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Amelia SanJon Gallery
Sandra Baker-Hinton
218A Ash Street., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034
904-491-8040,  904-557-1195 cell

It seems like it has been forever since I have touched base with my friends.  We made it through the hectic long days of being a merchant during the Christmas Season.  The T-Shirt sales make a big difference in our making ends meet even though it is a really stressful thing to do, trying to keep it all straight with sizes, styles, and quantities.  I only have one order which has not been picked up and paid for. We appreciate each and every one of you who bought anything from our gallery anytime, throughout the year, as it all adds up.   I miss the times when my Christmas's were spent on the other side of the counter and the only deadlines were getting the Christmas Cookies made.

Since January and February are some of the slowest times at the shop and I would have time to recoup from the surgery before Sea Turtle Season. I went ahead and scheduled the other knee replacement a bit earlier than what I did last time.  I expressed my concerns with the coming changes in insurance coverage to my surgeon and he confirmed that my logic was sound...that any more cuts in his fees, and he would have to discontinue working on Medicare patients.  Medical staff also need to make a profit as they are business people and not missionaries.  We scheduled the surgery for January 19th.  

I set about trying to get as much done in the gallery, paintings, framing, writing checks, etc. as much as I could in the days before the surgery.  For some reason right after Christmas I called the Orthopedic Clinic to check to see if everything was on schedule since I had a lot coming up, including a gallery show of my own up on St. Simon's Island.   Well, well, well--what a surprise!! I was told my surgeon would be leaving the practice, which he had founded and carried his name, at the end of December, to open a smaller practice on his own.  On top of that he was taking January off to have his own knee replacement.  But I could still have him be my surgeon if I desired, which I did.

I was rescheduled for February 3, assured there would be no problem with my insurance.  I was scheduled for Pre-surgery day with the Doc and hospital of Jan. 19, so all was cool.  I called the surgeon's office the morning of the pre-surgery appointment to make sure all insurance issues were resolved and was told it was A-OK, that my name was on the list, so come ahead.  After I did X-Rays, etc. that was in my Doctor's office and was checking out to go to do the Hospital part, surprise, surprise, I had not been cleared by my insurance after all.  To make a long story short I was not approved until Thursday before Feb 3rd, a Tuesday.  I was afraid it was going be a heart attack which sent me to the hospital instead of knee surgery.

The surgery did take place on schedule but it opened my eyes as to what is going on in the world of medicine.  Doctors have no power, insurance companies have no power but the "management groups" that have have been created to oversee it all...middle men...are these godlike middle management companies who control all the decisions.

 So now it is over, the surgery is behind me, I am truly doing great from the first day.  Much better and easier than the other one.  The hospital staff thought I was super woman I did so well the day after the surgery.  Of course I popped a stitch in doing so.  I finished with the therapist after two weeks this time instead of last time which at 4 weeks I was pushing it to be released. I have continued to be ahead of the curve, but it still bears on my patience.  I had in my mind all this creative work I would do at home and found I could not even type a readable sentence when I got home.  I am thankful to be past the worst of it, and am anxious to get back to feeling like my old self only better. I continue to do all the therapy myself every day with no skipping.  My insurance would have paid for 2 more weeks of outpatient therapy but I would have had to pay out of pocket an additional $60 a week, which I felt could be better spent in other directions.  With my progress the therapist and I felt I could finish on my own with the "Y" membership my insurance provides.  

As Spock said so often, now to just "live long and prosper".

Back in the Fall during the time I was about to start putting the Squirrel Girl Trio outside to adjust to the other squirrels and their new world, I put out a request on a NE Florida Farm group for someone who could loan me a cage.  A lady named Patricia offered me the loan of hers.. The trip to borrow the cage proved to be a very fun experience as Leigh Murphy, friend, fellow artist, animal/plant/antique motor vehicle lover accompanied me.  Her main reason was to get some photographs of the animals, especially the horses.  Leigh has been entering some Western art competitions and besides winning prize money she has sold many of the paintings.

Collecting painting subject matter is why all painters can also be considered photographers.  We are also the worst when it comes to deleting worthless photographs because we don't always need the best images, just the composition or colors may be the only reference we need to paint a subject.  The cage I was going to borrow was previously a squirrel but also a rabbit cage.  Some of her really cute rabbits were running free, guess they were escapees.  There were other pretty ones some with pink eyes some with blue...

some so fluffy and cute the Easter Bunny would be proud to call these his/her own.  Leigh also knew Patricia since she had taken in Leigh's blind rooster who needed a home that was not in the city.  Told you Leigh was an animal lover.  

Patricia had quite a collection of critters on her mini farm on the West side of Jacksonville.  There were setting hens producing more chicks, and young piglets in cages and who knows what else.  She had also raised some orphaned squirrels for release in the cage I was borrowing.  The sale of her overstock of animals helps Patricia maintain her happy menagerie and her agreement with her husband.  As long as she figured out a way for them to pay for themselves she would get no objections from him.  

Now this big Pot Bellied Pig is one of the more ugly faces on the place and one only a mother or Patricia and Leigh could love.

There were two adults in this pen and I assume the parents of the younger ones in another pen.

Nothing prettier than sunshine on white ducks.

All the fowl, -chickens, guineas and turkeys, -seem to tolerate and like each other's company.  She had young turkeys which she said would be ready for Thanksgiving, so like most farm people, a real farmer will sell some of what they raise to enable them to sustain their livelihood or resources to maintain their menagerie.

If you didn't think a horse can pucker with delight, then this photo should prove to you wrong.  This is the funniest horse picture I think I have ever taken.  The horse is so happy because it is getting its tummy sprayed by the water hose that Patricia is holding.

Patricia had a long whip she would crack and the horses would take off running and playing in the big dirt pile in the middle.  They loved rolling in the dirt and running around the big pasture.

Between the menageries I did get to catch, despite a few raindrops on my lens, a double rainbow over the beach and water.
The first animal menagerie was a small one of more domestic and animals common to our area.  Some purebreds some not.  A short time later a very special invitation came my way and I jumped at the chance, after 12 years here, to finally get to see this special place for myself.

An old friend popped by the gallery and invited Bruce and me to go on a very special tour with him and his wife.  It was an invitation I did not hesitate to accept even though Bruce had no idea what to expect.  White Oak Plantation is a very special place, known to all who live here, but where not that many have been in to see.  The main reason is it costs $100 per person to go in and is usually connected with some kind of charity event.  I wanted to see it but never felt I could afford to do it.  It is a very special place with a very special reason for being, at least in today's time.

 It is a study, breeding, rehabbing, facility for injured animals who are endangered, but also many other functions.  They recently rehabbed a Florida Panther, which later reproduced.  Dama Gazelle is the name of this beautiful species and they are critically endangered.  They are from an area of the Sahara Desert and live in a fragile habitat.  Over-hunting is a factor in a poor third world environment, and it has added to the seriousness of the situation.  The Plantation has had 270 births up until now to add to the endangered population and have become experts in their care.  The morning we were there, a worker was watching them for droppings so they could test and study it.  So you gotta be pretty serious when you go to such extremes to know about an animal.

There are around 200 animals as part of the program and so many different species that I won't try to tell you what they are.  They are not your normal animals to see in every zoo.  Some of these animals are so rare that you may have only seen them in photographs.  It is an amazing program which works with various zoos, universities and other organizations dedicated to trying to ensure that these rare animals from around the world will survive through breeding, artificial insemination, frozen fertilized eggs, and all kinds of research programs directed toward learning about these animals and how to keep them healthy and reproducing.

These were some of my favorites.  They are called Giant Elands.  There are both Eastern and Western ones with one more endangered than the other.  The beauty of these guys is that they have so many pretty features from a great robust body and beautifully shaped horns, even smaller ones have horns and especially have the prominent white stripes that looks like they walked underneath the eave of the house when someone had just spilled paint that is dripping down, their colors are very velvety looking and they are pretty docile to boot.  Who would think that such rare and wonderful creatures are tucked away on 7400 acres in the backwoods of our own Nassau County.

Yeah, he's got my back!

But here were also some of my other favorites, and success within the breeding programs, Cheetahs, the fastest running mammals in the world.  This mother was caring for 4 kittens, three of her own and one adopted from another mother, who only had one.  It seems they do better in a litter of several than a single kitten so the decision was made to put them all with one mother.  I can't remember exactly why they combined them, but I think the Mom who only had one was either not taking very good care of it or else they wanted to let her be available for the breeding program sooner when another mom could handle all the kids.

The adult males, not these cute little ones, had been out that morning showing off their running skills for the new owner.  There is a lot of history to this former Rice Plantation; it was once owned by Zephaniah Kingsley who also owned Kingsley Plantation down on Fort George Island.  After the Civil War it ceased to be a Rice Plantation, due to the difficulty level and labor intensiveness of the crop to grow.  You can still see where the paddies were located.  It had other owners through the years but was then bought by Howard Gilman, owner of Gilman Paper Company.

These Cheetahs, which had been out showing off their running skills earlier that morning for the owners, were much more trustworthy for the humans who work with them, to have personal contact with.  They have a much milder temperament than the fellow below.

This cat is totally different in attitude, and none of the humans would ever trust being on the same side of the wire fence with this beauty.  You might ask Sigfried and Roy how unpredictable these cats can be.  This Tiger was actually a retirement resident and not part of any of their breeding or study animals.  This cat is not kept in this cage but is brought inside for feeding and also to be put in a separate smaller section, which will allow the workers to give treatment and still be safe.  The gal is putting a ball of meat on the end of a long stick to give to the Tiger.  No hand feeding with these guys.

Right after this placid moment, the tiger hit the screen so suddenly and with such force that a dozen folks nearly jumped out of their skin.  I'd have three padlocked chains on that gate.

Credit for these animal studies, the vast collection of artifacts, art and performance venues that are contained in this place, is due to varied interests of the previous owner, Howard Gilman who had wonderful collections of artifacts and art, and a place for the great ballet performance arts to be studied and perfected.  This building is one of the most visited parts of the architectural building part of the Plantation.  It was built as a dance studio for the Baryshnikov Dance Group.  Inside this building is contained one of the most amazing eclectic collections of "stuff" I have ever seen.

I don't remember the story on this big Polar Bear but in an adjoining room. which contained a lovely old Bar, the room was surrounded by taxidermist preserved animal heads, all of which had died through natural causes, former residents of the Plantation.  It was a collection of a person who had a wide interest in everything..certainly not from a person who's only collected china dolls.  There was a vast collection of autographed posters from the Ballet world of Baryshnikov, for whom this place was created, to enable the dance troop a quiet uninterrupted place where the ballets could be put together and perfected before performances. It had every convenience for the dancers.

I do not know the history of the beautiful wood carving which became part of the architecture, but it shows the idea of the varied kinds of things one would find in this building.

As well as a golf course, tennis courts, swimming pools there was also a couple of well equipped bowling lanes in a perfectly decorated Art Deco room.  

If you are an art Deco fan, as I am, you can appreciate the beauty and simple lines of the suitably Art Deco style chandelier in the bowling alley space.  I was told by a friend who was allowed to spend a weekend there that no matter what they wanted at any hour, if it was possible, they could have it.  If you wanted a massage at 3am, then just ask!

A perfectly restored working Wurlitzer Record player was always ready for playing.  The Caretaker of the place said when younger people stayed there they would always think it was broken because of the way it carefully selected and deposited the 45's on the record platter, since it was so different from the CD's they are used to.

A amazing collection of wonderful fossils such as this T-Rex head.

This was interesting especially with for this dual horned fossil identified as it is a Woolly Rhino and the White Rhino and some other species of Rhinos are part of their breeding program and I was able to hand feed these truly wild majestic creatures.  I was used to seeing them threatening to ram a Land Rover on some wild kingdom show and the thoughts of them being docile enough for me to hand feed was outside my thought box.  Some species have a prehensile mouth, much like a giraffe, and some of the other animals we saw.  This means they can use their mouth to pull or hold onto food with their mouth kind of like we use a hand.

It's not every entertainment Hall which has a Triceratops head and in addition to a Saber-toothed Tiger, which was beautifully black since it was found in a tar pit.  Bruce was able to snag a great photo of the Saber-toothed Tiger and perhaps he will let me show it here.


In the same room is a small delicate Bronze sculpture that just seemed to work in with this architectural detail over this fireplace.

Without the assistance of places like White Oak Plantation these modern day Rhinos will only be available to us in the form of photographs or possibilities millions of years later as a fossil, because they are being killed at a horrible rate of 1 every eight hours.  These are the one horned Indian Rhino Species.  Their skin looks like it is covered with plates of armor.  The Rhinos are being killed of course because of the horns, made out of a material similar to a fingernail, so sought after, especially in the Asian market, as a status symbol, or ground up and used as a medical additive, especially as an aphrodisiac.  The horns could be harvested, and the animal left to live, but that that is not what they do.

Here are the stars of the show, the newest residents of the Plantation...six White Rhino youngsters, brought here from South African private sanctuaries because of the danger they were in there from poachers.  They will join the larger herd as soon as they adjust to their new surroundings.  They have quickly learned that the van may mean special treats.  White Oak programs include the Indian, Black and White Rhinos.  The "White" part of the name is a misnomer possibly from a similar African word which means wide, as they have a wide head and a wide mouth--more suited for grass eating, unlike the Black Rhino which has a prehensile mouth like the Indian one for eating leaves off trees.

More photo bonus!

This bird, a flightless one, is called a Double Wattled Cassowary.  The most interesting thing about this bird besides it unusually bright coloring and its amazing speed (since it can't fly) and its hard head, is the fact that the male is the one who incubates the eggs and raises the chicks.  The Female just lays the eggs and moves on to the next Mate, and starts the process all over.  Talk about keeping those men out of the pool halls, that would be the trick.  The female may mate with 3 to 4 males in a year.

A lot of fun were the giraffes as our guides had brought lots of leafy branches as treats for us to feed them. 

By now the sun was getting pretty low and the strong sideways rays made for some interesting contrasts.  The trees are surrounded by a wire cages to protect them from the giraffes eating their bark and killing the tree.

I love the big dreamy eyes of the giraffes, each with his own unique set of brown splotches looking like some sort of map.

This lovely mother-in waiting is a Gerenerk or Giraffe Gazelle.  They are called a Giraffe because they can stand on their hind legs and reach with their long necks and prehensile mouth and eat leaves that other animals cannot reach.

These are the endangered Somali Wild Asses which, seems to have gotten its laundry mixed up with a Zebra and ended up with the missing Zebra's socks.  These Donkeys are believed to be the origin of our modern day Donkey.  

There were approximately 20 animal species and also endangered birds which because of time we only glimpsed on our fleeting drive through the grounds.  So many animals: the list includes Carnivores, Rhinos, Giraffe and Okapi, Antelope and Buffalo, Eguids, and Birds.

The day was passing quickly and this more domestic scene reminded me of Patricia's Mini Farm.  The horses have only recently been brought back to White Oak as Mr. Gilman and the Foundation had stopped having them some time back.  The new owners, Mark and Kimbra Walter, both which are longstanding conservationists, had planned on creating a place similar to White Oak.  About that time it was announced that White Oak Plantation was "For Sale".  It made a lot of sense for the Walters to buy White Oak and continue the work already in operation.  If you are a Baseball fan you may recognize the Walter's name as the owner of the L. A. Dodgers.  I used to be a huge fan of the team way back when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.  

As we left the grounds and crossed the St. Mary's river at the end of the day, I left with a good feeling that the new owners will be even more open to having people visit White Oak, especially using it as an educational tool for work with children, possibly having children's camps there in the near future. I am very relieved that someone bought it who shared the interests of the former owner, and the important work done there.
You can go to their website,, and see how you can too can visit this wonderful place.

Back home in our own backyard menagerie I find our girls happily exploring their new habitat.

They took to the out of doors like bees to honey, gradually expanding their area, exploring it all.

For a few weeks they would wander back inside to get a taste treat and even an occasional syringe of milk.  Then the time change happened, and I was no longer there when it was squirrel bedtime.  With less contact they quickly went back to the wild, unlike our Lacy who still visits and jumps on our shoulder.  But on the whole it is probably better that they be totally wild.

Please keep us, here in our own little menagerie, in your thoughts as we too, struggle to survive the sparse winter, and to regain my physical strength to truly get back to work.

(Please take a moment to consider:
These photo-stories have always been offered completely free, to simply share the wonders of nature. Thousands of hours have been poured into them and it has even become necessary to enlist the services of a paid email service to send out the large numbers who now receive them. So, with the current economic situation if you are able to make a small donation to help ensure the continuation of the stories it would be greatly appreciated.)

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