A Natural Sanctuary in A National Forest

After leaving my previous job and ending the chapter, it was time for another adventure. But I wanted this adventure to be a special one to celebrate Earth Day. Not to mention that my overworked hands and feet needed some TLC and I longed to dip them into a more… natural source of water.

So I packed a bag and drove off in search of a hidden sanctuary within a preserved, protected environment. The drive was long and intense at certain points, but I was eventually rewarded with the discovery of the Osceola National Forest, a large forest preserve nestled away near Lake City, FL. This was found by me driving past it, but I knew that I had to turn around and see what this place had in store for my senses.

Upon driving past the entrance and through a roundabout, I arrived into a spacious park-like setting accompanied by an enormous parking lot that had not one car or truck in sight. Hundreds of towering trees encased the area with their branches, but the midday sunlight refused to be shielded away and managed to poke itself through several gaps from the branches above. The park itself was littered with pairs of aging metal tables and charcoal pits for barbecuing. Weathered, wooden benches were located in certain spots for visitors to sit and rest their feet, if there were any. There was also a large building under the shade of some large trees that housed the park’s bathrooms and showers.

But what grabbed my attention immediately was the path leading to a mini-beach area overlooking a large lake stretching as far as my eyes could capture. The weather was fair with large stratus clouds floating by and the water was calm, almost still save for the occasional breeze that would send ripples across the surface.

I grabbed my bag and a towel from the car and trotted over to the beach area, eager to feel the water against my skin. At the beach’s entrance, I spotted a large brown sign in the distance that listed a simple warning to newcomers:

NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY. SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.

None of this mattered to me as I has not planned on submerging my entire petite frame into the lake, just my hands and feet. Yet the thought tempted me as I sat my things down on a wooden bench and slipped off my sandals.

The water felt cool against my skin as I moved forward, but my feet and ankles adjusted quickly and I maneuvered slowly, allowing my small feet to sink into the embrace of the wet sand beneath. A few times I bent down to either cup some water in my hands and frown at the yellowish-brown color or to grab handfuls of wet sand to run through my fingers. The only sounds providing me company were the chirping of grasshoppers and the buzzing of flies, bumblebees and dragonflies.

Ahhhh… this feels so good right now. The refreshing, yet comforting water, the fair weather with the sun and the clouds lazily floating by, the gentle breeze against my body… It’s like I was called to discover this hidden sanctuary and enjoy it all to myself.

I waddled in the shallow end for another moment before departing the water to dry my feet and hands off with my towel. Once carefully seated in the wooden bench where my things were, I emptied my thoughts, feelings and worries into a notebook I packed before starting the trip. Only an hour had passed, but it felt longer with everything I spilled onto the notebook’s pages. How I felt about leaving my job, the upcoming seasonal job I accepted, how to let others know about me choosing to move out of the state… it all flowed out through my fingers as I wrote.

For weeks, I’ve felt unsafe about telling my feelings to anyone and I felt trapped in a state of trying to keep a low profile for the sake of letting others leave me be. Being here, it felt safe and peaceful for me to relax and let everything out. I smiled in gratitude of finding such a place like this.

Once finished, I dipped my hands and feet into the lake’s waters for one last treatment before packing up everything, capturing some photos with my two toy cameras and heading back to my car, the only car present in the spacious parking lot. Only time will tell on where I’ll find another silent sanctuary like this.

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