Archives for March 2013

The Last “Front-ier”

Florida isn’t always the Sunshine state. Tonight is a prime example. 

It rained all day today.  A front came in with a wind advisory attached to it.  The temperature has dropped to 40 something.  The 25 mph wind is whipping my Coleman tent so hard the tie downs are humming.  It is 9:30 and it’s going to be a long night.  All three dogs are trying to curl up on the cot with me.  I can hear the cook tent sides flapping loud, hard and fast, and I’m wondering how many more times tonight I will need to get up and check all my stakes and ties. Perhaps I’ll wake up to shredded tarps.  It’s 10:45.  I’m wondering if my coffee pot is going to bite the dust tonight, or maybe the whole cook table set up.   I’m wondering if the tent will be impaled by a palmetto branch, or if it’s even possible. Perhaps the whole campsite will end up blown into the ocean bay.  It’s almost midnight.  I’m wondering if this cold and wind will keep the raccoons away for a change.  It is certainly keeping my dogs quiet and close. On the cot with me—how do I begin to describe how uncomfortable that is?

But, that’s ok.  I’m actually enjoying tonight.  Enjoying the rustic feel of “comfort under the covers, with just a twinge of “fear factor”.  I’m ok with this, even for a few days.  Laying here looking up at the nylon ceiling and sides ripple, and listing to branches rustle. We are warm, dry, and apparently not going to be blown away.  It’s rewarding to know what I set up is standing up to the elements.  With every shuddering thrust of gusting air we survive, I am reminded of how good I am at this. 

Yeah, bring it on.  Tonight, tomorrow, and even into early next week if need be.  I am ok with a lingering weather challenge.  Because, our adventure is taking a turn very soon.

This afternoon I bought a new toy….hauler!



Day At The Show

Of course it would be nice to have an RV.  But it’s just not something I feel comfortable dealing with.  It’s a big, scary commitment. Admittedly, I have about 80 pounds of literature about campers, pop ups, RV’s fifth wheels, all of them!  I lean toward the toy haulers, and I’ve been pondering making a purchase for about 10 years. But I am afraid to be responsible to pull some giant trailer.  I have no confidence in being able to maintain one.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  I do know that whatever I would end up with, I would be completely on my own with dealing with it, and when it gets right down to it, I’d rather spend that time doing something less stressful.  I have endless lists of unrealistic fears about owning and caring for an RV.  I’m not an electrician, or a heater cooler guy, or a plumber, or a carpenter, or a mechanic, and it seems to me that everything about an RV requires you to be all of those things.  I’ve thought about this for years.


Tents are so easy.


Tents are so flexible.


Tents are so maintenance free.


I know what to do with a tent, no matter what, and don’t need any help.


But sure, I’ll go to the RV Show at the Florida State Fair Grounds and look.  I’m really good at looking, done it for years! Dennis and Buddy say it’s the biggest show in the country. Sounds like fun, so Carol, Dennis, Lois, Buddy and I get in Buddy’s car and go.


We pull into the Florida State Fair Grounds and in front of us is a field of motor homes, as far as the eye can see. Rows and rows of 53 foot long homes on wheels.  Beautifully painted ‘coaches’ that must cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  What it must cost just to put gas in those rigs, well, I’d need to be someone else, doing something else, indeed. And next to them are smaller motor coaches, fifth wheels, RV’s, and pull behinds.  So many makes and models my mouth drops open. 


Dennis says, “you think this is something, wait till we get inside!”  Oh my, you mean this isn’t the show?  These are just people who want to sell their rig!  I am amazed.


Of course, the one day weather predictions call for wind, rain, cold and blowing is the day we go to the show  We park, we walk into a main building and the first thing we see are the “by appointment only” motor coaches that start at over $500,000.00, and climb to 1.5 million or so. Wow. Again, I’d need to be someone else, doing something else, indeed.


We pass through that building quickly, hit the outdoors, and main exhibit area.  There are trolley cars running groups of people around the show.  It’s that big.  We start wandering the isles.  Lois is telling me I need a Toy Hauler (wow, she is right on!).  Dennis is telling me it’s time for me to upgrade from sleeping on the ground and get away from the raccoons.  Buddy is telling me I will know when it’s time. I will just know.  Carol, is remaining politically correct and not commenting.  I’ve spent at least 10 years going to the Minneapolis RV show.  I can get in and out of every unit on display at that show in about 3 hours.  No way could I do that here. But, I’m sliding into the “Oh, look at this one!” mode and before long, I’m in and out of RVs, sitting on couches, looking at cupboard space, reading the weights and lengths, and saying “nope, nope, nope”.


And then…….there it was.


Like a vision Rugged, yet soft, functional, yet fun, huge, yet understated, and in colors that would really compliment my truck…my future Toy Hauler.  “Hello my baby, my sweet functional machine, I am digging you”!  I was drawn to it.  I walked up the ramp.  I sat.  I touched. I opened and closed things.  Lois appeared at my side.  “This is what you need.”

“Oh, my dear, yes, you are so right”.  I see me loading the 4 wheeler. I see me under the awing, on the side of some hill, overlooking the valley of deer I’m hunting.  I see me and the kids curled up on the couch, set up alongside the lake, looking out the window, watching the waves crash to shore.


Oh yeah, this is my Toy Hauler.  Where has this baby been all my life?


“You guys, we gotta go, we gotta keep moving.”  I gasp.  “Come on, we gotta go.”  Dennis is laughing, and looks over to the sales people—starts getting information.  Buddy joins him.  They start getting specifics.  The manufacturer VP is on site.  He is talking about the details of the construction, and why it’s better.  They are offering a special at the show.  They are pointing to me.  “She’s the one looking”.  Buddy says.


“You guys, we gotta go, we gotta keep moving.”  I gasp.  “Come on, I gotta go.” And I take off.


Dennis proceeds to tease me about my new Toy Hauler for the next hour.  I am making an earnest effort to look at every other type of rig I can.   They are all great. They are all much fancier, and actually less expensive. They are all not for me.  Dennis and Buddy are assuring me that my irrational fears are just that.  And my truck would have no problem pulling that Toy Hauler. 


It starts to rain, we scramble to get under the nearest awning.  I decide to play the “find the button” game and go find all of the booths that are giving out one of the 12 unique buttons required to win a great prize.  The wind picks up, the rain picks up, and my group holes up inside a Toy Hauler that is four times the cost of my sweet unit from the morning. The show is becoming a ghost town, people fleeing for cover all around us. It has become downright cold in Florida.


But I press on, and dash from trailer to trailer in the rain, and mange to get into every button holder on the premises.  I manage to see another couple dozen pull behinds that are all beautiful, detailed, reasonably priced, but, well, just not for me.  I keep thinking back to that Toy Hauler.  There has never been one like that in Minnesota in all the years I’ve looked.


Lois calls me.  “Where are you?  We’re freezing, we want to go.” I find my way back to them.  Before we leave I have to check in with my buttons and find out what kind of prize I won.  What a coincidence, the check point is down by the Toy Hauler booth. 


I check in to the button station, and have one a T-shirt.  Great.  Not quite the TV I was hoping for, but great.


Dennis continues teasing me about my new Toy Hauler.  Buddy says I’ll never find all that for that price anywhere else. We arrive to the booth.  I am immediately drawn back in.  Oh it would be so foolish and irresponsible to make a giant purchase right now. 


Or would it?


The guys are negotiating with the sales manager and manufacturer.  What would it take?  We are all making it crystal clear that I am an absolute newbie, I know nothing about these rigs, in fact I don’t know what I don’t know, and I need to be taught every single thing that all RV owners take for granted.  I am completely ignorant.  I cannot just drive off into the sunset with this Toy Hauler and call it safe.  I need massive amounts of training and assistance.  With it, I can promote this toy hauler.


They can give me that training and assistance. 

And I need a screen porch, and a TV and DVD player, and a list of other things…

They can give me those things.


I am in the golf cart with the sales manager, heading to the paperwork booth.  I am in the booth, for 45 minutes, filling out paperwork. My credit is good.  I’ve signed my name about 50 times.  Then it’s back to the Toy Hauler, where my friends are patiently waiting. 


I stand before them, the proud owner of a 28 ½ foot long Riverside Travel Trailer 24RPM Toy Hauler.


Am I dreaming?


Par Lay Voo Fron Say?

Here I am, cruising down the highway heading back to camp from spending the morning in Tampa. Off to the side of the road I see two people on bicycles, all decked out with the whole nine yards of camp gear and a big blue Smurf tied onto the handlebars.  They are keeping a good pace, clearly they are not novices, and have likely been at this for a while.


There I go, day dreaming about the last time I was on my bicycle.  Wishing it was here. Missing those summer rides with my friend Joy, and feeling a little homesick.  I look in the rear view mirror and see the couple shrinking away to nothing as I continue south down the road. 


Back in camp I have plenty to do!  Today is the day to shake things out.  Sandy beaches equals frequent tent cleaning.  As much as I love my family, there are days when I really wish they could pitch in with the chores!  I suppose I could just give in and create a sandbox in the tent. 




So about an hour or so into my cleaning spree, I look up and out to the road, and what is this I see?  Two bicyclists and a Smurf, slowly coasting into the West Campground.  Not just any two bicyclists, but the couple I saw hours ago at the edge of Tampa.


Oh my!  Now THAT is a long ride!  I was so excited I couldn’t stop from running right out to the road to greet them!


“O-my-gosh I saw you hours ago on the road in Tampa!  Wow, this is amazing, how long have you been riding?” I am in total awe and excitement, and they are laughing and looking at each other.


“Yes, we ride long time today. But very boring. Ugly on the road.” The girl responds.

“And so tired, and many cars.” the guy says.


Picking up on their thick accents, I ask “Where are you from?” 


“We are from France, yes, wee.”


Wow.  Whole new appreciation and respect for their athletic prowess.  I have thousands of questions, but clearly they need to get to their campsite, set up and rest.  They invite me to stop by in a bit. 


I’m thinking about their journey down the highway.  They must be knowledgeable about the outdoors.  I hope they are. Where will they put their food without a car? It’s almost 3:00 so I decide to walk down there.


The tent is up, their gear is spread across the picnic table, and they are in the final stages of organizing.  We greet each other.  Thirties something, Valerie and Clement from France.  Wow, very inspirational.


“Thought I should give you fair warning about the raccoons.  They are everywhere, so you need to keep your food secure.”


“Oh yes, we know of this, we keep this in the tent?” Clement replies.  It really isn’t a question, but more of a statement.


“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, they will not hesitate to come into the tent for it.” I warn.  “And they will come looking for food any time day or night.”


“No!”  Valerie laughs, “ziss is not true? She looks at Clement.  They proceed to explain that they are very familiar with wildlife, and describe their journey.  It would appear they’ve just about seen it all….


Valerie and Clement have made a commitment to travel by bicycle, 6 months and 6,000 miles, to see the United States.  Their journey started in Seattle Washington where they entered the country, and will end in Miami Florida on January 30th.  They have traveled down the California west coast, and then along the southern border of the United States to get to Florida.  They have never had a raccoon or any animal come into their tent. 


“Well, guys, that was then.  Now you’re here.”  I no sooner said that, then low and behold, a raccoon had gotten onto the picnic table bench and was digging through Valeries duffel bag.


“OHHH noooooo Clement do somesing!  OHHHH!” They are both scrambling to shoo the coon away. Valerie is gingerly retrieving her things from the ground around the table.  Clement picks up a piece of broken palm bough and flings it at the masked bandit as it dashes over to the mangroves with a piece of something in it’s paw.  They are shocked, we all break into a laugh.  The raccoon hovers in the safety of the mangroves with it’s prize.  Clement tries to throw a piece of shell at it-but hits the branches.  Then I, the stealth hunter, make a fierce growl and stamp at it and it scurries away, dropping the headband.


“I am not so good with the aim” he sheepishly admits.


“No worries.” I always hate to say I told you so, but, hey, I told them so……


It will be a long night for them at Secret Spot Park.


Still, this couple is at the top of my list of being the all-time coolest adventuring couple ever.  The next morning as they are on their way out, we talk more, and I invite them to Minnesota for a Boundary Waters adventure with me.  It’s only fair for them to see how the northern part of the country lives.  That sounds good. 

We talk about the things they’ve seen, their favorite stops, and how long they sIMG_1044pent planning their trip.  They promise to let me know when they hit the Miami city limits, and complete their journey. We exchange contact information and hug goodbye. 



                                                                    Safe travels my friends!

Defending the Fort, part 3

Day 11 in camp.

Despite throwing bottles, oils, lotions, sprays, dog toys and whatever else is nearby at them, the raccoons continue to stalk and steal from me.  I leave fresh water for them daily by the fire pit, yet they still come. Their fresh little hand prints are all over my cook camp area each morning when I awake.  They hover mere feet from our established “home” throughout the day, waiting for me to turn my back for just a minute.  They don’t even realize they will get nothing from me.  Nothing.  I’ve seen to it that there is nothing of value to them that they can get into.

Yet they persist. 

As do I.  Yes I, the stealth hunter, have figured out a better solution for keeping them at bay.  If we cannot shoot them, or poison them, or reason with them, and nothing else is working, they simply need to learn in another way that I mean business and they, and their wretched fleas, are not welcome.

So I go to the Sports Authority in Brandon.   For eight dollars I buy me a handy dandy little wrist rocket, otherwise called a sling shot.   A sling shot is a great teaching tool for animals.  I used to have a problem at home with squirrels.  After repeatedly whapping  them with little crab apples from my tree when they got onto my fence,  it didn’t take long before they stopped getting onto my fence or coming into my yard.  I didn’t even have to get up from my swing.  Just sit, read the paper, drink my coffee, look up and WHAPP!  Squirrels don’t really like to get whapped in the ass by crab apples.  It stings.  They learn.  I think Pavlov refers to it as “stimulus response.” 

So I get back to camp with my new teaching tool, and proceed to look for just the right size rocks.  Dennis wants to know what I’m doing.  “Gathering up the lesson plans for tonight.”  And before long, I have over 50 perfect objects lined up along the picnic table, ready to induct into the evening lesson program.

And then I wait.  And wait.  And wait.  No raccoons.  I take the dogs for a walk, then it’s time for bed.  With a heavy sigh, I abandon my arsenal of pebbles, and go to bed…with my wrist rocket. 

Of course I, the stealth hunter, am dialed in to hear the slightest of sounds outside the safety of our tent, and when the dogs growl to confirm, I know it’s class time.

I sneak over to the tent door zipper.  I peer out.  Oh! Sure, look at him, reaching and touching my boom box, the table, the plastic container with the tight lid….I’ll get him!

Oh, wait, the ammo is out there on the picnic table!  As I am sitting there helpless in the tent, perplexed, the girls break into a bark, and the raccoon turns to look at the commotion.

You’re not even going to RUN?  Oh this is all so insulting.  I spring up and start to unzip the door.  Now the raccoon scoots off—but not far.

Perfect!  It stops between my site and Dennis and Carols. “Think I don’t see you?  Ha, think again!”  I step over to the picnic table and start loading and shooting. 

Thwap!  Thwap!  Thug.  Thwap!  I’m pretty consistent, hitting the mark 3 out of 4 times.  Each direct hit causes the coon to take a defiant step back but it doesn’t run away.  Then I realize he has the unionized group with tonight, and they are all waiting out in the mangroves for instructions.  He doesn’t want to look like a wimp.

Within two minutes I’ve unleashed a line of firepower out of that slingshot into the mangroves heavy enough to build a brick wall.  I am out of ammo.  Eyes are still flickering in the mangroves.  I scramble in the dark to find something else to shoot at them.  Nothin.  A couple large pieces of shell. Ok, shooooooo,   shoooooooo the shells are not very effective.  I’m out of ammo again.

I stand there in the dark.  Out of ammo.  Out of ideas.  Out of energy.  I got no fight left. “Git! Git!  I hiss out into the mangroves.  Brown furry beings scatter.

I crawl back into the tent, and hush the dogs.  I need more, and better, ammo.

For now, they win.

Awesome Asian Salad

This is a refreshing summer lunch or light dinner idea that is always a crowd pleaser. Try serving with a side of Asian steamed dumplings!


1can chunk chicken breast

1/3 of a Green Cabbage—shredded

1/3 of a Savoy Cabbage–shredded

½ c thin sliced carrots

½ c thin sliced Celery

¼ c thin sliced Green Onions

1 can sliced Water Chestnuts

8 oz bag of fresh Pea Pods

1 bunch Cilantro chopped

2 c Chow Mein Noodles

¼ c Sliced Almonds


1 bottle Kraft Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing


Toss first 9 ingredients together into a large bowl.  Mix in dressing to lightly coat (approximately ¼ cup) Stir in noodles and almonds before serving to keep crunchy.


Serves 4 – 8


Note:  If you are in a super hurry to impress some last minute guests, this salad always seems to save the day.  What you can do for a huge time saver is to simply buy a bag or two of Taylor Farms Asian Chopped Salad, add in the chicken, Water Chestnuts and Peapods, use Taylors provided sauce and fixings, and you are good to go in less than 10 minutes!


Manatee Floatation Station

Sometimes, you just have a feeling about a person. An unexplainable connection.  It happened to me the minute I met Lois.  What a fun, spunky lady, full of life and energy.  An unassuming, authentic being. Smart, kind, helpful and resourceful.  The instant I met her I knew I wanted to earn her friendship for life.


We visit daily as we are walking dogs or gathering in the road for impromptu discussions with Ranger Sam, Dennis and Carol and other campers.  Then Lois finds out that I, the big outdoors person, have never Kayaked.  Well, what do you know, they have two kayaks here and Buddy doesn’t like to go.  I’m not sure why I’ve never Kayaked.  Perhaps there’s just not enough hours in the day, and I am so entrenched in canoeing, that it just never was a priority.


Today all that changes.  It’s 70 degrees and sunny, no wind, and Buddy has got the vessels down to the water, has adjusted mine to fit, and is ready to help us ladies into them.  With Buddy at her side, Lois gracefully gets into her kayak, and begins paddling  away to make way for the newbie. 


Now it’s my turn.


I immediately discover Boy Scout Buddy has the patience of a saint.


First, I am here to tell you that who ever invented the Kayak clearly didn’t have an ass end.


How in the world do you hold the paddle, step into the boat without getting wet, and lower your ass end down into that seat with your knees up into your boobs and expect to not either hurt something or tip over into the water?  I swear getting down into that seat is the most humbling experience ever.  I think I need back up lights on my hind end, perhaps a beeper to go with it, as I squat down into the hole. 


My goodness!


So, I finally get on in there, and now am faced with how to get comfortable with the balance.  There’s not a lot of room for error, that’s for sure.  And as I try to approach paddling the same way as canoeing,  I quickly drench myself with each stroke of the paddle.  Lois is simply drifting out in the water, getting a great show.  Buddy is standing on the shore, chuckling and shaking his head.


“Lean back and paddle” Lois advises.  Whoa, kinda tippy doing that.  I try again.  I look like I peed my pants from the water I’ve brought in on the paddle.  Still, I am determined to conquer this activity.  Lois turns toward the open ocean and beach.  I follow behind, adding a splash of water to my shorts with each stroke.


Eventually I catch up to her, and am feeling pretty strong as a paddler. Hey, except for the wet, this is pretty fun!  It is a lazy sunny day and feels wonderful to be out on the water.  We search for fish in the water.  She spies several exotic shells in the shallows.  We wonder if we will get grounded.  It’s low tide.  But we do make it across the beach area and around the corner and down by the sand bar.


“This is wayahh the manatees ahh sometimes”  She says.


Oh lets go check it out!


We paddle around the sandbar and into an isolated body of water that gives the appearance of being a lake.


We relax and drift.

Well, I’m not sure about how relaxing it is to be sitting in several inches of salt water….shriveling and chafing….but it’s a great experience….


Lois and I start talking about things.  She tells me about the park, and how they came to be camp hosts.  I comment again how she and Boy Scout Buddy are a cute couple.

That leads to a fairy tale story about how they met…


She went to a costume party with friends.  She was widowed.  She fell in love with a clown—literally—it was Buddy.  Yes, he is a professional clown, AND a Boy Scout. She never even saw his face, but knew he was the one.  He was a widower. He was equally captivated by her, and the pursuit began.  Although she hesitated at first, he managed to get her number, and convince her to go out.  They met, and have been together for the last seven or so years, traveling the country in the back of a truck, then a little RV, and another one, until they discovered Secret Spot Park, and became winter camp hosts, and now own a huge 5th wheel “home on wheels” that they leave down in Florida year round.


What a great story!  How romantic!  “Lois, did you see that?”  I point out in front of us.


It’s Manatees!  We slowly, carefully, paddle forward.  Within a few minutes, we are in the nucleus of water where there are at least eight or more Manatees.  They are surfacing all around us, blowing, and dropping back into the water.  They come closer.  They swim under our kayaks.  Along the kayaks.  One nearly touches my paddle.  They are as curious as we are.  We both remain motionless, and just drift, thrilled with this unexpected experience, and taking care to not overstep.   One comes so close to me I can see the texture of it’s nose, and look deep into it’s eye, then it sinks back into the water.  Mullets are jumping out of the water as well, almost right into the boats.  We stay here the entire afternoon, relishing the joy of communing with nature.  So do the Manatees.


“I love it out here.”

“Me too.”


The afternoon goes by.




“my ass hurts.”

“yeah, mine too.”


And so we begin the journey back.  The tide is now high, and the wind picked up.  We fearless women adventurers bravely face the wind and paddle against the current around the sand bar, in front of the beach, and around the corner back into the brackish waters where camp is.


I am here to tell you that who ever invented the Kayak clearly didn’t have any intention of getting in, OR OUT of one themselves.  Oh my, I am certain I need some sort of hydraulic hoist to get my ass end back up out of that hole.  How are you supposed to function at all after having your legs straight out in front of you for hours while soaking in salt water on the most uncomfortable piece of plastic known to man?


And yet, there’s Lois, gracefully paddling along, gracefully getting back to shore, gracefully getting back out of the kayak, and gracefully coaching me through it all like a pro.  I am an awkward, wet mess.  We laugh until we about cry.  Walking up the hill back to their campsite, we are hobbling along, rubbing our back ends deciding it must be time for happy hour.  Oh, my goodness. 


If I could have a sister, I would want it to be Lois.

Defending The Fort, part 2 of 3

Day Seven. 

A warm front has pulled into Secret Spot Park.  The air is muggy, the no-see-ums are thick, and it’s really hard to sleep at night.  It must not be any different for the wildlife, because the raccoons are running back and forth across the west campgrounds in broad daylight searching for somewhere to lay low.  It’s bad enough to find their little hand prints all over every surface in the cook tent in the morning, but now they have the nerve to run around in broad daylight looking for trouble.  I am dropping a new cd into the boom box. As I turn around, a raccoon has scooted 15 feet up the palm tree next to my tent.

“OH, no you don’t!  Get outta there!”  I charge the tree, waving my arms wildly, and the raccoon drops down and rushes to the mangroves.

I win.

Moments later, he’s back, heading back up the same tree.

“Really?  NOOOOO!”  I cry out.  But that coon keeps scooting up to the top and then disappears up into the palm boughs.  He pulls aside a few prongs and looks down at me.

That was the last straw.

I look and look for something to throw.  Ah ha, the yard fogger.  I toss it up to the top of the tree, it falls back down.  I toss it again, hoping to knock down the coon.  I miss again.

Toss, and miss.  Toss and miss.  Toss, and miss, wow I’m really a bad shot.  Toss and miss.  Toss, and, the fogger doesn’t come back down.

Crap, it’s hung up in the palm tree.  I’m standing there, a sweaty mess. I grab the sunscreen bottle.  Toss, and miss, toss and miss. A dozen more times toss and miss, then the sunscreen doesn’t come back down.  The coon peers down at me.

That was the last straw. 

Beads of sweat dripping into my eyes, I grab Buddy’s big partly chewed Christmas bone.  That will do it!  I toss the bone, and it does not come down out of the palm.  NOOO!  The coon is rustling around up there.  Maybe he’ll spray himself with the fogger.  I cannot allow that dang critter to stay up there, right next to my tent.  I grab Buddys blaze orange Kong bone.  Apparently I’m creating a shortage of space up there, the Raccoon is shifting around trying to get comfortable.  I whale the Kong bone.  Toss and miss.  I run and pick it up from the other side of the palm.  Toss, and, BINGO it’s a DIRECT HIT!  The raccoon jumps up from the palm branches, and clings to the trunk of the tree.  I, the stealth hunter take aim a second time and WHAP another direct hit that drops the Raccoon off of the palm tree right in front of me.  We stand face to face, it rises up on it’s hind legs. 

C’mon, bring it.

It blasts around the tent and runs across the street to Dennis and Carol’s. 

I win.

Then I look up and realize my fogger, sunscreen and Buddy’s big Christmas bone are all up in the tree. I walk over to Lois and Buddy’s.

“Hey, Buddy, would you happen to have a ladder I could borrow?”

Secret Spot Secrets

How wonderful this park is.  I think I don’t ever want to leave.  Even with the raccoons, it’s a haven of solitude and natural beauty.  The kids and I take walks during the day, and always see an array of wild things. The beaches and shorelines are loaded with fiddler crabs.   Ibis come pecking through the campsites each morning looking for breakfast insects.  Doves, Gulls, Egrets, Herons, Cranes, Pelicans, Roseate Spoonbills, Eagles, Osprey and Hawks abound everywhere.  Secret Spot Park even builds nesting posts for the Osprey to occupy right in the park.  It is amazing, but unsettling to see giant long legged long neck long beaked birds standing on the edge of the road.  I think they could kick my butt.

My big boy and I take long walks in the evening when the moon is big and bright. From time to time, a cruise ship is hovering in the bay as we walk up to the boat launch.  Raccoons test every garbage can on the property nightly.  We hear rustling in the mangroves, swaying in the palm trees and splashing in the water.  Secret Spot used to have an infestation of wild pigs.  Too bad that isn’t the case now, or I would be achieving the whole reason why I came to Florida.  But it’s hard to know just what that rustling is. We have yet to see a pig or deer in the park.

The water itself is quite interesting.  Solid salt water ocean off the beach, but as you come around the little fingers of land the waters turn brackish, a combination of fresh and salt water.  There are no alligators here because of this.  They don’t like the salty water.  But it’s a great place to catch both bait, and fish.  All along the water’s edge there are open spots cut into the mangroves, just big enough to fish in.  Those clearings are edged with thick crustations of clams sharp enough to cut a foot open. An ignorant person may try to harvest those calms, but in fact they are not edible unless they remained under water until found.  When they are exposed to air, they become tainted.   A sad waste for us, but it doesn’t stop the wildlife from consuming them.

I frequently see fish jumping out of the waters here.  They splash throughout the day and night  Sometimes, they will rise up out of the water and skip across a good 50 yards or more distance, like a skipping stone, then dive back under water. They are the Mullet, and they cannot be easily caught unless they are netted.  What can be easily caught hook and line is Catfish, Flounder, Redfish, and Trout, just by stepping feet away from the campsites, and offering either a shrimp or fiddler crab on the hook.  But perhaps the most intriguing thing is that there are so many other creatures swimming these waters.  They say there are Hammerhead sharks, Tarpons, Grouper, Dolphin and Manatee, and a hodge-podge of sea fish too long to describe.  Standing at a mangrove clearing and fishing is somewhat daunting when you don’t really know what you might hook.

After stormy weather, the beach is filled with interesting treasures to search for in the sand. Secret Spots beach is deteriorating into the ocean, exposing much of the plant life structure.  I wonder if this is partly why so few people can be found visiting here.  It’s not exactly pretty at the beach with all the erosion. But its plenty fine for me.  Understanding the tides is a critical component to spending time on the water whether it’s for tanning kayaking, swimming or even fishing.  High tide is the best time to fish.  Low tide you may get your boat stuck and grounded, and anglers can be found walking out several hundred yards fishing in knee deep waters.  What a strange thing to have to keep up with.

On land, the foliage is dense and green.  Everything is growing in sand, except the air plants that just sit on the trees and grow, and of course, the mangroves.  There are 3 types of mangroves, red, white and black.  Several varieties of oak trees, several varieties of palm trees and of course thick Saw Palmetto is found everywhere.  I have seen Saw Palmetto a good 15 feet tall. Sadly, many of the palm trees here are dying.  I look around and see tall skinny trunks, void of any green leafy tops.  I hear there is no funding or support to rescue or replace them.  I think about back home and the dedication given to remove diseased elms and replace.  Too bad the same urgency isn’t shared in Florida with the palm trees.  But the trees that are here provide bedrooms for the squirrels, birds and raccoons. 

Apparently Secret Spot is just that, a secret.  The rangers do such a fantastic job of keeping everything about the park as top shelf as possible, yet most of the locals either don’t know about it, or choose not to enjoy it.  And the people here now, are saying, “please don’t say where you are!”, because they don’t want to see this quiet paradise become a party capital.  And I get that.  So for now, I will continue to refer to my temporary home as Secret Spot Park.  Jenn was right, it really is a wonderful get away destination.  If I was king of this forest, I would do everything I could to promote it to people who appreciate the need to preserve and protect natural beauty like this, and could help to make it even better.   But for now, I do my part by writing messages along the sand trails with a big stick that say:

Respect The Land

Pick Up Your Trash!

Yup, you could say I’ve become emotionally invested in Secret Spot Park.  I simply love it here.

Ranger Sam

The first day the white ranger truck pulled up to my campsite while I chatted with Dennis and Carol, I knew I was in a good place.

 “What’s going on, folks?”  the driver calls out from behind the wheel.

Introducing Sam, the Park Ranger.  Behind the wheel in her kaki ranger hat and dark glasses, she first struck me as a rough and tumble, no nonsense tough chick.  And yes, she was in the military.  But within moments, all that melted away, leaving a cheery bubbly personality, caring nature, and incredible sense of humor.  In charge of the community service program, she is absolutely a “get it done” girl and runs a tight ship, which is a good thing.  She is also a wealth of information about all things Florida.  What a fantastic ambassador for Secret Spot Park. Sometimes, you just have a feeling about a person.  An unexplainable connection.  It happened to me the minute I met Ranger Sam. 

Dennis proceeds to tell her about my raccoon woes, and how I sent Buddy in to fetch a case of water out of the mangroves the other day.  How can he resist an opportunity to tease me? And then I tell them about my grill.

Did you know that raccoons won’t cross a line of Cayenne Pepper?  According to Ranger Sam’s on the spot internet research via her phone, Cayenne could be a simple solution.  Of course I dash to the grocery store and purchase three big bottles.  I return, and proceed to drop a line of Cayenne around my entire campsite, about ¼ inch wide.  I’ll try anything once, even if it does look like I’m conjuring up a hex.

Along comes Ranger Sam.

“Whatcha doin, there, Miss Patty?”

“Creating my raccoon barrier.” 

She looks down at the orange stripe across the ground and grins.

“Ok…..Don’t forget to keep all your food in the vehicle, they are crafty animals and will get into your coolers.  They even know how to unhook bungie’s.”

I was tired from hauling the coolers in and out of the truck every meal and wanted to try to avoid having to do that.  For a test, I stretched a ratchet strap around the beverage cooler, set it next to the picnic table under the cook canopy and shook Cayenne onto the lid, excited to see how we would fare overnight.

Ranger Sam drives by frequently, checking on the campers, and we wave.

The next morning I spring out of the tent and check on the cooking area.  There are tiny hand prints all over the top of my beverage cooler, the strap intact.  Hmmm.  But they had to cross the Cayenne line to get to the cooler.

Ranger Sam pulls up to my campsite.  Hey Miss Patty, how’d it go?”

I showed her the tiny hand prints all over virtually everything under the cook canopy.  Well so much for simple solutions. 

“Some people set out a bowl of water for them, and say that helps keep them away.  They’re desperate for fresh water, you know” she says.

Of course I dash off to find a container to fill with water, and set it by the fire pit away from the tents.  I’ll try anything once.

We laugh and talk about fishing, and difficult people in business.  She tells me about a little used area I can bring Buddy to, and really let him run, and play in the water.  Sam understands about big dogs needing to be off leash.  She has one too.  She tells me about her family, and raising her son Lucas with her partner.  She will only be at Secret Spot Park for a short time, then will go back to being in charge of a park an hour or so away. Unconfirmed when that change will take place.  I selfishly hope it takes a long time.

I already know I will miss our talks, and look forward to each time Ranger Sam drives by and stops to say “Hey, Miss Patty….”


Defending the Fort, Part 1of 3

Day Four in camp. 

It’s been a long, warm day and we are exhausted from hiking around and exploring new wild places all day.  After a quick dinner and clean up around the cook camp, we’re ready to tuck in for the night and watch the movie Dog Show on my computer.  Soon after, I drift off to sleep with Sunny Girl across my chest, Buddy on top of my feet, and Angel stretched out along my side.  Cool night air.  Snoring dogs.  Deep, heavy slumber.  Rest is good.

Suddenly I am snatched awake by an unfamiliar sound.  I spring upright, causing dogs to abruptly fall off the cot in all directions.  I know I heard something.  The girls begin a low growl.  I jump up, and peer out the tent window.  My feeble little string of holiday lights aren’t providing enough light.  It’s dark, I can’t see anything, but I just know something is not right.  Its 2:00 am.  I sneak out the tent in my underwear and look around the cook tent.  Everything seems to be in order.  

Except….wait a minute…..where the heck is my George Forman Grill???



I peer out around the cook canopy tarp to see something white and metal bouncing away across the ground, seemingly being dragged by a small furry animal.

ARE you KIDDING  ME????????

This is war, people, this is downright war!  I can’t stand bein’ done like that!

I have to be quiet, but that damn raccoon is two campsites away with my George Forman Grill!  I quickly grab a couple bottles of water and run after it, watching my grill bouncing across the ground.

WHAPPP!  I hit the Masked Bandit on the first throw.  A solid blow to the head and shoulders.  He chatters, let’s go of the grill and bolts into the dark.  The dogs are barking, begging to come out and assist.  So much for being quiet.  But I, the stealth hunter, stand proudly over my grill, the victor.

Dang, it’s chilly out here!

OH, Shit!  I’m standing out here in my underwear!  I quickly grab the grill, grab the water, and run back to the tent, praying no one saw any of that!