Happy New Year all! I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. Feels good to be tapping away at the keyboard again. I am fresh off a very different holiday experience that involved our family driving to Bradenton Florida for Christmas! So glad we decided to break from tradition. We were not able to take a summer vacation this year, so this fun-filled, sun-filled week in Florida was just what the doctor ordered for all of us. Much to our delight, the Christmas spirit was just as fresh and alive in the warmer temps as it would have been back home in chilly Maryland.

            Never thought I would be kayaking, biking or beachcombing during Christmas break but we did it all. Our lodging for the week was located three miles from the gulf beaches and within easy biking and paddling distance to several nature preserves. Our first excursion brought us to the beach where we found many families doing all the typical beach activities while wearing Santa hats. We joined right in and promptly took our Christmas card photo for next year in our beach attire. After a relaxing day of gentle waves, soothing sunshine and a beautiful sunset we decided to hop in the kayaks to explore the mangroves the next day. What a treat! Smooth clear water and wildlife at every turn. Even the animals were more relaxed here; letting us drift by within a few yards on many occasions. Observing the many species of birds navigating amongst the maze of the green mangroves had my cheeks hurting from smiling. Cruising in a kayak and being able to look down 8 feet to the bottom is an experience not found at many places in Maryland. I quickly filled up storage on my phone with pics of starfish, horseshoe crabs, herons, pelicans, and egrets. Paddling back to the house on one of the canals we were treated to playful dolphins and pelicans dive-bombing into the shallow waters for fish. Front row seats for a lesson on how to fish. After relaxing around the house and spending a day or two around town at the many delicious boat to table eateries,  we decided to pedal off the extra calories the following day. Flat Florida is perfect for casual biking with well-maintained streets, bike lanes and paths allowing for an excellent day of sightseeing in the Preserves and around town. A twelve-mile ride felt like a trip around the block. At the end of the week, we all felt refreshed and recharged.

              During the long 17-hour drive home I had plenty of time to reflect on our good fortune and the many benefits of spending time outdoors. Not once did we crave any of the nearby trendy tourist spots in Tampa or Orlando. Cell phone use decreased dramatically, and books were read. Sleep came easy and lasted through the nights. We planned nothing ahead of time and were not rushing to get to anywhere by any certain time. This week “off the grid” had us all reevaluating how we spend our time. Our days spent in Florida were what vacations were supposed to be. Relax and exhale. I don’t even remember feeling the dread of returning to work. All I was thinking about was how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to get away and I would soon be returning to one of my other favorite places. My mind shifted gears wondering what new pics I would discover on my trail cams back in Maryland. They hadn’t been checked in a month and I was excited to get back and see what had been stomping around our hunting lease. A brief two-day late firearms season for deer was next on my agenda. Returning to work was reduced to a minor distraction by the buzz of being outside. Hopefully, I will complete my quest with Dad this weekend to fill our freezers.

            If you are the type of person that makes resolutions, I strongly suggest that one be to spend more time outdoors this year and beyond. Getting outside is truly therapeutic for the ever-present daily stresses and expectations of our society. Go ahead, just open the door. You wont be disappointed!



Summer is not my favorite season to hike but when my busy teenage daughter asks to go for a stroll outside, I’m all in! Our kids grow up way too fast not to spend as much time as we can with them. I suggested a waterfront park not far from home and within a half hour, we were up and out into the humid, salty breeze. Scanning the parking lot I noticed that ours was the only vehicle in the parking lot this Sunday morning. Even our dog seemed more excited to be out of the AC and into an environment where all his senses were on high alert. We chose a 4-mile loop trail that offered woods, open meadows, marshland, and riverfront. Skies were overcast with a nice breeze keeping most bugs and the summer heat from bothering us.

The first part of a journey lead us on a path through the woods. I ran blocker for my daughter through all the unseen spider webs stretched across the trail. Our moods seemed to elevate to match our goofy dog, Charlie. Our 65 pound Pit Bull, Boxer and Sheperd mutt zigzagged across the trail at the end of his 20-foot leash. He was more than happy to flush out plenty of critters for us to enjoy and I no longer regretted bringing him with us. With his tail a whipping blur,  he burrowed through the lush green undergrowth. Several frogs, chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits scurried ahead of his marauding paws.  My daughter smiled and giggled as she watched him terrorize each little creature. She had a knack for yanking his leash in time to keep him from snacking on our entertainment.  At times all we could see at the end of the leash was the white tip of his tail whipping around. During a break in that action, two deer jumped up from a tangle of honeysuckle 15 yards or so away. Our heads snapped around watching their reddish-brown coats and white flags, bounce through the woods. Seeing deer was always a special treat. I noticed a mosquito or two buzzing around as the trail turned towards the marsh. We stopped to admire the view on a small bridge over a secluded cove. Turtles scattered and dove from logs below us. Above us, an Osprey scanned the shallow water for an easy meal. As we looked up he dipped his wing and, in a flash, plunged down to hit the water behind a wall of cattails. He returned to the sky less a second or two later with a small catfish in its talons. We looked at each other and managed an amazed,“Whoa”. We leaned on the railing and watched the Osprey glide to his nest. A gust of wind brought my gaze back to the marsh. The breeze, filtering through the grass and cattails, created a soothing natural tune. These sights and sounds reinforced our decision to venture out of the house this morning.

Crossing the bridge to the riverside section of the trail,  the salty, earthy breeze caused me to inhale a little deeper in appreciation.  I thought of the poor souls trapped in their houses and cars and then basked in gratitude and appreciation for this precious time. We stopped one last time to give Charlie a drink and enjoy one of the scenic views out to the river. Several sailboats worked the breeze while a speedboat pulled two young brave souls on a tube. They laughed and squealed as the choppy river tried to bump them loose. We watched until one of them went head over heels into the water. Isabella and I sat there and talked for a while. No TV, no cell phones, no sirens, no horns honking. Even without those type of distractions, all my senses seemed to be acute and buzzing. “This is what it’s all about,” I said to no one in particular. Isabella nodded in agreement as her head swiveled around taking it all in. We chatted a few minutes more then stood up to leave. At that same instant, another deer, enjoying our conversation from somewhere close by, decided it also had somewhere else to be. She waved bye, bye to us with her signature white tail.

As we rounded the last bend in the trail a final surprise tried to creep his way across the trail. He retreated into his shell when Charlie greeted him with one of his piercing barks. Isabella tossed me the leash and ran up to play with Mr. Turtle. I have never seen a smile so big on her face. Never see that while she was watching TV or a video on her phone. She picked the turtle up and showed him to me in her outstretched hand. Of course, next was “can we keep him?” I explained how much happier the turtle would be staying right here and without too much debate, she agreed.  We watched the turtle for a few more minutes then headed for the truck. As we piled into the steamy box waiting for the AC to take over, we promised to do this more often. I knew it might be a while before the planets and our schedules would align to allow that. When it did happen I would be just as grateful. The memories we had made from taking this simple hike will last a lifetime.