The Other Florida: HIGHLANDS HAMMOCK

February 22, 2003

The Central Ridge of Florida ranges from around 350 feet above sea level to (roughly) thirty feet. The highest point is near Lake Wales. Around the area of SR 70, which runs across the state from Ft. Pierce on the east coast to Ft. Myers on the gulf side, it sort of peters out into the lowlands. The coastal plain wraps around it northward on both sides, making the Highlands a sort of finger down the middle of the peninsula. The town of Sebring sits on the very western edge of the ridge. Center Street slopes down to Lake Jackson which, in turn, is at the edge of the plain. Immediately west of Lake Jackson and US 27, about 2½ miles down SR 624, lies Highlands Hammock State Park.

A hammock, according to Webster, is “a fertile area in the southern U.S. and especially Florida, that is usually higher than its surroundings and that is characterized by hardwood vegetation and deep humus-rich soil.” As you can see from the photograph below, Webster missed out completely on the beauty part.

The Big Oak

This Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) was full-grown when the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. It was nearly as old as the United States is today when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. There is no European-built building in the Western Hemisphere that is more than one-half as old as this tree. There's also no way to show the whole thing, so Shel and I decided to provide some scale.

Highlands Hammock State Park has areas for primitive and mobile camping. Concessionaires operate a small snack bar where soft drinks and sandwiches may be purchased. A museum, with exhibits showing how the park was developed by the CCC during the 30’s depression, along with various nature exhibits, is across a grassy area from the concession stand. Abundant picnic tables and barbeque grilles are available nearby. Shopping is available in Sebring, only ten minutes away. There are no swimming facilities in the park, but Lake Jackson has several well-maintained public beaches within a few minutes’ drive. For further information, check here.

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The Great Sebring International Grand Prix d’Bicycle

The town where I grew up had one claim to fame. No, wait, there were two. Almost three.

First came the residency of an author rather well known in the early 1900’s. Rex Beach was the gentleman’s name, and he is probably best remembered as having produced The Spoilers, a book made into a movie in 1914, and remade 5 times after that, the last in the early 1940’s starring John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich. (I don’t remember having read it, but it must’ve been something!) Mr. Beach lived in Sebring, FL, during the last years of his life, dying in 1949. At one time the local lake was named after him, but he lost out to Ol’ Stonewall Jackson in the long run. (Lake Jackson works much better than Rex Beach Lake, in my opinion, although I’m sure Mr. Beach was much nicer to the local Indians than Gen. Jackson, so maybe he did deserve it more.)

The other claim was the Sebring International Grand Prix of Endurance which was, during its heyday in the fifties and sixties, one of the dozen or so automobile races that scored points for the World Driving Championship. During the two weeks preceding the race and for a day or so thereafter the town was transformed from a sleepy little central Florida citrus and ranching town into quite the mecca for international glitterati.

Needless to say, “The Race” captured the hearts and minds of small boys to a notable degree. And so it came to pass that, along about 1957 or so, Jeff and Lukey and the Fink brothers and I decided to hold the Great Sebring International Grand Prix d’Bicycle. Continue reading

A Snail Named Pseu

My-Wife-The-Shrink keeps snails. When she moved into her new office, she figured it would be nice to have a fishbowl with a few pretty fish, so she got some neon tetras and put them in this huge brandy snifter. Well, the tetras did the same thing as just about every neon I’ve ever owned — they rapidly departed for the big fishpond in the sky. So, on the theory that it might be more durable, she got this snail and named it Pseu. Continue reading

A Day in the Park

I’m sitting on a bench in the park, watching the pigeons, when this guy in a yellow jersey rides up on a bike. He stops with the sun behind him. I can’t see his face, but he sure has big ears.

“Well,” he says, “There you are, finally.”

I give him a look – you know, like you give strange guys in funny shirts who accost you in the park. “So who are you, and whaddaya want,” I inquire, in a less than welcoming tone.

“What I want is to talk to you,” he said. “As far as who I am – with George Burns’ head and Lance Armstrong’s body, who do you think I might be?” He moved a bit and, sure enough…it was a strange sight, let me tell you.

“I’m feeling gullible today,” I said, “so with the mask and all, I figure you must be…” Continue reading

The Hour ‘Twixt Day and Night

I was watching the sun set a while ago, and musing about that magical time of day that exists from the last rays until time for young ‘uns to go in for dinner — or “supper,” if you grew up in the South.

I don’t suppose kids today notice it all that much, what with soccer practice, computer games, and other distractions, but back in the days of black and white TV (two channels available if you were lucky and nothing but news in the early evening) us kids were almost invariably running around the neighborhood at twilight, for the last few minutes of fun with our friends before settling in with the family to eat and watch “Lucy,” or “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Continue reading

It’s Getting Crowded in the Petri Dish, Let Me Tell You!

I worry about our future. I’m not especially concerned about nuclear weapons. Unless we pop off a bunch of them, the race will go on, somewhat diminished. Bacteriological and chemical weapons are horrible, but the chemical weapons can’t get everyone, and there will be natural immunities to the germ agents, as there always are. HIV and other natural plagues and disasters will spare enough of us to keep on breeding. We already know, for example, that the big cats live in good health with HIV-like diseases active in their bodies, and have for hundreds of generations. They adapted. Homo sap will, too. The species will probably go on.

What’s fascinating is the question of whether or not it’s in the planet’s interest for us to make it. Continue reading