I noticed the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art in downtown St. Petersburg right after moving here. To a woman from Southern Arizona, it certainly seemed out of place in Florida, so I added it to my list of things to explore. Unfortunately, life and the chaos of 2020 prevented my visit until yesterday.

The 26,000sf museum opened in 2018 to showcase the personal collection of Tom and Mary James (members of the Raymond James family). It was Tom’s childhood fascination with the Wild West that gradually grew into a diverse holding of art. The majority of the works are by contemporary artists, including one gallery of work by native peoples. Of course, some of the big names in Western art were also represented: Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Edward S. Curtis, and Maynard Dixon (my personal favorite).

Hanging on the wall near a Maynard Dixon, was this peaceful scene. As I leaned in closer, two things jumped out at me. One, the painter, Edith Anne Hamlin, was married to Maynard Dixon but most importantly, the name of the piece: Morning on the Rillito.


Morning on the Rillito by Edith Anne Hamlin

Now, rillito is a Spanish word meaning little river so though it reminded me of the waterway of the same name in my old hometown I didn’t automatically jump to that conclusion. Until I read the caption, “the Rillito River near Tucson.” The horseback riders reminded me of my childhood in the saddle and the yellow cottonwood trees transported me to those mild and sunny winter days.

As I continued through the galleries, other iconic Arizona images jumped out, like Geronimo and the Grand Canyon. With all these visual reminders, it was a surprisingly nostalgic morning for me.

I spent extra time with His Last Hunt by Allen Eckman. I was fascinated by the details and design of this piece, made of cast paper. The expressiveness and energy of the participants were truly amazing.

While I admired the craftsmanship of Honeymoon at Crow Fair by John Coleman this sculpture in the main lobby was overshadowed by the undulating wall of water behind it. Absolutely mesmerizing!

Long Beak Problems

I spent a decent part of a morning watching this American White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) preen. While the feathers from the neck down looked well-cared for, the ones above appeared a little disheveled. Clearly, there are a few disadvantages to having such an extended mandible!

I read a study from Florida that determined an adult ibis spends well over half the day roosting during nesting season. The birds occupied a good portion of that time with their personal hygiene.

I was surprised to learn that, though they nest in large colonies, they do not practice allopreening (except during courtship). I had presumed they would help each other reach their inaccessible areas but apparently, they just go around half-bathed.


Doodlebug Compound


Antlion Pits, Little Manatee River State Park, Florida July 2020

Antlion larvae prefer to excavate their inverted cone traps in soft sand under trees where ants and other insects might traipse. This must’ve been an ideal spot, I’ve not seen this density in one location before – it was a plethora of pits!

There are over 2,000 species of antlions found mainly in warm regions around the world. They are classified in the family Myrmeleontidae which stems from two Greek words; ant (myrmex) and lion (leon). As for the common name, Doodlebug, that derived from the strange designs they create in the sand while searching for the perfect pit spot.

Depending on resources (or lack thereof) antlions can remain in the larval stage for up to three years. After pupating, they emerge as delicate, flying objects that resemble lacewings. They also undergo a lifestyle change, many of them subsisting on nectar and pollen for their brief adulthood (roughly a month).

There were antlions in the Sonoran Desert where I grew up and I spent many a summer day tickling the side of a trap with a blade of grass, trying to coax one into grabbing hold so that I could pull it out of the sand and examine it. I don’t find them visually appealing but I do admire their hunting prowess. As you can see in the video below, they have some mad skills!

Bittersweet Solace

This showy bush caught my eye a couple months back but the photos ended up buried in my archive until recently. As the shape of the leaves, flowers, and fruit all suggest, Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) is in the same family as the tomato.

Native to Europe and Asia it has been in North America since the 1800s, probably brought over for its many medicinal purposes, including warding off witchcraft. Necklaces were woven from the branches and worn for protection from the “evil eye”. *

The first part of its binomial actually refers to this attribute, stemming from the Latin root word for solace. The second, describes the taste of the fruit which, while favored by birds, is mildly poisonous to humans.

*Now that I know this maybe I’ll bring some home. I’m not necessarily superstitious but with the way this year is going, it couldn’t hurt. At the very least, it might be pretty.

The Sunshine City


Mural, St. Petersburg, Florida July 2020

I live near the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Treasure Island. While I really enjoy my little community, my experience here has been greatly enhanced by my proximity to the vibrant city of St. Petersburg, which spans the southeastern part of the Pinellas Peninsula.

St. Pete was founded in 1888 and, I was surprised to recently learn, is currently the fifth largest city in the state. During my explorations it certainly hasn’t felt like a big metropolis.

Though the Burg is loaded with history, nature, and cultural attractions its main claim to fame is as “The Sunshine City”. I hail from Tucson which averages 360 days of sun a year, so it is no surprise that I should feel at home here in this area (which bests that record by one day). St. Pete is even in the Guinness Book of World Records for most consecutive days of sunshine with 768 days (1967-69).

Final note, it’s been 74 years since a hurricane has directly impacted the city. Here’s hoping that streak continues…