We are spending the winter in Cedar Key, a small island community on the northern Gulf coast of Florida. Surrounded by protected natural areas, salt marshes, barrier islands and the shallow Gulf, the rhythm of weather and tides affects work and life. Being a working waterfront community also makes this a special place rich in history and people with remarkable resilience.
A few blocks from our winter home is the Cedar Key Cemetery, a beautiful place on high ground with big old pines and red cedar trees. With gravestones dating to the 1830s and some rather eclectic markers, the cemetery is an interesting place.
We left our home in Wisconsin on Nov. 26. It was 20°F with a strong northwest wind. That cold front travelled with us south for several days. It was 20°F when we stopped in Nashville, Tenn. It finally warmed up to 60°F in southern Alabama. We drove on smaller roads south into the Florida panhandle. The destruction from Hurricane Michael in October was widespread from Marianna to nearly Tallahassee along Highway 10, nearly 60 miles inland from the coast where Mexico Beach and Panama City took a direct hit. The power of that hurricane was incredible.
Noisy flocks of tundra and trumpeter swans have been flying over heading south as lakes and ponds up north freeze over. The swans have spent the last month or two feeding on aquatic plants fueling up for their flight south. Now there are thousands of swans, ducks and geese on the Mississippi River in Pools 8 and 9 downriver from La Crosse. There they take on more fuel for their migration, eating the tubers of water celery, Vallisneria americana.
Fall is my favorite time of year. The muggy heat of summer fades into crisp clear days, the leaves turn colorful, gardens and orchards yield their fruits and it's a joy to walk through the woods and fields. We had a few days like that this year but then wind and rain of November gales in October knocked down most of the leaves.
Now is the time to do battle with buckthorn. Buckthorn is an invasive shrub that was brought to North America from Europe as an ornamental hedge plant. Buckthorn is rapidly invading our area. Buckthorn is easy to identify. It has oval-shaped glossy green leaves with finely serrated edges and a pointed tip. Their leaves stay on long into the fall after most other trees and shrubs have lost their leaves. The twigs often end in small sharp thorns. The bark on larger buckthorn shrubs is rough, dark brown with corky projections. The shrubs are tough and "grabby."
Shortly after returning from our place in Cedar Key, Florida and still suffering from thermal shock I went north last week to Washburn to prepare our boat for haul out and winter storage. The weather forecast for Washburn last Tuesday was poor with cloudy weather, cooling temperatures with rain and increasing wind. Tuesday afternoon the manager of the Washburn Marina advised us to move our boat to the east wall of the marina to be first in line for haul out on Wednesday morning.
I returned to our place in Cedar Key, Florida a couple weeks ago to take delivery of a fishing boat. I picked up my fishing friend Frank Fillo of Moberly, Missouri on the way south. Frank and I were fortunate to get out fishing a number of times during our short stay in Cedar Key even though my new fishing boat wasn't ready to hit the water, being rigged with a motor and other equipment at the Cedar Key Marina.
The forest on our property in Martell Township was once a fairly diverse mix of white pine, American elm, sugar maple, black maple, red, white and bur oak, black cherry, basswood, ironwood, hornbeam and butternut. The native Americans intentionally burned the area for thousands of years, favoring bur oaks and savanna vegetation. Early European settlers logged and cleared much of the land, suppressed fire and grazed the woods with cattle, sheep and pigs. Much of the area became pasture and cropland, leaving some large spreading bur oaks, basswood and sugar maple trees.
Although we have all the Apostle Islands on our "bucket list" to visit, we often return to Stockton Island. Last week Wednesday our boat got a workout powering into stiff northeast wind and waves. The "Lake is the Boss" T-shirt logo applies when the wind is from the north and east. There aren't many safe overnight anchorages in the Apostle Islands when the wind is from those directions. Presque Isle Bay on Stockton Island provides fine shelter from the north and east winds.