Photo essay: Throughout the county, ‘magic carpets’ take a visitor to welcome shady respites

Parks and some neighborhoods offer snapshots of Florida’s natural past

Florida’s rainy season is at its best at Venice Myakka River Park. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Slowed down by the heat, I stay local much of the summer. Walking parks I have visited often, I feel so at home it is like coming in my front door and slipping into comfortable shoes.

On the way to Venice Myakka River Park, I try to ignore the piles of pines in impending developments along Laurel Road. It looks like a “Category Five” came through.

Outside the park gate, trees, flowers, birds and other creatures are gone. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Like rind on a block of cheese, this tiny parcel of park at the tail end of the road was almost a throwaway. It floods seasonally. But the pines, oaks and cabbage palms make it tolerable even on an 84-degree morning. You do not have to worry about getting your feet wet — or dirty. Take the paved walkway with pleasing water views on both sides. Shade for the body; balm for the mind.

Saturday morning, the Tamiami Trail in Venice can be jammed with vehicles bearing shoppers to their destinations. In summer, it is an inferno. Where, oh where, are some trees? Take Route 776 towards Englewood, turn right towards the beaches and make the first left onto Bridge Street. Make your escape into Manasota Scrub Preserve, where the boardwalk is the magic carpet to coolness. Pines and more pines clear out car exhaust and angst.

‘Who lives here?’ I wonder. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Garcia Street in Sarasota in the midst of “Plain Jane” subdivisions is just a couple of blocks long, but enough towering laurel and live oaks evoke the hammock it once was. As I walk, a couple of neighbors emerge to ask if I am okay. I know they are checking me out. They have lived here long enough to be vigilant in guarding these trees. Becky, who has been here for 30 years, confides, “You never know what ‘they’ might decide to do?”

The river runs rampant at Myakka River State Park. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

In a park in Sarasota, I discover that a planner with imagination has built a boardwalk out into a tiny remnant of wetland, possibly a remnant of canal dug years ago to drain the land. When I look over the railing, I am amazed to see a smidgen of swamp reminiscent of the Fakahatchee Strand, the largest state park in Florida (5 miles wide, 20 miles long), where it is easy to get lost in the glory that was once natural Florida.

During the rainy season, alligators travel. You never know where one will show up. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Parked at an office building on University Drive in north Sarasota, I am early for my appointment, so I scan the landscape for trees and discover an enchanting little walkway leading to the canopied streets of Desoto Acres, mere yards away from eight lanes of traffic. It is a model of sustainability. Residents lobbied for it so they could walk to stores. If you look hard, there is always magic to be found.

This is the boardwalk to coolness at Manasota Scrub Preserve. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

If ever you are so lucky to be around when the Myakka is in the early stages of flooding (7 feet), but Myakka River State Park is still open, you will find that the river has spread out through the park, creating enchanting watery landscapes of trees draped with massive curtains of Spanish moss. Drive through the park and stop often to look into the hammock on one side and the river on the other. You are seeing Florida’s rainy season at its best.

Trees are lovingly looked after on Garcia Street in Sarasota. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

If you are expecting alligators, be prepared to be disappointed. On the bridge over the river, the “old reliables” posing for visitors are nowhere to be found. They have dispersed throughout the park.

A sure sign of fall, goldenrod thrives in wet and dry places. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Before leaving, a passing shower may provide you a free car wash.

Old cabbage palms stand along the walkway from University Drive into Desoto Acres. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Back home luxuriating in air conditioning, you will wonder if it was all a happy dream.

Dragonflies are birthed in watery places. They feast on gnats and mosquitoes. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Fran Palmeri is the author of Florida Lost and Found, available on Amazon. Green Pilgrimage, a PowerPoint of her travels through Florida, is available on Vimeo on the Sarasota County libraries website. 

You can enjoy a smidgen of the Fakahatchee Strand atmosphere at Rothenbach Park in Sarasota. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
The driver gets a free car wash at the end of the day. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

1 thought on “Photo essay: Throughout the county, ‘magic carpets’ take a visitor to welcome shady respites”

  1. Charming and so true! So happy too hear that there are residents who are fighting to keep their beloved trees! Thanks for this story and photos!

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