Paynes Prairie State Park

Hi Friends!

Mark and I have recently decided to have a big outdoor adventure each week. We go walking different places every day, but our adventure day is when we dedicate several hours to enjoying a beautiful place in nature.  Even though we both love doing outdoorsy things, when we lived in Texas, we didn’t make a lot of time to explore. Now, we’ve made it a big priority. Spending half a day or an entire day away from my computer and phone and just exploring and enjoying nature feels so relaxing and nurturing to my Spirit. I’ve realized how much I need that time to recharge.

Last week, we chose to go walking along a beautiful path in one of the city parks in Gainesville, Florida. We parked our car near the path and were surprised to see that the park closed at 6PM, and it was already 4:30. We made a mental note to start our outdoor adventures earlier in the day next time and started our journey.

The first thing that caught my eye was this tree with very unusual bark. After looking up info online, I believe it is a Winged Elm. Its bark is flat and sticks out from the main branch like wings.

Then we saw these huge mushrooms growing on a fallen tree. I love how nature works. I love how the ending of the life of the tree is a beginning for the lives of many other species.

While I was looking up this mushroom online to see if I could identify it (no luck there), I found out there are several steps to identifying mushrooms. Some release puffs of spores into the air when you tap them. Some even smell like dung to attract flies in order to spread its spores! I loved this wild mushroom photo tour I found on Martha Stewart’s blog.

I’ve become really fascinated with learning about nature. I’ve always loved nature, I enjoyed studying biology in college, but now I have a whole new fascination. I feel like I’m seeing the world for the first time. I discover new shapes, colors, plants, bugs, and animals every time we go for a walk. And now, instead of just thinking, “Oh, that’s cool,” I find myself wondering what kind of plant it is. How does it grow? When does it grow? When I see a bird now, I wonder what type of bird it is and how to recognize its song. What kind of nest does it build? Why is its beak orange and not brown like the rest of it? I was even fascinated by these ants.

I love the look and texture of the sand granules. I loved looking at the angular legs and bright red bodies of the ants. I was in adventurer mode and loved seeing these busy ants working, but I know at other times my first reaction would have been, “Eww.” But I really want to love and appreciate all life forms, and I think that in order to do that, I simply need to learn more about the ones I don’t care for much (someday I’m sure I’ll even appreciate mosquitos). I feel this way about human relationships, too. I think the reason we are prejudice against certain people or groups is because we haven’t learned enough about them to feel our commonality and compassion. It doesn’t mean we have to be best friends with the people who do things we don’t care for, or even associate with them at all, but it keeps us from filling ourselves and the world with hate.

So back to the ants…they have extraordinary mating habits.

The majority of members of a colony are sterile female workers, but some of the eggs develop into males (drones) whose only purpose is to mate with the new queens. In the late summer these males and future queens develop wings in order to mate.

The males die after the ordeal or are killed if they attempt to return to the nest, but the fertilised young queens bite off their wings and find a site to start a new colony. (from

Ants are quite dramatic I think. Males dying after mating, females biting off their wings…sounds like something Shakespeare would write.

And now for some loveliness…

This native grass looked pretty plain. Then, the sun shined on it and these fluffy white dots appeared. They led up to the lookout point where we could see the prairie stretching out below. It was beautiful!

Then I came upon these unbelievably beautiful trees. This is where I thought about how limited a camera is in conveying atmosphere. I know this picture is pretty, but the whole experience – the perfect temperature, the sun shining through the tree limbs, the dance of the shade, and the moss gently swaying in the breeze…it was breathtaking. I stopped in my tracks, mouth agape, and marveled.

These two trees were best buds. And right across the path…

This tree was HUGE! It’s limbs stretch SO far in all directions! It reminded me to spread my arms, feel my heart center opening, and breathe in the love. Have you ever felt not up for taking risks that you know you want to take? When I feel like this, I notice that I keep my arms closer to my body. As soon as I realize it and stretch my arms wide, I feel calmer. I release my fears. I feel safe, and I feel much more able to take those risks. Stretch my comfort zone. This tree has no problem with that!

Then, we came upon a sign for the wilderness trail at Paynes Prairie. How could we pass it up? My honey reminded me that it was almost 6 (when the park closed), but I said, “C’mon honey, it’ll all be okay.”

Let’s sing as we dance along this path! “On a clear day, you can see foreeeeeeeeever!”

What kind of wildlife do you think is prevalent in swampy areas of Florida? Oh yes, my friends. This is the start of our alligator tour!

We saw these alligators from our safe spot about fifty feet away on a raised walking path with rails and everything. They were cool!

But then we came upon many (like this one in the photo below) that were also huge….and only 10 feet away. But at least we were on level ground with it and without a fence or railing of any kind (sarcasm). We thought it was a tire in the water. A really big tire with thick tread. Then, it started moving. I saw eyeballs. That’s when I grabbed Mark’s arm and moved to the farthest side of the path.

I racked my brain for information on what they eat. Surely they just like plants, right (voice of denial)?

Actually, I am very glad they are able to enjoy their natural habitat without fences, etc. That’s why I like going to nature preserves, wildlife preserves, and state parks. We don’t support zoos, circuses or shows that use animals, or other organizations that take the animals from their natural habitat.

By this time, the sun was starting to set, and my honey reminded me that it was now after 6. The park was closed, so we made our way back to the car. We had several miles to walk before arriving at the car, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

I love this photo of our shadows 🙂

I’ve always loved the moon. I remember one night many years before I met Mark, I was sitting at the base of the stairs outside my apartment, and the moon was big and bright right in front of me. You know those nights when it looks SO close? Like you could reach out and touch it? I remember talking to the moon that night. I wasn’t thinking certain words or feelings, just feeling my Spirit and feeling the energy of the moon. I remember feeling the Presence and knowing I wasn’t on my own.

Luckily we arrived at our car at the perfect time (of course!). I say “perfect time” because it was right when the police showed up 🙂

We were locked in the park! It was 7:30, an hour and 1/2 after the park closed. Oops! Luckily, another couple was locked in, too, and they had called the police to unlock the gate. We ran to our car, shouting our thanks to the police officer, giggling all the way.

What a great adventure trip!


Melanie Jade 🙂

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