Florida manatees are in trouble and it’s troubling. Today, wildlife conservationists put their current census at around 6500 individuals–up from a few hundred in the 1970’s–
and have reclassified these docile creatures as “threatened.” However, the tide may be returning to “endangered,” given the increasing number of manatees at risk from boat strikes (averaging 100 every year), and the consensus that manatees are dying in unexpected numbers this year from extreme weather. Simply put, they are starving to death.
There’s a chill in the air, and the West Indian manatees of northern Florida have been scrambling to find warmer waters during winter months, where they usually huddle in large numbers, which assists in the yearly count.
Many coastal manatees migrate to Manatee Lagoon…
to bask in the warm-water discharges of FPL’s Next Generation Clean Energy Center at West Palm Beach,
while hundreds flee to Blue Springs State Park, in Orange City, Florida, where they find safe haven at a wellspring releasing 72° water year-round.
Others migrate to Silver Springs State Park,
where clear, calm, and temperate waters provide an abundance of sea grass for grazing.
But that’s not the case in many other places where manatees congregate. In recent years, massive toxic algae blooms accelerated by increased extreme weather have eliminated several hundred “sea cows” every year.
The Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic side of the state accounts for the majority of manatee losses.
According to Indian River Lagoon guide Billy Rotne:
The raw truth of the matter is due to negligence of our storm water. We’ve had continual algal blooms over the past 10 years, which blocks out seagrass and kills it…so the manatees are starving to death.
And Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club further connects the dots:
I believe that seagrass loss is making manatees travel farther to get food, often going into man-made canals where they are more exposed to boat traffic.
Manatees have no natural predators. Sharks, whales and alligators usually swim in different waters and pose no threat to them.
Only humans have the capacity to put manatees at risk, with at least 432 having already perished in the first two months of 2021, accounting for 5 times the number of deaths in recent years.
Even more disturbing, a boat charter captain trolling the Homosassa River in the western part of Florida observed a manatee with “TRUMP” etched along its back.
Perhaps we need to do a better job of protecting them, if they are going to survive our abuses.
The above-mentioned poem and pics were motivated by a day-trip to Myakka River State Park, outside Sarasota, Florida.
Originally, my early inclination was to post this as a stand-alone, abstract reaction to all the hate that’s been circulating around the country of late, but as luck would have it–at Leah’s urging–I walked along Sarasota’s Bayfront…
and discovered the 18th Annual Art Exhibit Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion.
Almost immediately, after walking through the exhibition, I realized that showcasing birds and preying reptiles was too esoteric in getting my message across.
And I knew I had to include a sampling of the thoughtful, amazing talent from local and international students…
who have found a way to express themselves both poetically and graphically in ways that astound me, and give me hope for the future of our planet.
50 panels are spread throughout a marine park setting frequented by families, dog-walkers, tourists, and boaters, etc.,
interacting among billboard-sized art.
Indeed, a captive audience for a captivating display of enlightenment that’s too good to ignore.
Ever since Ron DeSantis, Trump’s toady and Florida’s Republican governor decided to ignore CDC guidelines for rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s been a confusing patchwork of inefficiency for Florida’s 67 counties. Of course, first-responders, front-line healthcare workers and long-term facility residents were early targets. However, rather than vaccinate the area’s essential workers–in an effort to stem the tide of infection–DeSantis determined that Phase 1 inoculations should also be delivered to a more vulnerable and deserving population of seniors 65 and older. Rightfully, critics have accused DeSantis of politicizing the vaccine priority as a bow to those who supported his election 2 years ago.
This week, county health department officials throughout Florida received nearly 94,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, with 3,000 doses slated for St. Johns, my home county. Leah and I have been actively following the announcements through state and local websites, and wondered how this would trickle down to us. We were determined to bob and weave through the bureaucracy for a chance that whatever news we learned would lead us in a useful direction.
Yesterday, we latched onto a hotline phone number that promised to connect us to a human who’d be scheduling appointments, but no matter when we called, the line was either busy, never connected, or went to voice mail. An after-hour answering service eventually took our information, but failed to return our call.
“Hurry up!” Leah shouted, running into the bedroom. The weight of 365 days of 2020 had worn me out, and I was comfortably lounging in bed. I glanced at the night table clock. It was 8:30am.
“Let’s go!” she commanded. “The Health Department is giving out the vaccine, and cars are already lining up across the street.” Leah had been on her morning walk, when she received a call from a neighbor–who on a whim, woke early, and was now first in line since 8am.
By 8:45am, I was behind the wheel, and behind a long string of sedans and SUVs, waiting to turn the corner from US-1 onto San Sebastian View, approaching the St. John’s County Administration building.
Leah and I slowly crept forward for the next hour until we turned the corner. We were making progress.
Eventually, we arrived at the first checkpoint…
where a healthcare worker offered us a sanitized clipboard with a validation form listing cautionary medical conditions, and alerting us to potential medical risks and complications for this unapproved, albeit emergency-authorized vaccine. We were instructed to tell our vaccination provider about:
a lapsed fever
a bleeding disorder
blood thinner usage
a current or planned pregnancy
any breastfeeding activity
or if we have received any other COVID-19 vaccine.
We inched closer to the next checkpoint…
where Private Johnson, 1st Class of the U.S. Army entertained us while we waited further still. I had nothing but questions for him.
“How many shots have been given out so far, today?” I asked.
“I heard someone say 58 seniors over the past 2 hours, since opening at 9am,” he informed.
“So what happened to ‘appointments only’?” I asked.
“I really can’t answer that.” he asserted.
“But how did everyone even know about this vaccination site?” I queried.
“Beats me! Social media, most likely.” he posited. “All I know is that after 100,000 inquiries yesterday, the phones crashed, and people started showing up.”
“You mean, the Health Department was giving shots here yesterday, and there was no promotion or notification?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. So much for organization.
Our conversation was cut short when I was directed to move closer to the RN station. After two hours, Leah and I relaxed our arms, and we finally received our experimental pokes.
We were directed to a 15-minute waiting zone where EMT would monitor us for:
swelling of face or throat
a rapid heartbeat
a nasty rash all over our body
While waiting, I couldn’t help but ponder the many conspiracies spewed by Alex Jones and QAnon advocates surrounding the vaccine: No, I don’t believe that Bill Gates implanted a 5G-enabled microchip to surveil me; I don’t believe I was injected with Satan’s blood. I don’t believe my DNA was altered to turn me into a cannibal or a pedophile; and I don’t believe my immune system has now been compromised, leaving me open to greater infection.
Thankfully, after 15 minutes, Leah and I remained symptom-free.
The entire process took 2 1/2 hours, door to door. At home, I pealed the Band-aid off my left upper arm–not even a speck of blood showing.
Four weeks from now, we’ll repeat the process, as we anticipate the second dose. Perhaps by then, the roll-out will be more predictable.
But more importantly, new leadership will be moving our nation forward in a different direction, and there will be much less to fear besides COVID-19.
In celebration of Pi-Day, Leah and I scored theater tickets to the national tour of Waitress, presenting at Times-Union Center in downtown Jacksonville. Wanting to take advantage of fair weather, and never having seen Jacksonville during daylight hours, we decided to make an afternoon of it by visiting the Cummer Museum of Arts and Gardens located in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood, a short distance from our evening venue.
And it was well worth the trip.
In 1902, Arthur Cummer joined his parents, Wellington and Ada at their St. Johns River homestead, and built a half-timber English Tudor style house for Ninah, his bride. Arthur and Ninah began collecting art soon after.
Only the designated Tudor Room remains from the original house, so “the public at large may enjoy some insight into the personality of the owner.”
A series of interconnected museum wings are separated by a courtyard paved with terra-cotta tiles from the Cummer’s old roof.
The original Cummer collection plus acquired collections of paintings, sculptures, and Meissen porcelain fill fourteen galleries, span 3200 years, and range from:
to 100 CE…
to 13th century…
to 17th century…
to 18th century…
to 19th century…
…to contemporary artists like Harlem Renaissance sculptor, Augusta Savage, whose work is currently exhibiting in the Mason Gallery.
Following Arthur Cummer’s death in 1943, Ninah wished to establish a “center for beauty and culture…[for] all of the people” on the residence grounds.
Upon the widow’s death in 1958, the estate and gardens were granted to the DeEtte Holden Cummer Museum Foundation. Soon after, buildings were demolished (with the exception of the Tudor Room) in favor of a state-of-the-art museum that opened in 1961, followed by a detailed restoration of the property’s Italian Garden…
the Olmstead Garden…
and the English Garden–
all of which were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 for outstanding “American landscape design in the first four decades of the twentieth century.”
As northeast Florida’s largest and most significant museum and arts education center housing over 5,000 works of art…
the sky is the limit.
BTW…the show was a tasty morsel about a bittersweet topic.
On the third day of a four-day affair, the 1-mile approach to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel was thoroughly congested. In addition to stand-still traffic, an unbroken chain of cars akimbo were parked on both sides of the grassy shoulder.
A steady stream of walkers of all ages easily out-paced my Ford pickup on the way to the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, north Florida’s premier destination for car connoisseurs–and in some cases–car collectors with deep pockets. They have come from around the world to claim bragging rights for owning many of the rarest sporting and cruising motorcars worthy of six to seven-figures.
We mastered the final quarter-mile in 30 minutes. Once past the event entrance, we took a quick right and followed the signs that led us to a string of ad hoc neighborhood parking concessions charging $40 for the day. Fortunately, as I approached the first backyard turn-in, a couple was just claiming their vehicle–leaving an open spot for me.
“Are you kidding?! I’m not paying that kind of money for a parking spot! That’s highway robbery!” announced Leah to me.
“Is it any cheaper down the road?” Leah called out to the attendant/mansion owner.
“It’s the same, but if you’re willing to walk back about 20 minutes, you might be able to park somewhere for half the price,” he offered, “but you need to make up your mind ’cause there’s traffic piling up behind you.
I turned into the lot.
“Location, location, location,” I declared.
The sunny skies were a blessing and a curse. The weather was perfect for strolling along the 1st, 10th, and 18th fairways of the Golf Club of Amelia Island…
to gaze at more than 400 classic and exotic automobiles.
However, the owners who were standing guard over their prized possessions were invariably hard at work, answering questions, overstating their cars’ value, and forever polishing away the glaring fingerprints of so many gawkers-turned-touchers.
A full representation of cars from every manufacturer was mostly categorized by brand, ranging from Datsuns…
with occasional support provided by corporate tents and stages…
showcasing concept cars…
elite production models,
and vintage heirlooms.
There were novelties…
steamed-clean engines to admire…
and glorious paint jobs to behold…
But most enjoyable was sitting on the sidelines watching a parade of auctioned vehicles…
as they were being polished,
by teams of attentive handlers in white gloves…
before facing RM Sotheby’s gavel. According to the auctioneer:
Leading RM’s string of 19 individual million-dollar-plus sales and claiming top honors of the 2017 Amelia Island auctions was a striking 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Cabriolet, one of only three examples sporting rare coachwork by Vanvooren of Paris. Offered for public sale for the first time in its 80-year history, the highly original Type 57S sparkled under the auction lights during Saturday’s sale session, commanding $7,700,000. Just moments prior to the Bugatti’s sale, a well-known 1929 Stutz Model M Supercharged Coupe, one of only three supercharged Stutzes in existence, proved demand remains strong for great American Classics at auction, selling for $1,705,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1/1.2 million. The strong sales price represents a new record for a Stutz at auction.
Friday’s sale session was also one for the books, with the Orin Smith Collection generating $31 million in sales with a 100 percent sell-through. A wonderful showcase of RM Sotheby’s expertise and capabilities in handling private collection auctions, the sale represented the first time RM has hosted a Friday evening sale at Amelia, and provided a fitting tribute to a man beloved by the Amelia crowd, drawing a packed sales room. The group of 63 vehicles was headlined by a stunning 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet Series III “Tipo Bocca” at $2,145,000. Other notable sales included:
the 1956 Bentley S1 Continental Drophead Coupe, just two registered owners from new, shattered both its presale estimate of $700/900,000 and the previous auction record for the model at a final $1,683,000;
a superbly restored 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Special Newmarket Permanent Sedan soared past its $1,000,000 high estimate at a final $1,237,500; and,
a 1966 Aston Martin Short-Chassis Volante, the very first example of just 37 built, sold for $1,705,000.
The power of ‘no reserve’ exhibited at Friday’s Orin Smith Collection sale was witnessed again on Saturday with terrific results achieved for a well-known private collection of 10 sporting cars. Highlighting the group, a dramatic two-tone red and black 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Frua Coupe Series III, much-admired by enthusiasts during preview, provided one of the most intense and lively bidding contests of the weekend, eventually selling for $2,365,000 against a pre-sale estimate of $1.6/2.2 million. From the same collection, a 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RS 3.0 eclipsed its pre-sale estimate of $900,000 – $1.1 million to storm into the record books at a final $1,375,000 (an auction record for the model). Also commanding strong bids were a spectacular 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, which realized $1,358,500, and a stunning 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900C SS Coupe, which brought $1,100,000.
Other noteworthy sales of RM’s 2017 Amelia Island event include:
the 5,694-mile 1995 Ferrari F50, originally delivered to famed heavyweight Champion boxer, Mike Tyson, sold for an above-estimate $2,640,000;
a 1938 Graham 97 Supercharged Cabriolet, exquisitely restored by RM Auto Restoration, set a new benchmark for a Graham at auction with its strong $770,000 final price; and,
ending Saturday’s sale session on a fun note, a 1963 Meyers Manx—the original dune buggy—doubled its pre-sale estimate to sell for a record $68,750.
Collective sales for 135 blue-chip entries generated nearly $71M in sales–producing a record high in the event’s 24-year history…
…and at prices that would make a hood ornament blush.
Imagine playing recreational golf with one driver, an iron, and a putter. Accessing the game would be so much easier without the expense of all those clubs. And when playing the course, think how much time could be saved between strokes by not having to decide which club to select for each shot.
While it’s not the perfect metaphor, I’ve approached photography with the same minimalist philosophy. I’ve been photographing with a Panasonic Lumix digital bridge camera (fixed zoom lens) for the past few years instead of lugging around equipment that I might use, but most likely never would.
How do I know this? Despite decades of shooting a variety of photography disciplines (landscape, nature, portrait, street scene, architecture, etc.) that required a variety of prime and telephoto lenses neatly arranged in my equipment bag, I’ve noticed that I’m rarely disappointed by the versatility of the LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT 24X optical zoom permanently mounted to my Lumix DMC-FZ300, while also freeing myself of a senseless burden that would invariably sink deeper into my shoulder with every step and slow me down.
It’s truly a remarkable lens for nearly all occasions! The range and reach of the camera’s 25 – 600mm zoom has seldom left me needing more lens, or regretting my camera choice in favor of a full-fledged DSLR…until now…since there are times I’m wishing I could gain greater detail by getting closer to my subject.
For instance, walking across a boardwalk over marshland strictly limits my ability to get closer to wildlife. The following photograph is a hand-held shot of a heron that caught my attention at a scenic overlook while hiking along the Guana Loop of Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTM).
At 24X zoom, the image is acceptable, but if I choose to isolate the heron by cropping the bird to full frame, the resolution suffers greatly. Ideally, a tripod could have provided better image clarity, but the digital noise would still remain the same.
However, I discovered another available option that allows me to get a bit closer without relying on the camera’s built-in digital zoom–which I’m inclined to deactivate since I prefer to shoot RAW. Years ago, Lumix created a 1.7X tele conversion lens with adapter, extending the optical zoom to 40.8X, or the equivalent zoom range of 1020mm. But alas, this accessory has been discontinued.
Fortunately there’s a secondary market for almost everything photographic, so after a brief visit to the internet, I found a seller on eBay that offered the requisite 1.7X tele converter, a close-up lens, mount adapter, and tripod mount ring, all for a fraction of the original price of the tele lens.
And I bought it!
Having traveled to the GTM with my new/used acquisition, and having survived the burden of carrying extra gear, I assembled the lens and carefully threaded it onto the existing camera lens. I planted my feet, braced myself and shot the heron again!
A side by side comparison tells the story…
The image on the right is noticeably cleaner, even though the focus appears to be a bit soft, informing me that capturing a crisp, hand-held shot at 40.8X is not my specialty, and probably ill-advised.
Ugh! So now I’m forced to carry a tripod or monopod to make better use of the lens extender. Oh, well. There goes the economy of my photography.
Then again, I could simply stick to the limits of the original lens…
but then again, with an impending trip to photograph big game animals in Africa at the beginning of May, I’m much better off adjusting to three golf clubs instead of one.
On the surface, Palatka, FL appears to be an antiquated town that time has left behind. As the county seat of Putnam County, there is legal commerce aplenty,
but Main Street bears the battle scars of a once-vibrant retail scene.
Far too many vacant store and empty sidewalks along St. Johns Avenue suggest that downtown Palatka’s panache has been replaced by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart (only three miles away)–jokingly confirmed by a hand-painted directional crossroads sign…
beside an empty storefront.
In fact, it would seem that much of Palatka is FOR RENT…
or simply un-rentable…
Palatka sits on the west bank of St. Johns River offering strategic access into Central Florida, which is what made Palatka a once-thriving pre-Civil War trading post after land-hungry American settlers eliminated the Seminoles, driving them west of the Mississippi.
Equally important to Palatka’s economy at the time was its mild sub-tropical winters–extending farmers’ growing season and making the area a popular tourist destination for the hoi polloi, whose wealthier counterparts enjoyed a luxury haven in nearby, coastal St. Augustine (read The Poshest Campus in America, and Otto’s Collections).
Unfortunately, a historic fire in 1884 and deep-freeze in 1894 sealed Palatka’s fate as a favored destination, as most tourists migrated South. The city rebuilt, and eventually re-emerged as a manufacturing hub, with Georgia Pacific currently holding title to the largest private sector employer.
But what of downtown today for its nearly 11,000 residents, and how can they possibly compete with St. Augustine to the North, Orlando to the West, and Daytona Beach to the South?
The city, when considering its redevelopment needed a gimmick–something to breath new life into it.
It needed a serious makeover, or maybe some divine intervention.
Driving traffic back to the beat of the city was important. The Bingo Palace added some well-deserved blue-collar cache and shabby chic to the area,
and preserving Angels Diner for future fans of Guy Fieri has also become a go-to venue.
One look around the interior of Angel Diner, and it defies the gravity of its standing as Florida’s oldest diner.
By any law of nature, it shouldn’t be standing, but this tin-skin dive is a testament to the wire and glue that seemingly holds its walls from caving. Stepping through its Hobbit-like entrance is like being transported back to a time when shiny greasy spoons offered up Happy Day burgers and shakes, while we listened to the jukebox soundtrack of our Growing Pains.
Leah and I shared a hefty order of Fish and Chips. The check came to eight bucks, and it was tasty!
A walk around downtown after our meal left the impression that Palatka is much like a collection of rusty charm pieces; although it boasts a historic district with a melange of classic architectural styles, it’s still fighting to remain relevant.
While there is ample nostalgia here, and a story to tell of old Florida, perhaps all that’s really needed is a broom and a fresh coat of paint.
Enter the Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee in 1998, which has opted to:
…accurately depict the historical, cultural, and natural riches of Palatka and Putnam County in larger-than-life murals. In sharing these pictorial renderings with visitors and citizens, appreciation of the heritage of the community will be enhanced and developed.
The city’s plan of commissioning a plethora of tribute murals over the past twenty years has given rise to a tourism rebirth, notwithstanding the city’s longstanding and dedicated art scene and attention to local culture.
Self-described as the City of Murals,
Palatka now boasts a swath of bright colors depicting lively time capsule markers, and always helping to defib drab building back to life.
What follows is a photo essay of just a few of them in no particular order:
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue
on North Eighth Street at St. Johns Avenue
on City Hall, Reid Street at North Second Street
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue
on Ninth and St. Johns Avenue
on North Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue
on North Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue
on South Fifth Street at St. Johns Avenue
on North Tenth Street at St. Johns Avenue
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue
on South Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue
on St. Johns Avenue between North Tenth and Eleventh Streets
on South Eleventh Street at St. Johns Avenue
on North Second Street at St. Johns Avenue
Other merchants have joined in, beautifying the exteriors of their retail establishments…
with mixed messages.
After canvassing the town with my camera for the afternoon, I dropped my work façade,
Leah and I were about to step out to take care of an outdoor errand, when a graying sky turned into a routine Florida downpour, putting a damper on our schedule until the storm abated. We were watching the rain from my office window, just as the city sanitation truck arrived, chugging towards our cul de sac for the weekly trash pickup. But this time around, something went terribly wrong.
The driver of the truck entered the cul de sac by driving down the center of the road instead of staying right and following the full curve of the road. Perhaps, the driver thought the truck’s turning radius could negotiate a tight 180° turn out of our dead end from his middle-of-the-road position without jumping the opposite curb…but he was wrong. The vehicle rolled over the curb–its right wheel catching a water supply cover that split under the weight of the cab–which crushed the water valve and sheared the 3-inch supply line underneath.
Suddenly, we were looking at an impropmtu geiser eruption in our front yard, rising 60 feet or more.
It was enough for me to grab my camera and photograph the ensuing drama, as if I was part of a crime scene investigation.
The police were called–filing a report and issuing a summons to the driver–but stuck around for a while to gawk at the local man-made attraction.
Thirty minutes passed before a Water Department maintenance crew eventually arrived on the scene to figure out their next step.
With water being such a precious commodity (see Well Done!), Leah and I wondered how much had been wasted.
“They better not be charging us for that,” she asserted.
“How could they,” I reassured, “It’s not like it was our mistake.”
First order of business…
…inspect the damage…
…then locate the water shut-off…
…and stop the flow…
to enable repairs.
After an hour of tinkering, the damaged fitting was finally replaced…
…with something shiny and new.
I asked the crew chief how much water he thought had been lost.
“Y’know, I have to fill out an EPA report that accounts for missing water,” he explained, “So, if I was to go with a 1000 GPM flow-rate over 45 minutes, I’d be looking at approximately 45000 gallons (or 170,000 liters) lost.”
According to city water rates, that’s equivalent to a $500 water bill, making this accident one very expensive car wash.
The Spanish crown was ambitious in its exploration of the New World, establishing the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and equally as keen on protecting its investment from marauding pirates, subversive Native American neighbors, and the French and British Empires by establishing a trio of forts along New Florida’s northern Atlantic coastline.
Aside Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south, Castillo de San Marcos was the first and largest of the three, standing 33 feet high, with 14 feet thick walls of coquina blocks–
–a bonded composite of crushed seashells quarried from nearby Anastasia Island–and able to withstand a cannon shot from an enemy vessel.
Completed 323 years ago, Castillo de San Marcos still stands as the oldest masonry and best preserved fortress in the continental United States, and a symbol of the colonial struggles that shaped the history of a nation.
Protecting St. Augustine was an interwoven fabric of fort design,
and black powder weaponry.
The Castillo’s advanced architecture showcases the bastion system, named for the diamond-shaped spears jutting from the four corners of the fort walls–
each point armed with an array of cross-firing guns intended to sweep across a wide swath of defensible coverage.
Additionally, the coquina stone offered fortunate benefits to fortress defenses if fired upon, as soldiers quickly realized that the porous properties of its shell walls could absorb the impact of cannon balls, rather than the walls shattering into shards if built with brick or granite.
A soldier’s life of active duty at the fortress usually consisted of drills, repair, and sentry watch,
with little time ever devoted to battles. Otherwise, their time was spent protecting the larder…
practicing their faith, which guided all aspects of colonial life…
and working second jobs as carpenters, cobblers, and coopers to support their families when away from the barracks.
But when confronted by the enemy, cannon crews were so effective at discharging projectiles from a variety of guns when repelling an attack or seige,
that Castillo de San Marcos was never breached in its history.
The fort has been the centerpiece of a historic city that has changed flags six times, but always by treaty–never surrender or defeat.
Legions of soldiers through the ages have passed through its chambers leaving behind their marks…
But the treachery of Renaissance politics that sparked an amazing race of New World discovery, launched a new nation forged in conflict, and a new world order that defies all labels.
covering thirty-six acres of mixed-use development,
and creating the largest artists’ haven amidst the palms of sunny Florida.
Originating in 1999 as a non-profit guild representing local Manatee County artists, theirs is a mission to build a community where artists live and work while enhancing quality of life and creating a harmonious environment.
Notably refreshing, Divine Access Gallery specializes in contemporary folk art,
filling each room of the house with whimsy, kitsch, and funky artwork…
that captures an aesthetic worthy of eclectic and uncustomary collections.
Centrally located, it’s a short stroll from the Riverwalk, the ballpark, and downtown Bradenton.
While much of the country is enjoying a refreshing blast of Arctic air to put them in the holiday mood, southeastern Floridians are currently languishing under fair winds and sunny skies, and wondering how they’ll ever manage with temperatures climbing to 80 degrees.
“Look, we’re gonna be in Florida for a few months. As tempting as it is to stay inside and hunker down for the winter, we can’t allow the weather to dictate our lives. We’ve got to get out and stay active. Maybe we should go for a hike,” stated Leah.
“Agreed! In nine months of traveling, we’ve never let the weather interfere with our outdoor plans. So if you’re up for it, we could hike to the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,” I suggested.
“Are you sure?” Leah posited. “It’s been a while since we’ve done anything that strenuous. We could be setting ourselves up for a painful tomorrow.”
While it’s true that we’ve been sedentary lately, and maybe gained a pound or two from Thanksgiving overeating, I thought we could use a legitimate challenge to clear the cobwebs and get the blood pumping in ways when we were performing at our peak.
“C’mon! It’ll be fun. And if it’s too tough to the top, we’ll go as far as we can, and we’ll turn back,” I persuaded.
As a warm-up to our hike, we rode our bicycles to the trailhead parking lot, passing the Loxahatchee River,
and two camouflaged sandhill cranes along the way.
Apparently, resident Floridians were already deep into their hibernation cycle, as there wasn’t a single car in the lot, or maybe this was the hike that everyone avoids, for fear of over-exertion.
We spotted our destination from a distance,
and checked our water supply to ensure we were carrying enough to stay hydrated.
When we approached the trailhead, we stopped at the sign to get better acquainted with our surroundings.
“Are you sure you wanna go through with this?” I queried. “There’s no shame in pedaling away.”
“As long as we’ve made it this far, we should at least try,” Leah opined.
We set out along the boardwalk, traversing the planks, as we ascended the dune.
We trudged up the risers,
and caught a glimpse of our target.
We were nearing the halfway point of our trek, and I couldn’t help but notice Leah’s shallow breathing. Thus far, she had been a real trooper; five minutes had passed since we’d started out, and she hadn’t once complained about her neck and feet. Although, I had to admit, my back and knee were beginning to throb.
Fortunately, the park mavens had wisely provided a bench just when we needed it,
giving us a chance to recover, and consider a different strategy for attacking the steeper second half of the hike.
We managed our steps more carefully,
pacing ourselves as we approached the tower. From a distance, it seemed so small, but now that we were standing so close, it towered over us. We paused for a moment to appreciate its pine leg supports, the efficiency of its screened porch,
and the sophisticated intricacy of its frame lumber construction.
Leah and I took a long look back to see how far we’d come, and we couldn’t help but feel proud of our accomplishment. But it was too soon to gloat.
We still had to contend with the tower ascent.
“I’ll bet they have seats up there,” I predicted.
“That would be a good idea, because you never know when you might want to sit,” Leah exclaimed.
“Exactly!” I stated precisely.
Climbing the stairs was faster than I expected; the adrenalin was coursing through our veins in eager anticipation of the view. Once at the top of the tower, the thin air and the expansive vista made us giddy with excitement. At 86 feet above sea level, we were on top of the world.
All that remained was retracing our steps back to the parking lot. But that would be easy, now that we were riding a Florida high. Although the naysayers would argue that it’s downhill from here.