My Sunday stroll

A weekly walk through our neighborhoods

Regular readers of this newsletter know that walking is part of my daily routine and one my life’s great pleasures. During the past year of the pandemic, it has become more essential to my well being than ever.

Every morning at dawn I walk the Lido Beach shoreline; every afternoon or evening, I choose a more inland route, in my own neighborhood or farther afield. On average, I cover 60 to 70 miles a week.

Though I can’t count how many columns I’ve written in my head during these sojourns, the primary motivation is exercise. Most of the time I keep up what many would consider a “brisk” pace (14- to 15-minute miles). But often on Sunday afternoons I slow my stride and open my eyes to what I’ve missed when I’m scurrying.

Today I took a stroll around familiar territory — on St. Armands and Lido Keys — making an effort to detour into neighborhood pockets I’d previously overlooked. Though I often leave my cell phone behind when I walk, on this day I was awaiting an important call and had it with me.

Though it wasn’t my intention to share them when I snapped some photos along the way, it occurred to me later that my readers might be amused by the eclectic mix of beauty and the bizarre I captured.

So here’s this week’s Sunday stroll, in pictures and (a few) words. If you enjoy today’s post and like the idea of me making it a regular feature, let me know. I’d be delighted to share my Sunday strolls with you.

This magnificent tree on what I think of as McMansion Row on St. Armands produces voluminous amounts of these large, bright orange flowers year round. I often wonder if the owners tire of cleaning up the blanket of blossoms that cover the ground beneath its wide branches. It’s not a Royal Poinciana, as several people have suggested; from what I could research after getting home, I think it’s African tulip tree.Whatever it is, seeing it always makes me smile.

I watched this walled garden, built by the homeowner next door, take shape over more than two years, wondering all the while what it was going to become. (My guess of an outdoor amphitheater proved off base.) Gradually it transformed from a rocky, empty lot to a lush botanical paradise with a classical pavilion, water features and stunning mosaics. The sign outside its wrought iron gates dubs it “Gulistan,” after a book of Persian stories, poems and aphorisms. It’s bounteous and beautiful and I discover new things to enjoy each time I pass by. But curiously, I have never once actually seen a person in it.

I stopped to admire this impressive vessel, docked just steps from the owner’s front door. After lingering for some time, waiting for its handsome, age-appropriate and available owner to appear and invite me for a sunset cruise, I began to sense my hair growing gray by the second. Sighing, I moved on.

These matching bas reliefs at the entryway to an historic home brought back the treasured memory of the last trip I ever took with my father, to Bali the year before his death in 2009. While he attended an international banking conference, I was left to wander and explore. What I remember most was the omnipresent sense of the spiritual. Everywhere you looked there were tiny shrines to Hindu gods — on the front stoop of a modest home, at the entry to a merchant’s shop, even on the dashboard of my cab driver’s vehicle. You were always welcome to add your own offering — a coin, a flower, a piece of fruit. It was a constant gratitude reminder.

I never tire of looking at the ever-evolving burst of floral color around a fountain of dolphins lovingly tended by St. Armand’s resident Craig Snyder outside his mother’s home at the entryway to the Circle. Last year, the city threatened to force him to remove the display — which Snyder has maintained at his own cost for nearly 20 years — as they moved to finish the MURT (multi-use-recreational trail) that passes by the home. Fortunately, the powers that be reconsidered. You can often see Snyder, who is no spring chicken, adding organic material to the soil, deadheading flowers or planting new delights. What a gift to the community.

And speaking of that MURT, I also noticed three spanking new bus stop stations on John Ringling Boulevard, each equipped with a welcoming bench and bicycle racks and surrounded by mature new cabbage palms. That ought to encourage SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit) ridership, I thought. That is, until I saw this metal sign permanently bolted to the center of the stop. Which confirmed, once again, that I simply do not understand the city’s mysterious planning processes.

I’m no photographer, but I couldn’t help snapping the next couple of shots simply in appreciation of nature’s ability to create art. The first, of course, is a bird of paradise in full bloom. The second is a display of geraniums at the foot of a "walking palm,” so named not only because its multiple split roots above ground look like stilts, but because they can actually “walk” the tree as much as a foot a year as it seeks sunlight. (Or so I’m told.)

Sometimes the beauty and joy you discover on a walk comes from a human hand. This rock garden off St. Armand’s Circle continues to expand each time I pass by; this time I stalled a good 10 minutes looking at new additions. The creator is obviously a gifted artist whose contributions are as intricate as Ukrainian Easter eggs. But I love the fact that he/she has also made a space for the less perfect, but equally chanting “Children’s Corner.”

On a street rarely explored, I felt a strange sensation as if I were being watched. Looking up, I discovered these “eyes.” Instantly I was transported to that scene in the Wizard of Oz, where the trees come alive to taunt and harass Dorothy. Though one of them was sticking out a studded tongue, these venerable fellows seemed rather more benign. I love that a homeowner went to the effort of creating these purely for the amusement and pleasure of passers by.

Finally, back in my own front yard, I noticed that the “volunteer” mango seed that planted itself last year so firmly in the cross-hatch bark of my cabbage palm as to be inextricable has been flourishing on a diet of neglect. I wonder what a cabbage mango will taste like?

Until next Sunday, happy trails.