Monday, October 24, 2016

Back to the Past, One Day A Week

I have volunteered for something else yet again. About five miles west of my home is a State Park called the Dudley Farm. It is a working farm meaning crops are planted and farm animals are kept onsite. The farm and its grounds were gifted to the State by the last Dudley family member to live there. Myrtle, a daughter and part of the third generation willed Florida the farm in the mid 1980s with the stipulation that she could live there until her death.

The Dudley Family

Sugarcane Syrup Making Day

Priming the Pump

The farm dates all the way back to the mid 1800s just before the Civil War when the Dudleys moved here from the Carolinas and bought a bunch of land, totaling at one time over a thousand acres. All the old pine farm buildings have been restored even down to the outhouse. Cotton, sugarcane, sweet taters, and tobacco were the main crops at the time and evidence of this is seen in the tobacco barn and the cane grinding wheel, then and now turned by mule power. A few Florida cattle, mules, and donkeys are kept even now and used as they were in the Dudley's time. The sugarcane crop is almost ready for cutting and thousands of visitors will show up for "cane day" in December when the mules will again turn the grinding wheel. Cane syrup is the finished product and that brings me to what I volunteered for.

There is a small gift shop or store on the premises where handmade donated items are sold including the cane syrup that will be made on the farm in December. I volunteered for 3 shifts a month (4 hours each). Last Thursday I was oriented and trained and will have my first solitary shift next Thursday. Most of the items in the store are donated but some are purchased like the Dudley Farm t-shirts. All the monies go back into the running of the farm. Most visitors show up on the weekends when the farm has its special events, a children's monthly craft day, cane day, and many others, so Thursday will probably be a lonesome day at the store although I may get a few customers from out of town. I will take along some knitting and of course a notebook to keep me busy. And then I am an organizer so I will be squaring up and tidying the things for sale. There’s even a basket of handmade children’s toys including a corncob/turkey feather toss (from turkeys on the farm with no fowl harmed in the process). The game is similar to today’s ring toss.

The gift shop itself is an old building originally a little store donated and moved to the site from the nearby town of Archer. All the buildings are constructed of local pine. The shop has a little front porch with 3 rocking chairs one of which I will be utilizing during my shift. It is a "shotgun" type structure meaning the back door and front door align allowing the most refreshing breezes to go through, important when there is no air conditioning (or heat). Three windows (no glass) with hinged shutters allow for more air circulation.

I first visited the farm a couple years ago for a Gainesville Fine Arts Association plein air paintout. Did you know North Florida, especially Alachua County, is renowned for its artists who paint landscapes out in the fresh air? I walked all around the grounds feeling lots of nostalgia from my early years on a farm up north, corncrib, chicken houses, a hand pump, a root cellar, a truck garden, and a smoke house, all things familiar to me. I knew why this was a great place for a paintout as I watched the many artists pick their subjects and begin to sketch out their compositions. It is a beautiful place, one that almost poses for you and takes you back in time. While I was there this week a group of amateur photographers were strolling the grounds, almost puzzled by what to “shoot” next, such was the abundance of subject material.

So my list of volunteer work grows, and I realize the word “rich” has very little to do with money. If you haven’t visited Dudley and have the opportunity, I hope you will take the short ride west of Jonesville on State Road 26, look for the Dudley Farm sign on your right, and follow the winding black macadam road to another kind of Oz.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wakulla Springs

I went on a bus trip with other seniors a few weeks ago to Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee, Florida. As soon as I heard the words “boat ride included”, I was ready to go. And the mention of Wakulla Springs brought back the memory of a book I had read, Murder at Wakulla Springs by a local author and environmentalist, M. D. Abrams. My curiosity was peaked.

We pulled out of Gainesville around 8:30 and traveled via 441and I-10 for most of the trip, weaving and winding through little back roads to reach our final destination. We arrived at the springs, which is a State-owned park, just in time for lunch, mine to be a tasty vegetable and pasta alfredo with garlic bread, a tossed salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and key lime pie for dessert. A ranger familiarized us with the history and layout of the springs as our food settled. I learned Wakulla was originally made famous through the writings of John Muir in 1867. The Lodge where we ate was a sort of hotel, restaurant, and gift shop combination with beautiful old-style Spanish architecture, lots of marble, mosaics, arches, a 16-foot Cyprus beamed ceiling, and a red-tiled roofline, truly beautiful in its natural woodsy setting.

As I ate, if I looked out the lovely arched windows across the green lawn, I could see the springs where several people were swimming and sun bathing. There were two huge wooden decks in the water for sunning or jumping off and another two-tier deck for diving into the now tannin-colored river. We were told the water temperature of the springs was a consistent 68-70 degrees and although normally crystal-clear, it was tea-colored now because of recent rainfall.

The Wakulla River which originates at the springs and where we would have our 45-minute boat ride was the best part of the trip. Forty-three of us split up into two covered and flat-bottomed slow-moving tour boats. We leisurely made our way a few miles downstream as our pilot, actually another park ranger, pointed out all kinds of wildlife. We saw anhingas, egrets, ibis, all kinds of ducks, herons, bitterns, limpkins, turtles and so many others I can't remember them all. Florida alligators rested or slept on every little sandbar sticking above the waterline and a rather rowdy one swam directly across the path of our boat. The literature boasted 182 different seasonal birds and I believe them. It was truly a nature-lovers paradise.

As our ride neared its end, we circled the springs and were surprised to see a gator gliding along the edge of the roped-off swimming area. Our ranger navigated our boat so we were behind the wily creature and he successfully "herded" him back out into the river as we and the divers watching from the deck breathed a sigh of relief, I think, or maybe it was "old hat" to them. I don't think I'd want to go swimming there, but what a beautiful place it was.

A thunderstorm came up as we docked and the second boat's ride was cut short, coming in right behind us. The swimming area was closed and the lightning drove all of us inside just as the rain began...on to the gift shop where there was an old-fashioned soda fountain in back of a long marble bar. Candies of yesteryear festooned the top and I overheard many talking about sugar daddies and candy cigarettes. We spent the rest of our trip there parting with a few dollars and enjoying homemade scoops of ice cream, one with the unusual name of “muddy shoes”. I hesitated to try that one opting instead for my old favorite of mint chocolate chip.

Our driver escorted each and every one of us to the bus via a big black umbrella when it was time to head back home. It continued to rain as we pulled out, and we didn't see sunshine again until we got back to Gainesville around 6:30, everyone eager to get up and out and stretch. At home Mopsy greeted me at the door with her chastising expression like she was ready to read me the riot act...or maybe not. I think she had just wakened from a long nap, but soon she realized she was hungry and everything was back to normal again.