Recovering from the frenzy of holiday time celebration in December, my wife and I embarked on a short car trip to Tampa the first weekend after New Year. Our main objectives would be to spend time with my wife’s cousin and pay a brief visit to our alumnus, the University of South Florida (USF). We anticipated a routine drive as winter weather would probably not surface as an issue of concern and we would be traveling away from incoming Broward County traffic.
As we leisurely drove across Alligator Alley to the west coast in mid- morning, the swampy randomness surrounding me began to sensitize my mind to the slower pace of nature’s calling. Being more observant of the Everglades environment now, the ground seemed wetter for this time of year as migratory birds hovered together in survival mode to find food. Stopping at a boat-launching area, I spotted a small alligator lurking motionless in the center of a murky-watered canal. He/she did not seem to be bothered by my presence and I wondered if this made me his predator or prey.
Reaching USF at lunchtime, inquisitive memories came and went quickly. How many times did I intently walk these spacious grounds on the way to class? How did I overcome the distractions of college life to maintain my academic focus here? How was it possible to survive as a student without the Internet? Such questions reminded me that my four-year commitment to USF helped me grow not only as a scholar but also to mature as a fully-functioning adult.
Changes to our original plan to stay near the college soon surfaced as we realized that lodging availability would be limited near campus with the College Football Championship Game taking place in Tampa that weekend. Choosing our most economical option then, we booked a motel room across the bay in Pinellas County that night and readjusted our plans to stay only one day in the area. Tragedy in South Florida further compounded our concerns when CNN reported that five tourists had been gunned down at Fort Lauderdale Airport that afternoon. How fortunate for us that we had chosen to drive from our Broward County home rather than book a flight to Tampa that day.
The next morning, we woke up to pounding rain on our motel windows and real winter-like temperatures. It was not a day to take a long walk or swim for sure yet fewer beachcombers would be venturing out due to the inclement weather. Still, we wanted to “kill some time” before making our expected family stop. “Honeymoon Island” thus became a pleasing discovery for us then on a day we did not expect it. As we strolled along its continuous sandy beach surrounded by islands of pristine mangroves overlooking wind-blown dunes, I imagined this “protected” preserve as “Old Florida” beauty, before the explosion of tourist growth in this state.
My “Traveling Mind” realizes that I must not only be prepared to find new destinations but also remain cognizant of the personal moments experienced along the way. Since much of Florida’s natural beauty lies within a day’s drive of South Florida, why not travel within your state more often? Savor your solitude on a country road, cool off in a crystal-clear spring, or birdwatch with binoculars in hand along a lonely beach. By choosing near rather than far, your inquisitive mind will grasp an “ocean” of new ideas at less cost and distance.