Tracing the Florida Crackers

Have you ever read a book you could never forget? A Land Remembered is one of my favorites. I am not alone, as the book has been ranked #1 Best Florida Book eight times by Florida Monthly Magazine.

Author, Patrick Smith tells about the life of Tobias Maclvey, a cow hunter who battled storms, rustlers, and mosquitos to build a kingdom out of a swamp. I enjoyed traveling back through time with Tobias as he rode his horse through the Florida scrub to round up free range cattle. Smith’s words inspired me to visit the cow camp at Lake Kissimmee State Park, where history comes alive.

Read on as we venture back in time to the Florida of 1876.

One hundred fifty years ago, Florida had few roads, no railroads, and none of the modern conveniences we enjoy today. Pioneer families survived by hunting wild animals. The early settlers discovered the land contained thousands of free range cattle and horses originally brought to America by the Spanish. A market for beef developed in Cuba and soon Florida cow hunters traveled by horseback through the wilderness, catching cows and herding them to Punta Rassa, near Fort Myers.

I meandered down the trail to the cow camp surrounded by huge live oaks draped with Spanish moss.

The camp consisted of a holding pen for the cows and a primitive shelter for the men.

Not exactly where I would want to spend the night.

My husband and I joined the group around the fire. Rick, the one and only cow hunter on the premises served us black coffee he had brewed over the open flame.

I took one sip and handed my serving to Herb. How can a place with so many cows, have no cream?

Rick explained that unlike the cowboys of the west, Florida cow hunters used trained dogs to drive their cattle. The many marshes, hammocks, and flatwoods of the Florida landscape prevented the use of the lariat.

The cow hunters carried a whip, known as a drag. The loud crack of the drag moved the cattle along. Because of this the cow hunters became known as “crackers.”

Rick emphasized that the crackers did not whip the animals, the drag was only a noise maker.

Once the cattle were delivered to market, the crackers were paid in Spanish doubloons. Gold became the common currency of the south Florida frontier.

The cow camp is open every weekend from October 1st to May 1st. For more information go to Lake Kissimmee State Park.

A Tiffany Window

Poetry inspired by art.

Earth fused with fire

minerals blend

amethyst stained

atoms suspend

colorful glass

fruit of the flame

carved into pieces

placed in a frame

blended together

images rise

fruit of the harvest

feast for the eyes

light opalescent

dispels the night

spirit awakens

dullness takes flight.

* My featured image is part of the Louis Comfort Tiffany collection at the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida. The museum is hosting an open house Thanksgiving weekend with free admission. Click here to read more about the history of stained glass.

Dear readers, this week is a time to count our blessings instead of calories. Thank you for following my blog. Happy Thanksgiving!

In Defense of Daydreaming

My favorite part of camping is sitting by the fire. When the logs crackle and orange flames flicker, I visit my pondering place. I love to daydream. I think of my daydreams as a kind of reality waiting for me in the future. Dreaming plants the seeds which will eventually grow to maturity and bear fruit.

Is dreaming a waste of time?

As a child, my teacher reprimanded me for looking out of the window during class. The outdoors seemed much more interesting than what was happening on the chalkboard. She tried to keep me from daydreaming by calling me up to the front of the room to work math problems in front of the class. I felt embarrassed. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop daydreaming.

Scientists describe daydreaming as “short-term detachment from ones immediate surroundings.” Think of it as a pleasant mini-vacation from your immediate location. When you daydream you use your mind instead of brain. Far from being a waste of time, mind-wandering allows us to think differently. Recent research has shown that daydreaming can be useful.

Here are some benefits of mind-wandering:

People who daydream are happier because hope and anticipation are related to the practice of imagining the achievement of our goals.

Daydreaming lowers blood pressure due to less stress.

Letting our minds wander can promote our creativity and problem-solving abilities. (I don’t think my math teacher understood this one.)

Time spent in reflection can help us become more compassionate because we can contemplate what others are feeling.

Daydreaming improves our working memory.

What did King Solomon know?

King Solomon is considered one of the wisest men who ever lived. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

Although daydreaming isn’t one of God’s commandments, resting from our daily routine is. Resting provides an opportunity to let our brains function differently. When our brain is relaxing, we are free to allow our minds to create and problem solve in new ways.

There are many settings conducive to excellent daydreaming. What is your favorite place to dream?

Doggie Dangers

This Halloween I wanted to get away from the hundreds of trick or treaters who descend upon our neighborhood. Some are respectful, while others drop candy wrappers, and treats along the sidewalk near our home. For days afterwards, our beagle, gobbles as many discarded goodies he can find, including chocolates.

In order to avoid a potentially dangerous situation for our pet, my husband and I decided to take Buddy camping at Johnathan Dickinson State Park in south Florida. Herb suggested I bring candy to the campsite. “After all, some trick or treaters might show up at the park.”

As any good wife would do, I packed a bag of assorted miniature chocolates. (Even though I knew we would be eating all of them.)

Our first night at the park was special. The campground was located near the Atlantic and we appreciated the cool ocean breeze. Although the sparse trees gave little shade, we marveled at the beauty of the night sky.

When our campfire was reduced to embers, we took Buddy for his last walk of the day. Outside the community shower-house we noticed a huge toad sitting in front of a Pepsi machine. “That toad looks like it’s trying to decide if it wants to drink Pepsi or Mountain Dew,” Herb chuckled.

By the time I snapped a photo, the toad had hopped around to the side of the machine. It was very sensitive to our presence.

Soon a neighboring camper joined us. “Keep your dog away from that toad. It’s poisonous.”

Lucky for us, Buddy didn’t approach Mr. Toad. Still, we were thankful for the information and walked on.

The next day we asked a ranger about the toad at the Pepsi machine. She informed us several Bufo toads live under the machine. They come out at night to catch the insects attracted by the light. They are very dangerous and dogs can die within minutes of licking a Bufo toad. Although the park staff has tried to get rid of them, they keep coming back.

Herb and I were shocked. In our efforts to protect Buddy from “dangerous trick or treaters,” we put him square in the path of a deadly toad!

We were successful in keeping Buddy away from the Bufo toads for the rest of our long weekend. As we drove home we congratulated each other for being such good pet owners.

Then Monday came. Herb noticed Buddy licking his doggie lips on their morning walk. He reached in Buddy’s mouth and pulled out a bubblegum wrapper. Sigh

For more information about Bufo toads and dogs click here.

Fallen Leaves

When I bend low in autumn

to gather fallen leaves

Each one holds a memory

I’m longing to retrieve.

My childhood home before me,

the window up above,

where I beheld each season

the maple tree I loved.

Mother was a gardner

raising corn for harvest.

Father was a builder

with wood and brick an artist.

We children ruled a kingdom

in summer we would seek

to exercise our power

over crawdads in the creek.

The golden leaves speak clearly

of fireflies in jars.

Dreaming by the campfire

and watching shooting stars.

Then the leaves fall silent.

Their voices disappear

Now rise as word on paper

to speak in later years.

The Buzz about Busyness

“Hello, how are you?”

“Busier than I’d like to be.”

Is this your response when you meet a friend? Everyone’s busy. In fact, our culture becomes busier everyday. As Americans we’ve become a nation of multi-taskers who find it difficult to wait at a stoplight without texting.

Our schedules are so crowded we’re uncomfortable with down time. We link our self-importance to our level of activity. The thought of too many blank spaces on our calendar makes us feel unneeded. We complicate our lives further by projecting our self-image through social media. We are addicted to non-stop interaction in a virtual world.

Even before the rise of Facebook, I was busy. As a mother of two children, mastering the ability to multi-task helped me survive the demands on my day. When I got home from work, I usually prepared dinner while I helped my kids with their homework. As an elementary teacher, I became a pro at taking attendance, listening to morning announcements, and monitoring the students simultaneously. Every year I became more goal driven in my efforts to be a good teacher, mother, and church member. On Sunday mornings, after I sang with the worship team, I raced to help with children’s church. I was beyond busy…and eventually I burned out.

Retirement ushered in a major lifestyle change for me. After considering several creative interests, I decided to pursue one hobby—writing. I also cut back on my volunteer work. In this season of my life, my old self tries to make me feel guilty about how happy I am. (I’ve also discovered it’s impossible to multi-task while I write.)

Is all busyness bad?

Bees are busy. They work all day flitting from flower to flower collecting pollen in order to fulfill God’s plan. I’ve never seen a stressed-out bee. They’re focused on the one mission they were created to do. Like the bees, each one of us has God-given talents which he purposed for us to use. When we stray from our destiny, we flounder.

The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things.” —Kevin DeYoung, author of Crazy Busy.

In addition to working hard at the wrong thing, we can also work for the wrong reason. In my case, compliments from others about “what a good job I was doing” encouraged me to work harder, and take on more responsibilities. I was trying to please man more than God.

A familiar story comes to mind from Scripture. Jesus came to visit Mary and Martha. Upon his arrival, Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She complained about Mary not helping her.

Jesus answered, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:41,42 (NIV)

Was Martha working hard at the wrong thing?

Was she working for the wrong reason?

Either way, Martha had not chosen what Jesus thought was best. She busied herself with what she thought was important, instead of spending time with him.

We cannot get off the treadmill of busyness until we make the decision to keep our relationship with God our number one priority. After all, isn’t that why he created us?

Dressed for Success

Whether we’re donning shorts and flip flops, or a suit and tie, most people choose how to dress depending upon their plans for the day. Our clothes contribute to our level of comfort and self-confidence. We wouldn’t fight a fire or a war without wearing the proper gear to protect ourselves.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in 1 Samuel 17. Here we read the story of David and Goliath. It’s hard to imagine a small shepherd boy facing an angry giant. King Saul thought he would prepare David for battle by dressing him in his own tunic. “He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head.” v. 38. David could not move in this heavy armor and discarded it saying, “I cannot go in these, because I am not used to them.” Instead, he put five smooth stones in his shepherd’s bag and raced off to face the Philistine.

You know the rest of the story. David won the battle against Goliath by slinging only one stone, knocking his enemy to the ground. Then he finished Goliath off with the giant’s own sword.

I love this chapter because it expresses something I’ve known in my own life. It’s hard to succeed by wearing someone else’s armor. As a new teacher, I often felt inadequate. The task of managing an environment conducive to learning challenged me. I turned to veteran teachers for advice, which they freely gave. The more teachers I consulted, the more overwhelmed I became because each response was different.

Through prayer I began to reflect upon what skills I already possessed which could be transferred to my new challenge. You see, before I became a teacher I worked as a social worker with diverse groups of children who lived in the inner city of Columbus, Ohio. I remembered how I dealt with conflicts among the children through group discussion. I decided to do what I already knew how to do.

I began to conduct weekly “class meetings” to give the students an opportunity to air their grievances with one another. It worked. Although our “meetings” took up thirty minutes of instruction time each week, the children grew to understand how they could handle conflict on their own and didn’t always need me me to solve all of their squabbles. In addition, the children complimented one another for acts of kindness which built friendship within the class.

Although self-help books and advice from peers have their benefits, what works for others might not work for you. Like David, maybe God has already equipped you with the ability to handle a new challenge by using your skills from past experiences.

Saul wanted to help David. He couldn’t imagine anyone facing Goliath without an armor. But David knew something about himself. He knew he had already killed a lion and a bear with his slingshot. Why wouldn’t God help him now as he squared off with a ten foot Philistine?

All he needed was the right stone… and the same level of faith which carried him in the past. Imagine the conversations among the hundreds of Israelite soldiers who witnessed David’s victory. His success is still talked about today.

Dear reader, I hope this story encourages you whenever you’re feeling intimidated. Don’t compare yourself to others but use the combination of skills and talents that are uniquely yours. You will be dressed for success.