Manatee in Wakulla River, Florida, October 3, 2015 -- Rachel shot this from her Samsung Galaxy 6 phone


October 1 and 2, 2015 -- Driving down to Florida

    Rachel is doing the Florida leg of my trip.  She has a six day fall break from school.  We left Exton at 8:00 PM Thursday night, slept at a rest stop in Virginia along route 81, took a route across Georgia where we saw miles of cotton fields and lots of pecan orchards, then arrived at our campsite on Friday at 7:00 PM.  We camped at a beautiful spot south of Tallahassee, Ochlocknee River State Park (850-962-2711).  The campground is right along the river and is nestled among Live Oaks.  We left early the next morning, while a Mockingbird monitored our campsite breakdown.

    I did a lot of upfront planning to coordinate my trip, starting with Rachel's last class before her break and working backward and forward from her plane flight home.  I have every campsite, motel, and most of the wildlife refuges all planned out.  I am saving a lot of bucks by getting good deals up front and a lot of hassles by not having to do any registrations on the road.  But reviewing that is boring.   More interesting is talking about what went wrong on previous road trips to Florida.  Here's a two of mine:

    On one trip, Rachel was a baby and started throwing up one hour into the trip.  We figured that she would be better by the time we got to Florida, so we kept going.  Two days later, she was feeling fine, but every bit of clothes that we brought for her was dirty and the car smelled pretty bad.

    Another trip occurred a few months after Michael Jordan's dad was carjacked at a rest stop.  My plan was to not get a hotel and stop at a rest stop  on the way down for a few hours.  We had just bought this humungous van and thought that it would be cool to sleep in it.  But that plan got nixed as follows:

        "Didn't Michael Jordan's dad get carjacked at a rest stop?"

        "Yeah.  But that was in some remote area."

        "Like where?"

        "I think it was in North Carolina."

        "Where are we now?"

        "North Carolina."

    So that killed my idea to take our driving break at a rest stop.  We pulled off at a well lit off ramp with lots of restaurants and hotels. It was too late to get a hotel reservation.  Instead, I pulled our new van into the back of a parking lot and being unfamiliar with the features of the vehicle, set off the car alarm.  A security vehicle appeared and kicked us out of the lot.  We went across the street, and now attempted to set up the van for sleeping without getting out.  Chris managed to pull the bed open, but in the process, got trapped underneath it.  Suddenly she was gone.  The kids started crying, "where's Mommy?"

    "I'm down her kids", came her voice from under the seat.  "I'm all right."

    I don't remember how she got out of there, but she definitely did get out somehow.  There were a few more incidents that night, including singing the song that features three men in a tub and one falling out and also the peeing in a cup incident.    In the morning, we passed a rest stop with about five thousand cars in it.


October 2 and 3, 2015 -- Manatees, St. Mark's NWR 

    We were hustling on Saturday morning because we wanted to catch the rising tide as it surged up the Wakulla River.   The manatees follow the tide and graze on the grasses growing under the surface of the river.  We rented a canoe from T-N-T Hide-Away Rental (850-925-6412) and were paddling up the river by 9:00 AM.  During the first hour we saw Great Egret, Cormorant, Wood Duck, Kingfisher, and Pileated Woodpecker.  Finally we saw one Manatee swimming downstream underwater.  This brief glimpse of one of these huge mammals was a thrill and we felt instantly validated on having made the trip.  An hour later, we hit the Manatee mother load.  There were dozens of them feeding along the shore.  They swam under our canoe, just inches away from us.  A baby manatee came up to me at the front of the boat and lifted his head out of the water to inspect the canoe.  They constantly surfaced to blow out water and get a new gulp of air.  Their huge tails gently flipped and their thousand pound, ten foot long bulk sped through the water.  We spent an hour canoeing alongside these animals that could have easily tipped us into the river with an accidental nudge.  We didn't feel threatened and backed off when we got too close.  This was a really nice adventure.  On the float back down the river, we saw Anhinga, Grebes, and a White Ibis. 

   In the afternoon, we set up our next campsite at nearby Newport Campground (850-925-4530), six minutes from the canoe rental and right across the road from the entrance to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a pleasant county park, very safe, convenient, clean and inexpensive.  It doesn't have the wild beauty of the Ochlocknee River, but we got a good night's sleep.  In the late afternoon, we took a ride over to the St. Mark's NWR Visitor Center and then drove along the road to the lighthouse.  There is an amazing amount of water and saltmarsh along the roads and trails.  I imagine that during the peak migrations that these are swarming with birds.  But today, it was really quiet -- hauntingly, beautifully quiet.  We saw Osprey, a single tern, Great Egrets, four Tri-colored Herons, Red-winged Blackbirds, grebes, Common Moorhen, and a possible Purple Gallinule,  A large group of adult and juvenile White Ibis were sharing a pool with four Roseate Spoonbill.  That was really pretty.  The ibis added beautiful lines with their long, curvy bills.  The spoonbills added a touch of color - candy pink. 



Tri-colored Heron, St Marks NWR, October 3, 2015



October 4, 2015, morning -- St. Mark's NWR

    Before daylight, we got to the birding spot that we ha picked out the previous evening, a dike that ran between two large pools.   Rachel found a few green and yellow warblers in bushes along the roadside.  I should be able to id them from the photos, but that won't happen for a few days.   There were several large fish jumping in the pools and a Moorhen crackling the brush.   The trail was high grass and we didn't want to continue too far on it, so we tried a different spot farther up.  We saw Caspian and Forster's Terns, grebes, a long-billed shorebird (ID coming soon, I hope), Common Moorhen, definite Purple Gallinules, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, a larger flock of Spoonbills, Willets, Greater Yellowlegs. Sanderlings, and Osprey.  In the woods along one of the marked trails, there were chickadees and a Black and White Warbler.


Purple Gallinule, St. Marks NWR, October 4, 2015


October 4, 2015, afternoon -- Destin Island

    On Highway 20 heading west toward Destin, we saw a mature Bald Eagle.

    Destin is a booming tourist city on a Gulf Coast barrier island.  The beaches are white, white -- the whitest sand anywhere.  It comes from ground up milky quartz.  On the sandy bottom of the gulf, there is algae that reflects the sunlight back up to make the water a crystal clear emerald green color. This coastline, called The Emerald Coast, is magical.   The water was warm and calm and we can't wait to get back into it tomorrow.

    We did the beach at Henderson Beach State Park.  There is camping there, but we opted for a hotel room for our stay here.  Only  few birds were on the beach -- Laughing Gulls, Sanderlings, Willet, and a Brown Pelican. 

Rachel on the beach at Henderson State Park, Destin Island, Florida, Oct 4, 2015 -- Samsung Galaxy S6


October 5, 2015 -- Henderson Beach on Destin Island

    Here are a few of the text messages that I sent out in the last few days:

    "In South Carolina and gas is $1.89!!"

    "Got tent set up at Ochlocknee River State park before rain started.  Sitting in the tent on beach chairs and eating beef stew and drinking a beer."

    "We saw lots of manatees.  Came right up to the canoe."

    "Did st marks nwr last night and this morning.  Broke camp.  Ate pb and banana.  On way to destin island"

    "Right now Rachel is running on the white sand beach and I am sitting in the beach chair and looking at emerald green water and tiny sandpipers.  It is not bad."


    Rachel got back from her run as five Brown Pelicans soared up the beach.  It is interesting that no matter how much hustle and bustle is around you, there always seems to be a quiet cocoon nearby.  It could be early morning in a big city, a quiet nook in your house, a special bench in a peaceful glen, or an undeveloped mile of white sand beach between two resort complexes.  That's the cocoon that Rachel and I have today  -- with a Laughing Gull for company.

    I already described the beach and water.  This is how the horizon looks here.  For half a circle, the water's edge ripples beneath a band of cerulean blue sky.  Above the blue is a thick bank of puffy clouds, in some spots white and cheerful, in others, darker with lines of rain slanting down.  Straight in front, a single sail sits atop a boat that seems to be perched on the very edge of the world and looking over the edge to see the wonders on the other side.  Right now, the sun is bright overhead and along the shore, making that water sparkle a bright clear green and making the dark line of the horizon stand out against the sky.  The horizon line is circling a flat expanse of light and color -- pale green water, white sand -- with Rachel and me sitting in the center, as if we are at the center of everything.  Of course we are, as you are.



Henderson Beach, Destin Island, October 5, 2015


    We paid six dollars to own a spot on the beach for the day.  A half mile in either direction, it costs more.  There are many spots that are free. 

    Confronted with a huge "empty" expanse in front of me, empty meaning no human touches, so not even remotely really empty, actually full and teaming in a natural sense, I cannot help but craft a long run-on sentence.

    Back to my spot on the beach:  ownership is one of our many illusions.  You don't own YOUR child.  Owning property mostly means that other people agree to ask you first before going on it.  Your shoes are safe because no one else wants them.  Your bank accounts are basically a way to store up favors that you did for one group of people, so that you can redeem them for favors from a different group.  Ownership is an agreement between humans that humans use to regulate actions between humans.  "Don't touch my stuff", only relates to humans.  Ownership in the form of territorial behavior does occur in the natural world and operates in a similar way that our ownership works.  Territorial behavior only applies to members of the same species.  The spot being "owned" has been around for a very long time and will still be around long after the individuals doing the "owning" are gone.  Territorial behavior isn't necessarily bad, but it is probably not healthy to be too concerned over it.  Do your Yoga on the beach and leave.  That's how it should go.

    So, let's try a pop quiz.   If you see a man on a beach next to a sign that says "AREA CLOSED, SPECIAL EVENT", which is most likely:

        (a)  He is very rich and bought the beach.

        (b)  His relatives are very rich and bought the beach for him.

        (c)  He found the sign that was left over from a wedding from the previous day.

        (d)  None of the above, all of the above, a and b, a and c, or b and c.

    The correct answer would be (c), but if you answered (a) or (b), then thank you. 



Area Closed for Private Party (I kind of borrowed the sign for the day.)