Sunday, October 20, 2019

Look Again – There Are Wonders Right Before Your Eyes!

RUMINATION FROM THE ROCK AND BEYOND

 

 

If you haven’t heard of or visited the Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center (aka Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Center) at 300 Tower Road, you’re missing not only an aesthetic experience, but growth in knowledge and appreciation of our local natural environment. It’s just north on Collier Boulevard, take a left before you get to Walmart.

For several years, I’ve participated in many events at Rookery Bay including the annual Bash for the Bay (their major fundraiser coming up March 16th), photography and art shows, classes, great lectures, boat tours, birding events, and tons of adventures for students and adults. (I could go on, but there’s that darn word count limit!)

You’re better off checking their website (rookerybay.org) because there are so many incredible opportunities offered that you’re bound to find intriguing — trips and countless stimulating learning events that will knock your socks off. And there are so many opportunities for school age children and your visiting grandchildren. Trip Advisor lists it as #17 out of 125 things to do in Naples. Yes!

Education Specialist Dave Graff enlightens Rookery Bay nature trail guides during a recent training. Photos by Jory Westberry

Education Specialist Dave Graff enlightens Rookery Bay nature trail guides during a recent training. Photos by Jory Westberry

As you drive north on Collier Boulevard, you may have noticed a bridge on the left side of the road that spans Henderson Creek, which runs under Collier Boulevard and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The nature tour begins on the bridge! You’ll be delighted with the expertise of the volunteers that conduct the nature tours, not only are they experienced, but they’re gifted with a sense of humor.

Note the telltale “potato” on this invasive species.

Note the telltale “potato” on this invasive species.

Most recently, I had an opportunity to join a nature trail guide group with Dave Graff, Education Specialist for high school/ college, who also conducts boat tours. Dave is very knowledgeable about local marine life, interaction between flora and fauna and environmental issues. Amelia Horadam, the Environmental Manager and Rookery Bay Administrator extraordinaire, a consistent proponent and leader of all facets of this organization, joined us on the tour.

One of many varieties of air plants (epiphytes) found in the tropics.

One of many varieties of air plants (epiphytes) found in the tropics.

I learned so many interesting things about the trees, plants, flowers, history of the area, wildlife, effects of fires and upcoming planned burns, former settlers, the effects of hurricanes… (Hey, remember the word count?) I could have spent the day there picking Dave’s brain, but the tour lasted somewhat over an hour. That could be due to the questions we all asked, eager to indulge curiosity in such a beautiful setting. The trail isn’t strenuous and there are numerous places to stop in the shade and absorb fascinating facts about our surroundings.

Did you know that the Gumbo Limbo tree with its sleek reddish-brown bark is also called the Tourist Tree? That’s because the bark is often peeling, just like the sunburned tourists! Here’s another interesting fact. Back in the day when southern settlers were anxious to mark their property lines, they chopped down the Gumbo Limbo trees, cut the wood into fence posts and stuck them in the ground. Over time, they noticed that small leaves were sprouting on top of the fence posts. Yes, the fence posts had taken root! There were now rows of new Gumbo Limbo trees to help define their property, thanks to the favorable weather and soil conditions.

I’ve decided not to tell you what caused these marks, enjoy the tour instead!

I’ve decided not to tell you what caused these marks, enjoy the tour instead!

We learned about native plants and the exotic interlopers that, in some cases, are squeezing out the beneficial plants. There’s one called the potato vine, which is an invasive and has what appear to be small potatoes on the vine. If you see one, pull it out! They can take over an area of native plants, so carpe diem and send them packing!

Maybe you’ve heard of air plants? They’re also known as epiphytes and they take nutrients from the air as they hang on trees or branches. You’ll find them for purchase at the Wednesday Farmer’s Market on Marco and at many nurseries. If you make sure your plant is secured on the tree, it will put out roots over time and be very happy to be living there. They have soft tones of green and some vibrant colors, depending on the variety, but they’re all pretty easy to care for, unless another Irma crosses your path (ouch) and they’re blown away to parts unknown.

There is an ancient cistern along the path that used to provide water for the early settlers in this area. It doesn’t look too appetizing now, but at some point, it must have been a godsend that meant they didn’t have to travel too far for fresh water. And all we have to do now is turn a handle and clean, fresh water gushes out, unless you are prone to paying for bottled water that wreaks havoc on our environment, but that’s an article for another time.

Our guide, Dave Graff, stopped to let us ponder a certain pine tree on the trail and asked what we saw. Some said fire, some were blank and some thought disease. Look at the photo and see what you think. The answer “might” be under the photo.

Rookery Bay is a gem that is so close, you should touch it! There’s nothing like nature to soothe the soul.

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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