Monthly Archives: August 2013

Red Mangroves Abound on Island Nature Trails

Red Mangroves Protect Island Shoreline Nature Trails

We spent the next morning exploring the red mangroves that grow in abundance along Palm Island nature trails. Red mangroves grow closer to the coast and black mangroves grow in the swamp. They produce no flowers and propagate by dropping pods that are already formed as small trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The root system of the red mangrove is interesting. The stalks you see hanging overhead are actually roots that grow downward toward the ground, where they create safe haven and rich ecosystem for fish and other wildlife.

Exploring the Red Mangroves in the Palm Island Nature Trails

Our walk was relaxing and I could feel the tension slipping away. Like the seedpod that drops off the red mangroves, floating lazily down the waterways that flow through the island and re-rooting itself elsewhere, I mentally re-planted myself and my future, changed, but deep down, still the same.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After an early morning walk on the beach and amongst the red mangroves, we came back to the condo and my husband made breakfast. I took a shower and did my best to tame my unruly hair, which, after days of flying in the breeze on the beach and various nature trails, looked like Medusa’s nest of snakes. I did a small load of laundry and read a magazine on the balcony. I took a nap. I did a bit of packing and stripped the sheets off the bed, gathered wet towels, and left them in a heap on the floor as agreed upon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We left at 4 pm and drove onto the ferry. The dock master thanked us for bringing Baby Blue, our T-Bird, onto his ferryboat. He said it made his and the captain’s day. My car makes people smile. I like that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As we left the dock and moved into the intracoastal waterway, I took one last look at the barrier islands where the red mangroves make their home.

 

 

 

 

Palm Island, Placida, Florida

Palm Island, Placida, Florida Vacation Paradise

Palm Island lodging is not only limited to the Palm Island Resort. There is a range of rentals among the private residences on the south end of the island.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The beach is surprisingly empty, but Palm Island is semi-private. During our walk, I was reminded of my childhood summers at the beach, when the world seemed less populated. We found shark’s teeth and fiddler crabs that scurry in and out of holes in the sand, panicking at the sound of your approach. The sandpipers skitter away, as well, and you feel your presence interrupt their world.

Traffic is mostly golf carts, since there’s nowhere to drive. People who live on Palm Island year round need cars to commute, but the farthest you can drive on the island is from the ferry dock straight to your home or to the Palm Island Resort parking lot, 3 miles due north.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Palm Island Home

Palm Island Beach Time

Friends arrived and we sat on the Palm Island beach together, four aging baby boomers in their beach chairs, and talked of the things we usually talk of: their dogs, our kids, houses and property values, the war, the economy, the way sweeping statements on the internet aren’t always based on hard facts, whether buying a sports car means you’re having a midlife crisis or just making the kids jealous, and other deep topics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Later, we drove to the Palm Island Resort parking lot and they took us on the courtesy golf cart the rest of the way to the general store, since no cars are allowed beyond that point. Non-resort visitors are welcome, but the pool and tennis courts are off limits. The men bought their beer and I found a hat that matches Baby Blue, the T-Bird that we travel to Florida destinations in, so I bought it, too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(No, we didn’t leave it on the beach)

 

 

 

After our friends left on the last ferry out of Palm Island at 11 PM, we fell asleep to the sound of surf outside our open windows, rolling rhythmically onto the sand, then pulling away, gently rocking us into the land of dreams of a little Palm Island hideaway of our own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway

Palm Island Resort, an All-Inclusive Getaway With Something for Everyone

Palm Island Resort is a unique getaway destination located off Florida’s southwest coast between Fort Myers and Sarasota. It is accessible by boat or ferry. The Palm Island Resort is on the north end of the island. Private homes, many available for seasonal rental, are on the south.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Supplies must be carried in, so plan carefully, since the ferry ride is not cheap, even though the island is only100 yards across the Intracoastal Waterway that divides the island from the coast of Placida.

We’ve stayed at the Palm Island Resort twice and thoroughly enjoyed the experience both times. For those seeking privacy, I recommend Palm Island Resort Village 1, Unit #18. It is a duplex “cottage” on the edge of the property, offering three bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen and laundry directly on the beach. Bayside homesites are available, as well. Of course, as families with children return to the school year and legislators in Florida consider the value of standardized testing vacationing couples may prefer less spacious digs, so one and two bedroom units are available, as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unlike the beach at Dog Island, in addition to two miles of pristine white sand beach, the Palm Island Resort offers several swimming pools, eleven tennis courts, and a fitness center. Deep sea fishing packages can be arranged for you on island. Several nearby golf courses are available to those so inclined, and for those interested in eco-tourism, there are miles of nature walks.

Palm Island Resort Amenities

Palm Island Resort offers numerous amenities, from a small shop for souvenirs and sundries, to rentals for everything from golf carts to snorkeling gear. You can eat the food you bring in, or the resort offers two restaurants that feature island drinks and a menu that is heavily slanted to seafood (one off island, the other is located on the resort grounds) as well as a coffee café as dining options.

For those interested in destination weddings, family reunions, corporate retreats or small business conferences, the Palm Island Resort clubhouse can accommodate up to 120 guests, but larger events (up to 450 people) can be held in a tented facility. Planning, decorating, and catering is seen to by an attentive staff attuned to attention to the smallest detail.

Expect an unhurried pace, plenty of entertainment, and, yes, even a little family harmony as the kids clamor, “Please, Mom and Dad, take us to Palm Island Resort!”.

Nick and Matt at Palm Island

Or Not.

Nick at Palm Island #1

There’s no doubt…the Palm Island Resort means great fun!

 

An Orange Orb of Liquid Sunshine

When Florida is Found in an Orange

As I reached for an orange recently, I recalled the time when my son was younger and looked in the refrigerator. I heard him sigh deeply, as only a teenager can, as he flopped down on the couch.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Oh…nothing, I guess. I was just looking out at the orange tree. There are only a few oranges left at the top of the tree. Not enough to bother with getting out the juicer and I was in the mood for a glass of orange juice.”

“That’s an easy one”, I say, grabbing the paring knife. “Come with me.”

We walked out to the back yard and I instructed him to climb up and get me two nice oranges.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“You’re going to pull out the juicer for two lousy oranges?” He asked with surprise.

“Nope. I’m going show you nature’s perfect drinking cup,” I told him. “Now, take this orange & roll it between the palms of your hand. Be sure to put a little pressure on it.”

Afterwards, I took the orange from him, cut away a small hole in the top, squeezed the sides until a bit of juice bubbled up, and handed it back to him.

“Now, drink the juice by sucking on the top,” I say to him. “As the juice dries up, squeeze the sides a bit and you’ll get more. As the juice runs out, you’ll have to use more and more pressure, but you’ll be surprised at how much there is.”

We sat there, side by side, the sun warm and the air a bit chilly, and my mind’s eye went back 50 years…

“Come with me,” my Mother says with a smile.

And I stand there, in the citrus grove next to my grandmother’s house, wondering why my mother woke me up at daybreak. Was it to see the magical way the fog hovers a foot above the ground, yet rises no further than the bottoms of the tree limbs? The sky was already hot above the trees, but down here, on the ground, it was merely humid; moisture dripped from the leaves and cooled my hand as I reached up to one of the low hanging branches and picked an orange.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even though I was outside, I felt as if I was in a cozy room, under the tree canopy, brushing at the Spanish Moss that hung down in my face. The world was silent, other than the quail hopping and darting around the trees on little spindly legs.

I stand there in my nightgown; long, brown hair still tangled from sleep, my bare feet already blackening in the grayish, sandy soil. My Mother’s face is filled with a happy secret.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“My father taught me this and now I want to show YOU Nature’s perfect drinking cup,” my mother said to me, handing me an orange with an open hole at the top.

My son nudged me, passing the orange.

“It’s pretty good,” he said with a smile.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was the sweetest, wettest drink of orange juice I’d had in years.

 

 

 

Sometimes, Florida is found not in a place, but in a memory.

Confederate History of The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park

Confederate History of The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park: Blockade Runners and an Escaping Secretary of State

Confederate history buffs will find a story of interest at the Gamble Mansion, but at the time of the Civil War, it was kept from public knowledge.

The owners played a pivotal role in the Civil War Confederate history of the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park. By 1865, the Gamble mansion was owned by Civil War blockade runner Archibald McNeil, who helped to keep the commerce shipping lines open during The War of Northern Aggression. Judah Philip Benjamin, secretary of state for the Confederacy and advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, asked for McNeil’s help after Confederate surrender. Benjamin, a prominent New Orleans plantation owner of Jewish decent, was on the run. A $40,000 bounty was on his head for allegedly arranging Lincoln’s assassination.

Helped by Confederate supporters as he moved around in disguise, Benjamin evaded capture, crossing the Suwanee River and eventually arriving at the Gamble Mansion. McNeil secreted him away on a boat bound for Bimini, slipping down the Manatee River, past watchful eyes along the blockade. After a trip through the Caribbean, Judah Philip Benjamin eventually arrived in London and became a well-respected barrister there.

The Homes at The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park

There are two homes on the property, the 1844 mansion itself and nearby, the Patten House. The Patten home was built fifty-one years later, when the new owner thought the mansion too far gone to disrepair for his family to live in. The Gamble Mansion, dilapidated and useless, became a storage facility for fertilizer, aka manure. The United Daughters of the Confederacy rescued it in the early 1900s, brought it back to its former glory. Today it is owned by the state.

Gamble Mansion #1For those interested in exploring more about Confederate history of The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, visit the mansion and the grounds  in Ellenton, Florida on the Manatee River. It is a short drive from nearby Sarasota and Bradenton to the south and Tampa and St. Petersburg to the north.

The grounds are open year round, from 8 AM to sunset. The mansion is open for tours Thursday through Monday, from 9 AM to noon and 12:45 to 5 PM. The Patten House is only open a few times a year, so it’s best to call the state park first at (941) 723-4536.

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park: Plantation Operations

The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, Florida, preserves a bit of antebellum history and offers up clues that reveal the challenges of homesteading and the politics of the day.

The Gamble Plantation operated because of slave labor, over 160 human beings at its height of operations. The Little Manatee River that runs through the property provided necessary water, diverted to the sugar cane fields through a series of canals built by the slaves. The canals provided easy boat transportation to and from the Manatee River and helped with flood control, as well. One of the original canals can still be seen along the edge of the property that remains.

Gamble Mansion #1

A cistern, seen on the right side of the home in this picture, collected rainwater from the roof for the home’s residents.  Unfortunately, the cistern also attracted mosquito larvae. To combat this problem, Major Gamble kept minnows in the cistern, to eat the eggs, an early form of purification. In addition to sugar, vegetables were raised and cattle were kept.

The plantation (citrus, olives, and grapes were also grown) only operated for twelve years. A crash in sugar prices led to its demise. Major Robert Gamble fell deeper in debt and was eventually forced to sell his property and slaves in 1856.

Gamble Mansion #9

 

Gamble Mansion #12

Destroyed by Union soldiers in 1864, the remains of a sugar mill are all that remain of the cane operation.

The cane reeds were fed between the sugar cane rollers, and juice was collected in large catch pans. Pure cane  juice is still sold at roadside stands in the Everglades.

The history involving The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park Gamble Mansion in 1865 will be discussed in the next post. Owner Archibald McNeil’s assistance in helping Confederate Secretary of State Judah Philip Benjamin escape prosecution after the Civil War was England’s gain.

 

The Gamble Mansion

The Gamble Mansion’s Thick Walls Protected Against Seminole Attack

The Gamble Mansion is South Florida’s only remaining antebellum mansion. Located in Gamble Plantation Historic State Park in Ellenton, it belongs now to the Florida State Park system after being rescued from decay and neglect by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But in pre-Civil War days, it was home base for a thriving sugar plantation. The park itself is now known as the Judah P. Benjamin Confederate Memorial.

Shortly after the Second Seminole War ended in Loxahatchee, Civil War Major Robert Gamble staked out his homestead and began to build a home. The mansion was built in two stages. The rear of the house was built first, as protection against Seminole attacks as they fought extradition in a clash of cultures. The US government’s intention to resettle the Native Americans on reservations out west did not sit well with the Seminoles. They used guerrilla warfare to resist, hiding in swamps they knew well and mounting surprise attacks. While many were captured and relocated, quite a few Seminoles avoided capture and maintained their independence. Their descendants are scattered about the state.

Gamble Mansion #2

The architectural style called Doric Revivalist Vernacular graced the front of the house. The Greek Revival pillars make it seem larger than it actually is. The original plantation grew to encompass 3,500 acres in its prime; today 16 acres remain.

Gamble Mansion #5

The Gamble mansion is built of red brick and tabby, a crushed shell, sand, water, and lime mix. The insulating two-foot thick walls and wide verandas provided much needed relief from the summer heat, as did the numerous Live Oaks found on the property. The home was large for a bachelor: ten rooms in all in the two-story mansion. The building is split into two sections, front and back, with the traditional dog-trot air space between buildings.

Comfort has hard to find, but the homesteader did his best.

The mattresses on the beds were stuffed with Spanish moss, so named, it is told, because it resembled the early explorers’ beards. Taken from the Live Oaks on the property, the bugs that inhabit Spanish moss, called “chiggers”, also made it into the beds, giving birth to the saying, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite”. The mattresses were secured by ropes, which could be tightened by a key. There is an extra blanket on the roller in case the air turned chilly.

Gamble Mansion #6

An early American flag

Gamble Mansion #7

Civil War era kitchen at the Gamble Mansion:

Gamble Mansion #3

In my next post, we’ll look at the role the plantation played during and after the Confederacy and its impact on operations in and around the Gamble Mansion.

 

Lakeside Inn Dining, Shopping in Mount Dora

Lakeside Inn Dining, Shopping in Mount Dora

That evening, we enjoyed a lovely meal in the Lakeside Inn dining room.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We split an order of baked brie, warm and smooth inside a puff pastry drizzled with white chocolate and raspberry sauce, topped with crushed walnuts and served with fruit. It could have been dessert! I ordered the St. Jaques Seafood, which was quite good, my husband enjoyed his roast duck. Lakeside Inn dining was delightful. Between dinner and killing a bottle of wine, we were full and opted to take our desserts (raspberry cheesecake and orange cake…fantastic textures!) back to our room.

Lake Dora itself is not a busy lake, and wildlife was bountiful. We walked out on the dock and enjoyed the silence. Thankfully, no one had opted to use the jet skis outside our room during our stay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was pleased with the pictures of a wading heron I’d taken. The surface of the lake was still and glassy as the sun set. A few others joined us from time to time, but none of us spoke much, each of us drinking in the cooling air and sounds of nature.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The main dock had four or five smaller docks jutting off it, each small dock ending in a park bench. Everyone seemed to walk first to the octagonal deck at the end of the main dock, then back track to one of the benches on the smaller docks, so each of us had the feeling of having the place to ourselves. Nice touch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Downtown shopping in Mount Dora is delightful, as are the art venues and galleries. We also enjoyed the old-fashioned bathhouse down by the lake shore near the yacht club.

The only downside was the lack of interest from the staff at the Lakeside Inn. Despite numerous requests, we never received extra clothes hangers or a replacement iron, and our complaint about the gap in the shades was ignored.

Checkout brought another surprise as I looked over the billing that had been slipped under our door. I called the front desk and protested the extra charge of $110 over the quoted package. After a twenty-minute wait, the charge was cancelled.

Before breakfast and checkout, I strolled the grounds one last time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our late morning/early afternoon included a stop at the Renningers Antique Show on the edge of town. As I strolled along, I commented on the prices being asked for the crocheted linens from the 30s and 40s. Many of these items are exactly like the ones I inherited from my beloved Mother in Law. She never could understand what I saw in all that “old junk”. To her, it represented hard times. Another woman overheard our conversation and we started comparing different linens we had and decided we should open up a shop!

The trip home was uneventful, other than the usual nail-biter on I-4. The traffic eases after Lakeland, but it’s still a place to keep alert at all times. I’ll revisit Mount Dora one day, but I’m not sure I’ll give the Lakeside Inn another chance.

 

 

The Lakeside Inn at Mount Dora

An Unexpected Surprise at The Lakeside Inn at Mount Dora

We were excited about our visit to Mount Dora and The Lakeside Inn appeared to be quite promising. We happily stepped up to the front desk, gave our names and confirmation number, and…were told…

“We gave away your room.”

WHAT????

“We can give you a Garden Room.”

No, we reserved a lakeside room. After all, we were staying at The Lakeside Inn. We had stressed the importance of making this a special visit. We wanted to wake up in the morning with a pretty view of water between our toes. Gardens I can get at home! I was not a happy camper. I made sounds about accommodations somewhere else.

“Please sit down and have a complimentary glass of wine while I go speak with the manager.”

Ten minutes later, the Lakeside Inn manager emerged, and said the folks in our reserved room were not willing to move, but she’d found a room in the building closest to the water, bottom floor, steps to the beach and boardwalk.

Relieved to actually have a room, we gathered our belongings and headed for our room. Which ends up being in the BASEMENT. This is a picture of the building we stayed in. Our window is the large one at the bottom of the building:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our windows were level with the ground. As people walked by, we saw feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I looked out at the small beach and saw two of those noisy little jet skis parked at the water’s edge, directly in front of our room. The room itself seems okay, other than feeling as if I’m in the bowels of the building.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The closet area has an iron and ironing board…that’s good. I make a mental note to request a few more hangers. Call me crazy, but one hanger for two people just isn’t going cut it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a blow dryer in the make-up/changing anteroom. The bathroom is nice with pedestal sink and other Victorian touches. A bit dirty behind the base of the sink, but I can live with that. The folks above us, in our originally reserved room, seem quiet. On our way out to check the dock area and grounds, we stop a housekeeper and request the extra hangers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The dock area is cool. It stretches out far into the lake and ends in a large octagonal deck complete with a pseudo lighthouse in the middle. The lake is quiet, which surprises us, being a Friday evening.

We had a lovely conversation with a man who filled us in on the history of the town, how he’d come to settle there, the lake, etc. We look up to the window of what should have been our room at The Lakeside Inn. It looks empty. The curtains are open. We decided to walk the downtown area and get some dinner, so we left our history buff to his thoughts and made the very short walk to Donnelly Street.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even though our stay at The Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora left a lot to be desired, we enjoyed exploring the area, but that’s in the next post…

Mount Dora, a Florida Town With New England Ambiance

Mount Dora has New England Ambience With a Southern Twist

When we slipped away to Mount Dora, we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s a small town situated on Lake Dora (where else?), about a 40 minute drive from Orlando. The trip up was pleasant, listening to NPR radio until it faded, then switching to CDs. I think my favorite town on the way was Howey-In-The-Hills. I just love that name! It’s a pretty town and I think there’s a winery nearby. Didn’t find Howey, though. I hope to return one day to explore the area.

While St. Augustine has a decidedly European feel to it, Mount Dora seems like a trip to New England, with gently rolling hills, quaint storefronts, and Victorian homes. We’d visited for a day last summer for a juried art show. The streets were so crowded, though, that we began to feel like salmon trying to swim upstream and agreed to return when life was quieter. We chose our dates correctly, as we learned from a shopkeeper that this coming weekend is their annual craft fair, which draws even larger crowds than the art shows!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I explored lodging options on the internet, checked the AAA book, and settled on The Lakeside Inn. I called the inn and made reservations, asking for a lakeside view in a preferred room. I was given “The Great Gatsby” stay, which included two nights, two continental breakfasts, and one dinner with a complimentary bottle of wine. I explained that this was a delayed birthday celebration and we wanted it to be a bit special.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I thought I’d chosen well. The inn is on the National Historic Registry. The pictures on the website were lovely, showing the original inn and it’s two additional buildings, nice pool and grounds, tennis courts, cobblestone drive, you name it. Stretching out into the lake, a long dock ended in an octagonal seating area, complete with replica lighthouse. We’d mentioned the trip to a subcontractor, who said he and his wife had enjoyed their stay there, but to watch the bill. Note to self: red flags wave for a reason.

We arrived around five P.M. The wide front porch and the white high-back wicker rocking chairs looked inviting. The lobby itself is huge, chairs clustered around a large fireplace, other seating areas scattered around here and there. The one hundred year old wood floor was worn smooth and shiny from decades of use and the front desk still retained it’s original key cubbies and buzzers. A pretty staircase led to the second story of the main building, and off to the left was the bar and a lovely dining room with floor to ceiling French doors that bowed out to the gardens and the vintage train that runs to Orlando and back.

As we waited our turn for check-in, I turned to my husband and said I thought I’d made a great choice. He agreed and we glanced through the brochures about the inn and the town of Mount Dora, discussing what we wanted to do first and time constraints.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We were in for quite a surprise!