Wakulla Springs State Park is one of my favorite places on the planet. I have swum in the icy waters there, and I have napped on the grass with the chatter of children lulling me into a doze. I have hiked its trails, and I have taken the Jungle Cruise (my friend Linda Hall drives one of the boats) many times, never tiring of the splendid pageant of birds and alligators and silver, leaping mullet.
I have communed with gentle manatees and watched osprey fishing and flying into the cypress trees to devour their catch. In the lovely old lodge, I've attended weddings, parties, lectures and film screenings. I've consumed many a milkshake from the snack bar and eaten in the dining room, which serves the best fried chicken for miles around.
But until recently, I had never spent the night at the lodge - until a dear friend and her partner were passing through town and suggested we meet there and get rooms. I leaped at the chance - I had often wondered what it would be like to be there as the sun set and wake to see it rise over the treetops.
It was a trip back to a simpler, sweeter time. I stayed in a spacious corner room lined with windows that cranked open and provided a fine view of the spring. The furnishings were nothing fancy but were sturdy and comfortable - a good, solid bed, a couple of armchairs perfect for curling up in with a magazine, a dresser and a bathroom equipped with a deep bathtub in which I took a blissful, scented soak. No TVs in the rooms, though - the only TV was in the lobby.
Another friend and I shared the room, and we settled in to wait for the latecomers, who had children in tow. When they arrived, we ate dinner in the dining room and afterwards sat on the large limestone boulder in front of the lodge to watch the chimney swifts return to their roost, spiraling in ever greater numbers until some unseen/unheard signal sent the great mass of them swirling like smoke in reverse down the chimney. Then we sat in the lobby to watch "The Creature of the Black Lagoon," which was filmed at Wakulla Springs. I had forgotten how delightfully campy the movie was, and it was fun introducing it to the kids, who loved it as much as the grownups did.
I slept like a baby (the good wine we had brought helped) and woke to the wonder of mist rising off the water and the fresh morning smell of damp grass. The cypress trees glowed in the morning light and it seemed as if we were the only people alive in this beautiful Eden.
I could've stayed another day, or a week, but Tallahassee and its obligations beckoned. So we reluctantly packed up, checked out and headed back, refreshed in spirit and still infused with Wakulla Springs' mysterious mojo. But I'll be going back soon for another mini-retreat from the bustle of town.
You can find information about things to do, room rates, the dining room menu and special events at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park by going to the website at www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings/.