We linger each year along the Big Bend Scenic Highway in Florida because we have come to expect a little biking, some pleasant birding, perhaps some seafood and, for sure, a new supply of Tupelo Honey. We should expect, by now, the UNexpected -- like a Bobcat appearing on a hike near dusk, or a fiery sunset cloaked in the smoke from a 5000 acre burn.
The little Newport park fills each night with transients lumbering across the lonely stretches of US 98 plus a few hikers off the Florida Trail. Just as surely it empties to a handful of rigs by morning. It was our great good fortune to find among them two remarkable solo women travelers who lit up our morning and kept us spellbound into the evening. They traded stories of international travels far from the safe tourist paths, of diverse childhoods which inspired their careers and their wanderlust, of RV acquisitions, restorations and horrific repairs. This blessing of friendship we all agree will endure.
Soon after our arrival, we rode about 16 miles of the Tallahassee to St Marks Railroad bike trail. It was pretty routine ride until we stopped near an intersection to add another layer. A walker stopped by and we chatted about the beauty of the trail as sunset approached .
I don't want to alarm you...really, there is nothing to be alarmed about...but last week I met a bear just over there.
Lately we have seen a lot of Bear Warning signs along the Big Bend Scenic Byway, but we have yet to be blessed with a sighting.
In the early morning of our "Refuge Day" , we were greeted with a sizable assemblage of men and fire equipment preparing for a 5000 acre Prescribed Burn.
Upwind from all the activity we checked in with "our" eagles and found them lazing about their nest, not in it. Then they launched off, circled and danced in the air until out of sight. We thought we were witnessing the nuptials but soon learned from refuge regulars that the nest tree was dead and our couple was fretting. They made frequent visits to their old nest now productively occupied by a pair of Barred Owls. We will find out next year how this drama plays out.
Smoke drifting through pine forest already greening up after an earlier burn.
The smoke, overcast and generally cool temperatures seemed to limit our enthusiasm UNTIL we joined a collegial gaggle of birders on an observation platform. Imagine us viewing a pond scattered with mixed flights of wading birds and ducks. Listen to the excitement and the staccato announcements. Gadwall ...Pied Greebe ...........
There's a Red Head near that log!
Wait a minute! Even I can identify a redhead ...I'm very good at spotting redheads...
Sandy and Dick introduced us to Birding Apps which pinpoint your location, identify the usual suspects, provide an array of useful pictures and much, much more. I predict a lot less Field Guide page turning in our future. True to form, Patty was doing more looking and less yakking. She spotted the largest Gator of the day out about 200 yards alongside a curious lump af a bird. After consultation with several experts and a couple Apps, it was deemed a juvenile Black Crested Night Heron.
Wakulla Springs is one of our happy places. Al has been coming here for 60+ years and preaches about it incessantly to friends and strangers alike. One of our new friends is a highly motivated environmental lawyer just back from a visit to the Spring and Today was off to Tallahassee to defend this and other Florida treasures, but we kidnapped Candy.
Unfortunately the tour we promised was sub par. Overcast kept most of the cold blooded creatures submerged, the wading birds weren't "feelin it" and tragically, the water was nearly black and murky. On the plus side of the blessings ledger, Candy is an event planner; Her eyes sparkled when she saw the old hotel. The natural setting, paired with the rich history and ambiance of the old hotel seemed promising and we were soon off with the manager on a detailed tour that included the founders suite.
Under state management, much has been polished and preserved, but nothing, thankfully, "updated". There is even rumor that the dining room has returned to its former excellence. "Ole Joe" the venerable stuffed Alligator has found a new lair in the snack shop/gift shop/bar area and the rich leather furniture in the lobby provide a comfy spot to study the ornate ceiling. The One television in the hotel is missing ...
A few kids and a grandchild have enjoyed a ride with Patty in the hand operated elevator, one of the first in Florida.
We, of course, had the traditional picnic despite the climatological challenges.
So, it was a story of mixed blessings. Last year's Tupelo Honey harvests failed, but the sweetness of our roadside vendor friend persevered.
The Powers are still active in their attempts to despoil the state -- grazing and mining and GOLF COURSES in the state lands, authorizing the looting of archeological sites for profit --- but gritty, determined advocates are out there and deserve our support.
When the wildlife sightings are not the best we remember, stories of lives well lived told by warm new friends ARE.
They don't serve Baked Mullet at the close-by Biker bar... I'm not sure what can balance that....