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It was 4 a.m. when the dogs began barking from the kennel. They knew it was time to get up and head to Babcock Ranch for the Florida quail hunting youth hunt. It was not going to be an ordinary day. We wearily awoke to quite a chill in the air that made me want to stay snug in my sleeping bag. Then, pots began to clang and bang from the camp house as the volunteers got breakfast on the table. Buttermilk biscuits and gravy were on the menu before sending us out into the wilderness.
Babcock Ranch is located in South Florida. It is part of 65,000 plus acres managed by the State of Florida. The goal is to keep the last stretch of Florida flatwood pine forest alive for generations to come. The Babcocks purchased this property in 1914. For close to one hundred years they raised cattle, farmed, and a host of other industries on the property.
The main portion was kept in an untouched forest. Mr. Babcock loved the beauty of the massive forest and the wildlife habitat that was there. His legacy will live on for generations. In part, Florida recognizes the significance of this land and it is the last large parcel of this type of wood. However, my family was there for the weekend to see how FWC (Florida Wildlife Commission) and Quail Forever host an annual youth quail hunt on the property.
Everyone sauntered into the camp house to fill their bellies before the guides arrived to take us out on the preserve. Nigel, our guide, who was born and raised in Rhodesia, a fascinating man, wanted to leave promptly at 5 a.m. I don’t see 5 a.m. too often. It was cold as we piled in vehicles pulling swamp buggies for our day’s adventure.
Then, at the next location inside the preserve, the buggies were unloaded and engines cranked, and barking dogs were unloaded. The noise was deafening. Next, my family and I climbed on board what looked like an old fashion peddler wagon with 38-inch tires. Curtis, Grant, and I were way up top where we could see everything down below. The five buggies took off and turned down different fire lanes until we were all headed to solitary locations. Nigel drove in quite a ways and then he stopped the buggy and said,
Now this is when we must all be very quiet
Now this is when we must all be very quiet
Finally, as we sat in the cold darkness, the moon fading and stars shining, we began to hear sounds. Then the sounds grew as if a symphony was warming up for a grand performance. For instance, we could distinctly hear more birds, frogs, and other animals join in the chorus of welcoming the morning. Nigel had a satisfied smile on his face. As we looked to the right, we watched the beginnings of the most beautiful sunrise. Now I have seen sunrises, but I have never been in the middle of 65,000 acres of pinewood flats forest and seen the sunrise.
It was magnificent.
The sparse tree line, the saw palmettos and the flitting of birds moving about as the pink, coral, and yellow colors filled the horizon with their beauty.
This was worth the 4 a.m. wake up call.
This morning, for me, it was out of the ordinary. I did not really want to go camp in the swamp with my boys. I had been enjoying my quiet time when they went on adventures. This time, they convinced me I needed to go because their was a story to write. Yes, there was a story, but there was also an awakening in me. My quiet time on weekends was nothing compared to the awesome beauty of what we experienced as a family that weekend.
In the end, even though I am not a hunter, I enjoyed learning about the sport. I met amazing people and I just breathed. I breathed in nature, yes, but I breathed in out of the ordinary. It made me hunger for more. More time with my boys getting dirty and sleeping in tents. If that is what it took to really know what they love. Time to laugh together and be quiet together. That time can be rare if we let it. Quiet time is not everyone on their devices in the same room. It was profound quiet. Contemplating life and taking in all that we saw quietly.
How about you? Have you stepped out of the ordinary and taken in something wonderful with your family? Do it. Start with a simple family walk, unplugged. Take opportunities that you might not have before. See your children in a completely different element and experience it, fully.