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Posts tagged: florida

Travel: Tasting the Best of Apalachicola, Florida

   I pushed away my plate and picked up my purse to leave The Fisherman’s Wife and move on, but at the last minute I pulled out my phone and took a photo of the only bite left on my plate. One crescent of cornbread was all that remained of a meal of fried shrimp, cheese grits, coleslaw and hushpuppies.

    I took the photo because I’d already made one call to my husband telling him I’d found a place he might want to visit and he might never want to leave and I knew the hushpuppy—the Southern staple of seasoned cornmeal batter, fried crisp and brown—would strike its mark. But I also took it because I’d been trying to think of the best way to describe the unique personality of the north coast of a state that is probably best known for the broad beaches, busy theme parks and bustling cities on the lower half of the peninsula. Looking down at my empty plate, I found my answer. In a lot of ways, the food—the seafood—is the key.
    
    It’s impossible to spend any time in that part of Florida and not be offered a fresh Apalachicola oyster, pulled out of the bay that morning, shucked and served on a saltine cracker and dressed with horseradish and hot sauce. Afternoons become “Oyster Hour” when local restaurants serve up more fresh oysters with laughter, gossip and plenty of cold beer. Dinner might be Grouper or a basket of grilled oysters or fat Gulf shrimp, butterflied, battered and fried or simply boiled and seasoned and then served ready to peel and eat. Life centers around the bounty and it is served up fresh and simply prepared.

    The cluster of small communities in Franklin County, Florida, the largest of which is Apalachicola, or Apalach, as the locals call the small picturesque waterfront town, has shown a unique ability to reinvent itself to fit the times. At various points in its history the county was home to one of the busiest ports on the Gulf of Mexico. It was the site of a thriving sponge market and later an important Southern timber hub. Times and industry have changed but the one constant has been and still is the rich variety of seafood harvested locally by people who are deeply rooted in the community. People like the fisherman married to the fisherman’s wife who’d served up fresh-caught shrimp for my lunch.

    While there, I met people who’ve lived in the county for generations and others who moved to the area to get away from the larger and busier world. I met a few first-time visitors like myself. But I quickly discovered we all have something in common. We love the slow pace of life. We love the natural beauty of the coastline and rivers and estuaries, and all the wildlife that come with them. And we really, really, love the food.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com



  

Travel: Morning on St. George Island, Florida

I woke up early, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, slipped into a sweater and walked out into the cool morning, closing the door behind me.

Following the short path to the beach, I stepped onto the soft, damp, sand and began to walk the curving edge of St. George Island, the small, uncrowded, barrier island off the coast of North Florida. The sun was just peeking over the horizon. I could see someone far ahead throwing a stick for the dog at his side, but other than that I didn’t see another soul. Looking the other way I could believe I had the island to myself.
    
The tide had come and gone before the sun rose and the tideline was littered with what the water had left behind. The compacted sand at the water’s edge was carpeted with a layer of shells, or the bits and pieces of what had once been seashells before they were tumbled and broken by the surf.

As I walked, my head down, my eyes on the sand in front of me, I occasionally stopped and picked up something that caught my eye. The sound of the waves cancelled out any other sound and my mind wandered as I strolled.

When I got back to the beach house, while the coffee brewed, I emptied my pockets onto the counter in the kitchen and examined what I’d brought back with me. I’d liked one for the soft band of pale pink that ran across the widest part, another for the curious curves and and chambers that were exposed. Looking closely at the shell fragments I’d picked up, I realized that each had been chosen, not because it had been part of a more beautiful whole, but because even in its brokenness it was still something unique and exquisite and worth a second look, Worth slipping into a pocket. We put such emphasis on perfection, but time and time again nature reminds us that beauty is more than the surface of any object. True beauty is in the bones and the scars and the brokenness that remains after stronger forces work against us.
    
I put the handful of shells into a plastic bag and slipped it into my suitcase. Years from now, when I run across them in a drawer or on a shelf on the patio, I may have forgotten where I originally found them, like so many of the sticks and stones I’ve gathered and brought home with me. The soft morning on an quiet island just beginning to warm under the morning sun will have slipped from my memory, but I am willing to bet that as I hold the broken shells in my hand I will turn them this way and that, looking closer at the soft colors and the delicate shapes, and I will find them beautiful again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Kayaking the New River in Franklin County, Florida


    The dark water of the New River slips silently downstream, continuing to carry my kayak forward whenever I lift my paddles, allowing me to float quietly for a few minutes absorbing the sights and sounds and the lush North Florida landscape around me.


    Tall Tupelo trees, with their bright green leaves and graceful branches, reach out over the orchid-like blooms of flowers that bloom along the riverbanks.


    The air is heavy with moisture but the morning is cool, the sun hidden in the low clouds. The sound of birds is all around us.


    We put in at a bend in the river at Tate’s Hell State Forest, near the small town of Carrabelle, beside a narrow steel bridge that rumbles and whines when vehicles cross on Gully Branch Road. Knobby cypress knees poke up out of the thick black mud that sucks at our sandals as we step into our kayaks.

   We push away and the world immediately closes around us.


    When most people think of Florida, postcard images of broad white beaches, high rise condominiums and crowds come to mind. And that is certainly true for most of the state. But the northernmost part, the panhandle of the peninsula, is a unique blend of pinewood forest, smooth sandy coastline and fertile estuaries. Green, lush, forest gives way to sandy beaches and streams and rivers, like the New River, feed fresh water into surrounding watersheds and eventually into Apalachicola Bay. This part of Florida, Franklin County, is sometimes called 'the forgotten coast' and it does feel as though the worst of progress—the noise, the crowds, the congestion and careless treatment of the natural world—has raced past. A blessing, I think, in this case.    


     I realize the rest of my group has moved ahead, around the next bend, and I am alone. There is a sense of mystery in the moment. Paddling along the surface of the water, even though the morning is cool, I watch for snakes at the edge of the river. On the drive to the park I caught sight of an alligator in a small stream beside the road and I know alligators can be found in the water but I’m relieved that they stay out of sight while I am there.  I see an eagle flying overhead, one sharp eye trained on me, I’m sure. Black bear, cats and countless other wild creatures call this place home and I wonder what they make of the people who come to play.


    We pull out of the water just as a soft rain begins to fall.  After the kayaks are loaded and we are back in the river guide’s van, I look out the window. Already there is a break in the sky and a patch of bright blue shines through. And the black water of the river, relieved again of the weight and interruption of interlopers, moves silently on.
    
    
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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