Exploring Cypress Gardens

firstA few months ago, my car died and I’ve been stranded with a poor public transportation system. The only times I go out are when friends make trips to the store or when others let me use their car. So when I woke up to a text, “let’s explore something today”, I jumped out of bed at the offer.

My friend Cory and I decided to explore Cypress Gardens, a local area that offers 170 acres of gardens and swamp. The park is a series of trails that surround a wooded swamp. When I first arrived in Charleston, my friend Kate recommended I go to the gardens for photography. While nothing was blooming, I had the opportunity to photograph Cory instead.

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This swamp was filled with trees, lily pads, and apparently…

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Cory is from California and I’m from Minnesota. Neither of us have seen an alligator outside of a zoo. Now we’re going to walk trails that could have them laying next to us! Maybe we should have known from Cypress Gardens’ logo, or the map they gave us, or that we live in South Carolina.

Nonetheless, we drove a half an hour to visit the park. We weren’t going to leave just because of alligators or “other animals” (still wondering about that).

IMG_8008This trail was marked with the sign from the earlier photo. As you can see, it’s wide and clearly defined. Having no previous experience with southern wildlife, we both cautiously started on the trail. On the left the swamp is about 3-4 feet from the path. This means easy access for an alligator to grab us and drag us to our premature deaths.

Around 200 feet down, the trail narrows and becomes less defined. This is where people reevaluated their decision to walk down the trail. I don’t blame them because there was another two less official signs, one read “CAUTION Alligators and snakes may rest upon trails. Never approach an alligator.” The other probably said, “Walk this trail and you’ll surely meet your end!”. It may as well have.

But, we weren’t going to be deterred from a great experience!

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If you didn’t know, alligators sound like bullfrogs, or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

As we walked down the ever-narrowing trail, the sound of bullfrogs became clear. It was like everything was quiet so we could focus all of our attention on our inevitable doom. I don’t understand why the trail was so close to the swamp, it’s like they were trying to feed us to the alligators.

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This of course didn’t stop us from occasionally pausing for photographs.

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The trail felt like it lasted forever and it didn’t stop narrowing until we got much further ahead. Bushes and fallen trees obscured the path so we didn’t always know where to step. It was evident that this trail wasn’t frequently used because there were spider webs all over the place.

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It looks innocent enough… but how about closer to its actual size…

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After seeing one, we realized that there were spiders covering bushes along the entire trail. Then we stepped into a web that stretched 4 feet wide, as if the spider had hopes of catching a bear. There weren’t any bear encounters on this trail thankfully.

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Occasionally the trail would dart right and it would look like it was coming to an end… but it wasn’t. It only brought us closer to the sound of bullfrogs and other potential predators.

The end of the trail was completely covered in bushes, half-downed trees, and broken bridges/walkways over the swamp. It brought us to large mounds of dirt that we’d have to climb around. Oh, I forgot to mention the caution tape.

Along the way, in the middle of the woods, there was caution tape between trees or shrubs. Parts of the trail walked directly next to this stuff, which reminded me of police investigation tape. So while we were hearing bullfrogs, dodging giant spiders, and trying to stay on trail, we had to observe caution tape… on a hiking trail with alligators…

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Eventually our adventure came to an end. We found an opening back to pavement, as if a blessing from the gods. It was abrupt and opened into a wide, and heavily traveled, path. Our trail almost vanished behind us with how obscure the way was.

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From then on we sailed smoothly through the rest of the park. Joyous that mosquitoes weren’t gnawing at our legs and that the spiders were gone. Here’s a few more images from rest of adventure…

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This was a burial site right after we exited the woods. The cross stood 15 feet high with three gravestones at its base.IMG_8153

Look at how happy we are to be out of the woods!

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If life gives you a trail of alligators and spider webs, I would suggest finding bug spray and wearing pants before going on it. No matter what happens in life, you’ll always have an adventure. Bug spray or not.

This morning I woke up to an invitation to explore something new. I darted out of bed in anticipation of finding that new experience. This is how life should be; waking up with the excitement to explore the world and going out to do it. Days like today remind me that I’m alive and that there’s plenty of the world left to explore.

I hope all of you find that in yourself each day and go out into the world to fulfill it. Right now my legs itch (hopefully not from poison ivy) and I’m exhausted, so I’ll cut this off here. Have a wonderful night everybody and don’t let the sound of bullfrogs scare you away! Life is too short to skip adventures like this!

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Who I am and Who I am with

Twenty years have gone by since I was brought into this world. It’s both incredible and terrifying how quickly the days go by and how easily they accumulate from months to years. I’ve lived one fifth of a century and we’ve shifted from dial-up internet to smart-phones capable of sharing video with a person on the other side of Earth.

Instead of just reflecting over the years, I want this post to be dedicated to the people I shared those years with. Twyla Tharp once wrote about how she believes who you are now is the accumulation of the books you’ve read and the people you’ve met. As I agree with her, I want to share some of these people and the experiences I’ve had with them.

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This is a picture of me cooking in my mom’s tummy. I figure since my dear ‘ol mother tagged me in this photo on Facebook for my friends to see, I’ll share it on my blog as well. As you can tell by the hair, the 80s hadn’t worn off yet.

It’s natural to start with my mother, because without her lugging around an extra ten pounds, I wouldn’t be here.

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This photo was taken during my first international trip with my family. We all flew over to Berlin because my grandfather was getting an apartment for part of the summer from a friend. In retrospect, those days were a catalyst for the wanderer in me. I fell in love with traveling many years later.

About half way through, my family found this botanical garden. It was simple and full of beautiful plants with a forested area on the side. As you walked around you could hear birds chirping and the sound of lawn mowers roaring. It was a nice garden but the untamed forest is what caught my attention.

Inside the woods, birds were flying everywhere above us. I felt as though I could reach out and they would land on me. One moment my grandmother was standing still and a bird flew down onto her. She, of course, moved and it flew off immediately.

At this time I had just started taking photographs and thought it would be brilliant to take photos with the birds. We found that holding bread crumbs would cause the birds to fly down onto our hands and sit. It was an incredible feeling holding something so wild and evasive.

Right before our trip to Germany concluded, my mother and I went back with the goal of taking pictures with the birds. Actually, I think it was more of my goal. My mother was terrified when the birds landed on her but she still decided to pose anyways.

We spent all morning with the birds and ended up with a fair number of portraits. While it sounds silly, this moment really shaped me. It was a foreign experience in all senses of the word. There was a connection as a photographer but also a human. I felt alive and as if the world was pushing me towards taking pictures. It felt as if the universe was lining up perfectly and said, “here Eric, we’ll lend you a piece of nature, just reach for your camera and show us what you can do. We’re here to help.”

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One day in World History class my teacher introduced an exchange student from Denmark that would be spending the year with us. Her name was Signe and would soon become one of my greatest friends.

Upon hearing about her I immediately was intrigued. She was beautiful and interesting in so many ways. So, naturally, I made my way towards her. This was a rather difficult task because she sat on the complete opposite side of the classroom from me. Literally desks awkwardly blocked any path I had to get to her.

The desks didn’t stop me and Signe soon found that she always had a partner for class projects. I don’t think she understood my intrigue but we started talking more as we completed many group projects together. Eventually we would run into each other outside of class and talk even more.

This lead to hanging out, movie marathons, teaching each other to cook, going out for runs, and, at the end of the school year, going to prom together. It’s impossible to explain how we went from total strangers from different countries, to being best friends.

To this day I cannot explain my intrigue. We don’t have a lot of common interests but I still smile every time I talk to her. I find myself laughing so loud that my neighbors complain I need to get off the phone. We don’t have to have anything to talk about but yet we can talk for hours. It all leads back to that day in history class, when I awkwardly made my way over to her.

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This guy invaded my life right before Signe left the U.S.. He showed up as an exchange student as well and turned into another one of my closest friends. Jagoba traveled over to study English and somehow I got roped into learning Spanish.

After living with my family for a month, we had become such good friends that I flew back to Spain with him. I was fifteen and it was the first time I traveled internationally alone. We had a blast in Spain so we continued on the tradition for the next three years. He came to visit in the summers and I went back with him before school started.

There are many stories I could tell about Jagoba. My personal favorite is when we went out on a boat with my grandparents and my family. The waves splashed us until we were all soaking wet. When we arrived back at shore, everyone looked horrible. My sister probably had it the worst.

As we were walking off the boat, Jagoba, thinking he was funny and coy, said to my sister, “Jaaaaaamie, do you have crabs?”. At this point, his second year in America, we all had grown used to his mannerisms. Nobody noticed this slip because Jagoba lives on the ocean where they actually have crabs. In an effort to be funny I shouted “You can’t just ask people if they have crabs Jagoba!”.

This caused my family to understand what he just asked and everyone started roaring. Jagoba didn’t understand the joke immediately and when I explained what “crabs” could be, he blushed. It was adorable.

There were many moments like this in the years that he visited. He brought a new, curious energy to me. He was daring and adventurous. After visiting him many times, I feel confident that he changed how I looked at the world. He brought me out of my shell and contributed to who I am now.

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It’s been twenty years since I was born. A lot has happened since then and the experiences I’ve had are beyond what I can put down onto my blog. The people I’ve shared this time with have changed me, and I think who I am now is a direct result of the people I’ve met.

Find the people who intrigue you, who bring out the wild and adventurous version of you. There’s an entire ocean of people who you can connect with, and life is so much better when it’s filled with people you love. This year I’m thankful for all the people I’ve met and the people I will meet. I hope that I get to live another wonderful year with you.

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