Tag Archives: Florida

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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An early American flag

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Civil War era kitchen at the Gamble Mansion:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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We were in for quite a surprise!

 

 

Rentals on Dog Island

Dog Island Pelican Inn vs Private Home: Expectations, Cost, & When to Go

There is no store or restaurant on Dog Island. There is a landing strip for private planes and a dock for private boat and ferry. There are a few homes to rent. Expect to pay around $1200 to $1500 per week for a home that sleeps 6. Most of the available homes are beachfront, some have closer neighbors than others.

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You may also stay at The Pelican Inn, a bit less expensive (around $1000 per week), but be warned! The Pelican Inn is not for the faint-hearted. I grew up in a summer beach cottage community, so stubborn window and sliding glass door frames, corroded by salt air, ancient plumbing and fixtures stained by decades of hard water, and refrigerators that struggle to cool don’t bother me, but if you’re expecting more than a camping experience, this place is not for you.

Maintenance is not high on the priority list. At one point, my husband rummaged around the laundry room, found a hammer, and walked around pounding nails back down on the deck. An internet search reveals a scathing complaint by a guest who called it a death trap. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but the place needs work, which is not surprising, since wood structures built at ocean’s edge tend to be vulnerable to the elements. The owner, by the way, refutes many of the comments made by the guest.

My experience with her was honest for the most part. She’d told me to expect rough camping, supplies needed to be brought in, and water was not potable. She was not quite as accurate in her description of condition.

The place borders on dilapidation in places. She really, really, really needs to hire someone who can start making the necessary repairs. We could be tempted, my master carpenter husband and I, to do so, but the problem then becomes one of money, which I suspect is not in ample supply, and permitting, which we could not do for her, since we live nowhere close to her county. We would happily barter work for a stay free vacation, but materials are expensive enough these days, and that’s prior to factoring in the costs of ferrying the items over to the jobsite.

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I found the complaints about wiring unfounded, at least in our unit, but I would avoid the upstairs units. The place is a fancy beach shack. You either love it or you hate it. You get a kitchen, a bath, and a room with a bed, couch, chairs, and small table, all of it in “early Goodwill” styling.

The draw is the island itself. Seven miles of “almost” solitude, miles of beach to yourself, and abundant shelling. The few neighbors are friendly but not intrusive. The residents do resent the annual Memorial Day White Trash Bash, claiming about the wild parties that get out of hand and environmental destruction that should not be allowed, so you may want to avoid booking, either at The Pelican Inn or with a private homeowner, during that particular holiday.

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While I’d love to be able to purchase the Pelican Inn and bring her back to the glorious monument of beachfront accommodations of yesteryear, I think I’ll splurge and rent a private home the next time.

Before we leave Dog Island, let’s take one more backward glance to remember what warmed our soul and soothed our nerves, a place without telephone, TV, or internet and a time of solitude and relaxation:

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Much too soon, we are on the docks, waiting for our ride to the mainland:

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Yes, we’ll return, ready for our next adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dog Island Name Origin and Ownership

How Was Dog Island Named and Who Owns It?

Dog Island is actually a bit of land (less than 7 miles) that separated from St. George Island, and is one of a group of barrier islands that protect St. George Sound and Apalachicola Bay. It even sported a lighthouse at one time, built in 1838, that was later destroyed in 1899 by a hurricane that devastated the mainland town of Carrabelle.

There are various stories surrounding the origins of its name, the most outlandish being that it is a sanctuary for dogs to live out their last years without the stress of urban life. Untrue! I did see one dog with its owner walking on the beach one day, though. Some claim Dog Island is so named because the shape resembles a crouching dog. I don’t buy into that one, either. I thought that perhaps the origin of the name was connected to a stray dog that had been found on the empty island or a similar story, but it turned out not to be the case.

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There are two more likely explanations. Wikipedia attributes the name origin to the French, who discovered it in 1536, listing wild dogs, the shape of the island, and the practice of dropping sailors (known as “dogs”) there before going in to the mainland, preventing the men from abandoning ship, as the origin of the island’s name.

I think our ferry captain, Rusty Cahoon, is probably a bit more accurate. During the Civil War, Union armies would transport prisoners by boat, using Dog Island as a drop-off point. The prisoners were referred to as “Sea Dogs”. While the commanding officers went into town to drink and secure supplies, those left behind were unlikely to attempt an escape with a risky swim to shore.
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The story of Dog Island ownership is an interesting one. Evidence (pot shards, a 9th century canoe) of early Native American presence has been uncovered, and later, piracy and smuggling occurred. At one time, the island supported a thriving turpentine business, but it wasn’t until Florida businessman Jeff Lewis purchased it shortly after World War II that the idea of development began to threaten the area. Mr. Lewis, it seems, had some very definite ideas concerning the island and its future. While he did sell some lots to individuals, most of the island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, which helps protect the fragile ecosystem on Dog Island, including the annual turtle-nesting season.

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The Nature Conservancy and the private homeowners value this island, as do most visitors. Help keep the area pristine by doing all you can to minimize your carbon footprint while here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

Life’s Not Always a Beach. Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

We walked again, this time to the other side of Dog Island and the dock area where we came in. It gave us a different perspective of the island…and lots of sandspurs.

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We passed private planes and private boats, but we only saw one other person, driving away from the dock.

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Three boats were in. One was the car ferry, and when we returned a truck was parked next to the inn. We’d left the unit unlocked, but the visitors were more interested in the shells on the beach than in my wallet. “Too late!” I wanted to shout. “We picked the beach clean hours ago!”

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Dinner was much better! More dehydrated camping food: Chili Mac & Cheese. The Velveeta cheese I’d brought had gone bad, but we still had half a wheel of Gouda left over from lunch, so I tossed the Velveeta in the trash and chopped off some of the Gouda, and also used the last of the Ritz crackers we’d had for lunch to top off our bowls of warm, spicy chili. We ate on the wood deck, enjoying the cool air as the chili warmed our bellies.

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Just to be on the safe side about finding all the shells, though, we walked again after the people left in their truck, only this time we went in the other direction of Dog Island.

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The wind blew strong during the night, revealing every crack and crevice in the old building known as the Pelican Inn. Its whistle down the breezeway sounded like a child crying for help. Spooky.

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Morning dawned through open windows and we rose just before sunrise. I filled my travel mug with hot tea and grabbed a plastic bag for shells and we headed for the beach just as the sun rose.

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The tide had receded much further out and the shelling was excellent. Private planes flew in and out but the beach remained deserted. When I finished my tea and my bag was full of shells, I went back to our unit and despite the Goodwill-style dishware, I managed to whip together a three egg omelet along with toast and butter (I forgot the jam!). Why does everything taste so much better when you eat it outside? As we ate, we watched dolphin leaping and feeding on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that nearby fishermen couldn’t seem to land.

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Our stay on Dog Island would be ending soon. The sun sparkled and shimmered in the sun, undulating with each wave. Seashells littered the beach, strung out on the sand like scattered pearls from a broken necklace.

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For now, though, we drank in the scenery, pulling it deep in our souls, to save for a later day.

Day Three on Dog Island

Walking the Dog Island Beach, Imagining Yesterday

A good breakfast of shredded wheat and milk was just what we needed for our long walk the next day, down to the tip of the island where Gulf and bay become one.

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I could feel the sand scrubbing the dead skin away, smoothing, detoxifying.

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We saw our first human today. He was walking back to the round house on stilts, a book in his hand. Looked like a journal, maybe a Bible? He waved at us, we waved at him, and it seemed enough. Paw prints, footprints, and bird’s feet in the sand were dead giveaways that someone had walked the beach before us that morning, but we did not see a soul in any direction. Holes in the sand hinted at a mollusk presence underfoot.

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The beach butterflies were everywhere, charming us as they flitted around our bodies as we walked. They seemed to be searching in the seaweed for something; we knew not what. Later we would learn the island is in the path of the Monarch butterfly migration, and they arrive, like snowbirds, for winter in the south. Frightened ghost crabs scurried away at our approach.

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We gathered shells and sponges and driftwood. There were loads of scallop shells, but they didn’t have the variety of shells that we do here on the southwest coast. No Scotch Bonnets, no Cat’s Paws.

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We watched a school of dolphin feed off smaller fish in the water as pelicans rode the waves.

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Completely alone, we sat at the tip of the island and wondered if that spit of mainland was St. Mark’s.

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As we turned back in our walk, made heavy now with our burden of seashells and driftwood, I followed in my husband’s footsteps, seeking firmer ground. “This is the way the Indian couples did it long before us,” I think as my mind’s eye imagines that ancient man and woman walking the beach, scavenging what they seek. I marveled again at how little mankind changes over the generations. Man. Woman. Survival.

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A lunch of Gouda cheese and crackers and sliced summer sausage and dried cranberries tasted wonderful and we sat, side by side, watching the waves that mesmerized, a strange combination of rhythm broken by the unexpected. The waves roll in with regularity but they crest and break in different places.

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I took a pillow and comforter down to the low swing for a nap just as the air was turning. The comforter, folded twice, was just enough cushion to make things comfortable and the pillow was soft. A taller person might not have found it as agreeable, but it made a perfect cradle for me, the movement as gentle as the breeze that came in on a whisper, soft on my skin. The sun peeked in and out and the sky turned cloudy and spit a bit of rain at us, but not enough to persuade us to move.

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Of course, there is another side (the bay side) of this island, and plenty of time for exploring on another day.

 

 

 

 

Vacationing on Dog Island

Our Stay on Dog Island had Some Ups and Downs

Dinner was a dismal affair on that first night of our stay. We’d planned to eat in the gazebo rather than the porch this time.

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Packing food, clothes and water in the T-bird had been challenging because of space, so we decided to take mostly camping food, which we keep on hand in case of hurricanes. I’d decided on shelf-packaged BBQ chicken breasts (Chicken of the Sea, I think…I bought it by the tuna fish in the grocery store), dehydrated garlic mashed potatoes and dehydrated corn (both from the camping store).

We carried drinks and dinner to the gazebo. It certainly looked good. The chicken breasts were dripping in sauce, the garlic mashed potatoes smelled wonderful and I’d followed my mother-in-law’s advice on instant potatoes and added extra butter (I always make mashed potatoes from scratch). The re-hydrated corn looked a bit wrinkled, but I figured it couldn’t taste too awful.

I was wrong.

The chicken was dry. Even though there was sauce on the outside, it was like eating a piece of cardboard. No big deal, I thought. I’m not big on meat anyway and felt I could get enough from the potatoes and corn. HA! I didn’t think you could put too much garlic in a dish, but I was wrong. Garlic was the ONLY thing I could taste. The corn was tough. I ate a bite of all three and pushed my plate away.

We’d had a nice lunch earlier in the day, and skipping a meal wouldn’t kill me. If I got hungry, I could eat the cookies I’d brought for dessert.

After a rather dismal meal, we sat on the porch swing after dinner, under the stars, and drank a mojito and listened to the waves. I could feel the stress roll away.

 

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Later, we sat on the Dog Island beach, under stars laid out on a blue-black sky, facing the ocean.

“God has made such a vast world,” I think, “And we are so tiny in it. This one eco-system, perfectly perfect in all its adaptations allows us to hang suspended in space.”

Rain came in that night, but we were perfectly cocooned in bed, listening to the soft patter muting the sound of the waves through our open windows.

The storm soon strengthened and the wind whistled as it swept down the open corridor that ran the length of the building. Since the place was so deserted, it was a bit unnerving, especially when the wind reached a shrieking pitch, but I burrowed deeper into the bed, reminding myself that I was alone and had nothing to fear on Dog Island.