Florida . . . Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains?

Florida is supposed to be all about sandy beaches, palm trees and tropical drinks, right?  So what the heck is a prairie doing right in the middle of the state?  A prairie with bison on it, no less!  Paynes Prairie is an odd spot, a grassland that appears suddenly as you’re driving down I-75 or 441 from Gainesville to Ocala.  It looks a lot like the prairies in the midwest, but underneath the grass, it’s swampy.  There are alligators in the middle of this prairie!

I took my husband with me this time, because I found out that since he is disabled military, he’s eligible for a free pass to the Florida state parks.  That’s a pretty nice benefit.  Unfortunately, it also limits his ability to use the parks.  His right leg has been amputated and he’s not really used to the prosthesis yet, so for traveling any distance, he uses a wheelchair.  A regular, VA-issue wheelchair.  It doesn’t do trails well.  Fortunately, Paynes Prairie does have some paved areas, so we went on them.  There’s an observation tower that I could climb, but of course, I had to leave Doc at the bottom.  And I had to take a photo of how the thing goes together!

The tower is at the edge of the prairie, with the forest on one side, the prairie on the other.  There’s no transition at all; it goes straight from forest to grassland.

Palm trees intermingle with oak trees in the woods.  There is a primordial feeling to the mixture, with bizarre vignettes like an oak tree embracing a palm tree.  Looking up through the trees, the sky was unbearably blue through the starred branches of the palm.

Lake Wauberg is on the edge of the prairie as well.  The combination of water, trees and grasslands make this home to many birds, especially hawks.  We saw hawks swooping on prey on the prairie, sitting in a tree and soaring overhead above the water.  You can certainly tell that my forte has never been snapshots, but I did manage to capture some shots of the hawks.
If you look closely at the tree, you can see this little guy who was sitting nicely at the top of it, but unfortunately, it was a tall tree a good distance from the boardwalk.  And then there were the crows, who settled down on a tree and posed nicely.  Too bad this isn’t Halloween!

The wind suddenly whipped up, blowing the Spanish moss beards of the trees around, and bringing some clouds scudding across the sky that had been brilliantly blue only moments before.

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