We discovered on the road this summer that traveling is a balance between seeing lots of different things and actually experiencing a place for what it has to offer. There were many places along Route 1 that we can say we saw, but really we just got out of the car, snapped a picture or two, then moved on. Other places however, such as Jacksonville, we got to know much better as we spent much more quality time there. While sometimes we miss the excitement of crossing state borders and sleeping in a different place each night, we are more than eager to experience in depth the Greater Portland area during our long-term rental over the next nine months.
Being close to a big city (at least by Maine standards) means a slew of activities to choose from, and we decided to make our first outing a guided hike and fairy home workshop coordinated by the Saco Bay Trails Association. We’ve been too busy unpacking as of late to get out into the woods, so this was a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning. Our friendly guide led us on a pleasant hike through a small section of the Horton Woods Preserve, a trek manageable even for our youngest Five. Then, when we reached the junction of two of the major trails, we rolled up our sleeves to get down to the business at hand: building fairy homes.
Everyone pitched in to make the new home cozy and comfortable, though truth be told Fives of Hearts and Five Spice were the true stars of the job site. Despite some union-mandated breaks for tree climbing and snacking, we still managed to finish ahead of schedule. The end result, we think, speaks for itself.
We were in Jacksonville, Florida. We were on the beach one day and all the sudden I looked behind me and saw a tortoise. It was crawling along the sand dunes and then it went up into the dunes and back into its hole.
Here is what I know about Gopher Tortoises:
– The inside of their burrow is mostly made of sand.
– They like the beach and land a lot.
– They only like a little bit of water, not as much as turtles do.
– They like to eat leaves off of plants.
– Their burrows are used by snakes, frogs and burrowing owls.
– The burrows they make can be 40 feet long.
We had a great day on the beach seeing the tortoise. To see more pictures of what we saw on the trip visit ourNature on the Flypage.
One April when Five of Hearts was just a baby we fled a particularly snowy Maine in search of sunshine. We drove straight to South Carolina before deciding that it wasn’t warm enough and heading into Florida. Through some lucky Internet searching we found a campground on the coast of Jacksonville that had camping cabins. We spent a very enjoyable week soaking up the Florida sun with baby Five of Hearts and drove back to Maine making plans to return again someday.
With only a week left in Florida we knew a perfect ending would be to go back to that campground. Hanna Park is run by the city of Jacksonville and features over a mile of sandy beaches as well as multiple hiking and biking trails. The beautifully wooded campground accommodates everything from tents to large RVs. However, we prefer staying in their camping cabins. For only $35 a night you get an empty cabin with an air conditioner/heater and a screened in porch. Five Ball has severe dust mite allergies so this type of lodging suits us best. There are no beds, rugs, or couches to set off his allergies and we can set up our air mattresses and the kids’ PeaPods while staying out of the rain and bugs. The screened in porch is great for serving meals on and comes in handy during the rainy Florida afternoons.
Besides the great cabins you can’t beat the proximity of the campground to the beach. Just a minute drive from the campground and you are at one of the many parking lots and boardwalks to the beach. As we were visiting during the week that schools started back up we virtually had the beach to ourselves. Except of course for the dolphins who make regular appearances just off the beach and often put on spectacular shows while diving and jumping to catch fish. The kids happily spent a week jumping and riding the waves or playing on one of Hana Park’s many playgrounds.
Due to hungry mosquitoes during our visit we didn’t utilize the hiking trails as much as we did during our previous visit. However, the park has an extensive network of hiking and biking trails that are worth checking out. It is also a popular area for surfers. As tropical storms made the seas rough we were able to watch the surfers riding the towering waves on our last day at the beach.
It was a good thing that the stormy weather ushered us on our way or we would have had a hard time leaving this amazing place.
When we arrived in Florida in July we started a historical fiction novel with Five of Hearts about a plantation owner and his family living in Florida in the early 1800’s. The Treasure of Amelia Island by M.C. Finotti fit nicely into our exploration of Route 1 as we had already read about the American Revolution and slavery in the original colonies. Now in Florida we were seeing more and more signs that the area was long under Spanish rule. The Treasure of Amelia Island begins in 1813 when Florida (or La Florida) is still goverened by Spain but Patriots are pushing to make it part of the United States.
The book recounts the life of Ana Jai Kingsley, a remarkable woman who after gaining her freedom goes on to own and run her own plantation and slaves. Although, unlike most slave owners in the United States she believes in freeing her slaves once they have worked for her for a time. As increased pressure is put on the family to renounce their loyalty to the king and join the Patriots, Ana Jai actually burns down her plantation so it won’t be used by the Patriots. As a freed black woman she would be sent back into slavery if La Florida were to become a state. Therefore, the family flees closer to the coast to a new plantation on Fort George Island where they remain for 23 years before eventually relocating to Haiti. The patriarch of the family, Zephaniah Kingsley, spends those years trying to convince the lawmakers of the new state of Florida to allow free people of color to remain free.
While the book covers the history of the family it does so through a much more exciting fictional tale of a treasure hunt and alligator attack all told from the perspective of the Kingsley’s youngest daughter. Five of Hearts thought that the information about life on the plantation was interesting but she really loved the fictional treasure hunt the most. We knew that the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island was still standing and is now opperated by the National Park Sevice. While camping on the coast by Jacksonville we were only 15 minutes away by ferry making it a great time to visit and bring closure to the book.
After taking the very short car ferry over the St. John River we drove through a thick spanish moss covered forest which at one time was fields of sea island cotton. Entering the plantation from the road we came to the partially remaining slave quarters first. The National Park service has done a fabulous job preserving and explaining what plantation life was like for a slave. After viewing the back breaking work and conditions that the slaves faced we were all flabbergasted at how Ana Jai who was once a slave herself could go on to become a slave owner.
While the entire house wasn’t open for touring, we enjoyed walking around the grounds and especially the garden where we saw sea island cotton and indigo growing. Walking by the water at the front of the house it was hard not to find it a beautiful sight. However, after viewing the manacles that were found on site as tools of punishment for the slaves it was hard to view the plantation in a positive light. Visiting the plantation put a funny twist on the book. While reading it we had all hoped for the safety of Ana Jai and her family against the Patriots. However, after seeing how she forced her slaves to work and live it was hard to think of her with much favor. The definite take home message of the book and the plantation tour was that slavery was a truly horrible affair.
Since we entered Florida back in June we had been looking forward to a trip to Gainsville. Not for the University of Florida campus, the natural history museum or the 120-foot sink hole that you can walk down. Instead, our hearts or rather stomachs were hoping for the chance to visit a vegan ice cream parlor called Karma Cream.
As vegans we are most often asked how we can live without ice cream. And while we enjoy making our own vegan ice cream at home or picking up a pint on the go, we really miss making trips to an ice cream shop. When Five String discovered Karma Cream while searching the web this past spring we were awestruck: an actual establisment where we could choose from multiple varieties of vegan ice cream with toppings to boot! However, as yummy as this sounded we couldn’t justify driving to Gainsville just for ice cream (though Five String sure did try). Thankfully the stars aligned this past Sunday and we found ourselves driving from the Gulf Coast to Jacksonville putting Karma Cream directly in our path.
We had really hyped up a visit to this little piece of vegan heaven and we are happy report that it far surpassed our expectations. When we first walked in the door we were immediately drawn to the ice cream case that housed over ten different flavors of vegan ice cream. Plus there was a second case with just as many flavors of organic dairy based ice creams. A place where vegans and non-vegans alike can sit down to enjoy a treat definitely deserves two big thumbs up. After reading the unbelievably scrumptious and varied choices (fair trade coffee, S’Mores, chocolate cherry, just to name a few) we then turned our attention to the vegan cone and topping choices. Getting to select a scoop of vegan ice cream on its own is pretty special, but getting to decided between a cone, a sundae or even an ice cream sandwich or float almost brought tears to our eyes. There were over 15 different vegan toppings, many of them homemade, and vegan brownies or cookies that could be selected. The possible combinations boggled our minds and it took some serious thought before we could place our order.
In the end we all opted for sundaes over cones. Most of us put ours on brownies, and we all went for the vegan hot fudge and whipped cream. The younger Fives were delighted to have their sundaes topped with cookie dough while the adults tried out the vegan caramel sauce. Five of Hearts was the most adventurous choosing the cardamom flavored ice cream, while the boys chose triple chocolate and mint. Of course Five String couldn’t pass up a scoop of the pumpkin which didn’t disappoint. We finished up feeling very jealous of the University of Florida students who can take advantage of Karma Cream’s late hours and snack some on some incredible food up until 1am. We left wondering if picking a school based solely on nearby eateries is crazy and pondering enrolling Five String in a U.F. master’s program.