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wholesculpture

My granddaughter and I point out features of the sculpture

My granddaughter and I point out features of the sculpture

“Lady With a Green Blanket”

Found in Lake Eola Park, downtown Orlando, FL

Maria del Valle, executive director of Art Center South Florida, was quoted in a recent American Way magazine article about the New Face of Miami (new art centers, shows, murals). She said, “Art is a form of creativity, and creativity generates energy, and energy creates hope.

This really resonated with me, as I also believe that offering art to people makes their lives better in many ways. This is especially true for public art, and outdoor art that is available to all.

faceandhand

My granddaughter asking questions

My granddaughter asking questions

So, in early January when we were wandering along the edge of Lake Eola in Orlando, this stunning piece of public art near the outdoor café really jumped out at us. My 5-year-old granddaughter dubbed it “The Lady with a Green Blanket” and I can see why. The reclining ‘lady’ has a very pretty face and her body is covered in growing greenery, which led to questions like, “why is she lying down?” and “why is she covered?” and “what’s she doing with her hands?”

We read the information board and find out it’s called “Muse of Discovery”, by Meg White, Stephensport, KY. It’s made of limestone and earthwork, and was gifted to the City of Orlando by Wayne M. Densch Charities, as part of the See Art Orlando Public Sculpture Program, 2013.

 

 

grass sign

facecloseThe artist invites the viewer to “ sit in the hand of the Muse and discover your hidden potential as she whispers to you”. I’m sure that would be an interesting experience, but it’s not possible right now, as the grass around the sculpture is resting for winter.

But, still the sculpture put a smile on our faces and got us pondering, so no matter if we couldn’t sit on the hand.

 

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Park entrance

Park entrance

Blue Spring Run

Blue Spring Run

Two manatees come up for air

Two manatees come up for air

A Manatee Hot Tub, and place of shade, peace, reflections

Blue Spring State Park in central Florida is Florida’s premiere manatee refuge.

trees

Spot the manatees swimming over there

This wonderful little park (2,643 acres) is an easy drive north from Orlando and a must-see in the winter months if you want to find out about endangered West Indian manatees. It’s the winter home to more than 200 manatees, as these creatures swim up the St. John’s River and into the Blue Spring Run. Why they do this is because the water that bubbles up from underground into the end of the small stream (the Blue Spring Run) is warm (72-73F). This makes the Run warm and a welcome respite from the colder waters of the river. In addition, the Run is roped off and during the winter months no boats, canoes, or swimmers are allowed in, so it’s very safe for the manatees.

It’s a pretty place, as the waters of the spring are bright blue-green, with Sabal palms and huge trees—many live oaks dripping with swathes of Spanish moss—lining both sides. The park has constructed a boardwalk along the Run all the way to the end where the spring bubbles up, and along the way there are look-out platforms over the water where visitors can stand and look down on the manatees.

We went last Friday on a cool day (for Florida) and apparently the park rangers had spotted 233 manatees that day. We could believe it, as we saw more of these giant gentle creatures than we’ve ever seen on previous visits. They swim in herds, and some herds were very close that day. One came right under the viewing platform and we were only a few feet above them so we could see very clearly the injuries and scars that some of them have from boating accidents.

Manatees swim around the spring bubbling up

Manatees swim around the spring bubbling up

We felt very privileged to watch these large grey animals swimming, foraging for sea grass along the bottom of the shallow spring, rolling over, flipping their tails and frolicking. They come up for air every few minutes, snorting noisily and you can see their sweet faces and whiskers. One was cleaning and licking another’s back. We could also see fish cleaning the manatees’ backs.

Swimming around the spring entrance

Swimming around the spring entrance

The highlight of a visit here is the manatees, but there is much other wildlife. Fish jump, and plop down with a splash, white egrets and grey herons swoop, turtles swim lazily in clear blue-green water. Note the black gar fish with their big snouts, blue herons, small white herons, scrub jays with their loud call. Anhingas flap their wings to dry and squabble over space on one of the poles dividing the spring and the river. An alligator lies sunning itself on the opposite bank.

Strolling along the boardwalk

Strolling along the boardwalk

We felt very fortunate being able to visit the park. It’s a peaceful place, even with people. It’s a pretty place, with its clear blue-green water, and lush foliage. It’s a hopeful place—as we see these endangered creatures come to the safe haven, their endearing, almost dog-like faces popping up for air; and as we see the reactions of the visitors, especially young people, who hopefully will be concerned enough, stimulated enough to continue to help in the future.

There are information boards telling about the manatees, also the story and history of the park (from the indigenous Indians, through early settlers who came by steamer on the river, to later settlers who came by train). We also visited Thursby House by the car park, now a small museum. It was on Thursby Landing on the St Johns River in the days of steam ships.

Gentle giants

Gentle giants

Blue Spring Run---note the viewing platform

Blue Spring Run—note the viewing platform

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

*The park’s about an hour north of Orlando, close to the small old town of Orange City.

*You can go north on SR 417, the Seminole Expressway (toll), which goes over Lake Jesup with many ospreys perched on the lamp-posts, most with a fish in their mouth. SR 417 ends at I-4, so go east on I-4 to exit 114 and follow signs about 5 miles to Orange City Historic District (established 1882) and the park.

*Or, just go east on I-4.

See how close they are to the viewing platform

See how close they are to the viewing platform

*$6 per car entrance

*Tel: 386-775-3663

* http://www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring/

*When the manatees are there (usually mid-Nov to March) the park can get very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays, and park rangers will sometimes turn away cars if there are too many people. So, try to arrive before 10am or else at about 4pm —it closes at 5:30pm and times are strictly enforced.

*You can also camp there, or stay in cabins, which would be fun for anyone with extra time.

Light snacks at the cafe

Light snacks at the cafe

Trail sign

Trail sign

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Patrons’ Marks

Plaques. Lists of names. Framed photographs of donors. Just a few ways of mentioning and remembering those who give—either financially or with their own time—in order to support and help an organization or special attraction.

Recently, I’ve come across interesting parallels in this concept in two entirely different places. These both have the patrons’ names engraved in a consecutive fashion, outdoors.

First, at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan: This large shrine is famous for its red ‘torii’ gate “tunnel”. All shrines in Japan have at least one or two large red entrance gates (torii), which have become iconic of shrines (pic, left). At Fushimi Shrine, a series of larger and smaller gates placed closely together form a long snaking tunnel, through which visitors walk. There are supposedly 10,000 gates, creating a tunnel of over 4 km, but broken up into sections.

It’s a lovely experience, especially on a sunny day when the sun makes the red pillars glow even more warmly.

Each gate, or toii, has been donated by a company or group and their name(s) are inscribed in bold black characters on the pillars of the gates—but only on one side. So, when you begin walking the loop you don’t see the names, but on the way back you are confronted with the series of names. All written in Japanese, of course, but our hosts, Hiro and Mina, pointed many out to us, such as universities and large corporations. It’s important to give to the shrine and it’s important to have that recognized, so this is very visible—-a kind of free advertising!

 

 

Second, at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford (just north of Orlando), we also find a series of names. But, here they are inscribed/carved on the wooden boards of the boardwalk that meanders round the zoo gardens and passes by, or over, many of the animal enclosures. So, people actually walk on the names, reading as they go along—personal messages, remembrances of family members or friends, dedications, names of companies are all there. Look down and see “Yellow Pages”, look up and see a Siamang (a black-furred gibbon ape) in a large fenced enclosure, for example.

What fun!

www.centralfloridazoo.org

 

 

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The typical vegetation in Florida is very different to what we knew as kids growing up in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and to what we now have in Illinois, in mid-Western USA. So, we are always interested when we go on walks in central Florida to discover what grows naturally here.

Exploring around the Orlando area—at Blue Spring State Park, or in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, in the local Econ River Wilderness Area, or at the Harry P Leu Gardens in the city suburbs—two features of the vegetation stand out for us and seem to epitomize the landscape here: the Spanish moss that is draped from almost every tree, like unkempt grey beards or tangled hair, but in a most charming way; and the Saw Palmettos, with their bright-green, fan-shaped leaves, that can glisten almost luminously in the sunshine.

Palmetto

Florida has many varieties of palms, which are tropical evergreen trees and shrubs. Extremely common is the Saw Palmetto, also known as Silver Saw Palmetto or Scrub Palm. It is native to Florida but grows all over southeastern USA.

Commonly found in pine flatwoods, saw palmettos grow in dense thickets, usually creeping low against the ground. Each clump in the thicket has about 20-25 large fan-shaped leaves that are 1-3 feet wide and 3-6 feet tall and have saw-like spines along the edges. Small white flowers are followed by fruits, which become black as they ripen and are eaten by many kinds of wildlife. The berries are also used for medicinal purposes, especially helping to treat some prostate and urinary problems.

Spanish Moss is a flowering plant that grows on larger trees, commonly the Southern Live Oak or Bald Cypress, throughout the southeastern USA. But it has also spread to Argentina, Hawaii, and Australia, among others. An interesting thing about Spanish moss is that it’s not a moss at all. It’s a member of the bromeliad or pineapple family—yes, pineapple!—, and is an epiphyte, or air plant. It uses trees only for support, getting its nourishment from air, sun and rain. It starts out as a small clump that does, in fact, look like a small pineapple plant, and on our last walk our mission was to find examples of the tiny budding plants.

The grey stems are covered with scaly, grey-green leaves, and the small greenish flowers are rarely seen. The distinctive grey-greenish tangle hangs from tree limbs, and even wires and poles, undulating in the wind. The seeds have tiny parachutes that carry them from tree to tree and sometimes the moss can get so thick that it creates a canopy between trees or poles.

The other interesting thing about Spanish moss is that it is not from Spain. There are many stories about Spanish moss—about the supposed origin of the name, what it is used for, and why it has ‘spooky’ connections. A very nice site to visit is here:

http://www.squidoo.com/spanishmoss

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