Monday, February 16, 2009

Venetian Gardens and the Purple Gallinule

I recently purchased a Standard Oil map of Florida from 1955 and the back has pictorial representations of all the attractions and features of the state superimposed on our state's familiar peninsula. It was created in the days before the interstate and two of the major US highways used at that time, US 27 and US 441 intersect in Leesburg. The illustration used to identify Leesburg is the iconic leapin' largemouth bass as this town in Lake County is in the middle of the Harris chain of lakes near both Lake Harris and Lake Griffin and was known for great fishing.

Venetian Gardens is a WPA created public space on a spur of Lake Harris close to Leesburg's little downtown. Through the creation of a series of canals and graceful bridges spanning these canals, the New Deal workers made a park that is ideal for a leisurely stroll or some productive fishing. The bones of the work started in 1938 are still evident today and my family spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon there, despite the persistence of an ugly cold front.

Unfortunately, Lake Harris is polluted by its neighbor to the south, Lake Apopka. At the public boat ramp in broad view are signs warning against fishing and swimming and explaining the dangers of algae present the water. Despite the warnings, fisherman were prolific, along the canals and in the cove the park is located on.

Bird life added color to the drab day we visited, from Canadian Geese to the Purple Gallinule. Similar in appearance to a Moorhen, the Gallinule has giant oversized yellow feet, a body that gradiates from blueish purple to blueish green and a bright red beak. Before yesterday, I had only seen this amazing bird one time previously on Lake Griffin just to the north. At Venetian Gardens they seem to be everywhere.

In this little part of Florida, it is possible to forget about the sprawl that is spreading throughout the rest of Lake County and imagine yourself living in a simpler state. Only those damn signs at the boat ramps serve as reminders that just beneath the surface, things are not as they appear.

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