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I love being out in nature…climbing to the tops of hills, hiking through the woods, walking along a sandy ocean shore, or even just taking a tour in my own backyard. Recently, while visiting my sister in Florida, I had an opportunity to visit the Hernando de Soto National Memorial near Bradenton. I went planning to take a stroll through the mangroves, but was struck by its historical significance as well.

I just finished reading a book by Jack E. Davis, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. It reminded me of the many times I have walked the Gulf coast, and it reminded me of my trip to the mangroves at de Soto. There the history buff in me joined forces with the nature lover to learn what I could about de Soto and nature at the gulf shore.

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Hernando de Soto landed on the shore of Tampa Bay at what is now Bradenton, Florida in May of 1539. He came with between nine and eleven ships on which he had loaded somewhere around seven hundred men, two hundred twenty horses, four hundred pigs (yes, that is where all those nasty, nearly uncontrollable, wild boars came from), and about a hundred dogs of war. His purpose for coming to the American continent was for God, glory, and gold. 

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Scattered through the park are placards of the conquistadors that arrived in Florida with Hernando de Soto in 1539.

At the place where the expedition landed they found a Native American village called  Uzita. The men stayed with the natives for a while before moving on in search of riches which would, in turn, bring them power. From Uzita, de Soto and his men would go on to explore areas that are now parts of ten states in the United States, and he would meet many more Native American tribes.

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The de Soto site has a recreated Uzita village.

The legacy of Hernando de Soto in North America is not a good one. He had been tasked with making Christians out of the “heathen” natives. But instead, he mistreated the Native Americans he met. In addition to cruel treatment, he had many natives killed, and forced many others into slavery. His expedition also brought disease to a people who had no immunity to illnesses they had never encountered. Thousands died, and later settlers coming to America, such as the Pilgrims and the settlers of Jamestown found nearly empty villages which had once been occupied by proud native people. He never realized the glory he sought because he never found the gold that would bring him favor and influence.

But there is more to Hernando de Soto National Memorial than the sad story of European exploration in the New World. There is the natural side of the memorial, and that was my favorite side…

Walking the trails through the park, you find yourself in a tropical mangrove forest.



Red Mangroves are tropical trees which grow around the world from 25 degrees S to 25 degrees N, though that might change a bit as climate change deepens. They look more like thick impregnable bushes than trees, but can reach a height of 70 feet and a breadth of 20 feet. They have been around for thousands of years, long before any human set foot on the sandy soil of the Florida intertidal zone.

Mangrove forests are habitat for many coastal animals. They serve as nurseries for young fish, and nesting places for the birds of the Florida coast.

As we began to understand the climate change threats to our planet, we also began to understand how very important these wild, unmanageable trees are to the future of our warming world.

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The mangrove is an edge plant…it lives at the edge of two habitats. in the ecotone. In Florida, mangroves live at the edge where the land meets the salty sea.  They are, in fact, the only tree in the world that can tolerate salt. Mangroves build the coast line, keeping the sand from eternally washing out to sea. There are actually tiny islands out in the Gulf that are nothing more than large clumps of mangrove forest. They can hold back storm surge, and they can break large waves as they crash into shore. You might say they are a natural sea wall! 

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These thick and tangled mangrove roots hold the coastal soil in place. They are important in alleviating erosion on our rapidly changing coastlines.

But possibly the most important characteristic of a mangrove tree is its ability to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are ten times more effective in storing carbon dioxide than any other tropical forest plant anywhere in the world. They are important to the future of the planet,  yet they have been endangered by the draining of wetlands, and the clearing of land for man-made construction projects.

Efforts have begun in the state of Florida to replant some of the mangroves that have been lost. De Soto park has joined this effort.

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Young mangrove sprouts like the ones above are being planted along the shoreline to help reestablish a healthy forest. I saw many newly planted mangrove trees on my visit. The mangrove plant below is full of brown seeds that produce the root spikes that will fall and float in the water until they find a suitable place to settle and take root.

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The mangrove forest is full of wonderful sights and sounds, and it is important to future generations who will be working to combat a changing climate in a changing world.

Simple Saturday Shrimp

When I think of the Gulf Coast I think of shrimp, and …

Saturdays around our house are often very busy, but just as often they are lazy days of relaxing, watching sports, and reading. On Saturdays it is hard to get me excited about spending a lot of time in the kitchen! One of our favorite Saturday night dinners is Simple Saturday Shrimp. It is easy, and really requires very little in the way of a recipe.

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Place the number of shrimp you will be serving into a baking dish in which the shrimp can lay in a single layer. Make a butter sauce with a quarter cup of melted butter, some minced garlic, salt, pepper, a few red pepper flakes, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Serve with some fresh home-made bread for soaking up all that butter sauce…and enjoy!