I know, I know, it seems like I've completely abandoned this blog, but 'tisn't true. I really have been busy sucking the last bits of delicious enjoyment out of my time in Sarasota, finishing up the run of the show, packing up, and moving to the next gig.
My husband made in into town for the final performance, and we had a whole day and a half to play together before that illustrious event, so we made the most of it with two GREAT hikes. He flew into Tampa, so after I picked him up we headed to the beautiful Honeymoon Island. The trails there are not particularly long, and they are all flat ... but as it turns out, you can spend a lot of time slogging through slippery, soft white sand, and that will do a number on your calves, thighs, and butt, yes it will. Pretty good lower body workout, that.
It was a hot but gorgeous day, and we got off to a great start as we sought the trailhead with an encounter with a nine-banded armadillo who was happily grubbing in the underbrush beside the road. They don't see well, and he was really focussed on his grubbing, so we were inches away from him and he never noticed!
As we hit the trail, we began noticing osprey nests right away, and quickly lost count of the number of mated pairs we saw. They were everywhere! We also saw a couple of ladderback woodpeckers, owls' nests (but no owls) and even a bald eagle in the distance.
And when we weren't in the pines, we were in the mangroves, or on the beach, where we found a very large (deceased) horseshoe crab.
The next day was our only full day off, and we had big plans. I'd read up about Myakka River State Park, and that's where we were determined to spend the day hiking. But first, we opted for sunrise on Siesta Key Beach and delicious, healthy omelettes at the Sun Garden Cafe.
Apparently, if you park close to the lake at certain times of day, the vultures will come and eat the vinyl and rubber off your car. Also, any body of water in the park boundaries should be assumed to contain gators. And as if that isn't enough, this is the place where my colleague Audrey was chased by wild boars while jogging. So, Myakka State Park. Not the most welcoming environment.
Nevertheless, rewarding if you take proper precautions and respect the wilderness. There are some 39 miles of trails --- none of them particularly well-marked or well-mapped as it transpires, but we made it back, so you know this story has a happy ending. And there was lots of interesting wildlife. We had a couple of real "Circle of Life" moments.
The first wildlife we spotted was a wild turkey, pecking in the undergrowth. Then, we crossed a bridge over a pond full of alligators, so we had to stop and take a look there. And this is what we saw:
Here are a bunch of black buzzards, an enticing dead fish, and a very large gator. The park ranger who was standing on the bridge taking photos said that the buzzards seem quite fascinated with gators, and whenever one is close to shore, they cluster around him. We later saw this phenomenon with a couple of different groups of buzzards/gators. But in this case, there was a storyline going on.
You see, those buzzards REALLY wanted that fish. REALLY wanted it. But they were cautious. They'd hop close in, take a little peck, hop back. Mr. Gator didn't even move. His snout was mere inches from the fish, but he just sat there. Patiently. Doubtlessly hoping for a buzzardy snack.
This standoff went on for quite some time, and at last, the alligator, who had not moved the entire time, casually reached up and gently took the fish in his mouth and began munching on it with great enjoyment, much to the dismay of the vultures.
I swear he was teasing them.
There were plenty of birds at the pond, as well -- wood storks, Great Blue Herons, ibises, a small night heron with a beautiful blue bill, and many others. But the really exciting birdwatching was yet to come!
First, however, the Canopy Walk. After a short trail into the woods, you come upon two tall wooden towers, connected by a swingy wooden bridge, taking you ever higher into the canopy.
When you emerge at the top of the taller tower, you have a beautiful panoramic view of the park. And it is the sort of place where you would not be at all surprised to see a Brontasaurus head rising gracefully out of the trees.
After the Canopy Walk, we were ready to hit the trail in earnest. The maps, as mentioned, were pretty basic and left a great deal to be desired. But we settled on starting out at Fox Low Road, and off we went. It promised to meander through hammocks, pine flats, dry prairie, and seasonally flooded wetlands, and it delivered. Very quickly we found ourselves in what appeared to be the jungle!
We didn't see much wildlife here; mainly the little lizards that seem to come one to a palmetto and make noise completely disproportionate to their tiny size. We wandered by creeks and a couple of primitive campsites, enjoying the shade. But soon enough that shade dissipated as we emerged into the palmetto scrub prairie.
I won't lie. This was a long, hot slog, and after the initial viewing of the new environment, not all that interesting. Plus, I managed to sunburn ONLY the backs of my knees, as the sun was now behind us. A lot of the area had also been subjected to controlled burns, so not so pretty. We were both happy to get back into some shade, and to find our way back to the car (with the help of the GPS feature on my Garmin Forerunner and a friendly cyclist who happened by). We were out for over three hours, but we're not sure how much ground we covered. Hard to tell with the maps. Still, it was great exercise.
We headed over to Vultures Will Eat Your Car Lake to grab a cold drink at the concession stand and cool off. First thing we saw: wee baby alligator!
He was hanging out around the mouth of the creek, doubtlessly hoping to swim under the radar of his voracious and much larger relatives (some of whom we had previously sighted in the lake). The lake was a haven for all sorts of birds. We saw all the usual Florida suspects: Great Blue Herons, wood storks, Great White Herons, snowy egrets, ibises, night herons, wood storks, and several flocks of white pelicans. A couple of snowy egrets took exception to each other and engaged in aerial battle.
Somehow our car escaped vulture consumption, so we headed over to the other side of this large lake, where there is a long boardwalk over the marsh in a spot ideal for birdwatching --- it's called the Birdwalk (get it?). It was here we had our second thrilling Circle of Life moment. On the far bank, there was a family of wild boar (possible the same ones who took an exception to my friend Audrey's running technique), and many varieties of birds in and around the water. There was one VERY large bird sitting on a sandbar, and this turned out to be nothing less than a bald eagle. There was a distance viewer, so we were able to get a closer look at him, but even without magnification you could see his distinctive markings.
As we watched, the eagle spied an osprey winging over the treeline, which had to be at least half a mile away. He launched himself from the sandbar and took off after that osprey. We watched as he pursued and overtook it, chasing it in a couple of circles before shoulder checking the thing and forcing it to drop its fish! The eagle then caught that fish as it fell and headed lazily back to the lakeshore, ignoring the angry cries of the cheated osprey. We watched the eagle enjoy his stolen snack. I'm sure there's a political metaphor in there somewhere.
It was a very enjoyable day, and I would love to go back to Myakka and do more hiking (preferably with a good topo map and a better GPS).
Saturday was the final performance of Vanessa, and that was a very bittersweet experience for me. It's a truly great opera, one that is not done all that often, and to get to do such a beautiful production with a fantastic cast, all of whom have become dear friends, was a very special and treasured experience. I got a little teary at curtain call! Before we left the stage, we snapped a "family portrait", complete with Victorian scowling.
Sarasota Opera's Vanessa cast, L-R, back row: Stephen Fish (Majordomo), Scott Piper (Anatol), Kara Shay Thomsen (Vanessa), Thomas Potter (the Old Doctor). Front row: me (The Old Baroness), David Neely (Conductor), Audrey Babcock (Erika).
And without the scowling ...
And that was the end --- for now--- of my adventures in and around Sarasota. I loved being there, and hope I get to go back!
On Sunday, we packed up and headed down to my next gig in Miami. We ended up with an unexpected day off on Monday, so once we got settled in, Eric and I drove down to Key Largo to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. This is the first state park which exists mostly underwater, and it's a haven for divers and snorkelers, as well as all sorts of boating and swimming. You can take a number of tours out to the reef, and we opted for the glass bottom boat tour. As we were waiting for it to begin, we strolled along a couple of the short nature trails the park offers.
The Tamarind Trail wound through a hammock filled with interesting trees, including the poisonwood (a relative of poison ivy which you must not touch) and the red gumbo limbo. I was particularly taken with the intricate designs carved by nature on this bare trunk:
We also took a stroll on the mangrove boardwalk. The keys are thickly ringed with mangroves, as we saw as we took the boat out through the saltwater creek.
Pics of the coral reef as seen through the glassbottom boat don't really come out, but suffice it to say that it's a wonderful. We saw a gigantic brain coral that is hundreds of years old (it takes them 50 years to reach the size of a basketball; this one was the size about about three beanbag chairs put together), a large green moray eel (rare, as they are nocturnal), a spotted eagle ray, and lots of varieties of fish and coral, including some rare elkhorn coral. Up top, there was a great view of the bird life and the beautiful, sparkling ocean, which appears mottled between bright turquoise (where there is a sandy bottom) and navy blue (rocky bottom).
We returned to Miami hungry and tired, and hit the jackpot with the venerable Versailles restaurant, which despite its name serves delicious Cuban cuisine. It's a Miami institution, complete with old-fashioned decor and service, and AMAZING, inexpensive food.
Alas, Eric had to go home the next day, and I embarked on my new singing adventure: Gertrude in Romeo & Juliette with Florida Grand Opera. I am still getting settled in and figuring out my way around town; it's a bit of culture shock after quiet, easy-to-navigate Sarasota with its long, straight boulevards.
I am staying in a lovely home, but there is no room for working out and the neighborhood isn't really suitable for biking or running. So I am off today in search of a gym, as I am very determined to keep working out and even step it up a little. So stay tuned!