I really enjoy hunting, fishing and being in wild places. The winter has been kind to us at our place in Cedar Key on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida. We've been able to take long hikes in the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, explore the Nature Coast and fish from our boat.
After spending some time in Cedar Key, Florida I began to realize that this place is here in large part because of oysters. Dr. Peter Frederick, Research Professor of the University of Florida Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation says that oysters are very cool. Not only are they considered aphrodisiacs, they construct navigation hazards.
A vast expanse of salt marsh extends from Apalachicola, Florida, south along the Gulf Coast Big Bend to where we are spending the winter in Cedar Key. These marshes occur between the low and high tide levels.
We are spending the winter in Cedar Key, a small island community on the northern Gulf coast of Florida. Surrounded by protected natural areas, salt marshes, barrier islands and the shallow Gulf, the rhythm of weather and tides affects work and life. Being a working waterfront community also makes this a special place rich in history and people with remarkable resilience.
A few blocks from our winter home is the Cedar Key Cemetery, a beautiful place on high ground with big old pines and red cedar trees. With gravestones dating to the 1830s and some rather eclectic markers, the cemetery is an interesting place.
We left our home in Wisconsin on Nov. 26. It was 20°F with a strong northwest wind. That cold front travelled with us south for several days. It was 20°F when we stopped in Nashville, Tenn. It finally warmed up to 60°F in southern Alabama. We drove on smaller roads south into the Florida panhandle. The destruction from Hurricane Michael in October was widespread from Marianna to nearly Tallahassee along Highway 10, nearly 60 miles inland from the coast where Mexico Beach and Panama City took a direct hit. The power of that hurricane was incredible.
Noisy flocks of tundra and trumpeter swans have been flying over heading south as lakes and ponds up north freeze over. The swans have spent the last month or two feeding on aquatic plants fueling up for their flight south. Now there are thousands of swans, ducks and geese on the Mississippi River in Pools 8 and 9 downriver from La Crosse. There they take on more fuel for their migration, eating the tubers of water celery, Vallisneria americana.
Fall is my favorite time of year. The muggy heat of summer fades into crisp clear days, the leaves turn colorful, gardens and orchards yield their fruits and it's a joy to walk through the woods and fields. We had a few days like that this year but then wind and rain of November gales in October knocked down most of the leaves.
Now is the time to do battle with buckthorn. Buckthorn is an invasive shrub that was brought to North America from Europe as an ornamental hedge plant. Buckthorn is rapidly invading our area. Buckthorn is easy to identify. It has oval-shaped glossy green leaves with finely serrated edges and a pointed tip. Their leaves stay on long into the fall after most other trees and shrubs have lost their leaves. The twigs often end in small sharp thorns. The bark on larger buckthorn shrubs is rough, dark brown with corky projections. The shrubs are tough and "grabby."
Shortly after returning from our place in Cedar Key, Florida and still suffering from thermal shock I went north last week to Washburn to prepare our boat for haul out and winter storage. The weather forecast for Washburn last Tuesday was poor with cloudy weather, cooling temperatures with rain and increasing wind. Tuesday afternoon the manager of the Washburn Marina advised us to move our boat to the east wall of the marina to be first in line for haul out on Wednesday morning.