Monday, June 29, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #217 Another Sad Story, Silver Springs, Ocala, Florida, February 2014

Silver Springs, home of the famous glass bottom boats and a major tourist attraction opening its gates in 1852. The glass bottom boat tours began around 1870. Silver Springs was one of Florida's first tourist attractions. In 1971 it was designated a National Natural Landmark.

I remember going there with my parents as a kid. It was quite something. Not only did we get to ride the glass bottom boats and tour the 200+ acres, but there was a variety of local wild life on display including birds, like flamingos and reptiles like alligators. For a pre-adolescent kid, this was exciting and a great place. I still remember it, though probably a bit more vaguely now at my current age.

Sadly, since I was there as a kid, there has been a fair amount of development in the area. This has caused all kinds of issues including run off and sewage issues that clouded the pristine, crystal clear waters of the artesian spring. The spring pumps out some 550 million gallons of water per day.

A small amusement park was opened and operated on the property, but has since closed due to declining tourist counts. The property also has a water park called Wild Waters. Because it was becoming run down and no longer generating the revenue to cover the cost of upkeep and maintenance, it has ultimately become a Florida State Park. It's in a sad state of disrepair and no longer can draw the crowds that would rather visit Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, ET and Shamus the whale in Orlando.

My feeling, well, there goes another part of my childhood. Nothing stays the same. Time marches on just as it did with Marineland on the Florida Atlantic coast. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #216 An Angry Ocean, Outer Banks, Duck, North Carolina, January 2002

With all the storms hitting the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast over the past few weeks, this very old photo seemed apropos for this week's photo. I dug this one up from files that go back about 13 1/2 years ago when I first began experimenting with a very simple digital camera. Obviously, the resolution of the inexpensive little box was very low compared to the high resolution sensors that have evolved since that time. The reality is this camera didn't even have an LCD screen on the back. Yes! I was still a 35mm film photographer at the time.

I spent the Christmas and New Year holidays pretty much by myself that year. I drove down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a predetermined amount of cash in my pocket to use for renting a property of some kind on the beach. When I hit the Outer Banks I drove from real estate office to real estate office, told them how much I was willing to spend for a two week rental of some kind of one or two bedroom property (cottage or condo) on the beach. The amount I was determined to spend was small. I knew this was completely out of season, so I wasn't going to offer big dollars.

The first five real estate offices turned me down without even looking to see if they had anything that might be available. I guess they and their rental property owners had enough money already. But, the sixth realtor was "hungry" and asked me to go grab some lunch and come back, they believed they had something. I did and they did. I ended up with a one bedroom condo with an ocean view. It suited my needs and my price and I was a happy camper.

Toward the end of the two weeks a Nor'easter blew through. This photo was one of several I took during and immediately after the storm. I was in awe of the change in the landscape over a 24 hour period as a result of that storm. It was very easy for me to understand the damage to the New Jersey shore (one of the stomping grounds of my youth) caused by Hurricane Sandy a few years back since this storm was tiny in comparison. Nature is ever awesome whether the beauty of the deserts, mountains, canyons, forests, lakes, rivers and oceans or experiencing its mighty force in any manner.

There's an old saying, "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature." Whoever said that . . . was ever so correct. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #215 - A Day On The Farm, West Branch, Iowa, June 2015

What I visit I had to a family owned and operated farm in West Branch, Iowa. Some readers of this blog were born and raised on farms, so you know about what it takes to operate such an enterprise. I usually describe my hometown as a small farming community of 100,000. I grew up in the shadow of the Empire State Building as a suburban city boy in northern New Jersey, aka a "Jersey Boy." When I was growing up, we had several fairly large working "truck" or produce farms and two or three dairy farms within the city limits. We had farm fresh veggies available from several roadside produce stands and our milk came from within a mile of our home. 

But, as I said, I was not a farm boy. Two of the houses my parents owned, while I was growing up, had back yards that bordered on a couple of the large truck farms. I watched the farmer at work. I never participated or had any clue as to how difficult and challenging operating a real farm is. Of course, over my adult lifetime I've chosen to live in more and more rural areas. And my own last stationary home was on a 49 acre small ranch in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where I had a half dozen horses boarded. I was, for all practical intents and purposes a "country gentleman," but certainly not a real rancher or farmer.

My friend, Jolene Brown, a woman I met through my professional speaker affiliations, has invited me on several occasions to visit the family farm she and her husband own and operate in West Branch, Iowa, when I might be passing through that area. I finally did get through her part of the world and took her up on the invitation. Wow! What an education I received about the field of agriculture. I had an uncle and aunt who owned a sizeable farm in Sussex County, New Jersey, complete with farmhouse without indoor plumbing and an outhouse with the half-moon carved in the door. But, I never saw Uncle Richard working that farm.

The photo above shows the Browns' farm as I approached it from one direction (the small town of West Branch, which happens to also be the birthplace and burial site of President Herbert Hoover and his wife).
The photo to the right shows the farm from the back as I was leaving down a different road taking me to a different town. The land you see in the photos is only a small representation of 500 acres. Now, I know how big a piece of property of approximately 50 acres is, because I had one. Multiplying my known world by ten times was mind boggling. The Browns describe their farm as a small farm. Whew! It looked more like a small kingdom to me.

 I can't even imagine a cattle ranch that may be as large as 100,000 acres or more or the largest ranch in the U.S. the King Ranch in southern Texas with about 1,200,000 acres. Just as a frame of reference that's 55.5 times the size of Manhattan Island or just slightly less than the entire land area of the state of Delaware. The Browns' small farm is only 1/43rd the size of Manhattan Island, but it still looked like a kingdom to me and I challenge anyone to walk the perimeter.

The barn was huge and was constructed in 1895. It's stood for 120 years and I'm going to suggest, unless something of cataclysmic proportions occurs, it's going to be there in another 120 years.

The farm house, pictured here, was started in 1902. It has, of course, gone through a series of renovations, remodeling and upgrades over its lifetime, but it still had that feeling of solid "bones" and permanence. When you entered the house you just felt warm and secure, something I don't feel in many modern houses. There is a difference.

Jolene operates her international speaking, consulting and coaching business from an office in the house. She speaks to agricultural audiences and small family owned business audiences throughout the U.S. and other countries. Her main topic is the importance of the "family business/farm" and plans for succession of the farms/businesses. She does much of her consulting and coaching from the office in the beautiful farmhouse.

I learned so much about farming and the agricultural business while I was visiting. Too often we take things for granted when it's as simple as going to the local supermarket, Walmart supercenter or weekly farmers' markets to pick up our produce, dairy and meat. Seeing first hand, up close and personal, the massive equipment, the buildings, the grain dryers and elevators, the fields, the tiny plants just coming out of the ground that will, in a few short months, become the amber waves of grain and fruited plains as described in the tribute song to our country, "America, the Beautiful" was more moving than I can express in mere words. Learning about and seeing the actual work being done, the long hours, the amount of business and paperwork involved was a revelation that has led me to a new understanding, appreciation and respect for "the farm" and the hardy people who choose and love the land and working it.

Here are my hosts, The Farmers Brown, Jolene and Keith.
Keith is the main farmer, working very hard from dawn's early light until the sun sets and then tending to paperwork. Jolene contributes to the labors required by maintaining the house, the lands around the house, their private vegetable and herb gardens and some attractive flower beds, providing the meals and running her own business. And, during the harvest season, Jolene sets her business aside and joins Keith in the fields and helping run the dryers and grain elevators. These two industrious members of our society operate and do everything on their farm, all 500 acres, themselves, no hired hands. 

Thanks Jolene and Keith for all you do, for being the great Americans you are and for your contributions to all of us who are "Jersey Boys" and other city and suburban dwellers. And thank you for your hospitality and the opportunity to learn and understand so much about an important/vital facet of the American story and way of life.   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #214 Carry Me Back To Old Virginny, June 2014

These three photos are self explanatory. I'm back in the east after six months and approximately 12,000 miles of this first trek of 2015. Actually, the trek began on December 8, 2014 and ended when I arrived back at my eastern base camp in Keyser, West Virginia at 10 PM yesterday, June 6, 2015.

These three state welcome signs represent the three states I've hung my hat in over the past 45 years. First, was Maryland. Second was Virginia. Third was West Virginia (of course, my official state of residence for the past five years is South Dakota). I am showing the three states in the order I crossed into them as I came from my western travels.

You may find this interesting. I came from Ohio and entered West Virginia (at Wheeling). Then I entered Pennsylvania, south of Pittsburgh going through Washington. Then I reentered West Virginia from Pennsylvania at Morgantown. Then I entered the western panhandle of Maryland from West Virginia. Then I, again, entered West Virginia from Hancock, Maryland into Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Finally, I left Berkeley Springs and entered Frederick County, Virginia where Winchester, Virginia is located. I lived in the Winchester area (never within the city limits) officially until 2010 when I changed my residence to South Dakota.

I don't know if there are any other places in the U.S. where you can enter and leave the same state three times without re-crossing the same border and pass through two other states and into a third state.