Long Live Highlands Hammock

What is a hammock? I always thought of it as a shady place to rest. While hiking at Highlands Hammock State Park, near Sebring, I walked through the oldest hammock in Florida.  A hammock is a stand of trees growing in an elevated area surrounded by wetlands. Think of it as ecological island where plants and animals abound.

While camping at the park, Herb, Buddy, and I traversed trails through wild orange trees, ancient live oaks, and towering Sabal palms.


These wild oranges look almost ready to eat. Early Spanish explorers brought orange seeds to Florida.  Seville oranges can be found throughout the state from Jacksonville to Key West. Wild oranges contain a large amount of seeds and taste sour. Yet, they are a valuable ingredient in orange marmalade, and can also be substituted in recipes which call for lemons.

Herb, posing with an oak tree estimated to be one thousand years old.

The park contained many old oak trees, living and dead. The center of an old oak often rots away from disease, parasites, or fire leaving a hollow space with little skeletal support.


Tree surgeons attempted to save this oak by supporting it with cement blocks. It didn’t work. The tree died, but an artifact remains for now, until the wood decomposes.

IMG_2581My favorite tree is the Sabal palm. In Highlands Hammock many of these trees grow between  seventy and one hundred feet tall. Upon my arrival home, I researched information about the life span of palm trees. I discovered palms do not have rings, so their age is determined by their height, rate of leaf production, and visible scars from fallen leaves.

According to botany professor, Barry Tomlinson, palms may be the longest living trees if you consider the age of actively dividing cells in their trunks.  In most long-lived trees the trunk is composed of rings of woody tissue, but only the cells of the inner ring actively divide. Each year these active cells are replaced with new cells and another ring is added to the tree. That’s why oak trees not only grow taller, they grow wider too. An  oak tree might be one thousand years old, but its active cells are much younger.

In contrast, the tissues in the trunk of a palm are laid down in vascular bundles with the oldest cells in the trunk and the youngest in the top. However, the oldest cells flourish at full capacity throughout the life of a palm tree, continuing to transport water and nutrients to the top leaves for centuries.

This reminded me of Psalm 92:12 which states:

The righteous (faithful) will flourish like the palm tree.

Good food for thought.  Compared to other trees, palms are unique because all of their cells are flourishing throughout their old age. I’m delighted when science confirms the word of God. How did the psalmist know that the cells of palm trees flourish?

Like all baby-boomers, we have more years behind us than ahead. As we approach our “golden years”,  don’t we still desire to flourish like the palm tree?






Two Hurricanes in Three Weeks: Lisa’s Story

Lisa regularly flies from Orlando to Texas to visit her elderly parents. However, her most recent trip was one she’ll never forget. On August 24 her plane to Dallas was delayed. She missed her connection to Beaumont and was forced to take a later flight. After spending hours waiting in the Dallas airport, she wondered if it was an omen of bad things to come.

Lisa was aware of Hurricane Harvey’s location in the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t think it would affect Beaumont.  Her parents, Glenda, 84, and Lindy, 90, had a relaxed attitude.  At their age they’d seen many storms come and go along the Texas coastline. The weather forecast predicted thirty inches of rain for their area. Her parents thought it would never happen. Still, Lisa encouraged them to go shopping for extra bottled water and food, just in case they might not want to go out in the rain.

On Saturday, August 26, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi and looked like more of a threat for Beaumont. Lisa encouraged Lindy to fill up his gas tank. He did. That night bands of rain arrived and continued off an on for four days. Lisa emptied the rain gauge in the yard every time it was full. They received thirty- five inches of rain on their property.  The family was amazed their home did not flood, nor did they lose power. Every time the water would rise on the patio, the bands of rain would stop long enough for the water to recede.  Lisa attributes this miracle to the prayers of friends and family.

On Thursday morning she turned on the faucet to make coffee and there was no water.  Flood waters from the Natchez River contaminated the city water treatment plant. The local news reported the water would be off for several days. Lisa and her parents were resourceful. They gathered buckets and coolers and put them in the back of Lindy’s pickup truck. Lindy drove to a nearby soccer field which had become a retention pond.


Lisa helped her parents carry buckets of water from the flooded soccer field to the truck. Back at home, they used this water to flush the toilet. They still had bottled water to drink, but wondered how long it would last.  Without water, it was necessary for every store and restaurant to close.

Originally Lisa planned to visit Beaumont for five days. With the airport closed, and roads flooded, she was stranded. Still, her main concern was the welfare of her parents. She knew they had to find a way out. If they could evacuate to her sister’s home in Dallas, her parents would be safe and she could get a flight back to Florida from there. She managed to access a Texas Department of Transportation website that posted passable driving routes.  One road, Highway 90, was passable.

Friday morning Lisa, Lindy, and Glenda threw their suitcases in the back of Lindy’s truck and started driving. The trip was frightening at times, especially when they drove onto a bridge across the flooded Trinity River.  A drive which  normally took six hours turned into nine, but they made it. Along the way they watched scores of vehicles coming toward Beaumont to help people evacuate. The lack of water forced those in hurricane shelters to leave.

Lisa flew home from Dallas to Orlando September 2.  Within two days she and her husband Bill were busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. Because of her experience with Harvey, Lisa’s first thought was to stock up on bottled water. Panic ensued. Publix and CVS had no water left on the shelf. She bought empty containers at Target, filled them with water and placed them under their carport. Hurricane Irma was a long time coming, and the path kept changing. Finally, the morning of September 11 hurricane force winds hit Orlando. Lisa and Bill’s power went out and stayed out for a week. City water was unaffected.

Between the two hurricanes, Lisa states her experience with Irma was much more difficult. “Living without air conditioning in Orlando’s heat and humidity is a big challenge.” By Friday night she and Bill checked into a hotel. Their power came on the next day.

Prior to all of the hurricane madness, Bill and Lisa had planned to take a cruise scheduled to depart from Puerto Rico. It was cancelled of course, by another storm named Maria. Lisa was fine with the cancellation. “I didn’t want to see a third hurricane.”



The Gem of Winter Park

Summer is a great time of year to visit the Morse Museum of Winter Park, Florida.  The Morse Museum contains the most comprehensive collection of works by American artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Exhibits include leaded-glass lamps, unique windows, and architectural elements from Tiffany’s Long Island estate, Laurelton Hall. My favorite part of the museum is The Chapel which Tiffany created for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

Inside The Chapel, intricate glass mosaic surfaces reflect light from a ten foot by eight foot electrified chandelier in the shape of a cross. Sitting in the chapel makes me feel as if I’m in another world. Similar to the great cathedrals of Europe, The Chapel inspires me to consider the beauty and holiness of God. I am reminded that darkness will never extinguish the light.

Stained glass as an art form reached its height in the Middle Ages. The stained glass windows of medieval churches taught the narrative of the Bible to an illiterate population. During the twelfth century in England the Tree of Jesse Window  displayed the genealogy of Christ. Pictured at the base of the tree is Jesse, father of King David. On higher branches are the kings and prophets of Judah. At the top Christ and Mary are shown. This window shared Isaiah’s prophecy: “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow from his roots.”

As America became more industrialized during the late 1800’s and cities grew, churches sought artists who could work in stained glass.  During the nineteenth century, pot metal glass was commonly used. Craftspeople often painted this regular looking glass with enamels.

Tiffany’s windows took stained glass to a new level. His invention of opalescent glass used chemicals to create the variations of color found in nature. The result was a more realistic looking product.   Tiffany’s windows fulfilled a long-desired American goal of countering the perceived artistic superiority of Europe. He mastered the art, and by 1900 America led the world in the production of stained glass decorations. Tiffany Studios produced a range of products including lamps, pottery and jewelry.

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Tiffany was inspired by nature and intoxicated by color.  Winter is an example of opalescent glass from the Four Seasons panel on display in the Morse Museum.

The process of creating stained glass amazes me.  Glass is made by mixing sand, soda, and lime. Color is created by adding metallic oxides. Heat and pressure are applied. Then after cooling, the glass is cut and placed into flexible pieces of lead and soldered at the joints.

I wrote Windows of Heaven, as a tribute to the Morse Museum and Tiffany’s beautiful art.

Windows of Heaven     

Earth fused with fire

minerals blend

amethyst stained

atoms suspend.

Colorful glass

fruit of the flame

cut into shapes

placed in a frame

Fastened together

images set

ruby and sapphire

form a rosette.


Light iridescent

spectrum of grace

filling the darkness

my hiding place.




On Tuesday, July 4, 2017 admission to the Morse Museum is free as part of the Winter Park Independence Day Celebration.








A Church Built on the Rock

On the first full day of our Nova Scotia vacation we stepped onto the balcony of our bed and breakfast eager to view famous Peggy’s Cove. Except for a beacon from the lighthouse, visibility was poor.  Nova Scotia is known for variable weather. A thick fog rolled in overnight from the Atlantic Ocean. Hoping the fog would lift, my husband and I ventured out to explore the area.  The first landmark we encountered was St. John’s Anglican Church. An open door to the chapel intrigued us. Once inside, we were greeted by a volunteer from the parish who told us people of the cove have worshipped here since 1885.

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The paintings displayed in the chapel impressed me.  Our volunteer guide explained their importance. The first, Storm and Turbulence, features a group of terrified fisherman clinging to the sides of their boat during a terrible storm. One man points across a raging sea. The second painting, Calm and Serenity, depicts Jesus Christ walking on the water with his arm outstretched toward the fishermen. Like the biblical message of Matthew 14:25, the mural communicates the supernatural power of Christ to calm our fears.  The artist, William deGarthe lived in Peggy’s Cove for years. His work relates the dangers of life at sea and the faith of local fishermen. The deGarthe Museum in the village houses many of his works.

Our guide told us six families founded Peggy’s Cove in 1811. Lured by the rich fishing grounds of nearby St. Margaret Bay, these early settlers battled storms, fog, and jagged rocks to eek out a living from the sea.  Some say the village was named for the bay, I prefer the romantic legend about a shipwreck with a lone survivor named Peggy. The young woman fell in love and later married the man who rescued her.  People would come from miles around to listen to “Peggy of the Cove” tell stories.  “Peggy of the Cove” later became Peggy’s Cove.


Besides their times of trouble on the water, the fishermen experienced hardships on land. The village sits on granite bedrock. Gardening is futile. Drilling is impossible.  For years the community obtained water through a process of collecting rainwater and purifying it with ultraviolet light. Even so, this water is not considered safe for drinking. We were advised to drink bottled water during our stay.

Due to these conditions, the population of Peggy’s Cove has decreased. Consequently, St. John’s Church has also declined in membership.  When faced with the possibility of closing the church, the few remaining members realized the unique opportunity of their location. Thousands of tourists come to the cove during the summer months to photograph the famous lighthouse and tour the quaint fishing village.


Volunteers decided to open the chapel on weekdays to minister to tourists. Visitors are welcome to share their prayer requests. I felt led to submit a written request along with my  email address. A few weeks ago I received an email from one of the church leaders who thanked me for my visit and asked if I needed additional prayer support. According to his note, over four thousand visitors from all over the world signed the St. John registry in 2016. The tiny congregation is amazed at the way God is blessing their efforts.

St. John’s Anglican Church is a testimony to a statement Jesus made in Matthew 16:18.  “On this rock, I will build my church.”  You can connect with them through Facebook at Friends of Peggy’s Cove Church.













The Mystique of a New Year


New year, new you. How often have I heard that phrase? The magazines for sale at the grocery checkout claim anyone can lose ten pounds in one week. I’d like to lose the fat, lose the flab, and get the body I’ve always wanted. Maybe 2017 is the year I will reach my ideal weight. The new year arrives with hope, motivation, and maybe change.

In the past, I’ve made resolutions. My resolutions are usually about some kind of self improvement. I’ve heard some people pray and ask God for a “word for the year.” I admit I was skeptical about this. What makes January 1 so special?  God can speak to us in a variety of ways, according to his timing.  But praying seemed better than resolving.  Praying might lead to the right resolution.  I don’t usually get this personal or spiritual with my posts, but I want to share a prayer I wrote in my journal on January 1, 2017.

Lord, you are Holy.  You are worthy. Thank you for abundant life. It’s a new year Lord. A new year makes for a new beginning.  I pray that I will be open to your word…open to your spirit…open to you. I pray for your will to be done in my life. May I step out of your way, Lord.  Father, some people hear a word which is their word for the year. Is this possible? Is it real? I look to you Lord. Do you have a word for me?

I stopped writing, closed my eyes and waited.  My spirit heard the word, “Go.” You’ve got to be kidding, I thought, “Go?” I wrote it down and waited again. Nothing.

I thanked the Lord for the word, and closed my journal.

My mind was filled with questions. Will this year be a year of travel? Will it be a year for  new experiences? Will I be challenged to step out of my comfort zone? To “Go” means to leave the place you are. “Go” can apply to the physical or spiritual realm. It can mean leaving the fears and failures of the past behind.

The word “Go” is a lot like God, mysterious.

There’s a problem with resolutions. They can be limiting. God’s vision for us is much bigger than our own.  A new year brings an opportunity to be open to his vision, his leading. The question remains, will I have the faith to follow?

Friends, I’m excited to see what opportunities God will bring in 2017.  I believe “Go” means more than going on a diet. At least I hope so.