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Beware Where You Step

At Viera Wetlands (Viera, Florida) the other morning on a photographic journey to a man-made marsh and wetlands. Beautiful place and great photo ops but: beware where you step.

A number of other shooters and I were clustered near the entrance kiosk shooting a green heron. I was the last one in so I was working the perimeter of the group of shooters. Pretty focused (HA!) on the subject at hand and my in-the-field workflow, I vaguely remember shifting position and my right foot planting itself in some softer ground near the kiosk post. The green heron beckoned visually so that’s where my attention stayed. Shortly, I began to experience some discomfort and nagging bite sensations in the bend in my leg behind my knee.

WHOA-HO!

Looking down my right foot is brown and moving in waves, as is my pant leg to about mid-calf. Lo-and-behold I have one foot firmly placed and dug in to the center of a large sandy red ant hill. The ants are pissed and doing their damnedest to get and keep my attention. All thoughts of photography are gone. I manage to set the camera and lens in the car before ministering to my leg. Thankfully few of those bad-boy fire ants figured out the path under my pants and over my sock to the bare skin beyond, but some had and were making their presence known. I have a visceral memory of growing up outside of Miami way back in my pre-pre-school days and my mother freaking out when either my brother or I got into a red ant hill. She ended up calling my dad at work. Into a tub of water one or both of us went to rid the body of the fire ants. At age 62 my response was to wipe down my trouser leg  with both hands towards my boot. This I did a couple times before doing the same to my boot. Lots of ants gone but some transferred to my hands. At this point I am picking off or squishing wherever I find them. In memory of the red ant solution of my youth a bottle of water is poured on and over my boot. Maybe this sequence took a couple of minutes total but it was another ten to fifteen minutes of responding to bites and crawling sensations before I was red ant free.

I finished my solo photography shoot then drove the 45 minutes back to the camper. Two days out I am dealing with nasty pustules where I was bitten: both hands and my one leg mid-calf up to my knee. The day of, I found myself exhausted in the afternoon and taking a long nap. A Google search today of red ant bite symptoms (rightdiagnosis.com) laid the exhaustion felt that afternoon squarely at the multiple feet of the Florida Red Ant. Reading the list of internet generated symptoms (Heart rhythm abnormalities, Swelling at site of bite, Redness at site of bite, Pain at site of bite, Wheal at site of bite, Itching around site of bite, Breathing difficulty, Fever – lasts 1 or 2 day, Increased blood pressure, Rapid heart rate, Nausea, Seizures, Aches, Tiredness, Flu-like symptoms, Pustules at site of bite – last 3-8 days). I felt lucky to have awaken from my afternoon slumbers.

So: Beware Where You Step!!

😉

29 Dec 2013

Viera Wetlands ~ Tri-Colored Heron

 

Gallery Link

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28 Dec 2013

Viera Wetlands ~ White Ibis Flight

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Gallery Link

28 Dec 2013

Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands ~ Viera, Brevard County, Florida

It is nice to see things done well and done right. Especially when it involves man, mother nature and government. It can and does happen.

Witness the Ritch Grissom (who was Ritch Grissom?) Memorial Wetlands in the city of Viera, part of Brevard County, Florida. The Wetlands are the final parsing and filtering of effluent, the treated water at the end of the flush, if you will. Similar to Black Point Wildlife Drive at the nearby MINWR but way different. The Viera Wetlands (Friends FB link) are concentrated and contained: 200 acres, 7 or 8 different bermed ‘cells’ with a one-way unpaved drive for your cycling, walking, hiking, driving, wildlife-sightseeing pleasure. The cells vary from marsh-ringed lakes to full-on marsh, to grassed-over wetlands.

The birds are everywhere!!

Rookeries abound as do viewing platforms and strategically placed benches. Get there early for the best light and to avoid those mid-day ‘crowds’. Some of the birds are fairly habituated some not so much. Great place for birding, great place for photography.

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28 Dec 2013

Hooded Mergansers

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Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands

Viera, Brevard County, Florida

28 Dec 2013

Heron Rookery Nesting Dance

Heron Rookery Nesting Dance

Gallery Link

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Great Blue Herons

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands

Viera, Brevard County, Florida

28 Dec 2013

Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands ~ Viera, Brevard County, Florida

Primpin’ In the Wild

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28 Dec 2013

MINWR

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Space Coast

Florida

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27 Dec 2013

Pakboat to the Okeefenokee (Cedar Hammock)

We have been looking for the weather and location to get our folding-rollup canoe (Pakboat 16’er – there is a story here) into the water with us behind the paddles.

The Okeefenokee NWR provided both the weather and location: nicest weather since Thanksgiving.

‘Gators and Sand Hill Cranes greeted us along the 4 mile paddle to the platform at Cedar Hammock.

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Sandhills are amazingly big and powerful birds. Most birds have a definite approach limit but are willing to be seen from that distance. The Sandhills in the Okeefenokee seemed to not want to be seen period. We got quite close a couple times unbeknownst to both us and the birds. Hugely powerful at lift-off. Wings moving huge amounts of air, and away. Egrets. Ibis and Herons were all around but out of distance.

Nice day on the water.

The Pakboat folding-rollup  (FB) canoe performed well in it’s initial on the road trip.

We decided after our road trip last winter that we were finding ourselves in lots of places that we needed a boat to see what there was to see. Spent a lot of time reserching folding boats and light weight boats to carry on or in the camper. Looked high and low across North America. Decided that it would be too much hassle to deal with some sort of rack and I am loath to drill holes in the roof of this RV. Pakboats kept bubbling to the surface in my internet searches.  They looked great and seemed to perform well. The fact that they have a traditional canoe appearance sold me as well. Lo and behold there main facility is in what could be considered my back yard but is truly my oldest daughter’s back yard. She lives in the Upper Valley of NH, specifically in the town of Enfield.  Alves Elvestad distributes Pakboat canoes and kayaks out of a steel frame building down a main street back road in Enfield, New Hampshire.

Good man with a good product.

Pakboats take a little time to assemble and/or disassemble. Sixty minutes: less if you do it often and don’t have to think about it. One person can do it but it is easier with two. The assembly time is easily outweighed by the fact that this 16′ canoe can be rolled up (the strong layered PVC skin and shock-corded anodized aluminum rods and thwarts) into two packs and transports within the storage space of a small RV.

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Debbie and Pakboat carrying Smart Car.Okefenokee12.20.2013-6Y9A1687

Steve ~ Gray Beard

Stylishly attired in matching Pakboat outfit.

😉

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21 Dec 2013

Chesser Island Boardwalk ~ Okeefenokee NWR

Chesser Island Boardwalk

Okeefenokee NWR

All the birds and wildlife activity with the exception of the alligators was well removed from the boardwalk and the viewing platform on our arrival. There had been lots of human comings-and-goings up to that point. Thirty minutes of stillness & quiet brought some activity within range.

Nicest day weather-wise of our entire trip.

Okeefenokee NWR has recovered from a dry spell and fire two years ago. There is water back in the system and things are greening up around and through the burnt-over areas.

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Okeefenokee Pastimes immediately across from the east entrance, the federal entrance to Okeefenokee NWR, gets high marks as a place to camp and access the NWR.

Nice folks.

Nice facilities.

20 Dec 2013

Shakedown

What we are experiencing probably qualifies as a shakedown ‘cruise’ of sorts.
Right off the bat a lost or misplaced credit card and the attendent scramble to have a new one mailed and myriad billing accounts changed. Daily use items becoming lost and then found all within the confines of the camper. Mercedes Benz service in Savannah after being refused by Freightliner north of Savannah for a possible shot wheel bearing. Having to replace the tow car wiring harness (thank you very much to the young man and avid duck hunter behind the parts counter at Camping World at x102 on I-95 north of Savannah). Lots of relearning of old habits and behavior patterns.

A  couple weeks into this shakedown ‘cruise’ we headed out from Hunting Island SP east of Beaufort, SC looking for propane, diesel and a place to watch the Pats game. Well beyond the swing bridge over  Johnson’s Creek at the four-way light that is the town of Frogmore on St Helena Island we found an AmeriGas propane tank at a gas station-convenience store. A diesel pump too but equipped with the larger highway truck nozzle. Should have taken that as a sign and moved on, but no.

The attendant hooked up the brass fittings and hose and after some fumbling amd false starts filled up our propane tank: 8 1/2 pounds. In the process of removing the fittings and releasing the pressure the brass fittings became so cold that he needed to stop and get his propane gloves. Upon proceeding with the uncoupling  the steady and forceful release of propane gas and vapors never stopped. The release was shut down, brows were knit and furrowed. Another attempt at uncoupling with the same cold release with no decrease in pressure. The one-way valve entering our tank was ‘frozen’ open. As it was a busy afternoon the attendant returned to the store to assist at the counter and call the propane company. The dispatcher was of no real assistance and made no claims nor promises as to when a service technician could or would respond.

A local ‘guy’ with propane tech experience was called and the store’s owner, the attendant’s father was called as well. Along the way the attendant was advised to use a rubber mallet to tap the fittings and valves hoping to res-eat the ‘frozen’ valve.  After countless taps and that soon became whacks to the targeted valve and numerous uncoupling attempts the propane presence was thick and heavy. Mind you this is a six island gas station in the middle of a rural but close crossroads community. We went indoors to check out the Pats game. No luck there either as neither the Charlestown or Savannah stations were carrying that game.

The local propane ‘guy’ and the father arrived almost simultaneously. Father did not seem to have a smile. The local ‘guy’ chose to tap and whack with an extra brass fitting as opposed to the rubber mallet: different medium same lack of result. Father frowned and the local ‘guy’ opined that neither rubber-on-brass or brass-on-brass would cause an inferno inducing spark. All chuckles and smiles. Everyone retired back into the store. By this time Ameri-Gas had been called numerous times, corporate and regional: no real encouragement from the dispatcher and no contact from a service tech. We were always left with the sense that someone was on their way eventually. Not so. Unbeknownst to our increasingly frustrated working group, somewhere along the line the request of AmeriGas had been recorded as a service request and no one was going to respond until the beginning of the work week.

So we stood and waited for an AmeriGas service tech that was not coming.

The day lengthened. Our noonish arrival became a show of late afternoon patience. Somewhere in the mix I told the attendant I did not care whether I left with a tank of propane or not but that I needed to leave. He assured me that when the traffic died down he would take care of me. As dusk approached we found ourselves attempting to release that tank-full of propane. I was asked to do match, lighter and cigarette control. This I did amidst what had become the cloying stench of propane. Mind you, this is the south, the rural south and smoking  is common here. Someone had the sense to call the fire department and told the store folks that that was his intent.

Shortly the Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District showed up with lights flashing  and low-toned sirens. Local police arrived as well and the focus shifted abruptly from ‘let’s get out of here’ to ‘let’s be safe and think this through’. The area was cordoned off but commerce was allowed to continue at the gas pumps and the convenience store. Local police called AmeriGas and lit the ‘proverbial’ fires with the dispatchers involved. This produced results which would not have been forthcoming otherwise. The ‘service request’ quickly and appropriately became an emergency response need in the dispatcher’s eyes and ears.

LISHFD’s focus was soley on safety and preparing for the worst case. They did this with patience and aplomb. It was interesting to watch them work the scene. Chuck (Morgan I believe) and his sidekick ‘TJ’ were patient, not looking to point fingers or assign blame. They were quick to define what their responsibilities and goals were and what they felt Ameri-Gas’ responsibilities should be. They handled people well. After dark an Ameri-Gas service tech and a front-office person arrived. They happened to be a husband and wife team. The same rubber mallet tap-and-whack routine was employed. During the ensuing uncoupling attempts the on-off, open-and-close valve beyond the ‘frozen’ valve in the tank became ‘frozen’ open as well.

A bad situation became worse from a safety standpoint but the situation was hissing and blowing, blowing and hissing it’s way towards a conclusion. With time the cloying scent of propane became stronger while the sound of the releasing propane diminished. The tank was hissing towards empty. Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District reinforcements arrived: a couple more trucks and the shift chief. Control of the scene shifted and was exercised once again. The public were like moths to a flame with the lights and activity. People were drawn as opposed to being cautioned away.

Ameri-Gas was waiting for another service tech to arrive with vaunted ‘walk-away’ valves. That had an intimidating feel to it: ‘walk-away’ as opposed to what?

Upon the ‘walk-away’ tech’s arrival the control of the scene shifted once again. It was all Ameri-Gas at this point with LISHFD and civilians retreating to the far edges of the affected area. A metal hammer was called for!?! No rubber mallet here. Some good strong whacks at the suspect valve with no positive results. With some ‘pissin’ and moanin’ ‘ the valves and line were forcibly removed and a ‘walk-away’ valve was applied. The leak was quelled and the new valve held.

Seven hours after our arrival the propane tank was filled. After some thank-yous and glad-handing by all we drove off into the night.

No consolation either: the Pats lost to the Dolphins.

Take away: call police and the fire department right away.

Thank you Lady’s Island St Helena Fire District!!

19 Dec 2013

Savannah Quickie: Churches and Garden Gates, Live Oaks and Epiphytes

A half-day’s walk around and through some of Savannah’s churches and live oaked squares.

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18 Dec 2013

Hunting Island Lighthouse ~ South Carolina

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17 Dec 2013

Beaufort SC National Cemetery

Spent some time in Beaufort SC today: a lovely small city that felt more like a small town.

Found ourselves wandering among the spanish moss hung live oaks, bull pines and civil war era grave stones of the  Beaufort National Cemetery in the early afternoon.

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We ended up with lots of questions: grave stone differences, inscription meanings, history and so forth. We stopped at the small house at the entrance near the central flag pole that all of the graves and roads radiate from like the spokes of a wheel. A well appointed young man, obviously connected with the cemetery, asked if he could help. He answered our questions in depth and elaborated on the history of the Beaufort National Cemetery. He then invited us to attend the funeral and internment of ten indigent South Carolina veterans taking place that very afternoon. In the course of our chat we asked what his role was at the Beaufort National Cemetery. In a very humble and understated manner he said that he was the Director.

Serendipitous moments.

We attended that funeral service, along with hundreds of others: civilians, veterans and active service personnel. We were privileged and honored to witness the internment of the ten indigent SC veterans. My emotions and feelings can and do bubble up near the surface often yet I am not necessarily overtly patriotic. Be that as it may this experience stirred both my love of and pride in country and in my fellow Americans.

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The Scottish Piper at the funeral shared a tid-bit of word-of-mouth history. Apparently the origins of the Beaufort National Cemetery reside late in the Civil War. The horrid conditions at the Andersonville POW camp due to overcrowding and a lack of  potable water prompted the moving of Union prisoners to the town of Millen, Georgia in an attempt to situate a POW camp there near potable water. Union POWs died at Millen and were buried on the site of the fledgling POW camp . Sherman’s March to the Sea brought him through Millen resulting in the burning of the town and it’s surroundings and the liberation of the POW camp. The Millen property owner, a Lawton by name, at a later date reclaimed his property and expected that the soldiers’ burial remains would be removed. The Beaufort National Cemetery came into being as their final place of rest.

Union and Confederate soldiers are buried here, soldiers from all our armed conflicts since the Civil War are interred here.

The square-ended grave makers are unknown unidentified soldiers’ graves. There are a vast number of unidentified Civil War era graves, both Confederate and Union alike.

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Hallowed Ground.

Sarasota (FL) National Cemetery

Chalmette (LA) National Cemetery

13 Dec 2013

On the Porch at the Gullah Grub Restaurant ~ Frogmore, St Helena Island, SC

Sweet Grass Basketry & ‘Miss’ Jery Bennett Taylor

‘Miss’Jery’

“Jery is known as a master basket weaver in the Low Country traditions: The sweet grass  basket, made from the pliable grasses growing along the shorelines and that of the hardier bull rush basket, from rushes common among  Beaufort’s marshes and sea islands.”

“The most famous bull rush basket was the one Moses was found in.” ‘Miss’ Jery’ does not lay claim to having woven that basket but you get the feeling she would like to.

A lady of strong visual images with a strong will to match.

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Jery’s “skill and proficiency has brought her kudos from as nearby as the visitor” from away “who buys her baskets as she weaves on the porch of the Gullah Grub Restaurant on St. Helena, and as far away as the Smithsonian, which has exhibited her work.”

“She is also a self-taught folk artist whose paintings capture the essence of growing up on Mt. Pleasant’s Boone Hall Plantation: … all in bold colors, all telling stories.” Her paintings are on display within the Gullah Grub Restaurant (Yelp Reviews).

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“Jery is a descendant of the West Africans of Sierra Leone where this style of  unique basket weaving originates. Born and raised in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in the Christ Parish Church Community and the Boone Hall Plantation community.”

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The Basketry

“Throughout the enslavement period, plantations in the South Carolina Low Country prospered from the labor and skills of Africans and their descendants. Plantation communities were largely self-sufficient. Slaves produced their own food, built their own homes, and engaged in many crafts such as carpentry, masonry, iron work, net making , weaving and basketry.”

“The design and manner of construction of coil baskets were brought from Africa and have been handed down in Low Country black families to the present day. In the 19th century, coil baskets were made throughout coastal South Carolina for both agricultural and household use. Basket design varied from from one black community to another due to different artistic traditions and different local needs. Artists made baskets for their own use and for families and friends.”

“By the beginning of the 20th century, basket making had all but ceased in the Low Country. At this time artists near Mt. Pleasant, SC began to weave baskets primarily for sale outside of their community. Today it is only among the Mt. Pleasant Basket Makers of Charleston County (SC) that this ancient art remains an important part of everyday life.”

“Handed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter, the making of Mt Pleasant baskets has always been a family art. Young boys and girls learn to make simple baskets which their mother or older sister ‘built onto’ creating larger and more difficult designs. Women sew baskets at home while taking care of children and performing other household tasks. Men usually do not make show baskets, but often travel great distances to gather sweet grass and palmetto leaf for the family. Today over 1,500 people are involved in some aspect of basket making. Artists cooperate with close kin to produce and market their baskets. competition is strong between large families who are known for differences in both design and construction techniques. There is a greater variety of baskets today than ever before.”

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“Mt Pleasant  baskets are of simple coil variety, and are made from natural materials indigenous to the Low country. They are made by first tying a knot in the center of a small bundle of sweet grass. The free ends of this bundle are folded together and wound around the knot to begin a coil. An opening is made in this center knot by piercing it with the”bone”, an awl-like instrument made from a metal spoon handle. A strip of palm leaf is drawn through this opening, wrapped around the grass coil and pulled back through another opening in the knot to anchor the coil. As this process is repeated, the coil begins to spiral out from the center knot, creating a circular or oval-shaped basket base. Basket walls can then be formed by changing the angle at which one row is fastened to another. In Mt Pleasant baskets, the palm stitch does not interlock with the stitches in previous rows of the coil. As a result, stitches appear to radiate out from the center knot in a straight line, much like the spokes of a wheel.”

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“Mt Pleasant baskets are usually decorated by including long needle “pine straw” in the coil at different intervals to form dark stripes. Bull rushes, originally found only in work baskets are often used today in show baskets to strengthen the coil and as a decorative element. Occasionally artists make show baskets entirely out of pine straw or rushes. Colored strings, yarn or other materials are sometimes used in basket construction to enhance design.”

“The recent development of large plantation tracts into housing and resort areas has made sweet grass and palmetto palm increasingly difficult to find. The Mt Pleasant Basket Makers depend upon open access to these indigenous natural materials if their art is to continue. Increased public interest is needed to insure the future of this Low Country tradition.”

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Quoted text above is from an article by Willa Koretz in the 5/22 – 6/4 2013  Lowcountry Weekly and a pamphlet entitled “Jery Bennett Taylor’s Coil Baskets”. These sources were provided by Jery Bennett Taylor at the time these images were captured.

‘Miss Jery’ ~ Expanded Image Gallery

12 Dec 2013

Hunting Island, SC ~ Dusk

The South Carolina Low Country

Beyond Beaufort are the Sea Islands

St Helena Island & Hunting Island

Dusk, Sunset if you like, over the Tidal Salt Marsh of Hunting Island

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11 Dec 2013

Bombay Hook Sunrise

Bombay Hook NWR

Salt marsh sunrise with David Muse

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… a passing moment.

9 Dec 2013

Bombay Hook NWR – Delaware

Bombay Hook NWR

Love that expansive tidal salt marsh; the Snow Geese and Canadian Geese in glorious cacophony before they lift off en mass for the day.

The gray overcast weather has followed me to the coast. No sun rise or morning light Thursday when I get up early specifically for the morning light.

Amidst intense fog warnings one could hear the Snow Geese and Canandian Geese lift off and fly over head but they went sight unseen. Weird sensation to hear their overwhelming number just overhead but not be able to see a one.

Bombay Hook is and has been one of my favorites and Wildlife South does it justice.

A few offerings from a couple of grey lightless but not lifeless days.

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Striving for that moment when the bill strikes the water while realizing that there are triumphant moments well after that as well.

Capturing bird and bird behavior with an eye to background and composition.

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Days and daylight spent hunting and feeding.

I feel blessed to be allowed to capture these moments.

Bombay Hook NWR – Delaware

6 Dec 2013

The Bald Eagles of Conowingo Dam

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehana River in Maryland before it becomes the Cheasapeake Bay.

When the dam is generating power lots of fish sucked through the generators provide relatively easy feeding for lots of birds.

There is a big expanse of river below the dam and one has to be patient while waiting for action to happen within range or for a fly-over to occur.

Over-cast chill and dampish the morning  of these images.

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Conowingo Dam ~ Wildlife South

Wildlife South – A Nature and Travel Magazine

Next stops: Bombay Hook and Prime Hook NWRs on the coast of Delaware Bay.

One knows when you have crossed the Mason-Dixon Line by the appearance of roadside Waffle Houses, never seen one beyond the Mason-Dixon Line.

Route 13 running south through Delaware has become one continuous strip mall down to well below Dover. It was always more developed once you hit Dover going north but almost 40 years has made a huge difference.Interesting mix of peoples, interesting mix of old and new and in-between establishments. Below Dover, long about Felton and Harrington the open spaces and farmland start to stretch out some.

We left Delaware long ago because the flat land hurt our eyes.

😉

3 Dec 2013