The Strange World of Ocala National Forest

If you look at the image above, you may have no idea of what it is. What strange country is this in? It’s Fern Hammock Springs in Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest – one of several springs in Central Florida.

Ocala NF has freshwater springs sprinkled around its huge land mass. The water temperature in the springs is a constant 72 degrees year-round. You can swim in some springs, boat or fish in others and even snorkel.

Danny, Beth and Sawako on the Florida Trail

On my trip to Tampa to speak to the Tampa Garden Club, I stayed with Beth, a hiking friend. We walked through Tampa and St. Petersburg, both lovely cities. On the last day, we drove over to Ocala NF and met another Carolina Mountain Club hiking friend, Sawako.

What a lovely reunion!

The Florida National Scenic Trail goes right through Ocala NF, as it meanders for about 1,300 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore. We walked a small section of the trail. It was sandy and flat through scrub pines.

Trail to Lake George in Ocala National Forest

The trail to Lake George felt different, mostly because of the huge amount of Spanish moss. From tree to tree, the moss seemed to jump into the air, across the trail and land wherever. More palm fronds and less sand, as well.

We reached the lake in a little more than a mile. Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida, but so shallow, only ten feet in depth. It attracts migratory birds and alligators. When we were there, we only saw several herons in the distance.

I can really understand the attraction of Florida, beyond the allure of the beaches. I was hiking in shorts – I was in shorts the whole time I was there in February. I only put long pants back on in north Georgia.

But I can hardly complain. As I write this in Asheville, it’s over 60 degrees. Wild!

Visiting Buford’s Massacre Battleground

Buford Massacre Site

When I first signed up for Nicole’s Sleepaway Writing Camp in Waxhaw, I knew I had to find Buford’s Massacre Battlefield. In Forests, Alligators, Battlefields, I wrote about this Revolutionary War battlefield in South Carolina where the Patriots were massacred by a British Regiment led by Banaster Tarleton.

But the battlefield isn’t a national park unit or a state historic site – hard to tell who protects it – so I never felt the need to search it out.

When I drove to the writing retreat, I stopped at the Museum of the Waxhaws and asked where the battlefield was. The first woman I spoke to didn’t have a clue and she had to bring out the historian. It turned out that the museum had a big display on Buford’s Massacre. Here’s the story:

Lt. Col. Banaster Tarleton on the British side meets Col. Abraham Buford with the Southern Continental Army on May 29, 1780. The American Patriots were badly beaten. But the legend is that Tarleton continued to slaughter the Americans after they surrendered.  This infuriated the Americans who came out in greater numbers for the Battle of Kings Mountain.

The site isn’t as obscure as I thought since my iPhone map app could find it. It’s south of Buford, SC on US 522. A field with a large sign, several monuments and plaques and a couple of graves. But one monument got my attention and was worth the search.

This monument was first erected on June 2, 1860.

Now why did the good people of Lancaster County wait so long to erect a revolutionary war monument? This was part of a movement to remember the revolutionary war just as the potential of a Civil War was heating up. I have seen similar monuments at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain National Military Park. The message was

If we could unite to beat the British, why can’t this country stay together now?

 

Writing Sleepaway Camp with Nicole

I first met Nicole Ayers of Ayers Edits when I was looking for an editor for Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South. Through a series of happy events, she was recommended as a good editor. She was – and is.

This past weekend, Nicole offered a writing retreat/workshop, which she called Sleepaway Camp to distinguish it from the one day or shorter workshops she holds. It was held at a B&B in Waxhaw, NC. I was intrigued. It fit into my schedule and I signed up.

“Come prepared with questions, a project, ideas…”, she said.

Writing retreat

The other two writers were also nonfiction writers in the midst of major writing projects. Marni writes about intuitive healing and Mica deals with children with educational challenges.

Me?? I wanted to see if I could make some headway with my research on Camino pilgrims in the Middle Ages. Could I write a few hundred words about a fictional character walking the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages? Could I do it without being paralyzed by extensive research?

Friday afternoon, we gathered in the huge house and got our individual writing corners. I spread out on the dining room table. We all signed up with our one-to-one hour with Nicole. What luxury to be able to bounce ideas off a knowledgeable editor for an hour! I spent some time writing down my questions and ideas.

“Set a goal for the weekend,” Nicole advised. So I wrote;

To write about a Middle Age pilgrim without doing much research and without worrying about how elementary it was or full of holes.

I started my story but had trouble from the beginning. I decided that this pilgrim was going to be a woman in her late thirties to mid-forty. But what time period in the Middle Ages? The tenth century was very different from the fifteenth century.

And where would she live? Where would she start her journey from? These questions bothered me more than her motivation or how she was going to find a group to walk with.

I looked at pictures of female pilgrims on the web. Yes, here we had access to our iPhones and the  Internet at this retreat, not always the best idea. I could see their costume but not their shoes. I’m pretty sure they didn’t wear hiking boots. How much research did I need to do? How much research was I willing to do?

I got the bolt of lightning that you’ve already figured out. I didn’t need to read academic treatises. I could focus on novels set in the Middle Ages. Let’s see how this works. I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure this out if I wasn’t at a retreat, thinking about my writing a hundred per cent of the time.

Nicole led two discussions: Writing Personal Essays and Tips on Writing, Editing, Publishing and Marketing. We shared tips and ideas which I find so motivating since writing is a solitary occupation.

Nicole prepared lovely lunches and dinners and we all seemed to dig in for our own breakfasts. Mica and I took a couple of hours off yesterday afternoon to walk on the Carolina Thread Trail. Otherwise it was writing and discussing writing. As we hit snags, we put questions up on a board. These were our meal time conversations.

Was it worth the time and money? Yes. I feel I have a direction now. No guarantee that the direction will get me to the writing I think I want to do but it’s a direction. And, as an extra bonus, the Waxhaw B&B was close to a historic place I’ve been meaning to visit. Stay tuned.