February, 2012
February, 2012
Northwest Florida

Homosassa Butterfly – Homosassa

Butterflies are nature’s Cinderella story—with ugly caterpillars emerging as winged beauty. Homosassa Butterfly is the largest butterfly attraction and educational facility on the Nature Coast—the place where you crawl before you fly. The brightly painted building sets the stage for a colorful exhibit that’s entertaining and educational. It’s a 2,500-square-foot enclosed habitat filled with live butterflies feeding on flowering nectar plants and laying eggs on a wide variety of host plants. Live displays include butterfly eggs, a caterpillar room, a chrysalis room, and a large outdoor butterfly garden.

There is also a 34-seat movie room for watching educational films on monarch migration, the life cycle of the butterfly, or how to attract butterflies to one’s home garden.

The butterflies in the facility are native to North America and Florida with from 10 to30 different species depending upon the time of the year.

Because they have an exoskeleton, they need the sun’s warmth (their body temperature must be 86 degrees to be able to fly) to keep them active. And when the sun isn’t shining, they close their wings and rest.

Butterflies’ communication is varied: They use color patterns to signal their sex or species to each other. Their chemical pheromones are used by both sexes to attract each other in courtship. They’re even audio equipped and make a clicking sound. When this is combined with being aggressive in flight or posture, it is effective for both courtship or to protect an important nectar source.

The largest butterfly in North America is the Giant Swallowtail with a wing span of 6 inches. Their larval or caterpillar stage is considered a pest to citrus growers. A few "orangedogs," as the larvae are commonly called, can quickly defoliate small or young citrus plants. Although an average butterfly only lives 2 to 3 weeks, Monarchs can live up to 9 months while migrating as much as 2-3,000 miles. The largest butterfly in the world is the Queen Alexandria Birdwing from Papua New Guinea--with a wing span of 12 inches and the Western Pygmy Blue is the smallest in the world with a wing span of ½ inch.

Butterflies are fragile, with little defense against the elements. Perhaps since they don’t live long they don’t need it. When it rains, butterflies hide--under large leaves of trees, or they crawl down into dense leaves or under rocks. Some just sit on bushes or grass with their wings held tightly together. But if it rains for a long duration or exceptionally hard, they become tattered and die.

Butterflies don’t eat in the traditional sense, they have a proboscis (a long tube in their mouth that acts like a straw for drinking.) They feed on nectar from flowers, rotting fruit, dung, pollen, tree sap, and other substances that may have dissolved in water or dirt. You’ve probably seen them after a rain—fluttering above water puddles or moist dirt. This puddling behavior enables the butterfly to get nutrients and minerals that are in short supply in their everyday diets.

The caterpillars eat host plants. These plants are where female butterflies lay their eggs. Each species has a different plant or many plants in which the caterpillars thrive. So the next time you see one of those grubby little worms chewing on a leaf—instead of squashing it, remember that within a short time it will emerge as one of nature’s rare beauties.

Homosassa Butterfly is located at 6991 W. Cardinal Street. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are sold until 4:30 p.m. each day and cost $9.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors and $7 for children aged 3 to 12. Children two and under are admitted free. Phone 352-628-6362 or go to  www.HomosassaButterfly.com.

Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park

Traveling west on the serpentine Yulee Drive from U.S. 19, the countryside is so beautiful it shames the attention required of driving. However, after 2.5 miles the Yulee Sugar Mill State Park offers a reprieve from the zigzags where you can park and absorb the full serenity of nature at it’s best.

There are a lot of strange names in the Crystal River region—most of them Indian—but David Levy Yulee was a Virginia educated businessman/politician who was Florida’s first U.S. Senator and one-time owner of the grounds on which the park is situated.

The park is spacious with all the usual amenities for picnicking and relaxing in the shade of dense oaks with nature’s ornamentation of Spanish moss.  It’s all very appealing, yet at first glance there is no apparent reason for this place to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, a quick look to the opposite side of the road reveals the momentous paraphernalia worthy of recognition.

It’s an old sugar mill, the likes of which at one time were staples of Florida’s economy, and significant because it’s one of few such plantation mills left, and the oldest historic structure of any kind in Citrus County. In the early nineteenth century shipping sugar cane was not economically feasible, so many mills were established on site, and Yulee’s on a 5,100-acre agricultural estate that he named Margarita—was one of the largest.

A chimney of native limestone is prominent, and a large structure about 40 feet long houses the boiler and drive mechanism for the steam engine that powered the machinery.  The mill has been partially restored—at least enough to determine the operation of the huge steel gears.  There are interpretive plaques surrounding the site describing every phase of the operation. The giant steel rollers that crushed the juice from the stalks would make getting your fingers caught in the wringers of one of those old Maytag’s seem trivial.

By 1851 the expensive equipment imported from the industrial north was running full tilt, but Yulee’s 150 slaves still performed most of the labor on the plantation. The mill produced a moist, coarse, brown sugar that although incompletely refined, was much in demand.  It was a prosperous time until the Civil War started ten years later.

Yulee resisted a direct connection to the war effort, even though the mill was a major supplier for sugar products needed by Southern troops. The result was a Union Navy force in 1864 that came down the Homosassa River and burned his plantation to the ground—ironically leaving the mill untouched. The raid was enough, however, to quiet the machinery, bring Yulee to heel and charge him with treason. Pardoned by President Grant, imprisonment was brief, but cogs of the mill gears never meshed again and fell into disrepair.

In 1923 the ruins were presented to the Citrus County Federation of Women’s Club, and in 1953 the six-acre site was deeded to the state. Visitors can tour the ruins at no charge and at their own pace, and with a 10-day notice for groups of 10 or more guided tours by park personnel can be arranged. When viewing the entire process, one of the more interesting notes concerns the bagasse. That was the term for crushed cane that was dried and used as fuel to fire the boiler that powered the machine that crushed the cane.  Whether seen as recycling, or complete use, the employment of sugar cane was whole and efficient, even if the labor was not—a part of history that would make a modern environmentalist happy.

The roadside park and ruins are open every day of the year and there is no admission charge. Located in Homosassa on Yulee Drive west of U.S. Hwy. 19, twelve miles south of Crystal River. For more information call 352-795-3817 or go to www.FloridaStateParks.org.

Crystal River Boat Builders

There is an ongoing project at Crystal River Preserve State Park that is part festival, part museum attraction, and part historic cultural study. The Crystal River Boat Builders are constructing a replica of a sailing scow that was captured by the Union Navy during the Civil War, and they welcome you to come and watch the process.

A scow is a flat-bottomed boat squared off on both the stern and bow. It could be what some people call a freighter because that is what it was designed for. The box configuration allowed for maximum holding of cargo in the limited space.  Scows were riverboats meant to draft little water, enabling them to travel the shallow depths where the deep-keeled boats could not go.

Scows sailed the Crystal and other Gulf Coast rivers at the time when the South’s fledgling transportation system was  hampered by war. As battles raged, the South attempted to carry on commerce necessary to support their troops, and scows transported goods such as cotton, lumber, sugar, and turpentine—the plentiful resources of Dixie—in lieu of their meager manufacturing base.

However, they had to get the goods to market and that meant transferring loads to ocean-going vessels because scows, by their configuration, were unstable in rough open water. It’s not known how many times this particular scow ran the Union blockades assembled to strangle southern vitality, but on April 14, 1864 it was captured, it’s “contraband” confiscated, and the boat itself seized as one of the spoils of war. Specifics of its service up to that point are sketchy, and only after it was taken over was it designated the USS WARTAPPO—followed by documentation in many Union Navy dispatches.  Known facts are that the Union used it after retrofitting riggings for better deep-water stability, and adding a 12-pounder Howitzer that was turned against rebel fortifications along the coast.

So, it’s understandable why the Crystal River Boat Builders have chosen to replicate this particularly significant boat—it’s the fourth replica of circa 1860’s watercraft they’ve built over the years, and for now they’re simply referring to it as the “scow.” Official christening as the WARTAPPO will come later. To ramp up the project, creating enthusiasm as well as funds, they built a 1/6th scale model exact in every detail, now on display in the park office/museum building. And, for anyone wanting to be more than a cheerleader, a Plank Owners Certificate is issued for $20—showing ownership of at least one small piece of the hull.

The full-scale prototype—36 feet long with a 12-foot beam—is expected to take two years to complete. Sticklers for authenticity, the CRBB will not only attempt to duplicate every detail of the original, but do so with the same tools used at the time—no power tools—only hand tools and muscle power. Members have also fabricated equipment such as a shaving horse, joining bench, and sail sewing bench.

They even follow the rules of thumb observed by old-time ship builders known as “gouges” or “oolies,” such as:  The lower mast diameter is to be 7/8 inch for every foot of beam, or the outer edge of a plank should be beveled 1/16 inch for each inch, beveling from the center. And, the size of a nail to fasten a plank is one penny for every eighth of an inch in thickness.

There are twelve members and a couple dozen volunteers working on the scow, not all at one time of course, but every Wednesday and Saturday mornings the public can watch the project move along. Not only will you be able to observe these craftsmen execute their skills, but the project will include hands-on participation opportunities for visitors. In addition once the scow is completed it will act as a mobile interactive museum for support of education in Citrus County and other areas of Florida.

This venture will appeal to boating enthusiasts and wood smiths alike, but without a doubt the people drawing the most fun from this mission with be the dedicated CRBB guys applying their handiwork to the construction.

On the last weekend of April the CRBB hosts a “Boat Bash” giving local boat builders the opportunity to exhibit their homemade crafts. Additional festivities include exhibitions of building skills and displays of 1860’s crafts.

Join in the free fun with the Crystal River Boat Builders from 8 am-noon Wed. and Sat. at Crystal River Preserve State Park. Call 352-344-5482 or go to www.tsca.net/crbb.

Northeast Florida
Northeast Florida Scottish Games & Festival
Green Cove Springs

Whether you’re Scottish or not, you may want to pack up your whole clan and travel to Green Cove Springs on February 25 for the Northeast Florida Scottish Games and Festival. Besides enjoying athletics, music, food and fun, you’ll discover the deep connections of Scots’ heritage–especially in this area of Florida.

The history of the Highland Games started over a thousand years ago. The biggest gatherings were those of the military where the commanding officers, like the Clan Chiefs of old, saw the advantages of encouraging sports and pastimes which kept their men fit, agile, and strong for war. Piping and dancing in particular were practiced as a form of relaxation wherever the regiments went. To this day some of the best pipe bands can be found in the armed forces.

All kinds of competitions will occur: bagpipes and drums; fiddles; highland dancing; traditional music; harps and bodhrans; Scottish dogs; sheep herding; Highland cattle; and Clydesdales. There will be Scottish athletics, such as battle axe throwing and fencing. Scottish clans and societies, genealogists, re-enactors and Scottish food will also be represented.

Musical entertainment will be Albannach (Scots-Gaelic for "Scottish" or "Scotsman”). This is not just another Scottish 'Pipes & Drums' band. Their new approach to percussion and Celtic music is exciting. Also performing will be Rathkeltair featuring Neil Anderson: hear pipes played like you’ve never heard them played before.

The Northeast Florida Scottish Games and Festival  begins at 9 am and runs until 10 pm at the Clay County Fairgrounds (2497 SR 16 West) in Green Cove Spring. Go towww.neflgames.com or call 904-725-5744 for more information.

Florida Agricultural Museum-Palm Coast

The Florida Agricultural  Museum sits on 460 acres located 17 miles south of St. Augustine on the corner of Old Kings Road and U.S. Highway One in northeastern Flagler County.

A visit highlights the contributions of agriculture to our state. There are five restored buildings from a 1930s Depression-era citrus business, a 5,000-square-foot dairy barn formerly belonging to Governor Millard Caldwell, a fully restored and furnished 1890s pioneer homestead, a turn-of-the-last-century Dry Goods Store and an archaeological site of John Hewitt's water-powered sawmill. All of these buildings were moved from their original locations and renovated. The Florida Agricultural Museum also conserves heritage livestock including rare Florida Cracker cattle and horses.

Florida’s Black Cowboys: Past and Present is a permanent exhibit chronicling Africans and African Americans in Florida's cattle industry. It traces the beginnings of a cattle herding tradition in Saharan Africa 6,000 years ago. By the 1500s, herding had evolved into a well-developed ranching system in Spain where large herds tended by mounted horsemen ranged over extensive grazing lands.

Spaniards introduced both cattle and Africans to Florida during the 1500s. By the mid-1600s, many large cattle ranches had been established in northern and central Florida. Blacks, both free and enslaved, worked these ranches as overseers and hands.

Special $6-per-student group school tours are available with hands-on activities such as collecting eggs, pumping water, shucking corn, washing clothes, etc. They can also ride through the woods on tractor-pulled trailers, meet the farm animals, and have a picnic at the Dairy Barn.

Don’t miss their Hot Foods N’ Spicy Blues Festival on February 18, from 11am to 5pm featuring Bill Wharton, the Sauce Boss. He cooks his famous gumbo on stage accompanied by his spicy original music, Florida Slide Guitar Blues. It’s a multi-sensory, soul shouting, picnic of rock and roll brotherhood. And at the end of the show, everybody eats! Area restaurants and retailers provide more spicy food and beer. The event takes place rain or shine and your donated canned goods benefit Feed Flagler. Admission is $5 per person, with showtime at 2 pm.

The Florida Agricultural Museum is located at 7900 Old Kings Road in Palm Coast. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Call 386-446-7630 or go to www.myagmuseum.com.

(West) Central Florida
The Museum of Fine Arts – St. Petersburg
On a trip to St. Petersburg, a must-see is The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). It has an encyclopedic collection of art from around the globe and across the centuries with striking works by Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Morisot, Cézanne, Rodin, O’Keeffe, etc. Also displayed are ancient Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art. Their photography collection is one of the largest and most significant in the Southeast. The MFA opened in 1965, and expanded with a two-story addition in 2008, more than doubling the size of the original building. The MFA's exhibition galleries and gardens are inviting, friendly and intimate.

On view now through April 29 is Ancient Egypt—Art and Magic: Treasures from the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art/Geneva. This is one of the world’s most important private collections of Egyptian antiquities. These 101 works demonstrate the genius of ancient craftsmen, and the magical or spiritual qualities of the objects. There are mummy cases, tomb and temple reliefs, a vignette of the weighing of the heart from the Book of the Dead, alabaster vessels, and rare objects comprised of precious stones.

A red granite torso of Rameses the Great honors one of the most celebrated pharaohs in history. A large stele or stone marker commemorates a cult statue of Rameses III, one of his successors. A limestone sphinx with the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion, points to the profound interrelationship of humans and nature in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptian art centers on transformation, renewal, and eternal life and the objects were invested with visual and symbolic power.

The mummy cases or sarcophagi are the largest works in the exhibition. One is covered in colorful images—like a brilliant painting. It was designed to honor the status of an unidentified court official and to assure his eternal life. Another, more than six-and-a-half-feet tall, includes inlays of alabaster, as well as hieroglyphics. Its monumental presence asserts the authority of a certain Hor-Em-Akhet.

Don’t leave without going upstairs to see Forever in a Moment: Nineteenth-Century Photographs of Egypt. These 40 images (some are rare salt prints) are by well-known photographers of that era: Europeans Antonio Beato, Felix Bonfils, J. Pascal Sébah, and Armenian G. Lekegian.
The Museum of Fine Arts is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday. On Thursdays, the MFA is open until 8 p.m. during Ancient Egypt. Admission: $17-adults; $15- those 65+ ; and $10-students 7 and older, including college students with current I.D. Free for children under 7; Groups discounts available. On Thursdays from 5-8 p.m., admission is $10 for everyone. The MFA Café is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The Museum Store has been named the area’s best by the duPont Registry. Call 727-896-2667 or visit the website at www.fine-arts.org.

Central Florida
Chalet Suzanne Country Inn and Restaurant – Lake Wales

Travel across rolling hills to the geographic center of Florida and you’ll discover that ancient geology not only made Lake Wales the highest ground in Florida, but blessed it with numerous spring-fed lakes. That’s where you’ll enter a 100-acre “chalet village.”

It originated in 1931 when Bertha Hinshaw opened a small restaurant and inn that employed buildings left over from part of a failed 1924 development initiated by her late husband and J. L. Kraft, the head of the Kraft Cheese Company.  Despite the Depression, the restaurant prospered and gained national recognition after it was praised in 1936 by Duncan Hines in his book, Adventures in Good Eating. Today it is a Mobil 3 Star restaurant, was selected by Uncle Ben’s Rice as one of the Top 10 Country Inns in the U.S., and was received into Florida Trend Magazine’s Golden Spoon Award Hall of Fame.

The Chalet Suzanne Country Inn and Restaurant’s reputation has always been its cuisine--which is served in five unique rooms on different levels overlooking the lake. Glowing with eclectic art, antiques, and photos of visiting celebrities collected over decades, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the fourth generation of the Hinshaw Family lives and works at Chalet Suzanne. Architecturally, the Inn is a fanciful collection of gables and towers resembling a Swiss chalet, with each of the 26 cottages having a different design. There might be a window seat overlooking the hidden “autograph garden.” You might relax at an outside table near your private entrance/courtyard, or watch a fly-in guest taxi up to his cottage from the 2300-foot lighted, private airstrip built in 1960.

The Ceramic Studio may release stress, but for an adrenaline boost, instructors and Jumpmasters on the premises at JumpFlorida.com (call 888-313-JUMP) can suggest a skydive, or a personally tailored free fall for a birthday, wedding, anniversary, etc.

Besides citrus groves and a small experimental vineyard, there is also the Chalet Suzanne Soup Cannery—where you can take a free tour. After over fifty years of production, the family recipes of 13 unique gourmet soups and 3 sauces have been found in many unusual but noteworthy places. Today their signature Romaine® soup is served with every meal at the restaurant. But it was also aboard Apollo 15 and 16 on their trip to the moon (a double zip lock bag was invented to store it). This soup was even carried by the Russian cosmonauts for the Apollo-Soyuz linkup in space. And a can of this special label, “Moon Soup®” is at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Chalet Suzanne Country Inn and Restaurant is located at 3800 Chalet Suzanne Lane in Lake Wales. They offer a quiet atmosphere, fabulous food and personal attention. For more information, go to www.ChaletSuzanne.com or call 800-433-6011 or 863-676-6011 for dining reservations.

LEGOLAND—Winter Haven
A trip to LEGOLAND in Winter Haven puts you on a paradoxical tour of complexity constructed of simplicity—and, arguably the most successful non-electronic instruments of entertainment ever invented.

I’ve always contended a golf ball is the most beautifully designed object of modern times—and a LEGO brick comes in a very close second.

Although opposite in shape, they’re both of natural form. Their beauty flows from flawlessness, precision, symmetry, and simplicity. The glossy appearance is pleasing, almost luxurious to the touch and vision, while fit to the fingers is perfect and somehow comforting. The major difference is that the LEGO brick is a whole lot easier to play with than a golf ball.

My first experience with LEGO was years ago when my children received a set for Christmas. I was fascinated with the intricacy and was soon absorbed as much as they were in the creative process, but never imagined the size and convolution of construction seen at LEGOLAND.

Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in Billund, Denmark eight decades ago and struck upon LEGO as the name for his creations—a shortening of Danish words ‘leg godt’ meaning ‘play well,’ and coincidentally translated from Latin as “I assemble.”

In 1968, inspired by the interest in LEGO masterpieces displayed at Kirk Christiansen’s factories, the first LEGOLAND was opened in Billund to immediate success. There are five parks now open—LEGOLAND Florida, a transformation of Cypress Gardens, is the second in this country. And, be assured that a makeover from the formerly down-in-the-heels Cypress Gardens encompasses nearly everything and is well done.

They have taken care to preserve the historic gardens and the water ski show that were signatures of Florida’s oldest theme park, but everything else is shiny and new.

As is the common practice, the gate price includes everything inside, and undercuts that of parks like Disney and Universal Studios that are acclimated toward a slightly different crowd. LEGOLAND is geared for children ages two to twelve. Of course when the kids are having fun, so are the parents and grandparents who accompany them. It’s probably the thrill-seeking teenagers who are accommodated least, but still on our visit I saw many in that age group who were having a great time.           

Besides the enormity of LEGO structures—both in number and size—there are live shows and more than 50 rides and attractions. In consideration of the preferred age group, the rides are rather tame compared to many theme park monstrosities. Activity in general seems slowed—sort of like Disney on tranquilizers—a relaxing pace that was found very enjoyable.  

The 150-acre park is categorized by ten individual themes appealing to all the senses—some hands-on and others simply fascinating to observe. There are nearly a dozen food options scattered about, and a host of conveniences such as a baby care center, and kennels for your pets—none are allowed in the park except trained service animals—designed to make everyone’s visit enjoyable.

There is no doubt that since Kirk Christiansen’s business in 1947 chose plastic injection molding that has spewed these little bricks by the billions, they’ve become artifacts recognized worldwide. As for Florida’s expression of the phenomenon--it’s a safe, fun place for the tots…and a must see for LEGO fans.

LEGOLAND, a family theme park, is located in Winter Haven. A day ticket for adults is $75; for children 12 and under, and seniors over 60 it’s $65, and there are online discounts (don’t forget the additional cost of $12 parking.) They are open 5 days a week, closing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but open 7 days during specific holidays. Go to www.Legoland.com or call 877-350-LEGO.

Lake Wales Depot Museum

Originally, the only roads to Lake Wales were sand trails. But when the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad arrived in 1911, it ended the community’s isolation and encouraged early settlement. In fact, the original depot—a crude unpainted shack and platform, was the first building constructed in Lake Wales and was the starting point from which the present town evolved.

Then the east-west-bound Seaboard Air Line tracks came through in 1915. And in 1928 a new depot was erected several blocks south of the original site in order to relieve congestion downtown. A freight room and loading platform were added in 1938. Over the next fifty-six years, service merged and then finally ceased.

Although the Spanish Mission-style depot with the red tile roof remained a landmark, the city moved it to the city equipment yard for storage in 1976. Finally, the Historic Lake Wales Society (which included a small group of railroad enthusiasts) took it under its wing. The Lake Wales Depot Museum now sits at 325 South Scenic Highway where it is a resource center for the collection, conservation, exhibition and study of materials pertaining to the history of Lake Wales.

The Railroad Club provided assistance with the restoration of the three vintage railroad cars as well as conducting educational tours and programs for area school, scout and community groups.

The present exhibit (through February 15)  features pedal vehicles, toy cars and trucks, vintage dolls, doll houses and box miniatures-–room dioramas built inside a small box, usually one foot square, and of course railroading gear and fascinating blown-up photographs of those early days.

In the final freight room of the museum complex is an N-scale (one foot equals 160 feet ) model railroad – It is a composite of a region of Germany with about 400 feet of track overall, and 65 left/right turnouts (switches), one slip-switch, plus crossovers, 3-way switches and curve switches. For model enthusiasts it’s one of the best you’ll see.

Lake Wales Depot Museum and Cultural Center is located at 325 South Scenic Highway in Lake Wales. It permanently displays the N-scale model railroad display and features rotating exhibits (Vintage Toys and Doll Houses runs thru February 15; and the Native American exhibit is in March). Additional vintage rail cars include a caboose, engine and Pullman car form part of the Museum Complex. Admission $2-adults, $1-children. Hours: M-F, 9-5; Sat, 10-4. Go to www.cityoflakewales.com or call 863-676-5160.

Southwest Florida
Koreshan State Park—Estero

In 1894 Dr. Cyrus R. Teed’s 200 dedicated followers traveled from Chicago to Estero Florida to establish a colony he viewed as the “New Jerusalem,” otherwise know as Koreshan Unity.  These people were not predecessors of the latter day group in Waco Texas, led by David Koresh, referred to sometimes as Koreshians.

There were, however, similarities. Both were religious cults steered by misdirected, but charismatic leaders who probably believed the doctrine they preached. The difference was, although seen as eccentrics, the Teed disciples didn’t violate the laws, or personal rights of their people.

Teed, a doctor originally from New York, was repulsed by the inhumane medical treatment during the Civil War and turned to alchemy for a solution. As with offbeat religious leaders, before and since, he claimed, during research, to have received a “divine vision” anointing him as leader of a new spiritual life.

He and his supporters came to Florida seeking a cleaner environment free from religious persecution. In a commune, they believed they could live in utopia under the new faith of Koreshanity, espousing the theory that the entire universe existed within an 8000-mile diameter hollow sphere. They devised elaborate surveys on the straight flat beaches of Collier County to delude themselves into seeing the curvature of the earth as the exact opposite of confirmed science. Curious, however, was the fact that there were no takers of a $10,000 reward to disprove their theory.

Regardless of their disdain for proven facts they considered education to be important and contributed to local society with art, a printing facility, boat works, cement works, sawmill, bakery, store and hotel. Although their easy living along the Estero River in those early days no doubt seemed like utopia, their religion attracted a modicum of adherents.

Teed’s downfall was entering politics.  His uncompromising zeal in a heated debate culminated in political opponents administering a severe beating that resulted in his death, and the death knell of his movement. 

Koreshanity was just one of many foolish religious sects destined to fail, but unlike most, it left an historical site to be remembered by, and most importantly a 305-acre park that continues to be enjoyed.  In 1961 four remaining members of the ill-fated creed deeded the land to the state as a memorial, and today it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Eleven of the original buildings are scattered along wide gravel and shell—strewn paths making for easy self-guided tours. Conducted tours are provided daily through March at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

While historians identify with the authentic accounts, the park is probably renowned more for its natural beauty than recorded past. A hiking trail runs along the river and a running trail skirts the park boundary taking you through a pine flatwoods habitat. Among the long leaf pines, sable palms and oak trees there is a campground of 60 sites, some made quite private by thick shrubs, vines and palmettos.  Four of these are paved ADA-approved sites, plus a dump station for RV’s, a utility area, vending machines, and children’s’ playground.

While pragmatic first, the Koreshans also enhanced their community aesthetically for nourishment of the spirit. They laid out formal gardens in geometric patterns based on the arc, the chord, and the radius—elements corresponding to their vision of the universe. A work in progress, the gardens nonetheless display the elaborate planning and are quite beautiful.

There are picnic sites and a boat ramp that accommodates boats up to 24 feet. If you leave your boat at home there are rentals available for excursions on the river. Canoeing is a favorite on the gentle flow of the Estero. You can paddle 3.5 miles west to Mound Key Archaeological State Park or 2 miles east into Estero Bay. Several spots along the way are good fishing for snook, mullet, and redfish. During the winter months, manatees are often seen in these warmer waters.  Otters and alligators are also common in the brackish river, and the sight of swallowtail kites, kingfishers, and bald eagles equally thrills boaters.

Throughout the year the park host’s events ranging from vintage car and engine shows to cooking and musicals. Well attended are the ghost, or candlelight walks through the settlement on January 27 and 28 and on February 3 and 4 from 7 to 8 p.m. A Taste of History lecture on February 25 is popular and requires reservations.

After a day of sightseeing or attending an event at Koreshan State Park it becomes obvious that the Estero pioneers may have arrived following a false prophet, but when it came to choosing a location that praises the wonders of nature their devotion was faultless.

From I 75, exit 123 (Corkscrew Road) go west. The Park is on right immediately after crossing SR 41. For more information call 239-992-0311 or go to www.floridastateparks.org.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium - Sarasota

A trip to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota is like visiting another world. The name may conjure up a type of stodgy research facility shunned by the fun-seeking throngs, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Be assured this is a scientific organization with a staff of more than 200. Of those, 95 (33 at the Doctoral level) are working on major research projects that involve every aspect of underwater life, and once you witness the environment from which the studies are comprised, the excitement builds.

Many scientists believe that sea life holds secrets more stirring than outer space. We have telescopes that can look light-years into space, but there are depths of the ocean that we have never seen—in fact another world.

Mote’s major programs are organized into science, education, and Mote Aquarium—their public facility featuring more than 100 species of marine life and attracting more than 350,000 visitors a year.  Mote is one of the few scientific organizations combining marine research with public outreach featuring an aquarium accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The exhibits are presented extremely well, replicating the natural environs of underwater life that people other than divers are not likely to ever see. At depth life is so much different than on the earth’s surface—some of it violent in character yet wondrous in simplicity—all cycles of survival.  In this almost magical world it’s difficult to imagine things so grotesque and simultaneously beautiful. They will fascinate you—plants that look like animals and animals that take on the appearance of plants. Species like jellyfish with neon-colored gossamer bodies, propelling themselves only by pulsation, and octopuses that resurrect visions of whimsical battles with Popeye the Sailor Man. This aquarium is a place where you can spend the entire day and not tire of the constantly changing scenery.

There are touch pools that allow visitors to reach into the water and stroke some of the benign creatures, but the 135,000-gallon shark habitat is a place where only other denizens of the deep (and trained Mote staff) go—and they, only because the sharks are satiated by regular feeding. The tank can be viewed from above where occasionally a dorsal fin breaks the surface, and at depth through large glass windows. Continually moving, the predators tend to swim the perimeter of the huge pool—hunting it seems—actually touching the glass with their sleekness. These graceful killing machines are literally within inches—affording eye to beady-eye contact as they slide by.

The southern stingrays are fascinating too. Actually cartilaginous fish, closely related to sharks, they flap their aqua-wings and slither their soft white underbellies against the windows in passing, then flip over exposing their strap gills and periscope eyes—for the uninitiated, looking like some deformity of nature. It’s chilling and mesmerizing.

On a lighter note, and just as captivating, are the six penguins currently on loan from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, California. Penguins are usually associated with wintry conditions, waddling through snow and sliding down ice chutes, but these little guys (about two feet tall) known as black-footed penguins are from the coast of South Africa where ocean currents are cold but the temperature moderate. Dressed in distinctive tuxedos that identify them as clearly as human facial features, the males are named Sly, South, Rudy, Oswald and Coaster, while the single female is called Ninja. They look cuddly as teddy bears until the daily fish meals are served—then you wouldn’t want to get in the way of those snapping beaks. The daily dining at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. are favorite attractions, but will only last through April 15 when they head back to California.

You can view some of the research projects as well, like the Seahorse Conservation Laboratory where the tiny creatures are learning to use their prehensile tails to navigate. The largest of the underwater dwellers on display is a giant squid now shrunken in preservative to 25 feet from its live 37-foot length. Snagged by commercial fishermen near New Zealand after expiring, it is one of the few of the species ever found. It has only been recently that a live giant squid has been observed, and then only by remote deep-sea video.

Mote offers a vast educational experience simply by observing, but for anyone who wishes to further their marine knowledge, the organization presents a Special Lecture Series each year by nationally known speakers on subjects of marine research and conservation.

Lectures on February 6, 13, 20, 27, March 5, and 12 begin at 7:30 pm in Mote’s Immersion Cinema. Cost is $12. Reserve your seat by visiting www.mote.org/lecture.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is located at 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway in Sarasota. Open from 10 am to 5 pm seven days a week, 365 days a year, including all holidays. Admission includes access to Mote Aquarium, the Ann and Alfred E. Goldstein Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center and Immersion Cinema. Adults-$17; seniors over 65-$16; Youth 4-12-$12; under 4-free admission. Mote Members are admitted free. Call 941-388-4441 or go to www.mote.org.

Southeast Florida

Hear ye, hear ye: Visit the 20th Annual Florida Renaissance Festival at Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach for five weekends from February 11 through March 11 (including President’s Day on Monday, February 20) from 10 am til sunset.
Experience yesteryear as you stroll the village where merchants and artisans demonstrate and sell their wares--glass blowing, hammered pewter, wooden toys, pottery and clothing.

There will be hundreds of performers with continuous entertainment on twelve stages. The stage musical of the season is Musical Macbeth which presents a 30-minute whirlwind of Broadway show-stoppers, pop standards, colorful costumes, exciting dances and hilarious comedy.

Surrounding you will be sword fighters, minstrels, and magicians. Join the 16th-Century dancers, Revelers Round as they dance in the streets. Celtic harps, flutes, recorders, penny whistle, bowed psaltery, guitar and beautiful vocal harmonies will transport you to another place and time.

You can feast on succulent turkey legs, Scotch eggs, love knots (pretzels) and the Queen's buns hot out of their bakery ovens. Or visit the Pub and toast the Royal Court with a tankard of ale or cider.

Play games of chance and games of skill which challenge both young and old alike...archery, the test of strength, and Jacob's Ladder. Or experience the thrill of human-powered rides like the Carousello, the Wild Boar, the Flying Swan, the Hurlinator and the Quintain. Or, get lost in the Dragon's Maze. There’s also Kid's Kingdom and a new Gaming Glen for kids of all ages.

Visit the Pirate Encampment -  where The Port Royal Buccaneers specialize in a black powder show, complete with several dozen guns (pistols, rifles, blunderbuss, flintlock, percussion and cannons) as well as swordplay. Watch as battling knights mount their steeds, lower their visors, aim their lances and charge at full tilt in live full-combat jousting. And don’t miss seeing falcons in flight in the Birds of Prey show.

Quiet Waters Park’s regular weekend holiday gate admission of $1.50 per person (free for children ages 5 and under) will be in effect for Festival Days. Tickets are $20 for adults and $7 for children ages 6 to 11, with children ages 5 and under admitted free. Call 954-771-7117 or go to www.ren-fest.com.

The Bass Museum of Art – Miami Beach

Located in Miami Beach, the Bass Museum of Art offers dynamic year-round exhibitions exploring the connections between contemporary art and works of art from its permanent collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture, textiles, Apulian Vessel Gallery and Egyptian Gallery.

Artists’ projects, educational programs, lectures, concerts and free family days complement the works on view. Founded in 1964 when the City of Miami Beach accepted a collection of Renaissance and Baroque works of art from collectors John and Johanna Bass, the collection was housed in an Art Deco building designed in 1930 by Russell Pancoast. Architect Arata Isozaki designed an addition to the museum between 1998 and 2002 that doubled its size from 15,000 to 35,000 square feet. Most recently, the museum selected internationally acclaimed Oppenheim Architecture + Design to lead its first phase of design and renovation tied to the 2010 completion of Miami Beach’s Collins Park. Oppenheim redesigned and relocated the museum’s arrival area to flow from and into the new park on Collins Avenue.

Exhibits/events: In the Gertrude and Silverstein Muss Gallery (through March 4) the work of Erwin Wurm establishes a link between materials change and a psychological perspective. It also examines sculptural themes like mass, volume and surface.

Contemporary Exhibitions: (through August 12) Tiny suits, miniature ceramic vessels in towering vitrines, hand-embroidered baseball caps, Charles Ledray’s work is a poetry of material, scale, and cultural resonance rich with history and emotion. Through November 4, UNNATURAL presents scientific, romantic, conceptual, poetic, sensual and ecological conceptions of nature through a variety of strategies that reflect advances in technology in the twenty-first century.

Programs/Special Events (members’ free, non-members-$8): Every Thursday, 1-3 pm – Art Club for Adults features a different program or activity each week. Beats After Sunset (members free, non-members-$8) occurs the first Friday of every month from 8-11 pm. Enjoy exhibitions on view, Guest DJ, mixologist and complimentary specialty cocktails (must be 21+). IDEA@thebass Inventive Art Class is every second Sunday of the month. You and your child learn to paint, draw, and more. Family (members free; non-members $10 per child). Last Sunday of every month the whole day is FREE, and IDEA@thebass family day activities are from 2-4 pm: art projects, scavenger hunts, preschool art station, face painting, free prizes, snacks and drinks.

Ongoing from the Permanent Collection: The Egyptian Gallery is permanently housed in the 460-square foot Kaiser and Kosh Gallery. Inner and outer sarcophagi and mummy are on exhibit permanently. In addition there are thirteen objects (comprised of a gift and also long-term loans) of Egyptian antiquity on view. In the Apulian Vessels Gallery, is the recent acquisition of two Apulian red-figured vessels. Both originated in the region of Apulia circa 330 BCE, now known as Puglia, located in southern Italy.

The Bass Museum is located at 2100 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Admission: $8-adults, $6-seniors and students with I.D. Free for Basspass members, Miami Beach residents, and children under 6. Hours are noon-5 pm from Wed-Sun. A metered parking lot is on site and there’s additional metered parking on perimeter streets. Call 305-673-7530 or go to www.bassmuseum.org.