Saturday, August 8, 2009

Quick Day

This morning was really quiet. I opened the park, put up the flags, did my drive through the park and headed to the office. I got my paperwork done and got caught up on e-mail after my days off. I was surprised to see that after all of that, no one was in the park yet. I took a walk through the park and found some neat mushrooms. They were pink! They were all around the same tree, but there was one group of small ones and one group of larger ones. The larger ones reminded me of a big floppy sun hat. A quick Google search didn't turn up anything like these mushrooms, so I don't know anything about them. I also saw a Red-shouldered Hawk. It was a larger hawk so I don't think it was one of our group of young hawks. During my walk, two divers pulled in. They were happy to have the spring to themselves on a Saturday.
Because it was so slow, I decided to start a little project to keep myself busy. I washed my truck, something that it desperately needed. It looked so shiny and new (if you ignore the 10 years of dents and scrapes from being a park truck). As you would expect though, as soon as I got halfway through with my truck, the visitors started pouring in. A crowd showed up all at once. Suddenly there were dive tanks being unloaded from trunks, snorkels and fins being pulled from bags, children climbing out of the back of a pick-up truck, and a small gopher tortoise running for its little life across the parking lot. I find out that one group of visitors has brought the tortoise to the park. Amid people trying to pay me, greeting other people, and explaining why the tortoise shouldn't be let free in the park, I am chasing down the tortoise to take it back to where it came from.
***Public Service Announcement*** Please don't interfere with nature. I know that it seems like a state park is a great place to drop off the animal that you found on the side of the road or the dog that you no longer want, but its not the best idea. You could introduce outside illnesses or exotic species or cause problems that you just can't anticipate. People who have brought animals to the me at the park in the past had the best intentions. They found an animal on the side of the road or a young bird fell out of a tree. Its hard to know when to step in and try to help an animal and when to let nature take its course. The rule of thumb that I live by is that if nature made it happen, let nature take its course. If a mother bird pushed her chick out of the nest, there may have been a reason why. Even when its sad, its nature's way. If a person caused harm to an animal, I think it is reasonable for a person to step in and help. While we are on the topic, I also think that if a bug is in your house you have the right to do what you see fit (i.e. relocate, squish or spray) but when you are in a bug's house, the great outdoors, leave it alone... some pests excluded.***End of Public Service Announcement***
I took the tortoise back to where the people said that they found it. She was so happy to run away from me! Once I had finished talking to everyone and checking payments and dive certifications and finishing washing my truck, it was well past lunch time. I headed home for a quick bite to eat and found a dragonfly on the way. It didn't move much at all and I was able to get several shots of it. It fluttered a few times and it was gone when I returned so I know it was alive. It was the same kind as the one that I saw in the cabin a few weeks ago. I don't know what its called though, I don't have a dragonfly field guide... I may have to add that to my wish list... and a mushroom guide too. I wonder if the sluggishness that I saw with both of these dragonflies is a normal characteristic of this type or if I encountered both of them near the end of their lives.
After lunch, I spent the rest of my day talking to park visitors and drinking water. It was hot out today! It ended up not being a very busy day, but the small crowd that we had kept me busy. The day was over in a flash!

Friday, August 7, 2009


I have nothing to talk about today. I am off again and am committed to doing nothing but relaxing, so I haven't gone out and done anything noteworthy. I was looking through my photo files to see if there was something cool that I had missed blogging about... nothing. I decided that because I don't have any great photos to show you, I could just tell you about my photography. I have touched on it briefly, but here is all the info.
My interest in photography started when I was very young and had my first camera. I used countless rolls of film taking photos of my pets. Because of the boxes of photographs that I have of rabbits, I am always cautious today about over photographing my pets. When I was about 14, my oldest brother handed down his Canon AE-1 Program to me. I felt so cool to have this very fancy camera. It was a 35 mm and I had to learn all about manual settings. I spent a lot of time (without film in the camera) just clicking the shutter button and pulling the winder. I still really miss that sensation, there is no shutter with my digital camera. Around the same time that my brother gave me his camera, the photography program at camp made a reappearance. I will never forget an awesome counselor from England, Ed, who really made me dive head first into photography. In order to build interest in the program at camp, Ed walked around camp saying the phrase "photography is the source, it will change your life, swear to God." At the time, I thought it was another silly antic from one of the lovable camp counselors. Thinking back now, it was just plain true. At first it wasn't really cool to sign up for the photography program, I had my usual favorite programs already established. I did, however humor Ed by stopping by the photo program one day during open program when we could go anywhere. He sat a group of us down with photo books which included the works of Ansel Adams. We just flipped through the books and if we stopped to look at an image, we talked about what made us stop. I was hooked! I signed up for the program the next week and learned how to use the fancy camera that I had. I learned all about aperture and shutter speed and depth of field... ideas that I wonder if I still have a grasp on after so many years of automatic settings with the digital camera. I took my first good, artistic photo that week. It was such a cool feeling to have other people looking at and talking about a picture that I took. I still have that photo along with my first award in the photo program, I hope you enjoy it. Within the next years, my interest grew. I took photography classes in high school and my dad made me my very own darkroom in the attic of our house. Today I draw on so many experiences and influences to make my work what it is. One thing I know for sure is that it has definitely changed my life. I see the world around me in a very different way and I have a way to express myself artistically even though I cannot draw or paint to save my life.
Currently, I have made the leap into digital photography after many years of stubborn snobbishness about image quality. My camera is the Canon PowerShot A640. It has 10 mega pixels which more than satisfies my desire for crisp images. It has so many cool features that I definitely don't use the manual settings much at all. My favorite setting is the macro focus which allows me to get close to small things and capture lots of details. I was really much more interested in landscape views before I got this camera, but now, because I can, I love getting small and close. I like where my photography has gone since I have had this camera. Another very exciting addition to my camera came for Christmas last year. My boyfriend got me an underwater housing for it so that I can take my camera with me when I go snorkeling. The housing is the Canon WP-DC8. Underwater photography is really a lot more difficult than I expected. Between the potential fog and water in my snorkel mask, the glare of the sun on the plastic case in front of the view finder, the colors created by the sun and the water, and smudges and drips, so many things can go wrong. I leave my camera on and take WAY more photos than I normally would to make sure that I get the shots that I want. It is worth the hassle though and I am developing my technique. Sometimes I get lucky enough to come away with the shots I posted today of Ichetucknee Springs. This is one of my favorite places to snorkel, but I am spoiled and I don't like to go there during the summer when its crowded. These were taken earlier this past spring.
I could go on all day talking about photography, but I am trying to edit myself and keep it short. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Restful Day Off

I had a much needed day off today. I won't let you down though, I have a few photos to share with you that I took this week but didn't have room for yet on the blog. I also have a question to address from earlier this week.
The first three photos are of a Persimmon Tree. There are only a few in the park, and I am always reminded of this one because it grows right above the walkway that leads to the spring. The fruit falls when its ripe and splats a squishy mess right onto the walkway. If the fall wasn't enough force to squash the Persimmon into the sidewalk, somehow feet just can't avoid them and they get ground in even more... then the ants come. It is an inevitable mess every fall. The fruit in the photo is not yet ripe. It was knocked off of the tree during one of the last storms that we had and it was easily picked up. When the fruit ripens it becomes a pale, orangey-pink color. Persimmons are a popular food among wildlife and humans can eat them too. Their taste is similar to pumpkin. The bark of the tree is pretty distinctive because of its blockiness and the fruit falling to the ground is always a definite indicator of its identity as a Persimmon. I just read that they are very deeply rooted and that they are good for erosion control. That is something to keep in mind with our erosion troubles at the park. I might pick up some of the fruit and help to spread it around in some key areas, a job that is often done naturally by animals who eat the fruit containing the seeds and "drop" them later in another place.
The last two photos are just pretty views from closing the park on Tuesday. One is of the sunset from the river dock and the view up-river. The other is one of our favorite trees again. This time is has a pinkish glow to it from the light of the sunset.
The question, asked earlier in the week in the comments section, was about how my job performance is evaluated each year. As with any job, I do have annual performance evaluations. Though I work independently most of the time, I am evaluated by my supervisors who work at Ichetucknee Springs. My manager, Sherry, posted a nice note explaining what goes into her thought process during my evaluation. While my supervisors aren't physically watching me work, we communicate about things going on in the park, I work through problems with them, and they provide me with a lot of support when I have questions. Through our interactions, they really do have a pretty good idea of how I work... and now I have made it even easier on them because I am reporting to the world what I do every day!
Our evaluations do have an official format and we are rated in several areas with a traditional 1-5 below expectations, meets expectations but needs improvement, consistently achieves expectations, often exceeds expectations, and far exceeds expectations scale. The areas evaluated have to do with adhering to our agencies goals, working relationships, technical skills, dependability, self-direction, leadership, problem solving, and impact. Ideas that I think you would find in any job evaluation. Annually, my supervisors will assign a ranking for me in each of those areas and we will talk about what I can do to improve. This is often a good time to talk about additional skills and trainings to continue to progress in my career.
Thanks for the question, Lore! If anyone is curious about anything pertaining to being a ranger, please post your question in the comments section or e-mail me via the link in my profile.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Noisemaker Morning

When I went to the park to close last night I was amazed at the effect of the afternoon rain. From about 5 pm to 7 pm we were pummeled with 3.05 inches of rain. That is A LOT of rain in a very short amount of time. There were rivers running every which way through the park. A flood plain area near the spring that had been dry earlier in the day was suddenly filled with a raging current of muddy water flowing into the spring. There was a pile of yellow and green leaves on the spring dock at the bottom of the walkway. The violent storm had made the leaves fall and filled the walkway with a sheet of water that washed the leaves to the dock.
Needless to say, there was a lot of cleaning up to do this morning. My co-worker and I made a plan and got to work right after the paperwork was done. He went to weed-eat an area and I got to work with the blower. After all the rain, I had to scoop up a lot of frogs in order to blow off the walkway. Once I had finished the walkway and the parking lot, I loaded the blower and the weed eater into the Gator and drove out to the entrance. My co-worker had started mowing so I trimmed the edges of the area around the entrance that he mowed and blew all of the pine needles off of the road. The first photo is the before picture and I guess it slipped my mind to take an after picture. While my co-worker continued on the mower, I went back to the office to cool down and tie up some loose ends before my work week ended.
When that was done, I grabbed the cordless drill, some screws, and a pry bar and headed out to the spring walkway. Some minor repairs have been nagging at me since the flooding. The wooden walls of the walkway were submerged for several months and we had almost 9 inches of rain last month. All of the moisture makes the wood soft and the railing on top of it floats when its submerged. In some places the railing is pulling up away from the wood. I had to work to get the old screws out. Many of them rusted and either were broken in half already or they broke when I started unscrewing them. In most cases I had to remove the whole section of railing, break off or pull out all of the screws and replace the railing with screws that don't rust. People started rolling in to the park while I was working on this project. I was in the right spot, everyone walked past me to get to the spring. I answered questions and greeted people as they went by. I also got cheers from other women for my use of a drill and lots of offers to help from men. It was starting to get hot out by the time I was getting to the end of the walkway. Several people asked me when I was going to go swimming and that sounded like a great idea. My co-worker caught up to me around that time and I was glad to have his help. Not only did I need to change the battery in the drill, I was running low on energy myself. We finished up the last few spots in no time at all and even finished up a more permanent fix for the latch on the gate that had a malfunction a week or two ago.
After that project was done, I was definitely ready for a swim. I have had some concerns about the Madison wreckage lately and decided that it would be a good idea to photograph it as much as I could to make sure that we have a recent record of what remains of it. I had a great swim and was very happy to see that even with all of the rain run-off flowing into the spring yesterday, the spring was really much clearer than the last time I swam with my camera right after the flood. Compare these photos to these and these and you will see the difference. There were a lot of Mullet swimming near the Madison. They didn't seem to care about me being there, they were happily sifting through the sand for some algae to eat. I also spotted a carp or two and one very large turtle. I must have snapped the photo just as it realized that I was there. In the picture, it is in the process of spinning around to swim away. The last photo I took when I was almost back at the dock. There is fresh green algae growing on the rock and air bubbles all over the place. I just thought it looked neat.
I made sure that I had finished everything that I needed to this week and relayed all of the information that I needed to among our staff, and headed home. I'm ready to enjoy a couple of days off. I have one question from earlier this week to answer on one of my days off. If anyone has any other ideas, I would love to hear them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Oh Deer!

I was not even out of the driveway yet when I took my first photos this morning. There were two deer at the end of my driveway. The deer closest to me was really pretty bold. She kept an eye on me, but it didn't keep her from eating while I watched quietly and took some photos. The other deer was very nervous. She watched me like a hawk and when the other deer moseyed off, she stayed put until I left. There are several deer that I see regularly in the park. I have no way of telling them apart other than their behavioral patterns and by the number of deer in their group. Most often, I see mother deer with their brood. There is usually mom, a baby, and a yearling (last year's baby). Sometimes I will see what seems like two mothers with their young hanging out together. The biggest group I have seen in the park is six deer. Occasionally I see bucks, but not very often. There are almost always deer in the park and I have seen them leap over our fence to graze in neighboring properties also. They are most active at dusk and dawn or during the day if it is cloudy or rainy. I see them often, but photos don't usually turn out well because its not ever sunny when I see them. Most of the deer don't seem to mind my truck or the Gator. I don't ever approach the deer, but I like to sit and watch them, and I think they like watching me too.
When I unlocked the front gate, I took a photo of the purple Morning Glories near by. I have been seeing them in bloom for several weeks now, but today there were so many! They certainly were glorious this morning. My usual drive through the park and flag raising was uneventful. I headed to the office to dive into more paperwork. There were a few more reports to fill out and send. I took a break mid-morning to walk around the park and open up the visitor's center. It was pretty quiet, there was just one group of fishermen encompassing 3 generations. Then, I headed back to the office to finish up.
When I got to a good stopping point around lunchtime, I made a trip in to town. I bought lots of filters. Our tractor is due for regular maintenance, so I picked up all the filters and fluids for that. I also bought new air filters for the air conditioning units in two buildings. I returned to the park and installed the air filters and grabbed my bucket and garbage pickers for some much needed outside time.
I headed to the spring area first. I talked to a few people there before making my way around the spring bank looking for garbage. I passed by a turtle nest that had been emptied. All that was left were the little shards of shell and a hole. The turtle eggs are sort of leathery and soft, not at all like a chicken egg so they curl up once they are opened. I don't know for sure if the eggs hatched or if they were eaten by another animal. Either way, it was the natural process of things. By the time I reached the river, I had a full bucket of garbage. Its disappointing, but I could tell that it was only one or two groups of people that left all of the garbage. Most park visitors are careful and respectful and the majority of the litter I pick up (aside from cigarette butts) was most likely dropped unknowingly. I took a minute to enjoy the view of the river from the up-river side of the spring. This is only the second time that I have made it over to this secluded area since the flooding that we experienced April-June. I was surprised to see so many tree roots exposed above the soil. There was really a lot of erosion during this flood.
I headed home a little early today because I will be closing the park this evening as well. My usual Tuesday closer had other obligations today. I don't anticipate any photo worthy events, but if anything exciting happens, I will be sure to include pictures tomorrow. Closing the park includes collecting the day's payments, cleaning restrooms, emptying garbage cans, locking up buildings, putting the flags away and locking the gate. I don't imagine that I will have much trouble getting out of the park this evening, its getting dark outside already and I am hearing a lot of thunder.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Just Another Manic Monday

I struggled with the Monday blues this morning. I had a rainy day with a chance of rain and a ton of paperwork and reports to complete. I also had a very disappointing shower this morning, I may have had better water pressure outside in the rain. All of my trouble shooting and research and replacements at the well had failed and the water pressure was only getting worse. I knew that I had to call someone, but I was dreading telling my managers that ANOTHER thing was broken. After the Gator and then my truck needed big repairs, I was afraid that the well would be another big cost.
I started in on my paperwork first thing this morning. Not only did I have my usual end of the week paperwork, but I also had end of the month reports to complete. They took me even longer today because we are using new forms this month and it took me a little while to get organized and make sure that I had all of the right files. I didn't finish all of the monthly reports until around 4:00 this afternoon. Once I had finished the weekly paperwork, it had stopped raining so I took a quick walk around the park. The view from the cabin was awesome, as usual. I could see most of the rocks underwater and there was still a mist above the water. There was a long branch in the picnic area that had fallen during the rain. Almost every inch of it was covered in lichen. I admired it while I picked up the pieces and through them into the woods.
When I finished my walk it was back to the grindstone to finish all of the paperwork that had to go to Ichetucknee today. I finished up and headed out. I couldn't believe how many fishermen where in the park, at least 2 or 3 groups. It was really raining hard at some points this morning. Between the park and the nearest town, Branford, I drove through rain that was so heavy I almost pulled over. I couldn't see where the edge of the road was so I just kept going. By the time I got to town, 6 miles away, the rain had stopped completely. When I got to Ichetucknee, I was really surprised to see that they were busier than last Monday, a sunny day. I guess that everyone is trying to squeeze everything they can out of what is left of the summer even if they have to tube down a river during a thunderstorm.
When I returned to Troy I needed to get back to the reports and make some phone calls. I took some time to walk through the park though and I'm glad I did. There were a few fishermen, a couple of divers, and a really nice family swimming at the spring. I greeted everyone and ended up talking to the family for a little while. One of their girls found a most unusual pink caterpillar and we all admired it before she carefully put it back where she found it. I had never seen a caterpillar like this one before. I really couldn't find solid information online about it, but I am fairly sure that it is a Heterocampa caterpillar and it will soon pupate to become a small, furry gray moth. I read that as a caterpillar, it feeds on oak leaves. It was found under an oak tree so that sounds about right. On the way up the walkway I spotted a little butterfly in the skipper family. These little guys are usually so quick, I don't have many photos of them. There are so many skippers that are pretty similar, but I believe that this is a female Clouded Skipper. I was able to get one photo and was adjusting for another angle when it flew away in a flash. I'm glad my one photo turned out. Nearby I also spotted a cute little grasshopper who was very patient with me while I took a few pictures. I like patient bugs.
Back in the office, I called a well repair place and was happy to hear that they could send someone right out. I worked on the reports until he arrived. I drove to the house with him when he got there and told him about the troubles that I have been having. He drained the tank and found that the pressure gauge that we installed this winter was bad. All of the adjusting that I had been doing was based on what the pressure gauge was telling me... and it was LYING! He replaced the pressure gauge, adjusted the setting and was gone in about 15 min. I was shocked to see a "quick plumbing project" happen right before my eyes. Someday I will be that good... someday. I went in and checked the faucets and was so excited to see water pressure again! I had a new motivation to finish the reports! I went back to work and chugged through the last of what I needed to do. Then I headed home to take a high pressure shower. I forgot how good it could be!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Slow Sunday

Today was a pretty quiet day. There was a lot of rain in the forecast, but we really didn't see any until later in the afternoon. There were dark clouds and thunder most of the late morning and early afternoon though. Maybe it was the weather or maybe it was just an off week, but there were not many people at the park today. There were no dive classes and only three small groups of divers. I don't think that there were any more than 10 vehicles in the parking lot at any one point all day. I had another vote to let my hair grow long again from another fisherman. I had no idea when I cut my hair that I should have checked with park visitors first... now I know. I also realized today that yesterday was my 4th anniversary of working for Florida State Parks. I think I made the connection today rather than yesterday because while doing the paperwork, everything is dated for the previous day... which was Aug 1, my hire date. It was really a pretty uninteresting day until the rain started and everyone apparently lost their minds!
The day started slowly. I had plenty of time to get my paperwork done and walk around the park. The park was in good shape and I didn't see many critters to photograph. On the way back to the office, I found another feather. It was big, so I think it was a hawk or owl. The color makes me think it is a Red-shouldered Hawk feather, but I couldn't find many examples online, so its just a guess. As people started coming in, I grabbed my garbage pickers and bucket and headed to the picnic area and parking lot. The strangest piece of litter that I found today was a ham hock, mostly eaten. It was just laying on the ground near the parking lot, covered in ants. I really just can't explain it... sometimes, I really don't want to know. Near the back corner of the parking lot, I found something a little more interesting. I had never seen anything like it before, and at first glance, I had no idea what it was. I took a photo and then started poking it and picking it up and trying to figure it out... a method, by the way, that is not safe or smart. I have no excuse. It was not well attached to the ground, so I really wasn't sure if it was growing out of the ground or if it was just sitting on the ground. It seemed mushroom like, and when I touched it, it blew a small cloud of 'dust' at me. That's when I realized what it was! I remember walking through the woods with my mom when I was very young and she showed me a 'puffball.' I was so enthralled by this little treasure in the woods that DID something!! I loved to squeeze them and watch the little puff escape. I was instantly back in that mindset and poked a few of these little puffballs. I worked hard to contain myself and not exhaust all of them, just in case someone else stumbled upon my discovery. When I got home and punched "Florida puffball" into the search bar, I was happy to find that this particular puffball is called a Rounded Earthstar. It is like a mushroom and its puff or cloud is its way of spreading its spores. I love discovering things in the park that are new to me!
The third photo is of one of the plants that I treated with herbicide last week. Its dying! I just kept thinking of the witch in the Wizard of Oz... I'm melting, I'm melting. Slowly but surely, the herbicide is doing its job. The last photo was of the dark, ominous clouds moving in. I was picking up garbage by the river and on my way back when I looked up and saw the big dead tree with the dark clouds behind it. Very spooky!
Sometimes we have a hard time with dogs in the park... well, I guess we have a hard time with dog owners in the park. In all Florida State Parks, dogs are not allowed in swim areas. Do you take your dog to the community swimming pool? No, of course not. So why is it so hard to accept that dogs are not allowed in this swim area? We do allow dogs in all other areas of the park, even at the river. I have a dog and I think that the rules are fair and balanced. Not everyone enjoys dogs and those who do not enjoy dogs probably don't want to swim with them. I think it is perfectly reasonable, but the people who contest the rule are usually very angry and mean about it. That is why today, I was shocked and amazed at the timidness of people with dogs in the park today. Our sign says that pets are only allowed in the picnic area. I was walking out of my office when a man and a dog stopped dead in their tracks near the last picnic table. The man asked me if he could go any farther. It was so hard for me not to laugh. I think I made his week when I explained the rule and told him everywhere that the dog COULD go. I also was impressed when I saw a big group of people with two fluffy little white dogs near the river. I saw that the group was headed to the spring so I started making my way over there. When I got there, I saw that one person had stayed behind with the dogs and she double checked with me that she was in an acceptable area. I love responsible park visitors!
When the rain started though, all of the nice, respectful, thoughtful park visitors turned into MANIACS! People (who were wet from swimming by the way) were literally running in zigzag patterns to escape the rain. When several groups had been in and out of the cabin, I decided to go and see how much of a mess was made. The activity room was trashed, there were googly eyes, small pieces of pipe cleaner, and crayons everywhere! There was toilet paper all over the toilet, paper towels all over the floor. I couldn't believe it. The rain made people crazy!