Monday, February 14, 2005

Log Book: Cabbage Key, Florida USA

Cabbage Key, Florida - February 2005 I'm Pretty Sure It's Not Poison Ivy

DAY 1 & 2
The whole point of Cabbage Key was to study Botany and do nothing. That’s what we did for seven days. Cabbage Key is directly across from marker 60 on the Florida Intercoastal Waterway. That’s due west form Pine Island, Florida, USA. . Sanibel and Captiva islands are 8 miles to the south. The high point of this morning so far was watching Chip the dockmaster at Cabbage Key replace the Channel Mark signs stolen away by hurricane Charley. This high point however was soon replaced by our sighting a lone dolphin scoot by the dock.

We debated if reading "A Farewell to Arms" by Ernest Hemingway is considered doing nothing. But we decided reading was an activity, especially when it’s Hemingway, so we went back to watching the dolphins and the Osprey. My student was learning that it was very difficult to do nothing.

Our “school days” on Cabbage key begin on our dock reading. Along with studying Botany, we’re finishing "A Farewell to Arms" and “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder. When you travel to an Island that you can only get to by boat you choose your school materials carefully. We thought Botany, Philosophy and Hemingway made an interesting accompaniment to learning the art of doing nothing.

At Cabbage Key we leased the Tarpon Research station. The original buildings on Cabbage Key were built in 1929, by Alan Rinehart and Grace Houghton Rinehart as their winter estate. The Rineharts financed the research lab in 1940. It’s a rustic place and a good place to study Botany. Even though it was clear the effect of hurricane Charley remained, the island was managing to recover. Our study of Botany involves photographing and identifying 40 vascular and 5 non-vascular plants. Cabbage Key is a great place to do just that. So was a neighboring island Cayo Costa.

Cayo Costa is a Florida State park where you can find and abundance of wild life and plant life. We saw osprey, sharks and sea urchins. We also photographed many different plant species. Cayo Costa is another island you can only access by boat but it is well worth the effort. There are secret lagoons, miles of unspoiled beach and acres of wild Florida. This place allows you to imagine what Native Floridians lived like. You can camp at Cayo Costa and there are primitive cabins you can rent, but we chose to stay at cabbage Key.

There are some very good nature trails at Cabbage Key, there is also something very good at the restaurant here. Magically, between the hours of 11 & 2 PM hoards of boats bringing people for lunch ascend on this island. We ate dinner up at the main building but then there is no parade for dinner, so one of these days we’ll meander over there at lunch, but today we’re content watching the boats come and in enjoying our studies on the dock.

They say Jimmy Buffett wrote his song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” at Cabbage Key. There’s a nice photo of him in the bar here. In fact the the bar and the entire main building walls are lines with dollar bills stapled and taped up. There are thousands of them and Mr. Buffet's is framed along with his photo. Today is the day we’re going to go for Cheeseburgers. In fact, that’s the big plan for today, but we’ll see. It is cloudy today, so we don’t expect the parade of boats. At dawn there was a parade of birds at our boatdock however. It might indicate the front they predicted is really going to arrive. Each day I watch the osprey dive for fish at around 4 PM. Today is the first day they’ve been at it this early.

Taking the learning on the road is one of the great things about homeschooing. It can be done rather inexpensively if you choose do it that way, or you can spend a royal fortune; fun, but not really necessary. There isn‘t a tuition paid anywhere that can bring your student what they can learn traveling. We generally travel to a place for a specific reason. In the case of Cabbage Key we wanted to study plants. We took the books: Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel, Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida by Richard P. Wunderlin, Bruce Hansen, Bruce F. Hansen, Florida Wild Flowers and Roadside Plants by Ritchie C. Bell, Bryan J. Taylor and several rolls of film to photograph plant life so we could assemble a presentation of our study and identify the plants later at home. We always come away from a place with more experience and knowledge than we expect. For example, on this trip my student learned how to navigate a small water craft through oyster beds and mangrove keys.

My student also learned how to “almost catch” a fish as big as himself - or so it looked. Fishing is a big deal here. Many people have large fishing poles on their boats and we can see boats sitting for hours in shallow water fishing. I always imagine what it is like for the fish. It would be like if my cup of coffee here was the bait and when I drank it I would be ripped out of this chair from the face of existence as I know it. Wow.

Today I am going to have another cheeseburger. The main activity yesterday was to find out what the attraction was at the main building at lunchtime, and now I know, it was the burgers. Boy were they good. The other big thing scheduled for today is to talk to the captain who will be taking us back to the mainland. The big decision is to go on Saturday morning or on Sunday morning. The front they predicted arrived, there’s no rain but there are tremendous winds. The temperature dropped from the high 70’s to the mid 50’s, so it’s difficult to do nothing on the dock today. Even a hike on the island’s trails would be difficult because the sand is blowing. We met a man yesterday on the dock that was going camping at Cayo Costa. I thought about him this morning as I made my coffee in semi warmth. He didn’t have a sleeping bag, so I imagine he was pretty chilly. Today is also the first day I had trouble getting my student to do his reading. I suppose everyone who chooses to home school hits difficult days. I think back to the days when I was in a classroom and remember how I longed to be anywhere else but in that classroom and I look at my student being stubborn about reading this morning in this beautiful place. I wonder how many other homeschooling moms play with the idea of sending their students to a school just so they understand how the many of their peers are being educated.