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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Spring

After this past long cold winter, when someone offered us an opportunity to spend spring break with her in Florida, we jumped at the chance. It was a long time in a car, but worth it to appreciate the subtle changes as we drove south.

Just south of Indianapolis we saw fields that were actually green and the median strip on I-65 was not all brown and matted down like the ones further north. By the time we reached Columbus we could see the trees flowering. Not the showy flowers of ornamental or fruit trees, but the faint haze of color you notice which makes the tree appear red or orange or yellow. Daffodils were blooming near the exit to Seymour, IN, and we saw a lot of flooding throughout southern Indiana. After we crossed the Ohio River at Louisville we saw green shrubs, yellow forsythia, and trees covered in white blossoms, which were probably ornamental pear trees.

Kentucky passed quickly and we entered Tennessee where we found a few redbud trees decorating the road with their purple-pink blossoms. A few dogwoods were blooming as we neared the Georgia line. While caught in a traffic tie-up along a reservoir I observed a pair of osprey building a nest on a structure used to support a major power line. That made the slow-moving traffic more tolerable!

In northern Georgia we saw the beginnings of leaves on the trees. They were just emerging and were still small, not making a dense shade yet. Wisteria was hanging from many trees with its lovely long clusters of lavender flowers. Wisteria is a vine which may eventually smother the tree is grows on, however. It is highly aggressive and has been known to lift siding off houses, break water pipes under houses, bend chain link fences and crack foundations. In fact, some compare it to kudzu for its destructive properties.

By southern Georgia we saw our first palmettos and a few blooming azaleas. Once across the line into Florida—after first stopping for the obligatory free taste of Florida orange juice—we moved into full-blown summer. The temperature went into the upper 80s, the leaves were fully open, and there were tall palm trees.

We didn’t venture very far south into Florida. The house we stayed in was in Dunnellon, a pleasantly small in-land community on the Gulf side of the state, northwest of Orlando and southwest of Ocala. Being able to have morning coffee on the porch was a welcome experience. The birds serenaded us and surprisingly a lot of them were the same birds that would serenade us at home: cardinals, titmice, and wrens. We found a resident anole on our porch. He or she greeted us each day when we took our meals outside. We named our anole Annie. An anole is a small lizard, usually green but sometimes brown, which may indicate stress. They are harmless shy little creatures and quite common.

Dunnellon is the home to Rainbow Springs State Park. This park encompasses Florida’s fourth largest spring which spews out between 400-600 million gallons of fresh water every day! The river is crystal clear and since the headwaters and one side of the river are all park land, it is very beautiful and relatively protected. The length of the Rainbow River is a no-wake zone. Downstream it merges with the Withlacoochee River. We borrowed some kayaks and spent an afternoon paddling upstream and drifting back. We saw a multitude of turtles, a little blue heron, an ibis, numerous anhinga and cormorants, and a small alligator, probably only 3-4 feet long, although it was hard to tell since he was hiding in some grasses in the water. Because of the clarity of the water, it’s possible to see the bottom even in the deeper holes which may be 20-25 feet deep. You can actually see the sand moving as the water flows up from the vents. The water is 720 year-round, which attracts manatees in winter. Unfortunately we didn’t see any manatees while kayaking. The people we borrowed the kayaks from did see river otters the previous day. That would have been neat!

After a week we had to head back north and things got progressively browner with each mile. The red buds had moved up into Kentucky, though, and daffodils were blooming here when we reached home. But waking up to snow on the ground on Tuesday was a little harsh! But spring is on its way north, as Easter Sunday proved. You don’t get much nicer spring weather than Sunday had.

And happy Earth Day on Tuesday. Do something nice for our planet, Tuesday and every day!