February 28, 2018
Happy day, friends!
Earlier this month, I made a trip back east to Tallahassee, Florida, to celebrate the wedding of my sorority little sister, Mallory. We both lead busy lives and live hundreds of miles apart, so we don’t get to see each other as often, as we’d like. And since I hadn’t even met this charmer she was marrying, it was extra important to me to make the trip, meet this incredible fella’, and witness these special nuptials.
And because, for me, every trip is an opportunity to see and do things I’ve never done before, I set out to experience this area of the world like I never had before.
When I arrived on Friday night, I grabbed a quick dinner at the local dive beside my hotel – Bird’s Aphrodisiac Oyster Shack. Now, unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my own of the joint, but definitely check them out on Yelp! That’s how I found them.
Let’s pause for a second and let me preface this review with some explanation – I’m not a huge fan of traveling alone. I know it’s all the rage these days among travel communities, and is supposed to be some awakening time for women, especially. But it’s not my #1 choice. I like to talk to other people too much. I like to process things verbally and discuss my surroundings, and truthfully, I like the security provided when traveling with a partner. So, with that being said, it was with great caution that I take trips such as this. I think one should be hyper-aware of their surroundings, especially a female at night. I don’t like that, but it’s an unfortunate reality of this world. NOW, let me also say that IT DOES NOT STOP ME. Let me say that again, FEAR DOES NOT STOP ME. If it did, I or you could never leave our houses. Bad people and bad situations are everywhere. I can’t limit my explorations, because of fear. Rather, I am realistic and aware.
So, after that digression… back to Bird’s.
I was still in traveling clothes when I sheepishly opened the door to release the wailings of a local performer pouring his heart out on stage. I felt like I was back in middle school trying to find the cool table as the eyes in the room scanned me, instantly accessing my non-native roots. I found myself a few inches at the bar, opting for a stool rather than an entire table, because nothing says “I’m eating alone” like your purse staring back from the chair opposite you.
I cozied up to the bar between Mr. Dad with short sleeve plaid shirt tucked neatly into his belly-button high khaki trousers and an overly friendly and overly intoxicated younger gentlemen who was apparently celebrating a birthday that night. As I ordered and waited for my drink to arrive, through slurred tongue I hear, “Are you a scientist?”
“Me? Am I a scientist?” The confusion on my face coudln’t be hidden, because the question came from the more responsible looking of the two men, and I couldn’t tell if this was a very oddly asked, but genuine question or a poorly developed pick-up line.
“Yeah! Your shirt says you’re a scientist, right?”
I laughed, because this truly was a genuine attempt at conversation. “No… it says ‘Always take the SCENIC route.'”
He went on to recommend several items on the menu, and it was clear he was a regular at this establishment. If that wasn’t clue enough, his female friend joined us shortly after, and they spent the night catching me up on the history of the joint, how they had been friends with the owner for over fifteen years, and put names to many of the faces on photographs stuck under the glass topped bar.
As I enjoyed my DELICIOUS chicken sandwich, I even received a shout-out from the local crooner. Apparently, my “scientist” shirt was quite a hit that night. He even went on to sing a tune about the Tennessee mountains, because my shirt’s suggestion to explore inspired him.
So, while I was originally hesitant to strike up a conversation with a random man in a bar, I’m glad I was open to the communication. You never know who you might meet.
All in all, if you’re ever in the area, I suggest a stop in at Bird’s. It may not look like much from the outside, but it’s truly booming with friendly locals on the inside.
I called it an early night, so I could make it up bright and early wayyyy before the sun.
It’s not often you’ll see me up before sunrise while on vacation, but the chance for a sunrise over a lighthouse donned gulf coast excited me. The locals the night before had assured me that it was a beautiful place to see the sunrise and spend time, so I knew this couldn’t be missed. I made the 45 minute drive south to St. Mark’s Lighthouse just south of the small community of the same name. The lighthouse sits on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico on the southern border of St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. Earlier in the week, I had read this account of the light’s history, so I could take in just how special this structure was while I was there.
I arrived just as the light of day was illuminating the land, but it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to be seeing a magnificent sunrise that morning. The fog was thick and visibility was so low I was starting to second guess making my way through some of the trails marked with “Caution: Alligators” signs. Nevertheless, another car pulled in the parking lot just seconds after me. With her camera in hand, this lady popped out with a greeting, and I knew she was a local photographer who knew her way around here.
“Good. Now someone will be able to hear me, if I scream for help during an alligator attack.”
You’ll notice how the light changes through the progression of these pictures. As a photographer who aims to have a consistent editing style it was tempting for me to edit them to all appear far more cohesive, but by doing so, I would lose the story… and the eeriness of the morning fog and ever present threat of wildlife attack.
I wish I could properly describe just how quiet it was that morning, but I’m afraid words will fail me. As I walked, I think my mind was creating sounds to hear so as to fill the void. After a few minutes, I noticed I kept hearing something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I had mistaken it, and everything else I heard, for impending wildlife confrontation, but it wasn’t until I stopped to take a detail shot of foliage that I noticed it was actually the accumulated dew falling to the ground. I was hearing dew fall, y’all. That’s how quiet it was.
After my quarter mile long walk (that felt thrice as long- I’m serious about the fear of alligator/snake attack!), I made it to the cutest little picnic spot. It was just me, a few birds, and a lone fisherman (Can you spot him?), so I spent the next hour just taking in the morning and capturing it in photographs.
I even stalked this little guy. He didn’t seem to mind much.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I love the textures of the shore. 🙂
It was finally light enough to see well as I made my way back towards the lighthouse.
Oh, what I would have given to have had a couple there with me to photograph!
Can I get some volunteers to travel with me just for the sole purpose of having models constantly on hand?
I’m not going to lie…. I think that’s a perk to having children. They are always on-hand models you can dress like you want and are always available for pictures!
As I realized I had been snooping around for over two hours, I decided it was time to hit the road to my next spot. After all, I was on a tight timeline. I still had another stop to make, and I had to be back at the hotel, showered, ready, and checked out by 2pm.
(This is the point where, if you know me, you roll your eyes, because OF COURSE that didn’t happen. )
What did happen was this…. the most majestic of beings… the symbol of freedom… the Bald Eagle.
Unsurprisingly, the wildlife refuge is destination to many wildlife photographers. I think I just underestimated HOW many. The great thing about it was, as a photographer, it wasn’t odd at all to stop my car in the middle of the road and just sit watching wildlife. Because chances were, so were three or four other cars. Since wildlife photography is not my specialty, I was not equipped with the gear to capture the money shots. My poor little 100mm reached out as far as she could and did her best, but you’ll see it still wasn’t quite enough for some of the animals farther off the road.
After many stops later, I finally reached my second destination- Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.
My only regret is not having more time to spend there. My primary purpose was to take the boat trip, and I accomplished that, but there looks to be an abundance of land to explore.
I had heard it might be possible to see manatees in the warm spring waters there, so though I was running behind schedule, there was no turning back for me. As I was walking down to the boat launch I realized I had JUST missed a tour and found out the next would be an hour later. (See I really did have an excuse for checking out of my room late. Ha!)
While I waited for the next boat, I checked out the observation tower that sits just beside the mouth of the spring. As it turns out, there was another couple who was “in the same boat” as me. (Get it?) So as we wasted the next hour, we struck up a conversation. The gentlemen, who seemed to be in his late 50’s/early 60’s, said they were from the area and had been coming to the park their entire lives often bringing many of their international guests to witness what he called, “the north Florida of the past.” Talking to him was like having my own personal tour guide of the land.
I also took a few minutes to appreciate the camellias in full bloom.
Aboard the boat, we were regaled with interesting talk of the flora and fauna by a former Florida State professor who now spends his time volunteering at the park.
And though you won’t see pictures here, we did, in fact, spot manatees. Had I been there earlier in the morning, they would have been more abundant and easier to watch. By late morning, they were already making their way down river for the day, but I am thankful to have watched them play even if for a few short minutes!
In a world with petting zoos, animal exhibits, full force zoos, and the likes of Disney World, it’s hard to comprehend the natural world – unstaged and raw.
These creatures aren’t corralled for public viewing. They aren’t fed on a schedule to maximize their visibility. They are just living, and we had a chance to view them in their natural habitat. I was especially impressed by the knowledge that there are several miles of the river there that are protected and only accessed twice a year for scientific study.
The only unfortunate part? We were on the pontoon boat, because the glass bottom boats don’t run on days when the water isn’t clear enough. The water is unclear due to run off from various local pollutants. Unfortunately, those days come more often than not.
If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly recommend checking out both of these beautiful areas. In fact, the city of Tallahassee itself was much more impressive than I remember it from my last visit. The area around the capitol building is very nice, and I plan to put that, as well as many of the historical buildings on my agenda for a future trip.
I’ve included some additional resources here:
Tallahassee Tourism: http://www.visittallahassee.com/
TripAdvisor Top 10 in Tallahassee: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g34675-Activities-Tallahassee_Florida.html#ATTRACTION_SORT_WRAPPER
I’d love to check out the Mission San Luis de Apalachee, Tallahassee Museum, and Alfred B Maclay Gardens State Park in the future, too!
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/st_marks/
Next up, I’ll be showing off some pictures of our Saturday adventure through the backwoods of Mansfield, Louisiana, so stay tuned for more JB Travels!