Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tupelo, Mississippi

On our drive through Mississippi Friday John notice one interesting road sign, and I another.  As we passed the town of Scooba I read the town's welcoming sign which noted that it is the home of the world champion turkey caller.  Who would have thought there was such world prize?  What other country calls their turkeys?  Further on down the road John read : "trucks turning, watch for long logs".  Up to that point we had not seen logging trucks, and it seemed to be a strange sign.  We later learned that the Tupelo gum tree is used for construction and, as those trees grow in the area of the city,  the city was named after them.
There is a Civil War battlefield in Tupelo, as well as a Buffalo Zoo, but the town's biggest tourist attraction is Elvis Presley's birthplace, pictured above.  His dad, uncle and grandfather built it, but unfortunately it was repossessed about three years after Elvis was born because his dad forged a check and was sent to prison.  Elvis returned to the town in 1956 (age 21years) for a concert, and while here bought the land around the park for a playground, the city bought the house.  When Elvis was a young boy that part of Tupelo was the wrong side of the tracks and there were no parks for children to play in.
Besides his birth home, there is a museum on the Birthplace Complex as well as the church (Assembly of God Pentecostal) where his family worshiped.  The church had been had been moved from a couple of blocks down the street.  In the church there is a multi-media presentation by which we could experience a typical 1940s service, and see it through the young eyes of Elvis.  The pastor is intense with his message and lively gospel  music is provided by the choir.  I could see in the showmanship of the preacher how Presley got his rock and roll movements ten years later!  The pastor also played a guitar during the services and taught Elvis how to strum a few chords. At the age of about 5 years Elvis was singing for the services.
At the age of eleven Elvis was in a hardware store with his mom planing to purchase a gun (that store is still in business).  It was to be his birthday present, however his mom, with the help of a clerk, persuaded him to buy a guitar.  At age 13 he won fifth place in a talent contest at the Alabama Mississippi state fair.  During the seventh grade he started bringing the guitar to school and singing for his classmates.  The school is still a place of learning for east Tupelo.  A picture of a guitar standis in front of the building.
Elvis played a lot of country music in his younger years, but slowly he blended that with gospel, jazz and blues. The African American neighborhood next to his influenced the latter music for Elvis.  One last note here, the birthplace of Presley gets almost as many visitors as his home in Graceland, and they come from around the world.  While we were there we met met people from Austria and Turkey.  The Presley family moved to Memphis when Elvis was about thirteen years old, however Tupelo was never forgotten as his childhood home and the place where he first started crooning and strumming.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pensacola, Florida

From the historical village we walked over to Plaza Ferdinand V11.  On this path we saw more of the Colonial Archeological Trail.  Trailside exhibits relate to features that were a part of the town and forts.  To recapitulate what I wrote in the last posting,  land here was first occupied by the Spanish in 1754, who built Fort San Miguel.  Sites of that fort's structures are marked on the trail, as well as the British government buildings which were built later.  Florida's colonial period ended when Andrew Jackson took over as governor of  Florida in 1821.  There is a site marked on the trail where the flag of Spain was lowered for the last time and the American flag raised.  A bust of Andrew Jackson is located in the plaza.
Colorful pelicans can be found on street corners and in front of stores all over Pensacola.  The one pictured above is in front of the Florida State Museum, which is on the archeological trail we had been following.  It is titled  "In Tribute to our First Nations".  It is in honor of the first people in Florida, Native Americans.
We next took a detour from the historical area and wandered down a street toward Pensacola Bay.  The port has been important part of Pensacola's economy.  Over the years million of tons of lumber, bricks, fish and other products have passed through these waters since the first recorded shipment in 1743.  That information I learned in the wonderful Museum of Industry located at the historical village.
Our next destination was the Sevillle Quarter where some of the buildings have French Creole architecture, which we have seen in the French Quarter of New Orleans.  That particular architecture we also saw in other areas of downtown Pensacola.  In the Seville Quarter we saw more historical homes from the mid 1800s.  Outside one of those homes I was drawn to a tall blooming tree with a sweet floral scent.  The leaves feel like velvet.  And I have so far failed to find out what it is!  The flowers are pictured below.
Walking through Fountain Park we chanced to come upon some wooden sculptures holding up sagging branches of a live oak.  They are quite weather-worn, loosing their paint and cracking- but still very charming.  Tomorrow, Thursday, we will continue our trek northward.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Historic Pensacola, Florida

In one of the tourist brochures of Pensacola we read that the city was the oldest in the United States.  Strange, we had learned when we were in St.Augustine, Florida that it was the oldest.  We learned the full story yesterday at the Historic Pensacola Village.  The Spanish arrived with 1500 people in 1559, and left two years later.  A variety of misfortunes had brought their numbers down to 200 by the time they left.  If they had stayed, then Pensacola would be the oldest city, but the Spanish did not return for another 130 years.  After that France evicted them once, and then Spain returned to claim the land.  Pensacola, from 1752 to 1821 had a succession of Spanish and British forts (which had also been occupied by Americans), the ruins of which can be seen on the Colonial Archeological Trail in downtown Pensacola.  To summarize the complicated history, the city was under 5 flags which had been raised in turn 10x- here I am including the Confederate as well as the American flags.
Such a convoluted history makes for some interesting archeological findings!  Pictured above, from left to right, is an olive jug from Spain, white and blue plates from Mexico (ca.1550) and from France a marbleized  slipware- the red bowl- from the early 18th century. The other blue and red jug is also from France.  Near the historical village is an archeological museum where I took the above picture.
Most of our day was spent in the historical village, which has about 15 buildings from the early days of Pensacola.  Most of them are located on their original sites.  One that had been relocated is the Julee Panton Cottage built in 1804.  Fifteen to twenty per-cent of it was intact before reconstruction.  Julee was a "free woman of color" ( had been a slave in the past) who purchased real estate as well as slaves (whom she always later freed).  In the cottage is a display of a document she wrote in 1804 to the governor of Florida asking for a lot on which to build her home.  She made mention of the fact that she made her living manufacturing candles and baking cakes and pastry.  In 1900 the African American community outnumbered the whites, and despite the fact that many of them held professional jobs and were merchants, they were never accepted socially.  However, they continued to live side by side the whites in the downtown area.
Christ Episcopal Church, built in 1832, is one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Florida.
The original stained glass has been moved to the new church.  The altar area is the resting site for three of the church's rectors.   When that section of the church was lengthened it covered part of the graveyard which was behind the building, so their graves were included inside the church.
Joining a guided tour later in the day enabled us to see the inside of Christ Church, as well as two homes built in the late 1800s.  Pictured above is the Dorr house built in 1871 by Clara Barkley Dorr, the widow of a lumber tycoon.  In 1862 the Confederates burned everything in the town of Pensacola which they considered of some use to the enemy, which included sawmills, factories, boats, naval stores and warehouses.  By July of 1863 only 82 people were living in the city.  I will have more regarding Pensacola in my next posting.

Monday, March 23, 2015

National Naval Aviation Museum

Wisteria and azalea bushes are pictured above, they are quite profuse all over Pensacola and presently in bloom.  Sunday afternoon found us at the aviation museum.  Our nephew Michael's flight lesson was cancelled because of inclement weather so he was able to join us.  The museum is on the base of the Naval Air Station.  At the entrance of the museum we came upon this very meaningful sculpture of five aviators from both World Wars, the Korean, Vietnam and Desert Storm wars.  A sign near it notes:" in the universal language of all aviators a World War 11 pilot relives his flight with naval aviators from his past and future".
We joined a guided tour of the museum after our lunch at the Cubi Bar and Grill.  The walls of that eating area are decorated with plaques from an officer's club which was once located in the Philippines during World War ll.  That made for a fascinating dining experience.  I thought that I was going to be bored to death with a guided tour,  but our guide was a retired naval pilot from 1972 to 1992.  He knew his military history quite well, in addition to the mechanical features of all the different naval aircraft through the years.  I paid attention through the first hour, but after that I was not doing well with listening.  What I did manage to pick up, however, was that  after World War ll the aircraft certainly became more mechanically involved.  And we had progressed from firing guns from planes to dropping bombs and missiles.  After the Vietnam War many planes have a wider range of capabilities involving upgraded radar and electronics.  Such an example is the E-2 Hawkeye, even I was impressed with its rotating radar dome and 8-bladed propellers!
Of course my husband John and Michael appreciated the tour more than I did, one being a retire aircraft engineer and the other a naval pilot in training.  There are more than 170 historic naval aircraft in this museum, in addition to many exhibits as the Apollo Space,Women in Naval Aviation and the Coast Guard to name but a few.  The Blue Angels, a precision flying team, practice some mornings at the museum.  They are headquartered here on the naval base in Pensacola. 
Pictured above is one of the team's planes currently residing at the museum, a FA-18 Hornet.  The Blue Angels have been flying for 65 years, and over that time used 8 different aircraft types.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fort Pickens

We wanted to visit a beach one more time before leaving Florida.  One reason we chose this city is that our nephew Michael is down here for flight training on the naval base.  On the second day of our trip north from Ocala I started noticing large patches of wildflowers along the roadside.  I was especially intrigued by some white ones which I could not identify from our rig windows.  John was kind enough to stop so I could look at them closer and take a few pictures- no small feat on a busy highway.  What a surprise, wild Easter lilies!
We are now parked northwest of Pensacola.  What should have taken us about 2 hours Thursday took us four.  Traffic was horrendous on the coastal highway from Panama City to Pensacola, as it is spring break time for many people across the nation, as well as locally.  Friday we choose to go to the beach and discovered that many tourists do not go so far as the barrier islands west of Pensacola.  The beach area I am referring, and was our final destination, is the Gulf Island National Seashore.  At the fee gate to this park we were informed by the guard on duty that there would be a tour of Fort Pickens in an hour.
European colonization as well as American expansion in the early 1800s created a concern regarding threats of invasion for our young country.  Fort Pickens is the largest of four forts built to defend Pensacola and its navy yard.  Building of the fort began in 1829 and was completed in 1834.  Over 21.5 million bricks were required, which were made locally.  The work force was provided by African-American slaves, their pay went to their owners.  The picture above of the fort shows only a small piece of the total structure.
Our guided tour took us to the officer's quarters, gun rooms, mine chambers, and tower bastions.  We also viewed the parade grounds as well as a dry moat which surrounds the fort.  I could see how construction of this fort was no small feat!  Pictured below is one of the rooms.
Water  seeps down the walls now, mold and grass is growing, as well as stalactites.  Ironically, the only real action this fort saw was when the country was at war with itself.  Fort Pickens was one of the four seacoast forts that remained in Union Control during the Civil War.  In 1886 our government imprisoned Geronimo and 15 other Apache men here for about 18 months.  By 1898 the fort was past its prime. New rifled artillery could penetrate its walls and another fort was built within its walls using reinforced concrete.
After a good two hours at the fort I was more than ready for a walk on the beach.  We had a beautiful walk, among large sand dunes of glistening white sand, which is typical of the beaches around Pensacola.  You may also notice the concrete battery above, one of many on the island where the fort is located.  While looking for shells, of which there are not many to be easily obtained as the tide was in, we came upon a young dead deer- something we would not usually expect to see on the beach!   I will spare our readers that sight, and instead post here a picture of what I think is possibly a laughing gull.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our Final Days in Ocala, Florida

Sunday we attended St.Matthew Lutheran church who keeps a big welcome mat out, speaking figuratively.  It was like we were back at our home church, so many members came up and spoke to us.  One couple, Chris and Sally Mendola, discovered that we have a lot in common as they are on the road with their A-frame camper six months out of the year.  They invited us to their home for lunch after church where we talked further about our experiences on the road, as well as sharing information regarding our families and church life.  They showed us their camper and give us a tour of their home which they built themselves.  It has unique environmentally friendly features with an earth roof that needs to be regularly mowed.  Getting to know warmhearted people like Chris and Sally adds a wonderful dimension to our travels!
Chris is quite the craftsman, he received his bachelors and masters degree in Industrial Arts Education.  The Memorial Cross at St.Matthew was constructed by him, Sally also assisted him with this project.  Members of the church collected two thousand stainless steel forks of various shapes and sizes to be used as the construction medium.  The "heart and "halo" are made of knives and teaspoons as well as tablespoons, they "convey the holiness and purity of God through their symmetry and brilliance" (quote is taken from a church brochure which describes how the cross was constructed and it's many layers of symbolism).   
Switching gears here, on Monday we drove north from Ocala on scenic US 301.  Ocala's welome sign claims that it is the horse capital of the world.  The city is the heartland of Florida's Thoroughbred industry.  Rolling green hills greeted us on this stretch of the highway, instead of the usual scrub land of sand and brush.
Continuing north we drove through a section of the Ocala National Forest, which is said to have the world's largest of stand pine.  We ended our day hiking around Ravine Gardens State Park
The gardens were developed from 1933-39 to spur the economic recovery of the nearby city of Palatka.  Azaleas were to chosen as the theme flower of the garden because of their brilliant bloom, fortunately for us we visited the park while they are still blooming.  We hiked on a couple of trails down into the ravine as well as up along it's ridge, and beautiful blooming azaleas were everywhere, as well as dogwoods.  The whole park is quite moist and shady, besides azaleas there is an abundance of ferns.
In 1937 the gardens were declared "the nation's outstanding CWA Project".  Surviving structures still in the park include the main entrance, two suspension bridges, stone terraces and the Court of States with an obelisk dedicated to President E.D.Roosevelt. Today,Wednesday, we will be moving our home north.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pancakes and Springs

After we had toured Lincoln's cottage last Monday, we received a call from Amtrak informing us that our return trip back to Florida was cancelled.  Apparently a train accident south of Richmond that morning had made it impossible for any trains to go south for a couple of days.  John and I then made plans to take a rental car home, arriving there a day later than originally planned.  And we now we are dealing with the temperatures in the lower 80s, requiring us to run our air conditioner.  So hard to believe that we were dealing with cold and snow last week!  And since we have been back we can tell it is spring with blooming dogwood as well as azaleas.  Pictured below is a live oak with bushes of pink azalea below it.
That picture was taken at DeLeon Springs State Park of Florida.  Truth be told we visited this park for the delicious stone-ground flour pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant.  Each table has its' own griddle on which diners can cook their own eggs and pancakes.  I let John do the cooking.
He is adding blueberries to the pancakes.  Once we were stuffed with as many pancakes as we could eat, we set out to explore the park.  In 1831 the park was called Spring Garden Plantation,the owner Colonel Rees planted sugarcane and built a sugar mill on the property.  In 1836 Indians demolished the mill and held the land for two years until the U.S. army drove them out.  The mill was started up again in the 1850s, constructed by enslaved Africans.  Pictured below is what is left of the sugar train which was used to boil cane juice.  The mill was again demolished in 1864 by Union Troops.
The outstanding feature of the park's some 600 acres is the headspring, with some 19 million gallons of water flowing daily from an underwater cavern.  In the 1950s it became an advertising ploy to get northern tourists to come down and try "the deliciously healthy water".  Below is a picture of the fountain from which the water flowed, now no longer used.
Our last stop of the day was at Blue Spring State Park, which, according to a park brochure, is a "first magnitude spring which discharges 104 million gallons of water daily into the St.Johns River".  It is also the winter home of 200 manatees, which we came to see- however we missed them by two days.  We did have a pleasant walk on the boardwalk along the river and springs.  In the park is also a three story house built in 1872 by the original owner of the land, which we were allowed to tour.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

President Lincoln's Cottage

John and I had one more day of sightseeing left before we were to take the train back home.  Our son Dan suggested that we see the cottage since a trip to it would involve only a brief bus ride from his house.
The above picture was taken from the grounds of the cottage and Soldier's Home, which are located about 3 miles north of the Capitol.  In 1851 Senator Jefferson Davis proposed a bill to establish a home for veterans, which passed.  The government then purchased a 256 acre estate for the home.  By 1890 more than 1,000 native born men lived here, in 20007 the number of veterans living here numbered 1,100.  In 1857, in order to build political support for the home, the commissioners began inviting the President and Secretary of War to occupy the Gothic Revival cottage built by the owner of estate in 1842.  This cottage has 34 rooms.
At the time of the Civil War DC was a hubbub of military activity.  Along with the increased population, and sweltering humidity of the area, came diseases as malaria and typhoid fever- which killed Lincoln's son Willie.  The President's wife Mary declared that they were " in need of quiet".   They arrived here in 1862.  All total during the years of his presidency Lincoln spent 13 months at this summer cottage, and it was within this building that he crafted the Emancipation Proclamation.  We learned a lot about Lincoln in the visitor's center on the grounds, as well as in the house which has large video screens displaying additional information.   The house has no artifacts pertaining to Lincoln (other than a replica of the desk on which he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation). Only the walls and bannisters of the house are original.  Lincoln was not the last president to live at the Soldier's Home, Presidents Hayes and Arthur also spent time here.  In 2000 President Clinton designated the home a National Monument and it remains the only official National Monument in DC.
Lincoln frequently was by himself when he rode his horse in DC, which terrified Mary.  He was shot at once, the bullet just knocked his hat off.  A month before he was assassinated in 1865 there was a plan to kidnap him when he rode in from DC, but Lincoln changed his plans and stayed in the city that day.  Another interesting story which we learned regarding our 16th President was that he and Poet Walt Whitman exchanged bows almost daily on the President's commute into town.  Whitman was in DC for government work as well as to serve as a nurse, and lived at an intersection of streets which Lincoln daily crossed.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Winter Visit to Washington, D.C.

Pictured above is the skyline of Washington, DC, and in the foreground is the Potomac River, under snow and ice.  Thursday, the day after John and I arrived in the city, it snowed about 4 0r 5 inches.  Expectation was 10 inches, so the city closed down for the day.  Our son Dan and his wife Amanda did not have to go to work, that was good as it gave us more time to see them.  Unfortunately neither John and I came prepared with winter gear, namely boots, so we were all stuck inside.  Friday the sidewalks still had snow and ice on them,  some of which were turning to slush.  Dan could go into his office late so he offered to accompany us to the National Gallery of Art.  He was a big help in getting me over icy spots on the sidewalks.
The NGA was created in 1937 by Congress,  accepting the gift of Andrew Mellon, art collector and public servant.  His gift included old master paintings and sculptures and a building to house the new museum.  His hope was that the National Gallery would attract similar gifts from other donors and artists.  We spent about 6 hours in the National Gallery, and did not see it all.  When we got tired we sat for awhile in the rotunda, which has been designed like the pantheon in Rome.  Adding to the beauty of the tall marble columns currently is a collection of potted azalea bushes.  We had no problem sitting there for a spell.
The National Gallery has the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in North America, titled Ginevra de Benci. It was done in about 1474.   We made certain to see it, fortunately a museum docent was explaining the picture's features to a tour group while we were there.  On the back of this painting of a young woman is a scroll which bears an epigram: "beauty adorns virtue" .  To me the painting was very reminiscent of the painter's Mona Lisa.
Saturday Dan and Amanda suggested a walk along the Potomac River.  The weather was warming up.
We took the metro to the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of DC.  Our walk to the river took us near the various memorials of the Mall and past the World Health Organization building.  The big poster on the structure warns that little bites make big threats.
 We also walked past the State Department building as well as the Institute for Peace.  Walking along the Potomac we passed the Watergate Complex where we could see the Kennedy Performing Arts Center off in the distance.   Our capitol city is very much a fascinating place for anyone willing to get out and walk the streets!  And I am sure that every season here has its own particular beauty.
At Washington Harbor in Georgetown we took a break at one of the outdoor dining venues where we watched the activity on the skating rink.  We discovered that a bit of Baileys in our hot chocolates made for one delicious drink!  The rest of our walk was at a bit of a slower pace as we dawdled in the shops of Georgetown.
One final note here.  Sunday we attended services at St. Stephen's Episcopal church, and were inspired by a wonderful speaker, Fr. Michael Lapsley SSM.  He is an Anglican priest and former South African anti-apartheid activist.  He was wounded by a mail bomb and both of his hands were blown off.  Fr. Lapsley spoke of redemptive memory and healing, as well as restoration, forgiveness and reparation.   Most importantly, we need to forgive for our own healing and remember that God will be with us for the journey.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Deland, Florida

In my last posting I mentioned that we were taking a trip to Washington D.C.  Our point of departure was from the town of DeLand, where the Amtrak station is located.  As our train was not leaving until the evening, John and I decided to spend the day touring DeLand.  We first started with an historic home.
Pictured above is the Henry A. DeLand house.  In the late 1800s word had it that there was money to be made in the orange groves of northeastern Florida.  Henry DeLand, a native of New York who had made his fortune in baking soda, traveled to Florida to expand his wealth in citrus fruit.  He built the above home in 1886, and also grew a citrus orchard on the land.  He never lived in the house, however, and in 1900 the house was bought by John B. Stetson for faculty housing at the university which bears his name.  That school is located in DeLand.  Stetson was a hat manufacturer from Philadelphia, and his mansion,  located in the town can also be toured.  We decided rather to check out the murals of DeLand.
What is interesting about the town's murals is that they depict real people and places.  The mural above, "Pioneers at the Parceland", is designed from an 1890 photograph.  It shows "snow birds" waiting at a train depot for their ride to a local riverboat landing where they will make a steamboat connection to Jacksonville for their return journey north.  In this mural, as well as in some of the others, the viewer is to find some small object, in this mural it is a feather floating between the man in the brown suit and the man next to him.  Also in the picture many of the travelers are holding bag of oranges.
In the mural, "Living at the Landmark" the story of this restored hotel is depicted in its windows.  Each one gives a snapshot of some winter visitors in the 1930s and 1940s.  There were originally windows where the mural is now but they had to be blocked in when the hotel was renovated in 1997.  The owners saw the mural as a decorative solution to a problem wall.  Each window's mural was painted off-site.
There is also a sculpture walk in DeLand.  Across from where we had parked our car an artist was busy constructing the newest sculpture which he titled "Pac-Man".  Craig Gray, from Key West, told us that his man, made of rocks and cement, was a hiker carrying a back-pack.  He had submitted a drawing of his work to DeLand and it was chosen from many other entrants to be a part of the Sculpture Walk.  I must say that we had a delightful time during our afternoon in this town, it certainly has many pleasant surprises!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This is the second time I have visited this park, for John it is his third.  It was about thirty years ago that he was down here with our two boys.  Our eldest, Michael, was so taken with the manatees that he wanted his next Halloween costume to be that of a manatee.  I can't remember if or how we accomplished that!
The above mural should give you an idea of what a manatee looks like.  Another name for them are sea cows.  They may grow up to 13 feet long and weight up to 1300 pounds.  For all of that body mass they are considered gentle creatures. Manatees are the only marine mammals which are herbivorous.  They use their flippers to "walk"  on the ocean floor while digging for vegetation.  The tail of a manatee is paddle-shaped.    Their northernmost range here in the states is Georgia, as they need warmer waters to survive.  From November 15 to March 31 gates are opened under the Long River Bridge in Florida to give them access to the warm spring water.  The Hermosassa River flows nine miles from the springs to the Gulf of Mexico, another area where they live during the winter months.  As many as 70-80 can be seen at Hermosassa Springs on any given day during the winter months.  It was near the observation deck in the park where we found a couple hanging out.  The springs area are also replete with 34 varieties of  fish, many of which we could also see from the deck because of the clarity of the water.
The park is also a wildlife sanctuary, Florida animals and birds, as well as several manatees live here who can no longer exist out in the wild.  Cape Coral, located near Fort Myers, is supposed to have one of the larger populations of the burrowing owl.  In this park we were able to see a couple of them entering their burrow in the ground.  What a fascinating little creature!  In Cape Coral there are strict laws regarding protection of their burrows, even if they choose your lawn for their home!
Many birds are hanging out in the park, and I am sure that not all of them are residents.  I chanced to look up into the trees near the island pictured above and there seemed to be as many birds up there as on the ground, a lot of them  black vultures.  While looking up I watched two great blue herons building their nest with very large sticks.  Considering how big their babies get to be before leaving the nest, it is not surprising that construction of the nest is a major task.
Not sure when I will have another posting, tomorrow John and I are heading north again, this time to visit our son Dan and his wife in Washington, D.C.

Rainbow Springs State Park

It was worthwhile for us to make the trip to Carbondale, despite the cold, snow and ice we encountered during our travels.  Seeing our grandson was worth it all.  Nathaniel is now one years old, and as yet not walking.  He, however, can balance himself very well when standing.  He just has to learn that walking is not possible when he is chattering and waving his arm around!
Grandmother never learned that letting him in the back room makes for trouble, when Nathan gets in there he rapidly moves to stick his hand in the kitty litter, or play in the cat's drinking water.
We hated to leave Carbondale, but my spirits felt a lift Friday once we crossed the Florida line and started seeing a green world after all the gray landscape of the Midwest.  Spring is in bloom in northern Florida.  Also, what I noticed right away, is the presence of many small puddles, and ponds which is characteristic of Florida- and, along with that, the many wading birds. One egret flew above are car soon after we entered the state, and more could be seen hanging out in the watery ditches alongside the highway.
Speaking of water, we stopped at Rainbow Falls State Park on our way to Homosassa Springs Sunday afternoon.  We thought we were stopping just to see some falls, but the park also has gardens which, as you may notice above, are quite lush with vegetation.  In the 1920s it was a major tourist attraction with glass bottom boat tours on the Rainbow River, as well as a zoo and rodeo.  Waterfalls were built with soil from phosphate pilings.  It closed in the mid-1970s, and in the mid-1990s reopened as a state park. 
Pictured above is a wild azalea.  In the early spring the entire headspring area's azaleas bloom into vibrant colors of pink, white and red.  At the time of our visit those blooms were already starting to die off.
As we walked the paths of the gardens and falls we noticed that most of the people in the park were there to swim.  An area of the springs is marked off for swimming and snorkeling.  The water stays a constant 72 degrees, and the swimming hole has a depth of 5-15 feet.  This is one of the largest springs in Florida.  The river is also active with many ducks and wading birds.  In the picture above see if you can find the white egret.  We would have like to have lingered longer in this park, but we still wanted to see Homosassa Springs and the manatees before dusk.