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

Henry David Thoreau

Deep Quiet Wondrous Beauty

Wednesday January 21, 2015
Highlands Hammock State Park
Sebring, Florida



This morning when we went out we were greeted by a vulture high in one snag behind the rig and a hawk in the other, I admit, I didn’t give them equal picture time.  Vultures are VERY important to the eco system but not so photogenic.

My goal today was the Fern Trail where I had been told, by someone I met on my morning walk to “my spot”, there was an 8’ alligator hanging out.   The most fun way to get there is to take the campground road to the connector trail to the the Hammock Inn which is sadly no longer serves sour orange ice cream or anything else.  Upon asking what happened I am told that the concessionaire was fraudulent and they have yet to find another.  That’s been two years now.  So it must have closed right after we were here in 2013.



Behind the Hammock Inn is the trailhead for the Wild Orange Trail which at one time apparently had a lot of wild orange trees on it.  Today it mostly has mud. 

David hooks his stainless steel water bottle on his back belt loop. Says it swings less than on his hip but it looks like he has a tail. Pretty funny.


From there we walk right across the drive and get on the Big Oak Trail.  Remember David hasn’t seen these trails yet and I’m more than happy to do them again.







The Big Oak Trail connects to the Hickory Trail which then connects to the Fern Garden Trail.  You can arrange your walks to be as short or long as you like.

Actually all the trails but the Cyprus Swamp Trail have big Oak trees, many ferns and orange trees.  It would take 3 of me to reach all around the trunk of this giant.



I don’t care much for the wild oranges.  But then I don’t like grapefruit either, too sour.  David, on the other hand, picks the oranges up off the ground under the trees and eats them  if they haven’t been broken open.  If you pick them off of the trees, they are often not ripe he says.  None of them taste “ripe” to me.  LOL    Very juicy he says.




Apparently at one time you could walk across the stones through the swamp.  Not so much now.






The Fern Garden Trail connects to the Richard Lieber Trail so we spend a few minutes in “my spot”.  I notice that a yellow bellied sapsucker may have been working over a tree right behind me.  In the picture, it’s hard to see the lines of horizontal holes all the way up the trunk.  But close up you can see the sap has been flowing. 



In the swamps I look out into the distance hunting for eyes in the black water.  I look down near me to see the little things and up above me to see the canopy.  That’s when I notice a big green ball sticking out like a sore thumb.   Is it mistletoe??  I think so.  Mistletoe seems to be a sweet plant, you know, the kisses and all.  But it has a another side.  It plunders water and nutrients from its host tree and serves up toxic white berries which don’t bother the birds who reseed them all over but can make humans very sick.






Leaving “my spot” we quietly walk back to the fern trail again.




We’re still on the hunt for the alligator.  Third time’s the charm and we spot her on an island off the boardwalk.

She looks like she’s had a big meal and is stretched out completely relaxed.  








No worries when you are the major predator in the area.


Those are some mighty fine looking alligator skin gloves.  Could she use a manicure?



All along the beautiful Hammock Road circle there are stops on a fitness trail.  They have no parking spots so they must be intended for those of us who walk or bike the 3 mile loop.   We try out few of them. 





At this one, David demonstrates that he can still do push ups. I’m impressed. I try and can’t even do one. I can lower down slowly but can’t get back up. Goodness I need some upper body strength building recommendations. Anybody on the road who could share some I could do without a gym or weights?





The last trail we walk before heading home is the Ancient Hammock trail which is described as a virgin forest and a sample of primitive Florida .  More fern lined paths, more palms, more big trees.  We never tire of any of them






We do think that we see the largest trees in the park on and slightly off this trail.  The way to find them is to keep your eye on the sky and notice when there are enormous crowns of live oaks taking up huge space in the canopy.  The base of those will be big trees.  Like this one.  Can you see its left toe hidden behind the palms?  Sorry I couldn’t get a picture of its enormous trunk, too many palms,  but from the foot you can imagine it.




We thought that might be the biggest tree we’d seen until we snuck back into the jungle at another spot to find this one.  How old these trees are and how much they have experienced.  Makes me feel small and foolish.




I’ve come 180 degrees from Sunday when I wondered why we’d come back to Highlands Hammock for a week.  I now know that if I could extend my stay for another week or even two or maybe three I very well might.  These swamps are hypnotic.  They keep drawing me back.  I just want to go again and again even to walk the very same trails where I always find things I haven’t seen before that make me say “how beautiful”.   It’s a deep quiet wondrous beauty.


  1. Hate to tell you but push-ups are a great way to build upper body strength and require no special equipment. They aren't much fun, though:-)

  2. I totally agree with your assessment of walking the same trail over and over. . .as long as you can take the time to enjoy all the differences. ..kinda like the beach. . .different every single time.

    and that is one huge whale of an alligator. . .wow!

  3. I've always liked the sun ray shape of those palmettos. Jim and Gayle's comment made me chuckle. :)

  4. I'd heard that at some point about mistletoe's side effects.

    That is one big gator!

  5. Mistletoe - made me chuckle. When we were in TX getting our inspection, the owner's father came out with a rifle, told us to not worry, he was going out back to 'shoot the mistletoe out of the tree'. Geez. He did :)
    You can do some easier push ups by pushing off of the wall at an angle. Still works your arms but much easier :)

  6. The easiest way to get that upper body going is to get those kayaks out more. Sure beats the push ups.

  7. The swamps and hammocks and amazing spring run rivers are my most favorite part of Florida. Your posts remind me of why I fell in love with the state, completely surprised, when I first visited Bel in 2002. I had no clue. It is a magical place if you know where to go.

  8. I was also going to say you can stand back from a wall and do push ups against the wall. I got to the point at one time where I could do one regular push up from practicing against the wall, but I can't do it now. There are lots of ways to build upper body and arm strength, including dumbells. You can start with 1 and 2#, and eventually build up to 5# and 8#. Working on upper body strength is my favorite type of exercise.

    Alligators are very interesting but weird and scary at the same time.

    How is David doing with the meds? He seems to have the same energy as ever, so he must have a good appetite as well.

  9. How lucky that you spotted the gator. We walked that trail at least 4 times during our 10 day stay at Highlands Hammock and didn't spot her once. She looks very relaxed :) I am with you on those oranges. We tried one and it was way too sour for my taste!

  10. Although not as effective as floor push-ups, wall p-ups are a good place to start, with progression to floor p-ups as you get stronger.. I've read that one can use canned goods instead of dumbbells. Again, not as effective, but a start and eliminates the extra weight of dumbbells in the rig. Some yoga positions also focus on upper body and arm strength. Yep, that's one big gator! Glad David is up to trekking around.

  11. Beautiful picture of the hawk and alligator!

  12. These thick forests are so complex and without trails seems like one could fall in the swamp and become the meal for your satiated alligator. Great shots on the gloves. I always appreciate how you see the big and the small along these hikes.
    Pushup on the furniture to get off the floor was an exerciser once prescribed to a friend.

  13. It's like Spring Break here at Myakka for the Red Shouldered Hawks...noisy and rowdy, but what fun!!! That gator looks like it just finished a Thanksgiving Dinner and loosened its belt a notch or two;o)) We will definitely be putting Highland Hammocks on our TODOS list....beautiful!!!

  14. That alligator looks like it had a BIG dinner, wonder who or what???

  15. I love how you both manage to spend time in Florida and yet stay away from the crowds. We love the swamp areas, they are so much more interesting than some of the other areas, like the "shopping" areas!

    Glad you are having a wonderful time exploring!


  16. That canteen tail is hilarious! :) That hawk is so stately and so are those amazing trees! That alligator was quite fat!! What a life - eat and laze in the old, pristine Florida. Not a bad life! Mistletoe in the wild - have I ever seen that? I bet I would like the wild oranges - not a big surprise that Pops does - lol. He has an adventurous palette :)

  17. So a yellow bellied sapsucker is a real bird? Always thought it was just an insult without swear words! Tell David he makes the canteen look good :-) Ms Gator is magnificent soaking up some sun - could she be pregnant? Every time you hug a tree, stand back a couple feet and then do 4 reps of 10-15 push-ups off the trunk. Step back further as it gets easier.....More hugs, stronger you :-) I'm glad your heart remembered why this was a place you needed to revisit - and that you listened.

  18. Yes indeed, a wondrous place and testament to the "Garden of Eden" feel of the natural world when left to pursue its own ends. The virgin forest is always high on my list, but always hard to find. This one is a special treat being unique to the Florida geography & climate.

  19. Beautiful hike! Love the swamp:) That is a great gator. I did love spotting all the different type of air ferns. That is a gorgeous ball of mistletoe. Love David's "tail!"

  20. Love the Bromileds (sp) in the last photo. That 'gator looks like she's had more than one big meal!

  21. They've shown the contestants on Biggest Loser lifting chairs up and down over their heads before, I keep thinking one day I'll be somewhere on the road and give it a try. Best way to do push ups is just do em. Do the ones from the knees first, just however many you can. Rest and repeat. Then again the next day and the next. I'm not being fanatic about my strength training at all (especially this week) but every time I work with the trainer I'm always stronger. We've been working a lot on my core/abdomen. Amazing how when that gets stronger everything else gets easier. Best place to start is with variations of sit ups. I'll send you some links to some floor exercise websites later. Your own body is often all the "weight" you need.

  22. I would have loved to see all of the turtles! The Ancient hammock trail is beautiful- so lush and green. No bugs? I love the photo of the palm fanning out in all directions! Soup soup soup- we just finished the last of the chili I made. The one woman serving the soup looks awfully serious about it. Maybe she doesn't like to have her picture taken. Looks like a great day- xxxooo

  23. Such a beautiful, peaceful, magical place! I'm always happy to hike a special trail more than once; there's always something new to observe. As far as upper body strength, I got rid of the 10-pound weights we were carrying and just started doing pushups and planks a few times a week. It only takes 10 minutes and I feel so virtuous, haha!

  24. Had we stayed at the state park when we were there, I would have enjoyed the trail as much as you did and noticed something new along the way. And there were no gators when we walked that trail.
    I carried with me a 5 lb weight and not once had I lifted it :)

  25. Absolutely stunning photos! I would never have thought Florida was so green and lush with ferns and all the plants. Gorgeous!


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