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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.

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

Hunting Fossilized Shark’s Teeth at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida

For the Best hunting Ground for Fossilized Sharks Teeth, go to Caspersen Beach in Venice, FL

Caspersen Beach is people-friendly. The new walking trails, paved and unpaved, restroom/shower facilities and walkway have helped make the area even more welcoming to swimmers, sunbathers, fishing enthusiasts, and shell hunters alike.

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The handicap area is well shaded and the rocky shoreline gives way easily to the beach. Families with small children may find low tide to be less challenging for a swim. There is an ADA compliant playground in the pavilion area.

Caspersen Beach

Caspersen Beach #1

Some dedicated “shellers” invest in a “Florida snow shovel”, a basket with a long metal arm for sifting through the sand. I’m not sure why the shark tooth hunting is so much better at Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida, but it is. They are easy to find along the beach and scuba divers who go digging into the Gulf bottom are often rewarded with super-sized teeth as big as a man’s hand for their efforts.

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It takes a while for the eyes to adjust to the telltale gleam of a fossilized tooth of the ancient carcharodon megalodon, a fifty foot long shark that weighed more than a tyrannosaurus rex.

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The teeth are black because they have fossilized with age. The younger, white teeth, are often too hard to find. They are jumbled up in a swirl of seashells that wash ashore with every wave, at the shell ledge, where the tide coughs up its bounty: a confetti of glimmering silvers and whites, broken bits of shell, sometimes a tinge of pink or aqua, depending on the mollusk. A sliver of black streak on a clamshell looks no different from a shark’s tooth at first, but you learn to look for the shiny black that identifies the composite and then, of course, for the shape.

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The area is not without controversy. In 2010, nude sunbathers and those seeking a bit less exposure clashed over their rights and even the police departments could not agree on who had jurisdiction to sort the mess out. The controversy continues. The naturists hope to curry favor by making extra efforts such as organizing regular beach cleanups, but the law and the majority side with those who oppose a “clothing-optional” beach.

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Nature still has her way at Caspersen Beach. There are no gulfside motels and hotels lined up along the shore and the condominium crowd is found further inland. Left to her natural state, Caspersen has repaid visitors tenfold with a seemingly endless supply of shark’s teeth and shells, some from as far away as Australia, Mate. Even better, although the beach is popular, parking is plentiful and the beach is big enough to allow each visitor a sense of privacy. The rocks that protect the soft white sand are full of ever-changing tidal pools that bear exploring again and again as each new wave delivers fresh treasure. The water calls the swimmers and surfers closer, and the sun gently warms the soul. Who couldn’t fall in love with Caspersen’s allure?

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Other Towns in Central Florida Offer Out-of-the-Ordinary Entertainment

Central Florida, From Fisheating Creek to the Brighton Seminole Reservation

We drove around Lake Okeechobee, enjoying the expansive views of the leading edge of the Florida Everglades. The sky is big in Florida, and the swamp stretches for mile after desolate mile, broken only by a cluster of live oaks or staked out individually by independent palm trees, whose round heads and lack of branches look very much like landscaped lollypops from a distance. The weather was clearing, but clouds still hung over the land like a dark umbrella bent on betrayal and we drove in and out of rain.

The larger towns in this part of central Florida have the usual chain motels, but most lodging offerings consist of RVs or trailers, some quite weary looking. Campers who don’t mind roughing it will have no trouble finding suitable lodging, but those looking for a little more comfort will have to dig a little deeper. We did find a few cabins. The most inviting were cozy log cabins with peaked roofs in a small enclave. One of the owners rents two of his units, #9 and #17, for around $500 per week. If you’re interested, call Abe at 561-234-0277. A future visit will most assuredly include a week at the Lake Okeechobee Resort in Pahokee. It is the only place with accommodations directly on the lake.

We made a stop at Fisheating Creek where I told my husband the story of my great-great grandmother who was taken (along with her kids) to Fort Myers by Union soldiers trying to flush out my great-great-grandfather who was aiding Confederate soldiers by bringing them cattle. She became disgusted with camp conditions and threatened to whip the soldier who tried to stop her from leaving. She went to her brother’s place on Fisheating Creek and stayed there until the War of Northern Aggression was over. I think I would have liked my great-great-grandmother. :)

The Seminole Indian Reservation in Brighton was a disappointment. No museum, no shopping, just gambling. The room was dark, filled with slot machines that flashed neon colors, and full of cigarette smoke. Once off the reservation, we stopped at a roadside stand and bought swamp cabbage. I look forward to breaking the trunk open and cooking up a pot of swamp cabbage, which tastes a lot like asparagus.

Brighton Seminole Reservation

Most of the central Florida towns around the perimeter of Lake Okeechobee offer airboat rides. Since the weather was bad the weekend of our visit, we decided against it, but if you’ve never been, I strongly encourage you to try it out. Most tours last about an hour, the cost is in the $30 to $40 range (per person) and includes picture stops. Airboat rides are exciting and fun, but not scary.

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Corkscrew Swamp

Let us slip away, then, to Corkscrew Swamp, to see what’s stirring in the 13,000 acres of pristine Florida at the Western edge of the Florida Everglades. We’d chosen this visit in May, on the first anniversary of my Mother’s death to spread the last of Mom’s ashes in the swamp she loved and had served as a volunteer guide.

Corkscrew Swamp #2

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Corkscrew Swamp #4

As we walked along the boardwalk, built by volunteers, I looked for the boards that friends and family had purchased in remembrance of my brother’s death. My mother had immersed herself here, healing her broken heart, as much as any mother can after the death of a child, working through her grief by giving back to that which she treasured most: her beloved Florida. She knew her facts and was entertaining and quite popular as a guide.

Corkscrew Swamp #1

My husband would ask, as we stopped here and there to admire the view or take a picture or smell a flower, if I wanted to spread my mother’s ashes at that spot, but each time I shook my head “no”. “I’ll know,” I told him. He did not ask me how I would know. He just nodded his head, allowing me my lead, which is just one of the reasons why I love him. This was a difficult task for me. He’d try again, a little later: “This is a pretty spot.” “Yes,” I agreed, “But it’s not the right spot.” I was getting discouraged.

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Then my husband started talking to two tour guides who came strolling up. I was irritated. I hadn’t asked permission to spread the ashes and I didn’t want them tagging along if I found the right spot.

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Well, wouldn’t you know, it came out that my mother had been a guide here, about ten years earlier. The woman guide asked her name and when I told her, she laughed and said my mother had trained her.

Then she pointed me in the right direction, by asking me a question:

“You know that Phoebe’s ashes are here, right?”

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My eyes widened. I’d forgotten about Phoebe, Mom’s fellow Audubon fan and drinking buddy. Phoebe and Mom had spent many hours together bird watching and boating and playing gin rummy, in addition to volunteering at the swamp.

Mom and Phoebe

It was at that moment that I knew where Mom should rest. I came clean and told the guide that I had the last of Mom’s ashes and asked if I could spread them where Phoebe’s ashes had been placed. She told me exactly where the spot was and then left us alone to complete our mission. I like to think that Mom and Phoebe are together again, playing cards under a setting sun, the ice tinkling in their glasses as they raise their binoculars to their eyes when they hear the hawk cry out in territorial authority. My faith teaches me that their worldly bodies are no longer needed so it doesn’t matter where they rest. Either way, it was symbolic and it felt right.

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St. Augustine, FL: European in Flavor, Yet Uniquely American

St. Augustine, Florida: Sights and Sites

Rich in history as the oldest, continuously occupied settlement in the U.S., the historic district of St. Augustine is charming. Unlike Key West’s tropical island atmosphere, St. Augustine is decidedly more European in flavor. The city has wisely preserved the colonial buildings, which lean heavily on the Spanish/Moorish influence. In ways, it reminded me of a seacoast New England, with houses hard up on the cobblestone roads.

We started our explorations at The Fountain of Youth, reportedly the only freshwater spring in the area. Because Florida is very close to sea level and built on limestone, our fresh water supply comes from the aquifers that run through the soft limestone, unlike the deep artesian wells up north. The untreated water smells and tastes like rotten eggs. I’m told the hard water, full of minerals, is good for the heart. I like mine just fine after it’s been through a water softening system, thank you very much. Still, I bought 10 bottles of water in the gift shop to bring home to all my girlfriends. When I got home, I saw that, written in itty-bitty print on the side of the label, were the words: “Not For Consumption.” HUH?!?

The grounds were pleasant and the artifacts discovered over the years were fun to look at. We then went to Old Florida Museum, which is small, hands-on, and better for kids. The Old Fort, or Castillo De San Marcos, is made of coquina, a local compressed shellrock. The short history: The Spanish took the land from the Timacuan Indians, claimed all of North America as “Florida”, then left for home. The French came over and tried to take over as squatters, but the Spanish returned and drove them out. They built a fort; pirates or the English knocked it down, so the Spanish built a new fort out of coquina shell. The soft coquina walls absorbed the cannon shot from invaders, rather cracking them. At night, when the shelling stopped, the settlers would leave the fort, dig the cannon balls out of the walls and lob them back at the ships the next morning.

The lighthouse museum was our next stop, with heavy emphasis on World War Two and the story of the four Nazi spies that landed on the beach there. I loved the architecture of the lighthouse keeper’s home. Its brick basement is unusual for Florida and being so close to the shore, I was surprised it wasn’t flooded. The basement held two of the largest cisterns for rainwater that I’ve ever seen. Guess they didn’t like Ponce DeLeon’s water, either!

The afternoon was spent at the San Sebastian Winery. We bought a case. I also picked up a very cool cork remover that compresses so that you can recork the bottle. After the winery, we went shopping in the historic district, where I found a great clay urn that was perfect for the garden.

We finished the day with a lovely dinner overlooking the bayfront, then back to the hotel room for champagne and chocolate. A longer visit is in order for next time. There were a lot of sights we skipped, many museums we sighed over as we passed them by, and jazz and coffee bars left unexplored.

Key West, A Different World

Welcome to the Unique World Known as the Florida Keys and Discover them all, from Long Key to Key West

The key to the Florida Keys is to embrace diversity and adopt a laid-back, island attitude. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean are always close by and it is easy to find scenic stopping spots along the way, and the strictly enforced speed limits help to encourage a sudden urge to slow down and enjoy the scenery:

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Some Keys had small State Parks, some quite woodsy. I told my husband that I wanted to live on Boca Chica just because the name was so fun. Long Key State Park offers interesting mangrove estuaries, nice beaches, good swimming and fantastic campsites right on the beach.

We did eventually make it to Key West and, of course, the pilgrimage had to start at Sloppy Joes, Hemingway’s fishing guide and favorite bar keep. Restaurants and drinking establishments abound on Duvall and neighboring streets. Just remember that the “Duvall Crawl” may result in the “Hangover Shuffle”.

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We could not overlook the Hemingway House and were glad we took the time to tour the property. The descendants of Hemingway’s Maine Coon cats, unusual for their six-toed paws, were everywhere, very independent and keeping a cool distance unless they changed their minds. The home was elegantly furnished, right down to the Murano glass chandelier:

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I loved the other rooms, as well:

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In the spirit of freedom and independence, chickens and roosters roamed free in the town.

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The homes are incredible and much time was spent exploring and admiring the architecture from grand mansions to funky cottages to a community of houseboats:

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Charter boat trips to out islands are scenic and varied from sailing ships to catamarans to ferry rides. Make sure to book at least one excursion:

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The Island people take their independence very seriously, many still claiming allegiance to the Conch Republic, created in 1982 in protest to police blockades that threatened Civil Rights, along with tourism and trade. For a few hours, Key West did indeed secede from our nation, and their blue flag can be seen everywhere on the island.

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People here are social activists within the community, no matter which side of the coin they’re on:

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Key West’s “Official Philosophy” is on a bumper sticker that someone handed to me: “All People Are Created Equal Members Of ONE HUMAN FAMILY”. You can get one, too. Just send a self-addressed, stamped #10 (legal size) envelope to: One Human Family, P.O. Box 972, Key West, FL 33041 USA or go to their website: www.onehumanfamily.info

Key West 2007-Panorama

If planning a Florida vacation to Key West, my best advice is to pack sunscreen along with your clothes and don’t forget a loving heart and an open mind and, no matter what your personal preference, know that there is something for everyone here, from roadside art, all manner of water sports, and an immersion in maritime history, to enhance your island vacation in the Sunshine State!

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

An Airboat Ride in the Everglades

When it comes to finding out-of-the-way corners in Florida, it doesn’t get much more secluded than the Everglades and the best way to find those spots is to treat yourself to an airboat ride. You’ll find numerous charter companies along the highway as you drive US 41, better known as the “Tamiami Trail” along the coastline south of Naples, but I suggest you curve inland, where the highway becomes known as “Alligator Alley”, cutting through Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, and catching your ride at the Seminole reservation for a more authentic experience.

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The airboats are fascinating. We rode in a flat bottom boat, a skiff that had two rows of seats bolted to the bottom. Behind the seats, the boat captain sat on an elevated seat. The engine was located beneath his seat and it ran a huge caged fan directly behind the captain.

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I’m not much of a dare devil, but wasn’t nervous about riding in the airboat, and truly, it was no different than skimming across the lake in a speed boat, except that it banked more sharply and the spray was quite high, adding to the excitement.

Skimming the Swamp

Since everything mechanical is located above the waterline, the boat can glide along on mere inches of water, a good thing when drought conditions hit the area hard. I was amazed at some of the places we made it through, such as this narrow passageway!

Airboat Ride

Walking Trees

Notice the waterline on the Mangrove roots below. When the fresh water dries up, salt water moves in. Mangroves (those are Red Mangroves, to be precise) get rid of the excess salt in their diet through the leaves, turning them yellow in the process.

Mangroves

The Seminoles called them “Walking Trees”. Mangroves regenerate by dropping their green pods (actually long seeds with roots on the bottom and a fully formed, tiny mangrove at the top) in the water below and the pods are carried away by the current. The seedpod is so perfectly balanced that it drops into the water in an upright position and remains that way as it is washed downstream. If it gets tipped over, it rights itself. When something finally stops it, the pod immediately roots, thus continuing the process. Easy to see how Indians would interpret this as “walking”!

Mangroves #2

I tried to capture the way the boat would bank real fast around the bends in the waterway and spray would rise up above my head, curving away back into the water, but all the pictures came out looking like I was just holding the camera wrong and the water’s spray just looks…well, not very interesting. I should take an online photography course on nature. There must be a trick in how to photograph those moments. Then again, how do you photograph touch? Like trying to make one sense do the job of the other. Still, I try. Mostly with words, though.