Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Little Bit of History Then and Now: Sanibel, You've Got Mail!

In between the tiny tropical island of Sanibel and the even tinier upscale island of Captiva there lays a spit of land we affectionately call Santiva.  It has no official designation.  In fact, if you google the term, you will not really get a definition of Santiva.  There are few restaurants on what we call Santiva , it's a great place to fish and watch sunsets and it has become in more common use an easy way to collectively identify Sanibel and Captiva.

But once upon a time steam ships plied the Gulf Coast waters and were the life line for islanders. Among those visits were those made by a little boat called the Santiva.  It was the mail boat for both islands and the only way residents were able to stay in touch with family and friends through the written word. 

The Santiva mail boat was known to transport snakes, alligators , as well as monkeys to an organ for the Captiva Community Church.  It also brought in canvas for visiting artists. But its most frequent usage was to ferry both travelers and mail to the islands. 

Island communities, commerce and culture owe much to that special boat, which was put to work in commercial mackerel fishing after the Sanibel causeway was built.

And now, a replica of Santiva's interior forms the Captiva Island Historical Society's new, little gem of a museum gallery that shares knowledge gleaned from the more than 3,000 documents the society has scanned and digitized to date.

The society spent about $140,000 in privately raised funds on the museum-in-a-boat, designed and installed by Wilderness Graphics of Tallahassee.

The components were built in North Florida, hauled down in a 27-foot van. "They reconstructed it like a Lego set," said Jim Pigott, historical society chairman of the board.

Boat dimensions were scaled down to fit snugly into a 13 1/2-by-20-foot room at the Captiva Memorial Library. The library, along with the neighboring community center, was renovated and enlarged over the past year creating a welcoming space for all.

Step inside the museum alcove and soak in the sights: Photo wallpaper shows Roosevelt Channel and Buck Key from the bow and Pine Island Sound from the stern.

Peruse a series of maps starting with a replica from the 1850s to one from the present.
Sit on the replica engine cover and look into side windows framing exhibits. One is a touch screen that offers words and photos about hurricanes, erosion, insects and conservation.

Another window touch screen serves up a who's who of 20th century celebs who spent time on Captiva, including artists J.N. "Ding" Darling, Robert Rauschenberg  and Roy Lichtenstein, writers Thornton Wilder and Anne Morrow Lindbergh as well as Minnesota philanthropist Alice O'Brien  .

There are no exhibits with sound: The historical society wanted to respect the library environment. It would take about an hour's visit to catch all of the content in the space. Because it encompasses one room only, the society prefers to call it a gallery, rather than a museum.

Captions are focused and lean. Some of the most charming narratives come through a flip-ring of laminated local postcards, whose backs were filled out by long-ago travelers such as this Philadelphia guest at 'Tween Waters Inn:
"This is a lovely little island ... Nothing to do but fish, bathe and collect seashells."

It was heaven then, and despite the years and growth, it is heaven now.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April Showers bring lots of Events on Sanibel

One of many nice things about "Spring" season on Sanibel is that , while traffic and congestion slows down, fun-filled activity does not.

There are many enticements, in addition to our natural wonders,  available all year long, that visitors can do on Island during April and May.

And some of them are quite unique.  Here is just a small sampling of what lies shortly ahead:

Tomorrow , those who have a bike can see the island in a unique perspective. Bike enthusiasts can bring their bicycles and join a naturalist on the Wildlife Drive/Indigo Trail loop to learn about the refuge’s bird life and ecology. The Drive is paved while the Indigo Trail is hard-packed shell, so the tour is suitable for people of all abilities. Fun for all ages! Meet at the flagpole in front of the Education Center at 10 a.m. 4 miles, 1½ hours, unlimited learning and fun, all for free!

There is also an engaging show tomorrow at Big Arts.  Though as kids we are criticized for making faces, Making Faces is actually the focus of this interesting day.  Dennis Joyce , a professional artist, retired University professor, former Sanibel resident, and people watcher will be demonstrating his art with a showing from noon to one on April 9. His ceramic figures express his witty observations of modern life. With this exhibit, he shares his entertaining yet serious world view. We might see ourselves in these often amusing, sometimes harrowing characters.  Lots of smiles at no charge.

Want something special to do at night?  The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club is sponsoring the fundraiser Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic at Schein Hall on April 9 at 7:30 pm. The play was written by and is performed by award winning New York actress, Deborah Jean Templin. It has been performed in over 100 venues to outstanding reviews. Deborah Jean Templin portrays nine women survivors of the Titanic disaster and what they did in their subsequent lives. It is based on in-depth historical research and the women are portrayed in period costumes and characteristic accents to the accompaniment of songs from the era. The event will benefit Human Trafficking Awareness Partnerships, The Sanibel Historical Museum and BIG ARTS.  There is a $55.00 admission fee for this special event.

There is a stunning exhibit at Big Arts, again gratis, called "Inflorescence" beginning on April 12 at noon with work by Lyle Bowen and Cory Hunter. The term "inflorescence" refers to a period of blooming for plants. Both of these artists approach the idea of growth and flowering in very different ways. L Bowen sometimes uses puzzle pieces to create the “dappled” effect of light on the petals or leaves; there is a sense of the fecundity of nature in his large canvases.  Hunter uses an innovative technique of applying high-voltage electricity to “bloom” on painted substrates, allowing natural pathways to appear; these patterns are then painted over into abstract designs or natural. Come see the stunning artwork created from these innovative techniques!
And if you want to delight your ears as well as your eyes, put this one on your things to do: Island Jazz begins its tenth season of free Sunday afternoon concerts in the Boler Garden of Big Arts. Even if it rains, the show goes on; it simply moves into the covered Gainer Verandah. Island Jazz features Harry Reiner on trumpet, Tom Cooley on drums, Gene Federico on vocals and guitar, Louis Pradt on clarinet, John Schiedo and Babe VanDeVelde on saxophone, Bill Johns on bass, and Charlie Winkler on keyboard. Special guest vocalist is Sally-Jane Heit. Frequent guest players include many of the best jazz musicians in southwest Florida playing all styles of music from jazz standards and Dixieland to bop, pop, and more.

 The above represents just a few selections but the options go on and on!


Friday, April 3, 2015

A Little Closer to Heaven: Sanibel birds on the Wing

All of us who live, work and play on Island, have our eyes up much of the time we are here.

We look at the clear blue skies, the brilliant sun and , often, the birds that use our little tropical paradise as a permanent or temporary home.

But those wings that we observe carrying our feathered friends from place to place are not just beautiful, they are extremely functional.  That is especially true for the larger birds.  The Great White Egrets, Woodstork, Anhinga, Cormorants and a host of others have multiple uses for their beautiful wings.

Birds adopt characteristic poses in which they extend and often slightly droop their wings. This behavior is commonly described as "sunbathing" or "wing-drying." Cormorants and Anhingas frequently assume these postures, which are also seen in both Brown and White Pelicans, as well as in some storks, herons, vultures, and hawks.

Spread-wing postures may serve different purposes in different species. Anhingas, for example, have unusually low metabolic rates and unusually high rates of heat loss from their bodies. Whether wet or dry, they exhibit spread-wing postures mostly under conditions of bright sunlight and cool ambient temperatures, and characteristically orient themselves with their backs to the sun. Thus, it appears that Anhingas adopt a spread-wing posture primarily for thermoregulation -- to absorb solar energy to supplement their low metabolic heat production and to offset partly their inordinately high rate of heat loss due to convection and (when wet) evaporation from their plumage.

Cormorants, in contrast, apparently use spread-wing postures only for drying their wings and not for thermoregulation. Although cormorant plumage also retains water, only the outer portion of the feathers is wettable, so an insulating layer of air next to the skin is maintained when cormorants swim underwater. This difference in feather structure may explain why cormorants can spend more time foraging in the water than Anhingas, and why cormorants can inhabit cooler climes, while the Anhinga is restricted to tropical and subtropical waters

Some birds, like the Great Blue Herons will open up their wings on a hot day, allowing air to circulate across their bodies and sweep away the excess heat.  Great Blue Herons will also "droop" their wings in addition to opening them to protect nestlings from the sun.

And then there are the wonderful workings of the large winged Wood Storks who will forage in the water for crabs , snails and fish while keeping their wings fully extended to see what is available in the sun lit estuaries and rivers.  Many other birds can be observed doing the same with their wings utilized for shading.

Spread-wing postures appear to serve for both thermoregulation and drying in Turkey Vultures. These birds maintain their body temperature at a lower level at night than in the daytime. Morning wing-spreading should provide a means of absorbing solar energy and passively raising their temperature to the daytime level. Field observations indicate that this behavior is associated with the intensity of sunlight and also occurs more frequently when the birds are wet than when they are dry.

So the next time you see a special Roseate Spoonbill sail across the sky, remember its expansive pink wings have many other uses....if in fact your awe does not get in the way of your memory!