EXPLORING WILD FLORIDA By Peter R. Gerbert
I often wonder if I will ever see all of wild Florida, even as I hike down the trails and go boating down the rivers and along the coast, and explore. Iíve covered a pretty good portion of central and north central Florida, especially in the area surrounding my studio. I've created footpaths that lead back and forth to my favorite places. But so much of it still feels uncharted to me. Sometimes when Iím out hiking in the middle of a forest and ready to turn around, Iíll see this interesting looking place up ahead, and Iíll hike to it and then see another even more interesting looking place further ahead! Something inside me compels me to pursue my curiosity. Then before I know it the sun is setting and Iím hiking back to my truck to the chirping of crickets and the hooting of owls. I also love the sense of possibly setting foot where no human being has set foot before. Are you asking yourself how this is possible in Florida? Itís just so developed everywhere you look! Then you really should venture out beyond the neon lights of the city and just go for a drive, or do a hike if youíre up to it. Camping is the best way to really get completely in tune with the great outdoors. There is still a great deal of enchanting, unspoiled wilderness here in Florida. We have vast areas of profound tranquility and beauty, hiding an abundance of wild things.
If I may recommend one of my favorite books for Florida camping and hiking, itís "FLORIDA PARKS -A Guide to Camping in Nature" by Gerald Grow.
For the more adventurous there is the "FLORIDA ATLAS & GAZETTEER" which is unbeatable for showing the back roads, hiking trails and lakes and ponds that you never knew existed.
Studying and photographing Roseate Spoonbills in the wild. Photograph by Fred Kampka -Research Assistant
And so, I am boldly forging my explorations outward, taking in more of the panhandle and, to the opposite extreme, South Florida and the Keys.
Last December, after a meeting with my friends at the Florida Wildlife Federation in Tallahassee, I spent a few days camping, boating and hiking in the Apalachicola National Forest and the neighboring St. Markís National Wildlife Refuge. Northwest Florida is very hilly, the trees grow very tall, and in the winter the temperatures can really plummet, as I discovered the first night that I slept (tried to sleep) in my tent with an inappropriate sleeping bag. The temperature dropped down into the twenties, which is the opposite extreme to the eighty and ninety degree weather that I'm used to. The next day I was very pleased to find a small propane heater at the hardware store in town. It warmed the tent adequately, making sleeping possible, until I awoke to a strange sputtering sound. Although the one propane canister that I bought to go with the little heater stated good for 8-10 hours, to my horror, it sputtered and ran out about three in the morning. When the heat runs out, that kind freezing, damp cold penetrates the weak walls of the tent instantly, and as the icy fingers of Winter begin wrapping themselves all around you, one starts contemplating shopping for a sleeping back rated for camping in the Antarctica. When morning finally arrived, while sipping my coffee and unthawing my feet next to the fire, I was delighted to be visited by several Rufous-Sided Towhees. Interesting Tanager-like birds, black with tan flanks and white bellies. They spent a good amount of time bustling about my campsite, inspecting things and hinting at handouts I assumed. Whenever I reached for my camera theyíd take off swiftly into the brush. I guess they were like saying, no handouts, no pictures! So there will not be any Rufous-Sided Towhee paintings in the near future.
More recently, I had an overwhelming experience snorkeling in the Keys in the area known as John Pennekamp State Park off the coast of Key Largo. Due to the number of storms out at sea, there were schools of jellyfish that made snorkeling a bit difficult. As hard as I tried to avoid it I got stung by one, you canít keep your focus pointing down for very long or they float right up next to you. It left a needling, burning sensation but nowhere near as painful as a bee sting. I quickly got over the burning feeling when I began to take in the amazing terrain that unfolded before me. As you are probably aware of how much I love things that have a lot of detail, I was awestruck by the coral formations and textures. There was an astounding array of beautifully colored saltwater fish. Iím already working on some underwater designs and I am planning to spend more time underwater. Itís a whole new realm of natureís unending, uplifting magnificence.
Exploring Wild Florida -Part II
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