I saved these for the last, for the last day of the year (where did it GO ??????) because I love sunsets even more than I love sunrises 🙂 No, these are not taken over the Arabian Gulf, but over the Wakulla Springs, as the sun sets in the cold dark days of winter time:
It’s just about time! Happy New Year to all our friends in Kuwait and Qatar!
May God bless you and your families abundantly in the coming year 🙂
“Let’s stop at that quilt shop up the road here!” AdventureMan exclaimed, sounding a lot more enthusiastic than I suspected he felt.
“I don’t know,” I reply, “it looked a little junky. I’m not sure it was even open.”
“It IS open!” he was delighted as we approached.
We drove in, and peered through the windows. It didn’t look like a quilt shop. It looked like a rickety tickety oyster bar of some kind, the kind of place we might love, if we were hungry, but not a quilt shop at all.
We looked again at the sign:
We had both read it as “Quilts Too” but it was something else entirely. I guess we saw what we expected to see.
Some mornings, I am astonished at how wonderful it is to live in a place where we have the luxury to set aside wide tracts of lands to preserve our natural heritage. St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge evokes that response in me. It’s even more astonishing that because a couple years ago I bought a lifetime Senior Pass, getting into the national parks is free – for the rest of my life. What a great country we live in. 🙂
It is a cold and frosty morning as we load up to head out to St. Marks for some serious bird watching and photographing. Serious, that is, for AdventureMan, who actually does birding trips with other serious birders. I am a bird-appreciator, as in I know what a cardinal is, and a blue jay. I can pretty well recognize a buzzard. Hey, show me a painting and I can probably tell you who painted it, but birds . . . not so much.
I love being outdoors in Florida on a wonderful clear cool day with fabulous conditions for taking photos. I love just wandering along some of the birding trails and seeing what we can see. It’s an amazing place; in some of the areas where we stopped to wander, it reminded me of places we like to go in Africa, of Zambia, of Namibia, of Botswana . . . some of the habitat is so alike, I can almost hear those tectonic plates creaking apart, drifting, and wonder how much of the flora is directly related to African flora.
We had these in Tunisia; we called them Prickly Pear, and the Tunisians used them for borders to separate their lands. They also made jam with the prickly pears, and they skinned the leaves and fried up the meat from inside the thick prickly pear leaves. I think what a great border they would make in Pensacola, but a very unfriendly border. Good for keeping away thieves and burglers, but not very attractive, and not very welcoming . . . but very very African:
Some fishermen, probably setting some crab traps near the shore:
The St. Mark’s lighthouse:
Every now and then you have a lucky moment, and I happened to shoot this heron just as he had a wiggling sparkly fish in his beak, just before he swallowed it. I admit it, I wasn’t trying. If I had been trying, I could never have gotten it just at the right moment:
Some very clever park person went around and made all the deer crossing signs into Rudolph signs, LOL!
The park is full of very serious-faced people carrying HUGE lenses on cameras attached to seriously sturdy tripods, lenses meant to capture the details of the pinfeathers, cameras to document a rare sighting. These people don’t talk about ducks, they talk about Merganzers and Koots, and the rarely seen such-and-such, and I just listen and keep my mouth shut while my head spins.
For me, it’s enough to see these wonderful creatures, free of fear, safe in their migrations. It’s enough to have a cool day, a great day for walking, and NO mosquitos. It’s a great day for my kind of birding, which is very non-serious to be sure.
Sometimes I can be too exclusive, literally, for my own good. The first time I saw this place, I said to myself “no no no no no.” The sign says it all. Not my kind of place. Full of things that are bad for me. Bad! Bad! Bad!
And yet, when The Black Bean was not open, and we were on our way to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, one of the coolest places on earth, we needed breakfast. I needed coffee. You need a little fuel to run the engines, you know? So, sighing, we pull into Savannah’s.
As soon as we walk in, I realize I might have made a big mistake, meaning, if we hadn’t come here, we never would have known how cool this place is. Sometimes snobbery can get in the way of having a good time, you know?
It’s exactly the kind of small town breakfast place – and restaurant – that I grew up with in Alaska, and my husband grew up with in his small southern town. The furniture is all locally made. The place is full of town folk, local people who all know one another, and a few birders on their way to St. Marks. There is a large menu of choices; yes, I don’t see any healthy choices, and at some point, it just becomes irrelevant. This is a great experience.
AdventureMan orders the Biscuits and Gravy, a sort of quintessential Southern breakfast dish and I order a biscuit breakfast sandwich. It takes a long time – they are baking fresh biscuits. 🙂 The coffee is good, not fancy, but well brewed and fresh.
When the breakfast comes, it is delicious. The biscuits are crumbly and flakey. The sausage is tasty. Yep, Pork Fat is Where it’s At.
Savannah’s Breakfast Buffet gives you an astonishing breakfast at very reasonable cost, great service. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and you can learn a lot about the community by listening to the local discussions. Here’s how you find Savannah’s:
After our boat trip, we took a walk to the diving platform to watch the manatees. When we lived in the Tampa/St. Pete/Safety Harbor area, we saw Manatees all the time, and it was heart breaking. They are big, stupid, clumsy animals who do no harm. They love to congregate where there is warm water on a cold winter’s night. Sadly, these slow moving sea cows are often hit and damaged by boaters; the blades of the motors scarring the manatees, often wounding them fatally. They have no defense against the casual, callous cruelty of the oblivious boater.
Here, in Wakulla Springs, they are safe. The only boats allowed in the Springs areas have caged blades; they cannot hurt the manatees.
No, only people can hurt them.
As we were watching the manatee, there was a family there. I try not to judge parents; parenting is hard. I will just make some observations. It was 40 degrees F – not that far from freezing – and the two little girls were dressed in beach clothes and their feet were bare. They were running on the diving platform, while Mom was trying to take photos of the manatees with her iPhone, and dad was trying to keep the little ones rounded up. On the second level, two stories above the ground, one little girl, maybe four years old, runs out to the edge of the diving platform and her dad snatches her back, just in time, as mom continues trying to film the manatees. All this is their business, although I fear for little girls who are raised carelessly, it is not my business.
Then, the older little girl reached down in her pockets and pulled out handsfull of breadcrumbs, which she spread into the water WHILE HER PARENTS WATCHED. Did you not see the signs? Did you not hear the guides? We are not to feed the manatees anything! Bread and breadcrumbs are not a part of their diet! Parents, what are you using for brains? ? ?
No. I did not say anything; I don’t look for trouble. I write it in this blog, and then, God willing, I let it go.
At Wakulla Springs, everything is separate. Like the entrance fee goes to the State. The Wakulla Lodge is run by some corporation with a state contract, I am guessing, and the Wakulla Boat Rides are another separately run concession. If you are staying at the Lodge, or booked for the lunch buffet at the Lodge, you get into the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park for free, instead of paying the $6/vehicle entrance fee.
The boat trip is half the fun. On hot days in the park, you can swim right in the same spring as the manatees, but on chilly winter days – take the boat trip. We took the boat trip twice, it is so much fun, and because we love the late afternoon light. I will share my photos of some of what we saw on the hour long trip below; warning you that trying to get a shot of an underwater manatee is not such an easy thing to do. You may have to use a little imagination to see the manatee 🙂 but I swear, it is there.
OK, there it is, the Manatee, otherwise known as a sea cow, a siren, and a sea slug – about the size of a small whale or a very large shark:
So we’ve arrived in Wakulla, to be received rudely at the hotel, turned away until the 3:00 pm check-in, the restaurant closed as we were trying to check in, and there is a part of every human being that wonders if this is going to be the story of our trip.
And then, to save the day, we find The Black Bean.
We drove to the nearby crossroads, where I saw a sign to a restaurant to which we did not go, but we turned left, up 363 and saw an all-day breakfast buffet place with a sign saying “Pork Fat is Where It’s At” (no, no, it’s true, how could I make that up?) and I am praying “Please Lord, find us someplace else, please Lord” and we keep going. AdventureMan says “should I turn around?” and I see a sign just a little up and say “let’s go up there and turn around if it’s nothing.”
As we get closer, we see a big sign for Jerry’s Bait Shop and my heart sinks. But as we turn in to turn around, we see the sign for The Black Bean Cuban Food, and my prayer is answered. Yes!
As it turns out, this is not the REAL Black Bean, which is in Tallahassee, but this is the Black Bean Express, their outpost, for people on the run, going down to St. Marks to go birding, heading out in their boats, etc. The menu is almost the same, just a few things less.
We both ordered the same thing, which we never do, but the Habanero Pork BBQ just sounded so good, and oh, man, it was. It was SO good. We didn’t know how much sandwich there was going to be, we could have shared one, but no, we didn’t know, and we ordered the fabulous black bean soup, too, and we couldn’t eat it all.
This is one of the owners, who fixed these fabulous sandwiches. He told us about their breakfasts, so we decided to come back the next day, but when we came back the next day, they were not open and we saw on the sign that the breakfast is only Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Black Bean Express.
We went back around lunch and had their grilled chicken wrap, which – smarter now – we split, and we also split a red beans. You can read more about them HERE. We met the other owner (the are married to one another) and as we ate, we decided that rather than enjoy another perfectly uninteresting dinner at the Lodge, we would bet another sandwich, and split it for dinner along with some trail mix and water we already had with us.
The Black Bean saved the day. The food was so good; we even stopped for breakfast on our way out toward Tallahassee, having the biscuit sandwiches. I never knew Cuban food could be SO good, so tasty. It was fast, convenient, close to the Lodge, and very tasty. Let’s see, pay a lot more money for uninspired food at Wakulla Lodge, or pick up something at The Black Bean . . . . ? I don’t have to give it two seconds thought! Life is too short! It’s a Wakulla Red R! (Michelin Red R’s are given for good local foods at reasonable prices)
In the adjoining bait shop; a huge box full of live crickets, eeeeeeek!
Here is how to get to The Black Bean Express, in Wakulla Springs. There is another, larger Black Bean in Tallahassee:
Here is what I love about reading the Bible every day; the sheer inane humanity of it all. Even many of the heroes are seriously flawed, murders, adulterers, liars, and the bible goes ahead and tells the whole story, not just the part of the story that makes them look good.
So here we have Jesus, talking about the rivers of living water – rivers that are supposed to be flowing out of US, the believers, if we are true believers, rivers of good works, good deeds, love for one another. It is a glorious – and challenging – image.
And here are those niggling, human, priests, who, in the face of this miraculous man, are denying he could be the Christ because he comes from Galilee.
How often do we do the same thing in our own lives, overlook the blindingly glorious to focus on the niggling detail which doesn’t even matter one iota in the greater scheme of things?
37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As* the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,* because Jesus was not yet glorified.
40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ 41Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’* But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah* does not come from Galilee, does he? 42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah* is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ 43So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ 46The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ 47Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? 48Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus* before, and who was one of them, asked, 51‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ 52They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.