Saturday, February 20, 2010

Soothing Saturday

I was back at work today, but only for a short time.  I have a lot of overtime from last weeks events to use up while things are slow at the park.  It was nice to go through my usual routine though.  I drove through the park and went to the office.  I filled in the zeros on my paperwork and read through some research done by a park ranger at another park about the history of the land that Troy Springs in on.  He was able to find some deed information and old maps of the area which show the land ownership at the time.  I was never very good in history classes in school, but I find the history of land that I am familiar with absolutely fascinating.  I appreciate history if it is connected to me in some way.  I got caught up on e-mail after I read through the research and headed out for a walk.  The park looked great.  My coworkers have been keeping busy cleaning and improving whatever they can find.  It was just me and the birds in the park.  There were Robins in all of the open grassy areas foraging for berries 'n bugs.

All of the open grassy areas in the park were mowed on my day off.  The grass isn't growing yet, but the mower grinds up the leaves and makes the park look nice and neat.  Some of the sidewalk had been pressure washed and the painted lines and symbols in the parking lot had been re-coated.  The park is looking so nice, it is ready for some visitors!  Things are starting to look brighter though.  The weather is warming up.  It was so nice to be able to turn off those dripping faucets again.  There will be no freezing temps tonight!  There is going to be more spring color any day now.  The Redbuds are trying SO hard to open!

The river has finally started to go down as well.  It will continue slowly, but hopefully steadily.  Now begins the scrubbing of the sidewalk as the muddy water inches away.  I have found that its much easier to clean when there is still water nearby to loosen the dried mud.

One nice thing about the flood water is the awesome reflection that you can see on its surface.  The spindley, naked tree limbs look so dramatic against the bright blue sky.

I went home and then off to play disc golf soon after my walk.  The day only got brighter and warmer.  It was really nice.  Sorry for the quick blog today.  I'll throw in a bonus game.  Can you find the female Cardinal in the photo below?

Friday, February 19, 2010


Today was another day off.  It was great to have some down time.  We did make time for 18 holes of disc golf this afternoon though.  I brought my camera with me when we played, but I just wasn't feeling visually inspired.  I didn't take any photos.  My photographic eye and I are ready for spring.  I won't let you down though.  Here are some leftover photos from the prescribed burn on Tuesday.

I also did some searching online for news coverage of the Olustee Battle from last weekend.  I noticed a Jacksonville news photographer at the parade and the battle, and I found that all of his wonderful photos are available for viewing online.  If you are curious to see more from those events, he was able to document it so much better than I was able to from the back of a horse.  There are even some images of me here and there.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day Off Detour

I was off today and glad to have some time at home to get some things done.  In the early afternoon, I did have to go over to the park to meet with a District Biologist to go over some areas of the park as she is working on updating out management plan.  We discussed the cultural resource sites around Troy and I showed her all of the areas where we have had problems with exotic and invasive plants.  We looked at an area that could be restored from the grass-covered pastureland that it has been recently to the Sandhill that it would be without human impact.  There are already some Longleaf Pines and even some Gopher Tortoises, but several hardwoods and exotic grasses would have to be removed.  Native grasses would have to be reintroduced as well, along with a fire regime.
While we were out walking, I spotted some new blooms.  They were on a shrubby tree that was about as tall as I am.  The biologist told me its scientific name, but I wasn't able to find a common name.  It is in the same family as a Blueberry Bush and the Sparkleberry.  Each tiny flower is about the size of my pinky fingernail.  They are pink just before opening into a beautiful, white, long, bell shape.

I also took a look at the water level while I was there.  It is still inching upward, but still very slowly.  We remain in the 24 foot range that we have been in for the past fifteen days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Fire

Today was much like yesterday, only amplified.  Again, I went in to work at Troy to take care of any loose ends, paperwork, and to check in with my coworkers.  Then I headed over to Ichetucknee to meet up with the rest of our burn team.  It was really cold this morning, and windy.  That made for great burn conditions for the area that we wanted to burn today.  We had some very impressive fire today... and I left my camera in my truck.  I was so disappointed when I realized that I had forgotten it.  I did take a few shots with my phone, but I ran low on storage space.  I always see the most amazing things when I don't have my camera.  I guess its good to leave it behind sometimes, but I wish that I could have shared what I saw.

Once we put some fire on the ground, none of us were cold anymore.  The wind was pushing the flames right through our burn zone.  It was much hotter than yesterday.  Because my team trailed in the fire truck for most of the day yesterday, we got to light the best areas today.  We started moving along on one side while the other team worked on the more dense areas that didn't burn as easily.  It was really exciting to be able to light just the very edge of the area and watch the fire push through, hot and steady.  I lit small sections at a time and waited a little to make sure it didn't burn too much too fast.  The fire was so hot that I had to stand well ahead of the fire while I waited. 

Because our section lit and burned much faster than the other teams, we covered most of the burn zone and met up with them on the dense side.  The wind really pushed the fire into the dense areas and much more of it burned than I expected.  It really needed it.

Once we were done lighting, we let things burn a little more and one person walked into the zone to light some burnable areas in the middle.  We didn't have to do much mop up, which is when we put out anything still burning near the edge of the zone.  The zones we burned today are bordered in some areas by what we burned yesterday, so there is little to no risk of any fire moving that way.  We were also careful on the sides that did have sensitive areas nearby to keep most dead trees or snags from igniting.  They are hard to put out once they are burning and if they are at the edge of zone, they could smolder and fall overnight into another zone.

It was a good day, but I am sore and tired and ready for a day off.  It feels good though.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Prescribed Fire

Today was a good day.  I got to do one of my favorite things today.  After opening the park, doing my paperwork, and talking with our volunteer, I headed over to Ichetucknee Springs.  We burned two plots of land today with a prescribed burn.  Prescribed fire is important and necessary for several reasons.  Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem in Florida and without it, many of our native plants and animals are not able to survive.  Fire clears out dense brush so that animals are able to graze through the forest, it also reduces the fuels on the ground in case a wildfire were to start.  Prescribed fire helps us to get rid of exotic plants because they are not able to survive.  Plants like the Longleaf Pine Tree have evolved with the existence of regular fires and many species of animals live exclusively within a Longleaf Pine forest.  This twig with a funny hairdo, pictured below is one of these impressive trees.  It starts out as a dense grass which is fire resistant and stays that way for several years while it establishes roots.  Then it shoots up to this stage where it is again fire resistant because of its height.

In this type of natural community, Longleaf Pines are the main tree species with some, infrequent Oaks.  The tree canopy is very open and there is enough sunlight coming through for grasses and herbs to grow.  It is very easy for Deer or Turkey or Gopher Tortoises to move about and find food.  When regular fires come through, they are low, quick fires that do not burn as hot as they would be with years and years of pine needles and leaves and debris.  Because land is much more broken up from development than it was before, natural fires do not happen as often.  We use burn prescriptions to tell us what conditions are right to achieve the right kind of fire, at the right time and frequency to keep everything in balance.  When we light the fire, we use a drip torch.  It is a special canister with the right mixture of fuels.  The fuel drips over a burning wick and literally pours fire on the ground.  We use the wind speed and direction, as well as good, dry fuels like grass or pine needles to carry the fire across the area we want to burn.  The fire stops when it gets to fire breaks such as areas that are already burned or dirt roads or the river.

The fire carries very quickly through some areas, like the section pictured below.  The two photos were taken just a few minutes apart.  You can see that the taller trees really do not burn at all.

Sometimes there are smaller Oaks that are starting to get thick.  The fire does kill some of the smaller Oaks, but it keeps them spread apart nicely.  Some of the Oaks survive the fire.

The majority of my day was spent driving a fire truck.  It is not the big red ladder truck that you see in town, it is much smaller so that it can move through the woods.  It does carry a big tank of water and a hose to put out fire that we don't want.  It also has lots of tools and fuel and drip torches.  This fire truck does still have flashing red lights, in case you were wondering.  Later in the afternoon, I did get some time with the drip torch as well.

It was a beautiful day on the fire line.  It was very cool, so the warmth of the fire felt great.  There was not a cloud in the sky and the smoke cleared very quickly as well.  The sun was shining and there was just a light wind (which we needed for the fire).  I realize that fire is not a beautiful thing to everyone.  Fire can certainly be devastating, but fire to me means a new chance for growth.  If you have any questions about prescribed fire or firefighting, please feel free to post a comment.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Half Monday

Today went by rather quickly.  I worked so much overtime this weekend with the horses and the battle, that I took a half day to try to make up for it. In the morning, I got caught up on paperwork and e-mails before heading out for a walk.  The park looks the same.  The water level is still creeping upward, very slowly.  We are just over 24 1/2 feet above sea level.  Do you remember what 9 feet above sea level looked like?  Its getting harder and harder to picture the water low.

After my walk, our volunteer and I headed out to Ichetucknee.  I made some copies and checked in with the staff over there.  Next, we headed to Lake City.  We went to a hardware store to get some supplies for various projects.  We bought some faucets to replace some old leaky ones.  We picked up supplies for the new exhaust fan installation at the restroom.  I am really looking forward to getting that project done.  The old fans didn't work well and we ended up with mold on the ceiling.  As soon as the fans are in, we can clean and repaint.  I can't wait for the restrooms to look new again.

When we returned from Lake City and got our new purchases put away, I sent an e-mail, talked to the evening park closer and headed home for the day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Battle of Olustee Part II

Today was our second day at the reenactment with the Cracker Horses.  Today was much more relaxed.  We didn't have to go to a parade and get back in time for the battle.  I was able to head to work at the normal time and make sure that all was well there.  The river is still rising ever so slightly.  The park still has very few visitors.  There was frost on the buoys again this morning.  Cold and flooded is just a cruel combination.  Where are you spring-time?

I left Troy shortly after 8am and headed to Ichetucknee to meet my boss.  Again, we traveled together to San Felasco and loaded the horses.  One horse was not interested in getting in to the trailer, but we managed to work through it.  We arrived at the battlefield and had plenty of time to eat lunch and leisurely tack up the horses.  The horses wore different 'outfits' today.  They were in their nicest park service blanket and all leather tack.  I'm sorry, I only remembered to take Amigo's picture after I had begun removing all of his tack at the end of the day so his bridle was already off.  It was much warmer by the afternoon, so we didn't have to wear our coats, I think we looked much nicer in just our uniforms.

We helped patrol the sides of the field as we did yesterday.  We also marched out in front of the audience in the beginning when they talked about the mounted patrol on park lands.  The horses did such an amazing job.  They marched in line and behaved while walking so nicely together.  They really made us proud.  I was also very impressed that the horses didn't mind the cannons.  I have been riding Amigo when he spooked at leaves, birds, deer, flagging tape, shiny things, metal, picnic tables, flags... you get the idea.  They love these events though.  The cannon fire didn't faze them a bit.  At the end of the battle, all of the re-enactors lined up and fired their rifles at the same time.  (I was preparing myself for the horse to jump so I didn't try to take a photo).  He just took another mouthful of the nearest plant and stomped his foot.  Amigo also LOVED it when visitors came up to him to pet him.  He impressed so many people by nodding his head when they gave him a rub on his nose.  They didn't know he was just using them as scratching posts.  Everyone was happy.  A few people even remembered Amigo and the other horses from year's past.

It was a great day and I was so busy enjoying it that I didn't take as many photos as I did yesterday.  I did get a few of the Confederate Troops marching past the area where we were getting the horses ready.  They were victorious in the Battle of Olustee, so it is only right that they get more face time.

It was a great weekend.  The horses were relieved to head out to pasture though and we were all relieved to be headed home. I made it home before it was totally dark today, so I was happy.  I am remembering how sore you can get from riding a horse all weekend long though.