Saturday, December 31, 2016

Recent Hikes in Florida's Preserves

Unlike the rest of our nation, we have been enjoying unusually warm weather here in Florida, until the last couple of days.  Last week we hiked Booker Creek Preserve, a wonderful wilderness area of pine flats and wetlands.  We certainly saw a lot of cypress and tupelo trees.
The preserve, being a large wilderness area of 8,700 acres, has a lot of wildlife.  However, when John and I were there, we saw only a solitary anhinga. 
Two days ago we visited Weedon Island Preserve, a much smaller area of 3,700 acres.  John has been there before without me and came back excited about all the wildlife he saw there- from gopher tortoises and a racoon to shore birds and a kingfisher.  We saw nothing when we were there.  Well, we did see a gopher tortoise hanging out in his hole.  Maybe he and his cohorts somehow realized that cooler weather was coming in and were already settling in for the night, which was going to be quite cool.  John and I did find the nature center at the preserve quite interesting.  There was an exhibit about the Native Americans who had inhabited the island about 7,000 years ago- their artifacts have been found in the area, including a pine canoe estimated by archeologists to be about 1,000 years old.
The length of the canoe is 39 feet, it is Florida's longest prehistoric dugout  used in a saltwater environment.  It was found in 2001 and the logistics involved in exposing this boat to the outside of its watery home were so involved, and needed to be resolved, that it took until 2007 before it could be removed.  It was discovered near the shoreline of Old Tampa Bay on Weedon Island.
Speaking of boats, we saw many kayaks below our trail ( we walked boardwalks for many of the paths).  In the 1960s canals were dug in the island for mosquito control.  This allowed small fish to come in from the bay to eat the larva.  An idea which really did not work and drastically changed the ecology of the island.  As a result large numbers of mangroves now inhabit the island.  They do well growing in saltwater We saw many dense strands of red, white and black mangroves.  Along with their prop roots they present a tangled mass of limbs and leaves along our path.  Quite a difference from our hike of last week where we saw many cypress trees and their knees protruding from the swamp!  One knee covered with moss seemed appropriate for the season.  It looked like a Christmas tree!  Hopefully we plan to return to both of these wonderful preserves.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Central Park in Largo Florida

My daughter Melissa and I have explored many parks in the central western area of Florida for her son Nathan.  We have been pleasantly surprised that there are so many of them with innovative play equipment suitable for the young as well as the older child.  That does seem a bit strange for a state whose majority population are senior citizens!  What is equally interesting is that the play equipment varies from park to park.  We chose to go to Largo park last Saturday because it offers a holiday train for little Nathan.  We had also learned awhile back, when attending Prince of Peace Lutheran church, that the park was going to feature a Bethlehem village for the Christmas activities that evening.
The playground in Central Park has double swings, one for a young child and another for an adult or older child.  Another playground we visited this past week had a large merry-go-round with small circular movable disks to ride inside of the main one.  Maybe the recent playground equipment is not so unusual, but rather it is just that John and I have not been visiting parks for the past thirty years!
Another interesting feature of this park  are the whimsical statues of children found in various locations of the park.  I especially like the above one of three children crossing a creek.
As I may not be writing another posting until next year, I will take a minute here to wish all of you our readers a very Merry Christmas!  We left the park for supper and just John and I returned in time for the tree lighting.  The whole park was now lit up with Christmas lights.  Adding to those lights were those of a ferris wheel and a carousel.  The playground still had many children playing in it.  Prior to the tree lighting a small stage near the tree had a variety of dance groups performing for the gathering crowds.  I especially enjoyed the choreography for the song  "The Little Drummer Boy".
The Christmas story was played out in the Bethlehem village by live actors, including a real baby.  We certainly had a enjoyable evening strolling through the park.  Besides enjoying the lights, arts and crafts booths, we also stopped to look at a great horn owl perched on the arms of staff member from a bird sanctuary located in Largo.  There was also a bonfire built by a Boy Scout troop where many people were gathered roasting marshmallows.  It was not that cold of an evening, either!
We enjoyed a little bit of everything that evening, including chalk art.  I bet there are plenty of Santa Clauses here in Florida running to the beach after a day in their costume!