Archive for ‘Observations’

Sponge Fun

I have been avoiding touristy, crowded places (for obvious reasons) but last week I finally succumbed to my unceasing curiosity and checked out the sponge docks at Tarpon Springs. Thankfully, it was a wet visit which played in my favor as there were very few other people wandering around. Thank you, rain!

This small town along the Anclote River was founded in the 1870s as a fishing village but the discovery of sponge beds put the town on the map. Before the proliferation of synthetic sponges, natural ones were used for cleaning, art, and even contraceptives.

Surprisingly, in the early 1900s, sponges were Florida’s leading industry and the majority of those sponges were harvested and processed in Tarpon Springs. Though the sponge market has diminished over the years it left an indelible mark on the town in the form of Greek heritage.

One of the first investors, John K. Cheyney, was an immigrant from Greece and he brought over divers from the Dodecanese Islands to work in the industry. Their descendants remained in the area and it now has the highest percentage of Greek Americans in the country.

Walking along the waterfront I overheard folks speaking their cultural tongue, but of course, it was all “Greek” to me! In the future, I’d like to dine at one of the many Greek restaurants in town or perhaps I’ll return for one of the festivals.

Not Alone

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Crabby, Wall Springs Park, Palm Harbor, Florida July 2020

Stopped off to explore Wall Springs Park yesterday afternoon. After a bit of a wander I settled on the bench on a fishing pier to relax in the cool air left behind by a midday storm.

Though I was the only human in the area I wasn’t alone: Anhingas were drying out in the mangroves, a Great Blue Heron patiently hunted in the mud, and Ospreys hovered overhead. They were all just as aware of my presence and kept their respective distances.

The little creature on the railing beside me, however, was a whole nother story. This Mangrove Marsh Crab (Sesarma curacaoense)¬†wasn’t perturbed by me at all. In fact, I had to move my arm so this terrestrial crab could continue on its way!

A few minutes later, a couple aquatic mammals caught my attention as they glided through the flat water. What a lovely way to wrap up the day!

The Point

Wandering around Tampa the other day I ended up at Ballast Point Park. It is a small green space hugging the bay, with a nice fishing pier and playground. As I strolled the perimeter, the names on the bricks in the road caught my eye.

As I am wont to do when my curiosity is piqued, I crisscrossed the entire lane looking at the names. Copeland Inglis was the predominate manufacturer though I found six others, in varying amounts.

Walking back to my car, the name of the park hit me – wait for it – like a ton of bricks. No wonder the park had that name, bricks like these were often used as ballast!

After a bit of online research I learned that Tampa purchased millions of bricks from southern manufacturers in the early 1900s. They were used to “pave” the way for that new mode of transport, the automobile. Copeland Inglis, Coaldale, Augusta, Southern Clay Mfg, and Rockmart (listed in order of prevalence) were part of that process.

The exceptions were the few Baltimore bricks (from Maryland) and the lone Catskill Block (from a brick maker in the Hudson River valley). As for this smattering of bricks from up north, there is a very high likelihood that they arrived in Tampa as actual ship ballast.

I never know where my explorations are going to lead me but I do know it’s going to be interesting!

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Bricked Lane, Tampa, Florida July 2020

Life Imitates Art

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Young Alligator in the Mangroves, Lake Maggiore, St. Petersburg, Florida July 2020

I stood at the edge of the lake for several minutes, surveying the area, hoping to spot wildlife on a hot summer afternoon. I didn’t notice this young alligator in the nearby shallows until it blinked.

The dappled light, submerged leaves, and its cryptic coloration served as very effective camouflage. While not a sharp, distinctive image of the animal, I rather like how the image resembles a painting.

Teddy* in Tampa

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Sign at Vila Brothers Park, Tampa, Florida July 2020

I spotted this sign in Tampa while waiting at a traffic light yesterday. A huge Theodore Roosevelt fan, I flipped a quick u-turn so I could learn more. I’ve done a bit of reading about our dynamic 26th President over the years and I hold him in high regard. His namesake national park is one of my favorite parks in our entire system.

I knew that Roosevelt and the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (aka the Rough Riders) fought in Cuba during the Spanish American War, but I didn’t recall that they left from Tampa. Thankfully, Vila Brothers Park preserves one of the campsites used by the Rough Riders in 1898 as they waited to ship out.

There wasn’t much to see at the small park so I drove a few miles south to explore another green space. The block wall that separates Ballast Point Park from the Tampa Yacht and Country Club was covered in murals.

While most of the sections depicted marine life (dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and manatees) I was pleasantly surprised to see a portion dedicated to Roosevelt and the “Cowboy Cavalry”. What random luck to stumble across these two mementos to history!

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Mural at Ballast Point Park, Tampa, Florida July 2020

*Though popularly used, Roosevelt abhorred the nickname Teddy. This and other fascinating details can be gleaned from Mornings on Horseback,¬†David McCullough’s thorough and engaging biography.