Lynn’s latest watercolor.
Seeing a flash of pink in the shadows along the bank of Gamble Creek startled me. Heavy strands of Spanish moss hanging from water oaks, solid trunks of slash pines, and clumps of saw palmettos obscured my view until I stepped around a thick cabbage palm and caught another glimmer of pink in the dappled sunlight. I had never seen a Roseate Spoonbill before. As the oddly billed bird probed the creek bank, I saw small crayfish and minnows snatched, juggled, and consumed rapidly. Creeping quietly along, being careful to stay behind tree trunks, I watched for an hour as the pink bird wandered through the tannin darkened water, swinging the long, gray, flat bill from side to side. A small Leopard Frog, caught only by a single hind foot, kicked and escaped with a splash, popped to the surface eight feet away, and drifted in the current with only eyes and nose visible. The snap and crunch of a dried cabbage palm frond sent the spoonbill in frightened flight above the creek and into the shadows, leaving me to wonder for days if I had really seen a pink bird.
That pink moment from when I was eight is a recalled memory that comes into focus when I see a flash of that color among trees or near open stretch of water. Roseate Spoonbills are more common today than they were in the 1950s. In the late 1800s,
hunting for the feather trade decimated the roseate spoonbill population. The US Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was enacted, prohibiting the taking of roseate spoonbills, their eggs, and their nests. In 1939, scientists counted only 30 birds in a part of Florida where there had previously been thousands of birds. Fortunately, I see a number of Spoonbills every time I play the Mangrove Bay Golf Course and frequently see them along waterways all over Pinellas County.
From “January 1957” in Natalie’s Dreams Take a Tropical Twist:
“I like the view this Jeep Station Wagon offers,” Natalie said as they drove north out of Wauchula on State Road 17. “We sit up so much higher than we do in the car. There sure is a lot of flat pasture land in this part of the state.”
“Get ready for a bumpy ride when we turn west on to 62. That road has pothole patches over pothole patches. I haven’t been on a rougher road in the state. I’m surprised the Colvins, who are very wealthy from what I’ve been told, don’t ask some of their friends to get whoever the state politician is locally to push to repave the road. Maybe they want to keep the road in a state of disrepair to keep traffic low. If that’s the case, their plan is working,” he added as he braked to make the turn onto State Road 62. “This will be a slow thirty miles to the ranch entrance, so you’ll get a long look at Florida cattle country.”
When Bill pointed to the Quarter Circle A Ranch arch on the left-hand side of the road, Smokey and Mike leaned forward from the back seat to see more clearly.
“Listen up boys,” Bill commanded as he stopped before the entrance, “This is where you will wait for the school bus. Be careful crossing any of the cattle guards. Walk on one side or the other, not the middle, and hold on to the wooden fence. We don’t want any broken ankles. Stay clear of the road when you wait for the bus, and don’t cross the road until the bus stops. Be on time every day. If you miss the bus, I’ll have some serious physical work for you to do all day that will make you wish you had gotten on the bus. Do you understand?”
Both boys nodded silently.
“Vick said sometimes cattle are rotated into this six or seven-acre pasture between the fence and the tree line. If you don’t want to deal with the cows that have young calves and are protective of them, walk along next to the fence perimeter until you get to the trees. The cattle will move away from you toward the open center where the road is. You’ll get used to dealing with them.”
As the Jeep entered the tree line, Catbirds and Mockingbirds darted through the shadows avoiding strands of Spanish moss hanging from pine and oak boughs. Close by, a Pileated Woodpecker hammered on a hollow tree, sending thundering echoes through the woods. Saw palmetto clumps obscured the terrain, but glints reflecting from Gamble Creek revealed tannin darkened water that flowed parallel to the road on the left, disappeared, and reemerged under a rickety-looking wooden bridge that seemed barely wide enough to hold the Jeep and hardly sturdy enough to bear the weight of both the station wagon and the trailer. A bullfrog leaped from the near bank, splashed into the tea-colored water, and disturbed a long spotted gar that disappeared under the bridge with a wave of a tail fin that broke the surface. A Great Blue Heron, wading near the far side of the bridge and peering intently at a school of minnows, exploded into the sky in front of the Jeep’s windshield and vanished into the glaring sunlight that blinded the Jeep’s passengers as the vehicle exited the trees and crossed another cattle guard. Before the Jeep lay the crushed shell road winding among stately old longleaf pines, standing sixty to eighty feet tall. St. Augustine grass mixed with patches of clover provided a green carpet from the edge of the dusty road to the barbed-wire fence on both the left and the right that seemed to hold tangled blackberry bushes, scrub brush, and the ubiquitous saw palmettos at bay. They drove past an elegant Florida Cracker house shrouded in old oaks and pines and surrounded by a wide veranda going three-quarters of the way around the entire home that provided shade for the windows and walls. A pier and pile foundation raised the house off the ground and a steep hipped tin roof created wide overhangs. A gray, weathered, board fence added a sense of desired privacy.