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  • Lori Carol Maloy

Exploring Florida’s Highland’s Hammock State Park on My Own

As I crept across the creaky wooden boards of Sebring, Florida’s Highlands Hammock’s Fern Garden Trail, I glanced all around me for wildlife. What if I came across an alligator or snake, or worse yet, a Florida Panther on the trail? I was alone. What would I do? But I didn’t see anything scary (except for that nasty spider).

Have you ever wanted to go someplace, but didn’t have anyone to go with? When I was married, there was always someone to hang with. Now that I’m single, my own kids grown, busy, and with kids of their own (let’s not bring up Covid-19 restrictions), getting out there alone has brought up a little angst. But just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I can’t get out there and do and see things I’ve always wanted to see.

Here I come!

So, after I picked up a few gallons of honey from a local honey farm a couple of miles from the hammock, I ignored my angst and drove down the long entrance into the park. I pulled to the gate, dropped my $4.00 in the fee slot ($6.00 for a car load–$4.00 for a single person entering the park), and off I was on my solitary adventure. I decided to drive the entire loop before getting out of the vehicle.

The state park is about 4 miles off highway 27 on Hammock road. This state park boasts of cypress swamps and jungle-like forests. Huge trees canopy the drive through the park. While there, I hoped to find a nice trail. I did see some wildlife, though nothing jumped out at me from the wilderness. This was the first time I had ventured into the park alone. The experience was amazing and brought me a sense of calm and wonder.

Fern Trail

Before I finished the loop, I saw the sign for the “Fern Garden Trail”. I pulled over and took a walk. The trail began with a nice level planked walkway. I took a quick breath when I saw the beware of alligators sign, but there were no gators in sight. With the warning not to feed the wildlife, I’d be on the look-out.

I took the walk slow, listening to everything around me. There was no one else in sight. I could feel a little discomfort in being caught wandering the trail alone. Where did that feeling come from? In the quiet, I allowed myself to notice the discomfort, then let it go.

In the quiet, I heard a slight breeze overhead whistling through the tall pines. The feel of the breeze on my sleeveless arms was soothing. The humidity was low, the temperature perfect. Through the stillness in the woods, birds chirped in the distance.

To my right the ground looked wet and mossy, like quicksand. It wasn’t quicksand, only inches of mossy water covering the dry swamp. Farther down the trail, railings supported both sides and gave me a feeling of protection.

When I’d been here a few years back this entire area had been filled with water, but the ground was now dry. Lilies with stems of purple flowers swayed in the breeze, as though dancing. I could smell the sweetness of the flowers in the air around me.

Suddenly, I heard twigs break in the woods. I stopped and stood frozen for a moment and held my breath. As though noticing the black dirt for the first time, there was evidence that wild hogs had been here. In Florida, I sometimes see families of wild hogs on the side of the highway; and, sometimes they are killed by traffic. Farmers complain when these wild hogs wander their land.

Apparently, they can do lots of damage to the soil. I’d also heard how wild hogs would give chase. I shivered and I didn’t want to come upon any pigs on my adventure through the park.

Panthers, Gators, and Boar, oh my!

Trying to dispel the thought of running from wild boar, I narrowed in on a large lizard. He seemed to have grown a patch of white skin across his middle. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t skin at all, but a piece of plastic bag. Before I could assist the creature, he scurried away, not too bothered at the moment with his new wardrobe. Instantly, I had a new appreciation for garbage cans.

As I moved farther down the trail, the breeze passed through the trees above me again creating a whistling sound; it was soft and whooshing like a sound machine on low speed. Beams of setting sun speckled the walkway in front of me and I relaxed. I could feel my body center and my mind attach to the moment. I realized how happy being on the trail made me feel. Being alone was nice. Why did I wait so long to do this on my own?

I came upon several tree size plants filled with yellow flowers. Then some odd shaped puffy stems of white flowers, low to the ground, shaped like a question mark. I walked slower, drinking in the beauty, the stillness, and the quiet. Yes, it was nice to be there.

I glanced up. Some of the pine and oak trees were massive as they stretched toward the heavens.

I walked on for a while; my body relaxed while I enjoyed the moment. I took several photos and a short video with my phone. Suddenly I realized my battery was nearly dead—18% life. In an instant, my heartbeat quickened, my body stiffened, and I feared my phone would die. If the phone died, I would be unprotected and really alone. It took a second to think of how silly that thought was, and how dependent I had gotten on the cell phone.

When I was eighteen, I drove everywhere without a cell phone. I’d been to this very park with friends and walked these trails. We had no phones, no beepers, no immediate connection to the outside world; we didn’t seem to mind at all. I let the thought of how I’d handled no phones twenty years ago sink in. Strange how we adapt to things and think we can’t live without them. I took in several deep breaths and refocused on the present moment and relaxed.

Once I got back into my car, I found the parking area. The playground sat quiet and empty. It was closed due to Covid. The museum was also closed. The place seemed more like a ghost town than a state park. There was no one in sight and that caused me to feel a tinge of sadness.

Then a woman appeared walking. I smiled at her. Then I found a sign: Bicycles for rent at $5-$7 an hour. I made a note since I don’t have a bike. (I should really get one). Another sign displayed the Tram times, but it was sold out. I’d never realized the Hammock had a tram. The sign pointed out that masks were mandatory on the Tram.

Somewhere on the property was a campground. Firewood was $8.50 a bundle. I imagined the campground might be busy as I saw several motor homes on my way into the park.

Inside the store were lots of shirts, hats, and souvenirs. I found the vanilla/orange creamy ice cream (thank you, Maxwell Groves), and had no choice but to buy some. Once back outside, I yanked off my mask I ate the chilly treat before I got into the car. It reminded me of those orange creamsicle bars I ate as a child.

Highland’s Hammock State Park is full of beautiful and relaxing walking trails. Nine trails that I can think of at the moment. Don’t bring your pets on the trail, they’re not allowed. I did see a couple of people walking dogs on the asphalt road, though.

I’m definitely coming back here alone.

Maybe, there are places you want to experience on your own, too, but you tell yourself, “Not today. Maybe I’ll go another time or if I find someone to go with.”

You don’t have to wait for someone else to venture out with you. Take a chance and get out there. Live your life in awe and wonder of everything that is around you. Places like Highland’s Hammock are great right now. Especially with Covid scares still out there.

If are uncomfortable sight-seeing on your own. Why don’t we experience the angst of it together?

If you have experience discomfort in seeing sites, eating out, or sitting in a movie alone, you’re not alone. I can relate. As I work with my clients, empowering them to live their lives, I came to realize that I should be living mine too. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I can’t get out there and explore, despite the discomfort. Lots of folks do things on their own. Don’t let being alone keep you from getting out there and doing your life.

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