called him Justin for the first three months they knew each other.  They were new to snorkeling.

My photos aren’t much, but I had a plastic bag with some bread in it and was able to toss pieces in front of Brendan and Traci who were immediately swarmed with fish.

The water was not as clear as the Caribbean often is.  Mostly we saw yellowtail near a wreck.  At one site, we saw lots of turtles, but the camera was out of memory.

It wasn’t a great snorkel, but we enjoyed being there.  It was fun.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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