Getting from upstate New York to southern Florida in January is no mean feat. Our chosen route was I-81, where Richard and I faced potential nasty driving conditions in the Poconos, the Appalachian foothills of Virginia or Tennessee, and even the hills south of Syracuse. So we chose a departure day when the skies were clear and the roads were dry. Fourteen hours later, we pulled into our friends’ driveway in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
|Richard and Miss Kitty|
I’ve known Anne and Greg since 1976. I took riding lessons from Anne, then boarded my half-Arabian hunters with them. They still have horses, cats, and dogs, and they surely have good karma in abundance, since they take in any animal with a sad story. Miss Kitty is typical – she is at least 16 and has no teeth, but she is content, and just loves Richard!
We played with the Woodruffs’ animals, and they came with Richard and me to look for a super-rare hooded crane at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. This Asian bird must have turned its mental migration map upside-down, for not only is this its first North American appearance, but it turned up a good 10,000 miles from its home range, in the company of 12,000 sandhill cranes. We missed seeing the bird after a 3-hour wait on a bone-chilling day.
Two days later, Richard and I drove another 120 miles one-way for another try. This time the crane obliged, but 15 minutes after our arrival rain began pounding down. An hour later it changed to snow. We had to wait until noon the next morning to leave our friends’ home, because the road crew waits for snow to melt on secondary routes, rather than salting them into submission like they do in NY.
|Red Clay State Park|
This made for another tough driving day. We had a brief stop at Red Clay State Park, where Cherokees gathered after being ruthlessly ejected from their lands in Georgia, and prepared to take the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Then we blasted south to Columbus, GA.
|FDR's bedroom at Warm Springs SP|
Richard and I played with my cousins for a few days, and I saw FDR’s home at Warm Springs, GA for the first time. An amazingly humble place, it reminded me of my family’s childhood camp (though with better china). FDR’s bedroom showed that even a president can sometimes get away from all of the pomp and formality.
|Infantry museum - Ft. Benning, GA|
We also took in the Army’s Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning. I was disappointed because exhibits for the colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil wars were not finished, and I wanted to see what information they had on New England’s 1675-6 King Philip’s War for my Rebel Puritan sequel. But it is a fascinating museum, and after spending extra time in the WWII barracks tour and talking with a Vietnam War veteran/docent we weren’t able to finish seeing the place. Something to look forward to…
|Jimmy Carter NHS|
Another long drive southward to Plains, GA and the Jimmy Carter National Historical Site. The high school which Jimmy and Rosalynn attended is now the visitor’s center. We also toured Carter’s boyhood farm and even saw exhibits in Billy Carter’s gas station.
|Eerie Apalachicola activities?|
We ended our day after dark in a primitive campsite in the Apalachicola National Forest outside of Tallahassee, Florida. This is our favorite sort of camping – nobody within miles (except for pre-dawn hunters and baying hounds). I wondered what sort of party had occurred in our campsite before we were there – the site was littered with fish bones and oyster shells, a pig’s skull, a flattened super-size, manly-type deodorant can, over a dozen snuff cans, and too many beer bottles to count.
|Old Florida capitol building|
Now Richard and I could explore Tallahassee (and I had my first chance to catch up on email at a library). The old Florida state capitol building is now a museum. The new capitol is a drab office building, but with a fabulous view on the 40th floor.
|Apalachee Mission council hall|
|Apalachee council hall interior|
It seems that school children and the odd tourist are the only visitors to the Apalachee Mission State Park. Too bad – the recreated log and palmetto-frond council building built by the Apalachee Indians is unique, and deserves to be more widely known.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, and is a can’t-miss attraction. After seeing my first Florida golden eagle and a very unusual wintering roseate spoonbill, I decided to have a Big Day, and count every bird species I could find. This test of detection and identification skills had me listening to every peep and rustle in the bushes until 10:30 pm when I heard my final birds – a barred owl hootenanny. Between pinewoods, marshes and coastal waters, I ended my big day with 96 species. Not bad for winter birding (and no scope to identify those ducks diving offshore).
|Roseate Spoonbill (Wikipedia)|
|lighthouse at St. Marks NWR|
|Rainbow Springs State Park|
It took Richard and me another five days to get from Apalachicola to Fort Lauderdale. The distance can be driven in one day, but we filled each day with natural wonders, and camped in state parks so it took longer. Entire rivers flow from clear blue springs and live oaks draped with Spanish moss beg to be photographed. People bending over a bridge railing alerted us to several manatee sightings, as the gigantic creatures warm up in the balmy spring water.
|Gumbo Limbo tree|
|Ding Darling NWR at sunset|
Sanibel Island is another of our favorite spots, and it would be nice to spend a few days there in another lifetime (perhaps when I start selling books like J.K. Rowling). Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge occupies nearly half of the island, and we spent half of our day on the island in the refuge. Egrets, spoonbills, white pelicans, and other waders abound; exotic tropical vegetation brings out the photographer in us, and it’s hard to take a bad picture at sunset.
|Cypress & strangler fig|
|Image by Greg Lavaty at www.pbase.com|
Our last adventure before reaching Fort Lauderdale was at Audubon’s Corkscrew Preserve, one of the largest surviving virgin cypress forests. We were greeted at the visitor’s center with three pair of painted buntings at the bird feeders, and we never stopped taking photos even when it began to rain.
So, having pounded out nearly 2,000 miles and flattened our feet on miles of boardwalks, Richard and I are resting for a couple of days at Fort Lauderdale. I managed to review 4 chapters of my Reputed Wife manuscript on the road, but more awaits. Our next stop? The Everglades for more birding, photography, and mss review - Huzzah!