Archive for ‘Observations’

More Than Art

Mondays are free admission days at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, the official art museum of Florida. While that was enough of an inducement, I was equally delighted wandering the grounds of the sprawling 66-acre estate as I was the museum’s 21 galleries.

The compound, which currently consists of the art museum and library, Ca’ d’Zan (the Ringling mansion), two Circus museums, and a performing arts theater, as well as several distinct gardens and ponds, is perfectly situated along Sarasota Bay.

The handsome estate is an enduring legacy for the enterprenurial showman. Born in Iowa to German immigrants, John Ringling and five of his siblings began their first circus in 1870, when John was merely four years old. I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say, it’s an impressive story: from the early days of charging one penny for admission to John becoming one of the richest men in the world by 1920.

As with many rags to riches stories, this one also saw a major reversal in fortune. John lost most of his money during the Great Depression, when he died in 1936 he had only $311 in the bank. More recently, in 2017, after 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed its tent flaps forever.

The residents of Florida are exceedingly fortunate that John Ringling bequeathed his sprawling estate and art collection to the state. Though the property floundered for the first 60 plus years, it has thrived since 2000 when it was transferred to Florida State University.

I’m looking forward to a return visit when the weather cools off!

Life > Vacation

A few years ago I read this quote from Rob Hill Sr: “My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from.” It really resonated with me, especially since I was in the midst of a huge life change.

After living in four states in four years (and a few months in Costa Rica), I bought a house here in St. Petersburg last September. This area of Florida has so much to offer: tons of parks and green spaces, easy access to multiple bodies of water (both salty and fresh), dozens of social and environmental nonprofits and colleges, vibrant local restaurants and merchants, and a laid-back, artsy vibe.

After years of searching, I’m grateful to have found my happy place. Where’s yours?

Night Beauty

The climate here along the Central Gulf Coast of Florida is in the humid subtropical category. As such, any number of exotic species thrive here with little or no assistance.

I am familiar with several species of night blooming cereus from the desert southwest, so it was pleasant to see these blooming in my neighbor’s yard this past June.

I have since been able to add a few cuttings of these to my yard since someone placed their unwanted trimmings out by the curb. They are thriving right now and I look forward to their nighttime show next year!

The Exception is Florida…

As you may know, I love to read. I especially enjoy devouring books about places I have lived or visited (which includes all 50 states as well as a dozen foreign countries).

My current home state of Florida is no exception, and thankfully, there are a number of prominent authors here. My dear friend, Karen also an avid reader, turned me onto Carl Hiaasen novels at least a decade ago.

His books prepared me for the oddness that is Florida which I encountered during my first trip to the Keys back in 2018. I recollect Hiaasen saying that as a columnist for the Miami Herald, he didn’t have to search hard for weird subject matter, he pulled the wild tales right from the news desk.

I’ve gleaned so much about my new home from his novels (and his YA books, which I also adore). More recent additions to my reading list are Randy Wayne White’s books. In contrast to Hiaasen’s typical setting of Miami and south, White’s are centered on the Fort Meyers area (along the Gulf coast of Florida).

While both authors include a healthy dose of history, geography, and biology in their tales they never take themselves too seriously (irreverent is an understatement), as evidenced by this Author’s Note in White’s first novel, Sanibel Flats.

Flamingo Fun

What began with citrus and tropical fruits, quickly grew into a flowering oasis. People clamored to tour their lush greenery and thus, a roadside attraction was born.

In a nod to an extirpated, Florida species, Chilean flamingoes were welcomed to the garden in 1956. A koi pond, turtle exhibit, and parrot aviary were later added.

To preserve this bit of history, the city of St. Petersburg bought the property from the family in 1999 for roughly $2.26 million. In 2016, 20 additional flamingoes were purchased from the San Antonio Zoo to supplement the declining, original flock.

Currently, the plant collection surpasses 50,000 specimens from over 500 different species. Though my visit began with hot and muggy weather, a passing rain shower cooled the gardens off nicely (and had the added benefit of thinning the crowd).

What a wonderful way to spend part of the day!

The Country Life

My trip culminated with a peaceful visit with Karen and Rich in the Virginia countryside. It was long overdue, we were all living in Arizona last time we saw each other. That was over four years ago for me!

My dear friends are helping their daughter Kim turn this gorgeous valley into a “woodland lodging” retreat. She certainly picked a wonderful location, the property is teeming with wildlife yet it is less than an hour from the busy airport in Richmond.

As usual when we get together, there was a lot of laughter and delicious food. It will not be as long between visits next time!