Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Ruins of Fort Zachary Taylor

I love Fort Zach, but until this week, my love was for its beach – Key West’s hands down best swimming beach.

Now, I have met the ruin of Fort Zachary Taylor - and the reason Key Westers and visitors have access to the gorgeous southwest point of the island. The ruins boast the largest cache of Civil War era seacoast cannon – most of which is yet to be unexcavated. The discovery of this large cache of armament led to the declaration of FZ as a national treasure. Shortly thereafter, the Navy gave the area to Florida for a state park.

Construction on the brick fort started in 1845 and completed in 1866 – supply problems and the toll of yellow fever on workers – soldiers and slaves leased from local citizens to the government – led to building in the winter when there was no fever.

Fort Zachary was held by the Union through the Civil War, as was Fort Jefferson, some 70 miles to the west at the Dry Tortugas. They proved pivotal in blocking shipping to the Confederate States through the Gulf of Mexico. Holding the forts didn’t win the war, it is said, but certainly shortened it.

The fort, which also saw service in both world wars, was originally built some 1200 feet off the waterfront of Key West. During the 1940s the Navy dredged the channels into Key West and filled in an area of several square city blocks. It was used as a scrap metal yard and allowed to fall into ruin.

Circa mid 1880s from the Monroe County Library Collection

Navy Fleet in Key West Harbor in 1873,
taken from the walls of Fort Zach.
From Harper's Weekly of April 11, 1874.
Monroe County Library Collection

View to the west today:

Fort Zach is also an excellent place to watch the nightly sunset show in Key West.

Looking north toward Sunset Key and Wisteria Islands. Sunset Key, originally filled for the Navy's fuel depot, was called Tank Island until it was developed into Key West's most upscale neighborhood in the 1990s. To the right is another Navy dredge island - Wisteria or Christmas Tree Island. The private island hosts many homeless squatters - an ironic juxtaposition of some of our most disadvantaged residents to the wealthiest:

More on Fort Zachary Taylor History.

Florida State Park Fort Zach brochure: PDF.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful For My Attitude of Gratitude

No doubt life is happier with an attitude of gratitude.

I know that the First Thanksgiving was tinged with a somewhat less noble color than time has painted on this American holiday, and that the Native Americans who gave earlier colonists a reason to be grateful had little to be grateful for as time unfolded.

But if there is a silver lining to that shameful story, it is that this otherwise rather greedy nation has a unique holiday that reminds us to count our blessings.

The blessings I count today are so numerous, it would take far too long to commit them to a blog post; my heart and cup overflows with friendship and a loving family – including my dog -- health, abundance and forgiveness.

I am, above all, grateful to know that there is immense power when my thoughts dwell on that which I appreciate. As long as I am paying attention to what I am grateful for, I am certain of creating a happy life, at least in that moment. When I do find myself unable to take my mind off something that bothers me, at least I know to look for the mirror, to see how I created the situation and to find what I can learn from it and so be thankful for the lesson.

Thank you for everything. Yes, I mean you! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gingerbread Scroll Stroll in Old Town Key West

There are many reasons why people love to visit and live in Key West – the perfect weather, the warm water, the laid back, quirky culture and artsy lifestyle are impossible to beat. But the distinctive historic architecture of Southernmost houses and buildings would be enough to keep Key West on the map alone.

A morning stroll around the island’s “Old Town” – the historic district – reveals some of the delights to be found on every street – shady lanes overhung with lush foliage, bright flowered vines paint white picket fences painted with flowering vines, fanciful scrollwork detailing distinctive, wood homes.

The use of “gingerbread” – a scrollwork of elaborate design on eaves and balustrades – is quite common in Key West. The style was popular in the late 1800s when so many of Key West’s most beautiful homes were built. Some home owners had the designs of the millwork match their occupations. Legend has it that families agreed not to copy one another.

At 1117 Duval, the second floor gallery is skirted by a balustrade of whiskey and wine bottle shapes, as well as heart and diamonds. Yes, you guessed it, the house was a speakeasy, and now houses The Speakeasy Inn.

There are countless other delightful examples of gingerbread – palm trees, pineapples, the very popular fleur de lis, and of course, the ship’s wheel.

The Island City House Hotel – built originally as a private home in the 1880s for a Charleston Family and converted to accommodations to take advantage of the railroad’s arrival in 1912 -- has some lovely scroll work.

This photo of the family’s Carriage House, now the hotel’s Eaton Street entrance, details some intricate mill work both as brackets and to frame the hotel’s signs.

On one home, there was clearly a sense of humor at work – the wrap around porch of the home at 1020 Southard Street is bedecked with gingerbread men!

Some Key West homes are distinctively not of the “Olde” Island style – or island style at all. 925 Southard Street, tucked away behind succulents and cacti, large terra cotta pots, and reached by Spanish tile steps, suggests more Southwest Adobe than Florida Keys.

And this former Art Deco styled gas station is now the Eaton Street Seafood market.

801 Eaton Street

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday in The Keys - Sugarloaf to Bahama Village

Just home from a lovely late afternoon concert at the Oldest House. The free event is an annual fundraiser for the Bahama Village Music Program, an amazing community organization that provides free musical instruction to kids in Key West from 6 – to 16 years old.

A great line up of local musicians donated their time and wonderful stage presence to fill the afternoon the gardens of the Key West's Oldest House with music.

The Oldest House Museum (322 Duval is one of Key West's best attractions ... it's open every day except Sunday and Wednesday free of charge. There are guided tours by docents or self guided tours.


Among the local musicians were Adrienne, Bubba Low Notes, Chief Billy, Gary Hempsey, The Muse Gurus (Larry Baeder and, Dora Gholson and Francois G). A silent auction and raffles raised funds for the program.

Gary Hempsey
The Muse Gurus

More Photos from the Bahama Village Fundraiser.

I drove up to Sugarloaf earlier to help out at the GLEE table for EcoWeek. I am helping get the word out about the new recycle bins for Monroe County Parks. GLEE has gotten permission to place recycle bins in all County parks. They’ve identified 250 spots for bins to be placed alongside regular trash cans.

To fund the cost of the bins, GLEE is seeking businesses to sponsor them. Each bin costs $200 and the business can put their logo on two sides. What a great way for local, green minded businesses to support a great cause and build their brand and image in the community.

I stopped off along the way and took some shots of the water around the Saddlebunch Keys … my favorite seascape along the Overseas Highway:

More Photos of the Saddlebunch Keys.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sunrise Beach Walk - Key West, Florida

Okay, I didn't really walk the beach -- this is South Beach, Key West, and there is no where to walk, really. Visit Florida is staging a "Beach Walk" and asked for photo contributions. I'm sending these.

I thought I would find the sky overcast, but the clouds made a dramatic frame for the sun's debut.

This slice of beach is at the southern end of Duval Street. The Southernmost House -- which is now an elegant bed and breakfast -- is on one side and an open air restaurant is on the other. Southernmost House, a confection of Victorian and Queen Anne style architecture, was built in 1900. It was once an illicit gaming house.

South Beach Sunrise
The Southernmost House - 1400 Duval Street

Southernmost House From The Pier At The Top of Duval

South Beach From The Pier

Karma on The Pier at South Beach, Key West.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Favorite Fantasy Fest Photos - 2010 Pictures

The crazies didn't all follow the theme, Habitat For Insanity, for Fantasy Fest 2010 ... but this dancing clown captured during the Locals Parade on Friday afternoon looked pretty insane to me:

Of course, Fantasy Fest wouldn't be Fantasy Fest without nearly naked bodies. Nudity is prohibited, but somehow paint qualifies as clothing. The most clever half naked costume I saw:

There was even a real marching parade band -- the Police Pipe and Drum Corps of Florida:
I was very impressed by how the local cops handled the crowds - with a sense of humor. At one intersection a sargeant and his buddies mercilessly teased the pedestrians who tried to resume their promenade before given the sign; they played "Mother May I" with others ...

More Fantasy Fest photos:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Witches and Wild Ones at the Pet Masquerade of Fantasy Fest 2010

It was a somewhat be-witching afternoon at the Pet Masquerade. The Wizard of Oz seemed to be the most popular theme, with many Wicked Witches of Key West, a few Dorothys, and more Totos than you could toss at a lion.

Glenda, the Good and Pretty Witch of Key West:


As much of the country in recent times, Key West has its share of intolerant, misguided hate mongers confused on the usual concept of a loving God. But you can almost understand this Dog's point of view.

These next two are more typical of Fantasy Fest, without or without the pet dogs. Uh, I mean pet mermaids.

My personal favorite, Genevieve Beaudet, as a Ladybug:

There will be more animals out later … and the rest of the week; some domesticated, but more likely wilder. Feral.

Here are LOTS More Pet Masquerade Photos - including photos of Karma, who went as herself, and hew new friend, a giraffe.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

It's Autumn in the Keys, Too!

A friend asked me to participate in a Facebook haiku status day – it was yesterday, but an early morning client conference tore my attention from frivolity. I returned this morning, and posted mine:
Bougainvilleas fade
Sea grapes turn scarlet and gold

Autumn island blues.
The changes are more subtle here, but there are seasonal changes … and yes, the sea grapes do their best to keep up with mountain maples.

Monday, October 11, 2010

For The Birds - Photos From the Big Sit

Osprey Fishing
Just About To Catch The Fish

Sunday's "Big Sit" at the Blue Hole was a success - at least for me. I captured some decent shots of the wildlife, and even spotted a couple of bald eagles, though they were too high to snap. Carlene Edwards, a volunteer from the Key Deer Wildlife Refuge identified them with her binoculars.

The Big Sit is a bird watching event, but not all the animals were avian. Big Pine Key's Blue Hole -- an old rock quarry that has collected a fresh water lens on top of the salt and is now more green than blue -- is home to a 5 1/2 foot alligator, a host of iguanas, some red sliders, a puca, tarpon and some other fish that don't belong there. The tarpon and the 'gator are native.

While I was there on Sunday afternoon, we saw osprey, ablue grey gnatcatcher, an anhingha drying its wings, and more turkey vultures than we could count; though we tried.

On the way home, I saw a flock of ibis in the parking lot at the fish market. They didn't count for the "sit" but they counted for me.

More photos from the day below and even more on Facebook.