Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Morning Blessings

Friday January 24, 2015
Highlands Hammock State Park
Sebring, Florida



This is the second of two posts on my early morning walks before sunrise each morning on a different trail.  If you’d like to read about yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Whenever I go out alone into the semi darkness at dawn,  my prayer always is that I may follow my favorite poet Mary Oliver’s
'Instructions for Living a Life’
Pay Attention
Be Astonished
Tell About it.

I am nearly always able to do the first two and sometimes, like this week, the third.


Today I again walk the Cypress Swamp Trail. 

Because both the gate leaving the campground and the gate coming onto the Hammock Drive are still closed and locked I imagine I will have the walk to myself.   But it is still a thrill when I peddle up and see the empty parking lot.

I move slowly into the darker swamp where my eyes soon adjust to the shining black water and green vegetation.



As I walk pensively along the boardwalk,  I notice a tree has begun to claim the boardwalk as its own.  I spot a Great Egret hunting for breakfast. I stay and watch him sneak stealthily through the ferns and around the cypress knees.  I am always shocked when all of a sudden he jabs his bill into the water and tosses down some little critter.  I follow him along as he moves deeper into the swamp, stopping when he stops, moving when he moves. He comes right up to the boardwalk. Surely he knows I am there and apparently doesn’t care.






I walk on only a little way when I feel someone watching me.  I stop.  I haven’t heard anything but I look around. No one. And then I look up.  The light behind him makes him a shadow but I can see I am being watched, by a barred owl.   He is watching me. I am watching him. We are watching each other.

A line Mary Oliver pops into my head. “I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…”    Something wonderful has definitely touched me.  I am holding my breath.

The owl just looks at me.  He turns his head to follow me as I walk further away to get a distant shot of him.  It’s not a good shot and just then then he flies, only a jump really, into a nearer tree, into a spot from which I can see him better. 

I take better pictures.   He looks at me.   I return back down the boardwalk closer to him.  He just stays.  I’ve never had an owl just stay.  I stop taking pictures.  I just experience this wonder of looking into the eyes of an owl.  It’s grace, just the most amazing grace.

Time stands still. Life is suspended.  Then he silently seems almost to fall forward off the branch, spread his wings and sail through the air back into the deeper reaches of the swamp. Not a sound. I stand amazed at the perfection of this moment.
























After sitting on the bench for a while to take this all in, I walk slowly on.  I’m more than half way around the trail.  The red bellied woodpeckers are calling.  Another great egret is fishing.  I just watch.  No pictures. 

I turn to move on.  I look down.  A little raccoon looks up.  He’s not frightened, just curious.  He walks on under the board walk and peeks around a tree. He moves a little closer as if to get a better view.   We spend some time seeing each other before he turns to continue on his way.  More magic moments.












I wish I could stay here in this place forever but I am nearing the end of the boardwalk.  I’m tempted to hike around the trail a second time but I know that the first person to walk down the boardwalk will break the spell. So I wrap this wonderful morning up in my memory and take my time transitioning back into the “real world”.

It’s late enough that the park is now open so I am surprised to find the parking lot still empty.
I smile.



“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
~ Mary Oliver


  1. Lovely, lyrical commentary. You have the writer's gift, Sherry.

  2. You had quite a morning! Beautiful photos.

  3. A magical morning indeed! Absolutely beautiful pics. I kept thinking your words telling of each animal sighting would be followed by a sad exclamation that you were unable to get the pic... but indeed the picture capturing the moment was there. Your telling of this wonderful dawn morning should inspire more to seek the morning wonder.

  4. Oh my goodness Sherry! I felt Like I was right there with you in those pictures!!!! So still, peaceful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing,

  5. Perhaps they watched you on another morning and this time they knew to seek you out, to share the magic with you. The photos are fabulous, and I know that the time without the camera between you was even more so. A day begun like this would never need Prozac :-)

  6. always love seeing an owl - anywhere, anytime...

  7. "The early bird catches the worm." I enjoyed your 'breakfast'!

  8. You captured the owl and racoon moment perfectly. . .I could sense the hushed reverence.

  9. So beautiful. What a great start to the day. The owl was magical. It's nice to feel that those moments are enough. More than enough.

  10. So terrific! I have yet to see an owl in the wild and would really love that. What a great morning :)

  11. I have never seen a swamp like that before, nor an owl that close. Stunning!

  12. Truly a magical morning. Your owl pictures were beautiful beyond words to describe them!

  13. Having all those animal encounters... what a treat. The owl and the raccoon shots in particular came out so beautifully.

  14. When at one with nature, nature is one with you. Special times.

  15. What a BEAUTIFUL way to start the day!!!

  16. Apparently the early bird gets the wildlife sightings! I should remember that and get out early by myself more often. But I live with a late riser and I tend to use the early(ish) morning time when we're traveling to do my photo editing and blog post writing. Then when he gets up and gets his breakfast we're all ready to hit the trail together!

  17. What a gorgeous early morning hike. I remember staying at that campground in March of 2010 and I remember bike riding around the there and walking along that same boardwalk. Only difference was that we went during the day so we had lots of people around us, wish we had thought to go so early.

    Love your pictures of the Barred Owl, they are beautiful and so was it. I love owls and enjoy seeing the Great Horned Owl at the campground we work at during the summer. I look forward to hopefully seeing her again this spring.


  18. What a great morning - the reward for getting out there early and alone. Do you remember what you were wearing? Both the owl and the raccoon seemed very interested in you. Maybe you have a lucky wildlife hiking outfit or more likely they could sense a kindred spirit. Fabulous owl pictures!

  19. Lovely! Morning walks are magical and thank you for sharing especially the angelic owl.

  20. GREAT pictures of the owl!!! and the raccoon...

  21. Great post and very nice photos. I feel as if I were on the walk too!

  22. Wow, Sherry! Your owl photos are fantastic!

  23. Beautiful - I love the references to Mary Oliver and the owl pictures are stunning - how many people can say they have had an experience like that? Cute raccoon. What a lovely walk - I am glad you got to have the boardwalk all to yourself so that some of nature's wonderful creatures could feel comfortable enough to watch you as you watched them.

  24. Absolutely beautiful. You know how I love Mary Oliver's poetry and her instructions for living a life. I appreciate so much your ability to truly "see," to be amazed, and to tell about it. So many lovely moments on this ordinary morning, simply because you were awake to them. Wonderful owl photos, and all the others, as well.

  25. Beautiful pics, words, and a gentle start to your day Perfect!!!! A wonderful reminder to slow down and always take it all in. Thank you for that!!!!!


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