Thursday, April 30, 2015

Old Sarum

Old Sarum in Salisbury is an ancient Stone Age hill fort just 20 minutes from Stonehenge. The site was used by the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, but was markedly changed by William the Conqueror after the Norman Conquest. He had an inner fort and moat constructed as a strategic stronghold in the area. Subsequent construction of a keep and a cathedral by English kings have added to the significance of the area. Much like Stonehenge, one can best appreciate the scale of the place when viewed from above. That being said, we were overawed by the size and emmence history of the place perhaps even more than Stonehenge.








Sunday, April 26, 2015

Avebury, Wiltshire

Avebury is a World Heritage site with an earthen henge encompassing a ring of prehistoric standing stones. Within the standing stones are two more rings of stones each with a central feature. The site dates back to 2800BC and encompasses part of Avebury Village.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Biggest Dragonfly I've Ever Seen

Swamp Darner Dragonfly
At the age of 13, my family moved from Kentucky to Florida. I remember thinking how wild and exotic this new home seemed. The birds were so much bigger, louder and seemingly more numerous than the song birds of my old Kentucky home. All those palmate leaved plants were very different from the trees and shrubs of the Appalachia hills. Even then, the landscape of Florida and it's animal inhabitants brought to mind images of Carboniferous forests that I had seen in prehistoric books.

English: Plants of the Carboniferous age Deuts...
English: Plants of the Carboniferous age Deutsch: Steinkohlenformation II 1. Zahnfarn (Odontopteris). 2. Schuppenbaum (Lepidodendron). 3. Cordaites borassifolia. 4. Pecopteris cyathea. 5. Kalamiten. 6. Sigillaria. 7. Stigmarienform einer Sigillarie mit Wurzeln im Wasser. 8. Blattstern von Annularien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
These childhood thoughts came back to me the other day when I saw the biggest dragonfly that I've ever seen. It stood out agains the textured wall to which it clung. While this was no prehistoric Giant Dragonfly (Meganeura), it was big enough to get my attention. My kids and husband were similarly impressed, so much so, that we measured it and took a few pictures. From what I can tell, it is a rather large Swamp Darner dragonfly. Just one of those modern reminders of a prehistoric life form.
Measuring in at 4 inches from head to tail, Winter Park, Florida, April 17, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park: Where the Wild Things Are

We recently camped at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in south central Florida. This is probably the most remote state park in the Florida State Park System. It is known for having one of the darkest night skies in Florida as well as harboring the largest remaining stretch of Florida dry prairie within it's 54,000 acres.
It's another 6 miles to the campground from the main gate
Often, I like to write a review of places we visit. But here I will instead, attempt to share an experience during our stay that exemplifies the uniqueness of this park.

To set the stage, take a look at the picture below. It was taken at the edge of the campground. Note the flat mostly treeless expanse and the deer quietly grazing amongst the shrubs. Now imagine sitting on top of the picnic table in the foreground. The sun has set behind you and the starry sky begins to shine forth.
As dusk descends, your eyes are attuned to the heavens. Knowing this is a stargazers paradise, you stare at the sky in expectation. You note the position of the stars - the Big Dipper to your left and the Hunter at your back. Jupiter and Venus shine forth above you. The darkness deepens and you are surprised to find your eyes drawn, not up, but down to the earth. The prairie has come alive with lights of its own. You grab the binoculars for closer inspection; thousands - nay - tens of thousands of fireflies flit here and there in their chaotic celebration of the night. Beautiful. Unexpected. This magical scene is transformed when a red moon peaks out on the horizon to commence it's sacred march across the heavens. As the minutes pass, the prairie is peaceful as it basks in the brightening glow of a full moon. The hypnotic sound of insects begins to lull you - slumber calls you, you whose life is ruled by the light of day. Suddenly, another sound carries across the prairie. Wild and eerie. The howling of coyote - high pitched yelps of pups meld with the solemn call of their guardians. Then all grows quiet again. Realization sinks in. The signs of life seen in the day - those tracks in the mud: turkey, raccoon, deer, hog and "dog" - indicate an exciting night life. Somewhere out there, in the darkness is movement, activity - life governed by the night. The moon has climbed higher in the sky keeping it's own time like the round face of a clock. Once again, coyote call out as if their voices toll the hour. This night life goes on... until dawn.

Prairie life. It is not easy to see in the light of day, but at night the mystical sights and wild sounds leave no doubt - the prairie is alive and wild things thrive there.