By now, most of you probably suspect that I haven’t been writing my columns for the News-Leader since 2005 for the sake of the income it brings in, which is minor. I have been keeping up with this project for all these years with a sense of community service – sharing a love of nature with local residents, with a bit of conservation thrown into the mix as well. But maybe you all don’t realize how rewarding this project is for me.
Almost every day, I get some reader feedback through emails, voicemails, and personal encounters. Lots of folks ask me questions about what they find in their backyards, on the beach, wherever, and I do my best to respond. Often my response gives people some information along with key words and animal and plant names they can then google themselves to find out more. Often, these same people write to me again, excitedly sharing their findings. Great!
I know that I am well out of my element when it comes to plant and insect identification, diseases, growing tips and the like, so when readers wonder how to deal with things like yellowing sago palms and non-blooming wisteria vines, or identify native plants, I have always referred them to Rebecca Jordi, the UF/IFAS Nassau County Extension director, for environmental horticulture. Becky is an expert who has always been right on the spot with answers.
When it comes to invasive plants or Greenway issues, then Kathy Russell is up at bat with well-grounded information. Various other issues beyond me I refer to colleagues at the University of Florida Museum of Natural History and they are always helpful too. Whenever a reply comes back from these experts, I learn something myself. Another joy.
I hear from all kinds of people and often get potential columns from some of these emails. A week ago or so, for instance, Drew Scott, owner of Scott & Sons Fine Jewelry, contacted me about the large vegetable garden he and his friends have planted behind Sonya’s Tire & Automotive Center on South 14th Street. This email led to a fun garden visit where Drew showed off his efforts to my friend, Bonnie, and me.
This week, I received positive feedback from a column I wrote on Tarpon Springs from someone who once lived there. When I researched the voicemail sender, Nellie Tiliakos (who didn’t leave her phone number), I learned that Nellie and her sister, Magdaline Peronis, lived in Tarpon Springs in the 1940s and moved here with their husbands, the Tiliakos brothers, who built shrimp boats in Fernandina. So wonderful to know about you, Nellie!
And, it was just back in March when Phil Scanlan responded to my column on the Amelia River-to-Sea Trail with lots of further information about the origin of this trail which he was instrumental in initiating and seeing through to completion. Over the years, Phil has also been a conservation ally in a number of matters. Sadly, Phil is with us no longer, but his legacy remains.
My recent column about Deni Karpowich’s foxes also yielded rewards.
Tom Pippin, another resident in the neighborhood, told me about the fox family in his own yard that had a den in a drainage pipe on his property, then moved out when the rains came. His fox family was much younger, also with five baby foxes, and we are sure it is the same family. What fun for us all!
Some people enjoy my cat stories and share their own with me. Others follow my columns to find out new places in Florida to explore, and I often hear back from them after their own experiences there. One longtime reader, Kurt Kabelac, lives in upstate New York, but still reads the News-Leader regularly. He sent me milkweed seeds to plant in my garden as well as interesting news clips over the years. Thanks, Kurt!
One of the most rewarding columns for me, to date, though, is the one I wrote about the non-native kalanchoe plants that are invading our dunes. Shortly thereafter, a group of volunteers from American Beach and beyond set to work removing some of these plants from this area. More recently, Ron Lipham, who lives along Ocean Avenue, discovered this column and has set to work clearing his own two lots and advising other neighbors to do so too. Wonderful!
So, these are the types of “kickbacks” I get from my columns and the more, the better. Dear readers, keep those emails coming!
Pat Foster-Turley is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations.