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Don’t Drain This Swamp!

Some swamps are just meant to be swamps. Such is the case with the Everglades. Last week we hitched up our Viking trailer and explored the wilds of South Florida. Herb, Buddy, (our beagle) and I camped at Collier-Seminole State Park, located south of Naples and west of Everglades National Park. In this post I want to give a brief review of the places we visited.

Collier-Seminole

Our campsite

I have to say this was the least scenic campsite we’ve ever encountered. It rained for several days before we arrived. I laughed and referred to our site as “lakefront property.” Luckily it didn’t rain anymore during our four night stay. The pond dried by our last day. Herb and I decided to take the campsite and the mosquitos in stride. After all, the park lies within one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world.

In all fairness, Collier-Seminole is scenic. The park contains one of three original stands of royal palms in Florida. I snapped this photo on the pet friendly Royal Palm Hammock Trail. Buddy enjoyed all the sights, sounds, and smells along the one mile path through the jungle.

Royal Palms can grow to a height of one hundred feet.

I highly recommend renting a canoe and paddling the Blackwater River. The tidal river system hosts a variety of birds and other wildlife.

The scenic Blackwater River at its widest point.
A Great Blue Heron in flight.

Everglades National Park

It’s about an hour drive to the Shark Valley Visitor Center from Collier-Seminole. We arrived late in the afternoon, only to learn that Buddy was not permitted anywhere but the parking lot. Alligators love little dogs!

Herb and I took turns sitting on this bench with Buddy. That way each of us could do a little exploring.

A visit to Everglades National Park never disappoints. In the span of twenty minutes, Herb encountered and photographed many animals. Here are a few images he snapped with with his Nikon telescopic camera.

Water is the lifeblood of the Everglades. Today the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is working to restore the natural flow of water to this area. The results are encouraging and the wildlife is returning.

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

In between Collier-Seminole and Everglades National Park lies 85,000 acres of wetland wilderness. We walked the Big Cypress Bend boardwalk with Buddy. We kept a close eye out for gators and stayed ready to pick up our pet at a moment’s notice. The 2300 foot long boardwalk is sheltered by bald cypress trees, many of them hundreds of years old.

The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk opened up onto a beautiful pond.

We were told an eagle nest existed somewhere along the boardwalk. I became so interested in looking up, I forgot to look look down.

Yikes!

I almost missed this big guy who was not far from where I was standing. So much for staying alert.

After our walk on the boardwalk we drove Jane’s Scenic Drive through miles of wilderness. I could still see parts of the swamp from the comfort of an air conditioned vehicle. I felt happy and safe.

The landscape of the Everglades is like no other. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. A place teeming with life which depends on the delicate balance of nature. From the tiny mosquito to the Florida panther, all sizes of animals coexist in this wonderful place.

Grassy Arrowhead

The Lunch Box

Cobwebs brushed across my face

As I cracked the cellar door

Hiding somewhere in this place

My childhood past was stored.

There upon a table

Sat a white box brown with rust.

The letters on its label

Spelled my name beneath the dust.

This was the lunch box I loathed,

Ashamed to carry each day.

Its trim of flowers and bows,

Couldn’t hide what it conveyed.

I was a girl of humble means

Whose parents were simple and poor.

School-bought lunch, a luxury,

That I could never afford.

The box now empty, thermos gone

Scenes of my childhood arose

Mother rising before the dawn

To warm my soup on the stove.

I know my parents worked so hard

And gave all they could to me.

This homely box, I can’t discard

Stored deep like the memories.

Valentine’s Day usually brings with it sentiments about love. I decided to share “The Lunch Box” this week because it expresses my feelings about my parents, my past, and how something so ugly and despised, could change into something beautiful. I still have my Junior Miss lunch box from 1960. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I keep my old lunch box because it reminds me that no matter how ugly I might feel, I am loved by God and beautiful in his sight. By the way, God feels the same about you!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Do you keep any relics from your childhood? Leave a comment.

Inspiration from a Sand Dune

I’ll never forget our visit to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southeast Colorado. Let me begin by saying I didn’t know this park existed until My hubby and I planned a trip to Pike’s Peak last year. When I visited the park website I became intrigued. How in the world did the tallest sand dunes in North America come to be in Colorado? As is the case with many geologic formations, the answer involves water and wind.

Water is the lifeblood of the Great Sand Dunes. Located in a valley between two mountain ranges, particles of sand were deposited by stream runoff. The sand washed into a huge lake covering the valley floor. Eventually the lake dried up, and the wind gradually moved the sand to the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Strong winds funnel through three surrounding mountain passes from opposing directions, making the dunes grow vertically. Star Dune, the tallest, stands at 750 feet.

I experienced the power of the wind on our first night in the park. During our first dune walk, blowing sand blasted our faces and we had to turn back after twenty minutes. In hindsight, I realized how dangerous it is to walk out on the dunes at night. A person could fall into a deep pit without a good flashlight.

The next day the wind died down and we determined to hike to High Dune, a distance of 1.25 miles. We were told that on summer afternoons, the sand heats to a surface temperature of 150 degrees F. We started early, but the the walk was extremely difficult due to shifting sand. It seemed like we moved one step backward for every two steps forward.

Half way up, stopping to rest after every twenty steps.

Needless to say it took us over an hour to go one mile. I definitely recommend using trekking poles to help with balance. We experienced a 450 foot elevation gain. Although we scaled the highest dune we could see from the parking lot, we were disappointed to discover the top was not the top. This was just one ridge in a sea of ridges.

I was a tiny speck upon a vast wilderness of sand.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, the sand felt hotter under our feet. Time to head back down. Along the way I admired the beautiful lines and shapes sculpted by the wind, many of them uniquely different. This was the art of God.

“Chinese Walls” created by two opposing winds.

In reflection I’m reminded of an old saying, “bloom where you are planted.” Grains of sand, trapped in a basin with no way out, are continually pressed on every side by wind. Yet they have risen to create a natural wonder of the world.

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17. NIV

Finding Refuge

Barren boughs scrape against the cloudy sky.

Lonely limbs ache for summer days gone by.

Little birds peck the frozen field for grains.

Day after day the chilly air remains.

Tiny mice huddle in lifeless leaves below.

Sleeping lilies lay in beds concealed by snow.

Hungry deer strip the brittle bark from trees.

Kindly ants share their tunnels with queen bees.

Home provides a refuge from winter’s icy grip

Gathered ’round the table in sweet companionship.

In my process of evaluating the recent frigid temperatures I can only think of one good thing about winter. I like the feeling of coming in from the cold and warming up with hot tea or cocoa. My husband and I moved our family to Florida in 1989 to escape Ohio winters.

Everyone says a person’s blood thins after they live in Florida for a number of years. For us, fifty degree temperatures are practically unbearable. My northern friends shake their heads and remark, “you don’t remember what cold is.”

Do you like winter? Some people do. Leave a comment and let me know your views on the subject. Maybe you can change my opinion.

What My Dog Has Taught Me About Writing

I’ve learned a lot from following my dog around. Whenever Buddy picks up an interesting scent… he walks faster and faster with his nose to the ground. Buddy will not stop until he tracks the scent to its source. It might be as small as one goldfish cracker, but he will not give up until he gets what he’s after. I must admit I admire his persistance.

I’ve discovered I need to apply a few of Buddy’s good qualities to my writing life. Although Buddy is directed by his sense of smell, I’m directed by what I see. My focus determines the direction I will go. I’m trying to direct my focus and be more productive by thinking like a dog.

Keep Looking Forward

Buddy never looks back, but continues to forge strait ahead when he’s on a mission. Sometimes I think fondly of the past and wish I could go back. That happens a lot when I look in the mirror and see how I’ve aged. Allowing my age to stop me from pursuing my dreams as a writer is a non-starter and robs me of my motivation. I need to remember and be thankful I’m retired. My age gives me more time to spend on my craft.

Look Beyond The Obstacles

Buddy never lets anything get in his way. When his back legs were paralyzed, he used his front paws to pull himself forward while dragging his back feet behind him. Wherever he wanted to go, he went. If I had focused on my inexperience as a writer, I would have never moved forward. My husband believed I could write a children’s book before I did. With his support, the fact that I’d never written a book, didn’t stop me.

Stay Alert for Opportunities

Buddy can be on the other side of the room but the sound of chopping vegetables or rustling cellophane signals his attention. He trots over to assume his position at my feet, keeping watch for any crumbs I drop on the floor.

Ideas for writing pop up on my radar just like those noises in the kitchen. Good ideas can fall to floor as quick as kernel of popcorn. I need to keep a notebook, or my phone handy to capture them. If I’m stuck without an idea for a blog, poem, or plot, I can always consult my notes.

Take Time To Rest

I’ll admit I’m somewhat of a workaholic. It’s important to realize whether I’m being productive, or spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Busy work saps creativity. As I write this, Buddy is curled up sleeping. He doesn’t have a care in the world. He knows he can trust me to meet his needs. In the same way I need to remember everything doesn’t depend on me. Rest can be achieved in many ways, physically and spiritually. I rest physically when I stop hitting the keys. I rest spiritually by remembering that ultimately God is in control.

On that note, I’m thrilled to announce the release of my first children’s book, Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street  March 21, 2019! Click on the link to read more on the specifics of my book at Elk Lake Publishing.

A Poem for Non-Runners

I don’t run.

Nowhere to go.

Why should I hurry?

I want to know.

I don’t run.

Don’t want to sweat.

And if it rains,

I might get wet.

I don’t run.

Like many do.

Who says running is good for you?

Tendonitus

Causes pain

Shin splints, muscle pulls, ankle sprains.

I don’t run.

Since I’ve heard

Scientists say we should conserve.

Yes, my body,

Like a car

Loses its value when driven far.

Last summer Herb and I visited Pike’s Peak. Our guide took this photo of us pretending to run from Big Foot. I doubt if I could outrun Big Foot because I don’t run.

On the other hand, Herb is a runner. He’s competed in four marathons and done well for his age. He finished his last marathon at 65, and trains regularly.

I used to feel guilty about not running.

Dirty Harry said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.”

I’ve accepted mine. Running is not my thing. There’s joy in accepting yourself for who you are. I like my age. As a senior citizen, I think I’ve earned the right to say no to anything I don’t want to do.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in staying active, choosing instead to walk or bike. We all know exercise is important, and I’m glad for alternatives. In the meantime, I ‘ll keep looking over my shoulder to see if Big Foot is closing in on me.

Thanks for reading my blog. If you like poetry, check out some of my more serious poems by clicking on the menu bar and selecting my poetry page. More poems and the stories behind them can be found under Categories in the sidebar. Remember, to like, follow, and share!

One Campground That’s Gone to the Dogs

This week I learned something about people who camp. In addition to bringing their bikes, kayaks, and fishing equipment, they usually make room for Fido.

Since Herb and I normally include our beagle with us on our campouts, we fit right in at Myakka River State Park. This was our first excursion with Buddy for 2019, and we were ready to explore more of the “real Florida.” Located in the southwestern part of the state, Myakka is the largest state park and the most visited. The beautiful Myakka River flows through vast unspoiled wetlands, palm hammocks, and natural prairies. Visitors enjoy photographing the numerous birds and alligators along the scenic Park Drive.

A view of the Myakka River at Fisherman’s Loop

One morning during our stay we attended the camper’s coffee. Since the event was located at an outdoor pavilion, I thought it would be fun to include Buddy. We were prepared to bring him back to the campsite in case dogs weren’t allowed. Buddy was not only welcomed, he became the center of attention. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Leeann and Dan Brown, snowbirds temporarily volunteering this winter with the Friends of Myakka. They were excited to meet Buddy and wanted to know all about the red booties he wears on his back feet.

We were happy to share Buddy’s “back story”, and the upcoming release of Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street, my first children’s book. (Elk Lake Publishing) Later, Leeann and Dan visited us at our camper to chat and take photos of us with Buddy. They shared his story on their facebook page, RV Companions. All of a sudden I felt like I was on a book tour… after all, Buddy is the real star and Herb and I are only his managers.

Back to the Myakka campground. Our site was located in Old Prairie, which was one of three campgrounds located in the park. Almost everyone had a dog traveling with them, most had two. Of course when there are that many dogs in close proximity to one another, you have a fair amount of barking going on. I felt like a proud mama because Buddy seemed quiet and calmer than the rest. That was until we left him in the trailer for an hour while we visited the Canopy Walkway. Later, during a casual conversation, our neighbor informed us Buddy was not happy most of the time we were gone. His whining escalated to crying. Soon all the neighboring dogs started to bark. Note to self: administer the anti-anxiety medication at least two hours before leaving Buddy alone.

Even though Buddy woke up our neighbor at seven in the morning, he had an easy-going attitude and didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it was because he had four dogs of his own. He did suggest some of Buddy’s loneliness could be solved if we adopted a companion pet for Buddy. We were not interested. Living quarters are already tight inside our sixteen foot Viking. (We haven’t asked Buddy what he thinks about it.)

As night fell, peace also descended upon the busy campground. Some of the dogs were secure and quiet inside their RV’s. Others close to their owner’s feet, dozed by the campfire. The nightly soundtrack of waking insects began to play as the sun set. The smell of grilled burgers and hot dogs drifted through the air. Campers come and go, yet tonight there is a feeling of community among all of us who love nature, outdoor life, and dogs.

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