Edison / Ford Estates and a New Chapter

Edison / Ford Estates

By the mid- 1880’s, Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor, and frankly, was doing very well for himself.  He came to Fort Myers, Florida, not only for relaxation but for a tropical location for his research.  He was an avid botanist, and was seeking (among many other things) to find plants that could be a source for rubber.  He tested over 17,000 plants, and finally settled on Goldenrod.  Who would have guessed it?

Anyway, he purchased some riverfront property, and built it into a beautiful estate.  The only existing structure was enlarged to become the caretaker’s house and garages.  He built a pier extending almost a quarter mile into the river to a spot deep enough for ships bringing building supplies.  A beautiful two story home was built, a large lab building, and even a pool and pool house.  Not surprisingly, the estate had electric power, supplied by his own generators.  He was hoping to electrify all of Fort Myers, but that didn’t happen for another decade.

Here is the caretaker’s house and the garages:

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The remains of the pier; used first for supplies, then sports boating:

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The main house:

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The “Midnight Garden”, originally featuring flowers that looked best at night:

 

Even some original wicker furniture from Edison’s time:

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Henry Ford was one of Edison’s employees as a young man. Later on they became strong friends, and Ford often visited Edison in his Florida estate.  The owner of the house closest to Edison’s property decided to sell, and he knew Henry Ford was a friend and frequent visitor of Edison.  He told Ford he’d really like to sell only to him, so the friends could be close.  Ford bought not only the house, but all the furnishings, ready to move in. Edison would spend a few months a year in his southern estate, but Ford usually only came down a couple of weeks, mostly around Edison’s birthday.

Ford’s house:

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Ford’s estate had been named “The Mangoes” for the huge number of very fruitful mango trees, but there were plenty of oranges and other “exotic” fruit trees. The properties have beautiful views of the river, and plenty of Palm Trees and flowers.  An astounding variety of orchids grace the property.

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Ford tried a few times to start automobile companies before he got it right… he left one of them, the Henry Ford Company, after only three months, because he didn’t like where the company was headed.  After he left, it was restructured, and renamed “Cadillac”.  The  first Cadillac was a 10 hp car, pretty much a Henry Ford design.

 

Edison’s large lab has been moved to Ford’s Museum of American Innovation, but a “smaller” lab is still here:

 

The museum is fabulous.  Thomas Edison was going deaf as he grew older, but still insisted on listening to and approving all music to be recorded and sold on his phonographs.  He found if he could bite the wooden frame holding the phonograph, he could hear the music.  It made me think of my favorite deaf jazz singer! (Love you Mandy!)

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Of course the Model T is what made Henry Ford famous: he literally changed the world with this car! This particular car was a gift from Ford to Edison.

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Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone liked to go camping and explore the Everglades.  They built a “Motorhome” on a Ford Model T.  It had a tank for water, and a few drawers for supplies, and when the drawers were removed there might have been a bit of space inside! Notice the stove and picnic basket beside the motorhome:

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Speaking of motorhomes… that brings me to:

Our Next Chapter…

We have sold our beautiful boat, GRACE.  We had an awesome time living on the water, but it was causing the dollars to flee my retirement account too rapidly.  We decided it was time to change the adventure a bit…  So our next nomadic home has wheels!  We have now moved aboard a big ole’ motorhome.  Quite different from Henry’s Model T.

Last week I talked about Frank Lloyd Wright’s design principles for his Usonian Houses. Our motorhome mimics these concepts in some ways:

He loved long horizontal lines.  The motorhome is very linear, and all the air conditioners and antennae are hidden from view so the lines remain clean. The entryway is rather tight, making you slightly uncomfortable and compelling you to go farther in.  When you round the corner and see the living area, it is much wider and far more open, almost making you say “Wow!”  This is where you are supposed to relax and feel like staying.  This is both the living and dining areas, with the kitchen right opposite. The kitchen area is small, but at least the cook is close to others in the living area.  The home has most of the furniture built in, so there’s little room for rearranging it! There is lots of indirect lighting, and the attempt is to let the nature outside be the focus. The bedroom is smallish (but still has room for a King Sized bed).  Does that sound like my description of Wright’s design? Yes, because I almost copied it from last week’s blog!

Ok, our new home differs significantly from a Usonian House, starting with the fact that it has wheels!  It has a large diesel engine to push it around, so the view always changes.  We actually have a bath and a half, which is more than Wright put in the Florida house.  It drives beautifully, and gets pretty good mileage for a house!

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So the months of research into portable housing has finally culminated in a 2017 Newmar Dutch Star.  Maybe I’ll put up a page about it like I did about Grace, in case folks have questions.  Like the boat, it sometimes feels VERY LARGE, like when you back into a tight spot… and sometimes it feels SO SMALL, when you try to fit everything you own inside!

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We get Library Cards!

When our dear friend Giny asked how nomads get library cards, we replied that we still had our cards from Colorado, and would use them till they found out we don’t live there anymore.  But we got to thinking… what if they did find out (don’t tell!) – we could have our library cards revoked!  So we stopped by the library in Green Cove Springs, where our mailing address is, and got shiny new Floridian library cards!  Of course we can only use them for eBooks and Audiobooks, but that is a great asset.  We also got to pose as Astronaut and Space Alien, and had the librarian take our picture.  What a day!

 

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Chasing the Next Horizon

From now on, we will be searching for our next horizon on land… we hope you will follow us there!

Cypress Trail

Highest Point in Florida?

For ages I’ve heard jokes about the tallest mountain in Florida – Mount Dora. Sitting in view of 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado, we’d laugh at the something like 500 foot Mount Dora.  So when we were driving along and saw the turnoff for this famous mountain, we had to take it!

With an elevation of 184 feet above sea level, Mount Dora is hardly nosebleed inducing.  In fact, it’s hardly a hill.  This is the name of a town.  There is no mountain or hill in sight.    But cease your laughter, because there is a taller place in Florida – Britton Hill, with an elevation of 345 feet!  It almost doesn’t count, because it is just a couple inches south of Alabama.  If the guy drawing the dotted line between the two states hiccuped, the hill might have been in Alabama.  From our intensive internet searching, this intersection is the highest point in Mount Dora:

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Midweek Move

We’ve had a great time in Manatee Hammock, but it was time to head a little farther south.  So we left this beautiful, natural campsite…

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The morning we were leaving, a little lizard climbed the tree right outside our window and watched us eat breakfast.  He must have liked what he saw, because he did some showing off for us, puffing out his brilliantly colored throat !

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Cypress Trail RV Resort

We’ve moved to a fancy RV spot just south of Fort Myers, Florida.  The “campsites” are paved, the grass is neatly trimmed, and there are a few billion dollars’ worth of RV’s here.  The sites are sold like condos… most owned by folks who spend the winter here in their RV and then head back north when it gets this hot.  We will head north next week, without buying a spot here!  It really is beautiful, with lots of flowers, gorgeous skies, plenty of birds, a few rabbits, and I even saw an armadillo! The Nine-Banded armadillos, like so many people, aren’t from here, but have moved in to stay.

I put together a very short little overview of the Resort:

 

McArthur Arts

I have had quite a few folks ask about some of my photography, especially if they’d seen the prints in my former Dental Office.  I had a lot of pictures printed on metal, which makes them look really great.  So I have finally put together a Photo Website!  It is a work in progress, and hopefully will have more photos added frequently – both new pix and some from the archives.  Feel free to check it out at www.McArthurArts.com

 

Space Shot!

SpaceX!

Saturday morning we got up a bit earlier than usual… to watch a 2:11am launch of  the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.  It was to deliver tons of stuff (literally TONS) to the International Space Station.  They’ve postponed it several times, and this time it actually went!

From our campground we can look over the water to the peninsula where the launch site is.  I didn’t know what to expect in the way of noise… and it really wasn’t loud at all!  We could see the brilliant fireball as it rose in the sky, and then it went dark.  A moment later, the stages separated with a beautiful fireworks show, and the missile zoomed off.  Then the first stage booster came back and landed on its barge, just over the horizon.  I attempted to document this whole adventure on video… I will warn you – If you want to see great footage here, check it out on YouTube.  But this little video was fun for me, because I saw and filmed it!  The focusing and aiming was hard to do in the dark, and some of it looks like I was shooting with one hand while trying to watch with binoculars in the other.  Can’t imagine how I know that.  So watch at your own risk…

Don’t Judge a Sub by Its Cover

We had lunch near the campus of Florida Southern College, in this funky little place called “Subs and Such”.  It looked delightfully tacky and kind of run down, but had awesome food, and the proprietor was great fun to talk with.  Really glad we decided to step out of the comfort zone a bit and try it!
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Frank Lloyd Wright

Florida Southern College has the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.  I’ve alway loved his work, and to find this great “collection” only an hour and a half from our campsite – well, we had to see it!

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He designed a lot of the college campus, and had grand plans for many faculty homes to surround the campus. He called them “Usonian Houses”; his take on new all American architecture unburdened with traditional designs.  On this campus, he envisioned them sort of symbolically surrounding and supporting the students.  In the late 30’s and early 40’s he estimated the houses would cost about $20K each to build, and you could buy an existing home in the area for about $5K.  The college didn’t have money for that sort of extravagances, so none of the faculty homes were built.  He designed and built many of the classrooms, labs, administration buildings and two chapels.  He loved locally sourced building materials, so most all the walls are made from concrete incorporating local sand.

This is the largest of the two chapels:

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As with most of the structures he designed on campus, there are little panels of brightly tinted cast glass that add bright spots of color in the sand colored walls.

 

The campus is connected with “Esplanades” – covered walkways with the roof low and cantilevered off interesting pillars with angular geometric shapes.  It’s very important to watch where you are going, because if your head was in a book (or iPhone??) you could easily bonk your head on fascinating architecture!

 

If you were running down the esplanade, you could leave your scalp on one of these zig-zag rooflines!

 

The college had some more conservative buildings before Wright got started:

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More traditional architecture often had a dome as the focal spot of the building.  He felt pressure to add a dome or two, and he really disliked them.  He was all about long, low, flowing horizontal lines. Wright finally gave them two domes… One in the planetarium, and one made of water!  I think he designed the Water Dome with a wry smile to shut up those who tried to influence his designs!

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All the unsightly vents and A/C ducts on the buildings have been added to bring the buildings up to current standards.  Frank would turn over in his grave if he could see them!

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The Usonian House

A few years ago the Wright foundation decided to build one of the faculty houses that Wright had designed and not been able to build.  It cost them over $1.2 million to do it exactly as Wright had wanted, with a couple of enhancements like air conditioning (unheard of in Wright’s time).

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Wright loved to “Bring nature inside”.  He loved designs that seemed to grow out of the site, and using materials native to the surroundings.  He also was a serious control freak… He designed all the furnishings for the house, and dictated where they would be placed.  He built a lot of the furniture into the house – it looked cool, fit well, and couldn’t be moved elsewhere!  In this house the couch and the dining room table were built in.  It is said that he visited as a house guest some homes he’d built a year or two earlier, and in the morning the hosts would be surprised to find some non-Wright furniture that they’d added, moved out to the street!

The design incorporates some psychological tricks; the most interesting is “compression”.  The entry is a bit tight… the ceiling is low and the area is fairly dimly lit.  He wanted you to feel slightly uncomfortable there, and feel compelled to move onward.  When you enter the main living area, you almost want to say “Wow!” because it is so wide open.  This is where you are supposed to relax and feel like staying.  One large open area, higher ceilings, and a whole wall of glass giving the impression the room extends outside.  This is both the living area and dining room, with seating areas dictated by the built-in furniture.  The kitchen is right off the dining area, and is quite small and utilitarian.  He felt that was a “Service Area”, and really just a necessary evil.  At least he put it where anyone “slaving away” in the “service area” would be fairly close to others who were in the living room.

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Both bedrooms are small, because they are only for sleeping!  Awake time should be spent in the living room!  Each bedroom has a wall of floor to ceiling windows, which when opened with the similar windows in the front of the house, would let breezes cool as well as could be expected in pre-A/C Florida.  None of the windows had curtains or drapes; he hated those.  Privacy was expected to be provided by planting bushes and trees as needed.  Again, the bathroom is somewhat small, and has almost no storage areas compared to current standards.  He hated clutter, so thoughtfully presented no surfaces to collect junk.

 

Flowers Everywhere

Lots of gorgeous flowers are found in the shady gardens.  I believe this is called a “Peace Lily”

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Let Down vs. Lift Off

SpaceX

SpaceX was supposed to launch a Dragon capsule on a Falcon 9 rocket a week ago. The purpose is is to send several TONS of supplies to the International Space Station – this being the 17th such resupply flight!  We moved to the Manatee Hammock Campground thinking we’d be in a good spot to watch the launch.  It was rescheduled for Tuesday.  Then Wednesday.  Then Friday (today).  As of late last night it was still scheduled, so we got up and walked to the shore from our campsite at 2:45am.  There were maybe a dozen or two others gathered to watch it.  About 10 minutes before the scheduled 3:11am launch, they scrubbed it due to a problem with the drone landing site boat (named Of Course I Still Love You!).  So it is now scheduled for tomorrow at 2am.  I was hoping to have a cool picture or two, so I had to shoot something!  Here is a 3am shot of NASA’s VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).  SpaceX leases space from NASA, and the launch should be visible just beyond the VAB.  We get to try again tomorrow morning!

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Running into Weather

I have the privilege of doing a morning run around the camp area here, and it takes me right along the shore for a bit.  One morning it was rather cool where our trailer is, but when I got to the clearing near the shore, it was dramatically warmer and more humid.  The breeze off the water made such a difference that my glasses fogged over!  I ran in the fog until I hit the trees (Ok, I didn’t hit them; my glasses weren’t THAT foggy) where it was shady and cooler and the glasses cleared.  I don’t remember ever seeing climate change that dramatic in just a few feet.  (Except in the islands where it may be raining like crazy on one side of the street and dry on the other.)  Most of the campsites are in heavily wooded areas, and they block more wind than I’d have believed possible.  Sometimes we don’t even notice the wind, and we walk to the shore to find it quite windy there and significant wave action.

Morning run site:

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Forest Lake Academy

I’ve had a bit of a grudge against Forest Lake Academy, ever since it stole a girlfriend from me in high school. (MJ you know who you are!) OK, so it wasn’t really the school, but I had to be upset with somebody.  But I’ll admit I’ve always wanted to see it.  After I posted about us being at the Space Center last week, I got an email from a gal I went to high school with, and haven’t seen or heard from since then – Karen Cockrell. (Not the same girl…) We agreed to meet, and we spent the day with her today.  She gave us the long awaited tour of FLA.  It’s really beautiful!  A HUGE campus, looking like maybe a small college!  And just inside the front gates were a couple beautiful Sandhill Cranes.  Awesome!  There is a Robotics competition going on this weekend, and we got to see some very impressive robotic projects that these clever lucky kids are working on.

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They have an equally impressive elementary school:

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So here’s to catching up with friends from long ago!

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Bird Watching

I’ve been wanting to just go wandering and shoot some birds, so I finally got a chance.  In the campground we see Ibis all over, Pelicans often, an occasional Osprey, and plenty of Gulls.  Here are a few pix of all but the Pelicans:

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Who knew an Osprey could turn his head around like an Owl?

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It’s almost like he was upset at me for taking his portrait from the wrong end…

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We even enjoy the elegance of the seagulls:

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Space Coast

Christmas is so yesterday… we left Christmas, Florida for a campsite closer to the ocean, and closer to the Space Center.  It’s called Manatee Hammock, but we haven’t seen a manatee yet and I am pretty sure one couldn’t get in a hammock!  (OK, in this area, a hammock is a stand of trees growing on land a maybe only a few inches higher than marshy areas around them.)

 

Running around the lake

Adjacent to the Christmas RV park was a road that led past a large pasture, then into a heavily wooded area, and finally around a small lake and a picnic table.  It was a great place for a morning run.

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Vulture Banquet

When I was walking the road near the lake I saw a vulture with a black head. I read later that they are called Black Vultures. This one was tearing at something. As I got closer another one arrived. I couldn’t see what it was, but thought it might be a turtle. 

I ran the road by the lake and back to the gate and saw several vultures. After I did the run again I was nearly back to the gate when I heard a plane overhead. Only there was no engine! I heard a vulture soaring over me! At the gate I saw a bunch of vultures with many more coming. They tore that poor turtle to shreds. You can notice that they don’t share well!

At first sight it didn’t smell too bad. But by the time they had pulled all the pieces out it really stunk. So though I don’t like vultures because it seems sad that they eat such yucky stuff that they can’t have feathers on their heads, I do like that they erased the stink in short order. And I enjoy watching them soar.

By Cherryl – video with my iPhone

 

Cows and Egrets

Cows and egrets seemed to pair up in the pasture.  Most every cow had an egret within a few feet, and if a second bird came to join the two, the first egret would angrily shoo it away.  It seems that they like the insects that fly out of the grass as the cow grazes.  The cows enjoy having the pesky insects removed, the egrets enjoy the free meals.  An unlikely match that seems to work well.

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Christmas Tree Trimming

The RV park in Christmas was nice enough, and very quiet… at least the campers were quiet.  It must take a lot to keep it looking nice, because there were several workmen who really liked their big machines,  always washing buildings, trimming trees, repairing roadways, or using leaf blowers to clean up the lawns.  So in the daytime you could usually hear some sort of big machinery running.

One guy was going to trim some trees… Trimming trees in Christmas should be interesting, so the drone and I watched him… I’ve sped it up considerably to make it slightly more interesting…

 

Jungle Critters

You see some strange creatures in the jungle, including this somewhat modified El Camino.  Don’t ask me why I put it in this blog; I’m not sure myself!

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In the Water Again!

We finally found a place to launch the kayak! Just a short trip along the coast, but we saw lots of Cormorants, Pelicans and a Great Blue Heron. The GoPro is not a wildlife camera… by the time you recognize a bird in the wide angled picture, it’s flying off.  So it just looks like we were out chasing birds.

 

Space Center

I had high hopes for the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. KSCVC for short. Or maybe just KSV.  Anyway, we’d been told it was worth at least two full days.  Well, we’ve spent a couple admittedly shorter days, and are not anywhere near finished.  Really a fascinating place! A bus tour takes you by many famous sites, like many launch pads, the huge crawlers that move rockets around the base, and the iconic VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).

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A moon rover and its instrument panel:

 

A copy of a Mars Rover made of Legos:

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OK, we didn’t see a Space Shuttle launch, but here is a picture of a picture.  Again, amazingly huge and complicated.

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They say the Space Shuttle consisted of about 2 million systems to make it successful, and over 400,000 people worked to make it happen.  I agree that’s pretty sophisticated… but it makes me wonder about the human body.  There are over 30 TRILLION cells in a human.  Each cell has several little “energy factories” and “machines”, to support the functions of that cell.  They are surrounded and protected by a cell wall that actively transports molecules in and out, selectively, as needed.  Then these cells are grouped together to form more complicated structures yet, that we call organs.  There are physical, chemical, and electrical networks to coordinate the functions of these organs.  All these organs are surrounded and protected by yet another organ, which we call skin.  All these trillions of cells are constantly regenerating and repairing themselves.  And yet most folks think this complex system just evolved, almost accidentally.  Could they also believe the Space Shuttle could just have appeared?  It certainly did evolve, from the beginnings of the manned Mercury capsules, through Gemini and Apollo programs, but with the intelligent energy driven input of half a million brilliant minds.

 

My Space Adventure

After a brief bit of encouragement from John Glenn (Who you may remember as the first American to orbit the earth), I was given a space suit (Just my size!), and after a brief EVA (Space walk) I was able to set foot on the moon!  And I have the pictures to prove it!

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PS: a bit of an apology: my beautiful camera tried to commit suicide by jumping from the back seat of the Suburban onto the ground.  It has spent this last week in the Canon hospital, and should be back with us Monday.  In the meantime, all pictures were taken with the iPhone or Drone.

We Drove Till Christmas!

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

We really enjoyed Hanna Park.  It feels like a jungle, there is a lot of space between campsites, and it is just beautiful!  Here is a quick bike tour of a bit of the park:

 

Hard at work

This is me working in my “cubicle” to create weekly blogs…

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Wildlife

Well, we haven’t seen any alligators in the wild yet, but we haven’t given up!  Lots of wildlife here is very tiny – including flying insects that like to bite Cherryl!  But some are nice to look at:

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Some others are not as noticeable, but pretty interesting:

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Kingsley Plantation

Zephaniah Kingsley was an interesting character, full of what today we would call glaring inconsistencies  –

He was a slave trader early on.
He owned over 60 slaves to work his plantation.
He married Anna, one of his slaves.
He married a few others, too, simultaneously, making him a polygamist.
He set Anna and their four children free.
He was a pioneer in ethical treatment of slaves.
He still felt slavery was natural and right.

He started his plantation on Fort George Island (Near present day Jacksonville) when Florida was owned by Spain.  The Spanish allowed free Blacks to own property and gave them pretty much total freedom.  It was when the U.S. took over Florida that trouble started – rights of free Blacks were taken away and it was considered bad form to marry a Black person.  Zephaniah eventually moved his family to Haiti, where they could remain free.  He remained in Florida tending to business here.  Yep, and interesting character indeed.

His home is considered the oldest plantation house standing in Florida.

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The barn now serves as a museum and lecture room.

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The Slave houses were made of Tabby, a concrete made with sand, oyster shells and water.  It was course but durable…  now 25 of the original 32 are in ruins. One has been restored, the rest have been torn down.

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Ferry Ride

We took a short cut across the bay from the Timucuan Preserve area, where the plantation is, to a spot close to our campground.

 

 

Christmas in Florida

Late in the week we drove till we got to Christmas, Florida.  I was fully planning on that being the funny part of this week’s blog – Christmas in Florida already!  Unfortunately, I was also planning on getting some pictures here today… but it rained most of the day.  So all you get to see now is the sign and a few palm tree trunks lit up.  Maybe next week!

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Music by bensound.com

Back to JAX

Denver

The last couple of weeks have flown by… Last week I was too tired to put up anything but the cool Sandhill Cranes… Now for a bit that was missed…

Our headquarters while in Denver has been with good friends Lonnie and Laura.  They hare awesome hosts!  We took a few drone shots one day, and then that night we got snow, so a few more drone shots the next morning.

 

Ft Collins

Saturday afternoon was spent in Ft Collins with more dear friends; Giny and Joe.  We took the drone out to play in the middle of nowhere.  My phone/drone interface wasn’t working well, so I don’t have much worthwhile footage, but we had fun!  Here is a picture that proves, at least in Joe’s case, we never really have to grow up!

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Eastward Bound

I decided that because we had two months worth of luggage, including all our SCUBA gear, we would get a big rental car. (See above). However, that Chevy Tahoe seemed far bigger than we needed.  Since we were planning on driving all the way to Florida, when a light flashed on saying it wanted its oil changed, I offered Hertz to swap cars before we left Denver.  I figured we would get a slightly smaller car for the trip.  They were happy to swap, except they didn’t give me smaller… they moved us up to a Suburban.  Same basic vehicle, just about 2 feet longer!  Funny.  We had plenty of room and grew to like the big old thing.

 

Lincoln

We spent a few days in Lincoln with Cherryl’s family – Jeanne, Steve and Mom Joanne. We even got to see Crista, Josh and William: niece and her family.  No pictures though, so maybe it never happened. 😉

 

Atlanta

The next weekend was spent in Atlanta… I have several places I want to see in Atlanta, and we did none of them!  We had a relaxing day driving in the country, soaking up views of pretty forested areas, spring flowers, and even a few animals.   I had no idea Atlanta could be so beautiful! So we will return!

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We drove to Buford Dam – like most dams, a beautiful lake on one side, a river on the other.  Both sides were filled with people boating, fishing, or looking for wildlife.

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This little guy was with a few others just out of the park.

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About one hour out of Jacksonville, Florida, we were driving our cool big Suburban, when the peace was shattered by the sound of an explosion!  The left rear (portside aft) tire blew, and did it very dramatically!  But no problem keeping it in control; we just pulled off and tried to get the tire changed.  The problem was getting the spare out from under the truck… once we got the trick figured out, it was pretty easy.  A nice guy stopped to help us, and he had a hydraulic jack that saved us using the Chevy’s jack. A nice welcome back to Florida!

 

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park

This is a wonderful campground!  We’re glad to be back!  We’ve spent some time getting paperwork caught up, doing some trailer maintenance, and even some resting up.

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We haven’t gotten the kayak in the lake here yet, but we’re anxious to go alligator hunting!  There are hundreds of birds hanging out on the little islands in the lake, and great fun watching them this evening.

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Here is an Osprey diving for dinner…

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His take out order is here…

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And now he has to show off by flying it past all the neighbors.

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And so ends another week…

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Seeing the Sandhills

Every year, for about 4 or 5 weeks, from late February to early April, Sandhill Cranes migrate through Nebraska.  The Smithsonian estimates there are about 500,000 coming through; about 80% of the entire world’s population of cranes!  They rest up here, and feast on leftover grain in the the fields before flying on north.  The Platte River is a great spot for them, and just happens to be along I80 where we were working our way east, back to Florida.  So we made a small detour and got to see a few thousand… and hear them! They fill the air with their interesting noises.

Sunset is when they start looking for a place to spend the night – best time to see and hear them, not the best for close-up photography.

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It wasn’t like the sky was dark with so many birds, like Carlsbad Caverns is with the bats in the evening, but large formations of cranes were flying around everywhere.

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The following video clip is really just so you can hear their fun cries!

 

Celebrations in Colorado

Sayonara Japan

In our last episode 🙂 we were about to leave Tokyo…  Japan was fabulous, but a lot of it is not good drone flying territory.  The views were awesome, but you’re not supposed to fly over congested areas (Tokyo??) or historic monuments (Kyoto??).  So I caught a few aerial shots of Tokyo and Kyoto and quit before I ended up in a Japanese prison.  Or whatever.  Notice the guy wearing a (very common) face mask to work.

 

 

A Beautiful Centenarian

One major reason for the timing of our return to Denver was a celebration for a dear friend, Lucille, on her 100th birthday!  She is such a sweetheart that over 400 people showed up for the party!  I think all enjoyed it tremendously, with the possible exception of my little grandson Peter…  Here’s the evidence…

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Dr. Mike and some of the team with Lucille

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100 cupcakes, and at least 10 large cakes!  A wonderful celebration for a great lady!

 

Escape!

That afternoon some of us volunteered to be locked in a room and not released until we had solved the Cuban Missile Crisis… or a bunch of themed puzzles and riddles to find the key to escape.  We made it with 17 minutes to spare!

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Ukulele Education

My clever grandson is learning to play the Ukulele, and doing an amazing job of it!  So it was decided to get him a better instrument, from Gary, Ukulele master and head of the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra. ukuleleorchestra.org

After testing many “ukes” and lots of consideration, a beautiful ukulele was chosen.  This is Gary restringing it with better strings.  We all learned a lot!

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Keystone

We spent a few days with one of our daughters and her family in Keystone.  The weather was very nice, and the spring skiing was… well, spring skiing.  The snow was too icy in the morning, perfect a lot of the day, and pretty slushy towards the end of the day.  But in spite of less than optimal snow, we had a fabulous time.  The scenic beauty would be worth the trip even if you didn’t like the skiing!  (But I loved the skiing!!)  This little video was made with grandkids in mind – hope you enjoy it too!

 

Dillon Reservoir

Thursday we spent part of the day exploring the beautiful frozen Dillon Reservoir.  A shot of my granddaughter sitting on a park bench shows how deep the snow still is!

 

Good Friends

Part of the fun of this trip has been seeing lots of good friends that we have missed.  Brad and Bill didn’t think they would end up in this blog, so – This Pix’s for you, Brad and Bill!

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And in the tradition of closing with a sunset, here is the last evening in Keystone.

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Jogging Through Japan

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Sayonara Saipan

So Saturday night was our last night in Saipan.  We were treated to a nice dinner out by the clinic director and his wife.  While we were sad to leave the beautiful beach paradise that is Saipan, we were excited to be headed to our next stop – Japan!

Cherryl and I met in Japan, a few years ago… something like 45!  We thought it would be fun to revisit this fantastic place that we love so much.  We scheduled about 5 days layover on our trip home… and instantly wished we had more time!

Hello Tokyo

We landed in the “new” airport, Narita.  The old airport, Haneda, is still used, I think mostly for domestic flights.  We picked up our Rail Pass and a cute little portable Internet provider… about the size of a pack of gum, it lets all our devices connect without using their cell time or getting a new SIM card. In fact, as I type this, we are on Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train”, doing 168MPH!  Smooth and quiet.  Fantastic! But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Shinkansen, the “Bullet Train” does over 160 mph!

We left half our baggage at the airport (We wouldn’t be needing our SCUBA gear!) and caught the Narita Express, which gets you into downtown Tokyo in less than an hour.  The view from our 14th floor hotel room was great – the lower third of very tall buildings next to us!

Monday morning we headed out again, after deciding we still had too much stuff with us. (The hotel was happy to hold a bag for us.)  So we caught our Shinkansen train for Kyoto. The well over 300 mile trip zooms by at less than 2.5 hours, including a few stops along the way.  All seats have more legroom than first class in a plane, and they actually recline enough you could sleep (and half the people do).

Our hotel in Kyoto was built in a large circle, surrounding a garden area.  A ways out of town, but walking distance from the subway.  We decided it was too late in the day to hit the major tourist spots, so we opted for a traditional Japanese bath house.  Several decades ago, most homes had no bath facilities, so a public bath house was used regularly.  The Japanese are very clean people, and the evening outing to the bath house was also a great way to chat with your neighbors.  Most places have separate men’s/women’s sides. First you get undressed, then you wash thoroughly, sitting on a ridiculously small stool, while pouring small buckets of water all over you.  Only when absolutely clean may you enter the large bath areas.  There you may have a choice of several temperatures and styles… including one they run an electric current through!  I was always taught to avoid crossing electricity with water, but they’ve been doing it here for years.  It feels really strange, like all your muscles want to tighten up a bit at once.  Some think it’s good for you… I think it’s pretty weird!

Ginkaku-ji

Ginkaku-ji is commonly called the Temple of the Silver Pavilion.   Build in the late 1400’s, it was the life work of a Shogun to be his retirement home.  It has one of the most beautiful moss gardens in Japan.  The original plan was to cover the building with silver, like the Gold Pavilion is in gold (more on that in a minute), but that never happened. It has always been called the Silver Pavilion anyway.  (I always planned on buying Hearst Castle, but it’s never happened.  Think they will call it McArthur Castle anyway?)

Getting there fairly early was a great thing – not crowded, and plenty of time to savor the fantastic gardens.

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No, this isn’t a monument to a chicken… that’s a Phoenix!

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Lots of flowers in front of shops.

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We saw lots of gals in Kimonos, and some guys in their Yukatas as well.

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We trekked from Kyoto to Osaka, (13 minutes on Shinkansen) to try and find the school where we taught and first met.  We found the SDA Osaka Center on the map, and were very proud of our ability to navigate the subway system all the way there.  Except the building was not the same one we taught in… They moved from the old building years ago.  The new one is beautiful, and includes the church and a language school, as did the old one. The receptionist at the school said her mother worked in the school when we were there – turns out we’d known her!  She pointed out the location of the old building, but when we got there, we found a totally different structure; I’m sure the old one was torn down.

Travel by public transportation is fun and efficient in Japan, but involves more stairs than I can describe. We walked our feet off!  When we finally finished the day’s adventures, our Apple gear said we’d done over 18,000 steps and 11.8 miles!  (That doesn’t include the previous day’s experiment… Walking the length of the train at 168mph got me 3 miles of walking!) Turns out we’d walk like that every day! We travelled by Shinkansen, express trains, local trains, subways, busses and even the Tokyo Monorail.

Below is a non-crowded train.  Subways have seats along the sides instead of in rows.

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There is no way to show how many people are on the move in the railways/subways, but here is my short attempt…

 

 

Kiyomizu-dera

This was my favorite temple decades ago.  Created in 778 AD, it is a stunning wooden structure built into the side of a mountain, with a deck jutting out into space.  

This is what I remembered and was looking forward to seeing:

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But unfortunately, it is now being restored… so this is what we saw:

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Scaffolding over the whole structure!  Sigh… we could still go inside, and see the fascinating pattern of wooden beams and beautiful lanterns from inside.

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Below is a set of fountains, where people treat the water as if it has special powers.  When I was first here, people would drink from water they’d catch from the fountain in long handled  wooden dippers.  Today they have metal dippers that they can supposedly sanitize with an ultraviolet light between uses, and most didn’t drink but just got their hands in it or maybe splashed it on their faces.

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There are pagodas on either side of the entrance…

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Prayers can be written on paper, and tied onto special racks, or maybe even printed on a wooden card and hung up.

 

 

It used to be common to leave food for the images, and of course they would need a bib.  We saw more bibs than food.  Just getting ready for the feast to come!

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By far the most visitors were Japanese.

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Kinkaku-ji

Known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, it was also built as a Shogun’s home, complete with fabulous gardens and Gold Leaf over much of the structure.  The original was built in 1397.   In 1950 it burned down, thanks to a careless monk.  Rebuilt in 1955, it is covered with even thicker gold leaf than it was originally.

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Lots of girls in pretty Kimonos…

 

 

Everywhere are cute little shops with cute little ladies selling…

 

 

Japan is all about clean!

Streets, shops, homes, parks, even public bathrooms are very clean.  In the temple pavilions there were people sweeping the moss!

 

 

High Tech Toilets

In the old days, Japanese toilets were all the “Squat Pots”; just a ceramic slot in the tile floor that you squatted over and did whatever you came in there to do.  But they have not only adopted the western style toilet, but modernized it dramatically! Heated seats, auto flushing, and soft closing lids.oSome will shoot jets of water to wash you and heated air to dry you off.  I’m told there are some available that will do urinalysis too… but we didn’t meet any of those in our hotels.

 

Interesting Signs

They are everywhere… I was amused by “During Cleaning” on a non-accessible train door, and “Mildly Air-Conditioned Car”… until I walked the length of one train and noticed one car (the one we got on) was defiantly hotter than all the others.  I guess some like it hot…

 

Subway tickets are magnetic and you place them in the gate, it opens, and spits your ticket out the other side in a split second.  For the rail passes we had to show our passes to a staff person… and I guess here the staff is stuffed!

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People apparently go to the grocery store meet section to meat other non-vegetarian people…

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The food is beautifully presented, unless you are at a buffet and have to do it yourself.  One hotel had an included breakfast, served at an Italian restaurant.  So the first time I’ve had spaghetti, scrambled eggs and rice for breakfast!

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Dentistry

This is a poster with a futuristic dental theme, but I have no idea what they are selling.

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I just thought this was fun – the old guy in a suit, with his mask on, riding a bike, swerved over to say Hi and chat with the cab driver…

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Ok, not all the food is displayed beautifully… The cream puffs seem to be barfing green tea or vanilla filling, and the breadsticks look… well, unusual. (But the vanilla cream puffs were great!)

 

And a quite energized salesperson…