The Preserve Welcomes a Long Lost Friend

As I opened the gate to the preserve, a rush of emotions flooded my mind. The crisp blue sky of the fall afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to the green trees and shrubs enjoying the warm sunshine. Why don’t I come here more often, I sternly asked myself? It’s not far, it’s in my backyard, literally.

Location, location, location
I live in a community that is bordered on the south by a state preserve and on the east by the intercoastal waterway. How many times have I sat at home and said “I want to go experience nature and pondered where to drive?” Now here I was, only a short 10 minute walk, in the midst of what I crave every day.

With camera in hand and a sense of purpose, I began meandering down the trail. Yep, meandering, something I don’t do very much anymore. I pride myself on getting places the shortest way possible and hopefully before others. Slow was the word today and my sense of purpose? Just soak up everything like the cracked drought stricken ground eagerly soaks up the gentle rain.

I approached the signs for a hiking trail and wondered “was this a new trail?” or had my absence been longer than I remembered. Either way, I took in the sites like a child’s first visit to a museum. What I call the “boring” signature Florida landscape of scrub brush and sand welcomed me like a group of long lost friends.

It’s the little things:
Along the trail I heard a rustling ahead. I raised my camera in anticipation of a wild boar, a snake, or the ever elusive panther. It was just small sparrows flitting about and enjoying their community tree. I stopped and watched them hoping they didn’t see me and instantly fly away. They flew without a care and just went wherever they decided. I soon moved on and experienced more wonders along the trail.

Like nature itself, the trail changed along the way. Scrub brush gave way to a mixture of trees which gave way to mixture of growth so dense, I felt like I was in a South American jungle rather than a few minutes from home.
Rounding a corner, I saw a glimmering thread across the trail.

A tiny spider’s web was catching the rays of the afternoon sun. Spider webs aren’t unusual in these parts, what was unusual was that I going slow enough to see it.


I hadn’t seen any footprints in a long time so who knew the last time a person walked this way. Making sure my passing wouldn’t damage the shimmering web; I gently placed my camera bag on the ground and slowly crawled under. All day long I solve complex problems, but figuring out the simple act of not disturbing a spider’s web was much more rewarding.

Leaving it all behind:
The more I explored, the lighter I felt. All the usual noise in my head was being replaced with peace and wonderment of the world around. It’s a good thing mental clearing isn’t visible; otherwise I’d still be picking up trash from that trail. All the running around I normally do didn’t seem to matter anymore. Just being and enjoying the moment right here, right now was the most important thing.

Along the way, several open places just begged to be stretched out in. Sitting and letting whatever thoughts come and go through my mind was surely relaxing. If I drifted off to sleep, it would be one of the nicest naps in ages.

Coming home:
Losing all track of time as I explored, I finally decided to slowly make my way back. I hadn’t told anyone where I went or how long I’d be gone. I walked slowly and took in all the sights in reverse. Everything looked different on the way back.

Reaching the gate, I paused before going through. Like leaving a world of peace and beauty and stepping into one of chaos, I took a long look at the preserve.

Thankful for this time to rejuvenate and become clear, I confidently stepped through and shut the gate behind me. Often we look long and hard for answers, peace, or just solitude. Often, what we want is closer than we think and it’s been right there all along.

Kayaking the Lost River

“It’s a perfect day to be on the water” I commented to my friends as we kayaked. Blue sky, light breeze, and low humidity made for a picture perfect day to explore the Lost River.

The Lost River is located in Stuart, Florida just about ¼ mile east of the intersection of I-95 and Kanner Highway (76).  Exit the interstate, go East and you’ll drive right over it.

Today, my friends and I put in at a little park just the other side of the river. This park has a boat ramp and a dock so it’s easy to load/unload kayaks and canoes.

We left from the boat dock and headed toward the west. At first glance, the river appears to be brown or even black in color. In the shallow portions, you can see the river is actually a tea color; which comes from tannins, a natural color caused by decaying plant material.

The first 20 minutes or so of leisure paddling takes us through the neighborhood and the view is mainly houses on the river. The homes are nice, but old style with an emphasis on enjoying the river rather than seeing who has the biggest home.

Once past that section, the river turns into the natural oasis.  The banks are thick with lush trees including oak, palm and other varieties of green vegetation. The bank is so covered with foliage in most places that disembarking would require hacking a path. So for our breaks, we ‘d find an overhanging tree and hang out in the shade.

Like most adventures, there are multiple paths and the river is no exception.  Staying left through a couple of forks takes us further down the river. One of the forks we went right and paddled  around a lush,  tree covered island that had a landing area. It appeared big enough to pitch a tent or just have lunch.  We all agreed that’d be a fun place to pitch camp with some friends.

We continued down the river for about half an hour and then turned around. The river continued on, but the afternoon was fading  fast.

As we paddled toward the launching area, we spotted a large alligator sunning itself on the bank. My kayak is nine feet and this gator wasn’t much shorter from snout to tail. However , it was high up and far enough away to paddle up and get a few pictures.

My friends thought it was asleep, but as I kayaked around I saw his eyes open. As they drifted closer for a picture, the large gator ran down the bank and dove into the water right in front of my kayak!  Can you say back paddle? I can and I did!!

The gator swam down the river for a bit, then went under and that’s the last we saw of him. Unless someone has been illegally feeding gators, they generally will run away first. However, when dealing with anything that can and will eat you, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

We made it back safe and dry and agreed that next time we’ll leave earlier so we have more time for exploration.  This is one of those cool places that is just a few miles from home. Next time you’re out roaming, check out some of those “forgotten” places that are just down the street. You might just have your own Lost River begging for exploration.

Here’s a short video of the excursion: http://youtu.be/QSP-DNUekoA

 

 

Halpatiokee Park

I was supposed to meet friends at Halpatiokee Park early this morning but they were really late. So I decided to explore the nature trails by foot. This park has plenty of biking trails and that’s usually how I explore the park. I love to bike, but this morning I was on foot and enjoyed a totally different perspective. 

Walking the trails early, there wasn’t the usual rush of people. A hawk flew over, landed in the ball field and began poking around at something. Since it was early, the sky was filled with all types of birds as they made their way to wherever they go. Have you noticed that birds leave early and return around dusk; they don’t have to work, so just where do they go? I guess anywhere they want:)

The nature trails wind through dense foliage and periodcally parallels the Lost River. Along the way, there are “unofficial” walkouts where you can access the river. Halpatiokee is Seminole for “Alligator Water” and I can personally vouch for alligators being in the water so don’t plan on jumping in. Early morning, the water is perfectly smooth and provides mirror like reflections of the overhanging trees and foliage on the adjacent bank.

One of the walkouts was just too good to resist so I sat for a bit and it was so peaceful! Being out in nature is a great way to clear the mind of useless clutter.

After some time, I continued on the nature trail which then connected to the main paved trail around the park. Since there weren’t many people around, it was a great time to just stroll, take some pictures and relax.

DSC_0442In addition to nature trails, there are mountain biking trails for all levels, tennis courts, soccer fields, baseball fields, and picnic areas. It’s a great place to have some fun on your own or with a group.

More information here:

http://www.martin.fl.us/web_docs/prd/web/docs/xx_halpatiokee_info