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Wandering Florida

“An Early Morning with the People Who Matter Most”
By Joe Murphy
Apr 26, 2007, 08:51

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The sun was a full hour or two from rising as our merry band of explorers set out into the dark morning in search of something natural and wild.  We were out to wander the back roads, backwoods, and backwaters of central Florida searching for anything that slithered, crawled, flew, or walked. 

Easter morning 2007 came early this year for the Murphy family.  My nephews and nieces wanted to see nature and they knew that the best time to see things that are wild and free is the dawn or the dusk.  Dawn was defined this year as starting somewhere around 5:00am, and with the Easter Bunny still out and about we were out the door.

I had made an off-hand remark earlier the evening before about birdwatching and searching for reptiles along the back roads of Withlacoochee State Forest.  There is something about the woods at night, as the evening cools and the sounds of the night commence, that is a powerful reminder of nature’s magic and wonder.  My nieces and nephews decided that as they were all staying at Uncle Joe and Aunt Becky’s house for the Easter weekend, the next morning would be a great time to go exploring. 

When the Easter Bunny visited our home about 4:00am he found my nephew Nathanial dressed and waiting with flashlight in hand for the morning’s adventure.  He had walking sticks and was checking his watch to make sure none of us slept past our appointed rounds in the deep dark woods.  An hour later the whole clan was climbing into the truck to see what we could see.

The night is full of mystery, even if the mystery is mostly a function of imagination.  Add a healthy dose of darkened woods and the fertile creativity of children and you’ll guess what we saw.  In addition to some hawks and owls, and a few startled raccoons and possums, we saw mystical creatures and even an elusive Florida Skunk Ape.

We’re pretty sure we saw the Easter Bunny’s house (who knew he lived in the Croom Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest?), and we caught glimpses of panthers, bears, wolves, and other large creatures both toothy and hairy and mostly imaginary.  Ironically if we had been out one hundred years ago in those same darkened woods in our horse and wagon we might have actually seen bears, panthers, and wolves.  Imagine the night filled with the calls of Florida Red Wolves.  For our Great Grandparents it was not out of the question.

Perhaps in one hundred years, after my nieces and nephews have been in charge of this state and this planet their children will see bears, wolves, and panthers again in the Florida night.  They are already more in tune with nature and conservation than many adults I know. 

As the sun rose and the day began thoughts and bellies turned to Easter Baskets and family breakfasts.  Seeds planted in fertile and open young minds, seeds of hope and seeds of commitment to the natural world are beginning to blossom.  I hope that my nieces and nephews, and someday my children, can take the next generation out into that dark night and still find the mystery and wonder that we did.  Time spent in the places, and with the people, who matter most is time well spent.

You can email Joe Murphy about his Wandering Florida columns at

© Copyright 2007 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing Company, Inc.

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