Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just a Link & a Pic

My first article based on my trip to the Florida Panhandle has appeared, in the on-line only Slatin Report. This is it. Other articles will follow elsewhere, I hope.

I didn't take any of the photos in the story, or very many photos at all at the properties I toured. I figured (correctly) that my hosts had the photography taken care of, by pros. Below, however, is a fuzzy shot of one of the buildings near where I stayed in WaterColor, Florida. Retail on the ground floor, condos on upper levels (I think), plus the iconic clock tower. WaterColor's a pretty place, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Preschool Halloween Parade

Had a camera handy at the Halloween event at Ann's preschool, which was actually on the 30th, since there are no classes on Wednesdays. I'm posting this pic to show the range of costumes, rather than the kids' faces. This may be an obscure blog, but it still counts as publishing, and I don't want to publish images of people, children especially, without permission. Once, when I had to publish a picture of a Santa Claus with a kid on his lap, rather than go through the trouble of getting a parent to sign a release, I took a pic of Lilly (then 13 months old) with Santa, and used that.

The kids had a "parade" through "Safety Town," which is one of those places where junior bicyclists are supposed to learn the Rules of the Road. It was a clear, sunny day, about 60 F., so not bad for walking around in your costume. Many of the girls were princesses of one kind or another, while many of the boys were superheroes -- in this pic, Spiderman and Superman as easy to pick out. The girl with the pointy hat is Ann. She's a witch. It seems that I'm encouraging Wicca in my preschooler. Behind her was a pint-sized Darth Vader, though at that moment he'd taken his mask of. He hadn't, that I could hear, learned to make those menacing breath noises yet.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Legacy of the Ketler Elliott Erection Co.

It isn't often enough that I can indulge my interest in plaques, but business took me to the near North Side of Chicago today, and at one point I found myself on the Chicago Ave. bridge, a bascule structure. This plaque is attached to it -- telling me that the centennial of the bridge is coming up, among other things.

For fun -- my idea of fun -- I ran the Ketler Elliott Erection Co. through Google. Just a couple of historical references. If I really wanted information, I suspect I'd have to go to the Chicago History Museum or the Tribune morgue. The same goes for the Byrne Brothers Dredging and Engineering Co.

This is a view of the bridge, looking west. That's Chicago, regardless of how many trees Mayor Daley plants: steel, concrete.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Shine On, Hunter's Moon

We missed the actual Hunter's Moon here in northeastern Illinois -- Friday was cloudy. Saturday was clear, with just a chip off the Hunter's Moon, and even a day late it shone brightly. Last month, on the occasion of the Harvest Moon, I don't recall thinking about it, though I do like the idea of named full moons. I'm not really sure the names you find in various almanacs and on-line lists really derive from Indian names, Algonquin or not, or whether they're later creations, but I still like the idea.

I find that "Hunter's Moon" is a composition by one Gilbert Vinter, a British brass band composer. But the Harvest Moon has most of the glory in song.

Among many others, Laurel & Hardy had their version. As did Nat Cole. More recently, Leon Redbone sang it. I'd pay money to see Leon Redbone, but unfortunately his next appearance in Illinois will be late next March, when I'll be in Michigan.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stop the Music, Throw the Square Out!

Cool, rainy day. The mind wanders, attention turns to various diversions available from the Internet. The Warner Bros. cartoon "Three Little Bops" has appeared on YouTube, who knows for how long. I don't ever remember seeing it during the time when I watched a lot of Warner cartoons on TV. Released in 1957, maybe it was considered too dated even 15 years later, though I don't think such considerations stopped cartoons from the '40s and even the '30s from being shown regularly in the early '70s.

Whatever the reason, I never remembered seeing "Three Little Bops" until we acquired a Warner compilation tape for Christmas 2000, one that featured pieces of cartoons that included music. I liked it immediately. What a charming cartoon. Later, I discovered the version on the tape had been edited, though not jarringly. The YouTube posting seems to be the entire thing, or at least a longer version released on DVD.

And how many '50s jazz cartoons are there? It's the real deal, too, since Shorty Rogers wrote the music -- Shorty who played with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton upon a time. The song is sung by Stan Freberg, whom I was happy to learn is still alive at 81 (Shorty's long gone). Without further ado, "Three Little Bops."

They Might Be Giants isn't for everyone, but I've been fond of them since seeing them live in December 1988. (I wrote about that experience on the original BSTS, December 6, 2004). This clip dates to 1990, so they appear pretty much as I saw them back then. I don't remember whether they sang this in 1988, however.

I have no excuse for liking this. Except maybe that Fireball XL5 exists at the furthest fringes of my memory. Whole episodes are now viewable on YouTube, but I don't want to see any. I want it to remain at the fringes, except for the theme.

A fuller version of the theme, without any ridiculous video illustration, is here. I never knew until recently that an Australian, Don Spencer, sang it. Famed as a children's entertainer in that country, he's still with us too.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Myrtle, Ethel, Tiffany & Caitlin

Here's another fine way to waste some time on line -- as if anyone needed another -- but also learn again about people's susceptibility to fashion in baby names. That isn't news, but the site has an especially good graphic representation of the phenomenon.

Back around the time we had new children to name, we were determined not to pass along some fashionable name like Tiffany (11th most popular girl name in the 1980s, down to 210th in 2006) or Caitlin (70th in the 1990s, 193rd in 2006), which will be relics in later decades as surely as Myrtle (No. 28 in the 1890s), Ethel (No. 8 in the 1890s) or Bertha (No. 12 in the 1890s).

Lilly (spelled that way), I was interested to see, had a nadir of popularity in from the 1960s to the '80s, dropping out of the top 1000 baby names, but it was 918th in the 1990s. More recently, it's spiked upward and as of 2006 is 151st. Which is about popular enough; don't want too many. In any case, my oldest daughter is on the leading edge of the name's revival. Lily is even more popular, at 33rd last year, but I think the flower and the name should be distinct.

Ann, a fine Anglo-Saxon variation of the Hebrew Hannah (without the ornamental French e) had its recent peak in popularity at 34th in the 1940s, but was down to 557th in 2003, when our Ann added her name to the statistics. But I still think it's a durable name. It'll swing up again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rock'em Sock'em Christmas

The first Christmas catalogue came today: The Vermont Country Store. (Should catalogue names be italicized? Should it be catalog or catalogue? These are editor's decisions, and you can see mine.) Actually, I'm surprised we haven't gotten something Christmasy from someone sooner. Only 180 days till the Holidays! Order before the rush!

Alas, some of the prices in VSC are off-putting, especially the toys. Maybe I'm just out of touch with toy prices. Or rather, "classic toys that delight," as it says on page 36. You need to pay $50, not counting shipping, if you want a Jumbo Tinkertoy set (102 pieces), or a Lincoln Log set (115 pieces, all wood) or an Original Big Wheel or a 28-piece set of alphabet block in a toy wagon. I have to wonder whether any or all of these toys are made in a certain densely populated East Asian nation famed for its potstickers, and if so, what's the deal with those prices?

Rock'em Sock'em Robots run for $30 at VSC. I never had one of those, and it's probably just as well. Bet it's one of those games that's better as seen on TV than in your living room. It's old school, too. For today's kids, remote-controlled Mexican wrestlers might be the thing.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Cooler today, drizzly, mostly fallish. To follow up on yesterday's posting, I was astonished to read this article about "urban coyotes." Thousands of coyotes in metro Chicago? Who knew -- besides the coyotes?

Also, while doing some research today, I came across a press release I needed to reference, published by the European arm of an American company. At the top of the release -- this is on-line, mind you, it said in bold, all caps -- NOT FOR RELEASE, PUBLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN OR INTO THE UNITED STATES.

Must be a legality. There I sat, in the United States, looking at the document. Not only that, I googled the phrase "NOT FOR RELEASE, PUBLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION IN WHOLE OR IN PART IN OR INTO THE UNITED STATES" as a whole and got a lot of releases that say the same thing, though sometimes with other countries added to the ban. Who knew -- besides the flacks?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Return to Meacham

This October has been like the Octobers of my youth, down closer to the Tropic of Cancer -- warm a lot of the time. Today was nearly 80 degrees F., windy and sunny. So we visited a forest preserve not too many miles from home, Meacham Grove. We last visited there in the fall two years ago, as described for the October 25, 2005, posting.

It didn't seem as colorful this time around. That could have had something to do with this year's weather, or just be because last time it was cool and cloudy and this time warm and sunny, which doesn't go with fall coloration. But we had a good walk. The wind blew the tall grass and masked the noise from the nearby roads.

Later, not wanting to return to the indoors quite so soon, we visited the Volkening Heritage Farm, which is part of the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary in Schaumburg. Pinned in a yard next to the recreation of an 1880 farmhouse were some enormous geese. Here they are:

They were focused on one thing, eating. The fact that we haven't had a frost yet must make the ground a non-stop bug buffet for these birds, and they're welcome to it. This is the house they were next to, along with the fence that kept them in:

Inside the house, there were costumed interpreters. One of them, when asked about the geese, said that they were kept behind the fence so the coyotes wouldn't get them, and it turned out he wasn't talking about pretend late 19th-century coyotes, but real, bird-eating 21st-century coyotes, here in Schaumburg. He seemed to be serious. I had no idea that species revitalization had been so successful in that case.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Next Time, I'll Get a Jar

A big storm was promised for Thursday evening, and from the looks of distant lightning, someone got it. All we got was winds and fast-moving clouds. The winds were brisk enough to inspire me to store foldable chairs and other backyard items in the garage, to prevent them from becoming flyable chairs and other backyard projectiles. I'm going to need those windows on the house intact, when winter actually comes.

One more bit about Florida. I didn't have time to hunt down any tupelo honey there in the capital of tupelo honey. No time to look around for it, but it turns out that you really don't know what you're getting anyway, something like dragon well tea. I asked the clerk at one of the shops at the Tallahassee airport whether he sold tupelo honey.

"No, and I keep calling them to buy some, because a lot of people ask me about it, but they never call back," he said. "I tell them I could sell a lot of honey here."

He didn't say who "they" were, but I guess he meant one of the famed purveyors of that honey, maybe Peter Fonda's outfit.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There and Back

About two weeks before I went on my trip, I read an article about regional jets. Sure, jumbo jets are getting jumbo-er, but apparently airlines are taking to regional jets in a big way as well. In fact, the article promised that you too, reader, would be flying on one before long.

Sure enough, only weeks later I was on an ERJ-145, a regional jet built by Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer, for an American Airlines direct flight from O'Hare to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. It is the smallest jet I've ever been on, so small that while entering I had to duck my head. After that, the ceiling of the aisle was barely tall enough to accommodate my full six feet. There were single seats on the left side of the aircraft -- I don't know that that qualifies as a "row," since you'd need at least two seats to make a row -- which is what the rows on the right side had, two seats. I sat in one of the single seats. In terms of take off, flight, and landing, the ERJ-145 might have been small, but the flight experience didn't really feel that much different than that of larger jets.

When checking in at O'Hare, the counter clerk said, "Ft. Walton Beach? I didn't know we flew there. Now what's the airport code?" It was a rhetorical question, since she was looking it up when she asked. The answer: VPS, which must have originated with Valparaiso, Florida, another town near the airport -- which is actually called the Okaloosa County Airport.

You have to like an airport with a name like that, and one at which you get off the plane using a steps down to the tarmac. Eglin Air Force Base is nearby, and various Air Force jets, which I took to be trainers, were parked here and there within sight as we taxied toward the Okaloosa County Airport terminal. It is a new terminal -- 2004, a sign told me -- and refreshingly small. There were only two conveyor belts for baggage, which didn't mean that I couldn't wait for about five minutes next to the wrong one.

The aircraft and the airports weren't so novel on my return, which took me from Tallahassee to Atlanta to Chicago, though I did note that it's not the Tallahassee International Airport, but the Tallahassee Regional Airport (TLH). Nice to know that they're not putting on international airs, but I bet if Cuba ever opens again to US commercial air traffic, "international" might be right. (Then again, there's no reason flights couldn't go from Tallahassee to Mexico right now, and earn that coveted international status.) I liked Tallahassee's airport, because it reminded me of the former, simpler configuration of the San Antonio airport -- or the old Midway, for that matter -- to which you could just drive up to, get out of the car, and check in.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I enjoyed just saying Apalachicola. Say it distinctly, ap-a-lach-i-cola, lingering over each syllable like you might a peaty sip of Lagavulin. What a fine place-name.

It sounds like a place where King Cotton passed through on the way to the mills of England, only to be strangled by a Yankee blockade, a place with a square block of a cemetery dotted with worn stones and populated by prominent oaks bearded with Spanish moss, and also a place with some working boats -- fishing boats -- docked in sight of stone warehouses now slowly being transformed, as a group, into restaurants and other attractions.

It sounds like a place that had a post-war revival (and I mean the Civil War), this time based on lumber, which left behind a stock of Victorian and other housing styles treasured again in the late 20th century -- when the renovations and the return to the houses' former colorful exteriors began in earnest. But it's still a small town, the sort of place that has one street with traffic. On a Thursday morning, the other streets are empty enough to bicycle down for a few minutes without too much worry, using the bright yellow bike provided by your hotel. People are out walking their dogs down the middle of these fairly empty streets.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Room 8

I had about three or four waking hours in Apalachicola, Florida, earlier this month, and it wasn't nearly enough. But they were high-quality hours, so I can't say I left town unhappy. In the first place, we stayed at the Coombs Inn (aka the Coombs House), and I had the splendid Room 8 all to myself. That by itself was worth coming to town for. I didn't take pictures, but the Coombs House has a web site with photos, including Room 8 -- the former master bedroom.

Wow. Such elegant appointments made me, a creature of the informal classes, feel a little out place. But that passes quickly. The room and its decor had only one flaw, I thought, one feature that didn't fit (not visible in the photo): an HDTV. I didn't touch it. It wouldn't have been right, and might have even bothered the shade of Mr. Coombs, in whose bedroom I was staying.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Krystal Cabinet

Our hosts stuffed us with fine dining all through the trip. I'm not complaining, but it was more fine dining than I usually do in a year. I ate, with one exception -- a jerk pork chop at Criolla's in Grayton Beach, Florida -- as much seafood as I could. The Gulf was never far away, after all. So at one time or another I managed to have Apalachicola Bay oysters, shrimp, grouper, amazing fish tacos and soft-shell crab. I also had tremendous cheese grits in Mexico Beach (not precisely fine dining, but who cares), tupelo honey on warm bread (an obvious gift from God) and a number of beers I'd never tried before.

By the time I had a layover at the Atlanta airport on the trip home, I had a strong urge for downmarket food, and was able to satisfy the urge completely at a Krystal, right there in the airport. Mere steps away from my gate, in fact. (Krystal is similar to White Castle and its small hamburgers, for those who don't know it. Krystal predominates in the South, White Castle in the North.)

Which reminded me of a parody I wrote years and years ago. Twenty-five years ago to be exact, for the student magazine Versus. I also turned it in as a "paper" in my Poets of the Romantic Period class, and I think I got a good grade for it. I dug it up just now, and here it is:

The Hunger caught me in my car
As I was driving merrily
I saw the Krystal on the left
Industrial burgers; they set you free

This Fast Food is form'd of Grease
And Bun & Soybean; smelling bad (.)
The taste -- the taste -- or price?
McDonal's wish'd they had

Another time I waited the hour;;;
Another time I saw the floor tile'd
Another shake (!) & fries (!) I ordered
And another taste bud I defile'd, %.

! Another man like myself
Pump'd ketchup, lovely catsup, near
I wait'd be (¢) hind his ass
Ptomaine the only fear

I strove to chew my burgers up
To satisfy my endless gut (+ +)
But knock'd to the ground my sup,,
And like a Weeping Babe became

A weeping Babe in the aisle
With no more cash for food
The food spilt upon the tile
I fill'd with woes the kitchen stench.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Last Photo Series of Seaside, Florida, Taken With a Camera I Hadn't Quite Learned How to Use

One more posting on Seaside. After the retail district and the church, I wandered down a few residential streets. Seaside isn't actually a town in the sense that people live there most of the time. For all its New Urbanist fame, it's still a resort town, meaning that many owners reside there a only few weeks out of the year, along with renters who come and go. Summer's supposed to be fairly busy, as is Christmas and spring break.

In early October, the town felt empty. But the place was lush, and the houses marked by colorful variety, grouped close together to promote high density and walkability. It promoted walking in my case, anyway. I saw only one or two other pedestrians, a couple of bicyclists and one car drive by in the hour or so that I spent on the streets, looking at things and taking pictures.

Pretty soon I noticed that each of the houses had a name, most whimsical, though I'd made a mistake in not taking a pen or paper with me, since I can't remember any of them except a pink bungalow called -- not something I would call my house -- Dreamsicle. Unlike much of Seaside, I understand that house-naming wasn't part of the plan, but spontaneous. Some of the houses were tucked away further from the ocean were fairly modest (in size, not price), such as this one. (Looking at the photo very closely, I see that the house's name is The Panhandle, Circa 1983.)

Others, especially closer to the ocean, were larger. Just daring a hurricane to come along: "C'mon, ya want a piece of me, huh, punk storm?" Actually, hurricanes Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005 did hit near Seaside, and from what I've read, the town itself held up fairly well, though the beaches suffered temporarily. Below is a larger structure, with an emblematic Seaside tower, evoking the widow walks of New England:

I liked this tower:

Below is half of a narrow boulevard, lush with growth in the center. Note the picket fences, which are standard in Seaside. Porches are too. Does that made the town phony somehow? No, I just suspect that some people have ridiculous standards of "authenticity," especially as it applies to places they don't live.

This is the other half of the boulevard.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Goin' to the Chapel

Straight back perpendicular to the ocean in Seaside is a pedestrian street lined with more retail, and further back still is the Seaside Interfaith Chapel. This structure won a 2004 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architecture. According to the AIA, "The Chapel has transformed the town of Seaside from an experiment of New Urbanism into an amalgamated community, becoming the physical focal point of the town and providing Seaside with a strong sense of place and coherence, as well as an icon of spiritual unity bonding the greater community."

Well, maybe. As for me, it offered a lovely quiet place with air conditioning. I sat in one of the pews a while, and contemplated the whiteness of it all, except for the wood up front.

Below is the exterior. I like that bell tower.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Seaside, Florida, Part 1

Seaside, Florida is a cool walking town. Of course, it was built to be a cool walking town, or at least a town that you can traverse on foot without much strain -- compact and with smallish houses that sit pretty close to one another. Last week I walked around town for about an hour and a half, which is how I spent most of my precious free time on the press trip to Florida.

Sea kayaking was another (theoretical) option for that free time. Call me eccentric, but I didn’t want to jam a new sport into such a short period. I did want to see the granddaddy town of New Urbanism, however.

Seaside radiates a few blocks in each direction (except into the ocean) from a community green along its main road, Florida 30A. On the green is a post office almost small enough to put in your back pocket, and ringing the green is retail and (I think) office space that’s somewhat larger, up to four stories tall. On the beach side of the road is a complex of beachy restaurants and shops: places to eat cheeseburgers and drink beer al fresco or shop for colorful dresses or sandals, not so different from other beach retail.

Below is the Seaside post office. If I'd had anything to mail, I would have gone inside.

Next is the cheeseburger-in-paradise joint: Pickles Snack Station, serving among other refreshments, Land Shark Lager, a Anheuser Busch Co. brew pretending to be from Jacksonville and having something to do with Jimmy Buffett. Beyond the beach retail complex is the beach itself, preternaturally white, and mostly only accessible to residents of Seaside and their guests, though I found at least two public access points.

And below is some of the larger retail ringing Seaside’s green. I understand that it’s fairly new, and after I got a look at the rest of the town, I too felt that it was out of scale with everything else.

More tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Panhandle Fauna. Bugs, Mostly

At first I noticed the butterflies. Monarchs, which are hard to miss, flitting around the astounding variety of flowers at Cerulean Park – see yesterday's description of the flora. I must have walked past dozens of monarch butterflies, and then began to notice the less-brightly colored butterflies, which were numerous as well, and the yet smaller but equally numerous other bugs darting around.

Occasionally, I'd see bees almost as long as my thumb, glistening black with dashes of yellow. Up north, we have more compact bees. Even in Texas, I never remember seeing bees of this size, curling wicked stingers in reserve, but most occupied with pillaging the flowers. Africanized killer bees? If I were going to design an Africanized killer bee, these bees would fit the part. Or maybe they're just friendly ol' Panhandle bees who've been making tupelo honey since the time when the Creek lived here.

Mainly, however, I encountered smaller insects in the panhandle. Mosquitoes, of course. Rising out of the wet Florida biomass to dine on warm blood, they were active enough to target me a number of times, which says something, since I'm normally only moderately interesting to mosquitoes (they like Yuriko better, it seems). Then there were the biting black flies -- October is the season, I heard. One of the other fellows on the press trip went for a swim around around sunset and said he met the black flies in some number.

"Love bugs" (Plecia nearctica) were a different matter all together. Though native to the Texas Gulf coast as well, I'd never heard of these black, innocuous-looking bugs. Early October seemed to be their season, too, and while they don't bite, they swarm. In premodern times, they probably went completely unnoticed, but in our time, they're numerous along the roads of the Gulf coast, and die in large numbers on car front bumpers and windshields. I can attest to this, from seeing front bumpers and windshields on this trip. There they were: more bug splatter than I'd seen since we drove through rural South Dakota in high summer. I was told it's good to wash them off your car frequently, not only for aesthetics, but also because they're slightly acidic.

Up the coast, some miles east of the Apalachicola River estuary, we walked on a boardwalk near the ocean, though the intermediate lands between the pine forest and the dunes. Such land holds a wealth of creatures, and it was there that I saw most of the trip's larger animals, including lizards, pelicans, sand pipers, egrets and a lone bald eagle, partly hiding in a tall tree. I've probably seen more eagles in Florida than any other state, which only means I need to get out west more.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Cerulean Afternoon

Shortly after arriving at my first Florida Panhandle destination last Monday afternoon, I did what I always do at a new place if I can -- take a walk. It was about an hour before sunset and an hour and a half before we were slated to meet for dinner. I had already been impressed, driving in, by the town's design and its subtropical landscaping. I wanted to see more.

Practically outside my front door was Cerulean Park, a long strip of land, intensely landscaped, running most of the way through phase one of the town. I don't know landscaping, but I know what I like, and I was immediately taken with the park. I'd describe it further, but Landscape Architecture, the magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, has already done so, in its December 2003 issue. The Byrd quoted in the article is Warren Byrd, a principal of Susan Nelson-Warren Byrd Landscape Architects of Charlottesville, Virginia, who designed the park.

"A narrow canal, 340 feet long, extends almost the entire length of the park's west side. It runs parallel to an 8-foot-wide, crushed-shell walking path... Flanking the canal are gardens planted with flowering annuals and perennials. 'One place we have allowed introduction of nonnatives is in Cerulean Park, because we are trying to make it more of a botanic garden and give it color,' Byrd notes. 'Some of the annuals and perennials are not necessarily native, but they are not invasive. And they're great because they not only provide color but also really draw the wildlife—the butterflies, birds, and bees.'

"The narrow canal, or runnel, originates in a small basin where a large granite cup gently overflows like the natural springs found in the region. Its water cascades through a series of shallow falls down the gradual slope into a large oval pond. Embracing one side of the pond is an arc of native water plants, and slicing across it off center is a wooden footbridge that provides an ideal vantage point for watching the variety of koi that move hypnotically beneath it. The pond serves more than a decorative function: It doubles as a catchment and storage area for stormwater.

"East of the canal, an expanse of lawn is planted with a drought-resistant, salt-tolerant 'seashore paspalum' grass. Oval-shaped islands of native vegetation are scattered throughout the lawn, allowing the preservation of significant native trees and masses of ground... Indeed, the contrast of the grassy plane against the sculptural forms of the sand live oaks and vertical spires of slash pines makes a special event out of the native species. Woody shrubs, masses of saw palmettos, and beds of grayish reindeer lichen form a textured carpet beneath the trees...."

At one time, the dream of landscapers was to reach worldwide for exotic plantings, the bigger the variety the better. Now the thing must be local sourcing. As the article mentioned, friendly expat plants dwell in the park, but mostly Cerulean flora are a greatest hits collection of the Florida Panhandle. Also, to update the article, there were no koi in the water. Maybe they didn't thrive.

Follow the park path for a distance, and you arrive at a footbridge across a small lake. I managed not to take any decent pictures of the park, but I did stand on the bridge and shot the following.

The shapes jutting upward are made of glass, and I think they're supposed to evoke cattails. There were more of them in the upscale restaurant in which we had our first dinner that night.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Florida Panhandle ’07

Last week I took a press trip to the Florida Panhandle. Though I’ve been a member of the press for some years, this was my first honest-to-God press trip, which consists of a sponsor taking journalists around somewhere, feeding them, and showing them something. Later, the same journalists write about that something, which is typically related to the press trip sponsor – an example would be a tourist board showing its destination off. It's a common m.o. in the travel writing business, I understand.

I suppose a journalist could take a press trip and then not bother to write about anything he saw on it. I suspect nothing bad would happen to him, except he wouldn’t be invited on any more press trips.

The sites we saw were real estate developments – perfectly appropriate for me. But I won’t go into details about the trip sponsor or its developments here. That’s for elsewhere. Enough to say that I appreciate the effort and expense they took in showing us around. They treated us right, and they’re developing some interesting properties.

On October 1, a regional jet took me from O’Hare directly to the small airport near Ft. Walton Beach, which is near the better-known Destin, Florida. Then one of the organizers of the trip and I drove in a rental car partly down Florida 30A to a town near the famed Seaside, Florida, where we stayed two nights with the other journalists at one of the sponsor’s developments. People buy properties there mostly as second homes, but actually the property I stayed in was large enough for a family to live in full time.

On October 3, we headed east in a small convoy along the coast on US 98, eventually arriving at the wonderfully named Apalachicola, Florida, for the last overnight. The next day we saw one more property up the coast, and then I caught a flight back to Chicago, via Atlanta, in Tallahassee.

In terms of weather, it wasn’t much of a transition from northern Illinois to northwestern Florida, since it’s been a warm early October up here – and still is, in the upper 80s today. Otherwise, it was quite a switch. A switch to light traffic along two-lane highways through miles of slash pines, dunes so white they were albino, and places with cheese grits on the menu. Most days, I don’t feel like a white seersucker suit and a Panama hat or a straw boater would be anything but strange on me, but it would have been just the thing on the humid balcony of the century-old Coombs Hotel in Apalachicola, overlooking enormous trees and their Spanish moss. Most nights, I can’t see that many stars or smell the sea, but I had that pleasure the first night, so much so that I didn’t mind being lost on foot in the little town for a few minutes.

On the whole, my traveling companions were intelligent company, and the people who showed us the various properties were knowledgeable about local matters, so I heard about things I probably wouldn’t have on my own, even if I didn’t experience them firsthand. Such as the intense interest in sport fishing for redfish along that part of Florida coast, or the creation of an enormous artificial reef south of Pensacola by the sinking of the decommissioned carrier Oriskany last year, or the nether world of countless dead cypress stumps in the remote Dead Lakes region of the panhandle. Or my own favorite, the Worm Gruntin' Festival of Sopchoppy, Florida.

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