March Madness

Frugal February has given way to March Madness. I’m just going to come out and admit it. I was feeling flush after February. Free haircut, free date night concert of violinist Joshua Bell (!), super efficient grocery shopping and use of food resources all gave way to a few weeks of “whatever.” A few dinners out, a spring break overnight to Disney World (with Florida resident discounts, but still not cheap), new bathing suits, a few shirts for mom, etc.

Clara mugs with Winnie-the-Pooh in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

So while I build my bamboo fence and try to reign in the spending, I’ve decided to look closer to home for inexpensive fun. Certainly Disney is fun, but as an authentic, soul-enhancing activity, the World of the Mouse is lacking. My dad still laughs when I get excited taking Clara to Disney, since, in my twenties, I vehemently opposed its artifice. What it offers has a place for us as long as it doesn’t lead me to overlook other activities. I’ve lived in Florida nearly 20 years, and I know the state has natural and cultural areas that blow Disney out of the water for their real magic and wonder.

Like most children, my daughter is easily drawn to the constructed world. I want her to also develop the skills to connect to the natural environment around her. She deserves the opportunity to take time to be still and watch insects, to get wild and splash in nearby natural springs, to climb Indian shell mounds, to canoe rivers and to climb trees. Then there is the other “gimmee” of Atlantic Ocean waves and beaches. There is time to introduce her to this bounty, but given she is in the age of wonder, there is no time like the present.

I’ve decided to take a weekly field trip with Clara, and perhaps her grandparents (relative newcomers to Florida), to places within a 2-hour drive. Many places we visit will be closer. So far we have been to Micanopy, Paynes Prairie, Disney World and the Gulf Coast – the Lower Suwannee Wildlife Refuge and Shell Mounds:

Clara creates a blur on the beach at Shired Island.

On Friday we head to St. Augustine and the beach at Anastasia State Park.

Travel is in my blood. I’m actually addicted to the adrenaline rush I feel when I get on a bus – the more rickety the better – to bump along a dusty dirt road into the unknown. I feel a giddiness I will never achieve on a daily commute or on “It’s a Small World” ride. The magic comes from a unity of the journey and the destination. I do want to expose Clara to this excitement, which is a state of mind, and a way of viewing. It’s relatively easy for me to adopt when I’m in an environment strange to me, but more difficult to hold on to when at home – no matter where I live.

I remember when I visited a friend in Hawaii. Lisa lived on the windward coast in Kailua, where clouds would form billowing piles on top of the steep, sharp green Pali Mountains. Rainbows democratically arched over everything from the Walmart to the tiny offshore islands. Even the air was sweet and full of fragrance. While I was in awe to the point of astonishment, Lisa could really care less about one more rainbow. She saw a half dozen every day. Her focus dwelled on the traffic on the Pali Highway, and the people who crowded her beach. She scoffed at my amazement.

Now I share some of Lisa’s cynicism, making me realize I need to adopt the open-minded attitude of the traveler. Florida is an international tourist destination. Living in a place like this, I can tend to take it for granted. But a beach vacation for us is only a little over an hour away, not a year of saving and banking a week’s vacation. We are so lucky to have all we do in our area. Now is the time to explore it.

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