Aint’ That A Trip? ……when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

On the road, I travel inside.

There I build trust of the unseen, the unanswered.

To a magnificent scale.

I go. I come. Both full and empty. My suitcase brims with love stories sought and love stories found.

I keep my canteen empty, dry and drawn tight. To make room.

To be filled. Then, to be struck like the taut strings of a lute.

Seeking the sound. 

~ Michelle Pearcy

 

 

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

Pine Shrub Forest at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The tree to the right of the center hosts a huge osprey nest. A watchful parent bird stood on guard as we made our way along the trail.

It’s really easy to not see the forest for the trees. It is also really easy to only see the beauty, a veil that masks the complex system that supports life in the forest and leaves unanswered questions.

One of the sights I’ve set for this year and beyond is to not only journey far from where I live, but to also journey up close and personal, in my backyard. I am intent on discovering many of the not so hidden treasures, the beautiful resources right at my fingertips. 

Teamed up with a scientist, a traveler with a passion for teaching the whys of the natural world and the joys of exploring nature close to home, this journey would fill a few days to the brim. We discovered a lovely botanical garden, a state park, and wetland preserve.

Common Corkscrew Pine

Common Corkscrew Pine

 

 If I could fly, I would still gaze at the sky… because it’s the sun that makes the flowers dance.   

Mounts Botanical Garden is a treasure right within the city limits of West Palm Beach. Thing is, the garden is located right in a landing approach for the Palm Beach International Airport. When you begin your exploration of the beautifully designed and maintained garden, the first time a big bird, a commercial airliner buzzes overhead, it is distracting. It seems to defeat the ideal of peace you expect from a beautiful garden. But shortly after the first steps on the trail, what goes on overhead becomes less distracting.

Sometimes…

 

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

The milky white flower of the Candle Tree grows right out of the trunk.

  

The Candle Tree's edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

The Candle Tree’s edible, medicinal fruit are shaped like taper candles.

After exploring half the garden, we stopped and spread our lunch out on the lawn near the water’s edge. Just as we were finishing, I looked high above our heads and there was a sight to behold.

Another big bird buzzing overhead…

This osprey had snagged this fish from the water, flew to this tree limb, and was waiting for the fish to expire. My guess is he waits the fish out and then finds a safe place to go to consume his catch. This is no small bird and this is no small fish. All the while the osprey was flying to the tree the fish was fighting for his life.

 

Osprey and its catch.

Osprey and its catch.

 The bird’s plan was foiled when it was spooked by some visitors on the path below. So the bird took off with the fish in his grips! He was not going to risk losing his catch.

This bird overhead was a welcome distraction!

After I oohed and aahed over the spectacle, I reflected on the power of instincts and the wisdom of not worrying over some of the simpler things in life – the small stuff. Also, that we are so much more than even the basics like food and clothing and shelter. Recently, I read that abundance is more a state of being – that ‘doing’ somehow contradicts true abundance.

 

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

A rainbow of colors and basket of aromas await Mounts visitors.

It seems no matter how many times I’ve been out on a limb or ledge, the edge that gives me a few more inches of foothold is remembering there is something divine about life. That  life’s challenges, opportunities, trials, and blessings are somehow evidence of a plan. 

Some things you just have to see for yourself. 

 

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

Getting a closer look at what the naked eye is unable to see.

This mellow mushroom fixed itself on this tiny branch from a nearby tree in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. There is an exquisite world both visible and invisible in the park. The park is a wondrous treasure. It is a recreational destination for kayakers, hikers, runners, cyclists, campers and adventurers. It is a feast for those interested in the diversity of species and has one of the region’s precious resources – the nationally designated Wild and Scenic Loxahatchee River. The Loxahatchee and neighboring creeks host wisely protected and enviable mangrove forests.

 

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that's just trees...

The park hosts a pretty amazing ecosystem. Palms and pines are neighbors to cypresses, mangroves and oaks. And that’s just trees…

 

The forest has a community of its own – the newly transformed, the newborn, immature, and aged. A typical cypress tree like the one shown below takes nearly a century to mature and can live as long as 1,000 years. What I love about these trees is that in spite of their size, they do a pretty good job of standing firm on shaky soil. Their root system is perfectly suited for wet, marshy waters. The knees that protrude all around the trees act like anchors; they also act like snorkel devices which grab oxygen from the surface and feed it to the underground root system of the tree. 

Imagine having good knees at 1,000 years old.

After seeing the beauty of a bald cypress forest, and the amazing change in plant culture from a sandy coastal ridge to a marshy, swampy creek’s edge, it was hardly room to process more awe. 

 

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called 'knees.'

This cypress matures at about age 100 and can live to about 1,000 years old. The protrusions in front of the tree are called ‘knees.’

After a feast of visual images, it was time to find a place to quietly reflect. What we found at Lookout 13 on Kitching Creek was perfection. 

 

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

Lookout 13 overlooks Kitching Creek.

 

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

Almost perfect reflections of a clear blue sky and trees. From Lookout 13

 

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The tannin-stained water in Kitching Creek provides a beautiful canvas for a reflection of the sky and trees.

The water, which is stained dark brown from the tannins of neighboring mangroves provided a perfect backdrop, a mirror to the perfect sapphire blue sky and cotton candy clouds. It was magic. No matter how hard I tried to capture a beautiful bird in one of these shots, my eye and the camera did not seem to cooperate.

 

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

This parent osprey oversees its nest with a watchful eye.

 Walking the last stretch of the trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park, a man with a dog excitedly approached us. He was so eager to point out the massive nest this watchful osprey parent was overseeing. Once we passed the nest, I stopped in my tracks and breathed in the silence. It was pure gold.

Another look at the osprey.

Another look at the osprey.

 

Acts of Kindness

All the while I was receiving the scientific hows and whys that explain certain phenomena in nature, I was sending those data through my intuitive filter.

On our way back to the trailhead, we discovered this ‘gall.’ Gall, I thought to myself. That has something to do with someone having the nerve to do something that is less than acceptable, right? Or that small word that goes before bladder as in gall bladder.

I had never heard of a gall being an ‘abnormal’ growth on a plant that results from the plant reacting to presence of a parasite or foreign substance. A plant can react to a ‘foreign’ substance, including an egg undergoing rapid cell division, by encapsulating the foreign body which forms a protective covering over it.

Scientists are not sure exactly why because the ‘host’ plant gains nothing from the relationship, nor does the presence of the gall degrade the plant. But there is so much more to it…

 

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

This gall is considered an abnormal growth on a host plant.

The gall in the photo above was on a tiny branch; it was exactly like the one my companion opened with a knife and revealed something amazing:

A brand new bee!

This tiny creature was waiting for his life outside his ‘abnormal growth’ to begin. We witnessed a birth.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a 'foreign' substance on its surface.

This new bee was formed inside the gall, a protective covering created when the plant sensed a ‘foreign’ substance on its surface.

To say I was amazed is an understatement. When I got over the oohs and aahs, it appeared to me that there is something divine about diversity. That nature’s willingness to tolerate, protect, and nurture diversity can be found in places one would never expect.

Talk about lessons on the birds and the bees!

My entire life, I thought bees were only born in hives. The tree responded to something different in its environment by providing a covering for the very thing that was different. It was just what the foreign object needed to avoid being consumed by predators and a place to transform into life.

What a random act of kindness! How much like nature can we afford to become?

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility. This is a genuinely religious feeling that has nothing to do with mysticism.”

~ Albert Einstein

What you see is not all of what you get is a good way to describe Grassy Waters Preserve. It is a wonderful wetland area, a natural preserve that is an important resource for the City of West Palm Beach.  What you see is a well-kept nature preserve with a lovely boardwalk for an up close look at the wetland, what you don’t see is the value of the wetland: it moderates climate by trapping extreme heat in the area, it stores carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, it provides habitat for wildlife, improves water quality through plant filtration, recharges the groundwater, and provides flood protection by storing water.

And, it’s a wonderful educational outlet!

 

Nature and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Nature, art and photography classes are offered at the preserve.

Grassy Waters is a short 10 minute drive away from where I live. I’ve visited the preserve for meetings; they have a generous and inviting conference area, but never took the time to explore the grassy wetlands. What a treat!

 

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

Grassy Waters Preserve is a beautiful site that hosts many species.

 

 

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

Sawgrass marsh just before sunset.

 

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, filter water, and host a community of wildlife.

These grassy waters help trap carbon, clean and filter water, provide flood control, recharge groundwater sources, and host a community of wildlife.

 

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species.

At first glance Grassy Waters Preserve looks like a wetland with mostly trees and sawgrass. Up close, there is a wonderful variety of species. This is St. John’s Wort.

  

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color to the cypress strand.

This pretty purple flower adds just the right splash of color.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

A beautiful flower stands out and stands on its own in the wetland.

 After three days filled with learning and exploring and adventuring, I left room for curiosity. Room to question. Room to make inferences, to stretch science and reason to blend with intuition, faith, and knowing. 

It was an act of kindness to my spirit to spend this time with nature.  

Ain’t That A Trip?…when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

2 thoughts on “Aint’ That A Trip? ……when a nature trail reveals acts of kindness are not always random

  1. Derek

    As always great photos and descriptions are thought provoking. I will certainly give some thought to my surroundings when I take my camera out. In the UK I am watching David Attenbroughes series on the BBC which explores Africa’s wildlife and your photos are on par with those that I have seen thus far. I am very impressed and thanks for sharing your experience on the wet lands.

    Reply
    1. Michelle Post author

      Thank you Derek, though I have a long way to the Attenborough League. I’ll never tire of striving to get better. 🙂

      Reply

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