The sound of crows sometimes takes me back in time to Russell County Virginia, 1950. A young boy is awakened by his mother well before dawn. Sleepiness soon gets pushed aside by his growing excitement. His uncle has come to take him squirrel hunting for the first time.
The pick-up bounces along dirt roads and stops across from a line of high ridges. The boy’s uncle reaches behind the seat and pulls out a rifle case. He unzips it and slides out the bolt-action 22. The smell of 3-in-1 Oil fills the truck.
They walk in silence to a stand of trees below the ridge. His uncle has been here before and crouches behind a rock outcrop. They wait. Dawn is still an hour away and night seems to suffocate any desire to speak.
The boy wonders why they’ve come so early. The whole woods are asleep and he wishes he were too. Above them the blackness begins to fade. The contour of trees becomes visible against a graying sky.
His uncle raises a finger to his lips and points up the ridge. He lifts the 22 and releases the safety. The boy squints into the hazy light but sees nothing. He feels a rush of excitement as his uncle takes aim at a large oak.
The crack of the 22 shatters the morning stillness. Its echo ricochets through the forest. The boy shudders. The smell of spent gunpowder fills the air. His uncle walks up the hill to the tree and reaches down.
He returns, holding a dead squirrel for the boy to see. This is not what he expected. He feels no joy in looking at the lifeless animal. What started as an adventure leaves him sad and confused.
They walk back down the hill to the truck. Dawn now gives detail to the forest, creek and bottom land. Their ancient beauty seems lost on the boy. Later, he will remember only one thing; calling down from the forest behind him, the sound of crows.
When I was nine or ten, my father gave me a Daisy Model 25 Pump-Action BB Gun for Christmas. I thought it was probably the best gift in the world a kid could get. With it came dad’s hand written note – “Aim high at the target of life.”
Although I was not sure what the message meant, I wasted no time taking aim at other things. In the woods across from our house, this pint-sized Gene Autry blasted tin cans, bottles, pine cones and tree branches. No bad guy could ever escape my Daisy sure-shot.
Spring brought more opportunities to go exploring and now I always took along my trusty gun. On the far side of the woods stood an overgrown and abandoned orange grove. Most of the trees had withered away, but here and there were a few still-hanging oranges. They made perfect targets.
After blasting the oranges to pulp, I noticed a covey of quail pecking for food under some trees. The odd little birds were far away and I wondered if the gun could even shoot that distance. Raising it up, I took aim at the nearest quail and fired.
I hit it and watched, horrified, as the poor creature jumped into the air, then fell back. The other birds flew away to the safety of the grove. Their wounded mate, still very much alive, could only scramble about, dragging its injured wing.
I thought if I could catch it, maybe the quail could be nursed back to health. Although hurt, the bird proved to be too fast for me. Not knowing what to do, I returned home and broke the news to my father. He stopped what he was doing and sat down by me on the couch.
“That quail is injured and will be unable to take care of itself. It will starve to death if something doesn’t get it first.”
“There is only one thing to do,” he added as I stared at the floor. “You have to go back and put it out of its misery.” I jumped up, wide-eyed and trembling. “No! I can’t do it!” I shouted and ran for the door. “It’s the only way!” my father called after me.
Miserable, I paced back and forth in the yard, occasionally glancing at the woods across the road. Maybe it could fly again and rejoined its friends. Maybe it was dead.
I knew I would have to go across and find out. It would be dark soon and impossible to see a hiding quail. Grabbing the stupid BB gun, I trudged across the road to the field, all the while praying that the quail would not be there.
A rustling in the grass put that prayer to rest. The quail was still alive and still able to run. I chased after it doing my best to pump, aim and shoot on the run. We ran clear across the field, the young hunter chasing the teacher. Gradually, the bird began to slow and I saw that some of my shots had hit home.
When I finally caught up to the wounded quail, it could only run in circles. Desperate now, I pumped BB after BB into its plump body. Yet, it would not die and continued thrashing about on the ground.
Dazed out of my senses, I understood the creature could only be killed with a shot in the head. But with my shots continually missing the mark, the only thing to do was somehow pin the bird down.There were no branches, no rocks, nothing. I would have to hold the quail still myself.
Approaching the bird, I diverted its attention with the barrel of the gun and quickly stepped on it with my shoe.The quail struggled mightily but could not get away. With tears streaming down my face, I shot it over and over until, at last, the quail stopped moving. Stepping away, I looked down at what was left, in death, an unremarkable pile of feathers.
I don’t remember much after that except when I got home, I put the gun in the closet and never used it again.
“What did you say?
Oh, you want breakfast. Why didn’t you say so, instead of pacing back and forth like that.
OK, you don’t have to get all pouty about it. I wish someone would wait on me like I wait on you. I’m really getting tired of it.
Yeah, I know you can’t cook. Every day you remind me of it. And another thing, could you please stop making those noises when you eat. It’s irritating.
Yes, I know about your condition. Just eat already, while I finish the laundry.
OK, once again I can’t hear you. I’m in the laundry room. What? Yes, I fluff dried your precious pillow. You know, the next time you decide to get sick, just maybe be near the toilet like everyone else. This stain is just not coming out.
No, I’m certainly not making light of your condition. I’m just saying….
Now wait a minute, what’s my mother got to do with this? Well, how could she know you’re allergic to tuna?
Why are you looking at me like that?
Oh, so now it’s the silent treatment. Look, I’ve just about had it with you. I’m getting out of here for a while.
All right, I thought that would get your attention. Where am I going? Where do I always go Tuesday afternoon? The grocery store of course.
Oh, don’t start on that again. I did not forget you last week or the week before. OK, smart aleck, here’s the grocery list. What’s the very first item? That’s right, Kibbles! I rest my case!"
I can’t understand you. You’re mumbling again.
“Beauty before me. Beauty behind me. Beauty above me. Beauty below me. Beauty to the left of me. Beauty to the right of me. Everywhere I walk, I am surrounded by beauty.” -Navaho wisdom-
Sixteen minutes from my front door lies a jewel of an island and a bit of Florida little changed since the Timucuan Native American people fished there. A sudden midday wanderlust took me across the Intracoastal Waterway to Honeymoon Island, one of many barrier islands coughed up by the restless comings and goings of the Gulf of Mexico.
My destination was out past the causeway restaurants and kayak rentals, beyond the beach with its gaggle of Canadians working on their tans. At the north end of the Island, I headed into the interior, a two-mile nature trail and home to an amazing assortment of critters.
There be Armadillos here and this trip I saw two of these prehistoric-looking beasties snuffling in the leaf litter for beetles and grubs. One even came out to have its picture taken.
Honeymoon Island might as well be named Osprey Island, for these big fish-hawks were everywhere – sitting nests too numerous to count, standing guard in nearby trees, or circling over the inlet, looking for lunch.
With my awkward point and shoot camera method, I was able to nab a few photos, but missed the highlight of the trip – a protective Osprey dive-bombing a Bald Eagle that flew too near its nest.
On the watery edge of Florida’s most densely populated county, I saw Swallow-tail Kites, White Ibis, Read-headed Woodpeckers, Brown Pelicans, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, Sea Gulls of course, and one lonely Gopher Tortoise.
I was not the love it was looking for, so I left.
inellas, the breakaway county formerly known as West Hillsborough, is 100 years old this year. In 1912, tired of being under-represented and marginalized by Hillsborough County’s government, located in Tampa, Pinellas residents successfully seceded from Hillsborough.
Compared to older cities like St. Augustine, Pinellas County
is still a young pretender. There are probably Live Oak trees somewhere around here that are older than the county.
Since there isn’t a whole lot of history associated with the county, you would think every effort would be made to hang on to our treasures from the past. That, sadly, doesn’t seem to be the case.
Two of those treasures, the Belleview-Biltmore Hotel
and the Fenway Hotel
, popped up again in separate stories in the Tampa Bay Times
. Developers, local governments, and citizens have been dithering for years over the fate of these two historic buildings.
The Belleview-Biltmore in Belleair was built by railroad tycoon Henry Plant
in 1897 as a lure to get more folks to ride in his trains. Hugely popular to a newly mobile middle class, the resort offered golf, tennis, fishing and sailing in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. The 850,000 square foot building is said to be the largest all wood structure in the world.
The Fenway Hotel in Dunedin was constructed in 1925, during Florida’s first economic boom. The Mediterranean Revival architectural gem has had its share of famous guests, including Clarence Darrow, Carl Sandburg, and Babe Ruth. Since closing as a hotel, the Fenway has been a bible college and later an international business school. The building, across from the Intracoastal Waterway, now stands empty.
At this point, it seems unlikely that either hotel will survive in their present forms. There does not appear to be enough money, power, or interest to pull it off. A sense of sadness becomes all the more so when one realizes that Tampa Bay is home to more millionaires than other areas of the state. Perhaps what we need are more billionaires.
Money, of course, is not the sole answer to the hotels’ survival. There is also the shared commitment of all interested parties and a few people of vision with enough persuasive power and determination to make it happen.
In the past, Pinellas County was home to the International Golfing Association (IGA), the nascent Florida Aquarium, and more recently, Florida Gulf Coast Museum of Art, Wikipedia, and the Pinellas County Arts Council.
All either no longer exist or have moved on to greener pastures.
The “bush leagues” is a baseball term, but it is an appropriate name when considering the overall quality of life of an area.
Historic preservation is certainly an important component in any quality of life assessment. To some, the fate of the Belleview-Biltmore and Fenway Hotels will determine if Pinellas County finally rises out of the bush leagues.
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