Week 24-  Feb 20 - 26 Week: Water Everywhere

We started the week worshiping with the Bogues at their home church, Island Community Church in Islamorada.  The church is part of the Willowcreek Association.  Different members of our worship group at Ridgewood have trekked down to Willowcreek in the Chicago area and benefited from their great training seminars.  Before the service, we met a couple who has bicycled across the country.  (Another thing on my ďdream listĒ someday.)  They traveled on ten dollars a day and used the experience to witness to Godís goodness wherever they were. 

In the afternoon, we had a unique opportunity of experiencing the lifestyles of the Keys million- and billionaires.  Roy watches over one of the ocean homes on the millionaire row not too far from where they live.  These homes are mostly vacation homes for out-of-towners and are only occupied sporadically.  The owners of this home encourage the Bogues to spend time at the home so there is more activity there.  We had a Sunday afternoon barbeque at this unbelievable property that overlooks the Atlantic. 

Later in the evening, we had a chance to meet another home-schooling family who are friends of the Bogues.  Chris, the childrenís minister at their church has been a diver most of his life.  He shared great stories of exploring wrecks (a big part of Keys history) and other diving adventures as he collects tropical fish.  He also collects bottles and china from the sea bottom and showed us some Shenango dinnerware from a Navy ship, probably World War II era.  Interestingly, my dad worked at that pottery in New Castle at about that time!  Iím bringing home a teacup to show himÖ 

After schooling on Monday, we drove down the last ninety miles of the Keys to the southernmost point of the continental U.S., in Key West.  We enjoyed stopping on the way down and walking hundreds of feet out into the mudflats where the water is so shallow.  

In Key West we continued our education about the history of the wrecking industry by going to the Key West Shipwreck Museum, an interesting blend of the history of wrecking in general with artifacts from an 1800ís wreck.  The town is definitely a tourist town, something we try to avoid, and we just didnít feel really comfortable there, so when it became apparent that the sunset wasnít going to be anything special we made tracks back to Tavernier. 

Tuesday was our trip out into the ocean with the Hagens (the family that originally had contacted us after reading the Star Tribune article about our adventure).  We got to experience the 43 foot boat on which they had spent a year living years ago, similar to our RV lifestyle this year.  Gary took us out to Molasses Reef, the most frequently visited dive site in the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, and likely the world! 

As we traveled the four or five miles out from shore, we saw a tug pulling an old ship out to sea, probably to be sunk to form an artificial reef.  We also went by an underwater research station where students from the university spend days at a time living at the bottom working on their research! 

When we got out to the reef, there were still swells that tossed our boat rather violently at times.  The Hagensí new puppy ended up tossing his cookies and got some of the kids worried about becoming seasick.  Fortunately once Gary broke out the snorkeling and scuba equipment, the seas started to calm some and the kids got interested in the diving. 

Everyone in our family (except poor Leah with her cast) snorkeled and Nate and Brenda both tried scuba diving under Garyís tutelage.  Nate was a natural and Brenda took in some incredible sights swimming with sea turtles and parrot fish and even at one time swam over a large but friendly nurse shark eight feet under her!  The day of wildlife viewing was topped off with our sighting of a huge manatee in the canal that led back to Hagenís home. 

That evening we joined the Hagens at their sonís basketball game.  We really enjoy feeling part of peopleís daily life in the different areas we are experiencing.  It gives us a mini view of living in different parts of the country.  The design of the high school where the game was held reminded us that we werenít in Minnesota.  There were no interior halls.  Also, the school is Class 5 hurricane proof and the center courtyard is where all the emergency vehicles weather the storm while the police and rescue workers like Roy stay at the school to be ready to work after the storm passes.

Our wonderful time with the Bogues had to come to an end and we worked hard to pack up, do laundry, and catch up on all those domestic things while the kids enjoyed one last morning together with their new friends.  They hiked out through the mangroves and canoed on some of the backwaters leading to the ocean.  Collecting hermit crabs was one of the highlights of their morning. 

After our goodbyes we spent the rest of the afternoon making our way to Flamingo campground in the Everglades National Park.  This area was one of the few left in Florida where we could still make reservations at this time of year since the RV campground has no hookups.  We were prepared for desolate backwater, but found that Flamingo has a great visitor center, lodge, and is yet another beautiful National Park!  Our campground has huge sites and the boondocking has worked out just fine.  We are learning new methods to conserve water to manage our waste water tanks, and electricity to minimize running the generator. 

Our timing once again has been perfect as the dry season is the only time that the Everglades isnít overrun with mosquitoes, plus all of the wildlife tend to concentrate in the most wet areas at this time.  Also, by summer, the heat and humidity become oppressive while late February has been wonderful weather. 

Thursday morning we happened upon a large osprey that apparently catches fish and lunches on the same pole at the same time every day!  Several folks with telescopic lenses that could photograph craters on Pluto where capturing the spectacle.  We got chatting with a fascinating man who took a liking to Nate.  It turned out he was world famous wildlife photographer, Stan Osolinski, another Michigan native.  He spent a half hour talking with us about photography and education (he used to be a teacher), and showed us great views of the majestic bird through his camera.  He promised Nate he would send him a photo of the osprey. 

We have enjoyed slowing down a bit and being out in a National Park again.  While we cherish times with friends and relatives, it is also very important for us to have times where we can be together, just the five of us.  So many of our objectives for this trip are related to building family unity. 

Friday turned out to be our wildlife sighting day!  We got up early for a ranger walk as part of the kidsí Junior Ranger program.  During the talk we saw the rare spectacle of a bald eagle chasing down an osprey to try to steal the fish in its talons.  Later, where the visitor center overlooks Florida Bay, Leah saw a twenty-foot diameter murky circle in the water.  We watched and found it was a dolphin feeding with its technique of rounding up  the fish to the center before chow time.

Walking to the marina area, we saw our first crocodile.  They differ from alligators by living in salt water and having much more pointed noses.  Above him was a huge Osprey nest.  There had been three chicks there earlier in the week but the weakest osprey chicks routinely get booted out of the nest until only two are remaining.  The third had apparently been voted off the nest quite recently. 

The evening continued our streak.  Brenda and I were especially interested in spotting a roseate spoonbill.  Our alter-ego traveling homeschool friends the Goldfines are avid birders.  When they were at Flamingo they were unsuccessful in the quest.  Our competitive spirit took over!  We stopped at an overlook of Paurotis Pond and found a bunch of rare wood storks, and just as we were turning to leave, spotted a spoonbill off in the distance.  Watching for a while we saw at least four or five of the pink-winged creatures enjoying the late afternoon breeze. 

Topping off the successful stop, an alligator spotted us from across the pond while we were ogling the birds.  He swam right to us and stopped at the shoreline looking up at us while we enjoyed studying him.  Unfortunately he was probably trained to do this by those who donít understand that you should never feed wild critters.  We kid the children about being defrocked of their Junior Ranger Badges if they ever feed the wildlife or litter in the parkÖ 

We have absolutely loved our time at Everglades.  Itís now a Saturday afternoon.  Brenda and the kids have driven into town to get food.  Iím procrastinating on getting started on the taxes.  Oh yeah, this year isnít real lifeÖ