Farewell to Merlin

merlin in flight

FEBRUARY 5, 2022: Our merlin is back. She’s been appearing every so often for a couple months now, her muscular, falcon physique silhouetted dark against the blue skies. Over the last five winters she’s marked the seasons, here by late autumn from somewhere in the Canadian latitudes, gone by the early months of spring. It’s always a thrill to see her again, always a melancholy that goes with her leaving. Yet this time it’s different. This time is probably the last time that we’ll ever meet.

These are the last few days in our nomadic family’s adventure here in southwest Florida. We’ll be leaving these flat and steamy subtropics for the snowcapped horizons and desert air of Nevada. From sea level to mile high, from five feet of yearly rain to six inches. Trading cypress swamps for sagebrush, alligators for wild horses. We’re excited by the new horizons, yet already suffering the early onset of homesickness. For these things we’ll miss:

  • The flocks of white ibis probing the lawns like so many long-billed chickens.
  • The monstrous pair of lovebirds better known as bald eagles, perched above the back porch.
  • The dress code: t-shirt, shorts, and sandals, 360 days of the year.
  • The resident river otters, playing peek-a-boo beneath the water as they pace us along the canal.
  • The late afternoon thunderstorms of summer, and the evening chorus of frogs and toads that come out to celebrate.
  • The weekend trips to the beach, for the pups to frolic in the surf.
  • The dolphins, surfing the boat wake through the shallows of Pine Island Sound.
  • The homegrown mangos, from saplings to sprawling shade trees in just three years, raining sweetness by the bushel.
  • The screech owl perched in the doorway of our dead palm, a masterful imitation of tree bark.
  • The long-legged elegance of the wading birds—the herons and egrets, the storks and spoonbills, everywhere gracing the shores and shallows in this watery landscape.
  • The coyote family wailing in the dark, the musical call of the wild.
  • The curious gator who glides our way from the far end of the pond.
  • The good friends we meet as family on our daily dogwalks.
  • The tropical horizons of palms, their fountainhead canopies silhouetted against the rosy sunsets.
  • The snowbird merlin, our fleeting emissary from the North, conveying the oneness of the world one priceless moment at a time.

But our nostalgia comes shadowed by its ugly stepcousin. A few things we will not miss upon leaving this odd corner of the country:

  • The steamy, six-month summer of oppressive heat and daily bastings in sweat.
  • The cult of the evergreen lawn, feeding its toxic industry of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers by the truckload, with its blaring mowers and weed whackers and leaf blowers, its grids of sprinklers draining the aquifers and watering the pavement.
  • The red tide—that microbial scourge infecting the coastal waters with alarming frequency, burning the lungs, carpeting the beaches in rotting sealife, and corresponding suspiciously with those truckloads of crap we flush into the water. (See “The cult of the evergreen lawn.”)
  • The mindless mania of growth, bent on clearing every last greenspace for more buildings, more pavement, more sameness and dullness and death of the wild.
  • The drivers, a frightening lot of whom consider red lights to be optional.
  • The Florida panthers, slaughtered by the dozens each year by such drivers in their self-important hurries.
  • The deer flies, the relentless dagger-toothed deer flies, stabbing and sucking the pleasures out of my summer rambles.
  • The manatees, gentle giants, starving in droves, their seagrass dying from dirty water. (See “The cult of the evergreen lawn.”)
  • The false patriots who idolize con men and parade the American flag as their middle finger.
  • The bougainvillea, that ubiquitous, perfectly awful shrub with the perennial flowers and foot-piercing thorns.

Both lists are long and rich, one in beauty, one in ugliness. But of course it’s the beauty we’ll remember best. Just the other evening, walking the pups at dusk, we happened to see our merlin once again, perched atop one of her favorite spires. She flew as we approached, jetting straight away in typical merlin fashion, scattering a flock of crows like windblown leaves as she blew past. Chances are that was our last sighting ever. A moment of sadness we’ll soon forget, but a moment of awe we’ll savor a lifetime.


Farewell to Merlin: Just a few of the Florida moments that touched us


  1. Liz on April 4, 2022 at 12:44 pm

    My goodness Will…
    Everything about this! The feeling, the perceptions, the photography (allowing us at time to view the world through Towpath’s eyes), the soaring appreciation and the devastation of politics run amok….
    All of it!!🌎
    I look so forward to seeing you guys again in Reno!

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:24 am

      Thanks Liz. An amazing place for sure. With its share of troubles, for sure. Gotta hold out hope. Reno: be there!

  2. Michael Turner on April 4, 2022 at 2:16 pm

    I love your blogs and this one was very interesting to me. Getting a perception of what southwest Florida was like ( the good and bad). I only was there for a short time but thru your writings it feels like forever. This is why I tell people you are my favorite author. Makes me feel like I am part of the story. I loved how Towpath stood up against that terrifying snake. Thank you again

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:28 am

      Thanks for checking in, Mr. Mike. I guess my infatuation with the boy showed through, huh. Looks like Mr. Mike is getting the royal treatment these days. I’ll be there in spirit next week.

  3. Elaine on April 4, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    I’ll take your Bougainville and swap you some Griselinia, at least yours is pretty!!

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:30 am

      Aye, pretty. But c’mon–why the awful thorns!

  4. Christen McGinnes on April 4, 2022 at 4:06 pm

    Does your talent know no boundaries? Seriously, you make me (almost) miss and appreciate Florida. Your video should be sold to the tourist bureau. Well done! Ps glad Towpath didn’t get eaten by that alligator…

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:38 am

      Well, as Christen would say, it ain’t Disney World. Oh wait, it is Disney World.

  5. Dee McEneaney on April 4, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    What a fabulous tribute! Perfect sentiments and perfect video! Now it’s time to be back in the place you both love and create new memories ♥️

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:38 am

      Thanks, Sis. We’re working on it. Towpath’s return to wine country last weekend a big hit. So fun to tag along.

  6. Dr. K on April 4, 2022 at 5:47 pm

    What a great read. You are just an incredible storyteller. I love seeing the world through your eyes and writings.

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 12:43 am

      Much appreciated, Dr. K. And ha! Glad you appreciate my warped visions of the world, as only you would.

  7. Michael Lederer on April 5, 2022 at 7:39 am

    Enriched by your descriptions, Will. You and Kathy are lucky to know such places…and such places are lucky to have their time with you. Caretakers, observers… Thanks for sharing. (Self-important hurries…dagger-toothed deer flies…so many moments the language grabbed me.)

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 5, 2022 at 8:15 am

      Michael! What a pleasure. Your words mean so much to me. Wishing you and yours well.

  8. Keith Valachi on April 12, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    Glad to hear you are relocating out west! Bring your energy – for long hikes in some empty (or better yet open) but beautiful country, and your patience – the same “develop at all costs” and “man must dominate nature” mentality is alive and well out here, too. There will be plenty of fodder for each of your lists as you settle into the new daily rhythms of life on the range. On our most recent visit, our neighbors in E Oregon recounted with horror that a local wolf pack was being seen more often – try as I may to counter their fears, minds are already made up and I expect it is similar in N Nevada.
    Maybe fortune will smile down and allow me to run into you sometime out here.
    Hope you have a safe journey!

    • Will Stolzenburg on April 13, 2022 at 8:28 am

      Howdy Keith. Thanks for your note. Ah yes, wolves. So symbolic of our polarized society. Keep the faith, and see you on down the road.

  9. Stacki on April 19, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    Bittersweet lists… May the positives always outweigh any negatives… Your video is priceless… Capturing so many precious moments for memories… Nevada means home… 💗

    • Will on April 20, 2022 at 11:39 pm

      Yes, more positives, please. Happy trails in Louisville!

  10. Dusti Becker on April 21, 2022 at 6:28 pm

    Yikes….We are thinking of moving to Florida from AZ and Montana. We loved both places, but couldn’t do the heat anymore, and then became tired of the cold. Couldn’t afford Hawaii, so …. we’ll see. Hoping for red-cockaded woodpeckers, ocean time, manatees, and cold springs when needed. Fearing hurricanes. It’s always a mix of pros and cons anywhere, which is perhaps why I like to move around and experience different places and people.

    • Will on April 23, 2022 at 9:50 am

      Thanks for your thoughts, Dusti. Yes, you’ll finds Florida’s pros and cons just about everywhere. And I hope you find the pros to be more memorable as we did. We’re blessed for the experience. Good luck on your adventures.

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