Myakka, strange name, great place

Myakka State Park

Years ago when I was a teenager my family would take winter trips to Florida. All seven of us would travel in a pick-up camper which made it prime bonding time. I think we usually stayed about two weeks, about as long as we could stand to bond, and in that time, we would park in private and state parks along the way. Myakka was often one of the northern-most state parks we would visit in our search for sunshine and beaches. The Myakka River is one of the national wild, scenic rivers and a small weir widens the waterway out into Myakka Lake.

Two of the memorable things about Myakka that are still going on today are the tram ride to look for wildlife and the airboat ride, also to look for wildlife. I’ve done both. We were always successful seeing the “a” animals, armadillos and alligators, but there are also occasional deer and lots and lots of birds.

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Me and three old trees

This park is always pretty busy in the winter when the weather is cool and conducive to camping and hiking. There are over 39 miles of trail in this park. I’ve hiked there once and you also get a good idea what Florida’s pine flats are like. As the name suggests, very flat, lots of pines and palmetto. The park does a good job of controlled burns and maintenance of the trails.

I mentioned in another post that in the 30 years we’ve lived here, the husband had not been to this park at all. People would visit us and I would take them to Myakka but Dennis would be working. That has been remedied, and none too soon. On the Friday before Memorial Day we visited the park with our good friends who go there quite often. This weekday was a good time to beat the crowds, although there were quite a few there by noon when we left. This was also an unusual time since we had just started having seasonal rains and the river and lake were FULL. Some campsites were underwater and the water level was way above the tree line.

 

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Chef at work

My friends usually take breakfast or a snack to a picnic table close to the lake, but this table had been removed so we chose one of the pavilions for our breakfast spot. I had no idea this was going to be such a feast, but my friend is an excellent host and planner so all the bases were covered. Her husband was soon cooking bacon and eggs over a charcoal fire while the three of us sat watching him with our coffee and homemade biscuits. The picnic area is well appointed and close to parking and restrooms.

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Hostess and the husband, holding down the table

While there we watched people arriving for the airboat tour, the first one starting at 10 a.m. We could see the new gift shop and boat dock from our picnic table. I made a quick trip up there (it’s on stilts for obvious reasons) to look for a hiking medallion which I had never gotten before and they had them, along with tons of other interesting stuff. The airboats claim to be the largest of their kind in the world and they do hold a lot of people. The tours are guided by knowledgeable park staff – I have always come away knowing more about the lake and ecosystem.

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Great shop for souvenirs but you have to walk up the steps to get there. Tables beneath in the shade. (There may be wheelchair access but I didn’t see it.)
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The big fan in the back powers the boat so it can get in very shallow places (where the alligators are…)

This park has rustic, old log cabins for rent as well as various types of campsites. The cabins have been refurbished and are very comfortable. You have to rent them well ahead of time because they are very popular.

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part of the boardwalk into the marsh

This park is great for birdwatching and we saw a lot of high tech cameras and tripods being lugged around. There is a long boardwalk out into the marsh, and also a canopy walk high in the trees. We went to the end of the boardwalk, but the water was so high that there were few birds to be seen. It was getting hot and the husband was getting tired so we didn’t go up in the canopy this time.

We rode through the park from the south entrance to the north entrance on this visit. The north entrance is not always open – you can always drive out but can’t always come in – so visitors need to check the schedule. It’s safest to enter via the south. Lots of large oaks shading the road, lots of water views, opportunity for kayaking, canoeing, fishing – it’s a great place to get a feel for central Florida waterways. Pack some food. Go there. Enjoy.

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My hiking staff with medallions . The dark one with the alligator is from Myakka.

The Last Day of May

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This last day  of May 2018 – the perfect morning to sit with my cup of coffee and my book. At this time of year the sun in the east finds a break in the wall of trees between us. It shines through the translucent blades of grass, lighting them up. It shines through my dusty windows, to the floor and back up into my eyes. The husband thinks it’s too bright and shuts the blinds. But what on earth is light? Why can’t I see it, but without it, I can’t see anything else?

It’s a wonderfully quiet time of day. I can hear the cardinals, a mating pair, that live in the backyard. I can hear the refrigerator running and the faint hum of my “device” as I sit and think and type. It’s a wonderfully quiet time of the year, as the number of summer tourists is much less than the number of winter tourists. The traffic problems are lessened, noticeably. It’s the last day of May and I realize that summer is starting and the slower pace and the heat affect everything, in a good way. I find it easier to relax. I have slept well.

I can sit here and think so many different thoughts. Am I hearing all the electrical synapses as they connect and bring up memories, phrases, mental pictures? (I think I can!)

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. “

 I don’t want May to end but I don’t know how to hang on to it either. Time is like light, another thing that I can’t quite comprehend. Some people think they know all about light and time, but I don’t believe them. If that were true there would be nothing left for science to explore. We will never have it all down. Light and time are actual creations of someone not like us. Someone “other”.

“Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

 It’s not just me. People have been thinking thoughts like this for a very long time.

The Bible, Psalm 139 (My new memorization project)

 

 

Three Day Story – Conclusion

Day Three

Florida in the rain. Darker than usual with the clouds. Everything green, almost fluorescent. Humidity almost like being underwater. Frogs coming alive, tropical croaking sounds from all quarters. Smells of  damp leaves and rotting vegetation. Hello Open House Day.

It was pretty much a bust. Four people went through the house. One was the next-door neighbor (the one under the tree branch) and the other three were friends of the realtor’s son who came to see him more than the house. We did get a lot of talking time with the realtor though. He came up with a couple of things he thought would be simple improvements in the rental house which he thought Joe could take care of for me. When he left at 2 pm, I couldn’t quit thinking about them so I texted Joe and he called back, then came over.

It was still raining off and on, but the work was inside so we spent a couple hours doing that. I could tell he was thinking about “the branch” because he kept looking out at the tree and the ladder. Sure enough, a break in the rain and that’s what he wanted to do.

Joe is Mexican and his “English as a second language” is adequate for his work but not always understandable to the average person. Even though I have developed an ear for it, I often put on a knowing look and nod while trying to figure out what on earth he is saying. He does have a phrase which I understand perfectly because he uses it often and it describes a common action which we use a lot when he pressure washes the house. It’s the “jumping over” method. He jumps (throws) the rope over the roof and hangs ladders to reach the high places.

The plan for the branch was to set the ladder as close to it as he could and jump the rope over it, hoping it would catch so he could pull it down. The thing that was troubling him was where to put the ladder. The trunk of the tree was too far from the dangling branch, and the ladder wasn’t high enough to reach outlying branches. Joe credits me with the idea we went with, although I had moments of being sorry I suggested it. I drove the truck under the tree and we put the ladder in the bed, making it almost four feet higher. It touched a nearby branch, just barely.

I sat at the base of the ladder, hoping to hold it in case it slipped, while Joe climbed slowly to the top and strapped the top rung to the branch with a bungee cord. He came part way down and I passed him the end of his rope. Going back up, he straddled the branch, got himself stable, and hauled the rope up into coils. His “jumping over” procedure worked after the third toss. The rope was caught in the branch and wasn’t coming down unless the branch did too. All the commotion was bringing down other dead twigs on me and the truck, along with a lot of water. It was getting dark and starting to rain again, but Joe was excited, having roped his branch at last.

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Our big dead branch, no longer dangling above our heads.

He came down out of the tree and we took the ladder off the truck. I have to admit I gave a sigh of relief as I got myself and the truck out of the way because Joe was pulling and the branch was making some serious cracking noises. It finally came free and fell. We have quite a pile of wood now, which Joe wants to come and load in his friend’s truck. I don’t know what he does with all the things he gets rid of for me, but he and his community find value in everything. Wouldn’t surprise me if he sells it.

I think the most fun part for me was taking Joe home and hearing how excited and satisfied he was that he had conquered that branch. He talked about it all the way there. I think there are other workmen who would have said no to the job, unless they had more equipment or more money – the job itself wouldn’t have drawn them like it did for Joe.

Joe is definitely part of what we will miss about Florida. The husband says we should pack him up and move him to Wisconsin with us, but frankly, I’m having enough trouble getting us there. Just sayin’…

Three Day Story: Day One

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Chris’s house and the offending tree

Chris is incidental to the story, but it started with him. Chris is the new neighbor to the south of the oneacrewoods. He appeared at the door a week ago to introduce himself and, “oh by the way, you have a large dead branch hanging in your tree right by my house and I’m afraid it might fall on my roof.” I’m all for preventing things like that, especially since hurricane Irma last year. A large branch from that same tree did fall on that house and poked a hole into the attic. The previous owner and I split the repair costs.

Living in this grove of old live oak trees requires regular tree maintenance because they are always growing, limbs get heavy or diseased and weakened, they rot and fall off. Some owners prune heavily and leave only the clean canopy. We have followed the more natural path and let the trees self-prune, except the ones that could damage our buildings. You have to understand that it costs a lot of money to hire people willing to climb up in your trees with saws or bring in their machinery (cherry pickers). I’m talking thousands here.

I did check around with neighbors to see if anyone was planning to bring in an arborist, thinking we could add our little problem to his “to do” list, but nothing was scheduled.  So, I told Joe, who is the main character in this story. I’ve written about him before, (here: A to Z: Selling Our House (Letter H)) but I have never explained his devotion to the DIY lifestyle. I suppose it is the reason Joe can do so many things because he just never thinks of hiring someone else for a task. If he can’t do it himself, he doesn’t have it done. It is an interesting philosophy. I’m a little bit that way myself which is why I like Joe’s work. We are a dangerous combination.

He immediately began thinking, planning how he could get the branch down. The challenge had a hold on him and we walked around the tree, looking at the height of the dead, dangling debris. There were two branches, one completely detached and caught in another that was larger and higher but still partially attached. Joe started talking options. He always says “if you want, we could…”, and even if I reject some of his options because I don’t want him to kill himself, I do want the branch down, of course I do.

All the options involved his ladder, so we went in the truck to get it.

Joe’s tools are all over the place because he doesn’t have a home of his own. He stays with one friend after another and has a large community of people who evidently like to host him. The ladder was in the yard at his present abode. It’s a large aluminum extension ladder which has spent a lot of time at our house actually, and I treat it like a friend. We put it in the back of the truck and weighted it down with a huge stump. Since it was now dark and starting to rain, Joe stayed and promised to be at the house the next morning to work on several things I had asked him to do.

I drove the ladder home and took it out. I left the stump in the bed of the truck, primarily because it weighed a ton, but also because I already had a couple of other things in the yard that we have used to weight the ladder in the past. I didn’t want to add this one to the collection. So ended Day One of the story.

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The husband made me take the stump out of the truck. Another yard ornament, oh well…

 

Going Through: Hurricane Irma (post 3)

We lost our cable and internet before I could publish this post, and it has not returned to us until today – five days later. I’m not complaining as many people experienced far worse during the storm than we did. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017, around 8 pm

Irma made landfall this afternoon around 3:30 near Naples, Florida. It is now about an hour and a half south of us in Ft. Myers.  Since landfall it has weakened to Category 2 with 110 mph sustained winds and we are getting gusts between 50 and 60 miles per hour. It’s path may go east of us, possibly to Arcadia. They were hit by Hurricane Charlie too and I will feel bad if they get it again. The only positive thing would be that they have already lost most of their big trees and shaky buildings. Hopefully we will keep most of ours. However, our worst time with this powerful storm is still ahead.

We were able to cook spaghetti for supper and made a salad. We still have electricity, although over 180,000 in the county are without it. We are  making use of the time together with lots of conversation and bonding through our shared experience. There is ice cream in our near future if all goes according to plan.

An odd thing is happening that I don’t remember having heard of before. People are reporting that the ocean and the rivers go away, leaving boats high and dry and the bottom exposed for as far as can be seen. In some places it returns slowly, in others I’ve heard that the storm surge rose 7 feet in 90 minutes. That is extreme.

At 3 pm a curfew was instated and since the winds are over 45 mph there are no services – law enforcement or medical. Yesterday one of our major hospitals was evacuated. It seems that someone thought that next to the riverfront would be a good place to put a hospital. What were they thinking?

The shelters are full. There are tornado warnings.

We are getting ready to go to our safe rooms as the hurricane is traveling faster now.  Trees are being uprooted, reportedly, in Sarasota.  Will stop now and get everyone together.  I don’t expect to sleep tonight.

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I know I look crazed, but understand that I’m sleeping in a shower during a hurricane.

 

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Small rooms (closets and bathrooms) with lots of walls and no windows are safest but it’s a bit weird to have friends over to sit there, just sayin’.

Going Through: Hurricane Irma (post 2)

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Hi y’all. My ‘rained on’, coffee loving, early morning self along with my friend Kathy.

Sunday morning and we still have power. Kathy and I were both awake at 6 am and having morning coffee while catching up on hurricane progress over the night hours. It is still coming with not much change expected. They talk about wobbles and zig zags but I don’t think it matters much to us yet.

In the night I had “visions” (I use the term loosely) of the trees being nothing but leafless stubs, all the fences gone and many buildings missing. With that in mind I went out early and put more things away that I had previously thought too heavy to move. Winds that tear buildings apart can pick up a potted plant, no matter how heavy. We don’t need those things flying through the air. It was cool and very breezy and raining by the time I got done. The garage of our adjacent rental house was empty so Mark drove his car, with all their valuables, into that space. The renters both work at an assisted living facility and have to be at work during the storm.

Since then we have been eating breakfast and keeping in touch with people on phone and facebook. I finally muted the tv and put on some worship music. I can only listen to the forecasts so long without feeling the tension. Since it’s already about as bad as it can be, anything new will be better and I can catch up on it anytime.

Kathy and I have been brainstorming our inner shelter plans, having picked what we think are the safest parts of the house and what we need to do to be comfortable in them. We will start equipping them with water and food in the next hour or so.

It is definitely getting more wild outside. I realize it more as I sit here looking out the window at the tops of the trees. They are so flexible and there is so much movement up there. As I walked around taking pictures of the outside for insurance purposes, I noticed again the one tall pine on the neighbor’s property that has been giving me concern for years now. If it falls, it will most likely reach our house and come through the roof. It is the weakest of the trees around us in my estimation. Trees are a blessing in that they raise the wind up over the house, but I’ve seen trees that big lying on the ground with the root ball up in the air too – and that would not be good for us.

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The big trunk on the other side of the fence is the pine I’m expecting to come through our roof.

We are a few more hours closer to the end of it, and a few more hours closer to the worst of it. Hopefully our angels are up and on the job.

 

 

Going Through: Hurricane Irma (post 1)

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Our drive BEFORE the hurricane. 
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A section of the Oneacrewoods before being ravaged, already drenched.

We have electricity. How much of the time do I not even think about this marvel? That is one of the positive aspects of natural disasters. If you survive them, you do so with a heightened appreciation of normal life. So while I am still connected to the outside world, I will write…

The last few days have been hard mostly because of the uncertainty of the path of Hurricane Irma. Early in the week we decided that we would stay in our house rather than evacuate. Whether in the store, the line at the gas station, or on the road, I abhor crowds of panicked people. That played into our decision, but we also reasoned that everyone can’t leave, and we do have a house with some safety features that is not in an evacuation zone. There has been a degree of peace just in having made the decision to stay.

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Amazing that we have a generator. More amazing, it runs and we have gas to put in it.

We are six here at our Oneacrewoods Shelter. We are not helpless and have a mix of skills and abilities that should serve us well. We have put in a supply of water, food, and gasoline to run our generator. We were able to get the generator running – always a questionable thing since it doesn’t get used very often.  I have set up the Coleman stove so if when the electricity goes out we will still have morning coffee. Small comforts are taking on new importance.

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The worst part so far has been the week long watching and waiting. Preparing for a known thing of catastrophic nature is possible and absorbing physically and mentally. When what is known keeps changing, it is different, creating a confusing array of possibilities to be sorted out and chosen or eliminated.  There is also a sense of community and responsibility for family, friends and neighbors close by that makes us want to stay together even though our situations are different. Of course, our default wish is to be in our own home, so there has to be compelling reason to do otherwise. When the compelling reason becomes wanting to preserve our lives – well, that’s pretty compelling, so we really don’t want to make a mistake. If we knew our situation would be that critical, and if we knew the safe thing to do was crystal clear, and possible, we would do it. And as I said, what we know has changed hour by hour throughout the week. We never feel like we know.

(Actually, we know more now, but it is past time to decide and the decision is made for us. We are staying.)

So here we are, at bedtime on Saturday night. Our worst weather is supposed to be in about 24 hours when the eyewall of Irma is scheduled to come up the Florida west coast pretty much through our back yard. I have seen what 100+ mile per hour winds have done in all the islands out in the Caribbean but as I look around at my plants, my huge live oaks, the structures outside – somehow I can’t picture it  all  ruined, maybe even gone. Doesn’t seem real, or even possible.

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I’ve been bottling our own drinking water. Knew I had a reason for keeping all those canning jars.

I know that God cares about what will happen, and I do see this as an opportunity to prove what I know about him. We are asking to be spared the worst because we can ask that. God is not afraid of our requests, nor is he bound to grant them. Whether he does or not I feel he will use this unusual situation in some way for our good and his glory – meaning that he will in some way show himself to be both powerful and loving. He will go through it with us and we will be able to look back and say it was so.

As usual, more to come until the electricity is gone.  It is scary how we depend on electricity, just sayin’…

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Everything that isn’t nailed down has to be put inside – a real challenge.

 

Dawn’s early light, twilight’s last gleaming…

I’ve always been in love with light. 

I was looking out on the oneacrewoods this evening as a storm approached. The house started to creak and pop as the metal roof contracted. That’s always my first sign that it’s cooling off and something is about to happen. We were surrounded by trees, large oaks that covered most of the sky and left only peep holes to show how dark the sky had become. When the wind came, like a moving wall, the trees went wild, grabbing at each other. It always looks scary to me – I can’t believe those large limbs can move so violently and not break. It passed rather quickly without raining. Dramatic but dry.

But it left the sky looking glorious in every direction. We saw it as we went out for our evening walk. My Instagram is full of #eveningwalk pictures because of the light. It’s the light’s fault. The evening light, call it twilight’s last gleaming if you want, is magic. It has that in common with the dawn’s early light, which also comes in sideways, horizontal to the things it touches. Things that aren’t really shiny, shine. Leaves glow green like they are electrified, lit through and through, more translucent than you would ever think.

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Even the fence went reflective with tiny points of light.

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We seemed to be right under a “cloud hole” with the fading evening sky above us. Tall billowing stacks of white were outlined in the west with the setting sun dancing through them, and eastward the departing blackness of the storm, with a rainbow. Every direction showed a different sky picture, all dramatic and compelling and picturesque. Even after the sun was no longer visible, it’s light was reflecting off the cloud cover and lighting our way with an eerie, amber cast.

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With all this to look at, and more, my phone/camera ran out of battery. So, as I walked, I started thinking about how my fascination with the late light, and the early light, fit right in with Independence Day and the words to the national anthem. What that must have been like to have been there seeing the flag through the twilight’s last gleaming. Seeing it all night by the light of rockets being fired in battle, and then to see it still there in the dawn’s early light – probably a bit tattered and the worse for wear, but still in place.

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I think it’s a little ironic in these days when we are dependent on so many things beyond our control, that we can still find meaning in the word independence. We almost worship the concept, without really thinking of the good aspects of dependence on the right things. This holiday is a good time to review the freedoms we have, to review who and what we should depend on, and to celebrate the outcome of that long ago conflict.

Happy July to all, and an early Happy 4th!

 

 

Looking Up

Recently we spent several days at Bayou Hammock on Longboat Key, Florida. It was a “forced” vacation due to fumigation of our house, but a nice respite in any case. One of the hallmarks of our time there was the chance to become familiar with a pair of nesting osprey.

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The “bayou” part of Bayou Hammock is a shallow finger of the inland waterway as it curves into Longboat Key at the northern end. From the dock where we view it, it looks like a river and we can easily see the opposite bank. This is a populated area with houses and docks and boats. Because the water is shallow and warm, we often see fish jumping, ducks and other water birds, and occasional manatees. Mangrove thickets line the shore along the property where we stayed. Banyan, juniper, sea grape and Norfolk pine are further up in the yard. It is the Norfolk pine, situated just outside the pool cage, that drew our attention.

This tall, narrow tree sticks up far above the rest of the canopy and has on its top a messy nest, almost like a crown. I can imagine that the view is great from up there. But it was the frequent whistles and calls that drew our attention skyward. A pair of osprey had set up housekeeping and were actively flying to and from the tree top. Think of an osprey as a “fishing eagle”. They are large birds and have a diet, almost exclusively, of live fish.

They are well designed for fishing. Get this, the average time fishing before they catch something, is twelve minutes. What fisherman wouldn’t like that! They have one reversible claw on their feet enabling them to put two claws on each side of their catch. They can only do shallow dives, up to three feet, but their rate of catch is 70%, which is admirable. They can carry a load of one to two pounds, and interestingly, they align their catch head first when flying to decrease wind resistance.

Our pair of osprey were easily identified because of their white underbelly and chest.  Another trait is their wing position when flying. They have a bent wing, giving them an “M shaped” profile when flying. We thoroughly enjoyed living alongside this interesting part of God’s creation and wish them well in raising their brood.

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Coming in for a landing
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The “bent wing” characteristic can be seen here

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things W

The Woods

That’s what we called it when I was growing up, “the woods”. Even though there were trees in lots of other places, when we said “the woods” we all knew which trees we were talking about. It was a lot of several acres covered with hardwood trees of various kinds that had been left forested when the land around it had been cleared for farmland. It was behind our house and it never took more than two or three minutes to slide between the fence wires and run across the small pasture to the edge of the shady, cool greenness.

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A slightly crooked view of the Owen Smith farm with the favorite woods dark behind the buildings.

I spent a lot of time there doing “kid work”. I cleared paths, made moss gardens,  forts from branches, and climbed trees. My favorite trees had names. I knew where to look for the first flowers in the spring, the small ones. They were soon replaced by a green and white carpet of triliums, then the jack in the pulpits, the columbine, the ferns, princess pine, and wintergreen. All this to say that I was blessed, early on, to have developed a love and respect for a forest ecosystem. I would almost say that I need to have ready access to that kind of place to be truly happy.

Which is why I like to think that I’ve been blessed again, by a knowing God, to live in another woods. This one I call “the oneacrewoods”. I’ve watched this acre of Florida bloom and grow since 1994. It never ceases to amaze with its century old live oaks, palms, citrus, kapok and pine trees. It has bromeliads, cactus, orchids, and many kinds of exotic ferns and grasses. We see land tortoises, raccoons, possums, armadillos, squirrels aplenty, large hawks, many smaller birds, and an occasional fox. I can’t adequately describe how beautiful I find this place to be, how special it is, how favorite to me.

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Sunday Walk
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Have you ever loved a place so much that it made you cry to think of leaving it?