Camping Story with a Happy Ending

A story out of Michigan earlier this month caught my attention. I tend to pay close attention to just about anything relating to camping and outdoor stuff in general. And because there was a larger story about families and tragedy–near tragedy, in this case–wrapped around the story which took place in State Park with a family on a camping trip, it seemed doubly-news worthy to this outdoor enthusiast.

I’m not sure that it garnered very much attention from folks who–like me–live here in the Southeastern US and so I’m passing it along today.

The Niemi family was camping in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Their eight year old son, Nante, had gone off to collect firewood in the early afternoon and promptly got lost.

Before long, search and rescue teams comprised of over 150 Rangers, Law Enforcement professionals and volunteers joined the family’s search but were unable to find Nante by the time the sun rose the next morning. And when morning broke on the second day, they still had not been able to find him.

This story made quite an impression on me and I invite you to take a closer look and see it through to the end. Suffice it to say, it was the best story I’d discovered on the internet all month.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2023 Ben Lawrence Basile

Spring Has Sprung!

As you most likely know, today is the first day of Spring. It’s been really warm here in Central Florida so it’s not feeling like a huge deal to me at the moment.

Now, it’s true that we have seen a few cooler days here in the last week or so, but in general, it seems like Ol’ Man Winter decided to just chill in his own neighborhood rather than come over here much to say hello.

I did get in three camping adventures over the winter, and the temps were pretty balmy each time. I only had to bundle up to get my zzz’s in one of those trips. (More about those trips coming soon.)

So whether or not the weather was appropriately chilly in your neck of the woods, I hope the advent of Spring is a very pleasant and comfortable event for you and yours.

Today it’s just a tad chilly in these parts, and I’m fine with that. Even so, I’m quite sure that Spring’s coming this time portends lots of pleasant and productive days and conditions that are just right for all the outdoor fun that so many of us enjoy. Not only here in the Sunshine State but in every corner of Gaia’s verdant, beautiful domain.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2023 Ben Lawrence Basile
Photo credit Ben Lawrence Basile

A Taste of Florida

A friend and I had occasion to visit A Taste of Florida in Lake Alfred this week and we’re glad we stopped in. The food was fresh and delicious, the wait at peak lunch time wasn’t bad and the uber-Florida ambience there was totally charming.

My friend had the Chicken Salad Sandwich, I opted for the Florida Club. Both were fabulous and we topped it off with their yummy Strawberry Shortcake, with the luscious berries direct from Plant City. We took it with the cake, not the biscuit, of course! The way it should be!

All silly strawberry snobbery aside, the place is first-rate and authentic to boot. I’ve lived in Florida for over 60 years and I know the real thing when I see it. And when I taste it.

I recommend A Taste of Florida without reservation. The pleasant staff, the fresh and tasty menu and the charming setting all make this eatery a perfect choice for you anytime you’re in Lake Alfred or anywhere in the heart of Polk County.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile
Photo credit Ben Lawrence Basile

What should a camping space feel like?

Last month I had a chance to pitch my tent in another one of our Florida State Parks. That would be Colt Creek State Park a little north of Lakeland, Florida. Lakeland is where I’m living these days and Colt Creek is by far the closest park to me. Lake Kissimmee State Park–a real fave of mine–would be the next closest but I wanted to try something new and get more familiar with the part of the Sunshine State where I’m living now.

It was a good trip for the most part. I found a part of the design concept for this park to be a little odd but found the park to be a decent spot to camp in spite of something I’ve never seen at any other park. And it made for a less-than-optimal camping experience, truth be told.

What I’m referring to is that all sites have a well-defined grassy area at the front of their lot covered with… I hate to let these words escape my lips, covered with grass! Yes, a charming mini-front yard for every camper! How novel!

Let me enlarge on this a bit: many of the parks in the Florida State Park system where I’ve camped–and I’ve been to an even dozen of them now–have a very authentic nature-y vibe that is–for this puppy–absolutely essential to having a good camping experience. I like it best when I’m so completely surrounded by trees and other green stuff that I can nap in my camping recliner and be shaded for just about the whole day. I like, I crave, the feeling that I’m completely surrounded, covered over even, with Mother Nature’s beauty.

But at Colt Creek I felt like I had pitched my tent in a friend’s yard, so off-putting was this unusual design element. And it was every space. There were lovely trees and lots of other natural stuff all around you but as far as your lot was concerned, the overall feeling was more like weekending in a suburban neighborhood.

To look at a larger issue that comes into play here, it’s one more thing that highlights the fact that accommodating RV’s is what drives the process of planning pretty much any park. And tent campers are, frankly, an afterthought. And essentially putting a flawless, well-manicured “lawn” in front of every space is probably a great thing to many if not most RV’ers. When you consider that many of them are essentially hauling a mid-sized apartment around from park to park, pitch signs emblazoned with the family name out front and literally throw down a carpet when they set up, the suburban feel at this particular park may be a very good thing to most folks. But it was very off-putting for this camper.

A stay in a State Park should not be like staying in the kinds of RV parks where snow birds live for the entire winter. And in every other park I’ve taken in, it’s not. (By the way, I’ve camped in every kind of park and Wildlife Management Area you can think of. I’m referring specifically to the facilities in our Florida State Park System in this piece.)

Colt Creek does have a separate space to accommodate tent campers, six sites in all. I generally like that. There are plenty of parks where this enhances the camping experience for us “real campers” who don’t live in air conditioned, aluminum mini-houses on our trips. But we all had our own “front yard” too in our part of the park; there was no escape for anybody!

Mayor Frederick Park at Turkey Lake is a good example of a park where a dedicated portion of the park for tent campers works well. That gem is in the City of Orlando Park System and I love it. It’s as bucolic and nature-y as any park I’ve been to and it’s pretty much the opposite of what I experienced at Colt Creek. I’m way overdue for a trip back to that lovely spot on the shore of Turkey Lake. We tent campers do have to haul our gear a very long way there but it’s worth it.

Here’s a photo from about seven years ago or so when I pitched my tent there. A quick side note, it’s a bit of a surprise that this park with the strong Nature vibe I crave is only about five minutes from Universal Studios.

I know this may come over to many as just a rant. But camping sites in State Parks shouldn’t make you wonder when the next HOA meeting is gonna happen! Really.

Guess it’s time for this camper to head back to Moss Park or the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area. No neatly-manicured lawns, nor treeless lots in those wildly-untrimmed, deliciously-overgrown, authentic Florida spaces!

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2023 Ben Lawrence Basile
Photo credits Ben Lawrence Basile

One small way to help our oceans

I got my license plate today for my “new” used car. I’ve gotten quite a few specialty tags here in Florida in years past, they’re pretty common. I’m quite pleased with this new one.

I’ve wanted for years to get a specialized plate that shows my support for beaches, natural spaces or trees and such.

It was hard to make a final choice but I went with the “Protect Our Oceans” tag. I’m loving it! The additional fee for that one goes to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation; Guy is also the artist who designed the plate, as he’s an accomplished artist and illustrator in addition to being one of our most visible advocates for caring for our oceans.

If you’re here in Florida you can get specialized plates and support any one of many nonprofits. Quite a few of them are focused on the environment. Another choice: you can show your school spirit for the Florida University that you attended or support. We have more specialty tags here than any other State. The series honoring our Nation’s veterans are very much in demand.

To me, my new plate was certainly worth a few extra dollars.

Don’t be surprised if you pass a black PT Cruiser with the tag you see in the banner photo anytime soon heading towards Cocoa Beach or Clearwater! Or any one of a thousand different natural spots and beaches that you can find all over the Sunshine State!

“Beachdog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile
Photo credit Ben Lawrence Basile

The Storm has passed

Hurricane Ian has come and gone and I’ve been thinking about the effects on so many others here in Florida. It’s all very sobering. Sobering and sad.

The effects for me and loved ones in the State were minimal. Because so many of us weathered this storm without a lot of damage, it’s easy to think we’re all good here in Florida. But we aren’t.

It’s hard to wrap your mind around this kind of devastation. I’ve tuned in to some of the reports and it’s so dismal and sad that I have to manage my news coverage carefully in order to not get an overload.

If you’d like to help those in Southwest Florida who’ve been so devastated by this horrible storm, there are many ways to do so.

The FEMA site has a lot of information that may be helpful. And there’s no shortage of non-profits who are helping. And although there are hundreds, I’m leaving a link to the Red Cross. Their work over many, many years has been invaluable to people around the world who’ve experienced disasters of all kinds. I’m happy to support their fine work.

Take care. Stay safe. Reach out for help when it’s appropriate. May that care be there for you when you need it most.

And may you extend that hand of care to others when you’re able. 

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile

Hurricane Ian is Coming

I know you’re almost certainly aware that Hurricane Ian is bearing down on the Sunshine State as I write this. It’s a very big deal.

I’m posting about it now because I think the majority of friends who follow this blog are in or near Florida.

If your Hurricane preps are complete, good on you. You know this storm is not to be taken lightly.

If you are in the Central Florida region and your preps are not-so-good or if you haven’t started, do it now! While it’s true that you might find empty or nearly-empty shelves in some places, it’s still worth the effort and aggravation to get out there even at the eleventh hour and do what you can.

If you’d like info about this storm, I suggest the Weather Channel if it’s available from your cable provider. The weather folk at most local network affiliates usually do a great job when the storms hit; That’s a good alternative. A shout-out to Tom Sorrells at Local 6 in Orlando…

If your internet’s working fine, this site is a good place to get updates. Especially if your cable connection isn’t working, but you have power and a working internet connection.

Be safe, friends. This storm is right on our doorstep and it’s going to smack us hard.

Battening down the hatches in Davenport, I am,

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile

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A Beautiful, Windy Beach Trip

Two weeks ago we were sitting around, trying to remember how long it had been since our last beach trip. It had been a while.

So we fixed it. We loaded up the car and headed to Cocoa Beach, our favorite site for a quick getaway.

We listened to the pounding surf and soaked up some sun for about an hour and a half. We enjoyed lunch at one our favorite spots. Coastal Market in downtown Cocoa Beach in case you’re curious. And we headed back home with smiles on our faces.

The only downside was that the wind was pretty freakin’ strong. We put up our beautiful beach umbrella–for about a minute! I’m always a bit freaked out when Mother Nature turns my umbrella inside-out, so we just braved Apollo’s rays without the usual protection.

Yeah, that happens to us a lot. Thus shall it ever be for those of us who like to visit Florida beaches. But you know, that’s why God made sunscreen!

If you’ve neglected to get yourself into a lovely natural setting for a while, just make the time, just get out there! You’ll be glad you did.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile

Photo credit Ben Lawrence Basile

NADF News–it’s all about the Trees

Some of you may know about the work of the National Arbor Day Foundation. I’m happy to support them and I try not to miss an opportunity to spread the word about the much-needed work that they do.

They have been on a mission to plant trees all over the US and prioritize replanting where communities have lost their tree canopies, especially when natural disasters strike.

This undertaking is never actually completed, as you might imagine. Because there are more natural disasters each year, meeting the demand would take a major miracle. But the Foundation is all-in to do all that can possibly be done. And I’m happy to lend a hand by keeping my membership current and helping to spread the word about their work when I can.

An update about their work hit my inbox this morning and I want to pass the news along.

There are many communities who’ve partnered with the NADF this year to replace trees they’ve lost. Among them are Bayard, Nebraska, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Lafitte, Louisiana. These recent projects are great examples of how the Foundation operates, helping to meet the urgent needs of cities and counties who’ve experienced first-hand one of those outbursts of Mother Nature’s wrath.

In the case of Bayard, the disaster was a serious tornado, in combination with an outbreak of the Emerald Ash Borer. In Cedar Rapids, the disaster was a derecho with 140 mph winds. Lafitte lost most of their canopy of beautiful and Earth-nurturing trees after being visited by Hurricane Ida in the Fall of ’21.

To get current of some of the recent work of the Nat’l Arbor Day Foundation, just follow this link.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile

Photo credit

Hot Temps and Common Sense

Yesterday I was driving up US Hwy 27, one of the major roads in my part of Central Florida. My girlfriend and I had just made note of the fact that the digital thermometer readout on the instrument panel was displaying that dreaded three-digit temperature. Yes, it was 100° outside and we felt every bit of that even though the car’s AC was blasting.

Not very long after our convo about what an insanely-hot day it was, we passed two people making their way down the sidewalk, each carrying two handsful of groceries.

Nothing too remarkable there. It’s a common sight around here, as it is pretty much anywhere.

The truly remarkable thing is that they both were dressed in all black. Black shirts and shorts. And with no hats, no head coverings, to boot.

Yeah, I was gobsmacked. I’ve been in Central Florida for a very long time, I do/have done hundreds of hours of outdoor stuff and heavy-duty yardwork and I know what the uber-high temps we regularly have around here can do.

To make this even more puzzling is the fact that the closest grocery store was quite a ways back.

Now, I still do outdoor stuff–including camping–over the Summer months but I would never even think about what these people were doing. I realize that they almost certainly had limited options as far as getting to and from the store that afternoon but it still is an unthinkable situation for me.

Folks, don’t just hide inside until September comes around. But when you are outside–whether for fun or because you have an important task in front of you, make sure you look out for your safety. Please don’t put your well-being and your very life at risk when Mr Sun is throwing down this kind of thermal assault on all the denizens of Earth.

“Bulldog Ben” Basile

PS: In case you’re wondering, yes, I did feel awful that we didn’t stop and offer them a ride to their destination. That didn’t hit me until we were a mile or two down the road. And I feel more than a little regret about it.

© 2022 Ben Lawrence Basile

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