The wonderful world of Justice and Mommy aka Mary!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Migrant Farming In Cleremont And Tubing At Kelly Park

After we had taken all the pictures we could at The House Of Presidents, we jumped back in the car and headed down the road to the Showcase Of Citrus. We were going to pick oranges and tangerines in the fields. As I drove down the long road, I couldn’t help but think. It’s funny how long roads have a way of doing that. I thought back to ten years ago. A decade. It’s funny how a decade tends to change people.

When I was born I was totally dependent on my mother for food,shelter and love. I had no means to care for myself. I was an infant. Ten years later, I was just hitting puberty. I was in love with the New Kids On The Block and old enough to take the public bus to our local Swim Club- Somerton Springs, yet still young enough to play with my Barbie’s in secret. Ten years after that I was living in Florida. I was waiting tables, abusing drugs and running from everything that was truly important in life. Almost ten years later, I had been clean for over seven years and was driving down a country road with the most amazing 6 year old in the backseat. I was a single mother, full time receptionist and part time college student.

That’s when it hit me. The big revelation. Each decade was so completely different than anything I had imagined. Some were better than others; but, I had the power to shape the next decade any way I wanted. The next ten years could be anything and everything. They would also be defining in Justice’s life and it was my job to ensure they would be a decade of a lifetime. I’m up for the challenge.

Eventually we began to see the orange groves and came upon the Showcase Of Citrus. We had arrived at our next stop. As we pulled into the rural driveway the country farm we were bursting with anticipation. As strange as it may sound there was nowhere to pick oranges down south where we lived. The citrus canker epidemic caused most of the farms to close their U-Pick fields, which left us out in the dark.
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Thanks to the owners of this delightful farm, we still had a place in Florida where we could enjoy the sweet satisfaction of filling a ¼ bushel bag with fruits from God given trees. We were able to experience the thick, sweet, sugary smell of a citrus grove hanging in the air like the intoxicating scent of night jasmine in the southern summer nights. We were able to reach up into the thick green trees and pry the cylindrical oranges from their unrelenting branches. It was everything you could expect from a Faulkner novel. It was the south.

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We picked some oranges from smartly labeled rows, then made our way across the footbridge to the tangerines. Again we pulled the sweet fruits from their branches and filled our satchel with nourishing food. How lucky are we that we can literally pick our own food?! It is a true blessing from God, for which we are truly thankful.

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Of course our picking came to an end and we made our way to the country store that framed the entrance to the groves. Justice had his eye on a half orange/ half clear bouncy ball which I allowed him to add to our order and we checked out with the store keeper. He actually told us we could add a few more juicy oranges to our sack; but, after I explained my fruit allergy to him he understood that we didn’t want to waste good food. We had all the citrus that could be consumed in our house. We were happy.

Again, we piled into the car, grabbed a few turkey and cheese sandwiches from the cooler and made our way out to Kelly Park, in Apopka, for some good old Florida tubing. As we neared our destination it became clear to me that our mapquest directions were a bit off. That’s one of the hazards of using a free online service to direct you from point A to B to C.

I knew there were a couple of places nearby to rent tubes at; but, I didn’t know exactly where they were. When I realized my directions were off, I began to panic, because I thought I would never find the tube rentals. Of course I was wrong and even discovered a rare treat along the way. A very curious Asian type structure. I was eager to get to the park, so I made a vow to explore this oddity on the way back.

Soon we came upon Ron’s Tube rental and pulled in to get our flotation devices. The “store” consisted of a small area enclosed by a chain link fence and an even smaller white wooden structure that served as their office. There was one attendant who was happy to help us pick out our tubes and even directed us to the smaller one’s which were perfect for Justice. I paid him the $4 per tube rental and left an additional $4 per tube as a security deposit.

Next, the attendant grabbed a piece of white twine and walked out to the car. He suggested tying the tubes to the trunk and since this is not something I do every day, I figured it would be best to listen to the expert. He asked me to open the trunk, then proceeded to tie the tubes to the hinges and we were ready to go!
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As we neared the park I began to get more excited. We had had such a great time tubing the Itchetucknee last summer, so I knew this was going to be a great experience. The entrance to the park was well marked and lined with huge trees. I paid the entrance fee and rolled on down to the drop off point for the tubes. Actually I wasn’t quite sure where to go and had to ask another first timer where the tubing began. As luck would have it we were in the right spot, so I put the flashers on and proceeded to unload our tubes and lather on the sunscreen.

The parking lot was a short distance away and well within eye shot, so I had Justice stay with the tubes as I parked and walked back. We started to walk towards the water; but, again I had to ask some locals for directions. They pointed us to the nice boardwalk that would take us to the top of the run. It was listed as a mile walk; but, it didn’t feel that long and the forest provided a nice cooling shade.

When we reached the start point, Justice was eager to jump in; but, I insisted on exercising caution as the large, moss covered rocks in the shallow entrance were quite slippery and I didn’t want any unnecessary injuries. From my experience most accidents that occur in the natural setting are a direct result from either being unprepared or not exercising the proper caution.

I helped him into his tube, then settled into my own for a relaxing float down Rock Springs. In no time at all we were gently gliding down the riverbanks peering down into the crystal clear water. No matter how deep or shallow it was we could always see the bottom unless we hit a patch of lush eelgrass. Personally I am not a huge fan of this grass because it’s often home to fish and snakes, besides I like to see what’s beneath me.

Justice was sure to keep a good hold on my tube most of the time and was a bit skittish himself regarding the eelgrass as well. At one point we happened to see a long black snake swimming in a quickly shifting S like pattern at the waters surface. He appeared to be headed towards the embankment and Justice said “He was SLITHERING!” Again, I don’t really like swimming with snakes; but, I’ll forgive this little guy as he was slithering away from me and not towards me!

Not long after that we had the distinct pleasure of seeing a river otter swimming upstream just a few feet away from us. If you have ever seen them swimming in a zoo, then you already know how graceful they are and how calming it is to watch them. Actually swimming with them, in the wild, is so much more incredible. It is a much appreciated gift from Mother Nature.

At one point we came across a couple of almost teenage boys who were swimming down the river sans tubes with snorkels. They kind of reminded me of The Hardy Boy’s. It just so happened that they had been watching a deer in the woods and were able to point it out to us. Again, it was just another remarkable sighting we had the privilege of viewing that day.
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Soon the river forked and I think we choose the less desirable path. We ended up in another long and shallow bed of the dreaded eelgrass, passed under a very small bridge then emerged in the widest section of the run. For a while we floated around aimlessly and saw a ton of fish swimming around us. It was pretty cool and also pretty deep here.

Of course Justice tired of this “relaxation” much quicker than I and wanted to tube further down to the shallow area next to the sandbox. In order to appease him, I agreed to wallow in the more shallow water, while he made some new friends and was allowed to share their sand toys. There were two little girls who he clicked with right away and I seemed to click with their grandma, so it was a good fit for everyone.

The kids found a couple of water guns and decided it would be great fun to squirt me repeatedly and for a while I allowed them their fun. Every time I turned my head a spray of cool water was flying at me from this direction and that. The peals of laughter and giggles from the children met my ears with hastening glee. We were all having a great time, connecting with one another on a very simple plane. Fun. That’s it, just pure, good, wholesome fun.

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At one point a few more girls joined in the fun and they had a sand “ice cream factory” in full operation. Justice was having the time of his life while I was happy to enjoy the cool spring water. It was so cute to watch the little line of children making their icy dairy creations out of sand and plastic. I was served chocolate, mint and vanilla ice cream by several children. It was quite amusing….I didn’t actually eat anything.

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Eventually I was able to pull Justice away from his factory to complete the river run. This section was much shorter; but, provided more tranquil scenes nonetheless. Justice was afraid to go further than the last stop because a friendly park worker assured him there were no alligators until after that point. He didn’t want to go beyond that point and get eaten. I can’t say that I blame him.

As soon as we exited, we began to roll our tubes down the boardwalk much like children playing hoop and stick around the turn of the century. At one point Justice stopped abruptly and started flailing his arms about wildly. I could see snippets of a large winged bug flying about and knew why he was scared. He had been stung in the eyelid by a bee last summer; therefore, he had learned a healthy fear of insects with pointy stingers. Smart kid.

First he tried to play dead, by standing completely still. Of course the menacing bug thought this made him the perfect perch to sit upon. Next he tried to swat it away. It seemed to welcome the challenge by flying right back at him. Finally I came to his rescue. The bug had attached itself to his board shorts and I swiftly flung the tube at it. Then, we ran with the wind up the boardwalk, as our large rubber tubes jostled about in our arms. We had pulled a fast one on the bug. He was gone.

When we reached the end, Justice wanted to swim again; but, I just wanted to go. This WAS supposed to be our relaxing day. With a bit of whining and the promise of lunch at the car, he agreed it was time to leave. After all, we had that curious Asian structure to explore.

I wanted to go to the picnic tables in the clearing; but, Justice wanted to sit on the curb by the car as we had our lunch. Where do you think we ate? If you guessed the curb- you are correct. We had peanut butter and jelly, animal crackers and a can of cherry coke. It was simple, yet satisfying.

You wouldn’t think returning tubes could be a small adventure; but, that’s where reality ends and imagination begins. After we turned our tubes in and retrieved our deposit, we decided to visit the Plush Pony Ice Cream Parlor right next door. Justice was immediately attracted to the brightly painted cartoon signs and to be honest, I was thinking a nice cold treat was just what the doctor ordered after our action packed day.

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As soon as we entered, I was immediately enchanted by the country ice cream parlor. They had done a-lot with their small space and it paid off. Immediately if felt as though you were in a 1950’s soda shop. The floors were checkered with red and white squares which were nicely contrasted by shinny, backless barstools and rows of red leather covered booths. The entire parlor was decorated with Betty Boop artifacts and very tastefully put together.

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I don’t think we were in there for two minutes before Justice looked around and saw Betty in all her glory. He looked at the workers and said “Hey! My Mom mom collects those!” They all seemed to get a kick out of that and so did I. He hates it when says something cute and everybody laughs. He always seems to think we are laughing at him, when we are really laughing with him.

Justice ordered a cotton candy ice cream in a cup and I was unbelievably delighted to be able to order a chocolate cherry gelati. They actually had WATER ICE here! This is a rare treat in Florida, and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity for a taste of Philly. By the way a gelati made with chocolate soft serve and cherry ice tastes an awful lot like a chocolate covered cherry….but BETTER!

With our treats in hand, we got back into the car in search of the Orient. We only had to drive a very short distance before we found it smack in the middle of Florida. After parking the car in a dirt swale, we grabbed our treats and started to check out this strange building. According to the grandmother I had become acquainted with at the park, this was a Buddhist Temple, something I have never seen before.

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As soon as we entered the grounds, we both had a feeling of uneasiness. The place seemed to be deserted and we were not sure if our presence would be considered unwelcome or rude. I think Justice was a little more apprehensive than me and I had a hard time getting him to pose for the first few pictures; but, after he realized that nobody was coming out to yell at us, he warmed up a bit.

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The building wasn’t terribly large; however, it was quite ornate with it’s intricately caved pillars and golden Buddha’s. Small candles and sticks of incense were conspicuously placed throughout the grounds, obviously meant for prayer and meditation softly contrasted by trickling fountains and statues from small to large. The grounds really evoked a sense of peacefulness while providing a simple, yet ornate backdrop.

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We only stayed there for about fifteen minutes before we headed back to the car. We had done so much and had such a great time; but, it was definitely time to get back to the hotel for a little R&R. We still had a-lot of vacation left in us and we wanted to be ready for anything that came our way.
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posted by Mary Gerber at 5/07/2008

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