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The Rare Animals of Ochlockonee River State Park

Every time I visit a Florida State Park, I learn something new. While some parks commemorate events in Florida history, other places are well known for their diverse plants and wildlife.

Recently Herb and I drove to the panhandle of Florida towing our little Viking camper behind us. When we pulled up to the Ochlockonee entrance, we were greeted by a smiling volunteer. “You’re going to love this park. Be sure to watch for our white squirrels. You might even see our piebald deer during your visit.” The nice volunteer marked the place where and when we might see the beautiful deer on our park map.

“Thanks.” Herb took the map and we drove off to find our campsite, wondering if we heard her correctly. “White squirrels?” We found our site and busied ourselves setting up camp before sunset.

The next morning we were blessed with good weather and decided to take Buddy, our beagle on a short hike along the river. Herb took hold of Buddy’s leash. “Today is white squirrel hunting day. Buddy should be able to help us find one.”

We hiked a little over a mile, but saw very little wildlife. Even so, the view of the river was gorgeous.

When we returned to the campsite for lunch, I saw something white running on the ground. Is that a cat? I looked closer and saw another furry white animal. “Herb, come quick. “The white squirrels are here.”

Herb grabbed his camera and took some great pictures. Buddy stayed asleep in his doggy bed. I’m glad he didn’t scare the squirrels away.

Our story doesn’t end here. At dusk we drove our jeep to the pine flatwood area to look for the unusual deer. We waited and waited but had no luck. I rolled down the window and peered out into the thicket. “Maybe the joke is on us. Maybe the volunteer sent us on a snipe hunt.”

On our third day in the park, we left the campground and set out to see the Gulf. As we were driving I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Look!” A large white animal was grazing in the open meadow by the road. “Could that be the deer?”

Herb pulled the car over and got out. I followed along with my binoculars. “I don’t believe it. I’ve never seen such an unusual deer. The animal’s head is brown and its body is white.”

Later I read a park brochure which described the white squirrels and the deer as “piebald.” Although these animals are mostly white, they have some patches of color. This is due to a mutant gene which regulates melanin. The piebald animals are very rare, and are different from albinos since they do not have pink eyes.

This white squirrel has a small patch of gray on the top of his head.

White squirrels and a white deer living in the same park. Wow! Well, at least these animals are safe from hunters as long as they stay in the park. After all, they’ve lost their camouflage.

After enjoying a few days at the park, we started the long drive back to Orlando. “Stop!” I shouted.

Herb slammed on the brakes of the jeep. The piebald deer was only ten feet from the front of our jeep. Once it safely crossed the road, a brown deer followed close behind.

I caught my breath. “Boy, that was a close one. We almost killed the park’s mascot. While the piebald deer is safe from hunters, cars still remain a problem.”

If you are interested in wildlife, check out two of our other Florida trips: Florida manatees and Our Paynes Prairie Campout. Do you enjoy seeing animals in the wild? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Posing with another one of a kind animal.

Love Me, Love My Dog

An example of unconditional love.

Have you ever stopped to think about how many English idioms we use in conversation each day? “Love me, love my dog” is one of these old sayings.

Origin

A medieval French monk, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux immortalized the phrase during one of his sermons. (Wait a minute. Was he the saint that Saint Bernard dogs are named after? No. That was Saint Bernard of Menthon.)

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux referred to the phrase when he was speaking about about angels and their love for humanity. Originally, “He who loves me, also loves my dog.” was a common ancient proverb. So the saying originated much earlier than 1100 A.D.

As a person living in 2020, I find it hard to believe dogs once had a negative connotation. In medieval times people did not want to have dogs as pets. Dogs were dirty and carried diseases. Grooming and vaccinations were unheard of. To own a dog was considered a fault. To love someone who had a dog, was to love them unconditionally.

Usage in Modern Times

Over the years the old saying was shortened to “love me, love my dog” and has be taken literally as well as figuratively. Sometimes a child would bring a flea-bitten stray mutt into the house, expecting to be welcomed with open arms. The child was often met with mixed results depending on his mother’s mood at the time.

The literal meaning isn’t as popular now because people love dogs so much, they own more than one. Pets are considered members of the family. People take their pets everywhere. We are quite accustomed to seeing dogs in Florida parks, campgrounds, and on hiking trails. (leashed, of course)

But the figurative meaning of love me, love my dog states an important message for couples. In order for a marriage to succeed, two people need to accept each other as they are— including their wants and needs.

My Personal Story

Given how much I adore Buddy, you might be surprised to learn I never wanted to own a dog. I didn’t want the responsibility of walking a dog, and I certainly didn’t want to pick up after one. I also disliked the idea of any pet getting up on the furniture.

Herb was the one who always wanted a beagle. We had been happily married for over thirty years. Since he was nearing retirement, how could I deprive him of something he needed? “Love me, love my dog?”

When we met Buddy in 2011 my heart melted. Buddy has changed my life. This week I’m visiting schools to speak about Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street and praising this adorable dog.

Everywhere we go, we meet people who love Buddy. He’s become a celebrity in our neighborhood and his presence always helps me sell me more books at local events. Buddy gets more attention for being a dog, than I do for being an author. I’m ready to put a new twist on the old proverb.

“Love my dog, love me?”

Henry Flagler's Legacy

Is art a luxury or a necessity?

A treasury of history, art, and architecture lies within the gates of Flagler College. This campus was formerly a grand hotel built by oil tycoon Henry M. Flagler. During the Gilded Age of the late 1800’s, the hotel served wealthy guests who were eager to trade their snow covered homes for the tropical climate of St. Augustine, Florida.

Originally named the Hotel Ponce de Leon, the building is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Today students of Flagler College conduct tours to teach the public about this National Historic Landmark.

My husband and I visited the college in December. We met our guide in the foyer shown above. The hotel is decorated around three themes: Spanish, nautical, and religious. I was most impressed with the ceilings in each room.

These murals were painted with twenty-four carot gold paint.

The windows of the dining room were created by Louis Tiffany. The Edison Electric Company powered the building with steam heat and 4,000 electric lights. When it opened in 1888, the hotel was one of the first electrified buildings in the country.

Both sides of the dining room feature balconies where musicians played. Since the guests disliked any pause in the entertainment, one band would play while the other rested.

Our guide told us Mr. Flagler cared so much about his appearance, he installed a leather staircase between his suite and the dining room so he wouldn’t scuff his shoes on the way to dinner.

After our tour I wondered if Henry Flagler really supported the arts, or did he simply want to impress his guests with his wealth and decadence?

Internet research enlightened me on the subject. The Hotel Ponce de Leon accommodated visiting artists who hosted weekly receptions in seven on-site studios. Most Friday evenings, guests admired each artist’s work and often purchased a painting or two. In addition, a gallery ran along the north side of the building.

The first of the hotel artists to receive national acclaim was Martin Johnson Heade. One of Heade’s most famous paintings is “Giant Magnolias on a Blue Velvet Cloth,” gifted to the National Gallery of Art in 1986. Flagler was Heade’s most loyal patron and commissioned two of his large paintings for the rotunda of the hotel. Henry Flagler’s legacy as a patron of the arts lives on at Flagler College.

In 2007 the artist studios became part of the Molly Wiley Art Building. Flagler College offers an exceptional visual art program for undergraduates.

Some people think of art as a luxury, consumed by those with large amounts of leisure time and money. It’s true that Henry Flagler had both but I believe he valued art as a human need. He realized art is a vehicle whereby humans reach their full potential.

Art helps stretch your mind as much as exercise stretches your body. This year why not visit an art museum, gallery, or festival? Decorate your home with an original piece of art.

Leave a comment and share how art has enriched your life.

Are You Finishing Your Race Well?

The clock is ticking and 2019 is almost over. Were you able to achieve a goal you set for yourself last January?

If you’re like me, you stopped making New Year’s resolutions because you failed to keep them in the past. Why do some people fail while others succeed?

Setting Realistic Goals

One reason people succeed depends upon the goal they set for themselves. They choose a realistic attainable goal which they deeply desire. Achieving any goal requires an investment of time, energy, and sometimes money. In order to stay motivated a person needs to care enough to invest themselves.

Before setting a goal, decide if you’re willing to make sacrifices. If additional knowledge or skills are needed, can you obtain the resources to help you advance?

Recently, I watched thousands of runners cross the finish line in the Orlando half-marathon. Clearly these champions had set a realistic goal for themselves. They were physically healthy and committed to months of preparation. Some of the runners may have sought advice from other athletes or hired a personal trainer.

Visualize Success

Finishing a long distance race depends upon remaining focused and committed. I’m sure there were days when some of these runners wanted to do anything else but run. They had to say no to distractions which pulled them away from their training schedule. They had to get up early to work out when they wanted to stay in bed.

In order to press on mile after mile, runners may have visualized someone taking their picture as they crossed the finish line. They imagined the cheer of spectators and the glorious moment the shiny medal is placed around their neck. Very often our goals are achieved by picturing what we will look like when achieve them.

Be Honest

Take the time to evaluate your progress along the way. Honest evaluation doesn’t mean putting yourself down because someone else is faster or better than you. Seek help identifying any misconceptions you have regarding the way you are running your race. Often runners team up with a pacer who helps them maintain their speed.

If you are disappointed in your progress, find out what steps you can take to improve. If you hit a roadblock, or meet a setback, don’t let it tempt you to quit. Celebrate the small victories. If you’re attempting something new, you will not finish first, but you can finish the course.

Be Inspired

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

Scripture honors hard work and diligence, a concept often learned by participating in sports. I may never attempt to run a half-marathon, but seeing the joyful faces of the runners at the finish line inspires me to give more effort to anything I decide to do.

I’m looking forward to 2020. Are you?

Perfect Peace

Is perfect peace found…

In a cloudless sky?

Or could it exist in a hurricane’s eye?

Can it be perceived in the dark of night?

Or better displayed by candlelight?

Is peace our reward, when all work is done?

A prize for the victor, when conflict is won?

A mother feels peace as her child drifts to sleep.

A sailor knows peace where the waters are deep.

The teacher can’t wait ’till the final bell rings.

The hiker knows peace when the morning birds sing.

The judge proclaims peace when the last word is said.

The waitress will say it’s when everyone’s fed.

The busy store clerk awaits Christmas Eve.

A harried host smiles after everyone leaves.

Perfect peace

Strivings cease

Kept by those

whose trust grows

in the Rock of Ages.

Are You a Target for Advertising?

Now that the Christmas season is here, retailers are busier than ever trying to convince people to purchase their merchandise. I love to shop, but I need to remind myself that what looks good in an ad doesn’t always turn out to be the best purchase. In the past, I’ve bought clothes that looked good on a model, but didn’t complement my short frame. I’ve also had my hair cut like “that girl in the magazine,” only to be let down when I tried to style my hair at home. But one ad I can always depend upon is the Publix grocery flyer.

Publix follows all the seasons and holidays with their menu suggestions. Many of these ads also feature BOGO items. How smart! For example, my featured image of pot roast and mashed potatoes includes an inset announcing that the items needed to create this scrumptious dish are also on sale.

Even though I’d been trying to lose weight for months, I took one look at the pot roast and thought, I want that. I began to search the web for pot roast recipes which included mushrooms. I did not come up empty.

Recipe in hand, I drove to my neighborhood Publix to buy the ingredients before the sale ended. Later, when I was putting everything in the fridge, I told my husband, “I’m making something special this Sunday, but you won’t believe the money I saved at Publix.”

After being forced to eat nothing but big salads because I was the one a diet, Herb looked up from his book, “Sounds good, does the word special mean high-calorie comfort food?”

“Always. I think calories are very comforting.”

At long last, Sunday morning arrived. I followed the recipe and mixed up the ingredients in the crock pot before church. Upon my arrival home, the aroma from the roast made my mouth water. Then I received a text from my son, “Sorry Mom, I’m not going to make it to lunch today. Something’s come up.”

Then a second text, this one from my daughter. “Dad and I are tied up at the car dealership. We’re going to be late for lunch.”

“Oh no. I hope the pot roast is as good as it smells, because we’re going to be eating it for the next week.” I continued preparing the sides while my brother set the table.

We took our seats and gave thanks. Our plates looked just like the image in the flyer. I took my first bite. “I’m forgetting about calories today. This is delicious.”

Later, the rest of my family trickled in for the leftovers. Everyone thought the meal was outstanding. For once, I did not feel let down by the power of advertising.

If you are looking for some real comfort food this December, you can find the recipe for Slow-Cooker Pot Roast at this link. If time is a concern, it can be prepared with the crock pot setting on high.

Bon Apetit! Let’s enjoy counting our blessings instead of calories this holiday season. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of dieting foods on sale in January.

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.