For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands–Isaiah 55:12
Lots of people come to Central Florida for the mouse ears and roller coasters. While that is all well and good and certainly very fun, there are so many other things to do that are, in my opinion, more magical and memorable.
One of our favorite things to do is spend time in the numerous State and National parks, and Florida has quite a lot of nice ones to check out. This weekend, the family got up at the crack of dawn to make an hour or so drive north to a very cool spot called Blue Spring to see the winter congregation of manatees.
Manatees are like sweet, legless hippos. Hippos are mean and scary, but look nice wiggling their ears and munching on water weeds. Manatees actually ARE nice, though. They (the manatees) really don’t mind if you do touch them, but we are not allowed to touch them because they are so special. It is believed that there are only about 5,000 of them altogether and because they are so sweet and curious, and sooooo slooooowwwww, they are easy targets for mean people and for negligent boaters.
Through most of the year, they chill out closer to the coasts and spread out into smaller little groups. It is pretty rare to spot one, unless you find their favorite hidey holes, like Crystal River or Cayo Costa. When the water temperatures drop , they migrate and congregate in much higher numbers in warmer areas. There is a big power plant in Tampa that they like to hang out around because the water is heated…but lots and lots of them make their way up streams and rivers to the springs, of which Florida has tons. The water in Florida springs is a warm 72 degrees. Actually, it is FREEZING to me, but to a chunky manatee it is quite nice.
Blue Spring is a favorite place for them, and this year they came out in record numbers. I have seen one or two in the wild before on several occasions, but I have never seen hundreds of them together, so this was very cool.
The woods were so peaceful and quiet in the morning and the manatees were still asleep when we got there. As the sun reached over the trees, they started to stir, the babies began nursing their mommies, and the adolescents splashed their tails a bit. You cannot go swimming with them or anything, though they are really gentle and probably wouldn’t mind it, but it is just sweet enough to watch them for a little while.
I read a book once about noticing nature and thanking God for the world He created out of love for us. Leaning over that wood railing watching these gentle giants glide through the water, I couldn’t help but feel prayer in my heart and thank God for them and the perfect world he crafted for us mere humans. I also thought about how He left it in our care and how terribly we treat our precious gift that He gave us, as is typical of us. When God gave us dominion over the earth and told us to subdue it, He did not mean for us to bully and bulldoze it, but to care for it the way a farmer would care for his animals and land, or even the way a parent would care for their child.
God crafted everything so carefully and meticulously and out of pure love. It is wonderful and mysterious that everything has a sort of symbiotic relationship with everything else to some degree or another, creating a true circle of life. Even the most minute details that we fail to notice were made just so, like the tiny little hairs and scales that make up butterfly wings, or the flecks of contrasting color in your iris.
Although there are many of us who cannot handle the idea of “roughing it”, I do think we can all appreciate the beauty of nature and feel a certain serenity in our core when we see or experience something exquisite that no human hand could have crafted. It is no coincidence that God created us in a garden, after all.
Indeed God did not “dwell” in any building, but was happy to be in the midst of the people as they travelled in the wilderness. Even when King David offered to build God a fine “house” instead of the tent, God declined. Through the years we have built numerous beautiful churches and houses for God. I have seen many grand, magnificent churches and cathedrals in my travels and I dearly love my own little parish church with its gleaming wood ceiling and bright windows. I love to go to Mass and be among the church and take the Holy Eucharist, which gives me peace beyond expression, but sometimes I just want to be alone in the cathedral He made Himself as our original house of worship.
Saint Francis taught that humans were not the only creatures capable of praising God and preached directly to the animals. When I became a Catholic, one of my first habits that I picked up was learning about a different saint almost every day. I realize that many of their legends may not be exactly true in a literal sense, but the spirit of them and the truth they convey is, and that old story of Saint Francis preaching to the birds always makes me smile. Although Francis is famous for building church buildings, it is poignant that you most often see him nestled among the roses and marigolds holding out bird seed for his feathered friends. Francis understood that while it is most important to spread the Good News to the creatures created in God’s own image, it is also important to cherish and love God’s creatures gifted to us that also praise His name.
Each of us should take time, at least once a day, to notice something beautiful in nature and thank God for it. You would not (I hope) spray graffiti on church walls, so please remember to show respect to His first cathedral and make a more conscious effort to keep it clean and beautiful, not only for ourselves, but for the other creatures He created out of love that continually praise Him. Even the trees clap their hands praising God, though I bet you always thought it was the wind.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honour, and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever. —Revelation 5:13