At my house in Virginia I am surrounded by trees: giant trees, trees with bark, trees with leaves that fall off, trees kids can climb. We do not have concrete trees. We do not have trees that cannot be content with one trunk. We do not have trees with lattice-work trunks.
When I first came across what look like concrete palm trees in downtown Sarasota standing next to an actual concrete pole, I thought perhaps the city’s tree-trimming crew had manicured these somehow to make them easier to maintain or because, mimicking concrete, they are more fitting for the cityscape. Or the city planners had chosen this type because they are so odd, so straight, so smooth – a Florida curiosity (among many!) that would make heads turn (though hopefully not causing: look! oops! crash!).
You know, the same way they put up statues that draw your eye. Everyone remember this one from the famous V-Day photo in Times Square?
A different city committee approved this one, for sure, such a very iconic image of joyful reunion, of national celebration, of profound relief. “Unconditional Surrender” was sculpted by Seward Johnson and stands in the bayfront area despite protests that it is not art. A local blog nonetheless says “there’s no denying that it’s a unique stop for any Sarasota visitor. When visiting, please remember that drivers should keep their eyes on the road and never take pictures from behind the wheel.” Right.
Intriguing as the sculpture is, my own eye went back to the concrete trees. I thought maybe the city landscapers decided to shave off the regular bark instead of 1. leaving it the way it might occur naturally (whatever that is) or 2. trimming it, lattice-like, as you see here, the unkempt, controlled stubble look.
But no, the concrete palm trees are easily found outside the city as well.
They line the streets with them. Here is a collection in front of the Ritz on Lido Key. Note the gawking tourist! What IS it? Are they real?
These smooth-trunked palms, so well defined, so sure of themselves, are a stark contrast to the banyan trees that seemingly had a contest for trunk superiority, and no one won. Countless verticals seem to compete: “I’m the real trunk! No, I’m the most important! Well, I’m the most interesting – look at my twists and curves!” On the extensive and impressive grounds of the Ringling estate, thirteen banyan trees (classified under the genus Ficus, or fig (!) – who knew??) stand in a grove. The story goes that they were given to John Ringling by Thomas Edison in the 1920s. Here are Debra, Brian, Fred and Dina dwarfed by them.
Speaking of dwarfs, the little gnome hiding in the back is one of many that adorn the grove. Their story is magical. Way back in the Ringling heyday, the gardening crew arrived – early, as per gardening crew norms – and were surprised to find the little oddballs being set down into their places by larger, stiffly moving, clearly older garden gnomes. Could it be a new gnome colony being planted? Or was it time-out for misbehaving youngsters? When said gardening crew arrived (gaping, no doubt, aghast at the sight, unsure – having not yet had their morning coffee – that they weren’t maybe just seeing things), they saw the larger gnomes placing their presumably more shy little compatriots among the trees in rather hidden spots and the gregarious ones as greeters along the path.
Just kidding. John Ringling found the sculptures in Italy on one of his art-collecting expeditions, and they will evermore enchant visitors to his estate. I’m not sure I’d call them “amusing,” “delightful” and “whimsical,” as estate literature does. “Creepy” comes to mind. I sent Samuel a photo of me in front of one of them to give him an image of the new Sanuk shoes I had bought.
If you zoom in, I said, you can see them. The top is stretchy fabric, super comfy.
Not happening. “Honestly I can’t look at that photo and pay any attention to your shoes with that weird gnome,” he replied. And that was that.
Birds are everywhere – on the beach, in the air, on the docks. Here’s one Mary and I saw after unsuccessfully trying to get a table at Dry Dock Grill in Longboat Key. We did not get lunch there, but he did!
Birds are even on the room number plates where we stayed, the Lido Beach Resort (pronounced “Leedo” by the way).
And how is this for cool? Your room key is part of a snazzy wrist band that you can wear in the water or wherever – no more trying to remember where you placed the thing. Here’s Fred’s, memorialized at the pool. I thought they were great! Okay, maybe these are the norm everywhere now — I don’t get out that much!
There were so many cool things in Florida! Such vibrant colors too.
Orange pancake mushrooms on a dead log.
Red roses (in Mable Ringling’s rose garden).
And a black lizard that Fred was quick enough to catch with his camera. See it on top, toward the back of the log?
Tractors (needing headlights!) comb the sand in the early morning …
… tempting visitors like me to get, shall we say, a little too much Vitamin D? Oh, how white can she be?? the locals are saying. Sweetie, put on your sunscreen!!
I got a little smarter after that and wore a shirt the rest of the day. Seeing dear friends from Keswick – Mario, Mary and Victoria – made this very special trip even better!
But a post about a trip to the beach in Florida would not be complete without a really awesome sandcastle. Check it out! Dripped turrets all around, shells lining the road leading to the moat, distinguishing upright shells at the entrance… very impressive.
My own shell collection made it home with no breakages and I proceeded with Shell Show & Tell. Next thing I knew, Samuel had used a barnacled clamshell as a hat for Coco. This poor dog. But she didn’t care!
It’s good to be home, but what a wonderful trip!