7 Best Cities to Visit in Florida&Alabama

Daytona Beach

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Kissimmee

Normally, fresh cold water poured over these rock walls. I tried to imagine how marvelous it would be to be encompassed by that circle of water, with the sound ricocheting off the walls in all directions and moist vapor baptizing everything. But my pilgrimage brought me here at the end of a long, dry summer. Only drops were coming off the walls now. But what wonderful drops! Slow, relaxing, quiet drops all the way around. Plants usually hidden behind the water had their roots in the damp mud and their flowers in the sunshine. A honeybee was visiting tiny Heuchera flowers, and a young five-lined skink ran under my knees. As I was marveling at this place, at this feeling, I heard a young man’s voice call out: “I found it!

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I found it, and it’s really fin’ big!”

He was with three friends, and they had come here to see the Tree, too. We took turns taking pictures of each other next to it. They told me they had tried to find it last year, but they ended up at West Bee Branch by mistake. While we were visiting, another pair of backpackers arrived. They didn’t say anything to anyone just walked the circumference of the circle and left. The young ones left too, after a while, and I was alone in the canyon again.

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Jacksonville

The sun was low, and the air was getting cool already. I knew it would be a chilly night, so I sought out the last bit of sunlight to warm me for as long as possible. The last rays of sun in that navel were shining on the base of the Tree. And there, from its base, a root undulated across the ground like a giant anaconda. I accepted the invitation, set my bottom on the root, and leaned my back and head against the massive trunk. I closed my eyes against the warm sun.

I was sitting, just being. Present moment, beautiful moment.

I have friends who have gone on silent Buddhist retreats to cultivate inner stillness and to practice being in the present moment. Their practice is mostly indoors, but I prefer to practice here at the foot of this tree, lulled by the dripping walls. Some would call it meditation: being aware of the life force, being aware of my creatureness, just being in beauty. Beauty. The real old growth is so very beautiful. Just surrounding yourself with that beauty feeds the soul. Something in our culture seems to have forgotten the importance of natural beauty.

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Tallahassee

When the sun finally dropped beneath the ridgeline, I went back over to my pack and my pad. I put on extra layers of clothes and pulled out my sleeping bag. I made myself a bed on the small level spot and watched, just watched, as the colors faded and the sky darkened. From where I lay, I was able to see the Tree, sacred omphalos. I listened to the water dripping off the rock walls and the tree crickets as they began calling. Yes, this was indeed beauty.

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Panama City Beach 

I drifted off to sleep, and when I opened my eyes again, I could see stars in the small bits of sky between the branches of the hemlock tree I was sleeping beneath. It was clear and cold. The sky was black, and the stars seemed brighter than usual. It was too cold for the crickets now, but a large owl flew into the canyon, and his deep, melodious hooting echoed off the rock walls.

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St. Petersburg

Normally if I wake in the night I want to return to sleep right away, but here, in this magically perfect bowl, I remembered the poet Rumi’s advice: don’t go back to sleep. I opened my eyes wide, tilted my head back toward the stars, and tried to pay attention, to fully experience the love I was feeling in this place, for this place.

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West Palm Beach

When I felt it without question, as one hears the tone of a bell, I practiced expanding my love for this place until it encompassed the entire globe of the Earth. All the forests, all the birds, all the insects, even all the misguided humans were included in my swollen heart. It is easy to know when a bell’s tone starts, but it is impossible to say when it stops.

This is what a forest can give us. That night will stay with me as long as I live.

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