Saturday, June 1, 2013

Universal Beauty and Marjorie

As I drove down the dirt road in the Osceola National Forest and parked along the side, I immediately noticed that I am not the only person who enjoys this remote location.  The seclusion is part of the allure, for myself, as well as others it seemed.  Recently dumped, scattered, and left, the road was carpeted with red shotgun shell casings and other remnants.  Garbage littered at least seventy five meters of the path.   I was overcome with a feeling of disgust.

I took to the trails I had intended to travel that afternoon, unable to deal with all of the garbage then.

When I returned, I dug out a plastic Target sack from my trunk and made my way down the road.  Over forty shotgun shells, a pair of neon orange ear plugs, numerous Gatorade bottles, water bottles mutilated with bullet holes, little cardboard boxes, and clay targets and their fragmented pieces overflowed and stretched the bag.

"The destruction seemed to me a symbol of private intrusion on the right of all mankind to enjoy universal beauty" (Cross Creek, 1996 edition, p. 378).

Their actions were selfish and disgusting.  They do not own the land, yet they treat it worse than if they did.  Over the last few pages of Cross Creek, Marjorie discuss the ownership of land: "No man should have property rights over land who does not use that land wisely and lovingly" (Cross Creek, p. 379).  So then, why do some feel the need to treat land that is for all mankind in such a way?  That is what breaks my heart.  We've all seen a stray bottle here and there, but never have I encountered such a deliberate scene like this one, especially in a place that I have grown to cherish these last few months as I have learned the landscape.  It pains me to think that these people got some sort of thrill from leaving their mark in the forest.


As it is National Trails Day, I hope that you can get out and enjoy the paths and maybe even have the opportunity to do good.  I suppose that is the thing to take away from this.  There are plenty of people who do not respect the land, but I know many more who do.
"We know only that a sense of well-being sweeps over us when we have assisted life rather than destroyed it.  There is often an evil satisfaction in hate, satisfaction in revenge, and satisfaction in killing.  Yet a wave of love takes over a human being, love of another human being, love of nature, love of all mankind, love of the universe, such an exaltation takes him that he knows he has put his finger on the pulse of the great secret and the great answer" (Cross Creek, p.377).

Marjorie continues to impress me with her words.  Stumbling upon beautifully accurate phrases like this and moments like this somehow still surprises me.  It shouldn't, but I am glad I am still discovering new bits of wisdom from Cross Creek.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fast Trails

Finding places like this really makes me want to run, and run fast.  Long, hard-packed dirt road in the woods with no traffic.  It's like a cross between the J. B. Starkey bike path and power line road.  Perfection.  Can't wait to train here and run some strong quarters and kilometers.

I can't deny that I tested out a section of the road for about 100 meters.  How could I pass it up?  Great news: it runs fast. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Coming Home to Starkey and Other Runners

What a wonderful day to be home.  I am glad that I made it in last night.  After a longer than expected drive due to seven accidents that brought traffic to a halt, I was back in Pasco County.  Just like old times, I woke up early the next day to go to J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park.  Although overcast and wet, the morning was peaceful, welcoming, and beautiful.
I took to my still most frequently traveled path, the same one I ran down over ten years ago during my first cross country practice at the park.  Immediately I was reminded of what I love most about this park.  Diversity.  Although small in comparison to the Osceola National Forest, close to where I love now, the landscapes in Starkey vary greatly.  The ecosystems are always changing, the land discretely rising and falling around lakes.  Live oaks, scrub palmettos, cypress strands.  Even on a small walk of just a few miles, I am able to experience so much. 


As wonderful as my outing turned out to be, it began as the first time this year with my injury that I really felt removed from the running community.  As I was sitting in my car behind a line of others eagerly awaiting their opportunity to hit the trail, a group of energetic forty-something runners ran by, hopped the fence, and continued down the road.  Normally, I don't feel down when I see runners, but this morning I did.  Maybe it was the location.  I was jealous that they were able to run in the place that I call home and the place that taught me to love running, to love Florida.  Maybe it was that they were the first group of runners who reminded me of my team: bouncy, smiling, chatty, tall, thin, and toned.  They looked like runners; they moved like runners.  I miss that.  Maybe the setback with my injury got to me early today, but I know that I am still moving forward and still progressing.  Today, I am happy to be able to rediscover my home on foot, even though those feet are walking.

Little Moments

How do I still have drafts from Spring Break?  I guess better late than never.  Clearly it has been a busy few weeks at work.

During Spring Break, I woke up early as usual and had the urge to go somewhere, to explore a new place.  This happens often, but usually on days when I need to drive to work instead of to a new park.  I was determined to take advantage of my free morning.

I grabbed my camera, watch, a few layers of clothes, and I started driving.  Not too far along the way, I turned into Alligator Lake Park.  Despite being located so close to where I live in comparison to the state parks in the area, I had never truly explored the quaint community oasis.

As I made my way up the long drive through the front portion of the park, I realized that I was the first one there that morning, as I arrived minutes after the opening time of 8:00 AM.  I parked in the main parking lot near the large pavilion.  There didn't seem to be a trailhead, so I walked across the grassy area and further down the road.  I quickly found the trails once over to the other part of the park, away from the playgrounds and picnic tables.  I chose the first path, which took me straight out to the lake, instead of around it.  I didn't know it at the time, but that path was an out and back, about a mile long.

With the temperature in the thirties and the wind barreling across the water, I regretted not bringing a hat, but I kept walking.  It was so beautiful, to be in the center of the lake, watching the birds sunning themselves and others trying to swim against the strong wind.  I refused to turn around until I had experienced the entire trail.  Trees had fallen because of the recent storm, but the sky was a brilliant Florida blue.  After days of heavy rain and winds, the sun was shining, illuminating the firsts of the Spring greens on the trees and at the bases of the grasses.

As one of my good friends would say, these moments exist, even when no one is around to experience them.  I want to see the tall grasses waving in the water and the ripples of the lake make their way around the trees.  That is why I get up early on those cold, windy mornings.   I think that someone should be there to witness what happens deep in the woods.  These moments will happen, with or without me, so why not be there?


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Scenes from Cumberland Island

After enjoying a day at Cumberland Island, I spent the next day painting with good friends.  I love that I am getting back into color and rougher looking paintings.  Just before I left St. Augustine, where I was staying with friends, I stopped by the Hobby Lobby and picked up more paint.  Can't wait to get to work! 


Drawing at Dungeness

A few pictures of the horses (and the foal!) from around Dungeness at Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Spring Adventures on Cumberland Island

 By the time my friend and I boarded the ferry to return to Historic St. Marys, we were exhausted.  Cumberland Island had proved to be more vast that we had thought, but we enjoyed exploring every inch that we could. 
When we arrived at Cumberland Island at the Seacamp Dock around 10, and even though it was late March, the temperature was in the low forties and extremely windy.  We were determined not to let to temperature put a damper on our day.
When we had planned the trip, we knew that we wanted to rent bikes ($16 all day), so we made sure to ask where we could find them.  Next to the building at the Seacamp Dock are numerous bike racks filled with beach cruisers, mountain bikes, and a few children's bikes.  We claimed our bikes and waited as the man from the ferry to come over.   Both bundled up in two layers of pants, three shirts, two jackets, gloves, and hats, we took to the main dirt road. 
Bikes were the way to go.  Once we had them, we took off North, occasionally exploring the side trails and the beach.  This seemed to be the opposite direction that most of the people on the ferry decided to take.  The majority began their day by walking South to Dungeness.  After making it out to the small cemetery around Stafford (and we saw two horses in the field!), we turned around to explore the southern end of the island. 
The bike ride was long, and we were ready for a break by the time we reached Dungeness.  Mind you, my friend and I do not pedal leisurely.  We booked it for most of the trip so that we could see as much as possible.

The entrance to Dungeness was stunning, as it is so different from the landscape we had already experienced.  We quickly found a nice spot on the lawn behind the ruins, set out a towel, and rested out bikes in the grass.  Lunch was a quiet, picturesque picnic in the sun.  Those viewing the ruins and area around Dungeness were still bundled up in coats and hats, but we had shed our layers to tanks and shorts because of the long bike ride.  We relaxed, stretched out on the towel, and took in the sun.  It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky.  After we rested, we walked around the ruins, down to the marshes, and then East to the other structures. 
We finished our day trip by returning to the towel and sketching the landscape.  Just as we had become absorbed in our drawings, a mare and her foal approached us.  As two of just six or seven people at Dungeness, we sat as quietly as possible enjoying the moment.  The mother led her baby across the field and soon the rest of the herd followed.  They grazed along the tree line and eventually made their way down to the marsh, the foal clearly hesitant to make the jump off of the ledge.
My friend and I both agreed that it is amazing that a place such as this even exists.  The trees, the silence, the history, we could not get over it.  I highly recommend making the trip, and I will again soon.  I want to be able to explore more of this place.  It is a treasure. 


If you plan on making a trip to Cumberland Island, I recommend bringing:

  • Layers of clothes.  The island is cooler than Historic St. Marys, and the wind on the ferry can be harsh.  Even if it is Spring, you could easily need hats and gloves.
  • A bag large enough to hold those layers.  A comfy backpack worked well for me.
  • A small wallet
  • Water bottle(s)
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent
  • Lunch and snacks
  • Plastic bags
  • Towel
  • Book/ paper to sketch.  It is so nice to sit somewhere quiet and to relax
  • Camera and battery
  • Band-Aids
  • Broken in shoes
  • Paper towels

Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Spring Break!

So many options:

O'Leno State Park
River Rise State Park
Mill Creek Nature Preserve
Alligator Lake Park
Osceola National Forest
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
Cumberland Island National Seashore (GA)
Anastasia State Park

Can't wait to see where the next week takes me and all of the places I will discover!

Anastasia State Park, March 2012

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Learning New Trails in the National Forest

I am one of those people who rarely gets lost, and I never have in forests.  In cities, that is a different story.  I suppose the woods make more sense to me.  Maybe I am highly observant or understand how the ecosystems come together.  Or I am just good at memorizing aerial maps. 

Photos from the trail, new trails.  The best kind of trail.  But I would say the same about the paths that I have been traveling for years. 

Osceola National Forest, March

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


This week has been good for painting.  I finished the oranges, Enchantment, inspired by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' Cross Creek:
Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in a geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking through it. [...] Here is home. An old thread, long tangled, comes straight again.

I began this painting in late January after a trip home where picked oranges in the yard.  It is one of those memories I will always have of growing up in west central Florida.  Around that time, an article by Jeff Klinkenberg was in the Tampa Bay Times about the citrus industry of the area.  It just seemed natural to paint them.   I completed most of this painting in a week, but let it sit for a month and then I returned to finished it.  I think that I will still play around with a few of the oranges, but it won't have any major changes.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Few Firsts

I have made my first loop route in the Osceola National Forest!  Loops, as opposed to out-and-back routes, are true milestones for a runner in a new environment.  It means that I am gaining confidence on the trails (Florida Trail and all of those that intersect) and with the lay of the land.  I am understanding how the trail system works and how to use to get where I want to go. 
I also fell for the first time.  Somehow I managed that while walking.  It was a pretty hard fall, but I realized that I haven't had one in a while.  I usually average one good one a year.  I was due.
Yes, I am still walking, but with much less pain.  Even my quick walking which really is borderline walking, only left me sore for the next few hours.  I feel that I am getting better, just slowly.
This was the first time that I felt like I did when I was running, and running far.  It was the first warm, blue sky day in weeks.  Stunningly beautiful weather, a new route under my belt, and a dirt road on which to stretch and take in the surroundings, I don't know what could be much better than that.


Look What Came Today!

A few weeks back, I wrote a little piece for the Florida Trail Magazine.  It includes a few images of my paintings (two very recent ones and one from a painting class in college).  Today it arrived in my mailbox! 
I wrote how running cross country and finding Florida's parks and preserves has given me a home in Florida, but has also made my new location my home.   It was nice to finally get that written down. 
Thank you to the Florida Trail Association for allowing me to share a little bit of why I love natural Florida.  I hope that others can connect with it in some way, as many of us who call Florida our home were not born in the state.  I believe that we have made ourselves Floridians. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Possible Progress!

I biked for 10 minutes hard!

Yesterday I used an upright stationary bike at my college's gym while I was back in town for our annual cross country alumni weekend (which was fantastic!).

I thought 10 minutes would be enough to cause pain if it was going to, but wouldn't cause me to be hobbling around for days after.  The pain after the workout was minimal (no pain during, surprisingly), and was probably just I-haven't-done-this-in-forever pain.  I plan on cautiously testing out a bike and a gym membership here at home.  I would love to start doing something active! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Little Landscapes

These paintings started out as something I called my Pocket Prairies, but now they have developed into more diverse little pocket landscapes.   I am able to transform the vast landscapes that shaped my youth into mementos that I can carry with me.  The smallest is about 1x1.5in.  Now, I am able to have a bit of west central Florida with me during all of the transitions in my life.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


She is undoubtedly the only person I know who truly understands how I feel about this land.  We are both runners, painters, art educators, and lovers of color.  When friends like this visit, no matter what the weather, we will embark on an adventure.  This particular Sunday happened to be cold, rainy, overcast, and wonderful.

Exploring off trail


Amongst the pines along the Florida Trail in the Osceola National Forest, time seems to stand still. Minutes seem like seconds, and the hours we spent out on the paths felt just as short. Reunited on the trail, it had seemed like no time had passed, although we had not spent a significant period of time one on one since Summer.

We spoke about teaching, school, birds, exhibits, texture, friends, relationships, and the future. We took pictures of the north Florida winter colors in an attempt to memorize their beauty and composed paintings in our heads. Photographs never do a landscape justice, we decided. We found tree stands, and scaled them, naturally, taking in the view from above. Only as we climbed down and made our way to the trail head, did we take note of the time. When did we start walking? We had forgotten to start our watch. So when do you need to head home? She would begin her teaching internship the next morning.

As we were walking down the last stretch of the dirt road leading to the car, an older couple in a faded blue pick-up truck, concluding a day of hunting, made their way down the road, as well.

"How long have y'all been out here?" said the man, clearly confused by two soaking wet, twenty-somethings walking down the flooded road.

"I have no idea," I laughed. Alone in the woods, we were able to talk like no time had passed.  Time on the trails seems to slow.  And, with good friends, that is always a good thing.