We've been hanging out in central Florida since last August, when I got my braces, and were long overdue for a vacation. We did have one brief trip to Mississippi to evacuate from Hurricane Irma, but other than that, we have been stuck in one place for a long time due to my orthodontist appointments and in order to avoid the cold winter weather in so much of the US.
You might think that being retired and full-time RVers, we're always on vacation, but for our nomadic spirits, anywhere we stay for months at a time can start feeling a little stale. Especially an RV park that feels a lot like a trailer park. Although we have very nice neighbors, there's not much privacy, and we're near a busy road so hear traffic and sirens off and on all day. We were craving a dose of tranquility in a more natural setting.
By mid-April we hoped it would finally be warm enough to head a bit north for a week between my appointments. I had been lucky enough to book a site at Grayton Beach State Park, which must have been a cancellation, as the rest of the park was fully booked, and Florida state parks near the beach book months and months in advance.
It was a longish drive at six hours, never pleasant in a motorhome, but once we arrived, all the stress of the road fell away, and we immediately settled into this pretty, green park. We only had a neighbor on one side, and there was enough foliage between sites to provide privacy. Best of all, we could hear birds singing instead of traffic!
Here's Pearl, parked in our site. The natural area to the left was perfect for walking Paisley. (Unfortunately, dogs aren't allowed on the beach.)
The best part about this park is that you're only about 2/3 of a mile, for us an easy walk or pedal, from truly the most beautiful beach I've ever seen in the US. This part of Florida is known as the "Emerald Coast", and the water is as shockingly turquoise as that in the Caribbean when the sun shines during the day. Maybe even more astonishing is the blindingly white sugar sand. We were transfixed by the beauty here.
Here's a view of Western Lake from along the park road to the beach. The signs warning us not to "swim with alligators" worried me a bit, so we limited ourselves to picture taking.
Before we even knew about the daytime turquoise water, here's what we saw of Grayton Beach on our first evening, near sunset. We enjoyed walking on the shoreline, watching the shorebirds, and finally the sunset.
We'll share some more about this area in subsequent posts. In addition to many long beach walks, we discovered some fun bicycling routes, explored neighboring beach towns, and enjoyed wonderful food, which made for the perfect vacation.
Oh, and that daytime view of the beach? See, what did I tell you?
It's that time of year. On our nightly walk with Paisley, we go past a nice pond in a neighborhood behind our RV park. One evening in April, we started noticing ducklings along with some of the adult ducks in the pond.
This Mallard pair had four little ones with them. There are a lot of Muscovy ducks in this pond as well; and based on some of the duckling images I've seen online, the yellow ducklings look like Muscovies. The Mallard duckling images I've seen all have the brown eyebar and brown on the top of the head. Perhaps there was some intermingling of ducklings from different clutches here? Or perhaps Mama Mallard got frisky with a Papa Muscovy? Only the ducks know for sure!
Here's a Muscovy mama duck leading a group of ducklings on the same pond. When doing a bit of duck research online I learned that the papa ducks do nothing to help with duckling rearing, and the mamas don't have to feed the ducklings, just lead them around. Quite a difference from the wild birds I'm used to who have to work so hard to feed their nestlings.
I thought this smaller white duck with the large Muscovy mama was interesting. Maybe a juvenile from an earlier litter? The ducklings are safely up against the shoreline as Mama had just guided them to safety for the night.
There is a also a pond at our RV park. It's small but pretty with trees dripping with Spanish moss growing right in the water. In the winter there was a large flock of Common Mergansers living on this pond. I kept meaning to photograph them but never did. Then one day there were only a few, then none. I assume they've flown to their spring breeding grounds.
There is one duck who has been here ever since we arrived at this park last October. It's an all-white duck, I assume a drake (male), who is all alone. I feel kind of sorry for this duck, since it has lost its mate, apparently, but people feed it, and since it stays around, it must be doing okay. It hangs out with whichever other ducks happen to be on the pond, but it is often alone.
You can see the lone white duck towards the bottom right of this photo of our pond. It seems to prefer this side bank of the pond as I almost always see it there, when it's not swimming.
I think he (or she) is a very sweet-looking duck.
Recently I noticed a Mallard pair on our little RV park pond. And then a few weeks later, I saw them on the pond with a large group of ducklings. As of yesterday I still hadn't had a chance to get a photo, when Barry came running in shouting for the camera. Seems Mama Mallard had brought the large clutch up to our street in the park, several blocks away the pond. Very exciting!
Here they are going around my cruiser bike and the picnic table on our site.
After wandering around several sites, they started heading back in the direction of the pond. Fortunately, a lot of folks who spend all winter in Florida have left the park to head back north, so there was no traffic on the park roads at this time. And I'm sure even if someone were driving through, they would stop at the sight of this.
Make way for ducklings!
There are eleven -- count 'em -- ducklings. I was worried about Mama having to feed all those mouths before I read that she doesn't. But it's a large group to lead around.
It certainly made my Saturday afternoon to see these little guys. Who says RV life isn't exciting?
Sometimes you just have to open your eyes and pay attention to the little things (literally)!
I had warned Barry ahead of time that I wanted to stroll up and down the street and look at the pretty plants and other accessories. It's not as much fun for him, but being that it was my birthday, he humored me, of course.
It seemed as if everyone in town was there when we were mid-morning, but at least we didn't have to find a parking place. We walked the 1.5 miles or so from our RV park, which we do weekly for Saturday morning markets anyway.
There were so many pretty plants and interesting/fun artwork to see. Here's just a small smattering of what we saw.
These metalwork birds were my favorite things I saw besides the plants. I'm kind of regretting not checking the prices now.
Barry wanted to buy me a gift for my birthday, and I'd thought I might buy one of the festival t-shirts, but they were so long on me I decided against it. Instead, we bopped into Wheelworks bike shop, conveniently located right on Plant Street. I found these two appropriate t-shirts that I let Barry get for me instead. Teehee!
Along with some new bike gloves, I'm very pleased with my birthday gifts. Leave it to us to go to a garden show and end up in a bike shop. We all have our weaknesses, I suppose!
After we walked back to Pearl, Barry baked my cake while we watched some of our favorite cooking shows on PBS. We are both especially fond of the Great British Baking Show, and I love Vivian Howard's "A Chef's Life".
A little later, we walked downtown for the second time that day for my birthday dinner. We were a little early for our reservation, so we stopped to admire the sidewalk chalk masterpieces competing for cash prizes at Spring Fever in the Garden. There was an incredible amount of talent in evidence in all age ranges, but this one was my very favorite, of course. I don't know who won but hope to find out in this week's local newspaper.
We ate at Market to Table in downtown Winter Garden. We'd never been before, but the reviews were very good, so I requested it for my birthday dinner. The restaurant is housed in the Roper Garden building, which I assumed was old and historic, but a little googling revealed that it is only ten years old. It was built in 2008 and was the first LEED-certified green building in Winter Garden. And see the greenhouse on the roof? One very cool thing about this building (and restaurant) is that greens are grown on the rooftop for use by the restaurant!
Here's an article about the building and the greenhouse, run by the cleverly named Green Sky Growers.
Here is the birthday girl outside the restaurant's patio. I only rarely wear a dress these days, but this was the perfect occasion for one.
We chose to sit on the patio as we always prefer to eat al fresco when possible. We hoped the forecast rain would hold off until we were finished. I had my rain jacket with me for the walk back if needed.
For our entrees, I had the Florida yellowtail snapper over grits, and Barry had the pork shank with cassoulet. Both were as delicious as they looked, but we would have enjoyed a lot more veggies on the plate. Glad we'd had our salads!
We skipped the delicious-sounding desserts at the restaurant since we had cake and gelato waiting back at Pearl. Here's the cake Barry made for me from scratch: dark chocolate with peanut butter cream cheese frosting (he knows I looooooove peanut butter!) and chocolate/peanut butter ganache for the lettering. Oh my!
Mother Nature did her part on my big day too. Although rain threatened, it held off until we were safely back at Pearl after dinner. Raindrops started falling only a short while after we got back. Paisley missed out on her nightly walk as a result, but we humans certainly enjoyed my special day!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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