Why would a turtle crawl onto the same bank as an alligator? Excuse me, but something doesn’t seem right about this photo. After all, alligators eat turtles. Their massive jaws have an extreme biting force that can easily break the shell of a turtle.
Strange but true, alligators and turtles sometimes become friends. In fact, some alligators let turtles ride on their backs. A gator might provide a nice way for the turtle to sun itself in a wide expanse of water.
Alligators only eat when they feel hungry. But how would a turtle know the gator’s stomach was full?
Herb and I saw this interesting scene on our latest camping trip to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. Although Herb zoomed in for a close up, the gator was only about twenty feet away from us. Since we had Buddy (our beagle) with us, we didn’t wait around to see what might happen next.
The phrase “timing is everything” applies to many situations in life. The success of something is often related to when it happens. Our intuition guides us to the appropriate time to act. Animals rely heavily on their sense of intuition to process what is going on in their environment. In contrast, humans rely on their cognitive processes and tend to ignore their intuition.
Perhaps the turtles had a “gut feeling” about the alligator and the contents of his “gut.”
On that note…. until next time, watch your back.
Leave a comment if you have had any interesting animal encounters.
The truth is I’m a tree hugger. Whether I’m admiring the knobby knees of a bald cypress, or the limbs of a towering live oak, trees are my thing. I’ve shared scores of photographs on this blog and written many poems about trees.
During my four years of camping and tromping through the state parks of Florida, I’ve seen many species of trees. Most of the parks in northern and central Florida include forests of longleaf pine.
How can a pine tree have leaves?
The longleaf pine is really an evergreen conifer. Its name originated from the needlelike “leaves” which develop in bundles of three. These needles grow up to 18 inches long. Unlike the bald cypress tree, the longleaf pine does not lose its needles in winter, and is not classified as deciduous.
How can fire be an agent for growth?
Like many pine trees, the cones contain seeds which are dispersed by the wind. However, the seeds of the longleaf pine will never germinate unless they come in contact with soil. When the ground around each pine is thick with leaf litter and undergrowth, the seeds fail to produce new trees.
Longleaf pines need fire to keep producing more trees. If other windblown seeds from hardwood trees take root and grow, the longleaf pines are eventually choked out.
The restoration of longleaf pine forests have become a major conservation policy of the state parks. Unless a lighting strike produces a fire naturally, the park staff use controlled burns to remove the undergrowth. Fire does not damage the longleaf pine, which is also resilient to pests, windstorms, and drought.
When I heard this information from a guide at Highlands Hammock, I was surprised. I never thought fire could be so helpful. Forest fires illustrate how trials are necessary for new growth. Nature often reminds me of scripture.
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood has test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12 NIV
After the seed germinates, the longleaf pine focuses on growing strong roots. When its taproot reaches a length of twelve feet, the longleaf pine concentrates on growing taller. Longleaf pines reach a height of one hundred feet and can live for three hundred years. Doesn’t all growth rely upon a firm foundation? A forest like the one above provides a home for thirty endangered animal species including the red-cockaded woodpecker.
As you can see by reading this post, I have always been a teacher at heart. I hope I have inspired you to spend time outdoors. Nature has much to teach us.
The weather forecasted fifty-degree day time highs for our campout. Herb and I looked forward to this trip, but the thought of spending whole days in the trailer did not appeal to either of us. I am definitely a creature of comfort!
I checked my local Publix for firewood, since the wood they sell always burns well. Unfortunately, the store had none in stock, and an employee could not tell me when a delivery might arrive. (Another supply chain affected by Covid, of course.) Herb checked at Ace Hardware, and also came home empty handed.
I googled “firewood near me” and found a place located twenty miles away. Always the dutiful husband, Herb ventured out to see what the man had to offer. About an hour later he returned with at least thirty logs in the back of the jeep.
I helped Herb move the wood from the car into the trailer. “Great! This is enough wood to keep us warm until the cold snap ends. By the way, how much did it cost?”
“The man didn’t take a credit card.” Herb replied. “I told him all I had in cash was $18.00. He said that’s fine and took it.”
“What a deal!” I stored some of the wood in the shower of the trailer, while Herb stuffed as many logs as he could under the bed.
When we got to the campground, I cooked dinner while Herb positioned a few of the logs in the fire ring. There are two ways to build a fire. You can make the log cabin or the tee-pee. He built the tee-pee.
After dinner, we got ready for the grand lighting. Although Herb used a fire starter, the logs would not ignite. Instead they produced enough smoke to activate the smoke detector in the trailer. Eventually, we gave up trying to get the wood to burn and turned in for the night.
The next morning we drove to the park entrance to buy more wood.
The park ranger was happy to oblige us. “Sure, we have just what you need.”
“Yes, but will it burn?”
“Our wood is kiln dried, guaranteed to burn.”
“Ok, I’ll take two bags.” Herb handed him $12.00.
After our hike we returned to the campsite to test the new wood. This time Herb built the tee-pee using the kiln dried wood. It burned right away. Success!
Then Herb started introducing the bad wood to the good wood. It too, started to burn. Yay!
The rest of the afternoon we continued to burn baby burn. What else were we to do with all of the bad wood? We were at the height of glory until…
Night fell along with rain. We took cover in our trailer. After a bit there was a knock on the door. I opened it to a park employee who informed me there was a boil water alert for the entire park. Apparently a water main broke and the campground drinking water became contaminated.
Although we’d brought some bottled water with us, I knew we didn’t have enough for the rest of our stay. So I set to work boiling water.
After the rain stopped, the wolf moon arrived along with bitter cold. But we were warm in our trailer as long as we used the propane heater.
After a hot breakfast of bacon and eggs, we decided to tour the park by car and pick up another bundle of wood to get through the day. The ranger was out, but the wood bin was unlocked. Herb dropped $6.00 in the mailbox with a note.
Back at the campsite, we spent the afternoon reading, warmed by the fire and the abundant sunshine.
By sunset we burned every stick of wood we had.
Our last night the temperature dropped to the mid-thirties. Before we we went to bed, Herb turned the thermostat to 65. We were low on propane because of all the water I boiled. I had a hard time sleeping because it was so cold in the trailer.
Some camping trips are remembered for beautiful scenery, others for people we’ve met, but this one deserves dual awards for the most expensive and the least comfortable.
I would be negligent to not mention the scenic features of this park. The property was donated by Mike Roess and developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. Gold Head Branch ravine, formed by seepage springs, divides the park and has been designated a State Natural Feature Site. The shady, moist, ravine is 65 feet deep and 1.5 miles long. We carried Buddy down the eighty-five steps to the stream. The boardwalk was perfect for a Buddy size hike.
I leave you with this…Mike Roess Goldhead Branch sells excellent firewood!
Quench your thirst for tranquility with a trip to the Suwannee River.
Do you feel guilty whenever you do nothing? If you are honest with yourself, the answer is probably yes. Even when we take a vacation, we can crowd our itinerary with too many places to see and things to do.
A four night camping trip to Suwannee River State Park in Florida gave me the opportunity to saturate my mind with nature. Each morning as I wrote in my journal, I marveled at the delicate streams of sunlight through the leafy trees. Herb named our campsite “Tranquility Base.”
Most of the time we relaxed in front of our trailer. On this trip we limited ourselves to one hike each day. Herb and I made this decision because we forgot our doggy backpack. (Hmm.. could Herb have forgotten the backpack on purpose, since he is the one who shoulders all of Buddy’s weight?) Because our beagle has degenerative disk disease, we limit his hikes to one mile. We planned our days with Buddy’s needs in mind. After all, at Suwannee no one is in a hurry.
If you are looking for a place to get away from it all, this is the park you should visit. Located at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, the state park is less than a three hour drive north of Orlando.
The Suwannee stretches from southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico for two hundred forty-six miles. The waterway has always been important to Florida history. The pioneer town of Columbus, was founded here in 1841. At that time steamboats traveled up and down the river carrying passengers and freight. Lumber companies utilized the current to move their logs downstream to market. At its peak in the late 1800’s more than five hundred people lived in the area.
Today, all that remains of Columbus is the cemetery, one of Florida’s oldest.
Herb and I paused to read some of the tombstones. Many of the pioneers died at a young age, probably due to a lack of medical care. The cemetery is accessed by foot on the Sandhill Trail, which meanders through wildflowers and longleaf pines.
We explored a different type of landscape on the Suwannee River Trail. The riverbank provided beautiful views through the cypress trees. A word of caution, I saw poison ivy along the sides of the trail. Fortunately, we circumvented disaster.
Private outfitters rent kayaks, or you can launch your own inside the park. The Department of Florida State Parks operates five river camps, spaced about ten miles apart for those who wish to kayak for a few days. The camps can be reserved in advance and they are free. Sorry Buddy, no dogs allowed. Sigh.
The Suwannee Trail continues along the riverbank to the site of Balanced Rock, which sadly lost its balance and collapsed years before we arrived. A limestone tower once stood twenty feet tall, but only the base remains. Since I don’t encounter very many rocks in Florida, I snapped a photo.
After our daily hike, we returned to our campsite for an afternoon of reading in our lounge chairs. At one point I looked up from my book to see something shimmering between two trees in the sunlight. “Wow! Look at that beautiful spider web.” Herb rushed to get his camera and focused on the web and the inhabitant thereof.
The golden orb spider not only spins giant webs, but the yellow color of the silk attracts bees during sunny hours. When a shadow falls upon the web, it becomes camouflaged into the surrounding foliage, and ensnares other insects. I also learned the spider can adjust the amount of pigment in their silk and change the intensity of the color of the thread. Nature’s artist at work. I’m not really afraid of spiders unless they start moving. Why is that?
Every evening we talked around the campfire and delighted in the nightly show performed by various celebrity stars. You know, the celestial kind.
Oh, by the way, the park also rents cabins for those of you who may not want to camp. What are you waiting for? The beautiful Suwannee River is calling you to quench your thirst for tranquility.
As I reflect on our four days in Suwannee, I realize “doing nothing” is good for something, after all.
Like many of you, I’ve done my share of whining during the past three months. The pandemic has left me stressed, angry, and bored. If you’ve read many of my past writings, you know the one activity I’ve missed most is travel.
Herb and I felt disappointed when the Florida State Parks closed in March. Later, when they reopened on May 4 we were excited until we learned the campgrounds would remain closed. In spite of this information, I reserved a site for Memorial Day weekend at Lake Louisa —a short thirty minute drive west of Orlando. We were ecstatic when the campground opened on May 21, one day before we were scheduled to arrive! We packed our clothes, food, and beagle into the jeep and hitched up our Viking trailer for our great escape.
The weather was hot, after all this is Florida. But we didn’t let the weather phase us. Like all happy campers we couldn’t stop smiling. We set up camp before a tremendous rainstorm hit. Did that bother us? Not in the least. Snug inside our tiny trailer we munched our homemade cheeseburgers and laughed about our good fortune.
The ninety-five degree temperatures continued on Saturday. Fortunately, we were able to cool off under the shade of our awning and a large beach umbrella we brought along.
We made Buddy more comfortable by setting up a fan at either end of his pen.
Over fifty campsites sit upon a strip of land between Dixie Lake and Lake Hammond. As night fell we were treated to a beautiful sunset above Lake Dixie.
And of course, no campout is complete without a campfire.
Even so, the warmer temperatures made it necessary to sit farther away from the flames.
Sunday morning we hiked on one of the park’s lovely trails. Buddy had a great time exploring the area.
We measure our distance, and when Buddy has walked one mile, Herb carries him in our doggie backpack. What a good Dad!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
Last week my brother Terry and his wife, Mary Ann, camped with Herb and I at Colt Creek State Park. It was a special trip since they live in Arizona, and drove their RV to Florida for a visit. We invited other members of our family to meet us at the campground for a picnic lunch.
The day of the gathering, Mary Ann covered the table with a colorful cloth. I helped her set out the traditional picnic fare. In addition to potato salad, coleslaw, and chips, we included a variety of toppings for hot dogs.
All of a sudden scores of love bugs descended on the table. Mary Ann was quick to cover the open deli containers with clear plastic shower caps. How ingenious, I thought, certainly that will keep the pesky insects out of our delicacies. I was glad she had a lot of shower caps, because the moment I opened a jar of pickle relish, a pair of love bugs landed on the inside of the metal lid. Yikes! In the blink of an eye, another pair dropped inside the jar.
While I busied myself scooping the bugs out of the relish, Mary Ann noticed a pair had attached themselves to a hot dog on the grill. Needless to say, these pests succumbed to a fiery death.
The bugs weren’t the only living things having difficulty with the heat. This is the hottest May I can remember, with temperatures rising to nearly ninety degrees every day.
Back to the food, Mary Ann and I stood guard over the table to defend our lunch from the invading bugs. I gently lifted the shower cap from the potato salad just far enough to spoon out a serving before any more bugs could crawl inside. Mary Ann scraped the dead bugs from each hot dog before placing it on a plate. Believe it or not, no one got sick.
Once served, each picnicker hurried back to their chair which we had positioned under huge beach umbrellas. Everyone kept their eyes on their lunch as they ate. Although we were kind of miserable, we laughed because we had never experienced a picnic like this before. It was like no other. No matter what, we were all happy to be together.
One day later I found a screened-in picnic shelter by the lake. Although we took advantage of this new location for our second picnic lunch, the rest of our family had already gone home.
Facts about Love Bugs
This is an unusually bad year for love bugs in Florida due to increased rain. Although they are harmless and don’t bite or sting, the bugs stick to vehicles during highway driving. Unless they are washed off, they can eat the paint of a car.
An adult love bug lives only three or four days and those days are filled with mating. Love bug mating season occurs twice a year during the months of May and September. They feed on nectar from flowers and like other pollinators actually benefit the environment. Contrary to local legend, love bugs were not created by the University of Florida as part of an experiment to control mosquitoes. The insects migrated to U.S. from Central America in the 1920’s.
Love bugs are active between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. This is something I want to remember when scheduling our next family picnic.
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.
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.
I highly recommend renting a canoe and paddling the Blackwater River. The tidal river system hosts a variety of birds and other wildlife.
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!
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.
We were told an eagle nest existed somewhere along the boardwalk. I became so interested in looking up, I forgot to look look down.
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.