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!
Salutations! It’s me, the poet on blueberry street. I ‘ve upgraded to a new domain. All part of growing as a writer, I’m told. To those of you who have been following me, thanks. You’re in the right place.
Welcome back to part two of our camping season finale. In last week’s post, I shared how Herb, Buddy, and I arrived at Blue Spring State Park after driving three hundred miles out of our way. I have to say Buddy, our beagle, did very well in the car. He’s a good traveler.
Our campsite was dry, but not level. The fire ring looked like it was sliding off into a ditch. Herb did the best he could with the leveling jacks on the Viking, but when I sat at the dinette to eat, I felt like I was sliding off my seat. Oh well, we thought, at least we can sit outside without swarms of mosquitos buzzing around our ears.
We like to hike in the mornings when we’re on a campout. At Blue Spring we walked the Pine Island Trail with Buddy. The trail coursed through a beautiful shady hammock into an open field. When we returned to the campsite, we sat down to enjoy our second cup of coffee and discuss our plans for the day.
“How about renting a canoe?” I asked. Herb thought that sounded like a good idea. When I changed into my swimsuit, I noticed a tick on my leg. “OH NO!” I panicked.
Herb tried to get the tick out with tweezers. Unfortunately part of its body was still attached to my leg. I felt upset with myself. I realized I’d let my guard down regarding hiking in Florida in the summer.
I wasn’t wearing clothes sprayed with Permethrin.
I didn’t spray my legs with insect repellant.
I didn’t check myself right away when we returned from the hike.
I didn’t take a picture of the tick.
I was a bad hiker.
So where did all those mistakes lead me? To the ranger station, of course. I walked up to the window and told a ranger about my problem. “You better get medical attention,” he said, “You could get an infection if the rest of the tick isn’t removed. We’re also seeing something new in the southeast now. People are getting the meat allergy disease from ticks.” He directed me to a walk-in clinic in the area.
Herb and Buddy waited in the car while I sought out help at the clinic. Can you believe it was my first day on Medicare? Luckily I had my card with me. I signed in at the desk and told the receptionist about the tick. “Glad you came in,” she said. “Have you heard of the meat allergy? It might not be all bad, you could become a vegetarian, and be hip.”
I liked her humor, but I didn’t laugh. I filled out the forms and waited. Two hours later the rest of the tick was finally removed. No, it didn’t cost me an arm or a leg in the process, thanks to Medicare. The nurse practitioner prescribed an antibiotic. So far I’m still eating hamburgers with no adverse reactions. Follow this link for more information about ticks. This trip was not our first experience with ticks. The pests tend to be more active during the Florida rainy season.
It’s not really fair to only write about ticks without sharing the beauty of Blue Spring. The campground is a five minute walk from the spring. One morning we saw a manatee. Campers have access to the area before the park opens to daytime visitors. Our last day in the park I rose early. When I arrived at the water’s edge the sun was beginning to light up the scene. The water changed to a brilliant emerald color. Every time a fish surfaced ripples radiated through the still water. All was quiet except for the call of a great egret on a limb. This sight helped me forget all of the bugs, heat, and humidity of the past few days.
I can’t leave without sharing the photo of the egret.
I’d love to hear from you. If you enjoy nature, or want to share any tips about ticks, leave a comment.
A River Poem is displayed on a plaque above the Hillsborough River. The author is anonymous. From this spot people can see rapids as they bubble around outcroppings of Suwannee Limestone. I love the depth of meaning in the poem’s simplicity. Life’s not hard for a river. It creates beauty in the process of overcoming obstacles.
The Hillsborough River flows through Hillsborough State Park on its course to the Gulf of Mexico. Recently Herb and I walked the River Rapids Trail with our dog, Buddy. The scenery is quite beautiful.
The path meanders along the river bank through forests of ancient cypress trees. The tree pictured below is estimated to be four hundred years old.
Although its base is hollow, the tree is still alive. Some scientists think the stumpy looking knees around a Cypress tree serve as anchors in soft muddy soil. The knees also carry oxygen to the roots. I’ve heard the taller the knees, the higher the water has risen around the tree. The base of this tree is probably underwater during the rainy season.
On our walk I noticed a significant amount of poison ivy on both sides of the trail.
Doesn’t it look pretty? These leaves of green terrify me! I’m very allergic to this wicked weed and suffer for weeks if the oil gets on my skin. So not only did I need to keep my eyes on the path, I needed to make sure our dog wasn’t walking through it. So far so good. Whew!
Unfortunately, I was so focused on watching my feet, I missed something. Herb sighted a bobcat running across the path ahead. I think I’d like to see a bobcat, but on second thought I might get scared and try to escape by running through poison ivy. Out of the frying pan and into the fire!
Back to the peaceful river… further down the path we noticed a couple kayaking.
As they paddled closer, instead of looking calm and relaxed, they seemed anxious. They had good reason to be.
The river provides a wonderful habitat for alligators. I photographed this fine specimen basking in the sun on the opposite bank. Once I saw the gator, I realized I was not brave enough to kayak or canoe here. I could appreciate the river better from where I was standing. As long as I wasn’t standing in poison ivy, of course.
Since we were camping at Hillsborough State Park, we had another day to explore. We visited Fort Foster. This historic site is a replica of the original fort which was built to house supplies for U.S. soldiers during the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842.
The fort also protected the only bridge in the area that crossed the Hillsborough River. One thing the government didn’t consider, the bridge also made it easier for the Seminoles to cross the river from their camps on the opposite bank. A few skirmishes happened here, but more casualties occurred from insect related diseases.
Inside the stockade fence, the fort contained a canon, an officers quarters, an infirmary, and a supply building.
The fort could not accommodate the 305 soldiers assigned to the post. Most of them camped outside the fence in palmetto sheds. During the summer of 1836 the fort was abandoned due to unhealthy living conditions. The troops returned in October, to guard the supplies kept at the fort. Eventually the Seminoles were pushed further south to the Everglades.
The Hillsborough River… an inspiration for poets, a habitat for plants and animals, and a source of history. Like the poem states… “a living river of possibility.”
We could have been camping today. If I lean into my imagination I can see the flickering flames of the campfire and taste the toasted marshmallows. Why didn’t it happen?
Reality struck. Have you ever been so blinded by your wants that you lose sight of your needs? I was absolutely giddy about purchasing the Coachmen Clipper until….
Let me back up a bit. The Saturday after the RV show my husband and I cleaned the garage to make space to park our new tent trailer. We live in a townhouse with no yard or driveway. We believed the camper would just fit on one side of the garage with six inches to spare. How clever we are! One of us, can park on the street (probably him.) Now we won’t need to pay for storage. We were all set to pick up the camper later in the week.
Fast forward to Sunday night. A terrible rain storm hit Orlando. Tornados and hail were predicted. My husband realized he better put his car back in the garage. Then he decided he really didn’t want to park on the street permanently. On Monday, he started to scout around for storage facilities. He contracted to store the camper nearby.
Friday morning arrived. We dropped our dog off at my mom’s, and drove seventy-five miles to pick up our dream camper. Only we realized our dream camper was more of a nightmare. We endured a three-hour training session of raising and lowering the canvas top. Both of us were shocked to discover there are twenty steps in that process which must be performed in sequential order. No wonder the technician’s first words were, “Do you guys have any idea how much work goes into owning a tent trailer?”
The canvas top needs regular maintenance. It must be washed every time you use it and completely dry before storing to avoid mildew. That seemed impossible considering our storage situation. My husband pulled me off to the side. “Do you still want to do this?” he asked.
My stomach started churning. I felt like a deflated balloon. “I still want to get it, but if you are extremely opposed, I’ll relent.”
“I’m not extremely opposed, but I’m opposed,” He responded.
I need to also mention that while all of this turmoil was going on, his car was being equipped with a hitch and brake controlling device. My stomach was still churning.
Sometimes you have to face facts. How could I continue to insist that we go through with this plan knowing he wasn’t on board? “Okay,” I said. “Let’s see if they have another vehicle we can buy instead.”
A sales representative showed us a few lightweight hard top trailers. He tried to cheer us up with a bag of popcorn and some jokes. We came home empty-handed, except for a hitch and a braking device that continually flashes numbers under the dash.
In closing, sometimes the road to adventure includes detours. Take them.
Last week I visited an RV show near Tampa, Florida. The show featured a variety of recreation vehicles, from tent trailers to behemoth fifth wheels. One of the smallest trailers was the Little Guy pictured above. It is so tiny an adult would not be able to stand up inside. This trailer is basically a bed on wheels with air conditioning and a TV.
Every Little Guy camper includes an outdoor cooking area complete with stove, sink, and pull out cooler. An additional screen room can be attached to the bedroom to provide more living space.
My husband and I have never owned a trailer. Although we love to visit national parks, we’ve usually stayed in hotels or lodges. I am the one interested in camping. (A throwback to my childhood in Ohio.) Now that we are both retired, we want to take more trips for longer periods of time. However, we own a sweet little beagle with special needs. We don’t like to board him for more than two weeks. My solution is to take the dog with us. So…that’s how we came to be at the RV show.
At the show, we attended a seminar on extended travel in an RV. The leader of the seminar owns a home in the mid-west, and winters in Florida in his RV. He shared that many retirees actually sell their homes and travel in their motor home permanently. That would explain why someone might want a motor home with more than one bathroom, a washer, dryer, and big screen TV. The speaker gave tips on managing mail, prescriptions, and banking while on the road. He closed his presentation with a quote from Malcolm Forbes Jr., “Go as soon as you can, as far as you can, for as long as you can.”
Immediately I recalled my word from God for 2017, “Go.” The words of Mr. Forbes resonated with me. (For details read my blog from post of January ninth.)
Over dinner that night, my husband and I discussed our options. At the show we saw a Coachmen Clipper tent trailer which suited our needs. We wanted something easy to pull, with enough room inside to accommodate our dog. I especially liked the idea that the canvas top had plenty of windows. Even when I was inside, I felt like I was outside. The Clipper was also very affordable.
Then the what ifs began. What if we don’t like it? What if it doesn’t work out to travel with our dog? How will we store it? Maybe we should limit our trips to no more than two weeks at a time and continue to stay in hotels.
Wait a minute! Isn’t that what we did before we retired? Didn’t we work all year and eagerly anticipate the two weeks out of the year that were truly ours? Enough of that!
I don’t want to regret that I never tried to travel in a camper.
So the next morning we sealed the deal. In two days we pick up our new camper. I can’t wait until we will take off for our first destination. Our little beagle doesn’t have a clue what adventures await him. Tune in during February for more posts about our experiences in the great outdoors.
Have you ever visited a place you could never forget? For me that place is Long Key State Park. Located in the Florida Keys, Long Key is a great place for being. When I say being, I mean a time to live in the moment. It’s an experience marked by feeling more closely connected to the natural world. When our activities slow from a sprint to a crawl, we can better appreciate all of creation.
Last October we rented a small RV from Cruise America and spent a few days in Long KeyState Park. There, every campsite is oceanfront property. The rhythm of the waves is a constant soundtrack. Gentle sea breezes keep mosquitos away. Most of the sites are lined with trees to afford privacy from neighbors. Something amazing happens when you park an RV, get out comfortable camp chairs, and sit down facing the ocean. You don’t want to leave.
When asked, “What did you do while you were there?” I responded, “Nothing, and it was the best nothing of my life.” I loved to sit and watch the birds at low tide while they pecked among natural debris to find food. When they flew away I watched a lone ant marching in the sand. Maybe he was a scout for the rest of the colony. In the evening I saw the soft glow of moonlight reflect upon the surface of the water. The next morning the sky was ablaze of color as the sun rose above the horizon. I realized that all of this nothing really was something. The world was full of life but I was always too busy to notice. I grew to appreciate the little things.
So why did I need to go all the way to the Florida Keys to be? That’s definitely food for thought. For me, being requires several days of low activity and uninterrupted time in the outdoors. If those conditions are met in a different location so be it. Camping in one place for several days definitely lends itself to being. As I write this I am saddened to realize my one experience of living in the moment happened almost a year ago. How ironic to make doing nothing my new goal.
Being is a state of rest that we rarely experience. According to the book of Genesis, after God created the earth, he rested on the seventh day. I like to imagine God in a state of being. On His day of rest, God saw everything He had made, and said, “It is good.”
When have you experienced being? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Let’s support each other in being more and doing less.
Camping holds fond childhood memories for me. Our family spent many weekends tent camping in Ohio’s Mohican State Forest. Mom worked most of the day on Friday packing everything we needed. She planned the menu and packed the food, cooking utensils, and camp stove. Dad came home from work at five and we took off.
Once we arrived at our campsite, everybody had a job to do. My little brothers gathered kindling. Dad set up the tent and built the campfire. I carried water and helped wash the dishes. We used tin plates, bowls, and metal silverware, no paper plates or plastic ware for us! Looking back, Mom had the most work to do. Mom was always getting things in and out of the car to prepare meals.
At night we sat near the campfire, roasted marshmallows and told stories. When the fire died down, my brothers and I crawled into the tent. We told jokes and giggled until Dad demanded quiet. Our parents lingered by the glowing embers, and the soft sound of their voices lulled us to sleep. The next morning the tantalizing smell of bacon and eggs prompted me to get out of my sleeping bag and hurry to breakfast.
We took a lot of walks through the campground by the river. Dad loved to check out other people’s campsites to see what kind of tents or trailers they were using. He dreamed about an upgrade. Eventually he bought a small thirteen foot trailer that we took to the Smoky Mountains.
I’ve tried to get my husband and our children to share my love of camping. Our experiences have been memorable too, but only because they were disasters permanently etched into our minds. We live in Florida, and tent camping in the summer has its challenges. Last August my adult daughter and I spent a weekend camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park.
The first night was great. We wrapped tilapia and vegetables in foil and roasted our meal in the coals of the fire. A cool breeze kept us comfortable. On Saturday afternoon a horrendous storm forced us to take shelter in the car. Water flooded the floor of the tent. When the rain slowed to a drizzle, we grabbed our bedding and stuffed it in the back of the car. About an hour later, we laid our felt covered air mattress out to dry in the late afternoon sun. The breeze disappeared and the temperature rose. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I discovered our firewood was wet. How would we cook our bean burritos? One of our neighbors came to the rescue by giving us some special fire starters which ignited the wood. After dinner I read the warning label on the fire starters, “Do not use for cooking.” Maybe that’s why the burritos tasted weird. Exhausted from battling the heat and storms, we retreated to our tent after sunset, only to be attacked by sand fleas! My daughter was nursing flea bites for a week afterwards.
When our children were younger, my husband and I took them camping out of state. During a trip to Yellowstone we were apprehensive about our decision to camp after a park ranger told us a herd of bison stampeded through the campground the night before. Contrary to the safety and warmth I experienced as a child, our night in Yellowstone was a night of terror when we heard a bison snort just outside our tent. To our surprise it snowed that night. My husband got up early and built a campfire, but the kids and I refused to shed what little warmth was afforded by our sleeping bags. Maybe our situation would have improved if we had brought bacon for breakfast.
This year my husband and I planned a trip to Canada. We reserved an oTENTik in Fundy National Park, New Brunswick. The park website displayed a photo of a structure with cabin-like walls and a canvas roof. The website suggested we bring sleeping bags, food, cooking utensils, and a cooler. Although there was no cooking permitted in the oTENTik, we could cook in a community kitchen nearby. Since we were flying, we packed our sleeping bags in a suitcase, along with packets of dehydrated lasagna, and a small pan to boil water.
When we arrived at Fundy, the oTENTik was clean, equipped with bunk beds, a gas heater, table, and chairs. We walked over to the community kitchen and discovered we needed to build a fire in a wood burning stove to cook. During the previous week we slept in hotels and dined on delicious Canadian seafood. We had no firewood and forgot to bring matches. Did we really want to go buy those things to cook freeze-dried lasagna? The town of Alma was only a five minute drive away. So we drove into town, picked up a pizza, and brought it back to our campsite. We really lived off the land. Modern conveniences have weakened my pioneer spirit. I want to enjoy living in the great outdoors without doing all the work. My experiences with camping as an adult gave me a new sense of appreciation for my parents.
Did I already mention Dad eventually bought a trailer?