Sunday, August 28, 2016

Indy Greek-Fest 2015

My grandfather on my mother's side was Greek - Nickolas Harakas, actually from the "old country", but we never knew him. In fact, my mother never knew him, but of course, knew of him and the Greek side of the family.  Unfortunately, grandma was only married to him for about five years because he passed away at a very young age leaving my mother and grandmother with very little of the Greek family influences. Grandma eventually remarried the only father that mom ever knew and grandfather that we ever had - coincidentally, also an orphan named Herschel E. Greene. He was a great man, to all of us and the best crappie fisherman of all time, IMHO.

Growing up, I met the Greeks very few times, but I was aware that this family branch existed and took a small amount of pride in the fact that I was part "something" recognizable. To many Americans - 400 years since the Mayflower - bloodlines get mixed. In a way, very similar to mixed breed dogs like the Cocka-poo - part cocker spaniel and part poodle. Although we could never interview these lovable animals, we'll never know in which of their mixed breeds they took the most pride in being. Doggies are just happy to find a family that loves them. Aren't we all like that?

That being said, we were raised as the proud, flag-waving Americans that we were born to be. Of course, my grandmother knew she was born in Adair County, Kentucky - on Lawhorn Ridge - her family name. It was a migration destination of a group of Scots-Irish/English and probably Cherokee Indian somewhere along the line. My genetic father was never in the family picture, but my step-dad was and he was a great guy, too. We were a hodge-podge family with shallow roots, but we did our best to get along in life - absorbing the teachings of our forefathers - wherever they came from.

My mother's grandfather - Grandpa Harakas (Nick's father) was a member of the Indianapolis Greek Orthodox Church and when he passed away at the age 87, his funeral was held there at it's former location on North Pennsylvania Street. Greek life centers around their church and American Greeks are no different. In 2008, the church moved to a grand new facility in the Carmel area on Indy's north side. When I used the word 'grand', it was surely an understatement. After all these years of wanting to attend the annual GreekFest celebration, last year I finally made it there. I went all three days of that weekend. Sadly, I didn't get to go this year because it rained so much.

There was a huge crowd to visit this spectacular church grounds at GreekFest 2015.
It is not my intention here to explain the differences between Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, but there are many. . To satisfy your intellectual curiosity, you are welcome to investigate the "Great Schism of 1054".  Let's just say, from what I've been told is that Greek (Eastern) Orthodox is the closest thing to "original" form of Christianity from it's very foundation in the First Century A.D. and worship services are performed in Greek as the Catholics did in Latin.

I arrived early to GreekFest and got a great parking spot. Admission is free, but you do pay for parking your car in the field behind the church. Before the evening was done, there still would not be enough parking spaces unless someone decided to leave. This event has been going on for decades and is a multi-cultural event in that all kinds of people - from various ethnic and religious backgrounds attend to sample the Greek culture in dance, music and, of course, great-smelling food.

Greek Warrior and ol' Jim.
This Greek warrior was guarding the gates to the food court where the perfume of grilled meats, pita bread, "Loukoumandes" Greek donut holes made with honey and walnuts -  and other delicious foods. The music was pre-recorded, but an authentic band of Greek musicians were coming in from Chicago to play for us later tonight. Of course, there will be dancing, colorful costumes and lots of people.

This Greek musician was puzzled why I took so many pictures - just so I could get this one.
Of course, with music comes dancing. The church does a lot to further the Greek culture to their American-born people. Of course, along with Greek language skills, there are the dancing, cooking and lifestyle influences. Make no mistake, these are Americans first - Greek by blood and they're proud of both.

Just a hint of the attendance at this huge event as Junior High School-aged dancers begin their performance.
The next day, I talked to my daughter about coming out with me. I thought that since she was doing a family history research, it might be nice to add a little Greek color to her findings. She brought the girls, too. I enjoyed their company as I usually attend things on my own.

Daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Brittney & Zane, The Greek, Paige (high school freshman) and me.
The girls came out on Sunday, but by then almost all the food had been sold out. We wandered the grounds, watched some dancing and of course, they did some shopping. There was plenty of pre-recorded music going, until the band came back at 1:00 pm. I bought a Greek warrior t-shirt for my brother that said, "You can always tell a Greek, but you can't tell him much." That pretty much sums up my brother, Dave. The girls bought a little waist sash. Later, they would model for me. They have fun wherever they go.

As cute as they are in their new "jingle sashes" I wonder if they ever wore them again.
The Greek youngsters performed for the crowd including these two cuties. They were so sweet. I had to get a picture while they waited for the rest of their dance class and for the music to begin.

The dancing started with the younger age groups and progressed to the high school students, who clearly had the most training and the more difficult dances to perform. This girl was a regular spark plug for her class. She also had the world's brightest smile. You know she was having a good time.

I really liked all the performances of the dancers. Later, the adults would dance, but they just wore their street clothes, but had just as much fun. Combined with huge multiple tents of diners there was still a standing room only crowd for the dance performances - all day long.

I took a tour of the church which wasn't much of a tour - just a visit to the large, circular sanctuary - but was accompanied by the priest who explained about the arrangement of the church and the many, many frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the church. These are very expensive to produce as they must be done by artists who paint other Greek Orthodox churches all around the world. The are called iconography and visually tell the stories of the Holy Bible and New Testament - the Greek versions. They are done in the same Byzantine-style as the early paintings so that any visitor to any Greek Orthodox church will recognized them.

Of course, this is Christ surrounded by the saints at the very top of the building looking down on us all.
As I was raised Protestant, this practice was very different to me, but I found just being in this church - even with a mixed crowd of believers of other faiths - very moving, inspiring and reverent. The idea of being in church is to be in a place which brings your soul closer to God. I could definitely feel it here. I bought a candle and said a prayer for a very ill friend back in West Virginia. The customary belief is that your prayer will continue to repeat itself over and over as the candle burns down in the hope that something good will come of it - fostering the faith that it will.

As I am primarily a still photo shooter, I had nearly forgotten that I had my Kodak Pocket Video camera with me. It does a so much better job than any cell phone camera - especially in low light situations. I wanted to get some video of the high school class and their dancing with the Greek music. It seemed like each song of Greek music has a different dance associated with it. I could not confirm this, but I thought this dance was particularly complicated. I have two left feet anyway - especially for this kind of fun. I shot this video and I'm glad I did.

In 2008, I went to another Greek Food Festival in Clarksburg, West Virginia and shot other video of some of the Grecian Odyssey Dancers out of Pittsburgh. I thought this dance was interesting.

I'll leave you with a shot of the first time I tried to learn Greek dancing. The woman to my right surely had sore ankles following my attempt. I usually kicked when I should have stepped and stepped instead of kick. Awkward - even for someone only partially Greek, like me.

Jim tries Greek Dancing at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church - Greek Food Festival in 2008.
It was very awkward for me, but I vow to try it again, sometime. For now, it's time for a Gyro and fries ... I wonder if the Greek restaurant down the road is open today. I think they probably take Sundays off. I'll go tomorrow.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Retirement Travels - Year Two

The Winter Travel Season of 2015-16 was, by-far, more extensive, ambitious and a whole lot more fun. Why? Why not? Gas prices were low and campground fees in some areas had not risen as high as other places. It pays to shop around - as always. Over the course of the season, I traveled 4447.9 miles, driving 82.7 hours total and spending $956.29 in gasoline expense. Of course, these are the estimates provided in the Good Sam online software.

Those actual gasoline expenses weren't tallied, but they are accounted for in my budgeting software. The estimates also don't include the two trailer tires and two engine oil changes along the way. I'm good-to-go now, though.

My itinerary was the main reason I had such a great season. I planned to spend Christmas in New Orleans and New Years in south Texas, but I frequently change plans -- just because I can. I did get to spend the 180th Anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. That was a thrill as well as a time of reverence and remembrance of those brave men and women who taught us the value of freedom from political tyranny by the price they paid. A visit there should be on everyone's list of places to appreciate up close.

As a Good Sam member, I have use of their online Trip Planner service - finding camps along the way.
I've noticed a sharp increase in those camp fees since so many Baby Boomers decided to retire and take to the roads. And here I thought is was just my idea. I should have known I got it from somewhere else. Even the state parks have raised their fees.

In all fairness to state parks, they do give campers fair value if you want the wild forest and as-real-as-you-can-get experience of camping from an RV perspective, but the comfort of a water and sewer hookup at your site are usually non-existent, but clean, potable water is available at many convenient sources throughout the parks. Most include a picnic table and fireplace ring, which is also enhances the woodland experience. The beauties, wonder and experience of nature are their hallmark features - a quiet respite for travelers. Sites are spaced well-apart for enhanced privacy, too. As a rule, only a maximum 14-day reservation is allowed, however.

National Parks have also, but thanks to the Senior Pass (a lifetime pass), those fees are half-price for us old folks. Since most of these are out West, it takes more gas to get there, so it evens out. The experiences there are about the same as state parks but they offer much more in the way of hiking, biking, kayaking and assistance from Park Rangers and their assistants. At state parks, you hardly see a Ranger, that I've noticed.

In Arkansas, I even self-served my stay at a machine in the lobby of the old Ranger Station. I pulled into the most convenient available site, memorized the site number, went to the office and input the information and my credit card. The machine spit out a ticket listing the day of my check-out, which had to be clipped to the post beside my site. That was interesting.

On this trip, I also got the opportunity to put my newly delivered kayak in the ocean waters off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. On my very first trip out, I saw a dorsal fin rise about the water surface and freaked out at the possibility of a shark feasting off-shore, but it turned out to be a friendly dolphin. That was cool.

In my month-long stay on Galveston Island, I took advantage of their version of Mardi Gras. The park rangers in New Orleans suggested that Mardi Gras in New Orleans might be too crazy for novice travelers, so we continued on our journey. I was totally unaware of the celebration in Galveston.

Okay, so, that's a little highlight reel for now, but rest assured that I'll be back with scenes and adventures from each park I visited and the sights along the way. I may, also, have some video to put up. I wish I had my video camera set-up so I could show you the dophin I saw and the alligators I didn't see on another kayak trip through the bayou in Mississippi.

So, I'll leave you with a satellite map of my trip - also an option on the Good Sam website. Enjoy your day and get yourself out there! Life is getting shorter every day. Nobody knows that better than an older person. That's my advice to you - take it or leave it, but enjoy yourself.

Cool, huh?
Check back with us later.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flashback ~ My First Airplane

Originally posted: March 21, 2009

Try as I might, I couldn’t find it. Apparently, they are no longer available. Again asking Google to search for me - I went looking for a photo of my first airplane. This is a photo of the real thing so that you’ll get the idea of what a Piper Cub looks like.

Google searched for Piper Cub - models, tether controlled toy airplanes, gasoline toy models airplanes and several other subjects. The search “antique toy airplanes” didn’t get any good hits either - for those of you laughing at this old timer, here. I guess model airplanes today are all radio-controlled for more realistic flight. At this point in my history, the transistor radio has yet to make an appearance on the market.

Continuing on with my subject of my personal interest in flight, airplanes, air shows and the wild blue yonder, I began to think back about my youthful cloud-busting days. You know of the phenomenon; laying down, face up in the grassy yard looking up at the clouds in the sky and searching for faces in their formations on a lazy, warm sunny day and breaking them apart just by thinking about it. As a kid, some days were just like that. Pulling up a tall foxtail and nipping at the sweet end, I thought I saw George Washington once. The wind was pushing the clouds slowly to the East. It was going to be a nice day.

My friend, Ralphie came down to my house and brought some of his comic books and I went inside to get a few of mine too. Between us, we had our own lending library. He’d always have some that I didn’t have and visa versa; we’d trade. Sometimes the advertising on the back covers were funnier than the comic books themselves. The one featuring the strong man, Alan Atlas, who said big kids used to kick sand in his face on the beach until he began to work-out with weights and got big, strong muscles. The cool babes in bikinis hanging on his arms really killed me. In our neighborhood, we’d just a) let it ride (usually not) or b) jump up and fight back.

There was one full-page, color ad that really got my attention. It was loaded with small pictures of toys and other “prizes” that we could win for FREE. That’s right, FREE boys and girls, and all we had to do was sell 25 boxes of greeting cards to get - absolutely free - a gasoline-powered, tether controlled, ready to fly, bright yellow Piper Cub - an airplane! Cool!

Rolling over onto my back from the prone comic book reading position, I looked at the photo of the Piper Cub and looked up at the billowing Cumulus clouds and began to dream aloud with my friend Ralphie. How cool it would be to have a gasoline powered model airplane and see it flying in the clouds. I wonder what our house would look like from up there? Yeah, but how hard would it be to sell these greeting cards? The ad said it would be really easy and when people see them, they’ll sell themselves. All we have to do is show them to people.

Of course, you’ll want the short version of this story here. After repeated talks with mom, she eventually said it was up to me to sell these cards - not her - and that I could have any “prize” I wanted. I cut-out the little form at the bottom of my comic book cover, filled it in and mom mailed it for me.

In no time at all, I received a large box - addressed personally to me - which contained about 24 boxes of greeting cards - Christmas card assortments and all-occasion assortments. Some were pretty nice, but some weren’t. I just know they weren’t “Hallmark”.  Now, how do I sell these? What do I say? Where should I go to sell them? What do I do now?? I was in the Fifth Grade, my thinking was one step at a time. I definitely hadn’t thought that far ahead.

So, I pulled my Radio Flyer wagon containing the big box of greeting cards around the neighborhood to each house. Taking one box of each assortment, I nervously approached each house in the neighborhood. When the lady of the house answered, I asked, “Would you like to buy some greeting cards? I have two assortments.”  In response, I would then hear the not-so-magic word, “No or No, thank-you.” Then, I walked-on to the next house where I repeated the procedure over and over and over and over again.

After a whole day of “noes”, I went home, stashed the box of greeting cards in a corner of my bedroom and lay down on the bed. I don’t remember ever hearing the magic word, “Yes”.  I tried one more time in a different neighborhood, but quit after a half-day of no sales and a threat of rain on my little red wagon and the box of yet-to-be-sold greeting cards.

Mom eventually sent the box back to the company and explained in a letter that no sales were made. I was doubly devastated at not selling any greeting cards and not getting my free prize of a gasoline powered, tether controlled, flying Piper Cub airplane. It would be my last attempt at a sales career for many years.

That winter, my greatest Christmas surprise was - can you guess? (I love you, mom.) Was a brand new, gasoline powered, tether controlled, bright yellow, ready to fly, Piper Cub with a 15” wing span with a Cox .049 Babe Bee engine. “Wow! Thanks, mom!” How cool! I couldn’t wait to show it to Ralphie and get it in the air. I would have to wait. There was eight inches of  snow on the ground.

It would be a few more months to wait since this was a Summer toy. It would be after that, too, because I also needed a starting kit - fuel and a 6-volt battery to power the glow plug (“Whatever that is”, I thought), until the engine starts. I would also need a ground crew person to hold the plane on the ground until I could get back to the outstretched string and matching yellow plastic tether controller. Who could I get for ground crew without letting them fly my plane. I didn’t want just anybody flying it. They might crash it.

I wanted to try and fly it without engine power - just by slinging it around and pulling the tether strings back and forth to make the plane climb or dive. Sure, it worked, but not very well and I got dizzy very quickly, twirling in one place so fast. When the engine is running, you don’t have to twirl so fast to make it fly as the propeller does all the work. Lots more fun, too.

I would later trade that hobby - because my Piper Cub crashed one too many times (pilot error and wind shear) - for the hobby of making balsa wood and paper airplanes due to the influence of my Sixth Grade teacher, Mr. Ayres. Over the next school year, I built a Fokker D-7, a Spad, a French Newport 27, a P-51 Mustang, a P-40 Warhawk - because of the cool tiger teeth - and a few others. Those stories, I’ll save for another time.

It now seems like another lifetime ago, but I’ve sat, at the controls and flying in the “left seat” of a Piper Cherokee back in the mid-1970’s and I loved it there. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be the flight of a lifetime. In later years, I would compare that experience to being merely a passenger on a commercial flight. It is just no where near the same exciting experience.

Keep looking UP!


Flashback: Summer of 1976

Originally posted: October 20th 2013

After a few days backpacking 44 miles of the Appalachian Trail over four days.
Oh, yeah. That’s me, camera strap around my neck, talking and about to enjoy a piece of beef jerky along the woodland trail in the Great Smokey Mountains. It was about four or five months after my Marine Corps enlistment was up. My friend, G. David Yaros, attorney at law and former Marine Corps truck driver and maintenance mechanic in the Motor Transport division of our Communications Company invited me to hike the Appalachian Trail with him and another friend of his.

This was the year of America’s Bi-Centennial and special events were going on all around the nation. I’m sure some of you might remember. As I was also into bicycling, I thought I might join “Bike-Centennial” and bicycle/camp from the west coast to the east coast. Of course, family and work obligations took their rightful place on my personal priority list. I’m sure, that trip would have killed me anyway, thinking back.

Instead, I told Dave, “Hell, yeah, I’ll go!” Arrangements and coordination of things to bring, where his house was in Cincinnati and so forth. I drove from Indy’s south side to Cincinnati, Ohio, found his house and brought my stuff inside. We had a long chat, stayed up very late, but not too late while we packed-up our stuff into a large, lightweight backpack. Everything we were taking with us would be in that pack. Nothing else. Obviously, weight would be a major concern.

I listened and paid attention as he wrapped a few aspirin into little pieces of aluminum foil, two small boxes of wooden matches were done likewise. He made sure all the food I brought was either instant or freeze-dried and that we had plenty of “gorp”. Gorp? Basically, what we today call “trail-mix” of nuts, dehydrated berries and banana chips, raisins and so forth.

All the air that could be squeezed out of my clothes, was and them packed strategically inside the large, orange nylon backpack and frame. The ground cloth, pad and blanket would be rolled up and put near the bottom and near my waist when I put the heavy pack on my back. I adjusted the straps to raise the whole thing to carry it higher (rather than lower) on my shoulders to make it easier to bear. Dave said, “You’ll appreciate that more as we go along.”

Packed and ready to load-out the next day, I spent the night in his spare bedroom and slept very well. I would need the rest. We arose early the next day, showered up well as this would be the last one for about four or five days unless it rained. Just the three of us, our creature comforts in gear and Mother Nature. I hid some roll-on deodorant in my pack. Maybe Mother Nature wouldn’t care, but I did.
After consuming a wonderful and filling breakfast made by Dave’s wife, Alma, we met his other friend and we loaded all our stuff into the back of his orange Ford Pinto. (Hey, it was the mid-70’s.) What we couldn’t fit in, we tied to the top. After all, there were the three of us and our gear in that Pinto. The word “full” takes on a new meaning to how we were stuffed into that car as we took off for the Tennessee Mountains.

At the ranger station at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, we set-up our hiking route, established and reserved our campsites (so our trail solitude would go unencumbered), and paid our fees. With that and no further reason to delay, we headed toward the trail head where we would begin our mountain trek. Our plan was 10-11 miles per day. As we neared the end of our hike, perhaps that goal might have been too ambitious.

Blisters - oh, yeah..... More than one.
Of course, I was wearing my well broken-in combat boots with a pair of tennies in the pack.

Unpacking our stuff from Dave’s Pinto, there wasn’t much else to do, but do it. Do it we did.
Through some awesome scenery, steep inclines where we missed the trail, over and through creeks and river tributaries we changed our boots for the tennies and forded those streams. Dave asked me to tie his boots on the outside of his pack for him as he put on his other shoes. I did the best I could, but something happened. As he got about half way across, he slipped on a mossy rock and nearly fell. As he caught himself, his boots came loose and nearly knocked him out. It was my fault. As I laughed, I took the picture, but sadly, those photos are lost now.

Lost photos, that’s another story.

We drank the available water along the trail and boiled it for mixing with our food. As we all had different strides, we hardly traveled together, but rather made it a personal pilgrimage of our own discovery meeting-up at day’s end. That last day, my knees were shot and I had to crawl into camp. I remember that vividly. I had pushed myself too hard and the extra weight of the pack, the steepness - up and down - the trail had taken it’s toll over the past few days.

We spent our last night in the forest around a nice campfire, relating our own experiences along the trail and making plans for when we get back. I think “Hot Shower” was item number one on everyone’s list, followed by a sit-down in real chairs steak dinner.

It was quiet along the ride home. Dave drove the entire way back. Then, we separated from there. It was a great trip and experience. I wish I had those photos.

No real story here other than relating an experience. Perhaps this experience is why I still enjoy camping as I do rather than in an expensive RV or travel trailer. Simple is better sometimes. I guess I might have learned that from my grandfather, but that is another story for another time.

Update: It's funny to see these photos now - long since hidden in my journal writing software. Looking back this far, it's hard to imagine I was ever this young.


Flashback - Camping Under the Stars

Originally posted: Friday, July 5, 2013

All of us who lived in Cabin 6 (all 10 cabins got their turn) during our two week stay at Indianapolis Boys Club Camp, near Noblesville, Indiana back in - I dunno, about 1958-9 somewhere - were lined up for this memorable photograph. I’m sure the photographer did it on speculation that he could sell copies to the moms and dads of the campers. This one would probably be destined as one of the only ones of it’s kind. Of all the years, my brothers and I were privileged to go to BCC Summer Camp, this is the only time I can remember that a photo was taken the day of our “first overnight camp-out” under the stars.

Oh. If you don’t count the tall man on the right and count toward your left, I’m the sixth kid in the line-up.

Fully equipped and ready to hike into the deep, dark woods for our first - ever - camp out under the stars.
The camp was located on a large, wooded parcel of land (I don’t know how many total acres) near Noblesville, Indiana and we had everything a kid could ask for. We had nice wooden cabins with bunk beds to sleep in. We parked our suitcases and lined up our shoes neatly under the bottom bunk. We had to keep the place spotlessly clean, too. The Staff held inspections every morning before we could go to our scheduled activities - softball, flag football, archery, rifles and one more, which eludes me at the moment. We competed against the members of another cabin in one activity or another every day.

Then, there was the “White House” which was the restroom and shower house and also was access to the swimming pool. In the other direction and across the narrow bridge over the tiny run-off tributary to Hinkle Creek was the Dining Hall and kitchen - large enough for 100 kids, The Staff, 20 councilors and all the cooks, kitchen helpers and other people who made the place run. We had three good meals each day. Movie nights or sing-alongs in bad weather were also held there on Saturday and Sunday nights. One of the staff, Art Gorman was a pretty good guitar player and knew all the Boys Club Camp songs and a bunch of other.

In the afternoons, there were swimming lessons and advanced swimming lessons given by our certified Red Cross Swimming Instructor and we could earn skill level certifications upon passing those skill tests. This was all voluntary, of course, because only the non-swimmers were required to learn to swim. I think that was a great idea. As our instructor often said, “Even if a baby elephant fell into a lake or river, it would instinctively know how to swim. Man is the only animal that has to learn how.” I got to the Intermediate Level before I got too old to go to camp anymore. I also did the mile swim - which was about 69 laps of the length of the pool. I don’t know how I did that - mostly side stroke and back floating, I expect.

We had lots of free time for hiking, fishing along the creek, learning crafts, playing tether-ball, paddle-ball and/or read comic books on our bunks. The later was reserved for the rest period after lunch, every day. We were much too busy doing something different every day. These were city kids who “didn’t get out much” - as they say.

Once in a while, one of the Staff would take volunteers only who were swimmers for a “Creek Hike”. We put on our dirtiest clothes and tennis shoes, hike just down the hill past the bonfire area, then eased into the cold waters of Hinkle Creek and explored the area walking down the middle of the creek. We walked almost all the way downstream to the reservoir and back.

On special occasions, the camp bus would take a pre-arranged group of  swimmers and go out in the 15 ft. aluminum fishing boat with a 9.9 HP Johnson outboard and ride the surfboard, attached by a rope to the back of the boat and towed along in a quiet bay of the Morse Reservoir. We still had to wear life-jackets, though. It was like skiing, only slower and safer for us, but it was great fun.

While putting around the lake, we heard the story that the old Boys Club Camp was formerly located in the area of the Morse Reservoir before it became a reservoir. When the Indiana Department of Natural Resources decided to flood the entire area as a reservoir and nature preserve. The Camp had to be purchased and new land obtained to rebuild the camp. I remember one Staff member saying, “Right about here, is where the old camp used to be.”

What? There was nothing but water and the woods were clear over there! It was difficult for me to imagine an underwater village like our camp.

Of course, these days, the Indianapolis Water Company owns it and has sold all the land surrounding that reservoir for private use and homes selling upwards of $350,000 line the shores. Public access to the reservoir - which was once in the hands of the DNR has now been restricted only to the residents of the lakefront properties. IWC made a huge financial windfall on those deals.

Getting back to my story, ... in other words, the Indianapolis Boys Club Camp was a real nice place to spend two weeks in the summer. Boys Club members from all over the city came together at camp. My step-dad was a Boys Club member when he was a kid and he wanted to share that experience with us. We attended a lot of functions and my mom was active in the Lauter Boys Club Mother’s Club.

Now, about the camp out ....

After our evening meal, the boys in our cabin were told to dress warmly in long pants and a sweatshirt and report to the storage garage where they kept the lawnmowers, shovels rakes, life jackets, cane fishing poles, Army Surplus (donations) of canteens and cartridge belts, shelter halves, ponchos and blankets and mess kits for breakfast the next morning. The staff members would take the other stuff. We just took the stuff we would need including our own pocket knives (if we had one) and flashlights. Mom and dad prepared us well as I still had my Cub Scout knife.

When everyone was equally equipped, we hit the trail - single file - behind our Staff Leader, Jim Andrews, while another Staff Leader, Walt, brought up the rear. We walked along down the hill in front of all the cabins, down past the big log circle where we held the huge bonfire campfires, across the concrete bridge over Hinkle Creek and along the winding trail for what seemed to be a long time. We learned along the way what poison ivy looked like, so we could avoid it. Then one of the guys slapped a bush with his hand and he found out what Itch weed was. He sure itched a lot until he could was it off in the creek later.

Climbing the final grassy hill, full of wild black raspberries, we came across a deserted building that was locked. We got no explanation except, that it was out of bounds. Then, we received our instructions as a group about how to put together the shelter halves and to team up with a bunk mate for the night. I picked my buddy, Dennis Black because his dad and my dad were in the Korean War together.

We put together the the two rows of snap buttons along the top and back of the shelter halves together, inserted the two, three-piece poles into their brass grommets and staked-out the perimeter with wooden tent pegs. Then, we ran the guide ropes. Our tent was tight, smooth and looked good. We used the poncho as a ground cover and slept under our blankets in our clothes. Some guys who were a little afraid, even slept in their shoes in case they had to make a run for it. Where they would run to, was anyone’s guess. It was neat. By that time, Mr. Andrews had the campfire going.

We sat around the campfire, just talking about how cool this was and thinking how grown-up we were. Then Mr. Andrews pulls out a box of graham crackers, a bag of marshmallows and some Hershey bars from his haversack. You guessed it, we were going to find ourselves a green stick, sharpen the end with our pocket knives and roast marshmallows for “S’mores”. It was my first time for that too.

Then, it was time for ghost stories. Staff Leader, Walt and Mr. Andrews knew some good ones. The scariest was the one about the couple parked in the woods-kissing and listening to the radio news about a dangerous escaped man with a hook for a hand. (Remember that one?) Just for kicks, the other day while at Barnes & Noble, I looked up camping ghost stories. Some of them were still being told to young people at their first campfire, too. All except the one about Flip-Flop-Flamingo, Jr. I never did get all of that story. He must have been a local monster legend in these woods.

There we all were, under the stars, in our U.S. Army tents, drinking from U.S. Army canteens for the first time. It was a beautiful night, except there was an owl in a nearby tree and one of the kids just couldn’t sleep. “Walt, Walt, there’s a birdie in that tree.” He just kept repeating that, over and over. We told him to shut up and go to sleep. There wasn’t anything that Walt could do about a birdie in the tree.

Early the next morning, we awoke and the campfire was still going or else someone got it going again. Mr. Andrews and Walt, handed out two strips of bacon, an egg and a piece of white bread into our opened U.S. Army mess kit for breakfast. If you still had your pointed stick from last night, you could make toast. “Now campers”, he said, “you need to cook the bacon first so that you’ll have grease in your mess kit pan to fry the egg.” I traded my egg for two slices of bacon with the promise to give him some of my grease. Good trade.

The hike back to our regular camp and cabin seemed shorter, somehow. We all made sure all our gear was cleaned, dusted off and dry, then turned it in at the equipment garage. The rest of the day would be a long one. We slept, pretty much the entire hour after our noon meal because we really didn’t get much sleep the night before. There must have been too many twigs under the poncho floor of our tent or something. Maybe it was the ghost stories, maybe it was the excitement of it all.

Today, however, was skills test day for the Order of the Match. If you could build a fire large enough to roast a hot-dog using only dried leaves, twigs and very small branches, light it with only one match and keep it going long enough, you became a lifetime member of the Order of the Match. It took me a couple of hours to find the stuff and two failed attempts, but I finally learned. When the Staff hands out the awards at the Final Campfire, Order of the Match members get called up by name in front of the whole camp assembly and presented with a burned-tip, wooden kitchen match tied to some lanyard material and a small safety pin. It was a badge of honor.

It truly was a true privilege to be able to go to Indianapolis Boys Club Camp. Mom and dad scraped together some hard-earned cash to send each of us for two weeks - there were three boys in our family. I don’t know what it cost, but as far as we were concerned, it was worth it to us. Probably gave mom and dad a break, too.

Upon arriving home from my first trip to camp, I discovered that mom had donated my one-eyed Teddy Bear to someone else (or the trash). I was heartbroken, but she said that now that I was a grown-up camper, I shouldn’t need such things. I think later that year I got into Paint-by-Numbers kits. It wouldn’t be too much longer that I’d be in junior high school and get a chemistry set, microscope set and learn to build model cars, tanks and airplanes.

Camping away from home without my parents was the beginning of growing-up. I did send a postcard home every now and then; written in pencil, in big letters, in cursive on a three-cent, plain postcard. Mom saved them all for a long, long time.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Time to Remember ~ Drive-In Movies

Originally posted as: Drive-In Theaters: PJs, Popcorn & Pillows

ON: Aug 1, ‘06 12:34 AM

It's late summer and soon we'll all go back to school. As old as I am, I still think that way. I wonder what my teachers will be like? Of course, that was long ago, but I still wonder where the good times went. I reposted this article from a former blog site because I was thinking about this - just today and I wondered ... "Are there still Drive-In movie theaters anywhere around here? Why, yes! There is one left with three screens, I understand. But, the fact that Drive-In Movie Theaters are purportedly making a comeback according to Reuters News Services and CBS News, is big news to me.

Be sure to read the entire article; both links arrive at the same article - you choose. A highlight in the early part of the article states:
“While it’s not quite a return to the heyday of the 1950s, when there were more than 4,000 outdoor theaters across the country, 20 new drive-in cinemas have opened up during the past year, taking the national total to 420.”
To me, the impression this article offers rays of star-shine, moonbeams and hope that something of the our generation might become our heritage which might be passed along, slightly improved and to be experienced first hand for the entire next generation family; to the kids of our kids. I remember as kids growing-up in the 1950s, we used to go to the drive-ins in Indianapolis. We had our choice of many venues, each with their good and bad points. While we enjoyed the experiences immensely, we still envied the family next door who had a Ford Fairlane station wagon. We traveled in-style in Dad’s ‘51 Studebaker with the big back seat. We needed it because there were three of us boys back there.
In those days, kids got in cheap or sometimes free, if they were under 12 - which we were until I was about 13 1/2, I think. Mom and dad would ask us what we wanted to see. They had their choices too, but all the drive-ins had double features.

First would be the kids’ flick followed later by the grown-ups’ selections. Competition among theaters was fierce. While some would offer the good movies 2nd, the first one was sometimes a dud. We chose very wisely, in retrospect and always opted for quality. Mom and Dad liked Horror films and Thrillers, but we wanted Disney. Huh, what does a kid really know? Well, we didn’t really; we just knew what we wanted to see as long as there was a Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoon first! They were the best; Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester. (Ah, the days before they took the slapstick “violence” out. They aren’t the same now.)

Mom had been to a Tupperware party and bought this huge plastic container with a seal-tight lid, which ordinarily she used for either laundry soap (which included a free canon towel as a premium - so the original box was huge), or for flour which she purchased in ten pound bags. But not tonight. It would take her a just a few minutes to make the popcorn to fill that big tub for us, then a smaller container for the front seat passengers - mom and dad. We helped by getting the paper Dixie Cups and napkins down from the cupboard and put everything together for packing up into a double-bagged, kraft paper grocery sack and getting ready to go. As mom was getting the Tupperware “Kool-Aid” container out of the refrigerator, dad already had a three or four bottles of Pepsi on ice in the Coleman ice chest. As we loaded the trunk with the goodies, the last thing we did was grab our pillow and blanket off our beds, pajamas and socks on.

Checklist complete, everybody in, the engine started, clutch pedal down, dad shifted into first gear and eased out the clutch while revving the engine a little. With a turn of the wheel, the Studie pulled away from the curb and we’re off! Indianapolis is a fairly spread-out city. The drive-ins were spaced fairly evenly around town. Greenwood had one, but we never got down there very often. The Pendleton Pike on Route 67 in Lawrence was another we visited frequently. Our favorite was the Shadeland (which is now a Toyota dealership) which offered a real Merry-Go-Round (Carousel) in the playground area. You could only ride it once, but you could get off, go to the end of the line and go again until the Coming Attractions previews began.

Another theater, over near Grandma’s house was the Twin Drive-In. It had, yep! Two screens. Sometimes, we would watch the first show on the east screen and drive around to the west screen for the second show. It was a traffic jam sometimes, but it worked out in plenty of time. In their playground area was a real miniature passenger train that kids - only kids - could ride. It was small.  It queued up like the Carousel at the Shadeland and had a real engineer driver who sat on a seat on top of the engine. It was great! There were the usual swings, slides, that thing that you push around in a circle until you throw up, a big sandbox and teeter-totters. Everything a kid could want and conveniently located next to the concessions stand/bathrooms. And mom and dad were paying for everything. Life was good!

No matter which venue we chose, and we knew them all, even though we didn’t know how to get there, we could tell we were getting close; traffic backed up, rows of red taillights flashing on and off as we inched forward, one car at a time. Sometimes we were unlucky and queued behind an older car that burned oil, which was unpleasant for a while. Then the questions came from the “peanut gallery” (a term used by Buffalo Bob on the Howdy Doody TV Show ), ... “Will we have time to play in the playground? HUH?!” The excitement swelled in our chests as the huge arrowhead with a thousand yellow light bulbs flashing, pointing the way ... THIS WAY IN >>>.

As we neared the bright white, yellow and pink fluorescent lights of the ticket booth - dad waved, his cash in hand out the car window, - "Two adults and three kids", then waited for the usher to give the money to the lady in the ticket booth, who handed the usher the tickets, which he tore in two and handed the stubs to dad. This ticket booth had two lanes, two ushers and only one lady in the booth. I could see that this was efficient to getting people in quicker.

“Will we still have time to play in the playground?, quizzed Davey.

“I have to go to the bathroom.” declared Billy.

“Has the cartoon started yet?” I wondered.

“Just wait a minute.” said mom. Dad drove ahead into the lot and all of us helped look for the supreme parking spot. Well, as good as we could find anyway - it's always first come, first served - up front, near the middle, but away from other cars with kids who screamed louder than us or those with small crying babies. We were lucky if we had that choice. Dad maneuvered into position on the hill with the nose of the Studebaker pointed up at the screen. “Can you kids see the screen all right?, he asked rhetorically.

Well, it was tough for three little guys with small basketball shaped heads to scrunch together and see the screen. After all, dad was on the left. Mom was on the right and the rear view mirror was in the middle. Sometimes, dad would let us roll down the back windows, squeeze through the opening and use the window frames on each side as a seat, using our pillows as a cushion. We could keep our feet on the seats and use our arms to rest on the roof and still hear the sound from he 4” metal speaker that hung from the rear view mirror or sometimes from the pulled-out ash tray to get that thick black speaker wire out of the picture. It was damned uncomfortable after a long while, but we took turns in the window.  Dad never, ever let us lay on the car hood or the roof to watch the shows, though, like some other kids.  We almost never stayed awake through the cartoon AND the first movie before we were wiped-out and fast asleep on that big, backseat. See why we envied the kids next door whose dad had the Ford station wagon?

Those were the days. Today, people go to the drive-in in their pickup trucks, park backwards with the bed toward the screen, slide the back window of the cab open, sit in comfortable lawn chairs with the kids “camping out in sleeping bags” on the tailgate. There are no more little tinny speakers that have been ruined by years of abuse and weather damage.  Now we tune-in our FM Stereo radios to 87.9 and listen to the movie soundtrack on the car’s sound system.

I take my Dodge Caravan, pull-in backwards, tail aimed at the screen, raise the hatchback (where the rear speakers are) unload the chairs, cooler and popcorn & snacks are conveniently stored. Tune-in the stereo radio, switch off the front speakers, adjust the volume, balance, base and treble, (yeah, that’s it) ... then, “Let the cartoons begin!”

Some highlights: I witnessed the International Space Station fly-by. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time until I checked the NASA website. It was a large, shiny object with flashing lights - could have been a plane, except it was traveling too slowly to be a plane, I thought. Then another time, as the second movie began a fog started to roll-in to the valley there at the Grafton, WV Drive-in. It was so thick that after about an hour, you couldn’t see the screen - like using your high beams in the fog, you just can’t see the road. Another time at the Grafton Drive-In, two small deer wandered into the playground area to munch on the grass just as Neo was learning Kung-Fu.

Then, there was the time, in my Senior Year of high school, I took this pretty blonde to the drive-in for our first date. She was in one of my classes and I took a chance and asked her out. As I picked her up at the door, she looked casual, comfortable and smelled great. Could this be LOVE? I had really cleaned up the old 55 Chevy Bel-Aire that day to make the best impression I could. I was really glad the eight inch square, gray primer painted rust hole was on my side of the car when I picked her up.

We drove to the theater, found our spot, parked and settled in for the evening. We talked some, ate some popcorn, laughed shyly when our hands touched in the big Tupperware popcorn tub. We each slurped the end of our soft drinks at the same time; laughed again. “Things were looking good”, I thought. I twisted my neck to see if the backseat was any larger and could accommodate, know. I’d always driven, I never sat back there. Teenage boys only have one thing on their minds when the pheromones kick-in. I put my arm around the blonde beauty’s shoulder and squeezed her slightly toward me, then leaned over to quietly whisper in her ear. “You want to get into the back seat?”

She answered in her sweetest, most polite voice, “Heck no, I want to say up here and watch the movie with you!”

If that story made you smile, go to the Drive-In Theater tonight. Keep the theater owners in business. They really love what they do. Experience it. It is Americana! Take the kids, make future memories for them too. It’s always a special occasion to go to the drive-in. Don’t forget the citronella candles or bug spray.

When you go, one thing you’ll always remember is how sweet the kids look in your arms; softly sleeping as you carry them, one-by-one from your car and into their beds; as you kiss them goodnight and then tuck them in. I’ll never forget how strong and powerful my dad’s arms were when he carried me into my bedroom. It was a good feeling. It was a safe feeling.  I was a warm feeling. It was a loving feeling. I’ve never forgotten it, or felt anything like it since then.

Go ... See ... Do ... Remember.

BTW visit the website: for another trip down memory lane. It's a great site, award-winning and dedicated to those good old days


Thursday, August 18, 2016

My Little Squirrel Buddy

Originally posted from March 2015

I have the door open tonight with only the screen door between me and the world, here in sunny Gulf Coastal Florida. I’m listening to the crickets sing. The moon is rising and casts and eerie light creating weird shadows through the canopy of palm trees. It seems like camping.

When I came home from the swimming pool this afternoon, my little squirrel buddy - who I have been leaving raw peanuts for - was there to meet me. I know I shouldn't do that, but he is so cute to have around. He isn’t tame, but I know he was looking for some peanuts. I'm such an easy mark, but I don't mind.

The site at Suncoast.
I sat on the steps of my trailer and we talked about it - the squirrel and I - and I told him that I was sorry, but I'm out of peanuts, but would resupply very soon. I said that the pet store was only a few blocks away, but I had to change my clothes first. He seemed disappointed, but he seemed to understand then scampered away.

My little junk food squirrely.
This is my little squirrel buddy who lives in the Palm tree on my camp site. He isn’t tame, but he appreciates a good raw peanut. I tried to give him some squirrel “health food” from the pet store, but he wouldn’t eat it. He flitted around the tray I left out for him, sniffed and looked at me like the spoiled brat he is as if to say, "What's this? You expect me to eat this?" I explained that it was the proper diet for a young, healthy and vibrant squirrel and that he should like it anyway. "Go ahead. Try it." He didn't and then left to find more palm nuts - which were everywhere. I left the special trail mix for gerbils, hamsters and mice - thinking squirrels fit right into that category - out in a pan for another day before tossing it out - with the accumulated ants and all.

I tried giving it to the more skiddish squirrels up the road. I left some pieces at the base of two trees and a bush and stepped back a reasonable distance so they wouldn't feel threatened. Eventually, they skipped over and gave it the old squirrel 'taste test', then snatched them up and nibbled on them just fine. Over the course of the next few days, they ate my whole bag of special mix. Neither of them liked my fresh Florida strawberries or banana slices. No wonder they call them “squirrely”. HA!

You can feed them all you want, but they aren't really pets.
Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Yesterday ~ Poolside they ask me, How ya doin’? I say, Its in the low 80s on a bright sunny day and I’m in Florida, working on my tan - just so I’ll have something to take home. Its all good.

Hey Jim. Where ya been? Right here, somewhere.

I might go back there or somewhere near there. I don't want to appear rude to the nice folks that own the place. There isn't much they can do about it, but the "no-see-ums" (biting midge) problem is so terrible that one closes and locks the door near sundown. Massive skin attacks are imminent. Its so bad that one can't endure being outdoors in the evenings. So sad.

The camp is surrounded by a state park and insect control burns have been made 100 yards back into the park in order to protect the campers. If that worked, it must have been terrible before.

Otherwise, I enjoyed my stay here, very much. So much so, that I stayed two months, instead of my customary one month at a time rule ... well, it's more like a guideline.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

They Call It: “The Suncoast”

Originally posted April 18, 2015

Still working to hone my travel plans to coincide with the budget I have planned for each monthly adventure, I left the Atlantic side of the Florida peninsula and drove to the Gulf side – which the locals refer to as “The Suncoast” – or in other words, Port Richey. As you open the local telephone directory, there are tons of businesses with name Suncoast this or that. Far be it for me to judge whether one side gets more sun than the other side, so I’ll just let that one go. Maybe they’re throwing-in more of the morning fog factor at one coast versus the other. Sorry, .. no clues for you. It was wintertime when I arrived, so we were bound to get some bad weather sooner or later. We did, but not nearly as bad as up North.

Resort Entrance, early next morning. I had lots to do the night before (in the rain), getting settled-in.
As I arrived in the area of the campground, it was quite cloudy as I recall. In fact, I drove right by the entrance way twice. Frustrated, I phoned the office and was told to look for the bright orange sign and turn-in there. I got back onto the highway, turned north again – finally, I saw the sign. How could I have missed that? So, you should know that in Florida, U-Turns are legal – so legal, in fact, that they make provisions for them as a special “turn lane”. I found my lane and did the turn – my first U-Turn pulling a trailer. THAT was interesting, but uneventful. Once you hook them up, those trailers will just follow you anywhere.

The Resort Office and Rec Room/Library. The well-maintained and heated pool are around back.
I followed the access road, stopped at the speed-bump and proceeded slowly, with caution. I stopped just short of the stop sign, shut down and went inside. The folks there were very friendly, were glad I found them – in spite of their very large sign that I missed twice already. They found me a place and escorted me around to it the best way so that I could more easily negotiate backing-in and positioning myself to the concrete patio pad. It had started to rain a bit, but he was very patient with my ineptitude and lack of experience in backing-up a trailer.

Although I made reservations, I got crammed-in here.
Before I could drag out my Nikon, I took this shot with my cell phone. Later, I would do my walkabout photo safari.

I decided to get it set-up, stabilized, utilities connected and car parked, before I let down the awning. I could do that in the morning. Morning came – bright and shiny – sunny and warm. I think today will be a good day. I shot a few photos with my cell phone to upload to Facebook – let my friends know I arrived all right and to, essentially, make them jealous in the north. This was in mid-January and you might well remember the Winter of 2014-15 as snowy, cold and downright miserable.

On my first morning walkabout, I shot this scene behind the clubhouse, the pool and party room off to the right.
Shuffleboard and horseshoe areas are in the foreground. Where I'm carefully standing to get this shot, is the doggie-do-do area - complete with plastic bag dispensers.

I didn’t start getting “hate mail” (the kidding type) until I started posting photos of me either at the beach or by the pool, getting some sun and enjoying the heated waters of the pool. I had a few supporters – reminding me to follow my dreams. I must admit that I had only a few nightmares along the way – mostly after watching TV on rainy days.

Born in "Cancer", the crab, I gravitate to water - everywhere. Spent some quality time here, for sure.
Hey look! Here I am now!
I also like to check-out other folks’ campsites for ideas to improve my own – or at least make it more comfortable. Lots of people put out those outdoor area rugs, but I’m against those as they kill the grass underneath them. They also harbor more insects. I don’t feel bad about fogging the ground with insect spray, but fogging an outdoor rug and then rolling it up and storing it inside the camper for the next trip, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with doing. I did eventually buy a $5 corn broom to sweep the patio occasionally.

It was a lovely evening and I decided on a light & simple cookout - Brats & chips and Heineken in cans.
That morning was spent at the local grocery store, stocking-up on supplies. Later in the afternoon, I’d travel down to New Port Richey to visit Camping World and pick-up a few things like a wine glass rack – its so hard to stack those wine glasses in the cupboards just right and they’re never handy that way. I also wanted to get some colored patio light to go around my awning. I’d seen so many of those in catalogs and thought it would be nice to sit outside, under the awning and throw a little colored light in the nighttime darkness. As luck would have it, Camping World was having a sale at $10 off PLUS my Good Sam discount. While I was there, I got a couple of little screw-in-the-ground things that will hold my awning down at the corners. I’ve had issues with the wind in the past. Today? Problem solved.

I liked the colors and all, but the light output was no better than Christmas Tree lights. I shouldn’t have expected so much and I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. This is WITH the camper’s 12 volt porch light on, too.

So, I got my new camper modifications done and set my folding lawn chairs outside and prepared for a quiet evening listening to crickets sing and the quietness of camping – except for a few things. The bugs “affectionately” known as no-see-ums .. (you can guess why) were biting my legs like crazy. Citronella candles and mosquito repellent they just laugh at and fly around. I got the insect fogger out and sprayed around the entire patio. I used the whole can .. $15.00 worth. I was safe now, but for how long? It didn’t matter because the effects of their bites are somewhat delayed. Within an hour, my legs were on fire with itching. I had to do something fast or go insane.

Well, you can forget alcohol, apple cider vinegar or soap and water – each and all were totally ineffective at stopping the itch. However, Calamine lotion stopped the itching. I didn’t just dab it on with a cotton ball, either. I poured it down my leg, smoothed it around to cover every bite, then did the same on the other leg. It worked. I may have had pink legs, but I was still sane. Still, you have to watch those little bastards because they follow you inside and bite you some more while you sleep. Nightmares? Yeah, of getting eaten alive by tiny creatures smaller than gnats. In my very best W.C. Fields voice, “It was a very painful experience.” Without asking another camper, I knew why people didn’t bother to sit outside under their awnings on nice evenings. It wouldn’t be long that I would learn how to hunt them down inside my camper.

That’s it for now. Still ahead, Green Key Beach, the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks and the short Squirrel Buddy episode.

Happy Trails. C-ya.


Dunlawton Sugar Mill Gardens

Originally posted April 14, 2015

The plantation, originally founded by an immigrant from the Bahamas, named Patrick Dean, received a 995 acre federal land grant to produce cotton and sugar, but production was interrupted by the War of 1812. Dean died violently, probably at the hands of Indians.

New ownership by two families – the Dunn and the Lawton families – the name was shortened to The Dunlawton Sugar Mill back in the very early part of the 19th Century – in the 1830s. It was a going concern producing raw sugar from cane until it was burned down during the Second Indian War back in 1836 but wasn’t rebuilt until 1840. Since that time, the old sugar mill has had several owners, business entities and several purposes.

The Main Entrance, across the street from a small parking lot.
Today, it is as you will see it here — just a lovely place to visit and not to be missed if you’re or around Port Orange, Florida. Another advantage is that it won’t cost you a dime, unless you really want to donate to the maintenance, upkeep and for new plantings. I did so because I wanted to enjoy it more.

The scene right inside the main gate. You can see why I chose it for my story header
I almost didn’t come here at all. After all, it was only a short drive from the campground. I’d heard of the concrete dinosaurs and the fact that it was “in ruins”, but I really didn’t get the full story from the locals that I talked with. Mind you, they weren’t trying to “sell it” as a tourist attraction because there could be no financial benefit for them. Its sad when business gets in the way of real-life enjoyment of historical places. As luck, or good planning would have it, I picked an absolute glorious afternoon to go there.

Just one of several places to stop, listen to birds and breezes throughout these lush gardens.
The sun was high and temperatures fair and in the low 70s, while humidity was typically normal for Florida. The few clouds very thin and high in the sky – perfect for shooting pictures under canopy of tall trees, I thought. My first impression was that nobody could have planned this better as a botanical garden, but that just wasn’t the truth. It had several other purposes in the history of the property including even an attempt at private zoo, theme park and today a public park because the city didn’t know what else to do with it. Today, private individuals and botanical groups maintain and preserve the park.

This seemed a bit Oriental in nature, but it still fit-in with the moss and ferns.
I couldn’t stop taking photos. Everywhere I turned was yet another photo opportunity. There were attractive groups of plantings – some with decorative concrete elements, flower groupings, a reflective pond and other places that I’ll show you. In short order, I took over 175 digital image frames. I have to say that editing for this blog was quite a challenge. How does one select only a few among so many scenes of such a picturesque place?

A peaceful respite near a quaint bridge over the pond. Running water always creates a calming effect on the human spirit.
As I was later to discover, many of the scenes presented were essentially suggested to the various botanical groups by (whodathunkit?) photographers. That’s right. Among the former uses for the park, you can also add Weddings and Wedding Receptions to your list. Such a “photo park” on such a grand scale would be awesome to shoot with just such a purpose. It wouldn’t be dynamic or dramatic enough for say, high school seniors, but for weddings it would be grand idea.

There is no single trail to enjoy these gardens.
There is no right-way or wrong-way to immerse yourself in this lovely place. Take one trail or the other, the see what you can see. Your sense of curiosity with propel you always forward, to the left or right or even back the way you came if you want to change your perspective. The Gardens are equally appealing any way you want to see it. By the way, what time was it getting to be? I’d better check my watch – but then, I don’t wear one any more. Conveniently … in the garden …

Just in-time. I was worried I'd get lost and stuck after closing time.
So I’m diddy-bopping along the sandy trail, taking photos, leaving only footprints and minding my own business when … “What the …? Is that a freakin’ dinosaur? Why, yes! Yes it is.

Back in Pre-historic days of the 1950s, came a theme park known as "Bongoland".
On a little sign, down another trail is the reason for this and other large, concrete dinosaurs to be found elsewhere in the Gardens. During the 1950s, the old Sugar Mill became a theme park called, … wait for it … “Bongoland”.

That’s right, kiddies. Come to Bongoland and see Bongo the baboon and all his little friends, ride the train through the Indian village and see the dinosaurs. However, this forward thinking idea went unrewarded as the days of the Theme Park had not yet come and the park was closed due to lack of interest. Sad, really. I guess we had to wait until Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California first.

Dearly beloved, you can watch the ceremony from nature's garden church. (Bring DEET!)
There are various trellis and concrete seating arrangements, thoughtfully landscaped and scattered throughout the park. As previously mentioned, a large contributing factor to the maintenance of the Gardens are wedding ceremonies – every type one can imagine – even Wicca ‘n, I understand.

The Confederate Oak. (rear view)
The Confederate Oak. What else can one say, but .. its a huge old tree.

The Confederate Oak (front view)
As you can imagine, with such a long and varied history, I came across this almost ancient looking tree called The Confederate Oak. It’s species is Live Oak – as opposed to the regular oak trees or the dead ones that nobody talks about, I guess. The Gardens are full of them – as was Forsyth Park in Savannah, Georgia. Of course, Spanish Moss in this climate is a foregone conclusion. Anyway, this tree is called the Confederate Oak because legend has it that Confederate soldiers frequently camped under it. As we all may remember from our history classes, when the “Army of Northern Aggression” marched on the state of Florida, the Confederates surrendered without a fight.

The Human Sundial. Where your shadow lands, it the correct time.
Sure enough – as verified by the time on my cell phone – its actually two minutes before 3 o’clock PM. on the Human Sundial. Amazing. The sun is always right.

This nearly brings us full circle around the grounds – from left to the back to the right. Again, I wanted to know the time and sure enough, right outside the old Sugar Mill was this Human Sundial. I had to check it out. You stand between the stones marking the month of the year and your shadow is cast at the correct time. Sure enough!

The remaining foundation of the original sugar mill buildings - burned in a skirmish with Indians.
Finally, we get to the old sugar mill – or what’s left of it. “It wuz Eengins, whut dun it.” I guess that’s how to spell gen-u-wine frontier gibberish. LOL  It was partially rebuilt in the 1840s and operated.

The sugar cane is squeezed and the liquid is boiled down in these over an open flame.
I can’t imagine working here under the hot Florida sun and the heat of the fires beneath these cauldrons boiling sugar cane syrup into granulated form.

The Gardens are now owned by Volusia County (formerly Mosquito County – with good reason), Florida, but the gardens are maintained by volunteers. To preserve what remains, a shelter-roof has been erected.

This big wheel turns the pressing mechanism, squeezing all the moisture out of the raw sugar cane.
And the big wheel keeps on turning while the boiling fires keep on burning. I’m glad sugar comes in five-pound bags, these days.

These giant gears turned the presses that extracted the sugar cane syrup before it could be boiled and reduced to near powdered form. Archaeologists reconstructed the equipment supports using pressure-treated lumber. I don’t believe it is operational, but essentially how it would have looked.

Well, that’s about it. There are lots more photos and scenes about this place. I could have easily spent an entire day there just finding new ways to view the surroundings and experience what resident memories there may be there. I did what I had set out to do. I got some nice images, learned a little something about making sugar, how hard it was to make a business grow when the “neighbors” didn’t want you there and how a group of volunteers can make such a lovely garden place out of the varied past that started out to be a plantation.

Happy trails. Thanks for dropping-by.

C-ya next time.