Thursday, March 29, 2012

Port Charlotte Homeschooling Science Fair

I heard about a science fair at the Port Charlotte Library organized by the Suncoast Home- schoolers. I thought that I had never participated in an actual science fair and that I would like to teach others about my fun experiences, so I decided to give it a try. I made a poster about the Calusa Indians who used to live in this area. Many people think that the Seminoles originally lived in this area, but they were actually pushed down from the north by the Americans. Anyway, I learned a lot while making this poster which examined everything about the Calusa's daily life from their tools to their art.

Part of my project was to make some reproductions of Calusa artifacts. I made a whelk shell hammer/axe which was a day to day tool of the Calusa. When it was worn out and chipped down from use, they would repurpose this tool as a drill. The whelk shell is unusual because it spirals in the opposite direction of other sea shells. Whelk was also used in spiritual ceremonies where a shell would be made into a drinking vessel for a special tea made from the Yaupon Holly which was very high in caffeine. Afterwards, the Calusa would punch a hole in the ceremonial vessel so that it would never be used again. They also used whelk horns for making loud sounds. Whelk vessels were also used for washing, storage, water collecting and soup drinking. There are probably many more used for the whelk than we know about, but these are a just couple of uses that are known to archaeologists.

I found a photograph of a beautiful pottery bowl while reading a book about Calusa artifacts. So I thought that I could make one just like theirs out of ceramic. I decided that a raku clay firing was the best technique possible. I doubt they had metal trash cans like the one that we used for the fire. I actually think the Calusa used open fire pits instead of kilns. My friends at The Open Studio helped me with my pottery work. I also made a shark’s tooth drill out of a fossilized sharks tooth, but the Calusa would have used a fresh tooth since it would be much less brittle. I made a Sabal palm fiber cord to secure the tooth in place. At science fair, I passed around all these objects for show and tell. I finished my presentation by giving the audience a lecture and it was a lot of fun! I also had a lot of fun looking at the others kids work as well. That’s it for now from the Nudibranch Network.

PS: Nudibranchs are beautiful marine molluscs that are related to land slugs, octopi and oysters. Await futher blogging on this subject….

A Day in the Life of the Calusa

By Sophie Barimo


I have always been interested in archeology and history especially the people who lived before the Europeans came to the Americas. I wanted to know what it would be like to help dig on at an archeological site. I volunteered to the University of Florida dig on Pine Island in Lee County and learned a lot about the Calusa People.


We took scoops of unsifted dirt and poured them onto the sifting table. Since the sifters had a mesh bottom, all the dirt fell out leaving chunks of cracked shells, pottery shards, bones and many other Calusa artifacts. When we shook the tables, a mushroom cloud of dust rose into the air and made everybody run away or get dusted out.

• PROJECTILE POINTS: Stingray spines, horseshoe crab tails, catfish spines, shark teeth, deer anther, bone point and chert
• FISH NETS: sabal palm leaf cord, with arc shell weights and cypress sap wood floats
• FISH TRAPS: sabal palm root
• FISH HOOKS: bone
• HAMMERS, DIPPERS, AND AWLS: lighting whelk
• CELT AND ADZ: lightning whelk and queen conch
• ROPE AND WEAVING: sabal palm, century plant, mulberry, Spanish moss, cypress bark, green corn husk, bear grass
• CANOES: yellow pine and cypress tree trunks

• Paint made from strangler fig latex mixed with crushed shells (white), charcoal (black), clay for yellow and brown, and marlberry made purple or blue depending on the pH
• Carved on shell
• Clay pipes, figurines, and decorative and ceremonial pottery
• Jewelry made from olive shells, clay beads and shark teeth
• Cooper, gold and silver ceremonial ornaments

• FOUND IN CALUSA MIDDEN PILES (LANDFILL): Fish (drum, mullet and catfish other fish), crab claws, clams, mussels, conch, whelk, loggerhead turtle, ducks, land animals, squash, pumpkin, charred corn cobs, carbonized seeds, acorns and hickory nuts, coontie and cattail roots for starch, papaya, wild grapes, pine nuts, sea grape, prickly pear, sabal palm and palmetto palm hearts and berries.
• KITCHEN TOOLS: Mortar and pestle (wood), whelk ladles, and pottery vessels, pottery trays and pottery cooking pots


Dr. Karen Walker and the staff of the Randell Research Center. Pat and David Townsend of the Randell who were very nice and trained me at the dig. My Dad, Dr. John Barimo and my Mom, Susan Barimo who helped me a lot. Thanks to Steve Schoff and Elizabeth G. for the photographs. And to Robin Brown who wrote the book Florida’s First People. Finally, thank you Suncoast Homeschoolers for organizing this event.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Sail to Bimini

We have some friends named Jessica, Adam and Tallulah that we met in St. Thomas. They have lived on sail boats for a long time. Their daughter Tallulah is my friend and she is 4 years old. She has a lovey dovey cat named Velvet that lives on the boat with them. They are unbelievably nice people and fun to hang out with. We recently visited them a couple of times in St Petersburg, Florida before they bought their new boat. A couple months after they moved into their new boat named Callisto after a Greek myth telling their story about the Big Dipper. One Day they emailed us and invited us for a sail to Bimini. At first we did not know if the weather was going to cooperate but the more time we waited, the more certain it looked that we could sail.

Guess what? It finally happened, the weather cooperated! My Dad and I drove to Coconut Grove to meet them. I was so excited. It felt like 5 hours to drive there, but my Dad said it was only 3. We used to live in Coconut Grove just blocks away from where Callisto was moored. I soon learned how to live on a sailboat and which doorways to avoid so I wouldn’t hit my head on the solid teak door frames. Callisto is a 38 foot Hans Christen wooden mono hull. It is a well well laid out sailboat with a sailing dingy with oars and oar locks. She has two berths and a galley/kitchen/dining room/living room. I did not feel in the least bit claustrophobic. But any boat can shrink awfully quickly if you make a mess, so you needed to neaten your messes up right away. The sailboat was like a very large rocking ocean camper that can take you pretty much anywhere as long as the water is deep enough, or you have big trailer to haul it. The last thing to do before we got ready to go was provisioning, provisioning and more provisioning. This meant buying everything including solar panels , propane gas , fishing supplies , an overflowing cart of food and much much more. Once provisioning was finished, we had dinner, rowed back the boat, motored to Key Biscayne. I was so tired that I fell asleep while trolling, at least I did not let go of the fishing pole. As Jessica put it, we jammed about two weeks of work into 2 days.

The next morning, we sailed to Bimini after a breakfast of bagels from our favorite bagel shop in Coconut Grove. After a bit of cleaning on deck, Jessica lashed down all the cooking gear in the galley since we were expecting a fairly rocky ride. Thankfully we only had 2 to 3 foot waves. We left Florida behind but it was evening before we no longer saw the big buildings of Miami’s downtown. On our ride over, we fished unsuccessfully. It was not lucky for us but I imagine the fish were a lot happier. We did see some interesting birds though. There were many laughing gulls, cormorants, pelicans and a frigate bird near shore. Once in the Gulfstream we started seeing more pelagic birds like a Gloccus Wing Gull and a rare Parasitic Jaeger. We knew we were in the Gulfstream when the water went from light blue to a deep and very beautiful royal blue. My Dad presented a lecture on Oceans Currents and Coriollus Effect for Tallulah and me. In the middle of the Gulfstream, we launched a message in a decorated canning jar drift bottle. We are hoping it will reach Europe because of the Gulfstream and the North Atlantic Gyre’s strong current patterns. In total, the passage to the Bahamas took 12 hours and it was dark by the time we got to Bimini.

The next day we had to clear customs and we did all the things you have to do when you go into a new country. This usually includes a lot of waiting. We had to wait by a stinky power station and when the wind shifted in our direction, it was called “go inside the cabin”. While we waiting, I did catch a 14 inch bar jack on a lure but we let it go because they can have ciguatera toxins that can make you really sick if you eat them. That evening we launched a Japanese lantern that we had brought along. A Japanese lantern is pretty much a paper bag with a candle in the bottom that floats up, up and away when it the air inside is heated up and becomes lighter. It is sort of like a mini hot air balloon. It almost crashed into the water but luckily caught an updraft and floated away. It was such a bright yellow that it looked like a sun in the evening sky. We watched it as it drifted away into the evening sky.

On the second day, we went to Gunn Caye which is south of Bimini. Gunn Caye is a beautiful natural island with white sandy beaches and the ruins of an abandoned building. We anchored the boat in between two islands where the water was a remarkable shade of blue but could not rival the color of the Gulfstream. We rowed ashore and we played on the sandy beaches. I found the biggest patch of sailor’s salad (beach purselane) ever. I laid down in the middle of that patch and immediately started munching away. Sailor’s salad used to be eaten by the sailor’s because it apparently helped prevent scurvy and this

succulent plant is very common on the beaches of Florida and the Caribbean. I then went snorkeling with my Dad. At first, all we saw were empty conch shells. Unfortunately all the conch in that areas and been gunned down by overharvesting. You could tell they were harvest by people because the shells were cracked on top. However, there were two large sting rays that came over and checked us out while we were sitting in the water. They must have expected food because they were very curious and not aggressive, and were bumping up against us. I then went off and collected some little land hermit crabs for Tallulah to play with. She had had a bad experience with hermit crabs in Mexico but she soon got over her fear of the pinching claws and she had a lot of fun making crab houses in the sand. Then my Dad came up with a really gargantuan hermit crab and showed it off. It must have been the size of my arm. It had the sort of claws that said don’t put your fingers here or you might lose it or get a nasty scar. The sun began to set, so we rowed back to Callisto for the night. I tried to sleep on the deck that night but woke up all wet from the rain.

On our last day in Bimini, Adam and Jessica rowed us up to the Bimini marina with all of our luggage. The dingy was pretty low in the water from all the weight but we made it. After we had really good fish and chips for lunch, we took a taxi to the airport and a couple of hours later we flew on a little buzzy plane to Ft Lauderdale. As we flew back, I marveled at how the 12 hour sailing trip was covered by airplane in less than a half hour and I thought about my trip. I had been on a sailboat trip before, but I had never been out of the sight of land or on an overnight trip before. I didn’t think it was scary or anything, I just had a good time. I thought about how I’d love to live on a sailboat.

Then the plane landed with a bump and the adventure was almost over We did not go directly through a terminal building, but got out of the plane down a pair of metal steps on wheels. A friend of our named Allan came and picked up. We stayed the night at their house, and the next day we drove back to Englewood. I was so happy to see my Mom and hopefully she will come on our next sailing trip. So that was our Bimini sailing adventure. See you next time on the Nudibranch Network.