Back to Nature (Published on - Jan. 12, 2005)
A rare glimpse at nature – the red-shouldered hawk
Photo by Rick Tremmel
A beautiful red-shouldered hawk, posing during a perfect and rare moment.
It seemed like most people were rushing about returning packages, attending after-holiday-sales and returning home from visiting relatives. Traffic was dreadfully snarled. Restaurants were tied up with long, frenzied, line-ups.

We sought a simpler afternoon. My companion and I had both put in our eight hours at the office, and we’d shared the companionship of his daughter as we worked while she enjoyed time away from school on holiday. She’d been most helpful and played joyously as we worked, so we felt she deserved something better than a crowded restaurant or a boring ride home in heavy traffic.

“What would you like to do?” we asked.

“Go to the park,” she answered emphatically. Park it is then. Off we go.

We packed snacks and drinks and headed for Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa with excitement. Lettuce Lake is one of my favorite places to explore. There’s always something exciting and new to see around each corner. The combination of land, river, lake and 3,500-foot boardwalk offers many opportunities, not to mention the three flight observatory that overlooks the Hillsborough River and hardwood swamp.

“I want to push my dolly in my stroller.”

“It’s a long walk but you can push your stroller until you get tired,” her father motioned her on.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, blue sky, not too hot, not too cold. We saw many birds such as osprey, little blue heron, tri-colored heron, white ibis, great white heron and a bunch of silly squirrels (of course), butterflies and spiders. We said hello to all the other children who were quietly, respectfully observing nature and whose parents had also decided to take a turn off the beaten path this day. Some were just out to enjoy the warmth of the sun and scent of fresh air but some of these future naturalists were equipped with cameras or binoculars while exploring back to nature.

The trees were mostly leafless and the water sparkled with sunlight. Through some low brush, just above the hardwood swamp I detected movement up on our left. “Shhhhh,” I cautioned and pointed. When my eyes finally focused I nearly shouted at what I saw.

There just ahead and so close I felt we could reach out and touch him was a beautiful red-shouldered hawk perched out of harm’s way, tearing at the freshly caught flesh of his dinner. We grabbed cameras. Amazingly, for the moment, no one else was around. We took deep breaths. Moving in silence we set up the shot.

It was one of those special moments when we are offered a rare glimpse at nature so close and natural that we will never forget it. He was oblivious to us and even seemed to pose for us at times, but we know that is not true. He was in his element. He felt comfortable that we meant him no harm. He trusted us and we honored that trust. Satisfied that we’d captured his essence digitally, we then left him to his dinner alone.

The sun was beginning to near the horizon. Golden angles shafted through the trees and bathed the water lilies in dappled light. As a soft breeze hung in the air, we gently buckled the car seat and then headed out on the lone highway home dreaming of our day away from the hustle and bustle with promises of more gentle days ahead back to nature.

Lettuce Lake Park, (813) 987-6204. Directions: west of Tampa, take Interstate 75's Exit 54 and travel west 0.9 mile on Fletcher Avenue. The park is on the north side of the road.

Karen can be reached at

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