In February 2023, I visited the Marshall Hampton Reserve in Florida. I circled the pond there first.
I saw many birds and a few alligators, including these unformed gators bubbling from the ground, proving my theory of reptilian abiogenesis!
There were also some oddly shaped plants and a very indecisive fish.
Eventually, I picked up the Panther Point Trail heading south. To my surprise, it cut across a cattle pasture. Cows as big as mountains glared at me as I warily passed between them. I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t dare stop.
Beyond this, the trail was much as I experienced it when I explored the southern half. I again saw raccoons. I again saw alligators. There was water on either side with artistically-strewn vegetation.
I eventually made it to the bridge where I had turned around two weeks prior. There were ospreys and pelicans, but the crows had clearly taken over the conference. How can anyone talk about absolutely nothing for so long? Blah blah blah blah blah!
I enjoyed the sun and breeze for ten minutes before turning back. Suddenly, I heard a commotion in the brush. My heart jumped in and out of my chest. My first thought was humans, and I got into a defensive stance. Then I saw it through the gaps of greenery. It was huge! This was no human! This was no bobcat! This was no pig! My brain raced to make sense of the incomplete data and all it could come up with was “short-faced bear,” but I knew they had died out in the Pleistocene – or had they?
Finally, I realized this was an escaped cow that was now meandering through the swamp. How had it got out? Did it not want to be in my next Happy Meal? I held perfectly still and it passed by.
After my encounter with the swamp cow, I was quite shaken and I still had to pass the main herd on the way back to the parking lot. I found that they had moved closer to the trail. They lined either side of it, all looking at me silently. It was just like the junior high lunchroom. Any one of them could have brushed me aside like a fly, but I persevered and made it through.
The walk back was mostly uneventful, but it was hotter than when I left and I was in no condition to explore the other loop. It didn’t matter. I had seen the swamp cow and lived to tell about it. This was something I was going to tell my grandchildren. This was how I was going to pick up women. I was going to build a career on this. I might even sell shirts. “I survived swamp cow” they would say. I ate some trail mix and drove home.
The Endless Swamp
In February, I walked the Panther Point Trail around Lake Hancock in Florida. Starting on the southern end, it follows a raised road bed overlooking the lake on one side and a series of pretty ponds on the other. There were many birds, butterflies, and alligators. In the distance, one could see the artificial mountains left over from the phosphate mines of old. Much of Polk County is like this. There was a strong breeze and intermittent shade that day, so it started off very nice.
Eventually, the trail entered a wooded area. Here were cypress swamps and green puddles forming a barrier with the lake. I noticed barbed wire running along both sides of the path, much overgrown with moss. Was it to keep me out or to keep something else in? Maybe it was the balloon I saw. Was this the one the military shot down? I saw osprey, raccoons, and more alligators.
At one point in the trail, I had a wonderful experience. I smelled on the breeze the exact aroma of butter popcorn Jelly Belly jellybeans. It was sort of a butterscotch smell. What was it doing in the forest?
I also saw a plant with scary-looking leaves and a bunch of prehistoric-looking fish sitting on the ground. Did they beach themselves or were they thrown out after someone was done fishing? Why waste so much good fish?
There was also this wooden animal that did not seem at all bothered by the fish. I should be more like this animal.
Beginning to get hot and thirsty after walking for six miles, I turned back. I saw some of the same alligators in the same places and smelled the same jellybeans in the same spot again. By the time I got back to the open area, the wind had died down somewhat, the sun was brighter and hotter, and I was wild with thirst. The gator-infested pond started to look very inviting.
Time dragged on and on and on. The path seemed to grow longer the more of it I traversed. It was endless. Perhaps it was like an escalator that only went north and I was going against the current. Vultures circled overhead.
What seemed like several weeks later, I got back to the car and drank three water bottles in a row. I’d like to say I learned a lesson, but I probably haven’t.
The Swamp of Swimming Tires
I visited Circle B Bar Reserve in January of 2023. However, I saw no circles, no bees, and no bars.
The park is a chaotic collection of dry grassy areas, dry wooded areas, wet grassy areas, and wet wooded areas. On the border of Lake Hancock are tall cypress trees that allow long shafts of sunlight through the hanging moss onto the cloudy water below. It has all the right combinations of hiddenness and openness that make me want to dress up like an alligator and live there.
In a few places, the path runs along waterways filled with birds. I saw cormorants, ducks, anhinga, wood storks, ibises, little blue herons, great blue herons, sand hill cranes, and many others I do not know the names of.
These gallinules walked right up to me.
I also saw these strange-looking pieces of rubber on the sides of the path, sitting perfectly still. Did someone blow out their tires and then dump them here?
I counted ten total. There were even more tires floating in the current! Who keeps littering?
Finally, I saw this wooden animal with its head poking above the water. It didn’t seem bothered by the swimming tires at all. I should be more like this animal.
A World of Mud and Butterflies
I visited Triple Creek Nature Preserve in Riverview, Florida to see what was there and I saw what was there: mud and butterflies.
Starting in the parking lot, I was surrounded by insects. There were love bugs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, and mosquitos. I was deafened by cicadas. Butterflies decorated the sides of the path. There were also many birds, including a group of woodpeckers.
I took a grassy path through a dry area with quick ants. Some of them had built an anthill over two feet across. The path eventually led me under some trees, into a large muddy area, and finally to an impassible creek of blood next to a mossy tree.
Returning to the anthill zone, I took a different grassy path. This one also led me into the woods to a creek, but this one went under the road and it was the color of tar.
Finally, I came to a waterlogged field full of butterflies. I made a video of my adventure, but the filesize was too big for my webhost. Watch it on YouTube:
I visited Babe’s Pizza in Brandon, Florida in July. I had read about them online, hearing that they had a toy train that ran around the outer edge of the room, and other nice things about them.
Looking at the menu, I saw that they had double-decker pizzas. These are two pizzas on top of each other so that there are toppings inside and out. I also saw that they had Buffalo pizzas. It had been years since I had eaten the Buffalo calzones I used to get in New Hampshire, and thus the cravings began.
Unfortunately, I could not get Buffalo in the double-decker form. The train was also smaller and less fancy than I imagined. I ordered a normal Buffalo pizza instead.
This was also different than I imagined. Instead of the chicken on top of the cheese, breaded so as to soak up the sauce as I had seen done at other places, Babe’s puts its unbreaded chicken and Buffalo sauce under the cheese. This wasn’t what I was hoping for at all. Still, the dough was good and there was plenty of cheese. Overall, it was a good pizza. It was even better fresh from the refrigerator the next day.
Fort De Soto Park
I drove to Fort De Soto Park on Mullet Key in May of 2021. I had to pass through three toll booths to get there, plus the park gate where they charged five dollars. I brought lunch so I could stay a long time and get my money’s worth.
There are signs pointing out the ferry access, the snack shops, the kayak rental place, the extensive dog beach, and more. I first stopped at the fort. There is a small, one-room museum there, but I did not enter.
The fort originally consisted of twenty-nine buildings, which are now collapsed, some of them into the sea. It was built shortly after the Spanish-American war in anticipation of future wars, but was never used. The guns are hidden behind a hill and the operators could not see what they were aiming at. Instead, artillery spotters in towers had to telephone the information to them. I expect they must have had to do some very fast trigonometry.
I meandered around the various rooms there. I looked inside the big guns from the outside and I looked outside from inside the fort.
There is a beach nearby, but signs warn not to swim due to dangerous currents – which would make a great band name…
This was an area of many sandpipers, pelicans, and other birds. There were also signs prohibiting climbing on the few rocks there, which sucks all the fun out of having rocks. In New England, the whole point of going to the beach is to crawl around on the rocks and look in between for crabs and stuff. What good are rocks otherwise? To throw at cars?
I eventually drove to the western end of the island and walked some short trails. There were ferns and a pine needle carpet. It was hot, but not muggy, and no insects bothered me. I just walked slowly and enjoyed the quiet.
Soon I came to an area where the trees were all topless. Were they having a topless convention? Was I welcome here? I heard a lot of screeching, but this turned out to be a trio of green parrots.
Moving on, I stopped at a picnic area for lunch by a cove where waves from different directions interacted in complex ways. A lot of debris had gathered in one end.
There were trails on the other side of the cove too. These led to mangroves and small beaches and I could see beach spots beyond totally inaccessible by land as far as I could tell. I also found more signs of human construction in the roots of this tree:
I did visit the beach for a short time, but I’m not a beach person. The sand is too bright to look at, too hard to walk through, the water is too wavy to swim in, and sitting is too boring. When I got home, I found that I had inexplicably sunburned in places that had been well-lotioned and covered at least part of the time. I tend to sunburn even when under a roof, so I should probably stop being surprised at this point. Here’s some other stuff I saw:
Lake Parker Park
I went to Lake Parker in Lakeland in April 2021. It took a while to get there. I took a wrong turn but that was not my fault. Approaching from the south, I saw a long walkway on the shore with many amazing views. Unfortunately, there was nowhere to park.
At last I reached the park. The first thing I noticed was all the cypress trees. The park is dominated by them. The second thing I noticed were the birds. Ibises, wood ibises, grackles, limpkins, herons, and gallinules were everywhere. They came right up to me and did not seem to care when I approached.
I parked in the first lot near the playground. It had some unique equipment, such as a giant xylophone complete with mallets and drums. There was a simple jungle gym disguised as a sailing vessel on one side. Since I often imagine jungle gyms as ships, it’s as if they read my mind. I saw a chair suspended from a sort of zip line. There were swings. The best thing was the merry-go-round. It was a cage ball with two levels.
I took a walk along the lake shore. It had many plants and birds that squawked constantly. Three gallinules got into a fight, splashing water at each other and yelling. They were soon joined by a fourth.
One thing I noticed that season were the pink egg masses on the cypress knees. There were dozens of them.
I soon rounded back to my car without further incident. It’s not a big place.
After lunch, I sat under one of the many pavilions and wrote the rough draft for this post.
Bok Tower Gardens
I visited Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida with my parents on Easter 2021. They had wanted to hear the sixty-bell carillon that plays daily. We sat in a large field of grass. Children and dogs played nearby. I was told to expect recognizable tunes, but all I could hear was rambling cacophony. It was okay.
Near to the tower, it is obscured by trees, but the top of it pokes above and can be seen from miles away. The hill it is on is allegedly the tallest point in Florida outside of the panhandle.
The gardens and tower are the brainchild of author Edward Bok, who hired landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted Junior and architect Milton Medary. The land was first made available to the public in 1929.
The gardens themselves are only about a million square feet, but they are surrounded by orange groves and fields cut through by trails. Inside the garden area are many sub-gardens, such as the carnivorous plant garden, the endangered plant garden, and the children’s garden.
There are numerous sculptures too. The Japanese lantern was a gift to Mr. Bok for his efforts in promoting world peace. People have stuffed coins into it for some reason.
Everywhere are little things that make the place magical, like the bird footprints in the walkway. Even the bee houses are artistic.
The numerous ponds are full of large fish, but they do not show up on camera. However, I did spy a snake!
It would be impossible to take pictures of everything, but here are some highlights:
My favorite section was the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden. There is a dual entrance. One is just big enough for six-year-olds, while the other fits grown-ups. Just inside is a turtle sculpture. Different sections contain different wonders. I saw a gigantic robin nest, a sandbox, a spider web for climbing, a xylophone and other instruments, and a sand pit filled with smooth stones. On these stones were written words that could be arranged into sentences for hours.
Near the nest were several tiny houses on pedestals. They reminded me of gingerbread houses, but these were built to survive the outdoors.
I never did finish going down every trail before it was time to leave. This is a place one can visit again and again. There were so many wonderful things that I dared not blink for fear of missing something.
The Golf Lands And More
I went several places in March of 2021. None of my tales quite classify as adventures, but if I didn’t write it down, I might think I had done nothing. Such is life.
One day, I returned to Simmons Park to sit and read. It was nice, but too windy to write. I saw a cat in a tree. I also saw a couple humans riding on a “ball board.” It was like a skateboard, but it had a single spherical wheel underneath and appeared to be motorized. A drone followed them from high above. Another human drove by in a fancy, three-wheeled car.
The Green Zone:
Looking for new places to visit, I noticed a large green area on the map. Zooming in revealed no name, so I had no way of looking it up. Switching to satellite view, I saw that it was all trees. I noticed several structures in the marshy areas that could have been boardwalks or fishing piers. The only building looked neither like a residence nor a large industrial facility. It could have been a ranger office. I couldn’t think of what the place could be other than a nature preserve. I packed a lunch and sunscreen and drove over there to see what I could see.
As it turns out, it was a chemical processing facility. The only driveway had a locked gate and a no trespassing sign. Since I knew from the satellite that just south of the driveway was a large brook separating most of the green area from where I was, I thought that it might be a different property and therefore still a nature preserve. Also, since the nearby power plant maintained a park on their property, I thought this company might too. Otherwise, what is all that space for?
Driving south along the edge of the woods, I noticed that this was a very run-down part of town. The houses and trailers were falling apart and people had dumped their trash along the side of the road. The forest was so choked with thick vines as to be impenetrable. It reminded me of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Could there be a princess inside for me to rescue?
Finally, I came to a trail, but it was clearly not maintained. There was no sign to tell me the name of the place, nor was there a sign to tell me to keep out. There was no sign at all. There was also no good place to park. I kept driving.
The next trail was in better shape, but there was still no sign or place to park. I kept driving.
Then, attached to the wall of green and brown that was the forest, was a single no-trespassing sign. It was the same company that had the gate. There was no trailhead within sight in either direction. There was no way into the woods without a chainsaw. Why place the sign here? I kept driving.
Finally, I came to the last trail. It was also in good shape. Again, there was no sign or good place to park. I considered just going in, since the closest no-trespassing sign was nowhere in sight. There were no fences and it was not clear where the property lines were. I could have justified going in, but I wasn’t sure whether law enforcement would see it the same way. It is always a mystery with them how they will interpret the law. I also wondered what kind of chemicals might be in there. I left.
Fiddler on The Marsh:
On the way home, I stopped at the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve, a small patch of beach in a rich neighborhood. I had been there many years before, but then it had been closed due to erosion.
They had since reopened and I found that they had built an observation tower. That was nice. They had also fenced off the part of the beach with the big rocks. That was not nice. I used to sit on them and watch the waves.
After lunch, I first entered the mangrove area where all the fiddler crabs live. They would scurry to their holes as I approached, sometimes sharing holes. One got stuck outdoors with nowhere to go until I chased it into the underbrush.
They had added some new trails since I had last been here, providing access to the other side of the peninsula where boats often passed back and forth.
Returning on the beach side, I walked along the high bank. One tree had its roots exposed. In the water, were clusters of sharp oysters and other shells. A small human ran up to me to show me the whole shell she had found. I was only finding bits and pieces.
I did find two objects that I thought would look great on someone’s coffee table if blown up to a thousand times their volume. Art is everywhere if you know where to look.
I returned to the car to finish lunch and realized that it was too hot here. It wasn’t just the parking lot; it had been hot on the sand and hot among the trees. It was draining all my energy. I didn’t even want to sit and read. I was being baked alive. I had no choice but to go home.
The Golf Lands:
On a cloudy day, I took a walk with my mother on a defunct, old golf course. There were many cattle egrets, white ibises, and glossy ibises, which excited my mother, and a medium-large alligator, which excited me. I also saw some fungi and a caterpillar. Along the edge of the golf course was a swamp and a jungle. I felt like I was back in the cretaceous.
A week later, I returned to Ford Alderman Park to explore the trails I didn’t get to last time. First, I took the bridge over the alligator pond. It was covered in plants, but I did see one alligator face poking out. I also saw some flowers.
One trail led a long way to a bend in a small river. I saw two noisy hawks. Other than that, it was pretty boring.
Another trail took me on a loop through an area filled with mosquitoes. There were also those blue damselflies with the black wings. On a tree were vines and a green beetle.
Heading over to the big, scenic bridge where I had seen the half-hidden “secret trail,” last time, I ran into the forest to see if anything was down there.
There wasn’t much. It was overgrown and I had to keep checking the palmetto for snakes. It ran along the high banks of the river for a ways before it began to get too hard to follow. In one location, I kept smelling very strong garlic. Seeing some white flowers behind me, I braved the bees to pick one and crush it near my nose, but it had no smell at all. I never could find where the garlic was coming from, but as I wondered about it, the smell began to change to root beer. It was then that I was reminded of when I was at the gator pond. I had smelled root beer there as well, but assumed it was the perfume of the human who passed near me. Now I was confused.
Returning to the maintained areas of the park, I took another trail. I was getting hot and tired and everything here seemed so dry and boring. I did see a tortoise, a skink, and countless anoles, but that was it. It was nearly dinnertime. I had to go home. I did not have time to take the six other trails branching from the ones I had already taken.
Return To The Golf Lands:
I took another walk with my mother on the golf course. We saw an alligator again. We also saw seven types of dragonflies. I don’t remember seeing so many kinds in one place before. There were red ones, blue ones, and yellow ones, all with transparent wings. There were green ones with black and white stripes on their abdomens and transparent wings. There were small, dark brown ones with orange wings. There were large, dark brown ones with blotchy, orange-and-brown wings. Finally, there were black ones with wings transparent except for tiny dashes of white and black.
Don’t forget to enjoy the small places.
The Boiling River
I visited Alderman Ford County Park in Lithia, Florida in February of 2021. There are at least two different entrances on either side of the road. The paved path between them goes underneath the road twice in a grand loop. It also crosses multiple rivers and tiny streams on wooden bridges. A long boardwalk loop complete with covered benches attaches to one side. Small side trails cut through the jungle. It’s complicated.
There are many good places to watch the river, full of whirlpools and boils. There were also turtles and cypress. I could not take every side path that day, but I had planned on returning anyways. I encountered several strange things:
This tree with an eye:
This tree with a face:
This tree with a lap:
And these scary-looking holes to Hades:
The Bird Lands
While out on errands in January 2021, I stopped at Edward Medard Conservation Park in Plant City to look around. Not having a map, I kept driving until seeing a large parking lot next to a playground. Once I got out and looked around, I saw that beyond the playground was a land of roots. I had never seen so many. The ground around was hard, smooth, and hilly. It was like something out of a movie. There were probably hundreds of angles I could have chosen to make good photographs, but the two above capture the feeling of this alien landscape.
Beyond this region was a low area of green-covered ponds and frisbee golf structures. I couldn’t imagine throwing a frisbee so close to so many ponds. Who knows what’s underneath?
Christmas lichen was plentiful. Other lichens I did not know the name of, so I had to guess based on the color. I’m probably right.
I was tempted to carve a heart into a tree and claim it was Valentine’s-Day lichen, but I didn’t want to hurt a tree just to make a joke. Trees are nice.
This area was where I also saw a cardinal and several woodpeckers, who made a constant racket. Also hearing roosters in the distance, I pressed on through the woods in that general direction and came to a road. The roadbank was made of bags! This really was an alien planet! What was it doing on Earth?
After climbing up to the road, I decided the direction of the chickens didn’t look that interesting and I went the other way, eventually reaching the road I had driven on and walking toward the park entrance. This is where I saw several interesting things:
The orange leaf was one of three on the ground that resembled nothing above. Where did they come from? Were they alien scouts disguised as leaves to throw me off the trail? I’m going to say yes. It’s the only logical explanation.
I also saw a red-backed wasp, but unlike the bug seen above, it did not hold still long enough to pose for a picture. I searched for information online, but could not identify it. Perhaps it was an alien too.
Near the park entrance is the heavily-branching, looped path leading onto the small peninsula in the lake. This peninsula has high banks from which one can observe the many inlets. These are the bird lands.
It was humid that day, but it was cool and cloudy and a slight breeze blew over the lake. This made for an enjoyable time while I watched the ducks, storks, red-winged blackbirds, anhingas, alligators, and other birds. Birds were everywhere. I had never seen so many anhingas in all my life put together. One of them surfaced right in front of me. Others were perched in trees, drying their wings.
The water was very dark and blocked all vision beyond two centimeters deep. This was one place I would not want to dip my feet into.
The parts furthest from the coast are populated almost exclusively by vultures. This is apparently where vultures come from all over the planet just to poop – a lot. It smells like a gas station bathroom.
Every tree had a vulture or two in it that would rustle their wings as I walked by, causing me to duck and raise my fists. I think they were doing it on purpose.
After spending much time roaming around every loop in the trail and just absorbing the feel of the place, I went back the way I came until passing the playground and pushing deeper into the park.
I found a set of several clearings, divided by tree-lined brooks and connected by wooden bridges. Each of them had one or two humans just sitting there. One of them had a laptop. Another had a fishing pole.
Beyond this was the boat ramp. Beyond that was the fishing pier. That was when I found more evidence of an alien invasion:
The texture of the sand here reminds me of worm poop, but I’ve never seen so much in one place like this or such big pellets. Don’t tell me it’s not aliens!
The Magic Spring
I visited Lithia Spring Park in Lithia, Florida in January 2021. I was searching online for places to write about for one of my father’s business projects. The information I had was very limited. I knew only that there was swimming and that the address was on Donnelly Road in Valrico.
This turned out to be very false. The address I had was for Lithia Springs Nature Preserve, a completely wild area of the Florida jungle with no maintained trails.
On the other side of Alafia River, about a mile or so away, was Lithia Springs Conservation Park at the end of Lithia Springs Road in Lithia. This is where the fun was hiding.
I walked around and looked at the canoe launch, playground, and picnic tables before finding the main spring. It was closed to swimming due to some virus from China they were unreasonably afraid of spreading. What’s next? Will we have to remain indoors forever just in case of lightning strikes? What was the real reason they had fenced off the spring? Could this be the spring of immortality? Did they want to keep all that immortality for themselves?
I could see the water bubbling up. I could see the greenish water flowing south out of the giant pool. I could see countless fish moving lazily. Unfortunately, I could not get close enough for my camera to see.
Moving along, I did come across this view of the green river and this small fish observation pool:
I imagined the first explorers to this area hacking their way through the jungle until coming across a river as green as the vegetation around it. It was beautiful. With all the vivid greens, blues, and whites and the fact that water seemed to bubble up from nowhere, this struck me as a magical place. The enormous torrents of pale moss hanging off the trees and swinging in the breeze contrasting the green leaves only seemed to confirm this. They reminded me of tinsel-draped Christmas trees. I half-expected gnomes to pop out of their holes and start singing.
The trail was caught between the Alafia River and a smaller stream that progressively got closer and closer until they merged. I ran along the banks of the Alafia and took several videos. Gone was any trace of green from the spring. It had been diluted and overwhelmed by tannins.
As I took my videos, I heard giggling behind me. Were these the singing gnomes? I turned, but could see no one from my vantage point.
All along the banks were tiny castles. Is this where the singing gnomes live?
Eventually the two streams merged and I had to go back to the trail to cross the bridge. Further along, the trail split a few times and I did not have time to explore the whole preserve. In at least one place, the trail terminated at a gate leading to CDD property. Beyond were mansions – homes of the grand kings of Lithia? Or homes of the singing gnomes?
Nearby were mounds of white sand scattered around. At first, I thought they were oversize anthills, but I found no holes and no ants. Was this where the singing gnomes lived?
I finally returned the way I came and saw nothing of interest. Here are some videos I took:
Points To Ponder:
“It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them.” – Proverbs 25:2
Still Changing Lands
I returned yet again to Little Manatee River State Park at the very end of December 2020. It had changed yet again!
The pigs had been very active since I was gone. It seemed like every part of the soil had been overturned:
There was also more Spanish moss in the mossy area than I ever remember seeing before:
Somebody dropped a bunch of their feathers in the middle of the path. It was now a feather area:
Another area had a very noisy set of trees. They squeaked, banged, clicked, and creaked in the breeze to an absurdly comic and surreal extent like nothing I had ever heard. It was a noise area:
Then there was a stump with bracket fungi on it. This is nothing unusual. What was unusual is that the brackets were fuzzy on the top and smooth on the bottom. They were upside-down! I had never seen anything like it!
Here is some other stuff I saw the same day:
106 Years of History
After living in the same house for 106 years, my grandfather died in 2020. I was tasked with helping to sort through the stuff in the house and the barn/garage. Apparently, my grandparents never threw anything away. It was like visiting a museum! Many things were either garbage or commonplace items, but there were also more than a few objects of interest, some of them quite old.
The model barn shown above was under the basement stairs and nobody knows why it exists. There were also a collection of several gas lamps, including one that had been converted to electricity. There were two towel racks of the kind that stick to the wall and splay out. There was a butter churn that I never saw before it was sold, but I am told it was the kind with crank and paddles and it was glass.
Also in the basement was a tabletop grain mill. There was a “demagnetizer.” When he was alive, my grandfather showed me how it would suck a long bolt through it and spit it out the other side.
In the storeroom was what appeared to be a model of a Victorian “fainting couch.” Only later did we find a note indicating that it was once used as a doll couch. There was also a doll in an old carriage.
Paintings found in every room in the house were painted by my mother. Most of them were of birds or landscapes. There were so many, we had to get rid of some of them.
My grandparents also had quite the collection of china sets that they never used, fancy glassware, and fancy candles, such as this snail:
In the barn were cobbling tools. My grandmother used to make clothes for the family, but no one remembers anybody making shoes. There were also milk bottles, potatoe sacks, and nail kegs from companies no one has ever heard of. There were two old metal trash cans. There was a collection of old doors in the slowly-collapsing shed.
There were railroad spikes. There was a railroad lock on the bracket of a shelf in the barn that nobody had ever been able to find a key for. My grandfather did used to work as the guy who put the crossing bar up and down, but this lock was already there when his parents bought the place.
The barn used to be a schoolhouse and we found a single desk hidden in the corner. It appears that when placed in a row and bolted to the floor, the kids would sit on the chair part of the one in back and use the desk part of the one in front. No wonder pigtails were pulled!
Then there were the numerous tools, such as the post digger, and the pitchfork, and the wheelbarrow I used to take rides in as a kid. Look at all this cool stuff!
I visited the Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge in Rhode Island sometime in October 2020. I needed to get out and get some air and get away from people. I was surprised how crowded it was.
It smelled like fall and looked like fall. Leaves were falling everywhere. So were acorns. One missed me by less than a meter. Sometimes I think the trees are trying to get my attention to warn me about something. Then again, they may just be mad I walked on their toes.
In a ten-foot radius from one spot I found seven “oak apples.” They looked lonely, so I gathered them together.
Not far from there was a pond on the other side of which was a house with a giant boulder in the yard, a small cemetery, and some grapevines. I took pictures of flowers and things.
By this time, I had noticed a pattern. Many trees had dark, vertical marks on them, which in some cases had swollen into ridges. Could these be allergic reactions to dragon scratches?
On the far edge of the park was a stone wall bordering a small clearing that appears to be at the end of a long driveway. No houses are in view. It’s as if people wanted a secret spot in the middle of the woods to conduct human sacrifices or something and the Audubon put a trail right next to it. The nerve!
Further along the trail, I found a dragon tooth! Suddenly, it all made sense!
This wildlife refuge is where they sacrifice people to the autumn dragon for a bountiful harvest! No wonder it smells like fall here! The dragon’s scent has even caused the leaves to break out in spots!
No wonder the parking lot was so full! It’s not because this is a popular hiking spot; it’s because most people never leave! I should have known all along!!!
I also saw a woodpecker. That was nice.
Queen's River Preserve
I visited Queen’s River Preserve in Exeter, Rhode Island in August 2020. It was nice, but nothing too special. There were pines, rhododendron, and sweet fern. In several places, the trails continue onto private property. Existence is forbidden there. The highlight of the trip was when I startled a huge garter snake. On my way back to the car, it started raining. That is all.
Providence Coal-Fired Pizza
Contrary to its name, Providence Coal-Fired Pizza is not in Providence. It is in East Greenwich. I visited in February of 2020 just in time for lunch.
Also contrary to its name, they don’t have pizza – or at least not pizza I’m used to. These are not your usual standby pizzas with tomatoe sauce and cheese, such as pepperoni or sausage, these are crazy pizzas made with steak, spinach, and vinaigrette dressing. I ordered one of these with extra mushrooms. It was very good.
One way they could improve is not to make the crusts so thin. Mine had soggy spots that broke open, spilling my mushrooms everywhere. I had to eat it with a fork – and anything eaten with a fork can’t possibly be pizza.
I also never saw any coal.
The Bike Stop Cafe
I visited The Bike Stop Café in Narragansett, Rhode Island with my sisters in late December 2019. It is less of a café and more of a pizza shop. The stone oven is right near the door and you can watch them make the pizzas. We shared a chicken pizza that was very good. The walls are adorned with bicycles. I have no idea why. Every table is stocked with ten or more types of hot sauce from every company imaginable. There is also a bookshelf in the corner stocked with more. When I placed an almost invisible amount of a carrot-habanero-based sauce on my finger for tasting, I almost died. So, I put it on my French fries next.
Somewhere on the back way connecting South Kingstown and North Kingstown is the entrance to Tripond park. I stopped my car there in late September of 2019. I only found one pond, so I wonder if there is more to the park that has been hidden from me.
The path enters the woods and runs alongside a pond, but it is nearly impossible to see through the thick vegetation. A short way in, the trail splits. I took the right way.
This path winds crazily back and forth across mud and brooks. I have never seen so many wooden footbridges. The vegetation was thick and it was dark under the trees. The only animal I saw was a lone squirrel. Finally, the path terminated on the side of a quiet road without a building in sight.
Retracing my steps, I returned to the split and took the left way. This path took me all the way around the pond back to where I started.
There wasn’t much to see but roots.
I visited Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in southern Rhode Island in late August 2019 and I think it was the wrong time of year. What flowers were still around were dry and broken. Everything seemed tired and in disrepair. Even the spider webs were full of holes...
The trail south from the parking lot splits in two and I took the western branch first. After passing a field of tall grass, it becomes a regular wooded trail for a while. Everything was overgrown with vines. I even saw a few raspberries. Eventually the trail leads down a narrow peninsula surrounded by opaque, green-grey water. This is where a steady breeze picked up. Looking out across the pond, I could see the ocean just on the other side of the narrow strip of land around it. Beyond this it was so hazy that I could not tell where the ocean met the sky.
At the end of this trail is a deck and telescope. I watched the gulls, red-breasted mergansers, and other birds that frequent the pond. I also took a peek at the human houses among the trees just outside the preserve. Of course, I didn’t care about any of those things. What I really wanted to know was whether I could aim the telescope at the sun and use it to burn a hole in the deck! Alas, it was noontime and I could not point the telescope high enough. Darn!
Returning the way I came, I then took the connector trail over to the east side of the park. This is where there is another deck and telescope. On the way I saw a rabbit:
Past the eastern deck, the trail continues right into the water. I had hoped to explore there, but my way was guarded by a monster:
After this, I returned to the parking lot. On the way I encountered a couple of decks on the border of a pond filled with lily pads. Oddly, one of the decks was not easily accessible. There is no path to it and a fence blocks the way. The other deck is well shaded and home to a very sneaky chipmunk. When I turned around to leave, I saw it scurry away from its spot right behind me.
Finally, I made it back. The entire outing took from 12:00 to 2:30. Only once did any flies bother me and that was near the brook passing under the connector path. Yet, somehow during my brief transit they left me with dozens of bites.
Highlights: On the ground I saw red galls and green galls. I saw an apple tree. I saw a lot of tiny, green dragonflies. Most notable, I saw a black-winged damselfly fly backwards in a jumpy sort of way that reminded me of how scallops swim. Show off!
Best Highlights: On the way back, I stopped at Dunkin Donuts, ate a Boston cream donut, drank a coffee milk, and sat in the lobby watching traffic through the window. This was the best part of the trip.
Under The Leaves
Needing to kill some time before the store opened, I visited Shady Lea in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on the last day of November. It consists of a small pond next to an even smaller parking lot immediately adjacent to busy route four where it meets route one. In addition to the scattering of picnic tables and fire pits, there is a small brook running around the perimeter and a pretty nice boulder to sit on and watch the ducks. At least, I think they were ducks. It was hard to tell at that distance. I began writing my account while I was still there:
I hear birds in the trees. Birds are often surprisingly hard to find. I can hear them and narrow down their location by sound alone to within a ten-foot radius, but sometimes I still can’t see them. I don’t understand. There are practically no leaves here for them to hide behind. The trees are very nearly bare. Maybe the birds are invisible. Oh, I see them now.
This is a simple place. There are no mysteries here – no great discoveries to be made. Everything is out in the open. There is nothing but trees and stones.
I walk around. The ground is covered in a thick layer of oak leaves. What is underneath? I suddenly step into a depression in the ground and feel my foot go down into the leaves. The leaves are eight inches deep here!
I must know what hides underneath! Treasure? Lost cities? Monsters? Something killed that deer. I have found a mystery at last! I clear the leaves away with my foot. Slowly but surely, I get closer to the underlying substrate. Finally, I see it. Under the leaves are mud and roots. I have solved the mystery!
The greater mystery now is what lies under the mud and roots…
A Brief Visit To Beavertail
Beavertail Park covers the southern tip of Conanicut Island. Over the years, I have been there several times with family. It is a fantastic place full of geological oddities, including an arch and pools full of pebbles. Water leaks from the sides of cliffs and rocks come in every color and texture imaginable. To the north of the park are trails cut through the woods, sometimes in the form of tunnels with branches wrapped overhead. It is often windy and this is the place I once saw a bird flying perfectly sideways, unable to move forward against the wind. There are also some grassy areas, a lighthouse, and the remains of a fort or something.
I had planned all year to visit, but never got around to it, so when my aunt and mother invited me in September, I tagged along, hoping to get pictures of all these things for the first time. Unfortunately, the problem of going with other people is that nobody ever wants to stay long enough for me to see everything. I left early before I had covered more than a third of the place. Here is what I saw:
Purple And Green Protists:
This Impassible Gorge:
And This Path Leading Out Of The Park Altogether:
Where does it go?
The Silent Lake Kingdom
Soon after leaving Blue Pond, frustrated at my inability to find it, I stopped further down the road so I could take the Narragansett Trail past Yagoog Pond at the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut. It was a very hot August day and no one else was stupid enough to be outside. It was very quiet. Never have I felt more alone and at ease about it. I walked for a long time.
The first section was dominated by rhododendrons and descended downhill. I saw a lot of fungi, mostly of varieties I had not seen anywhere else – including just down the road. These walks never get boring simply because there is always fresh variety. This late in the season, the fungi was already dying and being cannibalized by other fungi.
This section of the trail was joined by countless side trails, some of them almost invisible. Some of these side trails also had invisible side trails. It was down one of them that I found a rock cliff overlooking the water. I felt like I had stumbled across a secret lost kingdom that I could claim for myself, so I did. It’s mine now. :P
Further down, I walked along the edge of the pond (more of a lake), which was continuous, smooth rock. After this, I veered away from the water and continued to find side trails, some of which ended in clearings with clear signs of human habitation. Who dares to trespass in my kingdom?
Eventually, I reached the road to the north and decided it was time to turn back. I had to go find a queen to share the place with.
The Lost Pond
The map of the Canonchet Preserve in western Rhode Island clearly shows two trailheads for Blue Pond off of Canonchet Road. I could only find one. The map clearly shows the trail loop all the way around the pond and return to the road via the opposite trailhead. It also shows a crosstrail connecting the two sides of the loop. I could find none of this. Instead, I followed a trail that began almost as wide and clear as a dirt road that gradually became narrower and harder to discern before terminating in a large field of tall reeds. A small pond was in the distance. I considered crossing the field to see if I could pick up a trail on the other side, but it was mucky and wet in places and I was already hot and tired.
I spied a couple of “islands” in the field in the distance – small hills rising above the reeds, covered in trees and thick brush. I thought how cool it would be to explore them. I could build a secret fort on one of them, or spend all day relaxing in the shade isolated from the world and completely hidden from the outside. I could be king there and pass whatever decrees I wished! I made a second try to wade through the tall plants, but it was just too tough, too wet, and too slow.
Turning back, I went down the only two side trails I could find – one to the right and one to the left. The one to the right gradually disappeared into ever-thicker brambles until ending completely. The one to the left crossed mud and rocks until there was nothing left to follow. In both cases, I went beyond the end of the trail as far as I could go without getting lost to see if I could pick it up again. There was nothing. The ground was so uneven and the vegetation so thick that it was clear there had never been a trail. I had to go back the way I came.
While finding and circumnavigating Blue Pond turned out to be impossible, the trail into the woods had many treasures to share. Seeing a gap in the bushes to one side, I was able to find a clearing with a stone structure. It’s some sort of fireplace. It is very nearly hidden from the trail despite being right next to it. To one side of the structure (not in picture) is a long, low boulder several people could theoretically sit on or lean against to watch the fire. Who built this? Who uses it? Do they know where the Blue Pond is?
There were other signs of human use as well. I found a large iron pipe half-buried in the ground running perpendicular to the trail. It didn’t show itself anywhere else that I could find and there were no human structures to be seen. It reminded me of the wire I found in the dirt at Dyer Woods.
Just as everywhere else I went in Rhode Island in August, fungi was everywhere. I kept seeing new varieties. This yellow, spongy mass was on the underside of a tree limb:
This preposterous-looking being I thought for sure was a fishing lure before I picked it up and realized it had been attached. The top half was very soft while the bottom half was rubbery. It smelled just like freshly-peeled corn. According to Plant Snap, it is an elegant stinkhorn, so now I feel stupid.
I also saw this clear mushroom and this tubular fruit:
Okay, maybe I am stupid…
Here are some other things I saw:
Do you know where Blue Pond is?
The Naked Forest
Clothing is very helpful. It can protect me from scrapes, from biting bugs, from the cold, and it allows me to carry all sorts of gadgets and things in pockets. I love clothing, but sometimes I wonder how it would be to go exploring naked (I wonder about a lot of weird things). This is why in 2011 I visited a clothing-optional beach for the first time to find out what it was like. It was crowded, steep, and shifting stones filled the water. The next day I visited a smaller beach equally useless. I cannot recommend either. Besides, I soon became so busy I never had a chance to go back. Finally, in August of 2018 I visited the Dyer Woods Nudist Campground in Foster, Rhode Island to see what it was like. I considered it my job as an explorer to learn what people do there. I think it’s probably something everyone should do at least once. This is my report.
Unlike a clothing-optional site, nudity is mandatory there and it is not free. They also frown on photography and I didn’t want to risk any trouble by taking pictures of fungi or trees. As a result, my report is rather colorless. It’s a pretty nice place. There is a pond for swimming surrounded by a grassy slope that people put their chairs on. The people that day were very friendly and laid back.
A decent-length trail runs into the woods around the perimeter of the property that I decided to take barefoot. While the ends of the path where it meets the camping area are covered in hard pebbles, most of the path is covered by moss. It was perfect! In one spot, it passes by a picturesque pond with several boulders jutting out of it. Along one side is a ridge of stone. There was a lot of fungi about. One stump was coated with a tiny forest of tiny, thin-stalked, bright orange mushrooms. Another mushroom must have been at least nine inches across.
There are a few benches, a cemetery, and a hollowed-out mound left by who-knows-who. Not far from this was a wire running across the path. It was firmly buried at both ends and there was no sign of it anywhere else. I was probably a third-mile from any machinery or modern human structure. What does it serve? I forgot to ask.
After exploring the trail, I sat around the pond and wrote in my notebook while dragonflies landed on me. The shore was guarded by small frogs. Finally, I had to leave and this is when I got in a brief conversation with two guys and a lady sitting on the deck. All four of us were completely nude and it felt like the most ordinary thing in the world, finally confirming what I had always known.
My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.