My Life on the Rocks

I have a new obsession, I mean hobby. I stumbled upon it at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, my favorite local birding area, with over 367 species noted. In addition, it is chocked full of alligators. Otters, raccoons, and the occasional bobcat family reside in the area. And, rocks can be found there!

This may be surprising to you as by now you likely know that I live in Central Florida. We are not known for our rocks down here. Sand, rain, hurricanes, mosquitoes, construction on I-4 – yes. Rocks – not so much. Be that as it may, there is no denying that I collect rocks, and my favorite place to find them is the North Shore of Lake Apopka.

I’m not talking about your everyday, run-of-the-mill rocks. I also don’t care if they are igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic, which are the three rock classifications that I may or may not have had to verify on google. I have two classifications for my rocks. Painted and not painted. For me to collect one, it must have something pretty or fun painted on it. I will also accept the occasional chunk of concrete, seashell, or wood if it’s painted.

I’m not sure exactly when the rock hiding craze started, but I know it’s in full swing. Over a year ago, as I was scrolling the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Facebook page, I learned of a few generous painters who would leave “Easter eggs” out there for people to find. This was going to be better than my childhood collection of bottle caps. Plus, I wouldn’t have to hide it under my bed to avoid ridicule from my siblings.

I love going to the drive and looking at the birds, especially in the winter during migration times and in the spring during nesting season. I’ve also seen river otters and marsh rabbits. Bobcats are there, too; but you couldn’t prove it by me. Summer is full of alligators (my highest one-day count is 113) and what I believe should be the Florida state bird – the Common Gallinule. They are everywhere – much more common than the Northern Mockingbird.

So even though I told myself and anyone who might ask me that I was finished going to the drive until it cools down, I was compelled to go. Because there are rocks, and they are pretty. Plus, it gives me a rush to find them, which is probably because I have no talent in that arena. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

It took me a long time to find my first. I was lamenting about my lack of success to my friend, Debi. Debi is one of those people who wins contests. She offered that I could have one of hers – a magnanimous gesture which would take the fun out of it for someone as competitive as I am. And, of course, Debi had found several. Her keen eye did not surprise me, but I declined her generous offer. I must find one all by myself – like a big girl.

Last February, I found one. It was beautiful, even though it was not a depiction of nature. It was a taco. Still, I like tacos and I was thrilled to find a rock of my very own. I put my taco rock on the shelf for all to see. What an accomplishment! I was happy.

Happiness sure is fleeting. It didn’t take long for me to realize that having one lone taco rock was a lot like eating one taco, or worse yet, Chinese food; you get hungry again fast. You must have more.

Since Facebook has a page designated to the Drive, I learned about a lady named Liz who paints the coolest rocks. I marveled that people would use their talents to bless people they likely would never meet, so my fascination grew and grew. Soon rock painters/hiders were springing up on the Facebook page displaying the rocks they would be hiding. I started trying to figure out the best times to go to the drive and add to my taco rock. But my goal was to find a Liz rock.

Over the summer weeks, not every time I went but often, I found a rock or two while on the drive. (In case you’re wondering, you can get out of your car. There are pull-outs and other trails and areas to observe nature and there is signage to identify the local flora and fauna.) I have rock art by several local birding/painting enthusiasts.

I wished I could paint a rock and leave it for someone to find. My friend, Peggy, even suggested that I could. I thought Peggy knew me better! But I did want to leave something for someone – to give back a little. The only thing I have created besides my four children, who clearly wouldn’t stand for being left out on the shores of Lake Apopka, is my children’s book, ALWAYS LOOK FOR THE MAGIC. Florida is more than a little humid with chances of extreme downpours, so it was foolish to leave a book out there. I had to create a plan.

I carried a couple of my books in the car with me, but in the summer months, I barely encountered any other people much less children. Then one day I saw on Facebook that my favorite artist, Liz, was meeting another artist, Lee, at a particular time and spot on the drive. Game on!

Bob and I, along with my sister, headed out to hopefully intercept that meeting. I had three of my books with me. Everything seemed against us getting to that meeting on time. The drive-through at McDonald’s was particularly slow and I’ll admit it – I complained. I was anxious. I was ridiculous. My sweet sister mentioned that maybe the delay would work for us in God’s timing. She was right.

We pulled in just in time to find Liz and Lee. Bob slowed the car down to about 8 mph and I jumped out before Lee could leave. I was so excited to meet him and when I gave him a book, he gave me and my sister magnets that he had made from his extraordinary photographs. How fun!

Meanwhile, Bob and my sister were talking to Liz. I was so happy to meet her; and I gave her a book as well, thanking her for how giving she is and for the fun that she and others have added to an already wonderful drive. She was so sweet and then she did the unimaginable – she gave my sister and me a rock each. Well, mine was a bluebird painted on a wooden egg. I love it. My goal of having a Liz creation was met and then some!

“The bluebird carries the sky on his back.” Henry David Thoreau

Farther down the road, we met a lady named Patty, who, you guessed it, also paints rocks. I was glad I brought three books.

These two are among my favorites which were found by people who were doing the drive with me. The alligator is the rock Liz gave to my sister.

This is a sample of my collection.

I have rehidden a few and might do a few more. I hear of people re-hiding them to spread out the blessing. I told Bob that I was so happy to have a Liz rock. If I find another one, well then, I’ll have two! Sharing only goes so far!

We Make Our Plans, But God Orders our Steps

What fueled my impromptu visit to my favorite birding place last Sunday?

It began on Saturday. It was a lovely day, and we had no plans. We decided to stay home and enjoy the quiet. By late-afternoon, I was restless. I wished we had gone outside on a bike ride or a drive or anything! But it was too late in the day to begin.

Sunday morning I checked my Facebook page and read that roseate spoonbills were spotted at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD). These tall, pink/white birds with a spoon-shaped bill are typically found in marshes along the coasts, so that got my attention. Also at LAWD, thanks to some amazing and giving artists, there are painted rocks to be found. I have been trying to find one for years, so between the spoonbills and the thought of finding one of those illusive rocks, it could be a good day for a drive.

I thought about staying home. Bob left at noon to play golf. My mom didn’t feel like going on the drive with me. Did I really want to go alone? It was too late to find a friend and get there with enough time before it closed. These thoughts didn’t sway me, so I headed to Apopka.

The spoonbill-spotter reported that they were seen about a mile into the drive. I set my trip gauge.

I have done this drive many times, and I have never encountered such a long line of cars. Were they all searching for spoonbills? Unlikely.

I don’t mind driving slowly there. The speed limit is 10 mph. The slower you go, the more you see. But this was crazy. At the half-mile point, I entered a pull-out and parked. Excitement was building inside me – surely all this slow traffic was due to people photographing the spoonbills.

View from near the entrance

The one-way road is not really made for walkers, but there’s room. On each side of the elevated road is swamp land and marshes. This is a prime spot for water birds and marsh birds, and it goes on as far as the eye can see. It is also frequented by alligators, though not as much as farther down. With so many cars, I felt safe.

This big boy was enjoying the sunshine farther down the drive.

I walked a quarter mile and became convinced that these were new folks who were not accustomed to the idea of pull-outs to allow traffic to move along. At that point I was passing the slow-moving cars, so I turned around.

I felt like Forrest Gump when he had been running around the country. Do you remember? Suddenly he just stops and says he’s tired and thinks he’ll go home.

Me at Forrest Gump Point, Mexican Hat, Utah, 2019

I walked maybe a tenth of a mile when right in front of my eyes, a car moving towards me, in line with the traffic, caught my attention. The driver’s door opened, and a woman fell out and rolled on the dirt and gravel road. Her car was still moving! I barely had time to process this, but I ran the short distance and jumped into her moving car. It has been a while since I felt that kind of adrenaline rush.

There were elderly people inside and the woman in the front had attempted to grab the wheel and steer, but she would have been unable to get to the brake. I got the car in line, applied the brake, and put it in park. Someone asked me what I said to the people in the car and I really don’t remember. I wish I had said, “Hi, I’m Bonnie, your new driver.”

The poor woman who had fallen out was trying to get up and brush herself off. Thankfully, she was not hurt other than road rash and a few bruises including her ego. She was probably ten years my junior. We introduced ourselves. Debbie thanked me profusely and told me that I had saved her life. I assured her that I had not saved her life. I pointed to her car and said, “maybe theirs,” with a smile.

Before I left Debbie, we had a conversation. I was oblivious to the fact that we were holding up traffic, but I had to tell her that I believed that God had me at that place at that time. There were no other people walking along the road. I had gone to the drive with no prior planning. I had wanted to take my mom with me, but she wasn’t up to it. I never would have taken that walk if I weren’t by myself. Anything could have changed the timing, but the timing was perfect for me (or whoever God used) to be at that place at that exact time. I had to praise Him.

As I walked back to my vehicle, I experienced a parade of thumbs-up and accolades from the cars and trucks I passed. I have never been called a hero before and it felt weird.

I saw Debbie and her parents a few more times at pull-outs. It was her first time at LAWD, and she joked about having another birding mishap. She thought she had put the car in park before getting out to take a picture. The movement of the car had knocked her off her feet when she attempted to step out. I told her that she did a perfect tuck and roll.

I can’t tell you how humbled I was that God would place me in that place for Debbie’s benefit. He orders our steps. Sometimes we don’t realize it. Sometimes we do.

The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

The blessings God had in store for me were not over. I stopped at a pavilion to observe the alligators across the way, and there was a painted rock!

Taco Rock

Then I ventured down the drive and at one of my usual stops, I saw the most famous of the resident birds. Meet Crooked Neck. He is a great blue heron who apparently has recovered from a broken neck. He is often featured on the LAWD Facebook page and is somewhat of a celebrity. Yet, until Sunday I had never seen him. Thank you, Jesus!

Crooked Neck and the incoming paparazzi

On the last part of the drive out, I saw a raptor fly overhead and land in a tree. I pulled over and observed a beautiful bald eagle. I watched him for five minutes as he soared above me. Breathtaking!

There is a lot to behold out there! Things that make my heart sing and lift my spirits. Things that get me out of my own head and humble me. The God and Creator of all this cares for you and me. I’m thankful.