Thursday, November 19, 2009

Loxahatchee - My Florida Escape

I visited my sister recently in Florida and noticed that almost every front yard in her "adult community" is adorned with lawn ornaments: dwarfs, dancing frogs, mushrooms, apple-cheeked children, lizards, birds, turtles and, of course, pink flamingos. There were signs too, like: An old rooster and a young chick live here.

What causes this phenomenon? Perhaps it's the languid, humid air that makes people feel carefree and just a little bit giddy. Or could it be that non-stop development has made the land inhospitable for most native creatures, including children, and Floridians have had to content themselves with mass-produced copies?

In the early 1900s this area from Ft. Pierce to Miami, where six million people (and their lawn ornaments) now live, was part of the Everglades, a shallow, slow-moving sheet of water that covered almost, 11,000 square miles of the Florida peninsula. Over the next 50 to 60 years, about half that area was drained and the waters channeled into canals. The population of Florida grew from about a half a million people in 1900 to more than 18 million in 2008. (For a great read on the history and the characters that shaped and developed Florida, I recommend The Swamp, a book by Michael Grunwald.)

My sister's neighborhood south of West Palm Beach is surrounded by highways, gated housing developments and big box stores. Yet only a few miles away from this highly-populated area is one of my favorite nature spots - the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. A respite from the rapidly expanding urban communities, large sugar cane plantations, sod farms and cattle ranches that surround it, Loxahatchee is all that remains of the once vast northern portion of the Everglades ridge and deep-water slough habitat.

Even though it's a managed habitat, Loxahatchee gives you an idea of what once was. Its more than 143,000 acres are home to river otters, bobcats, snakes, birds, butterflies, turtles and alligators - more than 25,000 of them. There are walking paths, an interesting nature center and guided tours.

For a more intimate, up-close look, paddle a canoe through the five and a half mile trail that winds through the refuge. In 1947, the journalist and environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote a book, The Everglades: Rivers of Grass, that galvanized people to work for the protection of Florida's vanishing natural habitat. That same year, the Federal Government created the Everglades National Park, preserving 2,500 square miles of the South Florida Everglades.

The northern Everglades have all but disappeared, but this one idyllic refuge remains. As you glide silently through the waterways of Loxahatchee, you experience what Douglas felt when she wrote:

"The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and central fact of the Everglades. It is a river of grass."
(To see more photos, click here.)


P.S. When I was in Arkansas recently, a friend gave me a blue ceramic pig. I love it. I don't think I'll be moving to Florida anytime soon, but if I do, I'm ready.

For directions to Loxahatchee, click here.

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. I always enjoy your descriptions, Geraldine, and this certainly lives up to your typical wonderful descriptions. What beautiful photos! I'd love to see it one day.

  2. "oh Geraldine! che belle foto della Florida... mi piace molto l'alligatore. vorrei vederne uno da vicino. faccio un salto li da te. un bacio"

  3. Oh Boy I so want to go ! Exotic and tropical! Love it !

    Florida Car Hire

  4. I stayed fascinated with your pics, and you¡re right Florida is one of the best places to take a break or to vacation time. You find there whatever you need


Thanks for your comments.