Saturday, August 15, 2009

Raccoons: Cute and dangerous

Leaving Bill Baggs Park on Key Biscayne, we came across this scene at one of the many barbecue/picnic sites. The lid was off the garbage can and this raccoon had hit pay dirt. It was only a few feet from us and not in the slightest bit inclined to leave its feast behind, despite our proximity. After a couple of minutes, it ambled back into the undergrowth.

Cute as it was, it's a sad state of affairs for several reasons: The ugly impact humans have on the environment, the loss of fear by wild animals, the danger raccoons pose to the human population. Raccoons are significant carriers of rabies, but unlike dogs and cats, they don't exhibit symptoms to alert us.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mackerel sky

If you've read previous entries, you'll know how much I like clouds. These pics were taken last weekend at sunset. We don't get a mackerel sky very often.

These are altocumulus clouds, defined by the National Weather Service as:

A cloud of a class characterized by globular masses or rolls in layers or patches, the individual elements being larger and darker than those of cirrocumulus and smaller than those of stratocumulus. These clouds are of medium altitude, about 8000-20,000 ft (2400-6100 m).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Prayer flags for the laundry gods

The NY Times' Green Inc. blog reports that residents in Greenwich, Conn., are being told they can't hang out laundry because it mars the look of the place.

I believe Coral Gables has the same daft rule.

The blog, Project Laundry List, says that dryers cause more house fires than any other household appliance, so hanging out laundry is safer, greener, and cheaper.

Here, in South Miami, is my current offering to the gods of clean laundry. (Note the fab mid-century fabric!) I give my laundry about 10 minutes in the dryer at the end to make towels and the like softer, but I never use liquid or sheet softeners; they're a waste of resources and money.

A train trip I once took in Switzerland took me through a ritzy part of Geneva, where many UN agencies are located, and I noted that washing lines were standard in embassy backyards. If it's good enough for the Swiss, it's good enough for the U.S.

Gulf coast cloud

Last night's view from the back garden: An anvil cloud formed over Marco Island (easily located on's animated radar; it was the only cloud west of Miami.)

A good 10 years ago, an especially spectacular anvil, lit up by internal lightning, formed over Naples. It made the evening news on all the local channels, but The Herald didn't have it, mostly because that time of the day is so busy and the newsroom faces east, over the Bay. I asked then photo director, Dennis Copeland, about it. He had just been chewed out by the executive editor (Doug Clifton) for missing it and Dennis chewed me out for not alerting him!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why I shouldn't have grown coconut palms

The first photo is of my backyard; the second is looking straight up from the same spot.

I grew eight coconut palms from seed. Two succumbed to lethal yellowing and one to Hurricane Katrina. Wilma caused one of the remaining ones to go from vertical to a 45 degree angle, but at least it's not likely to drop coconuts on anyone.

However, I still have three, like this one, that could do serious damage to someone -- or the dogs -- but I can neither afford to have them trimmed nor cut down.

Perhaps a passing hurricane will take them out...

Why woodpeckers don't need helmets but footballers do

If a human hammered away with his head the way this male red-bellied woodpecker does, his brain would soon turn to mush.

According to Random Animal Facts, woodpeckers have a:
[R]elatively thick skull with relatively spongy bone to cushion the brain; there is very little cerebrospinal fluid in its small subarachnoid space; the bird contracts mandibular muscles just before impact, thus transmitting the impact past the brain and allowing its whole body to help absorb the shock; and its relatively small brain is less prone to concussion than other animals.
Incidentally, there are occasional glimpses of the red feathers on the belly, which is why it gets its name. That's not quite as much as a "duh" as you might think because it's rare to see the belly feathers.


It's amazing, given what you have to pay for a small staghorn (Platycerium) fern at Home Depot, that anyone would throw one out, but somebody thought it wasn't worth keeping so I rescued it. I mean, break it into smaller pieces, which I did once the ants had vacated the property, and give it to friends.