Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas Barn

It isn't a stable, but a tobacco barn.


In the days when tobacco was a main cash crop (along with cotton), barns were used for curing the leaves. Fires were built to heat the inside of the barn; later it was a gas burner.  The vertical panels (where the wreaths are) served as vents to control the temperature. They opened out at the bottom, held in place by a stick. They also let light in the barn, which generally had no electricity.The floors were sand. The cedar shake roof of this barn had been replaced by tin, as evidenced in the right corner. The tobacco leaves were hung on sticks up in the rows of rafters to dry until papery and golden, which took about a month. This was hot work done in the middle of the summer.  The sun tobacco is for cigarettes and the shade is for cigar wrappers. The cured tobacco was taken down, graded and bundled for auction. Different regions of the country grew different varieties for different purposes and the curing methods also varied. Often the people who worked in the Gadsden County, Florida  and south Georgia fields and barns went to Connecticut to work there also.

In the field, the bottom leaves are called sand leaves because they have sand on them and they are primed (hand picked) first, along with the leaves directly above it that are mature. The rest of the plant is left to grow. The harvester is recognized by his yellow thumb from the nicotine stains. The sand leaves become problematic after curing when the sand is shed from the dry leaves as they are being lowered from the rafters and falls into the faces of the barn workers.

B. has spent two or three summers working for his grandfather up in the rafters hanging both sun and shade tobacco, for five dollars a day and his room and board.

We came across this little interesting tidbit online:

A “farmer-inventor” (in the late 1950's) designed and built a radically different barn intended to
revolutionize the curing process. The “Solaranza” barn, as he called it, was only one third
the size of a typical shade tobacco barn; it used solar heat instead of propane stoves.
The inventor claimed it would save nearly 90 percent of the fuel cost necessary for
curing. There were additional advantages. The cure took nineteen days instead of
twenty-eight, the barn could be built for one-fourth less than a conventional barn, and it
offered significant savings in the amount of labor required to load and unload the
tobacco. The inventor was unable to interest a single farmer in trying out his creation.

“C. A.Brinks Uses Florida Sun In Tobacco Curing Process,” The Chattahoochee Tribune, vol. 59, no. 26,
25 June 1959, 1.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the Midst of the Mist

Needed to try out the Christmas tri-pod and it was supposed to rain here so we headed to the coast to St. Marks. It was not a St. Mark's day (cold, clear and windy) but it has been overcast and so gloomy for days, we needed to get out.  The gators were out, pretending they were sunning. We saw four big ones, each one over six feet long. Two were together, which is rather unusual to see.



This last big boy looked like some folks will look on New Year's Day.


I said they were "pretending" to sun, because the fog was blowing in off the water with increasing density while we were there. That low light gave me the perfect chance to try the tri-pod.



The above picture shows the ghost forest. It was until fairly recently, a pine forest. One of our hurricanes pushed a wall of bay water through the dike system and all the way up to these trees. Apparently, pine trees don't deal with salt intrusion very well and this has become a large stand of mostly dead trees. The gloom of the fog was apropos.


A spider web was beautifully bejeweled with water droplets from the fog.



The large thistle rosette nearby had no such adornment but its radial symmetry was eye-catching.



It is actually a good thing this nest was empty since the leaves were gone from its bush, leaving it quite exposed for all the world to see. There are those who can identify birds' nests. I can only tell an eagle's nest from a hummingbird's nest and neither made this one. A marsh wren may be  a decent guess. At any rate, we shall hope that the owners will return to their summer home in a couple of months for days less foggy than today.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

You Dirty Rat!

About a week ago, I discovered shreds of burlap in a drawer where my tools were stored and acorns that I had not put there. Something had come to make a home for the winter in the potting shed. Last year we had bought a humane trap for attic squirrels. I baited it with peanut butter. Nothing the first night. He took it all the second night, without springing the door. But the third time did not charm for him. I discovered him around noon. He was a very large rat, with a red nose where he had bumped it on the wire cage.



Not needing to kill him, we took him for a ride in the back of the pickup. On the way to the lighthouse, we stopped on a dirt road and opened the cage.


He sprang forth, higher than I thought he could, and was gone: a nice meal for an owl.

Our neighborhood is full of cats. There are dogs on the other side of the fence where he was caught. And we hear barred owls all the time! I guess he lived a charmed life ---until now. And despite the title of this entry, he was clean!

We're Cookin' Now!

What is the holiday season without lots of eating? The sons are home for Christmas and they introduced us to a couple of their recipes. One made "No Knead Bread" and the other made calzones.

Here are the calzones, in process.



The crust is the refrigerated pizza dough that Publix sells in their bakery. The filling was chopped ham, pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoning. He brushed olive oil on the crust before it was baked on the pizza stone.

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Awesome! They were served with warm (red) pasta sauce and they were delicious!

The second recipe for no-knead bread took all day. The recipe was found at:


They baked it in the grandparents' cast iron dutch oven in our oven.


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What fine cooks they have become!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Acorn Ornaments


A while back, I wrote about collecting some large acorns from a swamp chestnut oak. When I took them to school to give to each child, we decided to make them into ornaments. I had to hot glue the caps back on. The googly eyes and pompom noses were attached with Tacky Glue. The mouths they painted on with  acrylic craft paint that has a tiny nozzle in the bottle. We used white label dots to put their names on the gold wire hangers.

A bonus was all the big acorn weevils that came drilling their way out of several of the acorns. ( We did not use those for the ornaments!)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It Was a St. Mark's Day

"It's a St. Mark's day," is what we say at our house when it is really clear and cold and windy. B had already scheduled a hike for his scouts at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge for this afternoon and it really was a St. Mark's day. After last night's storms blew threw, the wind has not stopped; the temperatures stayed in the mid to lower 50's and with the wild,wet wind, it was cold out but absolutely clear.

After a stop at the visitor's center to check out the wildlife viewing log, the guys began their hike around the East River pool--- about a 3 mile hike. I took the truck to the other end of the hike and began hiking toward them. The solitude was nice. The tracks down the trail were all fresh since last night's rain. The guys saw 13 deer. Walking into the wind, they got pretty close to the deer before they were noticed. The guys stood and stared and the deer stood and stared for minutes. We saw a few gators, not just sunning, but one was actively feeding. The tide was WAY out and had taken the East River with it. Guess the wind played a big part in that, along with the prolonged drought. I took pictures because there was land that we had never seen exposed before.



The channel for the river was so narrow, that a little rapid had been formed over a rock.



The spillway from the pool to the East River was dry. The pool is kept to provide habitat for migratory birds and is regulated by dikes and dams.


The "floating" dock at the boat ramp was solidly in the mud.


The bay was covered in whitecaps. The wind at the lighthouse itself was just nuts but down on the little beach there, the marsh and the scrub protected us from the northwest wind.



In that scrub was a little plant that was all decked out for Christmas. The leaves look like rosemary, but a little more succulent. The fruit, as you can see, looks like little peppers.


There were large rafts of ducks in the bay and we saw several different species of birds during our afternoon, including:

bald eagles, northern harrier, wood storks, glossy ibises and white ibises, great blue herons, snowy egrets, great egrets, black ducks, sora, blue-gray gnatcatcher,  northern shovelers, red-winged blackbirds, belted kingfishers, and some unidentified warblers. In a small flock of grackles, there was one that was smaller and partially albino. It was mostly white but had some patches of dark feathers. Of course, it was too shy to have its picture made.

We saw not a single mosquito or no-see-um! Guess they all blew out in the bay.

Cold, clear, windy: it was a St. Mark's day.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rhymes and Raindrops

"Red Sky at Night, Sailor's Delight," or so the saying goes.

Well, even after last night's lovely sky, it has drizzled here most of the day and been windy and the forecast is for 12 foot seas off shore. I would say, the rhyme missed this prediction.

As a very inexperienced photographer, I had not tried taking pictures of raindrops before and wanted to give it a try. The very last of the Japanese maple leaves were my first effort.



All of the rest have deposited themselves in and around the goldfish pond. For a week or more the surface has been covered with lovely, red leaves, but the rain sank them to the bottom. The water is more clear than it has been for some time and we can see every fish .


Tonight it is storming. We so desperately need every drop. Thanks to the wonders of interactive weather sites on-line, we can see the storms and tell when one is near or nearly finished here.  From the looks of the Gulf, sailors better take warning tonight.

Colors of the Day

Friday night's sunset was a glorious one. We so enjoyed it as we were having supper in the kitchen. I could not help but try to capture it with my camera. Of course, the pictures do not really do it justice. The colors reminded me of those in some of the paintings by Maxfield Parrish.




Here are  rather poor images of  two of his paintings from the 1920's.

Maxfield Parrishecstasy sunlitvalley

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Nutty Day

Just for the heck of it, we went to Havana, Florida's annual lawnmower and golf cart Christmas parade this morning. We got there just as the parade was beginning and it was a good thing we were not a minute or two later, or we might have missed the whole thing.



Still, we were glad we went. It was fun and we can say we did.

B's brother had invited us to come to his house and pick up pecans. We called to see if it was a convenient time, and I guess it must have been, since they were not home. We picked up a five-gallon bucket full. I think this one is a monster!100_0903 100_0904

This has been an incredible year for nuts! Acorns and pecans are around by the millions.


On our return, we stopped at a usually wet spot in the woods, which is now bone dry from our lack of rain. One of our favorite trees grows there: the swamp chestnut oak, Quercus michauxii. These trees grow enormous acorns and since it is a year of plenty of acorns, we wanted to explore the likelihood of collecting some to take to school for my kindergartners. There were LOTS on the ground. We collected a bucketful, along with a leaf or two. We were a little surprised that we did not see deer or turkey feasting nearby.

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We had one more harvest to collect: tomatoes. I had heard that there were wonderful tomatoes to be picked at a farm in south Georgia. We found it on Lake Douglas Road. We were told by a woman coming in with us that the price was for a 5 gallon bucket. So we picked that amount, selecting varying stages of maturity.


The collection system was by an honor box, a makeshift affair that previously had been a toolbox.


So for five bucks, some gas and a little fun, we got a five gallon bucket of tomatoes, that weighed in at 30 pounds at home. S. had a party to go to tonight and took a plate of the sliced tomatoes. Everyone was raving about them and they quickly disappeared.


And believe me, there are PLENTY left at home.

Near where we picked the tomatoes was this delighful dirt road.

It is a canopy road where the tree branches meet overhead.

B had just said, jokingly, "I'm lost," when we saw another lost soul. Someone was driving an SUV, pulling a sizable boat on a trailer....through a cotton field. It was a really funny sight. (Did not get the camera ready in time.)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Morning at the Salt Marsh at the Tolomato River


It was a very sunny, very warm day for December 2nd. We had spent the night just north of St. Augustine with our older son and his fiancee and set out this morning to visit the boardwalk in her neighborhood. It is a long boardwalk through a salt marsh that terminates at the Intracoastal Waterway. There were a few mosquitoes and no-see-ums but we were thankful that they were better than sometimes.


It was low tide. All along the way,we heard the skittering of thousands of fiddler crabs in the mud below.100_0856


The males have the large claw, usually their right one, but not always. This is to attract the females and to fence with other males. It has also been known to pinch the hand that holds it. Someone thought it looked a bit like a fiddle and the name stuck.


In the close-up, you can see the grains where the crabs have been sifting through the mud with their small claw and eating bits of detritus. They make little burrows in the mud that may be a foot deep and connect to other burrows allowing many escape exits and entrances.

Also present in numbers, were the periwinkle snails. Since it was low tide, most of these univalves were in the mud.

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Where the mud was drier, their trails were more obvious.

A few periwinkles were still on their Spartina leaves and stalks, where they are normally found when the water returns.


And one empty shell was even found on the deck of the boardwalk, perhaps dropped by a bird. Notice the lovely pattern and colors that can be so easily missed from a distance.


There were signs of raccoons, too, no doubt attracted to the "seafood buffet" in the marsh. In addition to the periwinkles and fiddler crabs, we saw fish and oysters.


There were large flocks of white ibis enjoying the bounty this morning. I counted about 40 juveniles in one spot and more were mixed with adults in another spot.

On the other side of the marsh was a bit of pinewoods, with a few oaks, hollies and cedars. The pine bark beetles have been at work here and have already killed some of the big trees. The sawdust at the base of this tree can be a telltale sign.

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Thanks, D and K, for such a wonderful time!