Are Artists Obsolete? Has Artificial Intelligence Replaced Them?

“An A.I.-Generated Picture Won an Art Prize. Artists Aren’t Happy,” announces a recent New York Times article. The reporter goes on to say that, at a state-fair art competition, one artist won the digital-art category for an AI-generated image.

Although I have no qualms about the artist submitting this piece, especially since he was up-front about the AI generation, I found the idea that computers might replace artists disturbing. That and curiosity led me to try some of the available art-generation apps.

Frankly, I gave up on all but one due to complicated instructions or poor results on initial demos. However, I did spend several hours on Midjourney, an arm of Discord, and attempted to create an illustration for an upcoming blog post.

As I worked, I realized that Midjourney is basically a search engine that attempts to locate an image already in existence. It then morphs the image somewhat, using a painterly style that blends elements to suggest form, but that produces a picture in which no form is clearly discernible.

When using Midjourney, the more one’s description matches an image already in existence, the better the results. For example, one creator requested an image of cavemen looking at a cell phone. The result was charming, but the app simply appeared to locate a picture of men looking at a cell phone (how many of those have we seen?) and then added Neanderthal features to their faces.

Another requested gloomy pictures of black crows. The results fit the request, but there are many gloomy crow pictures already online.

A major weakness with Midjourney is that it does not recognize verbs, so it is impossible to create an illustration of characters interacting. While experimenting with the app, I used common verbs such as chasing, running, and pushing, all of which were ignored. And when two or more characters were mentioned, the app attempted to morph them into a single creature.

Below are examples of descriptions and results:

My description, or prompt:  A tired, sweaty hiker stands on a Florida hiking trail. She pushes her walking stick in deep, black mud. There are tall grasses behind her. In the grass lurks an alligator and a pit bull. Both animals look at the hiker. In the foreground is a broken compass.


This is the best result of four options provided. It caught the words [hiker], [Florida hiking trail], and [tall grasses] and located a matching image already online. It ignored all other information in the description.

But really, I was hoping for something whimsical, and the alligator was a critical part of the illustration. So I tried with this prompt: Colorful cartoon. Hot, sweaty, female hiker. Knee-high in black mud. Surrounded by high grass. An alligator and snarling pit bull in the grass.


Again, the images generated don’t fit the description. None of the hikers stand in mud. Only one image shows high grass. Is the black blob an alligator? Maybe it ate the pit bull?

Now I’m feeling annoyed and try something different.

Prompt: Female hiker wrestling an alligator and a pit bull.


In these images, the app appears to morph the dog and alligator into a single animal. And the hiker in the upper right-hand image appears to have a tail that’s part alligator and part pit bull.

Prompt: Funny cartoon. Female hiker with a leashed alligator. Colorful.


Midjourney attempts to merge the alligator and hiker into a single being.

Prompt: Female hiker walks over a trail full of alligators.


Umm, where are the gators? Oh wait, a black blob follows one hiker, and in another image, an alligator has disguised itself as a hiker.

Prompt: A female hiker steps across a trail covered with alligators.


Finally something somewhat usable. However, look at those gators. None of them have heads. There is only the suggestion of gators.

Prompt: Cheerful female hiker on summer day walking a trail filled with alligators.


Does the app even know what an alligator looks like? I decide to test it.

Prompt:  Detailed alligator on muddy hiking trail. Florida.


Apparently not.

Afterwards, I tried two completely different subjects (not shown here) with equally poor results.

Artists, I can assure you that you are still needed. AI is a long way from being truly useful, and it lacks thoughtfulness, appropriateness, and creativity.

Although computers can provide a definition of a verb, AI doesn’t understand the meaning offered, which means it can’t put things into context. It can’t put things together in a meaningful way, or imagine a story from a given description.

AI is simply a tool and, at this point, a poor one. And since AI image-generation apps appear to simply copy and morph images already in existence, it’s easier to search for pictures on sites like Pixabay, which offers copyright free material. One can then credit the original artist or photographer because, for us humans, those little acknowledgements make a difference. They’re recognition that we’re all interconnected and depend upon one another; that humanity still matters. Each of us is as unique as the day’s sunrise.


Flatworm in the garden

At first glance, a flatworm can resemble an earthworm.
However, there are no body segments and
the the body had a shiny, slimy appearance.

A visitor from southeast Asia in the garden. This is Dolichoplana striata, one of many introduced flatworms now found in the United States. Most of the flatworms feed on earthworms, 30% of which are also foreign species. Flatworms are slimy and can be killed with a generous application of salt. But don’t cut them in pieces, since each piece will produce a new flatworm. I’ve also seen a hammerhead species in the past.

Although the head of this flatworm is nondescript,
some flatworms have a T-shaped head
(or hammerhead).

An exterminator threatens my suburban island

Umbrella Wasp

The doorbell rang. I looked through the window and then stepped onto the porch, where a lanky young man in navy shirt and khakis greeted me. “Hi. My name is Kevin. I wanted to let you know about some work being done on your street tomorrow.”

Road work maybe?

“Your neighbor has a pest problem.”

And I’m sure she appreciates it being advertised.

“We’re helping her. We could help you, too.”

“We’re fine,” I replied. “We don’t have bugs.”
Not a single palmetto bug (giant cockroach). We don’t eat meat, so there’s no carrion smell. We remove the cat dishes as soon as the animals finish eating; wash the dishes before going to bed; take out the trash each evening.

“We do outdoor pests too,” he says. “Get rid of wasps.”

He’s noticed the hive at the garage door.

“The umbrella wasps?!” I picture their home being destroyed, just as they’re completing their work for the season.  “They’re docile.” I wave toward the yard. “I planted all of these flowers for the pollinators!”

“A lot of people think wasps are pollinators,” he continues. “But that isn’t true.”

I know, I know. They’re primarily predators. But they do pollinate inadvertently as they hunt.

“I like the bees and the wasps,” I state flatly.

“We can treat the yard. It’s not a spray. We apply granules…”

And annihilate anything above and below the sod.

I’ve been planting all season. Know for a fact there is no “problem” lurking in the earth. Found a single pupal case, and plenty of earthworms.

I shake my head. Frown in repulsion. “I’m not at war with insects.”

The man retreats without leaving a card.

But I’m left disturbed. Are my neighbors so fearful of the small creatures around them – of any sign of life – that they’d decimate the lot? And with it the balance that keeps us healthy?

Now, I understand why my island habitat is filling so quickly. It’s surrounded by a desert of poisoned sod grass.

And I encounter new immigrants each morning. Sweat bees and skinks. Spiders and monarchs. I can see that my work goes beyond its original intent of adding color to the lawn and repairing bare spots. The hours I spend serve so many – the earthworms, fungi, and beneficial bacterium beneath the soil; the plants; every type of insect imaginable; birds and scurrying reptiles; as well as neighbors who drive slowly by or stop on the sidewalk, to take in the floral painting and gymnastic bumble bees.

This mini-park of mine is slowly reintroducing others to the intricacies of life. And they can see, as I reach among the branches, there’s little chance of harm.

I feel hopeful when they ask what is this plant or that; nod and say, “Maybe I’ll plant one.” Because that’s how it starts. One plant, then two. And as one is drawn into miniature worlds, a desire grows to offer more. To give all that one can. To treat the earth’s wounds and allow them to heal.


Image by Brett Hondow from Pixabay

How Boomers Think

The Greatest Generation (1901-1927)
The Silent Generation (1928-1945)
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)

As human beings, we love to categorize. But categorizing generations is only statistically convenient.

We are assigned a generation according to which 16-18 year period we fall into. But in a world that changes daily – hourly – a single generation holds multiple groups that experience the world in completely different ways.

I am a late Boomer; my brother an early Boomer. We were raised by latecomers to The Greatest Generation.

My brother was idealistic during the early part of his life, a passionate member of the 60s generation. I watched as ideals of equality took form, and saw his battles with my father. Fearsome battles that warned me to keep silent or undergo the same punishment. Fearsome battles Brother couldn’t possibly win – in a household where the winner of an argument was he who could shout loudest. But I admired my brother as he spoke for fairness; as he [initially] foresaw a world that could improve for most, if not all. And in spite of my mother’s efforts, I glimpsed protests on TV, and saw protestors who were my brother’s age. Would have included him except for parental threat.

But as Brother became older, the world changed. Became physically easier but emotionally and financially more difficult. His hopeful outlook became one of cynicism, echoed by Logan’s Run.

In adulthood, early Boomers were told to attend college to avoid the draft, by parents who boasted of their own service during World War II and criticized those who escaped Vietnam through Canada. Early Boomers joining the workforce were faced with declining job prospects and opportunity, while honoring parental insistence that success only took hard work and putting away for the future. They took on their parents’ personas, because somehow that would protect them. Their parents had succeeded and, if early Boomers persevered and behaved like their parents, so must they.

And in some ways they did. Their wealth grew, but rather than in leaps and bounds, by hops. With time, the hops became stumbles, and they struggled against reality and against parental implication that they were failures. Why hadn’t they succeeded? Why hadn’t they become rich? In a world where money became the sole determiner of human worth.

But the world had been different for our parents. They experienced great hardship early on – The Great Depression; World War. And after the devastation, they reaped the benefits of rebuilding. Of growth. And by midlife, many found themselves wealthier than ever imagined.

As their children grew into adults, The Greatest Generation pressured them to support candidates and institutions that would continue the bounty – at least for themselves. My mother confessed that she opposed universal healthcare, because her own Medicare might be impacted in a negative way. It was good for her; not necessarily the country, or even her own children.

As parents, The Greatest Generation was shocked when the young adults they produced  rebelled. Why did they think the world could be a better place for everyone? Why couldn’t it stagnate at pretty-good-for-a-moderately-large-group; and exceptionally good for a few?

They came down hard on their children to get them in line. The more their children espoused love, the more The Greatest Generation espoused hatred for anyone unlike themselves. An emotional war that continues to divide.

As adults, early Boomers were torn between doing what was right and fitting into their own families. All the while, however, rules and possibilities were changing in the background, making it less likely that they would experience the prosperity of upper-middle-class parents. Of course, there was always the hope of an inheritance to latch onto, provided relational norms were honored. Family interactions were both friendly and tense; love being present, but one generation controlling the veritable survival of the next.

So it’s not unexpected that early Boomers are often angry seniors, chanting, “I did it all by myself, with nobody’s help but my own.” Although untrue, it expresses how they feel. They know they’ve struggled, but cannot point to a specific obstacle. Know they’ve fought, but can’t articulate the particular battle. The mantra protects the story that’s been drilled into them. That anyone worthwhile can succeed, if they only work hard and save for the future. It’s all up to them.

Meanwhile, late Boomers remembered the crusades of older siblings; connected with the calls to fairness. But they began adulthood in an unsteady world, in which new rules made success even less likely. They watched as company consumed company and retirement plans were scrapped during corporate transactions or declarations of bankruptcy.

As a young adult, I encountered a woman who’d worked 18 years at a bank, under the promise of retirement benefits at 20. But her pension was lost in a corporate transaction, and those 18 years of service produced nothing but a broken promise. As well as society’s condemnation. “She should have planned for the future.” Should have planned in a world changing so rapidly that each day became foreign, and where long-term expectations became obsolete.

During The Greatest Generation’s lifetime, these were some of the changes that that propelled things forward:

  • Populations were small, but growing. There was less competition for housing and increasing opportunity for business growth.
  • Interest on savings went up to 10%, and lingered there for years.
  • Banks paid several percentage points on savings and checking accounts.
  • An 1,100 square foot house could be built for $10,000. Sales contracts were a single page.
  • Investments became transparent and available to anyone.
  • Gains were made in employment. The 40 hour workweek was established. Everyone took a half-hour to hour for lunch. There were two paid 15-minute breaks. Most employees received 2 weeks of paid sick leave and 2 weeks of paid vacation. And all benefits started the first day of employment. Companies trained their employees, free of charge. Except for CEOs and other upper level employees, pre-employment contracts were non-existent.
  • Union membership grew, increasing wages and pension payments.
  • Early on, most healthcare could be paid out of pocket. Later, employers provided generous insurance plans.
  • Social Security was implemented and began at age 65.
  • Medicare was implemented.
  • Women had just gained the right to vote when The Greatest Generation was born. Women continued to make gains, eventually being allowed to wear pants, hold jobs, live independently, work and go out in public while pregnant, and manage their own bodies.
  • Healthcare improved, extending lives.

But gradually, these gains fell away and, for late Boomers, no longer exist or are in the process of elimination. Although late Boomers are less angry about the decline, since decline has been the norm of their experience, they remember the cries for fairness and continue that cry in their hearts. Don’t mind their comments of, “What are you going to do?” and “It’s beyond my control.” Late Boomers are expressing frustration, but the towel is still gripped in their hands.

My life experience has been very different from that of my brother, even though we’re both Boomers. Even though we’re from the same household. He was raised during a period of vehemently suppressed belief. I was raised during a period where that belief had already been silenced, but was secretly held. He lived with a couple just starting out in life. I lived with parents who were more settled and experiencing the benefits of economic boom. As an adult, Brother slowly descended a mountain trail. Years later, the trail was gone; the mountain eroded into a cliff, its base strewn with rubble. My brother tried to emulate his parents; I knew I could not, the world being so changed.

We’re a mix of experiences, and those experiences have influenced our behavior and beliefs. Personally, I still believe the world can be an ever-improving place for most people, if not everyone. And when things are gamed against that forward progress – when entities intentionally prey upon the anger and fear of suppressed generations to obtain or maintain power – I still think that enough of us can come together to make a difference and win through love rather than hatred.

Maybe I’m naïve, but silenced hope is the experience of my “generation,” whatever that term may mean.


Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay

Why follow a routine?


What is routine? A reason to get up in the morning; to persevere throughout the day. I think that’s what it comes down to.

So it’s important that the first routine be pleasant. Or productive. Which means different things to different people.

My favorite start to the day is coffee on the patio; an array of bricks pushed together in the form of a square. I watch as the sun rises and the geese fly in, then  worry the geese will find their way into the garden; begin their day by ripping out grass.

But the routines of others often circumvent our own. Nature’s day starts with sunshine or a rain storm or swarms of mosquitos; an occasional wildfire tinges the sky orange and smokes the air. On some days, International Flavors and Fragrances belches toxic fumes into subdivisions, as it produces chemicals to scent cleaners, and lotions, and flavor unenticing food. Which no one suspects as they shop. Just as they don’t see the animal skinned alive as they grill their steak; or the worker pummeled as the living corpse thrashes against the knife.

So we never know until we arise what the day will bring. Routines are often interrupted. Hopeful plans skittered. A day munching grass is replaced by a crate, slippery with urine and manure; a cement floor slick with blood. Or a workday with bombs, courtesy of Freddy Krueger, commanding his people to be as disturbed as himself.

Long routines and short; indoor and out. Bracing ourselves for the days’ unexpected gifts. They give us a reason to rise in the morning and face the unfaceable. They keep us from shivering beneath our bedcovers.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A single cardinal and idle thought


I need time away form the world’s incessant chatter. And away from the chatter in my own head. My own brain. Which is beginning to mimic the technology it’s connected to. Jumping from one thing to the next unendingly.

I’ve become fearful of solitude and idle thought, and run from myself.

Of course, one can run too far. Live in one’s head. Construct fence upon fence around oneself until the outside world jiggles past the non-functioning cell. For the tap of the hammer, ignored.

The garden I’m creating is my fence. My retreat. Of color. Of twinkling dew. Bee buzz and webs.

I saw a female cardinal yesterday. A so-what bird. But in my neighborhood of turf grass and scattered trees, an omen. A sign that my work of a few months is expanding the world of another.

The lady needs bushes and low-lying plants to rattle about in. And this particular bird chirped its approval. Saw the potential in my young plantings. Reminded itself to return next season when the grasses will be tall and flowers profuse.

And the appearance of that single, insignificant bird has decided the course at the side of the house, which remains unplanted. Shrubbery will appear that invites nests. Nests, in turn, kingsnakes and racers. The hawks will be happy for a change of diet; wearied of scurrying lizards chased across the lawn.

My garden assures me that actions make a difference. Reverberate. Though each, at the time, may seem insignificant.

And the slower thoughts I’d evaded are those invoking change, revealing themselves through unintended effect.


Image by Jack Bulmer from Pixabay

Florida Fossils on Display

The Fantastic Fossils exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History (Gainesville) runs through December 30, 2022.

Triceratops and Albertosaurus replicas.
Fantastic Fossils, Florida Museum of Natural History.

As visitors enter the exhibit, they are greeted by Triceratops and Albertosaurus skeletons. Although these replicas are amazing to look at, no dinosaurs have been found in Florida, which was covered with water during the dinosaurs’ reign.

However, Dinohyus, a ten-foot-long (three-meters-long) omnivore could be found 18 million years ago. Although Dinohyus resembled a giant hog and is also known as the Terror Pig, it is only distantly related to modern hippos.

Terror Pig skull

On the periphery of the exhibit, paleontologists and paleontology volunteers work within view of passersby, who can stop to ask questions. The fossils being worked on were collected at the Montbrook site, where the University has been digging for the past seven years.

Montbrook was discovered in 2015 near Williston. A landowner decided to repair his dirt roads with excavated sand and gravel. The resulting pit stood open, and he was concerned that his cattle might fall in. The plan was to refill the area as soon as possible.

One day, his five-year-old granddaughter went for a walk with her mother and grandmother. As they made their way around the pit, the child found the sand irresistible. She climbed into it, but wasn’t strong enough to climb back out.

The women then climbed in to help. It was then that they noticed bones protruding from the earth. The property owner called the University, to see if the area was worth preserving, and a trial excavation was undertaken. The findings were considered significant, and there are now hundreds of casts holding large fossils, just waiting for museum volunteers to release them. Montbrook is on its way to becoming the most important site in the state.

When someone spots a piece of large bone on site, an expert estimates its size. A trough is then dug around the bone, and the sides and top are wrapped in plaster-coated bandages –the same material doctors use to cast a broken arm. A trowel is then slid between the cast and the earth, and the fossil is rocked out. The encased bones are then taken to the lab for removal.

A five-million-year-old alligator skull
is being excavated from a plaster cast (or jacket).
Alligator is upside-down.

The Montbrook site was part of a river system five million years ago. All the fossils recovered have fine fissures running through them after being subjected to water and earthen pressure for millions of years. The bones would crumble were they removed in the field.

In the lab, dental and clay-sculpting tools are used to remove surrounding dirt until the fossil can be clearly seen. Then a special plastic is applied which seeps into the bone and prevents the fissures within from separating. Excavation then resumes.

A volunteer scans the matrix
for microfossils.

Sand removed from the jackets (casts) is preserved, dried, and put through a series of sieves. What remains is analyzed for microfossils (fossils nearly invisible to the naked eye). Fine gravel from the site is also bagged and examined for microfossils.

Two prehistoric eggs have cracks running through them.
The stone look-alike is smooth.

Some displays within the exhibit compare actual fossils with objects which might be mistaken for them. For instance, fossil eggs have cracks running through them. A rock with an egglike shape does not.

Fossil leaves

A few fossil plants are on display. One day I was lucky enough to watch a paleontologist slowly chip away the edge of a fossil leaf until the delicate ridged edge was exposed.

This case displays prehistoric sloth skulls.
In the background, paleontologists analyze findings.

One graduate student is running sloth and armadillo skulls through a CT scan, which reveals the size and shape of each animal’s brain. Scans also reveal where major blood vessels ran.

A set of Megalodon jaws allows visitors to stand behind the shark’s gaping mouth while friends or family snap pictures on the opposite side.

ABOVE: Megalodon jaws.
BELOW: Shark teeth and spine.

Additional Florida fossils are also on display in a permanent exhibit.

ABOVE: Tapir skeleton
BELOW: Terror Bird skeleton

The Florida Museum takes a few hours to see, and one can extend the visit by walking the Natural Teaching Lab Trails. The trailhead next to the museum is currently closed, but there is another across from the parking garage which includes picnic tables.

The fee to access the Fantastic Fossils exhibit is $7 ($4.50 for children 17 and under). For $20 ($11 for children 17 and under) one can visit both Fantastic Fossils and the Butterfly Rainforest. The permanent fossil exhibit is free, as are other permanent displays.

As of July 5, 2022, parking for the Florida Museum runs $4 on weekdays, but is free on weekends.


REFERENCES
French Bob. No bones about it you will not find dinosaur fossils in Florida – for a good reason. South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Jul 03 1993.
Entelodont. Fossil Treasures of Florida.
Entelodon. Prehistoric Wildlife.

Natural Teaching Lab Trails

When visiting the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville (FL), be sure to visit the nearby Natural Teaching Lab Trails. In spring and fall, there are many small animals and interesting plants. The pictures below were taken in May.

Boardwalk. Natural Teaching Lab Trails.
University of Florida, Gainesville.

ABOVE: Green Darner dragonfly.
BELOW: Sliders.


Part of the trail passes around a small marsh.
Other sections are drier.


ABOVE: Sunshine Mimosa is sometimes sold in
the Florida Museum of Natural History gift shop.
BELOW: Bull Nettle (Cnidoscolus stimulosus)


ABOVE: Common Buckeyes.
BELOW: Female Cardinal.


ABOVE: Buttonbrush flower.
BELOW: Begonia.

Spider wraps itself in a leaf

I was watering my hydrangea when I noticed that one of the leaves was tubular. I immediately suspected a caterpillar and instinctively pinched the leaf from its stem.

“Shoot. Why did you do that?”

I’d recently done the same while checking another plant, only to realize the tube held the larva of a Long-tailed Skipper, one of my favorite butterflies. Once I realized, I removed the swollen, sluggish caterpillar and returned it to the plant; and was pleased to discover that, within 48 hours, it had wrapped itself once more.

Had I disturbed another Long-tail?

I held the leaf in my hand and saw something moving within. Gently I separated the leaf’s edges, which had been secured with a sticky webbing. Inside was a small spider, roughly 5 mm in length. A beneficial.

Broad-faced Sac Spider (Trachelas tranquillus) in a Hydrangea leaf.

“Sorry little one.”

I laid the leaf on the plant, close to where it had been clipped. Then went for my camera as the spider immediately worked at repairing the damage.

Trachelas tranquillus curling a leaf around itself.
Photo shows the underside of the spider.

In a short time, it was hidden once more. It even reattached the leaf to its branch using spider duct-tape.

Through the photos, I identified it as a Broad-faced Sac Spider (Trachelas tranquillus). Trachelas is a nocturnal spider that hunts by stalking or running after prey. It’s unusual, however, in that its also scavenges, consuming dead insects and deceased spiders.

Trachelas tranquillus (Broad-faced Sac Spider)

During the day, Trachelas wraps itself in a leaf, hides between rocks, or secures itself among loose tree bark. These locations also serve as nurseries, where females lay 30-60 eggs and watch over youngsters. Spiderlings do not need to eat immediately after hatching and remain with their mother for roughly two weeks, at which time they undergo their first molt.

Sometimes Trachelas overwinters indoors. Although they are non-aggressive to humans, they will bite if squeezed or when defending nests. The bite feels like a bee sting, and may be sore for several days, but isn’t considered serious.

Next time I see a curled leaf, perhaps I can remember to resist the urge to pluck it and, instead, retrieve a magnifying glass, since there are many friendly guests hiding among my plantings.


REFERENCES
Note that not all references were specifically about the Broad-faced Sac Spider. However, the various sac spiders seem to have similar life histories.
Broad-Faced Sac Spider – Trachelas tranquillus. Carnivora. Jun 14 2018.
Broad-faced Sac Spider (Trachelas tranquillus). SpiderIdentifications.
Spider Sunday: A Common “Indoor” Spider. Bug Eric. Nov 4 2012.
Sac or tube spiders, Family Clubionidae. Ednieuw.
Black-footed Yellow Sac (Cheiracanthium inclusum). SpiderIdentifications.

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The Swamp Comes Alive in Spring

Duckweed covers the swamp and an alligator.

The weather was pleasantly cool and breezy; a good day for day-hiking. Since many trails in northeastern Florida remain flooded, I opted to walk the elevated trails at Sweetwater Wetlands.


Water levels being high, the park’s dry basins had filled. Alligators of all sizes took advantage of the expanded habitat.

One young gator amused visitors when it strolled across a path and settled itself in the grass. A few inches of tail remained on the walkway.

A young alligator hides in the grass.

A group of college students stepped towards the three-footer, engaged in conversation. One man’s foot threatened to trod the tip.

“You’re getting kind of close to the alligator,” a companion remarked.

“What alli—“ He looked down then sidestepped into his group. “I almost stepped on it! I didn’t know it was there!”

“We were just talking about it!”

“I didn’t know what you were talking about…”


Further along, a dinosaur-sized gator eye me as he swam, then seemed to follow as I passed. Although I had no intention of approaching the water and could easily avoid him from the trail, I found myself a bit unnerved; reminded that predator and prey are fluctuating roles beyond an urban habitat.

I met a couple who inquired whether I’d seen “the babies.”

“Mmm, what babies?”

“The baby Sandhills. The ranger said there was a pair here with chicks.”

Now I’d be looking for “the babies” too.


I made my way to the boardwalk, where I took pleasure in other wading birds, including an anhinga with bright-blue eyeshadow. It sunned itself among pond vegetation and floating detritus. Once dry, it dove into the water then reappeared, flinging a Red-ear Sunfish between its yellow spears.


A Little Blue Heron foraged in the company of a Glossy Ibis. Another Little Blue said good-bye to its childhood, its white feathers showing patches of adult coloration. Soon it would be impossible to camouflage itself among flocks of Snowy Egrets.


I photographed Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies, which flitted about the boards. The males of this species are dusky blue, while the females are a luminous green.


Female Carolina anoles sunned themselves on the floorboards. Potential mates displayed on the railings above, with bobbing heads and expanded dewlaps.

Carolina anole, likely a gravid female.

I passed the couple I’d spoken with earlier. We talked a few moments before I made my way to the end of the boardwalk. And there I saw them! Two adult Sandhill Cranes emerging from the marsh grass, two chicks in tow.

I quickly retraced my steps to alert the couple, and together we prepared our cameras and waited for the birds to saunter down the trail.


I stood on one side of the walkway, where another woman soon joined me. The couple stood on the other. From behind the birds, another person spotted the chicks and quickened their steps.

The family was surrounded.

The birds stopped. The male raised his head. “The nerve!” he seemed to say.

“I think we’ll do better if we get to one side,” I said. I joined the couple, and the other woman followed.

“We have to stay 20 feet away,” said the woman. “It’s been posted.”

Easier said than done, I thought. That would mean stepping down the embankment and loitering near alligator-infested water. Although I’m aware that storks can use their bills as swords, I decided to chance birds over gators.

The woman left our group, and walked further down the path. “Twenty feet,” she shouted. A few minutes later she called again. “Twenty feet, guys.”

The rest of us stood just off the path, gifting the birds the trail.

As though accepting the invitation and copying our example, the birds went to the opposite side of the trail and walked in the grass. Cameras clicked as they meandered along, pushing their bills into the soil.

A silent parade of visitors fell along the path. Each person politely waited for a chance at family photos.

Eventually, the birds returned to the pond, where the chicks dozed on a mudflat and the adults probed for succulent morsels.

Marsh rabbit

As I continued my walk, a small group of people watched something from the trail. A marsh rabbit nibbled new sprigs of grass.


These are the glorious green days! And, in spite of searing sunburn, leaving the trail was difficult. The marsh has come alive. But it is a long drive home and some months lie ahead before birdsong falls to the crackle of leaves. The celebration will continue another day, but now it’s time for some aloe.