Tuesday, March 14, 2023

MANGROVE KAYAKING EXPEDITION!

I first learned about kayaking through mangrove tunnels five years ago, when I was visiting Sarasota, Florida, for the first time.  From that moment on, I put it on my "to do" list!
I was able to book a mangrove tunnel kayaking trip on my 2023 return trip to Sarasota, using SRQ Kayaking Company (www.kayakingsrq.com),  and this blog tells about my experience.  One thing  helpful to know on any trip to this area is the initials "SRQ" are used frequently to refer to the entire Sarasota-Bradenton region, because "SRQ" is the airport code you will see when you fly into the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (www.srq-airportcom)

I waited until the day before, to book my trip, in part, because I wanted to assess the weather prediction before I committed.  When I phoned their number to request a single-style kayak, the employee told me it was good I called when I did because it was their last single kayak.  The high volume of their booking for the day I wanted, was probably because it was the federal holiday for President's Day, and the weather predictions were for magnificent conditions!  My email confirmation ticket gave me the address to find the location to start (190 Taft Drive), and I got there early, not knowing how long it would take me to find the staging area, located in The Ted Sterling Nature Park.  What I observed upon arrival was a plethora of watercraft outfitters, which is a good thing to know in case the first outfitter you try, is already booked up.

I took a photo of the sign showing a map of the park, which showed that the mangrove tunnels were numbered, and had suggested "directions of travel" for paddlers who would be exploring the park. Also located at the sign was a supply of life jackets for those who did not bring their own, or have one provided by the outfitter. 
One thing I was happy to see was a wheel-chair accessible restroom building, with flush toilets and handwashing sinks:

Nestled among the banyan trees, were covered picnic tables, and each one had a number.
The employees of the various outfitters were busy unloading the kayaks from trailers, to get them closer to their waterfront entry spot.

One VERY talented guy was able to push one dolly of kayaks in front of him, and pull another dolly of kayaks behind him, while he balanced on a device called "One Wheel" that propelled him across the parking lot so fast, you wanted to stay out of his way!
When we checked in at the Kayaking SRQ trailer, we were given a number which indicated the picnic table we were to gather around,  when it was time for the tour.  There were dozens of customers on the day I went, but we were divided into groups of ten, so that the number of paddlers would be manageable for each guide  .  I was in a group led by a guide named Patrick, and he gave us a brief demonstration of how to hold the paddle, and a few safety tips to make our trip more enjoyable.
I was the first of our group of ten to launch my kayak, and he instructed me to paddle out into the open water, and wait for the rest of the group to arrive.  Being "led forth" by his instructions, gave me great joy and a sense of peace, and made me want to break forth into singing and clap my hands! (Because it gave me plenty of time to take photographs!)   Therefore, I am using this experience as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com)  memory verses that says, "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."  Isaiah 55:12


The time waiting for the rest of the group also gave me an opportunity to snap a photo for a Facebook page I enjoy, called "Look at the Front of My Kayak".  It requires that the contributor show only the front part of their kayak, and the view beyond that.  One can take a "virtual" sight-seeing paddle around the world on this site!
This wide expanse of open water is one reason the mangrove tunnels exist today.  It used to be a small lake, separated from the sea water in Sarasota Bay.  The stagnant water of the lake promoted the growth of mosquito populations, which carry malaria and other harmful diseases.  Therefore, decades ago---before much was known about its hazards---a chemical substance was spread over the lake to kill the mosquitoes.  It not only killed the mosquitoes, but all the flora and fauna associated with the lake habitat.  The officials came up with the solution of making small canals, connecting the sea with the lake.  Over time, this allowed the damaged lake water to flow out into the open ocean.  As the habitat improved, mangrove trees begin to grow around the tunnels, eventually forming a canopy over them.  Folks enjoyed exploring the green tunnel habitats, and "voila", a tourism attraction was created.  The tunnels are very shallow, so the advent of lightweight, plastic-like kayaks that require just a few inches of depth in order to proceed, was  also a factor in its popularity.  Then, the increasing numbers of folks starting to do standup paddle boarding (SUP), brought another group of outdoor enthusiasts to the location. 

After all ten in our group had made it to the open water, the guide asked us to paddle up close to him, so he could tell us more about the habitat we would be exploring.  Patrick had a specially-designed kayak that is suitable for either standing up or sitting down.  When I booked the tour, I asked if the outfitter provided life jackets (they are required with the "WHOyaker" group of ladies I kayak with back in the Ozarks).  He said every kayak had a lifejacket with it, but considering the water was no more than two feet deep wherever we paddled, it was doubtful I would need it.  You can see in the photo below how shallow the water is.



Patrick also pointed out how clear the water was, and pulled up a "critter", that I had assumed was a plant.  However, he called it an "upside-down" jellyfish (cassiopea), because the tentacles float above the body of the animal, instead of below it.
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The jelly fish lay upside-down so that the algae covering it, is exposed to the sun, allowing it to photosynthesize.  The jelly can sustain itself off just the byproducts of the algae, and capture zooplankton for additional energy to grow.  I read later that these jellyfish may sting humans, but our guide did not appear to be bothered by this possibility. 

The information plaque back at the park had explained this area had three main types of mangroves---red mangrove, white mangrove, and black mangrove.  The leaves of the red mangrove are a darker shade of green on the tops than on the bottoms.    

I took the photo below of roots from a black mangrove tree, which are very unique, because they grow straight up like straws, for breathing.  They usually reach heights of about 12 inches.  These roots are called pneumatophores. I took this photo several feet away from the water's edge, because black mangrove trees grow on higher ground than red mangrove trees. 
The guide pointed out a wading white ibis, feeding among the mangrove roots, indicating another example of the success of this effort at habitat restoration.


The group stayed single-file, once we started through the tunnels, because they are very narrow.  I tried to stay as close to the guide boat as possible, so I could hear what he was saying.  (By the way, it is not a requirement that you have a guide when paddling through the mangrove tunnels.  One can rent a kayak and start out on their own to explore.  However, since I was a "newbie" and knew nothing about the area, I preferred the added feature of a guided tour.) 

The photo below shows a paddler as she is exiting Tunnel number 2.  One would probably not even notice there was an opening in this mangrove forest, if it were not for the floating buoy. Notice how clear the water is, and how shallow it is.  In fact, some folks plan their paddling adventure based on the tides.  At low tide, you may be a "walker", instead of a paddler through the mangroves.  At very high tides, you will be closer to the "ceiling" of the tunnel, than at other times.  This means that a paddle boarder may not be able to go through the tunnels standing up, at very high tides. 

Patrick told us that the roots of the mangrove trees serve as a nursery for starfish.  Most of the ones he pointed out were about the size of a quarter, which I had trouble seeing.  However, we eventually passed over one that was about the size of a hamburger bun, which even I could see!
When we passed over that large starfish, the guide told me he wanted to wait beside it, so he could point it out to the other nine paddlers.  He told me to go on ahead, and keep paddling until I came out on open water.  I loved this, because it gave me time to snap a few photos without slowing down the group behind me!  Can you see from the photo below how paddling through this aquatic labyrinth can be a little intimidating??!!  However, I had read in the information provided,  indicating this was NOT alligator habitat, so I found that reassuring.  In the instructions Patrick gave us before we started, he alerted us that on some of the turns, we might get "hung up" in a root system, but he cautioned us to use our paddles to free us up, NOT OUR HANDS.  This is because oysters attach to the mangrove roots, and the sharp, jagged surfaces of the oyster shell, can slice open the skin of someone who inadvertently grabs on to them. 


Patrick turned around to tell our group that this area had much more sun exposure due to the damage done to the mangrove forest from Hurricane Ian, in September of 2022.  Many of the trees were stripped of their leaves.  Yet that massive root system for which mangrove trees are known, helps reduce the amount of beach erosion when violent storms/hurricanes hit the area.

As I waited for all the paddlers to make it out of Tunnel #2, I could easily understand why the roots of the red mangrove tree are called "stilt roots" or "prop roots"  They are literally "propping up" the trees in the harsh brackish water, in which they have to survive.   I imagined that as the limbs on one side of the tunnel were reaching out to touch the limbs on the opposite side of the tunnel, they are "clapping their hands",  as they form a Arc de Triomphe (arch of triumph) from which the victorious paddler can emerge!


About midway through our tour, we stopped at a sandbar, and got out of our kayaks to stretch our legs.  Lest you think this was a "potty break", it was NOT!  There are no toilets from the time one starts the 2.5 hour tour, until it ends, so keep that in mind when deciding how much coffee to consume before you start the tour!
As I looked down at the sandy beach, searching for pretty shells, I saw the item pictured below.  On a previous visit to Florida, that included a stop at the Bailey Shell Museum on Sanibel Island, I learned that this strange looking strand is the egg case of a whelk mollusk.  Whelks lay their eggs in a long spiral-shaped casing that can reach up to 33 inches in length.  The strand can have as many as 200 pouches, and each pouch can have as many as 99 eggs.  I counted over 30 pouches on this piece, so that means this strand had the potential to produce about 300 whelk molusks!  The female protects the string of eggs by anchoring one end at the bottom of the bay.  Sadly, this string had become dislodged, and desiccated after being washed up on dry land.  

As I mentioned, the weather was perfect for being outside, and many of the participants took the opportunity to wade in and cool off, as they surveyed the area for interesting sea life features.

Patrick also mentioned that he would be available to take photographs, if anyone had brought their cameras or cell phones on the trip.  Naturally, I took him up on his offer!


This photo of me with arms uplifted is an expression of gratitude and praise to God that I was able to have the long-anticipated experience of kayaking through the mangrove tunnels.  Likewise, I have high praise for the job our guide, Patrick, did interpreting the ecosystem we were exploring!  If you would like to try out this paddling adventure, or numerous other recreation opportunities here, check out the website of www.VisitSarasota.com for more details.  I can assure you a visit to this area will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia


 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

EXPEDITIONS WITH GIDEON!

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Since I like to travel, I often spend the night in hotel or motel rooms, and one of the first things I do after getting to my room, is look in the drawer of the bedside table to see if there is a copy of a Gideon Bible. 

The front of the Gideon Bible has a great deal of useful information, including the page references for specific events happening in one's life.  For example, it has Scriptures you can read when you feel you are in danger:  

This came in very handy the night I was staying alone in a Tulsa motel, preparing to fly out to the Winter Olympics, in Vancouver, Canada, the following morning.  I was on a ground level room, with a gigantic window, adjacent to the outdoor pool.  It was dark, and I had the curtains drawn, but  when I heard gun shots, that sounded like they were right outside my door, I ducked for the floor, and turned off the lights in the room, scared to death.  I crawled to the phone sitting atop the bedside table, and dialed 911.  Then I remembered the Gideon Bible in the bedside table drawer, so I grabbed it, my pillow, and a blanket, and spent the rest of the night in the bathtub---away from that plate glass window!  After a while, the police dispatcher called back and said they had gone to check out the reason for the gunshots, and apparently there had been a disturbance in the hotel's bar/lounge, but the situation was stable now.  But the Scripture the Gideon Bible referenced for a scary time was Psalm 91.  (Pictured below) Now I am able to remember the Psalm 91:1 Scripture reference for times of danger, because it is the same phone number you call in an emergency---911 !

So I must have read Psalm 91 dozens of times that night, trying to calm down.  The phrase that stuck in my mind (verse 5) was not to be afraid of the "terrors of the night", or the "arrows that fly by day".  That is because being terrified by the gunshots that night, I was experiencing "terrors of the night".   Likewise, I was concerned about leaving my room before daylight, in a few hours, to get to the airport.   But verse 5 gave me hope!  So the next morning as my plane lifted above the Tulsa Airport, I looked down and saw the the long terminal, with planes jutting out diagonally that gave the appearance of an arrow!  The Lord  knows I like visual aids, and He provided a great one that morning!(See overhead photo of an airport below)
I also discovered on that evening holding a Gideon Bible, the part in the front where it shows John 3:16 in multiple languages.  Also, something I saw when traveling in Quebec, Canada, where French is the first language, the Gideon Bible in my hotel room had both French and English translations in it!


The Gideon organization was started by two traveling salesmen in Wisconsin, in 1899 (John H. Nicholson and Samuel E. Hill.)  In 1908, their organization started "The Bible Project", which had the goal of placing a Gideon Bible in every hotel/motel room across the USA.  The first Bible they ever placed, was in a hotel room in Montana.  Now, their Bibles are distributed worldwide to all continents, including Antarctica!  Decades ago, when I first became interested in Gideon Bibles, I asked a Gideon member if they could provide Gideon Bibles in Antarctica.  He replied, "We only place Gideon Bibles where there are people, and there are no people living in Antarctica."  Then I told him I had a friend  who was currently living in Antarctica at McMurdo Station ( www.usap.gov ), the Gideon member apologized for his misinformation, and went about remedying the situation, by sending a Gideon Bible to that research station! 

Since that time, they have placed more than two billion Bibles and New Testaments around the world.  It is the oldest association of Christian business and professional men in the USA. 
The Gideon Bible that I show in these photos is not one I "stole" from a hotel room.  Rather, it is the one provided to my husband's medical office waiting room.  I took it with me on a solitary hike to the creek during the Covid 19 pandemic/quarantine, so I could read the passages aloud, in God's Great Outdoors, for purposes of comforting me during a fearful time.  (If you have never read the Bible aloud outdoors---especially the Psalms---try it!)
  One reason I became interested in the ministry of the Gideons International is because I observed my husband spend about an hour looking through a Gideon Bible, when we were visiting the hospital room of my mother, back in the last century.  After that I started noticing Gideon Bibles in the hotel rooms where I stayed, including luxury hotels, such as the one in French Lick, Indiana.  One author called this "Hope found inside the bedside table"!  I try to always leave a note to the hotel management in such properties, thanking them for providing a Gideon Bible in my guest room.  Since the Bibles are provided free of charge to hotels, it seems this is a valuable amenity to offer their guests!

Also, the beautiful oceanside property of Avista Resort, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:


And, of course, there was a Gideon Bible in the Stone Castle Hotel, in Branson Missouri:
With the popularity of smart phone apps, the Gideon organization also has developed a Gideon Bible app, and often the hotel registration desk will have a small card holder, showing the QR code that the guest can scan with their phone to download the app.



 The Gideons also provide Gideon Bibles free of charge to public transportation modes.  It was interesting to me that the one I saw on the ferry in Wisconsin, was in the room sat aside for persons who might not be feeling well, as it was next to the "emesis" bucket, one would use for motion sickness!

The torch light represented on the logo of Gideon Bibles is also referenced in a stained glass window in the Cadet Chapel, at West Point, in New York state. (See far right artistic representation of GIdeon in photo below, that I took when touring West Point.  It is interesting to note that stained glass windows in places of worship started hundreds of years ago, before there were individual Bibles for each worshiper.  The windows told the story of various Biblical events.) 

The torch light is significant in the story of Gideon in the Bible, which you can read in the sixth and seventh chapter of the Old Testament book of Judges. 
 
 Throughout the Bible--from Genesis to Revelation--- God shows his love for all His works--the earth and its people.  Therefore, I am using this blog about Gideon Bibles as the visual aid for my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com) memory verse from Psalm 145:8-9  that says, "The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy.  The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works."

If you would like to donate to the Gideon organization, they provide special occasion cards and memorial cards so that you can honor the name of someone with your donation.  More information on this outstanding organization is available at www.gideons.org . A photo of the special occasion card rack that I see regularly at the church I attend, is shown below:

Knowing that God loves me, and being able to help provide God's Word through the Gideon organization, gives me "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



Wednesday, February 1, 2023

LITTLE ROCK EXPEDITION!


Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel from north Arkansas, to central Arkansas, with a group of friends.  After several hours of driving, we were happy to be able to get out and stretch our legs, to walk around T.R. Pugh Park, in North Little Rock.  The park is the location of "The Old Mill", seen in the background of group photo below.   The Old Mill is a backdrop not only for our group photo, but it was also seen in the opening credits of the 1939 movie, Gone With the Wind. 


The Old Mill is a replica of an abandoned water-powered grist mill that would have been used by Arkansas pioneers, in the 1800's.  Although the Old Mill never actually operated as a mill, the iron grist mill on the first floor of the building, is authentic and dates to 1828.  Developer Justin Matthews wanted the Old Mill to appear as the ruins of a bygone era.  The park is named after Matthews' business partner, Thomas R. Pugh, and Matthews stated the water wheel turning beside the mill,  symbolizes Pugh's tireless energy.  Matthews commissioned Dionicio Rodriguez, noted Mexican sculptor, to create the faux bois (or fake wood) style details, that accent this remarkable art piece. 


After a restful night of sleep, in a lovely home, situated on  grounds as carefully landscaped, as that of the Old Mill Park, our group headed out to visit the Clinton Library, in downtown Little Rock. 
One of the staff members of the Clinton Library, took our photo, before we went inside to tour the exhibits. 


One of the first things you will see when you enter the library is the Presidential limousine.



The photo below, taken from an upper floor of the library, shows people on lower floor, at various sections of the exhibits.  Each cubicle references a different year of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.  Since I am a fan of Dale Chihuly glass artistry, I seldom miss an opportunity to photograph it!  The Christmas tree-shaped art piece shown in this photo, was a gift to the Clintons.  There are numerous other "Head of State" gifts on display, each one representative of the culture of the dignitary (or common citizen!) that presented the gift. 


I have been to the Clinton Library on numerous other occasions (lots more photos in those blog entries, in the archives under the dates of October 27, 2008, and two separate articles dated March 8, 2012), but this was my first time to get to have a meal inside the private dining room of Restaurant 42.  To find out if your group could have a meal in the private dining room, visit their website at www.ClintonPresidentialCenter.org .  You will also see information of upcoming exhibits and other important visitor information. 



After lunch, we wanted to get some exercise, so we went to the adjacent Clinton Presidential Park, to take a stroll across the historic bridge above the Arkansas River.  The sign at its entrance tells us that in 1899, the Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf Railroad (CO&G) built the Choctaw station and the railroad bridge over the Arkansas River at Little Rock.  In 1967, passenger service ended and the Choctaw Station and surrounding land was bought by the Arkansas Gazette newspaper. 

The photo below shows that the bridge is now wheel-chair accessible, which is also a benefit for  wheeled baby strollers and bicyclists.  The bridge ceased carrying railroad cars around 1980.  The railroad company that owned the bridge in 1995 was making plans to tear down the bridge due to the liability it represented.  However, in 2001, the City of Little Rock assumed ownership of the bridge and retains ownership today. 

In 20010 the City of Little Rock officially changed the name of the bridge to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge as tribute to the Clinton Foundation's efforts to renovate it into a ramped pedestrian pathway providing the eastern link to the Arkansas River Trail System. 
In 2011, the renovated pedestrian bridge was dedicated by President Bill Clinton Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, and officially opened to the public.  (I took this photo so I could point out the area along the riverfront,  to my friends, where my husband had asked me to marry him, back in the last century!  The photo below of Fred and me, beside the Arkansas River, was taken on that memorable day we got engaged!)

Notice in the photo below, how the Clinton Presidential Library (to left of railroad bridge) extends far out over the slope, that leads down to the riverfront, in a way similar to how a bridge would be built. In fact, that was part of the design concept, as the architect wanted to illustrate how learning from the past, can be a "bridge" to a better future. 

Another stop we made on our tour was the Central High School National Historic Site (www.nps.gov.chsc).  The photo below shows me and two friends, posing under the arches beneath the steps.  Although the public was not allowed inside the school on the day of this visit, a previous visit I made there several years ago, allowed the tour group to go inside and take in the "ambience" of being in a very well-used school building.  There is an excellent visitor center at the site, that gives a detailed timeline of the events that led up to the 1957 integration of the previously all-white school, by the "Little Rock Nine".  There are both audio and video accounts in the Visitor Center (a separate building from the school) that are told by the people who were actually there at the time.  Not surprisingly, this is a significant stop on the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.   It is worth noting, that our current governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, graduated from Central High School.


Another historic site we visited was the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (www.littlerock.gov).  This facility is located in the historic Arsenal Building in MacArthur Park--one of Central Arkansas's oldest surviving structures.  It was the birthplace of a famous USA military hero---General Douglas MacArthur.  In addition to details of his service, there are artifacts that relate to the military heritage of Arkansas, from the time it was a territory, up to present-day. 

It is always a treat to be able to visit our beautiful Arkansas State Capitol.  Most photos you see of the exterior show it from the front, but I took this photo, from the side, because our group was strolling the grounds, to see the memorials located there.  This is the location of the iconic sculpture (shown in center of photo) of "The Little Rock Nine", and is the starting point of the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.
There are several sets of ornate bronze  doors at the capitol, and I wanted to get my photo with some of them, because it was my grandson, who first alerted me to their significance!  On a separate trip to Little Rock, when he was still in elementary school, he was insistent on going to see, and get his photo taken, with the Capitol's bronze doors, that he had learned about in one of his Arkansas history classes.  So Jacob, this photo is for you!

Below is the photo of Jacob when he was a youngster, along with me and his sister.  That smile on his face is because he had convinced his parents to take him by the Arkansas State Capitol, so he could see these famous doors, purchased from Tiffany and Company in New York!



The grand foyer of the Capitol, under the rotunda, is illuminated by this amazing chandelier.  There is a fascinating story about its history that you can learn, if you take the video tour offered by the Arkansas Secretary of State on their website.  It is also the website you need to visit to find out about tour times, and parking access, if you make the trip in person.  It is  www.sos.arkansas.gov ; also you can phone 501-682-5080.


One of the reasons our group chose this particular time to visit the State Capitol, is because they were showcasing a special exhibition to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the nation's first national river, now called Buffalo National River.  In the photo below, the ladies are admiring the amazing textile artistry of an artist who created a "painting" of one of the iconic Buffalo National River bluffs, using fabric applique and embroidery. 


We were able to go into this expansive room with the name "Governor" above the door, to see the recent renovations that had been completed there to bring it back to its original grandeur. 

A tourist can also make arrangement to visit the office of the Arkansas State Treasurer, and get your photo made, holding half a million dollars!
I did not look close enough to see if it was real money on the inside, hidden parts of the stack, but it certainly made for some fun photo opportunities. 
When I was looking for a photo to serve as a visual aid, to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com)  memory verses (about how Jesus gave up his riches in heaven, to come to earth as a tiny baby, in order to one day die on the cross, taking the penalty for my sins), these large stacks of money came to mind.  Jesus gave up much more than all the money in the Arkansas State Treasury, and He did it for you and me!  2 Corinthians 8:9 says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."  These are the ETERNAL riches that give me "MILES OF SMILES!"  Tricia