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Consider the Lilies/Venice Rookery

February 24th, 2016 No comments

Rookery stretch

“And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? “And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.…” Matthew 6:27-29

We arrived at the Venice Rookery just a bit after noon. Although it was a little cool, the sun was shining on a clear blue-sky with those huge white fluffy clouds that remind you of how wonderfully marvelous it is to be alive and outside enjoying all that this earth has to offer. We hadn’t been to the Rookery before and were anxious to see what birds, if any, might be nesting there. Even though it is Florida, I was not sure that any birds would be raising chicks in the cool weather this season. Raising babies is a dicey business even when the weather is nice and warm.

But there was no reason to worry…not one bit. There were birds – Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, and Anhingas – all going about the business of nesting and raising chicks in the Rookery….just like they should be.

anhingaWhen we arrived, it was relatively quiet. There were a couple other people there and one of the locals ambled over to give us the scoop on the Rookery and the lay of the land (or lake in this case). The site which is on Annex Road in Venice, Florida is not very large – a few acres perhaps – and consists of a smallish pond with a brushy tree island in the middle. It is on this island that the birds come to nest.

Egret 2I was advised that the lake/island was man-made just for this purpose but I do not know for sure. Not that I question that the whole site was planned and developed by people but I did have some doubts. After all, it is not always a question of “if you build it, they will come.1

Egret displayConsider Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). It is a beautiful spot on earth – we’ve been twice and we did not see nary a Pelican there on either trip. It appears that the pelicans have abandoned the island that is part of the refuge that the birds had apparently used as a rookery for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. There is a beautiful park with trails and a lovely boardwalk that gives a great view of the island in the Indian River….but the White Pelicans no longer nest there. We left the refuge and drove some five or so miles down the road along the Indian River and, as we crossed the causeway bridge, discovered an island filled with pelicans and nests….of course, not where anyone could stop and look and take photographs. So I assumed that the Pelicans had decided to start up a new rookery on another island notwithstanding the efforts of the parks service to protect them at the old rookery site. So, pretty much the birds go where the birds go.

anhinga 2But back to the Venice Rookery…..You can walk around the lake and see the Rookery from all sides or you can just take a seat on one of the many benches provided by the Audubon Society that leases the site/rookery from Sarasota County. Our impromptu guide apparently loves the place for he mentioned that he came every day to sit and watch/study the birds and I cannot think of a more relaxing and engrossing activity….wonderful way to spend your days.

heron and chickSo who doesn’t love babies? There were actual babies to be seen in the nests although I have a tendency to call all birds – adult and juvenile – “babies”.   Like everyone who comes to the site, I stopped immediately on the edge of the lake directly across from the island and started snapping pictures and excitedly saying, “Oh, look at the Great Blue Heron on the top….and the Anhingas on the tree on the left side….and wow, did you see that Great Egret displaying for his female companion?”. I was all over the place looking at the birds oohing and ahhing and trying to get just one more photograph. The birds were just so close and I was sure I’d get some great photos…well, I hoped so anyway. We walked around the lake – a relatively short and easy walk with benches all along the way so that there was always a place to take a moment and rest and watch.

My husband and I have a birding/hiking rule …… “If you come to a bench, sit on it”. We have found that benches can be few and far between sometimes on the trail and taking a moment to sit and be quiet can give the birds time to accept our presence in the area and come out of hiding….. possibly giving us a better view.

cormorantsSo, once I sort of calmed down a bit and we had checked out the rookery from all sides, we found a bench in a warm sunny spot and just let the atmosphere of the place surround us. As I sat listening to the chirping, cackling, peeping of the birds and feeling the warm sunshine on my face and back, I pondered the peacefulness and beauty of the place. Everything seemed so calm and serene. In a world filled with war and hate and all sorts of strife, the birds are oblivious to all that……just living out their lives, eating, sleeping, mating, nesting, raising their young…surviving. I was at once reminded of the “lilies of the field” that Jesus spoke of…….they do not work or spend their days worrying about things that they cannot change or prevent…they just live. And the lilies are beautiful and perfect in their situation – exactly where and when they should be at any given moment in time. Likewise, the birds in the Rookery seemed to be peacefully living out their lives with absolutely nothing to worry about.

pelicanBut all life has strife. An alligator also lives in the lake at the Rookery. He (or she) swam lazily near the island, I’m sure waiting patiently for some mishap or accident that would put a chick within his reach. I’m also sure his patience is rewarded at times….more than I like to think about. But the alligator is also a part of the “circle of life” and, perhaps, has babies too that need a parent’s help. Most animals are relatively helpless at birth and spend time in a nest (of sorts) close to a parent who provides food and stands guard providing sustenance, safety and security…but eventually, all babies mature and all must stand on their own. For all life on earth is precious and so very fleeting….time flows on…..the proverbial sands flowing too quickly through the hourglass.

We all must reconcile ourselves with this reality. We live, we struggle, we die…..and, although outward appearances show things to seemingly be peaceful and calm, there is always the struggle. It is what it is and it is what it will continue to be…..for as long as there is life on earth and as long as there are Egrets and Herons and Cormorants here at the Rookery.

snowy

  1. Field of Dreams; Director – Phil Alden Robinson; Producers – Lawrence Gordon & Charles Gordon; Screenplay – Phil Alden Robinson; Based on the book, Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella; Universal Pictures/TriStar Pictures; April 21, 1989; USA
  2. Bible, New Testament, King James Version (KJV), Matthew 6:27-29.

El Jobe An – City of Destiny

January 21st, 2016 2 comments

Joel BeanHis name was El Jobean. He was a man of vision. He had a dream. He came upon the alligator infested wilderness of southwest Florida Gulf Coast and saw the future. He knew what had to be done. He knew, even before the writers and producers of the movie, “Field of Dreams, knew that, “If you build it, they will come” 1. Yes, he knew that it was just a matter of good development and the Florida coast would be home to thousands of people and, for a smart developer with a little cash and time to dream, a whole lotta money to line his pockets.

All right. All right. His name wasn’t El Jobean. It was just plain ole Joel Bean and there didn’t seem to be a Spanish bone in his body so the exotic sounding name was nothing more than a ruse to get people’s attention like a photo-shopped owl with turquoise eyes posted on the internet that everybody knows ain’t real.

And maybe Florida wasn’t such a wilderness in the early 1900’s…..after all, the Seminole had long since been relegated to unwanted land in the swamps…or, what the locals might refer to as the “prairie wetlands” (I will admit, that’s a new one for me but it seems to describe the ‘Glades perfectly). On the other hand, there are still alligators today in and around the Myakka River so it is mostly safe to say that the land was probably “alligator infested” a hundred years ago so I’ll stick with it and make no apologies for that turn of phrase.

But Mr. Bean did have a dream and he was a developer and he started something that could have been incredibly lucrative and amazing right here in Florida in Charlotte County……something that he, no doubt, hoped would survive through the centuries as a monument to his amazing vision and ingenious planning, determination, and hard work.

And for a while, El Jobe-An (a name he came up with by rearranging the syllables of his own illustrious name) was all the rage. From its inception in the early 1900’s, the little community flourished. After all, Joel Bean knew what he was talking about….he had the trifecta of the means for the town to grow.

Post Office 4Post Office 3The community was situated on a peninsula between the arms of the Myakka River where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico…or is it Lemon Bay and then the Gulf? At any rate, there was plenty of land to the east for farms to grow crops that would be easily shipped out at ports nearby on Charlotte Harbor via the Gulf. And if that didn’t work; well, there was always the Tamiami Trail, that well-known roadway connecting the dots and all cities in between Tampa and Miami. And on top of that, there was the Seaboard Railroad. What more could you ask? Three modes of transportation all right there available for him to use in connecting his planned community to the world…..Sea, Land, & Rail.

GridsIn his mind, it was all very clear…….eight communities laid out in octagonal grids with businesses and civic centers in the middle of the octagon and houses all around.

On top of everything else, there was beautiful sunshine – it is the Sunshine State, after all – all warm days and star studded nights. I hear tell that before it stopped raining in California, it used to not rain in Florida…….boy, those were the days!

Fishing PierAnd the fishing! There is nothing to compare to the fishing in Florida. Why, every bar and grill I’ve visited in the area seems to be named “Snook” something or other. I thought it was some reference to how the alligators snook (sneaked?) up on you if you aren’t careful when you are out hiking or fishing but I am advised now that it is a type of fish…….and a delectable one at that.

So, Joel Bean couldn’t miss. He had Hollywood celebrities coming to stay at his Grand Hotel – El Jobe An Fishing Lodge and using the nifty new Post Office and General Store (est 1924) while they (RKO Pictures) filmed up at Warm Mineral Springs just a hop, skip, and a jump up the Tamiami Trail. I have never heard of the movie so I’ll have to look that one up – Prestige 4 starring Ann Harding and Adolphe Menjou. I have to admit I have never heard of these movie stars but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they were famous and they did visit El Jobe-An and they stayed at the Grand Hotel.

Another notable resident seems to have been Elizabeth Adams of the Adams Chewing Gum and Chiclet Empire. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a chewing gum empire but I have heard of Adams Chewing Gum…….. I loved their clove chewing gum when I was a child. (Note 5)

And, at some point, the hotel was sold to some daredevil dude named Leo Simon, aka “Suicide Simon” who I absolutely have to google. I know there is a story there. (Note 6) But it is said that he entertained other daredevils and carnies (hey, Ringling Brothers has their winter home just up the road a piece in Manatee County) and the Flying Wallendas may have even stayed there sometimes. I’m betting even Joel Bean could not have anticipated such notable clientele staying at his Grand Hotel.

Hotelhotel 2But, alas, all things must end. There’s not much left of Mr. Bean’s dream and his “city of destiny” – an old post office (closed in 1964) used today as a bar and grill, a crumbling overgrown hotel, a street name running though Port Charlotte, a few real estate ads describing some housing developments laid out in octagonal grids that can only be recognized as such from the air. But there is still a bustling fishing pier and a small community that still bears the name of the dream – El Jobe-An.

NOTES:

  1. Field of Dreams; Director – Phil Alden Robinson; Producers – Lawrence Gordon & Charles Gordon; Screenplay – Phil Alden Robinson; Based on the book, Shoeless Joe by WP Kinsella; Universal Pictures/TriStar Pictures; April 21, 1989; USA
  2. http://www.floridamemory.com/blog/tag/joel-bean/
  3. An Explorer’s Guide: South Florida; Sandra Friend, Trish Riley, & Kathy Wolf; Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont; 2010; pp 80-81
  4. Prestige; Director – Tay Garnett; Producers – Charles R. Rogers, Harry Joe Brown (Associate);Screenplay – Tay Garnett, Rollo Lloyd, Francis Edward Faragoh; Story – Harry Hervey; RKO Pictures; January 22, 1932; USA (Review of the movie can be found here.)
  5. I didn’t find anything on Elizabeth Adams but I did find a short article on Thomas Adams here which described him as the chewing gum maker.
  6. I was not able to find anything substantive on Leo “Suicide” Simon but I did find a photo here.
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