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Florida

Keep it casual in sun shirts, graphic tees, caps, and straw hats that are perfect for a paddle, a sail, or a stroll down the beach. Wear the original flip-flop and star brand.

The Green Gators of Saint Patrick

blog articles

The Green Gators of Saint Patrick

Casual Starfish

washoaks_blog_set.jpg

At one point in each of our lives we have heard the phrase, "Good things come to those who wait." I think in almost every case in my young life it has been used when explaining the traditional sequence of dinner and dessert, but I am recently finding out how much this philosophy is useful in my adult life.

We recently had a great weekend visiting good friends in Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine on Saint Patrick’s Day: Saint Augustine is the patron saint of brewers, and Saint Patrick is the patron saint of the Irish. Perfect. 

I’ve always loved that town, tourists and all, and I especially love the natural area that surrounds it. Aside from the ocean and its frequent good surf it also has miles of marshland, the deep shade of oak hammocks, and an amazing abundance of wildlife. Much of the area is still well underdeveloped, and it is always a pleasure to drive down that part of A1A between sand dunes and scrub forest and not through a canyon of condominiums.

Thanks to our generous hosts, one part of our weekend adventure was to tackle the Crocodile Crossing treetop obstacle course over the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm. Getting together with our friends to do this has been a challenge in and of itself. After some cancellations and calendar shuffling, we finally worked this trip into our schedule and made it up there. It was well worth the wait and was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. It was a mental and physical challenge to navigate the course while suspended over the many open pools of alligators and crocodiles that call the Alligator Farm home. While regular visitors to the farm looked at scaly reptilian bodies up close, we had the view from above.

We also had the constant awareness that, yes, if our double-redundant safety harnesses did fail (unlikely), we could drop right into the open mouth of Señor Lagarto.

Soon after we started to navigate the lengthy course of zip lines and swinging bridges, we forgot all about the danger and had a great time. It’s a pricey adventure for sure, but I recommend it completely.

After a late lunch we did a little surfing—this day just gets better and better. The waves were small but fun, and I cannot remember laughing so much while standing on a surfboard. Every wave, every takeoff, every wipeout and splash was punctuated by laughter. I think this mostly comes from not surfing in a while—and maybe the beer I drank with lunch? Job stress, responsibilities, and the ever-present pressures of parenting—I was ready to surf anything, happy to have any opportunity to get in the water, and I was grateful, although not overly graceful during my session.

Alas, good weekends are always much too short and we were sad to have to go home, but before leaving town we decided to pay a short visit to one of my favorite places. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park was on the way and I thought it would be a great way to find a little peace before merging onto a crowded interstate. The twenty-acre park is a quiet and shady gem tucked into a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River. In 1965 the private land was donated to Florida under the condition that it stay jut the way it was. I like stipulations like that when it comes to natural areas.

I had been there before, many years ago, but I still like seeing the towering cabbage palms, pines, and the ancient oaks that give the park part of its name. The azaleas were blooming, but the rose garden was not, and the artesian springs smelled of sulfur just as I remember. It’s fairly common to see porpoise swimming up or down the Matanzas River, although I didn’t see any this time.

To be honest though, I was a little disappointed by the time of day we were there. I really wanted to write this article about zip-lining my way over hungry alligators. Doesn’t that sound exciting? B-u-u-t, because of some very strict rules about cameras on the zip-line course I was only able to sneak some photos from the parking area.

Well, all right then. I changed my expectations and decided I would write something about the gardens. B-u-u-t, the sun was high when we got there (not great for photographs) and the gardens were pretty but just didn’t look the way I wanted them to. We walked around. I looked through the lens many times, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Eventually, I let my disappointment drift off and resigned myself to whatever came my way.

At one point, just before we all walked back to the parking lot, I trained my camera on some air plants high above me in an oak tree. I was composing and focusing and happened to look a few feet over to the right. There, completely unexpected, was a family of horned owls— the mother looking right at me.

My own mother was an owl fanatic of sorts. She loved all living creatures and did a lot of volunteering in the last years of her life for a wild bird shelter, and we had little sculptures and art works depicting owls in our home when I was growing up. She was well respected for her volunteer work, and was, in her own small way, a little patron saint of the owl.

Now, personally, I have heard more owls than I have ever seen, but here I was up close and personal with a whole owl family. It was as if I was meant to see them.

I stood under that oak for a long time moving a little to this side and a little to that side, trying to get that certain image. I had interrupted their sleep, and the mother owl gave me the look several times. Then, the little one yawned and stretched— there it was. So, yes, good things do come to those who wait, as most saints would probably tell you.

March 25th, 2013