A DAY OF DIVERSION TO RAINBOW SPRINGS, FL

Now that the state of Florida is opening up little by little after the pandemic, my daughter, “Teen Traveler”, and I decided we were well overdue for a road trip. Living in Florida has its benefits, even though this time of year it is hot. VERY hot. We have some of the most beautiful springs with crystal clear blue water that I’ve ever seen, and we decided it would be well worth the two and a half hour ride to see them.

This time, we decided to travel to Dunnellon, Florida to see Rainbow Springs State Park. This park was originally a privately owned theme park destination in the 1930s , complete with a zoo, a rodeo, gardens everywhere, a boat ride, and a ride with leaf-shaped gondolas suspended from up high above the ground. After the theme parks in Orlando opened in the early 1970s, Rainbow Springs closed. Sometime thereafter (in the 1990s) , the state of Florida acquired this land and made it into a beautiful park, preserving the original three man-made waterfalls. At the time of our visit, two of the waterfalls were inoperable due to a maintenance issue, but the one that was still in operation was beautiful.

A cement and brick walkway circles most of the main areas in the park, but there are several wooded trails to walk as well.

cement path

We traveled mostly on the cement and brick walkways as well as the boardwalk paths, but we walked a little way on one of the wooded paths behind the overgrown butterfly garden, which is scheduled for refurbishment in the near future.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” -Henry David Thoreau

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway on the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. ” – Henry David Thoreau

While walking on trail in the woods, however, we encountered a park sign alerting us about the presence of bears in the park, along with instructions about what to do if we encountered any bears. We decided to turn back toward the more populated areas. At this park, you can rent canoes and kayaks and can swim in the crystal blue water as well, although a sign alerts you of the possibility of alligators in the water. We decided to skip this fresh water swimming experience for the time being, as I felt it was a bit unsafe to swim in fresh water with others during the present corona pandemic.

We saw many beautiful flowers while walking about the park and were forunate enough to see a butterfly egg on the back of a leaf when we turned it over. Fascinating find.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau

beautiful pink flower
ubiquitous berries in the wooded path
a splash of color in the distance

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he expects.” – John Muir

old zoo complex ruins

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” – Henry David Thoreau

pops of color along the trail

We came to this park mainly see the beautiful blue spring waters and the waterfalls but were delighted to see the beautiful plants and a glimpse of an unexpected butterfly or two. They say it is the “little things that matter,” and the unexpected “little things” in sum added up to a wonderful experience.

We exited the park, full of wonder and joy at all that we had seen, heard, smelled, and touched at this beautiful site when we passed by a little pond with the most beautiful green algae floating on top of it, which beckoned us to stop for a moment.

photo of pond taken by “Teen Traveler”

There was something special about this little pond that “Teen Traveler” and I felt simultaneously the moment we stopped. We looked at each other and both said that it was a place at which we could literally spend hours. It was so serene and peaceful. We decided to sit upon a rock at the edge of the pond, watching with the sense that something great was before our eyes. While sitting silently and experiencing this magic moment together, my daughter noticed a frog on the shore of the pond.

frog by the pond photo taken by “Teen Traveler”

It was one of those magic moments where the world works in perfect synchronicity for a time, where everything works together as it should. It amazed us that this frog was so perfectly suited for the pond, and the pond was perfectly suited for the frog. The camouflage before our eyes was amazing. The frog’s head was exactly the color of the algae, and the frog’s lower body was exactly the same color as the rocky sand beneath him. We watched the frog, and the frog watched us. None of us moved for a moment or two. While we were experiencing one of those things that just took our breath away, my daughter slowly and quietly pointed to the pond. At first pass, I thought I was looking at several leaves floating beautifully in the water before us.

“Could a greater miracle take place for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

At second glance, I realize most of what I was looking at were NOT leaves. My daughter pointed out to me that we were looking at frogs, and the frogs were looking at us.

frogs in the water photo taken by “Teen Traveler”

Counting quickly, we saw at least nineteen sets of eyes gazing upon us as we gazed upon them. There were frogs EVERYWHERE. It felt surreal, almost like we were in a film, maybe some perfect version of the world in a Disney film perhaps. I had never given frogs a second thought in my entire life, yet this was one of the most beautiful and amazing sites I have seen right before me that moment. As I sat quietly on that rock, watching the world unfold before me and enjoying life through my lens, I realized what we came for didn’t quite work out the way we planned, as two of the waterfalls were broken and the butterfly garden was overgrown and in need of refurbishment, yet the beauty and experience that surrounded us was one of the best Florida day trips we had experienced in a long time. Sometimes if we are flexible enough to open our eyes to what is thrown our way, we discover that life is beautiful, if we allow ourselves to see all the possibilities before us.

Life is good; carpe diem, friends……..

BACK ON THE ROAD AGAIN WITH A TRAVEL SOLUTION DURING THE PANDEMIC AND ENJOYING THIS MOMENT RIGHT BEFORE US

With “Safer In Place” restrictions lifting in Florida, “Teen Traveler”, my daughter, and I hit the road for the first time in many weeks for one of our day trips here in Florida. We are still self-isolating but decided we could go on a road trip IF we are not near other people. We thought we would try a trip to one of the eighty Florida State Parks that have re-opened on May 4.

Road into the park

We decided that we would pack all our water, snacks and everything we needed so that we could stay out of the stores and continue to self-isolate. We had a problem to solve, however. My proper upbringing normally leads me away from discussing things of this nature, but we had to think about what we would do once “nature calls, ” as we didn’t want to expose ourselves to people who might have Covid-19, even those without any symptoms by using the restrooms. We also did not want to give anyone Covid-19 in case we are also one of the asymptomatic carriers. “Teen Traveler” and I decided we could solve this problem and decided we would make our own “portable facility”. We turned to the net to see what others have come up with and built this from the supplies we had on hand.

The only modification I have to add to other models we have seen on the net right now is to put a large plastic garbage bag (13 gallon kitchen bags work well) OVER the pool noodle, as this pool noodle would be difficult to clean. So, one garbage bag UNDER the pool noodle, secured at the rim and one garbage bag OVER the noodle, too. Contact me if you want directions how to make this “portable facility”, but the picture is self-explanatory. I will also add that it it a good idea to place some disposable diapers or santitary napkins on the bottom of the garbage bag inside to absorb any effluvium prior to discarding this bag in the garbage after use. With a solution like this, we don’t have to stay cooped up inside any longer.

That being said, we decided we would be able to travel ANYWHERE now on a road trip. “Teen Traveler” and I always come up with a travel theme song to start our road trip. Today, it was “Life Is A Highway”. We also play a little travel game together to break up the time while we are driving, so she enjoys the journey. One of us comes up with a word, and then we both try to think of songs that have lyrics or titles that include that word. That way, I get exposed to “Teen Traveler’s” musical tastes, and she gets to hear some of the older music she might not get a chance to listen to from me otherwise. Music is such an important part of her life right now, and I need to listen to her music if I am to remain as an important part of her life as well.

I saw this heart-shaped plant on the side of the road driving slowly to the entrance of the park, and it reminded me of the indescribable love and bond between a mother and daughter on the week end of Mother’s Day

We laugh, we bargain, and we enjoy the moments together while we have them. Today was a gift for me to be with my daughter, as time flies so very quickly. Before I know it, she will be off to college, but I have today. Someone once told me not to even think about the day that “Teen Traveler” will move out to college but to concentrate on this moment right now. Such sage advice.

We did not want to journey very far from home for our first outing in a long time while still maintaining social distancing. We took our masks, and we decided to travel to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park to see some ruins of an old sugar mill, here in the “real” Florida, as the state park system advertises.

Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park is located in Volusia County, Florida, approximately five miles north of Ormond Beach, on the Eastern side of Florida. It is easy to find with signs on Route 95 at exit 270.

The park is open again, and there are self-pay envelopes at the entrance. The fee is four dollars per car, but bikers and hikers pay only two dollars. Take the envelope and retain a portion to hang from your rear view mirror. There is no one at the entrance, so it is very easy to continue to self-isolate here.

Bulow Plantation was the largest plantation in East Florida and was started in 1821 by Major Charles Bulow to cultivate indigo, cotton, rice, and sugar cane and eventually housed a sugar mill. Unfortunately the place was destroyed during the Seminole War in 1836.

The sugar mill on the property site was constructed of coquina, a limestone that consists of shells and shell fragments.

In addition to viewing the old sugar mill, visitors can rent canoes on the property (during non-pandemic times) and hike. There is a 6.8 mile trail that leads to Bulow Creek State Park, where visitors can see an oak tree, the Fairchild Oak, that is over six hundred years old. The land that houses Bulow Creek State Park at one time contained eleven plantations, each with their own stories to tell.

six hundred year old Fairfield Oak at Bulow Creek State Park (credit: Florida Parks)

Hiking is beautiful in these parts, with flat wooded trails and beautiful trees and plants.

Paddling along the river would be beautiful once the canoe rental restrictions due to the pandemic are lifted.

“Life’s like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind
There’s a world outside every darkened door
Where blues won’t haunt you anymore….

“…..There ain’t no load that I can’t hold
A road so rough this I know
I’ll be there when the light comes in
Tell ’em we’re survivors
Life is a highway
Well, I want to ride it all night long….”

-“Life is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane

Life is good; find a way to get out of the house during this pandemic and live a little. Living a little with someone you love is even better.

Carpe diem, friends………….live life fully and live life well.

LESSONS LEARNED FROM A BUTTERFLY AND A TRIP TO FAIRFIELD TROPICAL BOTANICAL GARDEN IN MIAMI

Gulf Fritilary butterfly

Butterflies have always given me reason to pause what I was doing in order to enjoy their beauty. They are such symbols for endurance, change, hope, and life, and their graceful flight is such a sight. We would do well to keep them in mind as we endure our current global pandemic situation.

One of the most beautiful butterflies I have ever seen was at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami, which is normally open from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily but has been closed recently because of the pandemic. However, on May 6, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden will open for limited times during the day and will offer guests two-hour visits in order to keep the numbers of guests low at any given time for social distancing. They have a butterfly conservatory that houses such amazing butterflies. The Morpho butterfly, a bright big blue butterfly with wingspan of about five to eight inches, normally lives in South America, Mexico and Central America and is one of the largest butterflies in the world. It was here that I saw my first Morpho butterfly, and I marveled at its size and beauty.

Blue colored butterflies are said to be symbolic of healing, joy and happiness and are also seen by some rain forest natives as a “wish granters.” At Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, one can see the butterflies up close, and it is magical when they land on your shoulder unexpectedly. Legend has it when a butterfly follows you around, it means you have something in your life that you need to address. If it lands on you, legend tells us it may mean we will undergo some type of wonderful transformation or growth in our lives, some big change might happen, or something new or refreshing might happen in our lives. Some people even think that a Guardian Angel might be sending you a message or a deceased love one might be making their presence known to you when a butterfly lands on you. I’m not sure about the validity of those legends, but it surely is a peaceful and unexpected moment, filled with joy, whenever a butterfly lands on me. It is more likely, though, that the butterfly lands on you for salt from your skin, scientists tell us.

tranquility on the grounds at Fairfield Tropical Botanic Garden

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a wonderful place to see butterflies, as butterflies are released into the wild twice a day, an extraordinary experience. Beyond the butterflies, you can take a forty-five minute narrated tram ride around the eighty-three acre gardens to see some beautiful plants and trees.

narrated tram ride (credit:Fairfield)

This time of year the Brunfelsia, the Tahitian Gardenia, the Fried Egg Tree, Frangipani Vine, Siam Rose Ginger (in the Tropical Plant Conservatory and Rare Plant House), and many other beautiful flowers are blooming there. This is a great place to take a book, find a quiet spot, and read a little while or sketch in a sketchbook. Of course, simply meandering about the property is a great way to spend some time there, too.

fried egg tree (credit:Fairfield)

rainbow colored eucalyptus tree

closeup of rainbow colored eucalyptus bark (credit:Fairfield)

On a recent trip to a National Park, I picked up a bookmark about butterflies that caught my eye. This bookmark called “Advice From a Butterfly” (By YourTrueNature.com and written by Ilan Shamir) reads……

“Let your true colors show

Take yourself lightly

Look for the sweetness in life

Take time to smell the flowers

Catch a breeze

Treat yourself like a monarch.”

Life is good; “take yourself lightly and look for the sweetness in life”. Think about the butterfly and the healing, joy, and happiness it represents when you think of our future after the pandemic. I hope a butterfly lands on your shoulder soon, if for no reason other than for the magic moment it brings.

Carpe Diem, friends……………get out there and live life well.