Posts Tagged ‘Everglades’

It was a dry year, until the rains came. I had to water my potted plants and raised beds just about every day. Miss a day and someone would die. In late May, the rains came. In June, we’ve had more rain than we had in the eight previous months—since September!

I had so looked forward to June. The weather in May is as perfect as can be, pleasant but not too hot. But not for yard and garden work because of the yellow flies. Their bites are painful. They come in swarms. Some years I can’t sprint from the front door to the car without getting a half dozen bites. They thumb their noses at insect repellent. I can’t work outdoors without wearing armor. June is hotter, but I don’t mind the heat. I had so looked forward to June.

Then the rains came—seven inches one day! With the rains, mosquitoes. I diligently went through my yard dumping anything that held water where mosquitoes could breed. Yet breed they did! I have no idea where, unless the wrigglers can live in humidity alone, and there’s plenty of that. The mosquitoes are so thick I can’t sprint from my front door to the car without getting a dozen bites. They thumb their noses at Skin so Soft. Insect repellent works for barely an hour.

Even if Mosquito Control came back in my woods, I wouldn’t want them to spray. Too many other things live here. Besides, they spray at night. I don’t garden at night but the mosquitoes that bother me are out in the daytime. I had such plans for my yard. I wanted to work on the blueberry patch that inspired me last month. I had so looked forward to June.

Here in the South, we have wondrous creatures called “skeeter hawks” that fly around and devour mosquitoes. Elsewhere they’re called dragonflies. Usually they’ll follow a plague of mosquitoes and make short work of them. So be patient, I told myself. Soon the dragonflies will come and I’ll be able to go outside again. But it’s the end of June and no dragonflies yet.

The Good

Why? I knew dragonflies breed in water, like mosquitoes. A creek runs through my property and there are several ponds in the neighborhood, but they can dry up during drought, so the dragonflies likely had nowhere to breed. Even with all the rain we’ve had this month, my creek is still dry. The land was very thirsty.

When the ponds fill up, the dragonflies should lay eggs, but how long before their babies grow up and eat mosquitoes? I turned to Google. I learned that, unlike mosquitoes, their larvae, called nymphs, live in the water for months or even years before they become adults. Mosquitoes take only a few days to grow up. The nymphs aren’t idle–they eat mosquito larvae in the water, but they’re not ready to take to the air for months or more.

This isn’t the worst plague of mosquitoes I’ve seen. When my family lived in Moore Haven, they were so thick even window screens didn’t protect us. Dad always claimed one mosquito pokes a leg through the screen, another pokes a head through, and so on, then all the parts get together and make a whole mosquito. Enough body parts and you have a swarm of them. Some nights they were so bad in the house I’d sleep with a blanket over my head. In summer. In the Everglades. And we had no air conditioning. But at least those mosquitoes came out mostly at night. During the day, we could safely go outside.

The Bad

Why didn’t dragonflies keep the mosquitoes under control in South Florida? We were surrounded by water—Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee River, and scads of drainage canals. We were also surrounded by sugarcane fields. Who knows what chemicals they poured into those canals? This was in the 1960’s, long before the EPA, and dragonflies are more susceptible to pollution than mosquitoes. Also, draining the Everglades for agriculture destroyed dragonfly habitat while mosquitoes could still breed in a teaspoon of water.

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, there are 307 species of dragonflies in the US and 15% of them are in danger of extinction. The ones most in danger are the stream dwellers, due to water pollution. Who’d have thought dragonflies could go extinct? Mosquitoes are in no danger of extinction. They outbreed dragonflies.

The most dangerous mosquitoes, that carry things like malaria and Zika, are active during the day when we humans want to be outdoors. Several years ago when I was a social worker, there was an outbreak of West Nile Virus. I drove out into the countryside one day looking for a family and found a little old lady who knew where they lived. She was trying to load some things into her car and I offered to help. I stood with an armload of dishes while she rummaged in her purse for her keys and her mosquitoes chewed my ears and elbows. I couldn’t swat them without dropping her stuff.

Finally, her goodies safely deposited in the car, I could freely swat while she gave me directions. Then she said, “Did you read in the newspaper about the man who caught West Nile Virus? That was my husband.”

Whoa! Did the same mosquitoes trying to devour me bite him first? Fortunately, I escaped that unpleasant fate and lived to be bitten again.

I’ve thought about getting my yard certified as a Wildlife Habitat. https://www.nwf.org/Garden-For-Wildlife/Certify.aspx I have everything required except a water feature. (In fact, I have so much of the required vegetation that I need to clear some out to make a human habitat.) Now I think I’ll raise my own home-grown skeeter hawks so I’ll have a head start on the next  mosquito plague. The NWF website has information on building a pond for dragonflies: https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2002/Attracting-Aerial-Acrobats-to-Your-Yard.aspx/.

The Ugly

Amazing how something like this can grow up to be a beautiful dragonfly! But how can I keep mosquitoes from breeding in my pond until the nymphs hatch and eat them? Fish would eat wrigglers and nymphs alike. There is a product called BTi, mosquito dunks, that kills mosquito larvae but won’t harm nymphs. I must get some. I wish I could provide a habitat for the stream dwellers, too, but my little creek dries up when there’s no rain.



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This September, National Weather Service in Jacksonville celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hurricane Dora, the only tropical cyclone to hit the area in recorded history. I remember Dora quite well. It was one of my family’s many adventures. We weathered the storm in the men’s bathhouse at Ocean Pond Campground, in the Osceola National Forest, just west of Jacksonville.
Let’s back up. This was not my first hurricane. When I was a little girl, Hurricane Hazel ripped up through the eastern United States. All I remember was that she badly damaged our cherry tree.
In January, 1964, we moved to Florida, first settling in the Everglades, in Moore Haven, a small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee. We rented a house on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River, a picturesque cottage on stilts, which had the distinction of having survived the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.
In the early 20th century, a small earthen dike had been built around Lake Okeechobee. In 1926, storm surge from a deadly hurricane breached the dike. The 1928 storm was even worse. Hundreds of acres were flooded, some areas under twenty feet of water. Thousands of houses were swept away and at least 2500 lives were lost. Many bodies were never recovered. Our house, and presumably its inhabitants, survived because, being built on stilts, the water washed under the house.
Thirty six years later, the disaster remained fresh in the memory of survivors and their descendents, who recounted the horror to anyone who would listen. The old two-story schoolhouse still stood, with scars on the walls of the second floor where boats had scraped against it during the flood. After 1928, the Army Corps of Engineers had erected a huge levee around the lake, but our neighbors said they didn’t really trust it.
August brought Hurricane Cleo. My parents stayed glued to the radio for storm predictions. I remember townspeople expressing anxiety as Cleo approached, but few made plans to evacuate. One of my friends said her family might shelter at the high school, but that building had a ground floor only. We didn’t take chances. We packed our camping trailer and tents and headed north on Highway 27.
After fifty miles or so the flat Everglades gave way to sandy hills. We pulled into Highlands Hammock State Park. Cleo followed. She snaked up the east coast of Florida as a Category 2 storm, slowing to a Category 1 as her eye passed fifty miles east of us. We were safe from flood, but the wind would have blown our tents away. Fortunately, the park rangers let us stay in the lodge, a sturdy building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression.
This storm was unlike anything I’d experienced. Instead of heavy raindrops pounding the earth as in a thunderstorm, which finishes its business and moves on, falling rain danced all day at the mercy of the gale. Through the windows we watched trees thrashing in the wind and heard its incessant howl. I recall being more bored than afraid. There was little to amuse us in the dim light of the lodge. Once the weather cleared, we returned home. The Lake had remained within its banks and surrounding communities were safe.
For various reasons, not limited to hurricanes, my parents decided to move to the northern part of the state. A week or so later, we were camped near Olustee while my father looked for another job.
Were hurricanes out to get us? Two weeks after we fled Cleo, Hurricane Dora caught up with us. She headed straight towards North Florida as a Category 3 storm. For the second time, we found ourselves with only a few sheets of canvas between us and a tempest. At least we didn’t worry about a 20 foot flood, since Ocean Pond is a tea cup compared to Okeechobee. Other campers packed up and went home. We had no home to go to, having given up our house in Moore Haven. One other family remained, a retired couple in a pop-up camper.
The men’s bathhouse had a large open area surrounded by concrete block walls. We moved our bedding in as Dora slammed into Jacksonville as a Category 2 hurricane. The other couple joined us, their little pop-up no match for 110 mph winds. Cleo had been gracious enough to hit Florida during the day. Not Dora. She made landfall at 2 am, but we had felt her blast hours before.
The bathhouse was lit by an open skylight, practical in fair weather, but not in a major weather event. Mom and Dad put tarps over our beds, so we could sleep dry, but they did not sleep. As the wind roared through the night and rain swirled through the open roof, I woke now and then to see them pacing the floor. I remember Mom adjusting a tarp that had blown loose. Little splatters of rain hit my face, but I felt safe. Only when I experienced a tropical storm as an adult could I appreciate what my parents must have endured.
As daylight came, the storm subsided. By early afternoon she moved on. The retired couple crawled into their camper to get a few supplies and the lady cooked grits. What food supplies weren’t soggy must have run low and I was hungry. Those plain grits were the best thing I ever tasted. When it was safe to go outdoors, we went down to the lake. To our surprise, a plastic orange fish came bobbing across the lake toward us, carried by the wind and waves. My little sisters scooped it up. We had no way of knowing who it belonged to, so we kept it. That orange fish stayed in the family for years and is featured in several old photographs. I wonder what became of it.
After a few more adventures, my family settled in Scrambletown, Florida. More adventures were to follow, but the next time a hurricane blustered through, we had a strong cypress house to protect us from its wrath.

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Bonnie T. Ogle

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