Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Florida Delights, Including Pirates, Manatees, Everglades, Spectacular Sunrises

March 14, 2023 Five authors share fascinating history and special pleasures in the Sunshine State. Season 1 Episode 80
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Florida Delights, Including Pirates, Manatees, Everglades, Spectacular Sunrises
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Five authors discuss special aspects of Florida with Lea, (who lives in the state). Discussions range from history to natural history. Florida was under many flags and offers special and unusual flora and fauna. This interesting episode is a must, for those who travel --or plan to travel, to Florida.
A History Lovers Guide to Florida is written by historian James Clark.

Award-winning journalist
Craig Pittman has written Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species.

Clay Henderson is author of Forces of Nature:  A History of Florida Land Conservation. 

Everglades National Park is part of the Images of America series, an informative book with text and photos. Authors are James Cushman and Kirsten Hinds.

Mark Potter was a correspondent for ABC News, CNN and NBC in Miami. He has created Sunrise: A Photographic Journey of Comfort, Feeling and Inspiration.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including the award-winning Places I Remember,  (Kirkus Reviews: star rating and "one of the top Indie books" of  the year. ) She has contributed to many guidebooks and has written thousands of travel articles.

Contact Lea! 
@lealane on Twitter; PlacesIRememberLeaLane on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Website:

New episodes drop every other week, on Tuesdays. Please tell travel lovers about us, and follow, rate and review this award-winning travel podcast, available wherever you listen.

Lea Lane  0:06  
Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. In this episode, we're doing speed interviews --five to 10 minutes each -- talking to five authors who give travelers different perspectives of Florida through their books. And you can find links to all the books in the episode's show notes so you can dig more deeply. Florida's long history from Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle to the Florida Keys is in A History Lovers Guide to Florida. Author James Clark is one of Florida's leading historians and supervisor of the Florida Studies program at the University of Central Florida. Welcome, James to Places I Remember.

James Clark  0:59  
Thank you very much.

Lea Lane  1:01  
Now as you write in your book about Florida, decades before the pilgrims, the Spanish celebrated Thanksgiving, centuries before the first St. Patrick's Day in New York, the holiday was celebrated in St. Augustine, where urban renewal was underway when Jamestown settlers arrived in Virginia. Why isn't Florida's amazing early history more celebrated?

James Clark  1:22  
You know, because we tend to learn it from the British point of view. The first people were the pilgrims, the first people were the Jamestown settlers, and the Spanish are overlooked. And it's a real shame. You know, an example is last year, Florida celebrated its 200th anniversary as part of the United States. And yet, nobody ever knew that! Missouri got a postage stamp. And we've had nothing. So, you know, it's unfortunate that our rich history is not recognized more.

Lea Lane  1:56  
I agree. I mean, we learned about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth. And that's about it when you go to school. I mean, I went to school in Florida, and it was very hard to learn these things, except for the very obvious ones. How many countries have flown their flags over Florida throughout its history?

James Clark  2:13  
Well, it depends how you count: the British, the Spanish, the French and the United States. But we've had lots of pirate flags flown over the United States. Yeah, at one time, pirate seize what's  Amelia Island. We had the Lone Star flag, Texas stole the Lone Star flag. It flew over West Florida, when it was an independent nation briefly around 1810. We have had almost unlimited flags. And of course, the Confederate flag in its various versions flew over Florida for four years.

Lea Lane  2:13  
Wow. It sounds like we've got more flags than almost any other state.

James Clark  2:52  
We're right up there. Yeah. There are a couple others that have a few more, but not many.

Lea Lane  2:58  
Well, could you just give us two of your favorite Florida historic sites that a traveler should not miss

James Clark  3:03  
One is almost impossible to get to. But it is the adventure of a lifetime. On the tip of the Dry Tortugas. The US government in the mid 1800s built Fort Jefferson which is a waste of time as a fort. It was never used. It was outdated before it was even finished. But it is a wonder down there; it's almost impossible to get to. You either have to take a boat or a seaplane but it is a great adventure to see this fort at the end of the United States. The other one is right there and it's the Deering estate. This again, I don't know if you've been there, but

Lea Lane  3:44  
I am in Miami. So yes, I have it's right here in Miami.

James Clark  3:48  
in South Florida don't know about it. It is such a great house. You know Lea, most of the grand mansions were on Miami Beach. And of course they gave way to hotels. The Harvey Firestone mansion is now the Fontainebleau hotel. And so there just aren't many of these grand 1920s homes. And this is probably the best example and it's right there. And you can go seven days a week.

Lea Lane  4:15  
Absolutely. And another one that's more known is Viszcaya of course, nearby -- maybe a mile away or so. So yes, absolutely. So much to talk about. The book is A History Lover's Guide to Florida, and we have information in the show notes, so you can dig deeper and find out more of the fascinating history of Florida. Thank you so much James Clark for sharing just a bit of it with us.

James Clark  4:37  
Thank you very much.

Lea Lane  4:39  
Manatees are sometimes called the elephants of the sea and like elephants they are gentle giants, except they hang out underwater in Florida. Award-winning journalist Craig Pittman has written Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida's most famous endangered species. Welcome to Places I Remember. Thanks. Well first tell us about manatees and why they're so beloved. 

Craig Pittman  5:03  
Manatees are these really big I mean, they're the size of the size of your couch or Volkswagen species that you know, I call them the endangered species that you can see every day because they hang out at your backyard dock or sea walls. People see him at the beach and so forth. Unlike, say panthers, which are very elusive and mysterious. Manatees are right there. People love to -- they're not supposed to do this -- but they love to go up to them and pet them and they're just a very appealing species. They don't really have any enemies except us or speeding boats. I call them nature's hippies. 

They're hippos, not hippies, right.

You know, because they're, they're all about peace and love. And they're vegetarians. Tell us what they look like. You know, they're gray, they have kind of a stubby snout. They have flippers, they're shap sort of resembles a yam.

Lea Lane  5:51  
They're shaped by committee kinda. 

Craig Pittman  5:52  
Yeah, exactly. But you know, they live their entire lives in the water. They surface about every five minutes, take a breath, because they are marine mammals like dolphins, they play a pretty significant role in spreading seagrass, because that's what they eat. And so they help to spread the seeds for the seagrass. How long they live? Their closest evolutionary relative is the elephant so they can live as long as an elephant does in the wild, which is about 80 years. We had one, Snooty, in captivity who lived 69 years.

 So yeah, well, why are manatees endangered?

They were put on the original endangered species list back in 1967. Not because of their numbers because you know, they're hard to count they live in the water, but because of the threats that they face, waterfront development wipes out their habitat. Speeding boats clobber them on a regular basis. Virtually every manatee has scars from being hit by boats; changes in water quality can affect them as well. You know, pesticides or water pollution really hurt them. In fact, we had a big manatee die off last year, more than 1000 of them died from starvation because pollution fed toxic algae blooms that wiped out the seagrass that they eat.

Lea Lane  6:58  
So what can tourists do to protect and enable manatees?

Craig Pittman  7:02  
Anything you do to slow down your boat, if you're in a boat, or to watch out for them, when you're on the water, that would be great. And also, you know, go see them; they are definitely worth seeing. Often you find places like Homosassa Springs state park that has manatees that you can see, or there are viewing areas if you're here during cold weather, viewing areas and a lot of the power plants where manatees sort of huddle up for warmth during during the cold weather. And they're definitely worth seeing.

Lea Lane  7:29  
About 20 years ago, I went up near Crystal River. And it was in the winter -- the water was perfectly warm. I don't know if you can still go in there and swim with them. But I was swimming around and a manatee and her calf came by and brushed up against me, and it was really rough and hairy. You could tell it was a mammal. It was really something else. It was one of the most beautiful things I remember about Florida.

Craig Pittman  7:52  
Oh yeah. Crystal River is the only place in America where you can swim with the manatees that were grandfathered in with the endangered species.

Lea Lane  7:58  
So you still can do it. It's really cool to do that. Yeah, that's on the west coast of Florida. It's really special.

Craig Pittman  8:04  
I always joke that Crystal River is the only place in America with a manatee-based economy. They actually have a manatee statue in front of the city hall.

Lea Lane  8:11  
They're wonderful. And it's very interesting to talk about. Thank you, Craig. The book is Manatee Insanity: Inside the War Over Florida's most famous endangered species. 

Craig Pittman  8:23  
Thanks for having me. 

Lea Lane  8:23  
If you follow Places I Remember you know we're fans of green travel. And Florida holds an important place at the beginning of the American conservation movement. Conservationist Clay Henderson is author of Forces of Nature:  A History of Florida Land Conservation. Welcome Clay to Places I Remember. 

Clay Henderson  8:42  
Happy to be here. 

Lea Lane  8:43  
Well, among many conservation positions you served as president of the Florida Audubon Society. I'm just curious what are some of your favorite Florida birds?

Clay Henderson  8:53  
Oh my Well, I'm a birder from way back. And of course I love Rosiet Spoonbills, but probably among my favorites are the swallowtail kites, which breed in Central Florida. And of course, the Scrub Jay, which is the only bird that only lives in Florida.

Lea Lane  9:07  
Could you describe the roseate spoonbill to people who don't know what it looks like?

Clay Henderson  9:12  
Well, when most people from out of state tourists see a spoon bill, they assume it's a flamingo, because it's a bright pink wading bird. But it's a little bit different. It's pink, but it has a spoon bill, a very flat bill where it gets a little critters out of the water with that great little spoon device.

Lea Lane  9:31  
It's so much fun to drive along Alligator Alley going across the state. And sometimes you'll see these beautiful birds on the side of the road, and you don't know what they are sometimes, but the roseate spoonbill is okay. Well, Florida offers several units at the National Park System, nearly 30 national wildlife refuges and one of the best state park systems in the country. Besides the Everglades, will you give us maybe three of your favorite natural sites for travelers to visit and why?

Clay Henderson  9:56  
Sure, I mean Everglades is right up there because it's one of the great national parks. Just down the road are the Florida Keys and the third largest coral reef ecosystem in the world. There's no other place in the United States quite like the Keys and Key West. The Florida Panhandle. 1000 miles north has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And in Central Florida, we have the St. Johns River and and you can close your eyes and or open your eyes and look at some of the parts of the St. John's and thank you're right in Africa. You don't have to leave Florida to have that experience.

Lea Lane  10:35  
Absolutely. I think the springs are an under appreciated part of Florida. There are, I think the greatest concentration in the world, correct?

Clay Henderson  10:43  
That's correct. The largest number of first-magnitude springs

Lea Lane  10:46  
Clear. They're clear and warm and just wonderful to tube on or to go swimming, and they're up around Gainesville, Florida. 

Clay Henderson  10:53  
I know that it's also the best place to see a manatee. The manatees frequent places like Blue Springs in the wintertime. In cold days, in the winter, you may be able to see 500 manatees in Blue Springs.

Lea Lane  11:08  
Now what can tourists do to join you and help defending Florida's natural wonders?

Clay Henderson  11:13  
Well, I would say the best thing that anybody can do to get involved is to join one of the national conservation organizations and two of the finest have great places in Florida. National Audubon Society has the corkscrew swamp sanctuary over near Naples. It's a wonderful place. The Nature Conservancy has a place in central Florida called the Disney Wilderness Preserve. Go and visit it, learn about the Florida ecosystem. Join a great organization and also look for some volunteer opportunities. Come down and plant some mangroves or create an oyster bar reef.

Lea Lane  11:46  
Sounds like fun.

Clay Henderson  11:48  
There are. With a little research you can find a volunteer opportunity to restore Florida's environment somewhere near you.

Lea Lane  11:55  
Well, your book is Forces of Nature, A History of Florida Land Conservation. Thank you for all your environmental work, Clay and the information will be in the show notes. Thanks. Thank you. 

The book Everglades National Park is part of the Images of America series, an informative book with text and photos. Authors are James Cushman and Kirsten Hinds. Welcome to Places I Remember. (Thank you.) Most of us know the vast, mysterious tropical wilderness on the edge of South Florida called the Everglades. When I was growing up, I thought it was a swamp. But we didn't know much back then. Tell us a bit about the topography and the history of the Everglades.

James Cushman  12:33  
Well, the Everglades history is fascinating. And it goes back about 5000 years. In fact, think about the glaciers melting, sea level rising slowly over 1000s of years. But a couple of 1000 years ago, sea level slowed down. And that allowed the water in this very flat South Florida to begin backing up and develop this peatland, this giant marsh that originally was 100 miles long and 50 miles wide. And it covers most of South Florida other than the high ground along the coast. So what is left -- about half of it is left now -- and that's the Everglades we know.

Lea Lane  13:07  
You know, when you fly over it, you look at it and it looks like grass, but then you see the reflection of the clouds and you realize it's a river of grass, as many of called it -- it's water. And it's fascinating just to see it. Most of us who fly into Florida come over it. And you can look at it and see the vastness of it. What are some of the tribes that have lived there?

James Cushman  13:27  
So the story of the digitus people is fascinating because we dug fairly deeply into this issue. As I mentioned that the Everglades is 5000 years old, but there's evidence of humans in South Florida, indigenous people 10,000 years ago. So people were in the place that's now the Everglades 5000 years before there was even an Everglades. And every tree island that's been thoroughly studied shows evidence of these indigenous people. So the Everglades evolved over time under the influence and with people living in it. So people are not a new thing to the Everglades, although we're much more devastating than the indigenous people. When the Spanish arrived early 1500s, they encountered cultures that they called Calusa, to Tequesta, Muspa, Miami, and these were  primarily coastal people who were hunter gatherer; they didn't need to farm but they also occupied the the Everglades. And they did that for the 300 years of Spanish occupation of Florida until the Spanish gave Florida back to British, and by that time, all the indigenous people had died off or or been killed.

Kirsten Hinds  14:37  
With your analogy of flying over and looking down in the Everglades and seeing the water coming through. The other thing that you can see are these tree islands, these upland forests, and those would have been the sites that the indigenous people lived on. So it's another feature that you can actually really appreciate as you're flying in. 

Lea Lane  14:54  
Interesting. You know, we think about the Everglades, we think about gators Of course, there's a bird, well, the egret, and I know it has something to do with jumpstarting the movement to save the Everglades as a park and the wetlands parts. Tell me about why..

Kirsten Hinds  15:08  
So egrets and there are other wading birds as well that have wading populations in the Everglades. But the egrets of course were really coveted, because their breathing feathers are beautiful, these white, very filmy, very pretty feathers, and they were being collected for the fashion industry. And at that time, there wasn't a whole lot of ways to make money in South Florida. And so hunting these egrets and other wading birds with beautiful feathers became the main industry really. And this was, of course, devastating to the bird populations. And conservationists who were concerned about that started, you know, trying to raise awareness. And so National Audubon, this was an issue that that was on their radar trying to oppose the fashion industry and protect these birds. And so they started hiring wardens, all around areas that had these rookeries and South Florida. Of course, the Everglades has many of those rookeries or had many of those rookeries. And so they hired Guy Bradley who was living in Flamingo at the time; he was a pioneer who had moved down there, and they were living there and he was the warden and in trying to protect the colonies in South Florida, around the Everglades, he was killed by poachers. And that really brought national awareness to the Everglades to the birds that were there and to this cause, and was really one of the things that kick started the movement to protect the park.

Lea Lane  16:34  
I think it was in 1947 that it became a national park, is that correct?

James Cushman  16:39  
That's right. And the journey from egrets to a national park took about 40 years. And it began with protecting a very special hammock, called Royal Palm Hammock. From that kernel of a hammock a campaign evolved to save more of South Florida and more of the Everglades. Saving that hammock that became a rural state park is an interesting story, because it involves really the beginning of the conservation movement in South Florida.

Kirsten Hinds  17:07  
I'm partial to this story because I feel like women often don't get documented well in history. But this story really celebrates women and what they've done and kind of the point that women began the conservation movement in South Florida. And so a woman named Mary Barr Munroe she lived in Coconut Grove, and she was very active in all things conservation wise and and community oriented as well. As she founded the Audubon Society of Coconut Grove at the time. And she was one that would walk around town. And if she saw women wearing feathers in their hat, she would rip them off their heads. But she's the one that learned that they were getting ready to put a road through this really valuable, beautiful tropical hammock that had these beautiful palms, Royal Palms, that really only occur in a couple of spots in South Florida and Cuba. And that's it, and also lots of orchids. And so this was really celebrated for its botany, that was really unique and special. And so when she caught wind of this, she was like, we're going to do something about this. And so she reached out to May Jennings, who was the former governor's wife, and a wonderful politician in her own right. And they together, recruited the Federation of Florida Women's Clubs, and passed legislation to get this state park protected. And then they were given no money to do this. So for the next 30 years that they managed this park, they raised the funds to keep it going. And that really was the first part that got protected and saving. That was the thing that made people think more broadly, like well, maybe we can do more. That little hammock is still there. That's Anhinga Trail, and the ranch on the trail that goes right next to it. So you can still go visit the very, very beginning of Everglades National Park. 

Lea Lane  18:42  
Very interesting. I know we're still working to save it. There have been many times it has been threatened. And people fought back, industries have tried to get in there and growth of Miami and so forth have come at the edges of it. But we have to work hard to save it. It really is a one-of- a-kind thing on this earth. I live right by it. And I really appreciate that you wrote this book, Everglades National Park. And thank you so much for continuing publicizing it. It's a treasure, and I hope everyone reads about it. Thank you. Thank you. 

Mark Potter was a correspondent for ABC News, CNN and NBC in Miami. He has created Sunrise: A Photographic Journey of Comfort, Feeling and Inspiration. Welcome Mark to Places I Remember.

Mark Potter  19:27  
Thank you. It's nice to be here.

Lea Lane  19:29  
Well, you call the Florida sunrise, one of the best light shows on all of planet Earth. What makes it so special?

Mark Potter  19:36  
Well, I stand by that. As a network correspondent traveling all around I saw sunrises everywhere throughout the hemisphere and other parts of the world and they were lovely. But I think that the tropical sunrise is right up there at the top because of a number of factors. We have this rich humid air, the sun is low to the equator. It's bright, and when the atmospherics are just right, and that sun's coming up and the clouds are right, we get a kaleidoscope of colors that sometimes just explode. But what really add to the tropical sunrises is the fact that we're surrounded by water. In other words, we're surrounded by mirrors. And those mirrors reflect what's going on in the sky. And when you've got a magical scene going on, you get it from top to bottom, right to left, and it's like a Technicolor movie. And the water gets squished flat down here, often, especially in the summer. And it's extraordinary unlike any other place, and I can't imagine anyone wanting to sleep in and miss it.

Lea Lane  20:35  
I know you're talking mainly south Florida, where you get the more humid air. I happen to be lucky -- my bedroom window is overlooking the sunrise, Biscayne Bay, and I know exactly what you're talking about. You feel like you want a chorus to come along with it. It's like a wonderful, wonderful way to have a day and and your book is just filled with beautiful sunrises of all kinds and lots of reflections. Tell me about what you call Magic Time and how you photograph the sunrises? 

Mark Potter  21:06  
Well, magic time is a name that I gave to that one hour, it's just an hour between total darkness and when the sun comes up. Lots of changes occur within that hour. It's pretty dramatic. So you go from darkness to light, light blue, light gray, and then you get some pastels. And soon they start to build. And then you get this explosion of color before the sunrise. That's when the the real color is but when the sun approaches the horizon, then you'll get rays coming up, they bounce up in the atmosphere and go the other way and a new set of rays come up behind you. It's incredible. And then when the sun itself comes up, that's another treat. So you've got all of this going on in one hour. And it's magic time and the way you photograph it is -- you're busy. If you're shooting in manual on your camera, that means you're changing your settings every minute or so because the light changes are dramatic. It's a great way to teach photography, have your students shoot sunrises. They're going to be doing a lot in that hour.

Lea Lane  22:03  
Absolutely. And it's free. All you have to do is as you say, open your window. A lot of people close their blinds or close their drapes; they don't see this and it's big. If you're traveling to Florida, keep them open. You can always use a mask or something but it's not to miss. Now tell us why you decided to photograph sunrises and not sunsets.

Mark Potter  22:23  
The reason that I started photographing sunrises on a daily basis is because I was doing this as a cancer caregiver. I started this, I was a caregiver for my wife, Judith Potter who was diagnosed with high stage ovarian cancer right after I retired from my newspaper, a month later, after she had just retired from her teaching career. And we went into a three-year cancer battle. I started having difficulty dealing with that emotionally as she was also having her physical and emotional problems. And she said to me, if you're going to survive this, you need to get out get away from cancer for a little bit each day. And that's when I followed her lead and with her suggestion to go back to something I had started earlier, which was sunrise photograph. The only time I had was in the morning, I checked with her, I'd make a pot of coffee, I'd leave the house, I'd go to a park near the house. I could be reached and get home quickly if I needed to. And then I started shooting and I would come back and be done by eight o'clock with editing and everything and then begin a long Cancer Day, sometimes 14 hours. And it also just turned out that the sunrise itself was good for me. And the warmth of the sun. And the symbolism of the sunrise helped me a lot. You know,  it's a new beginning, it's a chance to start over, a chance to reflect you know, its redemption, strength, all of these things occurring at once and they helped, all those things helped me too. So the sunrise turned out to be a miraculous thing. And it was out there that I met other photographers who began to teach me what to do. And over time after my wife passed away, after our three-year battle, I started spreading out and doing sunsets, wildlife and other things which are also in the book. But it's the sunrise is where it all began and where my heart still is.

Lea Lane  24:05  
Well, it's beautiful. I will thank you and Judith, for giving us this beautiful book. And thank you for sharing your personal story and your inspiration in Sunrise: A Photographic Journey of Comfort, Healing and Inspiration. 

Mark Potter  24:19  
Thank you, Lee. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

Lea Lane  24:22  
Thanks again to all of our authors. You can find their book links in the episodes show notes. Florida holds many surprises besides sun and fun. So dig deep wherever you travel to explore history and enjoy our world's natural beauty. My book, Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 countries is available in print, Kindle, and I read the audio version. You can follow me on where I write five travel posts a month. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. And I'd love to hear from you on any of my links in the episode's show notes, or on my website, Until next time make some travel memories.

A History Lovers Guide to Florida, author James Clark
Award-winning journalist Craig Pittman: Manatee Insanity: Inside the War over Florida's most famous endangered species.
Conservationist Clay Henderson, author of Forces of Nature: A History of Florida Land Conservation.
Everglades National Park is part of the Images of America series, an informative book with text and photos. Authors are James Cushman and Kirsten Hinds.
Mark Potter was a correspondent for ABC News, CNN and NBC in Miami. He has created Sunrise: A Photographic Journey of Comfort, Feeling and Inspiration.