A pair of sandhill cranes at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
The authors kayaking on the Loxahatchee River in Riverbend Park.
Part of the bonsai collection in the Japanese Garden of the Morikami Museum
Softshell turtles in Riverbend Park
By Cynthia MacKay and Arthur Stampleman
Each of us had one thought as that second shot of Covid-19 vaccine slid into our arm – FREEDOM! We found a small boutique hotel, Sun Dek Beach House (living room, kitchen, balcony, small, heated pool, a five-minute walk to the Atlantic, five stars on TripAdvisor) in Ocean Ridge, halfway between friends in Boca Raton and Palm Beach, and headed to Florida.
What comes to mind when Northeasterners talk about Florida? Sunny beaches? Pink and green resort clothes? Mara Lago? Tuna fishing?
Thanks to tips from friends, we visited several nature reserves in Palm Beach County – all eyepoppers.
Our first was the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a 147,392-acre sanctuary half an hour west of Boynton Beach, which has extensive walking, canoe, bike, and kayak trails. We saw our first sandhill cranes there. A panel on the boardwalk through the cypress swamp explained that cypress tree knees – mysterious two- to three-foot tall root outgrowths – are thought to help this deciduous conifer get oxygen. The needles were just beginning to emerge as a soft glowing green mist.
Watching wood stork mate and nest in Wakodahatchee Wetlands was worth the trip. The trees are packed with these white giants, all of which are so caught up in the cycle of life that they forget their fear of humans. With the exception of chicks hatching, we saw every stage of reproduction in every tree – males fighting other males for the best nesting sites; couples mating (he rattles her beak hard, then gracefully flies on top of her for 30 seconds, no hesitation here); couples building a nest by treading down twigs repeatedly in a solemn dance; and, finally, the mother settling down to brood while her husband stands guard proudly above her.
Riverbend Park, west of Jupiter, has many fine walking and biking trails, but it is best explored by kayak or canoe. The river is shaded by cypress trees here, so the trip is reliably cool, tranquil, and protected from wind. We snuck up on several softshell turtles, strung out on a log like beads on a necklace. Alligators — fortunately smallish — popped up around our kayak, but luckily, they were more afraid of us than we were of them.
We feel lucky we experienced remnants of the wild Florida that existed before Henry Flagler threw his railway down its spine and founded Palm Peach, Miami and, ultimately, everything in between.
We could not let a trip go by without visiting a museum or two. One fit right in with our nature theme – Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. The museum building was closed because of the pandemic, but we visited serene gardens, including their Bonsai collection. Another was the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, where we took in their modern, contemporary and American collections. The highlight was a series of large-scale collages by Maria Berrio, a Brooklyn-based, Columbian-born artist.