• My Thanksgiving centerpiece. All photos by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader
  • Limpkins eat mostly snails they pick out of the wetlands.
  • A bittern blends in perfectly with tall dry stalks.
  • A gallinule with a bright red beak forages in the marsh.

A Thanksgiving Day outing in Gainesville

This Thanksgiving, Bucko and I went our separate ways, happily for both of us. I like gatherings and company and he doesn’t. I like festive turkey dinners with friends. He likes cold turkey sandwiches at home. So I cooked a turkey for Bucko on Wednesday and Thursday morning I hit the road. Riding with me in the car was my homemade flower arrangement, my proud accomplishment.

I learned how to arrange flowers years ago, but just a couple of weeks ago I went with a friend to the Jacksonville Garden Club’s Fun with Flowers event, and learned even more. Best yet, I came home with a basket cornucopia, just perfect to recycle into a new Thanksgiving arrangement.

All it took from there was a visit to a friend’s florist stand in BuyGO to purchase some beautiful roses and other flowers and a visit to another friend’s yard for some colorful ginger and other variegated leaves. At home, I picked some greenery and added some colorful sweet peppers from my fridge. I thought it turned out great.

In Gainesville, the games began. I started out at Oak Hammock, a senior living facility where my major professor, Dr. Liz Wing, lives now, picking her up for our Thanksgiving Day outing. Then we stopped at her former assistant’s home near Paynes Prairie. We were immediately surrounded by her friendly pack of prize-winning Catahoula dogs. Three of the dogs were in heat and isolated from their male relatives, but the males were busy nonetheless. We were told that coyotes all around the property kept trying to jump the fence and get to the ladies, but the male dogs patrolled the yard to keep them out and kept them out of the chicken yard too.

It was raining when we got there, but we walked around the property with umbrellas. We marveled at all the citrus, their chickens, their veggie garden and the many trees that tumbled down from Hurricane Irma, not so long ago.

We went to the home of my friends, Karen and Bill, for the turkey event. I’ve been friends with Karen as long as I’ve known Liz, and for the past 30-some years my visits to Gainesville usually begin with a visit to Liz and an overnight at Karen’s. But in all those years, they’ve only met a few times and were happy to see one another again. It was a fine dinner – appetizers of fresh Fernandina shrimp cocktails, then a perfectly cooked turkey with all the traditional trimmings. It felt like a family, the four of us, and I guess in a way it really was.

The next morning, Karen and I visited the Sweetwater Branch Wetland, a birding hotspot becoming well known around the country. Like the birds, people flock here from all over. Birds and photographers and hikers are all on display. It may have been Black Friday for those interested in consumerism, but the people there were more interested in nature. We fit right in.

Karen is a board member of the Alachua County Audubon Society, and it didn’t take long before she recognized another board member there too. Karen’s friend said she had seen a river otter a couple of hours before, but we missed that sighting. What we didn’t miss were gallinules (“with their candy corn beaks,” as Karen says), snowy egrets (“with golden slippers”), a bittern doing its best to blend in with the dry marshy stalks, a number of limpkins, many ducks, and every kind of heron found in our region. Here and there, alligators sunned themselves along the bank, but the birds did not seem at all disturbed by the predators in their midst.

On the drive back to Fernandina later that day, I was in a glow of contentment. It had been a fine time with friends, interesting conversations, and camaraderie. And to top it off, a wonderful sunny morning walking on boardwalks through reclaimed wetlands, watching nature.

For me, this was about the best Thanksgiving holiday ever!


Mailing Address:
PO Box 16766
Fernandina Beach, FL 32035

Physical Address:
511 Ash Street

Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

Phone: (904) 261-3696
Fax: (904) 261-3698