Ocala Style | April 2023

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Bird Watching ULTRA

APR ‘23
ANIMAL sue the


Amazing property

30+/- Acres close to WEC, HITS and The Florida Horse Park. Bring your horses! Centrally located with easy access to State Road 200. Southern style home has 3,900+ square feet of living area with 3 bedrooms and 4 baths. Everything you need, including formal dining room, large chef’s kitchen with expansive island overlooking gathering areas, attached sitting room, family room with fireplace plus French doors leading to the lanai and screen enclosed pool area. Additional upgrades include smart house system, upgraded security system and new HVAC units in main home. Equestrians will enjoy the 5-stall stable overhead storage area plus equipment/storage room. There are 10 paddocks of various sizes, with run-in sheds and automatic waterers. There are two 2-bedroom/2-bath guest/employee houses.

Impeccable 4-bedroom plus office home encompassing 3,700 +/- square feet with stunning natural light and beautiful French Oak hand scraped wood floors. The foyer invites you into an open formal dining room, a butler’s bar with ice machine, and refrigerator. Living room features wood burning fireplace and expansive stacking/sliding glass doors that lead to the lanai. The gourmet kitchen offers a center island, quartz countertops and a separate raised bar with seating for six, which opens to the family room. The spacious owner’s suite has a sitting area, luxurious bath and expansive walkin closet. The triple-split floor plan, with large bedrooms, allows for the privacy of guests. Legendary Trails is a gated community close to the Santos Trailhead, which are great for hiking and biking.

Our results speak for themselves.

List with Joan today!

Legendary Trails

$3,750,000 $1,100,000

Country Club Farms

Prestigious 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath home in gated Country Club Farms on 4.55 +/- acres of equine friendly property. The home features a formal living and dining room, breakfast nook overlooking pool, office, theater room, laundry room and 2 bedrooms on the main floor. The expansive master suite with en suite bath features a walk-in shower, dual vanities and expansive closets with built-ins. The second floor has 3 bedrooms, each with a private balcony. Enjoy evenings poolside in your 2-story screen enclosed pool and lanai area with brick pavers. There is plenty of parking area under the porte-cochère for easy access to kitchen or in the detached 4-car garage. Separate 1-bedroom, 1-bath, perfect for guests or a gym. The property is zoned A-3 and just minutes from the Florida Greenways and Trails.


5+/- acres in Turning Hawk Ranches. This is a gated community where horses are permitted and you have access to the Florida Greenways and Trails for riding, hiking, biking and strolling for miles in the shade under live oak canopies. You are also close to the Florida Horse Park, WEC and city conveniences. A formal living room has gorgeous views of the property and dining room. The beautifully designed kitchen boasts custom maple cabinetry, an expansive island, eat-in-kitchen and large windows that allow for views of the property. The kitchen opens to the family room. The spacious owner’s suite has a luxurious bath and expansive closet. The office/study has built-in custom cabinetry. The theater/media room provides extra space for family fun or hobbies. The home offers a split bedroom plan, with three additional en suite bedrooms. The private backyard offers lush mature landscaping.


Turning Hawk Ranches

The Lakes of Lady Lake

Pecan Hill Farm

This amazing, renovated home is located in The Lakes of Lady Lake community and overlooks the golf course. As you enter the home you are surrounded with vaulted ceilings, natural light and luxury finishes. Living area offers an open floor plan, which opens to family room, dining area and kitchen with stainless steel appliances. A chef ’s kitchen is equipped with custom-built cabinets and a large center island perfect for entertaining family and friends. The home has been completely renovated with countless upgrades and features 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms plus flex space that is currently being used as an office/exercise area. The primary suite offers a sitting area and spacious bath. The back screen enclosed porch allows for beautiful views of the golf course. Roof and A/C both updated in 2022.

What should you expect working with Joan Pletcher?

Expect an unparalleled combination of professionalism, integrity and relentless commitment to her client’s unique needs, interests, and desires.

Joan is a residential, equine property and land development REALTOR® since 1985 and a horsewoman herself so her clients have the benefit of experience and specialized expertise.

“The Ocala region is home to the most beautiful equestrian estates and horse farms in the United States and the natural beauty of the area, along with an amazing variety of equine-centered activities and venues, such as the phenomenal new World Equestrian Center, makes this a place that more and more people want to call home,” says Joan.

Call or Text: 352.266.9100 | 352.804.8989 | joan@joanpletcher.com | joanpletcher.com
Just Reduced $499,000

umans can draw important lessons from animals about how to savor the moment, listen to our instincts and not take ourselves too seriously. These lessons are vital to our happiness and, I’d say, animals are too.

I’ve recently made friends with a couple of bird watchers who have regaled me with stories of looking for birds. They’ve described their network of “birders,” who excitedly reach out to tell the others they should converge on someone’s yard where a particular bird was sited. And so, they do—and they wait—everyone standing or sitting quietly for hours in hopes of seeing a particular species.

The pursuit seems so simple, yet it reflects the patience and purity of spirit I long to see more of in humankind and myself.

Now, when I pass a house surrounded by a lot of vehicles, but otherwise quiet, I wonder if there is a special bird in the backyard and it gives me a smile.

In this issue, we share the artwork of Mindy Lighthipe, who takes her wildlife excursions to the next level by bringing animals to life on canvas. It’s Mindy’s burrowing owl that graces our cover and we thank her for the honor of sharing it with us.

Our feature on expert birder Tom Hince relates his fascinating background, including with the “Discovery Channel,” and how he became Marion Audubon’s Marion County Big Year winner after identifying a total of 251 species in 2021.

With the recent passing of canine Molly, ambassador of the Marion County Animal Abuser Registry, it warmed our team’s heart to speak with Nilda Comas, in her studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, where she is sculpting the late beloved canine from a block of marble from the caves in which Michelangelo sourced his raw materials.

For equine enthusiasts, we bring you a story about Maritime Traveler, a local living link to the legendary thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat.

Cat lover and avid gardener Belea Keeney shares her experiences with fostering felines and offers tips for how to attract wildlife to your backyard.

Scott Mitchell offers a take on some of the hidden wildlife in our county, such as pocket gophers, big-claw river shrimp, American eels and Eastern whip-poor-wills.

And our resident foodie, Jill Paglia, gets in on the action with a memory about a bird that hitched a ride during an excursion of her professional fishing team in the Keys.

Everyone needs a good animal story. If you don’t have one yet, we hope this issue encourages you to pursue your own.

Publisher’s Note


Retire in style. Whether it’s fine dining and luxury spa experiences or endless events and personalized care you’re seeking, our luxury senior living communities allow you to thrive.

This is HarborChase. Come celebrate with us.

WILDWOOD (352) 251-0418

VILLAGES CROSSING ( 352) 987-8511

GAINESVILLE ( 352) 661-2650

Publisher | Jennifer Hunt Murty jennifer@magnoliamediaco.com

Magnolia Media Company, LLC (352) 732-0073

PO Box 188, Ocala, FL 34478



Amy Harbert amy@magnoliamediaco.com


Bruce Ackerman

Ann Deluco Dyer

Eighteenth Hour Photography

Julie Garisto

Meagan Gumpert

Kathi Hince

Tom Hince

Belea Keeney

Scott Mitchell

Paige Mercer Photography

Tom Murray


Mindy Lighthipe

Jordan Shapot

David Vallejo


Cheryl Specht cheryl@magnoliamediaco.com






Susan Smiley-Height susan@magnoliamediaco.com


Nick Steele nick@magnoliamediaco.com


Greg Hamilton greg@magnoliamediaco.com


Julie Garisto

JoAnn Guidry

Carole Savage-Hagans

Belea Keeney

Scott Mitchell

Jill Paglia

Dave Schlenker

Beth Whitehead


Evelyn Anderson evelyn@magnoliamediaco.com

Ron Eddy ron@magnoliamediaco.com

D istribution

Rick Shaw

Explore Luxury Senior Living at HarborChase

Respect, Rehabilitation and Release When Possible


Forest Animal Rescue (FAR) has a stellar reputation as a true accredited sanctuary that provides lifetime care for non-releasable animals such as their wild cats, primates, bats, and more, and also for its work to rehabilitate and release black bears in cooperation with state authorities. A lesser-known program is FAR’s work with wildlife rehabilitators to safely release animals that cannot be returned to where they were found.

The nonprofit, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is headquartered in Silver Springs, which is where the permanent residents live out their lives and where the bears are cared for until they are returned to state biologists for release on state property or other approved places. FAR has other parcels of property that are used for native wildlife release.

“We recently purchased another 20 acres in Marion County for wildlife release,” shares FAR Vice President and Co-Founder Lisa Stoner. “We restore the habitat on the property, protect it from development and use it to work with local wildlife rehabilitators. These animals are mostly deer, squirrels, birds and reptiles, but it’s a little bit of everything that is already native to that property.”

She says wildlife rehabbers from all over the state have animals that have been restored to health and are ready for release and, ideally, the animals are put back where they are found, “but a lot of time they are found in a parking lot or an inappropriate place and so they need private property to release them on because they are not allowed to release them on government land. And private property that gives permission for people to release wildlife is not always easy to come by. We have private land,

and it is bordered by National Forest. It is very important for these animals to remain wild with extremely limited human interaction.”

One way people with a heart for wildlife can help FAR is by working on habitat restoration.

“Typically, we’re buying land bordered by private property, and we have to manually restore the habitat by clearing underbrush and removing exotic plants,” Stoner notes. “We need help clearing invasive plants, trimming trees and maintaining the native property.”

The rescue relies on donations of muscle and money and there are many ways people can give. FAR is not open to the public, for example, but guided tours are offered twice a month. The cost is $50 per person and up to six people can be accommodated. “And we are always looking for help from those with skilled trades, such as electricians and plumbers,” Stoner notes.

“People can do a lot of things on our website,” she adds. “We have a wish list. You can shop online to benefit the sanctuary, take advantage of $5 Fridays, and even set up perpetual giving, which greatly helps sustain our efforts.”

To learn more about FAR’s mission and programs, go to forestanimalrescue.org or follow them on social media.

Animal Rescue is dedicated to meeting the needs of all wildlife, whether the animal is non-releasable or can be restored to health and returned to the wild.


Mindy Lighthipe is a natural science and nature artist/illustrator and educator.


Expert birder Tom Hince has created an enduring connection with the avian world.


Nilda Comas is sculpting a statue of the Marion County Animal Abuser Registry ambassador.



There are many local connections to the 1973 Triple Crown winner, including Maritime Traveler.



As an award-winning lady angler, foodie Jill Paglia takes nutrition and hydration seriously.

in this issue



Morgan L. Cable, Ph.D., a research scientist with NASA, will speak at IHMC on April 20th.



Perpetual Care helps pet owners with estate plans that include their beloved animals.



Being a foster to a homeless animal can fill your heart and theirs with love and trust.


Carole Savage-Hagans shares her favorite things.



The pocket gopher is just one example.


Rigby Floyd helps with Dave and Amy’s empty nest.


It can be fun to entice critters into your yard and you may help save them in the process.

ON THE COVER: Burrowing owl illustration by Mindy Lighthipe
26 42 50
This page: Top, by Bruce Ackerman, middle, by Tom Hince Bottom, by Patricia McQueen


tell it in




A chance to highlight women business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders in their field or your female-led business. The advertorial will run in our print issue, but also on our website and on our digital magazine platform, so it has staying power long beyond the 30-day magazine shelf life. We also support it through targeted online ads, search engine optimization and six social media posts to ensure it gets great exposure.


This advertorial package will highlight men who are making an impact, from business leaders and innovators to community advocates and influencers. It will run in our print issue and also on our website and digital magazine platform, so it has staying power long beyond the 30-day magazine shelf life. We also support it through targeted online ads, search engine optimization and six social media posts to ensure it gets great exposure.


Host your next event on the grounds of our beautiful Vintage Farm. Weddings, Corporate Events, Reunions and More Ŋ CF.edu/VintageBarn Æ 352-291-4441 º VintageBarn@cf.edu –an equal opportunity college–Rustic charm for your most memorable events Rustic charm for your most memorable events Our professional team is ready to assist you in planning your next event. For packages, amenities and booking information, visit CF.edu/VintageBarn Conference Services


Social Scene

Photo by Bruce Ackerman Naida and Frank Rasbury and Dr. Tony Deiorio were among the more than 300 attendees at the Community Foundation for Ocala/Marion County’s inaugural Inspire Gala, held March 3rd at Hilton Ocala.

Inspire Gala

The Community Foundation for Ocala/ Marion County’s Inspire Gala on March 3rd honored the Youth Philanthropist of the Year, Nonprofit of the Year, Emerging Nonprofit, Nonprofit Board Member of the Year, Corporate Partner of the Year, Unsung Hero and Philanthropist of the Year.

10 ocalastyle.com
Photos by Bruce Ackerman Bernadette Castro, Laurie Zink, Lauren Deiorio and Jaye Baillie Jeanne, Juliana and Jim Henningsen Ryan and Kait Gray Ashley Wheeler-Gerds and Lauren Deiorio Caleb and Luke Lombardo Robert Reilly, Frank Hennessey and Bill Nassal

Hello Ocala Pet Owners,

As the owner and head veterinarian of Maricamp Animal Hospital we are so grateful to serve 4,000 Ocala families and their precious fur babies! Our team takes great pride and joy to educate pet owners and give them peace of mind that their pet will get the highest quality of care. There is an undeniable bonding experience that happens when an owner entrusts us with their pet’s care, and we take great pride in that privilege.

If you have not experienced the difference at Maricamp Animal Hospital we invite you to give us a call and speak with one of our pet care specialists.

All new customers will receive 20% their first visit - just mention OcalaStyle

Dr. Katherine O’Brien

A N I M A L H O S P I T A L 20% off first visit for all new customers Call today 352-290-4393

Awards Gala


Photos by Bruce Ackerman

The Howard Academy Community Center Black History Museum Archives Awards Gala on February

24th saw 13 people inducted for unique contributions to the community, along with acknowledgement of an Unsung Hero, Beacon of Light and Honorary Inductee.

Wantanisha Morant, Barbara Brooks, Regas Woods, Theresa Boston-Ellis and Rose Thomas Cynthia Wilson-Graham, Lena Hopkins and Monica Bryant Allison Campbell Jamie Gilmore Jr. and Eddie Rocker Sr. Loretta Jenkins, Harriet Daniels, Chandra Simmons-Grant and Fredna Wilkerson Davida Randolph and Thelma Wright Edwards

CF Night at the Farm


Photos by Bruce Ackerman

Patrons of this year’s festivities enjoyed Cajuninspired small bites and live music. Proceeds from the event will help establish scholarships for students attending the College of Central Florida.

Deborah Waddell, Cheryl Miller, Melissa Cushenbery and Craig Cushenbery Sharon Reyes, Danielle Veenstra and Marissa Brown Christina and Eric Binson Paulette Millhorn and Jim Hilty Cliff Stearns, Joan Stearns, Scott Stearns and Jim Henningsen

Florida SpringsFest

The event, held March 4th and 5th, offered information about history, science and sustainability, and the abundant natural wonders in our region, and featured visits with Capt. Oscar Collins, who has taken thousands of people on glass-bottom boat rides over the years.

Photos by Julie Garisto Danielle and Canada Marsh Guy Marwick Barb Halls and Joe Gardner Capt. Oscar Collins Jim Nichols, Barbara Toeppen-Sprigg, Mary and Craig Baggs and Maryanne Marcoux Dani Lee and Cathy Messersmith

Located in the heart of downtown Ocala, Harry’s offers traditional Louisiana favorites like Shrimp and Scallop Orleans, Crawfish Etouffée, Jambalaya, Shrimp Creole, Blackened Red Fish, Louisiana Gumbo and Garden District Grouper. Other favorites, like French Baked Scallops and Bourbon Street Salmon, are complemented with grilled steaks, chicken, burgers, po’ boy sandwiches and salads. Their full bar features Harry’s Signature Cocktails, such as the Harry’s Hurricane, Bayou Bloody Mary or the Cool Goose Martini. They also feature wines by the glass and a wide selection of imported, domestic and craft beer.

Harry’s Seafood

Bar & Grille

24 SE 1st Avenue, Ocala

(352) 840-0900 › hookedonharrys.com

Mon-Thu 11a-9p › Fri & Sat 11a-10p › Sun 11a-8p

Happy Hour Specials:

2-7p every day

$4 Draft Beer

$5 House Wine & Premium Cocktails

$6 Super Premium & $7 Harry’s Signature Cocktails

Head to El Toreo for the best Mexican food this side of the border! Enjoy all of your favorite traditional Mexican dishes in a friendly and festive atmosphere.


Mondays and Wednesdays, Margaritas are $2

Saturdays, 2 for 1 Margaritas All Day

El Toreo

3790 E Silver Springs Boulevard, Ocala (352) 694-1401 › 7 days 11a-10p

SR 200, Ocala (352) 291-2121 › 7 days 11a-11p

Holiday Buffet | Sunday, April 9

Seating available between 11am - 3pm Reservations required

100% Full Blood Wagyu

Adults: $59

Kids (5-12): $35

Seniors: $54

Live Entertainment by Miranda Madison


Dine-in or take out available
French Baked Scallops
Prime Wagyu Beef
Japanese Lineage USDA Certified
Locally Raised
352-854-1400 or

Greek Festival


Photos by Bruce Ackerman

The 23rd annual event on February 17th-19th featured food, dance, music and fellowship. There also were games, raffles and drawings for door prizes. Proceeds support the community and church ministries. Opa!

Adrianna Conomos, Ecmel Akpalay and Vivian Badami Shawn Treney and Demetra Rucker Anastasia Giannakouros, Bill and Joanne Veglas Simone Poullas and Georgia Phillips
Christy, Alex, Lilly and Logan Jergens

HUGS Charities of Ocala Fundraiser

HUGS encourages Heartfelt

Unconditional Giving to benefit cancer patients through support of the Cancer Alliance of Marion County. The February 23rd event honored Ben Fritz and Gastroenterology Associates of Ocala.

Alan Keesee, Dr. Kevin Klauer, Dr. Jacek Wecowski, Lisa McGuire, Isaiah Zirkle and Dr. Georgios Rossidis Drs. Henry and Aya Olejeme Jennifer and Tom Ingram Kay Raines and Margaret McGuire Tonya Painter, Dr. Steven Bucy, Michelle and Brad Beck Chris Cotter, Amy Roberts and Cindy O’Connor BANK STREET PATIO AND BAR Photos courtesy HUGS
April ‘23 19 The best time to plan your funeral arrangements is before your family needs them. www.RobertsFunerals.com • 606 SW 2nd Ave. Ocala, FL 34471 or sign up for one of our Lunch & Learn seminars Call us to schedule a FREE no-obligation consultation 352-537-8111 paddockmall.com | (352) 237-1223 3100 SW COLLEGE RD., OCALA, FLORIDA eat. shop. play. Call today to schedule an appointment! Medicaid, Medicare, and most major insurances accepted. Sliding Scale for those who qualify. We offer a full range of care for your WHOLE family. Family Practice • Pediatrics • Behavioral Health Podiatry • Dental • Radiology Mobile Dental Services Same-day Appointments Available 7205 SE Maricamp Rd. • Ocala, FL 34472 352.680.7000 Free COVID-19 testing and vaccines Free COVID-19 testing and vaccines

On the Scene

A guide to our favorite monthly happenings and can’t-miss events


Downtown Ocala

April 7

The monthly event features artists, entertainers and more, all around the downtown square. Food and snacks will be available from downtown eateries and vendors. Stores stay open late for shopping. For more info, ocalafl.org


Majestic Oaks Farm, Reddick

April 8

This annual celebration highlights farmland preservation and showcases the value of all kinds of farm activities. A tractor and horse parade starts off the event, which will include entertainment, a farmer’s market, farm animals, arts and crafts vendors, and educational exhibits.

Foodies can enjoy barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream treats, homemade desserts and more. The event is free to attend. Go to bit.ly/3KQqRwx for details.


Downtown Ocala Citizens’ Circle

April 8

This festival will offer beer and wine to sample and purchase, entertainment, a 50/50 raffle, a variety of activities and food trucks. There will be live music and Wind FM is sponsoring a Batt le of the Bands . The Ocala Silver Springs and Ocala Sunset Rotary Clubs sponsor the event and proceeds will benefit Interfaith Emergency Services, Marion County Literacy Council and Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection. Tickets range from $15-$55; some include drink passes. For more info, see brickcitybeerandwinefest.com

20 ocalastyle.com
Farmland Preservation Festival photo by Bruce Ackerman Emery Reddick


Dassance Fine Arts Center

April 13-16

The stage will be transformed into a roller disco when CF Theatre presents Xanadu. The musical is based on the 1980 film, which starred Olivia Newton-John. CF’s production features a cast of 28 students, with an array of goddesses, sirens, stunt skaters and poi dancers. The musical score includes all the hits from the film. Performance times are 7:30pm Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 3pm Sunday. Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for nonCF students and can be purchased by calling (352) 873-5810. Tickets are free for CF students, faculty and staff with valid I.D. For more information, visit CF.edu/ VPAEvents


Webb Field at Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Complex

April 14

This renowned music series returns to Ocala with free weekly concerts through June. The

series offers a variety of musical genres and showcases two artists per show. Admission is free and spectators can bring chairs, blankets and food. Food and drink vendors will be on-site as well. The Ocala Recreation Mobile will present activities for kids. For more info, ocalafl.org/levittamp


Historic District, Dunnellon

April 15

This annual festival celebrates the history of Dunnellon. This year’s event includes a car show, beauty pageant, cowboy shootout and pie-eating contest, plus music from The Jake White Band, Final Note and the Keith Caton Blues Band. Booths will include clothes, jewelry, artwork, paintings, handmade items, food and more. For info, see dunnellonchamber.com


Nassivera Farm, Highway 326

April 15

This fundraiser for the Endangered Animal Rescue Sanctuary (EARS) in Citra offers up a

April ‘23 21
Hot Cars & Cool Cats photo by Bruce Ackerman

car show, food options, live music all day, a 50/50 raffle, vendor booths and more. Free for spectators; car entries are $10. Trophies and prizes will be awarded. earsinc.net/news-events has more info.


Tuscawilla Park

April 22

This family-friendly event includes tree giveaways, a youth fishing derby, rock wall climbing, butterflies, ecofriendly vendors, live music and food trucks. The park has playgrounds, ball courts and lots of shaded walking trails. Free to attend; for more info, ocalafl.org


World Equestrian Center, Arena 3

April 21-23

Gypsy Vanners are gorgeous and exotic looking horses, with feathered legs, long manes and tails, and striking color combinations. They excel at all types of disciplines. This show will feature this light draft breed in classes including English equestrian, Western pleasure, trail/ranch and dressage, plus halter, liberty and driving. Food and drink options onsite; some parking fees may apply. More info at worldequestriancenter.com


Circle Square Cultural Center

April 24

Presented by the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Owners’ Association, this party features the accomplishments of Marion County’s horse trainers, owners, breeders and horses. Tickets, which start at $150, include dinner, a cocktail reception and awards ceremony. Learn more at ftboa.com


Circle Square Cultural Center

April 26

This comedian is also a “master of vocal gymnastics” and recreates an astonishing array of sound effects using his voice. From Jimi Hendrix performing the Star-Spangled Banner to a battle scene from Star Wars, Winslow will keep you entertained. Tickets start at $31; see csculturalcenter.com for more info.

Coming Up:


Cedar Lake Woods and Gardens, Williston

May 6-7

Stroll among dozens of plant vendors, grab some eats from food trucks and enjoy live music from local musicians throughout the day. The $10 admission fee includes a self-guided tour. This century-old former lime rock quarry has been filled with lush tropical garden displays, waterfalls, ponds, a tortoise habitat, ducks, swans and even a greenhouse-protected succulent display. Bridges cross the quarry, paths wind through growing plants and you can enjoy the unique gardens at your own pace. For more info, cedarlakeswoodsandgarden.com

An Ocean of Possibilities

Growing up, NASA astrobiologist Dr. Morgan Cable spent two of her adolescent years on the Space Coast, watching space shuttle launches.

“My dad moonlighted as a professor because he loves teaching,” she explains. “He worked at the local community college (now Eastern Florida State College) and let me use the lab there for a school project. I ended up taking volcanic rocks (basalt) and mixing them with water in conditions like what’s under the surface of Mars, where things are a little bit warmer. I then put in this special kind of bacteria that lives off a reaction between volcanic rock and water that makes hydrogen gas.”

The experiment worked, setting Cable on a lifelong hunt for otherworldly biomarkers.

Her fieldwork has taken her to extreme environments, such as the Atacama Desert, the ice fields at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and Iceland’s lava fields.

These days, she’s preparing for missions focused on the Jupiter moon Europa and the Saturn moon Enceladus. Both are among a small number of heavenly bodies observed to have oceans beneath frozen outer shells. Enceladus sprays liquid into space and Cable is working on what she calls a robotic snake that will descend

its vents to look for evidence of life.

“If we find some indicators on the surface, then we can tie them to what the surface is made up of and see if there are any clues hidden there,” she explains.

If that’s true, Cable adds, exoplanets around other stars could host life forms.

“Planetary science and astrobiology are, by their very nature, interdisciplinary fields, and I love collaboration,” she offers. “I’m a chemist by training (her Ph.D. is in inorganic chemistry). I also work with geologists and biologists. We have marine biologists and oceanographers on our teams now because we’re studying alien oceans.”

And as with many NASA projects, engineering is involved.

“We’ve got people doing robotics and autonomy, mechanical engineering and all of the different things you need to be able to put a spacecraft together,” Cable shares. “It’s really fun to be able to push outside of your comfort zone, working on hard problems that no one’s ever solved before.”

Hear Dr. Morgan Cable discuss “Exploring Ocean Worlds” at Ocala’s Institute for Human and Machine Cognition at 5:30pm April 20th. To register, visit ihmc.us/life/evening_lectures/ ocala-lecture-series

Dr. Morgan Cable will share her otherworldly observations at IHMC on April 20th.
It’s really fun to be able to push outside of your comfort zone, working on hard problems that no one’s ever solved before.
Photo courtesy of IHMC — Morgan Cable
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Pets and Planning

Perpetual Care helps pet owners with estate plans that include the care and placement of their beloved animals.

Adonkey wasn’t the typical intake at the Perpetual Care farm, which usually houses dogs, cats, birds and an occasional horse, but Virginia Kilmer makes a point to not refuse any orphaned pet. Kilmer founded Perpetual Care in 2001 as a rescue to assist local animal shelters. The organization became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2002.

In 2003, Kilmer met a woman in her 80s who changed the charity’s overall mission.

The woman told Kilmer that her beloved dog meant the world to her, even though the canine was only a year and a half old.

“And she said,” Kilmer recalls, “‘Well, you know, if anything happens to me, I have it in my will that he’s going to be put to sleep and buried with me.’”

Kilmer says she was surprised and emphasized the fact that the dog wasn’t even 2 years old yet.

She says the lady responded, “Well, that’s because I don’t trust anybody. No one in my family will take him, and I don’t trust what will happen to him if I’m not there.”

Kilmer recalls looking at animals in shelters and realizing that many were there because the owner had passed away and no one in the family was able to take in the pet and there was no plan for what to do with the animal.

“I said there has to be a better answer for people when they pass away and they can have the comfort of knowing their pets are going to go to a good place,” she remembers. “So that was the beginning of Perpetual Care.”

Perpetual Care’s first goal is to help an owner find a future adoptive home for the pet.

“We first talk to you about your options,”

Virginia Kilmer with Ozzy and Rusty

Kilmer says. “And if you have options where they can go to a family member, we will help you with making sure that you have all your documents in place for them to go to someone else—it doesn’t have to be that they’re coming to us, we just want to make sure that you have a plan and that it’s documented.”

If the owner does not have a family member or someone else willing to take the pet, Perpetual Care will take the animal, provided it can thrive in the agency’s life care center, or communal home. Perpetual Care can house up to 20 small dogs and three to five large dogs, with space for many cats and a couple of horses. Nine dogs and two cats are current residents.

Kilmer and her team of 12 volunteers can help a pet owner establish a will or trust. She recommends a living trust as it lacks the gap period between the owner’s passing and the will going into effect.

The agency also offers pet loss grief support and tips for lost pet recovery and rehoming pets.

Perpetual Care is funded by donations and grants, which allow it to house animals and fund a sponsorship program for emergency calls to find a home for a pet as soon as possible because the owner passed away.

Kilmer says an important part of the Perpetual Care mission is education.

“We want as many people as possible to be informed about the importance of having a plan for your pets,” she explains, “an emergency plan, in case just even on a normal basis, say, somebody in the family goes into the hospital and you’re not able to care for your pets, you have a plan for who can take care of your pets in an emergency.”

While they encourage pet owners to plan ahead, Kilmer understands that not everyone has a family member who can provide for his or her pet.

“And so that’s the other purpose of Perpetual Care,” she says. “We are your plan; we are your family if you want to leave them to somebody that you know you can trust will take care of them.”

The organization will offer free presentations at 1pm April 21st at Rolling Greens Village clubhouse at 1901 SE 58th Ave. and 1pm May 3rd at the Stone Creek Reunion Center at 6310 SW 89th Court Road.

Kilmer also hopes Perpetual Care can serve as a role model in other states.

“Our vision is to develop and grow our life care centers beyond a single home-based farm in Florida,” she writes on the Perpetual Care website.

To learn more, go to perpetualcare.org

Ozzy and Buster Buster, Rusty and Ozzy Virginia Kilmer with Hopper

She Means Business





December 3rd, 2022

Venue: Golden Ocala Wedding Coordinators: Melissa Galloway and Georgina Rarick Photographer: Paige Mercer Photography Florist: The Graceful Gardener Beauty Team: CP Fredricks + Hello Gorgeous Salon

Her favorite memory: “It felt like we were in an enchanted garden as we listened to the harpist strum and rabbi sing with the sound of the wind and dragonflies humming through the trees. Everything was in perfect harmony. While we were under the chuppah wrapped in the tallis, it felt like we were the only two people standing there for a minute. This memory takes me back to a feeling I’ll never forget, one I’ll cherish forever.”

His favorite memory: “When Christine and I took a step back, just to watch everyone’s conversation with one another like they’ve known each other for years. It felt like one big family surrounding us the night of our wedding. It was incredible to see everyone having the best time, letting loose and enjoying their evening.”



November 5th, 2022

Venue: Silver Springs State Park

Photographer: Eighteenth Hour Photography

Florist: Chalet Flowers

Day of Coordinator: Southern Affair Weddings and Events

Hair/Makeup: Marry Me Bridal & Beauty Co.

Their favorite memory: “Our private last dance. Initially, we weren’t even going to do this but we are so glad we did! We didn’t tell anyone about it besides our DJ, coordinator and photographer. It was really the first time that day that we had just the two of us and it was so sweet just slow dancing and spending time together as newlyweds. Our introverted selves needed this moment. We laughed about the day, cried and were just so thankful for everything that had happened that day. Our wedding day was such an awesome whirlwind, but taking time to slow down at the end and be with each other was the icing on the cake!”

for you and for them. Finish your high school diploma FinishYourDiploma.org. Find free, flexible and supportive adult education centers near you at


November 22nd, 2022

Venue: Camp Seminole Springs

Wedding Planner: Making it Matthews

Photographer: Eighteenth Hour Photography

Florist: Floral Architecture

Beauty/Barber Team: Shelby & Laura at Salon 209; Brett at Cloak and Dagger Hair Co.

Bride’s favorite memory: “My mom being able to see me get married and hearing her say, ‘I’m proud of you,’ before walking me down the aisle to forever.”

Their favorite memory: “Being surrounded by and celebrating with our closest friends. And dancing the night away with our most favorite people in the world, our kiddos, Kayslee and Charlie.”


Men To Watch





Fostering Fur Babies

Give ‘Em a Piece of Your Heart

Being a foster to a homeless or neglected animal can fill your heart and theirs with love and trust.

The kitten weighed less than 6 pounds, the scar from her front leg amputation still fresh and pink. The animal rescue group thinks she was attacked by a dog. She’d been found in the woods with a compound fracture, a grisly wound. She snuggled up to me that October night, clearly glad to have the warmth of contact.

Her name was Cider, and she was my first foster kitty. But not my last.

Since 2020, I’ve been fostering cats for the Voices of Change Animal League (VOCAL) and have taken in 11 cats over the past two and a half years. They come to me sometimes fearful, sometimes brave and sometimes emotionally

wounded or shut down. They leave my home more confident, interactive with humans, affectionate and ready for their fur-ever homes.

In addition to Cider, I’ve fostered Stormy, Geena, Jasmine, Belle, Bonnie, Rocky, Citrine, Pinot, Port and Joyce. Geena sometimes got too hot on the porch and would come in the house and stretch out her body on the cool tile but stick her head outside the door to keep an eye on things; it was a scream. Rocky was clearly accustomed to being the king of all he surveyed. He strolled out of the carrier and confidently strode around the house ready to be served immediately. Tiny little Joyce came from a hoarding situation and was the most fearful of all.

34 ocalastyle.com

It took her about a month to come out of the cat room.

People ask, “Oh, how can you do it? I’d get so attached.”

Well, I do get attached, and I also think of my work as preparing them for better lives than they may have had otherwise. Some cats come from feral colonies; some from owners who’ve had to go into nursing homes or who died. My home is, I hope, a nice way station where they can get emotionally balanced again, feel safe and enjoy time catting around a house instead of being in a cage. It is tough to put them in the carrier to hand them over; sometimes they cry out or claw, and I wish there was some way to tell them, “You’re going to a wonderful new home where your human will love you forever!”

Cider was one of the many success stories that VOCAL helped with. She was featured in the 2021 VOCAL annual report, with a photo of her on my porch, scar completely healed over and covered with fur, eyes clear and bright and full of love—with a little piece of my heart always with her.


Many local animal organizations have foster programs. There are also rescue groups in the area for horses, pigs and ferrets, as well as specific breeds of dogs and cats. If you’re not ready to commit to owning a pet, consider volunteering your time and love to an animal that could really use your help. Some groups can cover food, supplies and medical expenses associated with the animal’s care.

Florida Parrot Rescue floridaparrotrescue.com

Humane Society of Marion County thehsmc.org/fostering

Marion County Animal Control animalservices.marionfl.org/animal-center/ how-can-i-help

Sanctuary to the Maxx

Email: Fortheloveomaxx@gmail.com

Sheltering Hands Cat Rescue shelteringhands.rescuegroups.org

SPCA of Marion County spcaofmarioncounty.weebly.com

Sweet Water Rescue & Rehab

Email: Sweetwaterrnr@gmail.com

VOCAL vocalforpets.org/foster

Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary ziggyshaven.com/adoption-and-foster


Wild Beauty Wild Beauty

Mindy Lighthipe works from both sides of her brain and her heart as a natural science and nature artist/illustrator and educator.

In the early 1990s, artist and educator Mindy Lighthipe had just turned 30 and had never ventured outside the United States. She watched as Desert Storm dominated the 24-hour news cycle between interviews with pop star Sting and other celebs championing the “Save the Rainforest” movement. But watching dewy tree canopies and exotic creatures on TV wasn't enough for her. That was when she realized what she really wanted was to be in a rainforest.

She also recalls being influenced by an art exhibit around the same time. The artist had created an intricate graphite drawing of a rainforest, including many species of plants and animals, on the gallery's walls.

"It must have taken her months to create. It was breathtaking. As part of the exhibit, she had erasers and instructed the gallery goers to go to her work and erase part of the drawing. It was shocking to think anyone would erase such a beautiful creation. This was exactly her point. People were very reluctant. There were parts which were erased, leaving only a trace of what had been there,” Lighthipe recalls. “We, as humans, were erasing the natural beauty of the rainforest by our actions— exploiting it through habitat loss, poaching and destruction. I was deeply moved and knew I needed to experience the beauty of the rainforest in hopes to somehow be a part of helping to save it."

Born in New Jersey, Lighthipe had focused her studio arts Bachelor of fine arts degree and art education master’s degree studies on fiber arts and printmaking up until that point, and says she had never witnessed such amazing biodiversity up close.

“I was at that place in my career where I had immersed myself in textiles, and then I just found that I was just not super happy,” she recalls. “I’d

made a living at it, but I just felt like I really wanted to do more nature-oriented art and started getting into drawing animals and insects.”

In Costa Rica, Lighthipe began painting with watercolors, excited and inspired by the toucans, sloths and mind-boggling variety of birds and bugs she was encountering.

“I absolutely fell in love with Costa Rica,” she professes, “and I've been making the trek back every single year.”

Lighthipe’s passion for plants and wildlife led to a teaching job in an illustration program at the New York Botanical Garden, a position she held for 15 years. While teaching there, her students asked about her trips to Central America.

“When are you going to take us?” the students prodded.

“I was like, ‘Oh, you wanna go? Okay!’ and it’s been 25 years that I've been doing it,” she shares.

Lighthipe currently coordinates annual educational trips to Selva Verde Lodge in Costa Rica with Holbrook Travel in Gainesville, and despite the hassles of TSA checks, travel expenses and corralling students ranging in age from 35 to 80, the annual sojourns never get old for her. Every year, she’s just as excited as the last to go back.


Unicorns and horses filled Lighthipe’s notebooks as a child, but her artistic range and her menagerie of illustrated creatures grew exponentially after she popped open her first box of Crayolas.

Lighthipe didn’t know, however, that becoming a professional illustrator meant going back to the drawing board, literally.

“I decided to go back to school and get another degree and that's when I got a certification in botanical illustration,” Lighthipe explains. “When I entered that program, I went to an open house and they wanted you to bring a portfolio of your work for them to review.”

The woman who reviewed her work was the program’s coordinator at the time.

“She looked at me, and she said, ‘You need to take Drawing 1,’ and I looked at her like, ‘Are you crazy?’ I thought my education in college was fantastic. It was fantastic from the craft angle of it, like pottery and jewelry making or furniture making, but she told me I needed to learn technique.”

Lighthipe had no idea that the outcome of everything she would ever do from that point forward resulted from a solid foundation in drawing.

“I would not be successful,” she offers. “Even though I could pick stuff up and draw, did I understand proportion? Did I understand scale? Did I understand all of the things that you would need to do to do the type of work? Like if you wanted to be an abstract artist, that would be

something different. But to do the type of work that I wanted to do, I needed to absolutely, positively know the ins and outs of drawing. And so, when the woman told me that I had to take Drawing 1, I begrudgingly took it, and if you talk about a pivotal moment in my life, when I came out of the second class of Drawing 1, I was completely humbled. I was like, ‘I don't know how to draw. This woman was totally right.’ I thought that drawing was more of a talent than it is actually a skill.”

April ‘23 39

Not a textbook case

A solo exhibition at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville brought Lighthipe to Florida 15 years ago. She currently lives in The Villages with her husband, Joseph Annichiarico.

They kayak together when Lighthipe isn’t volunteering for Sweet Water Rescue and Rehab, an animal sanctuary in Williston.

“I kayak with my camera, which is a little crazy,” she says with a laugh. “I love to photograph birds while kayaking and on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.”

Author of The Art of Botanical & Bird Illustration with Walter Foster, Lighthipe has written and illustrated children’s books such as Mother Monarch She co-authored Where the Wild Sloths Roam with Denise Gillen and created a deck of Tarot-like cards called Nature’s Wisdom Oracle. She recently added greeting cards to the mix.

Her illustrations have been featured in wildlife, animal art and nature magazines and books. As an adjunct professor at the University of Florida, she has taught anatomical illustration in the ornithology, mammalogy and entomology departments.

Accomplishments aside, Lighthipe strives to remain grounded.

“I’m definitely not a purist,” she shares. “I've done a lot of technical pen and ink that goes into textbooks. I don't like it as much as the other stuff that I do, which I think is more expressive. People sometimes think if you’re a scientific illustrator, that there's no room for anything except clinical perfect drawing.”

Lighthipe started out working in graphite. She says it allows her to work out the surface contours, textures and pigmentations and also the anatomical component of her subjects.

On her YouTube channel, she explains she uses watercolor as an expressive and spontaneous method for fur, feathers, flowers and various textures. Colored pencils allow her to create vibrant shimmering colors while working in layers.

“Gouache is also an amazing medium,” she offers. “It's similar to watercolor but has an opacity to it—wonderful to work with, particularly when I'm re-creating fur.”

“Sometimes, I work with colored pencils and pastels for the backgrounds,” she notes.

She also uses solar printing, a printmaking method that does not use harsh chemicals.

“I create my plate that I print in black and white, then I go in and hand-tint the colors. Each one is individual and unique. I can create an edition of approximately 25 to 50 images with one of my solar etching plates through a vast knowledge of different approaches and techniques. I'm able to grow and apply combinations to create my unique vision of the natural world.”

For more information, visit mindylighthipe.com.

A Rare Bird A Rare Bird

Expert birder Tom Hince has created an enduring connection with the avian world through his journey to build memories and put as many species as possible in focus.

42 ocalastyle.com

Growing up in England in the early ’60s, Tom Hince explains that egg collecting was a common pastime. Young children would find eggs in nests, take them and hollow them out.

“Now, we look at that and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that's crazy,’” Hince acknowledges. “But back then it was a perfectly normal way to look at the resource and I used to find nests for my friends. I didn't have my own egg collection, but I had a couple of young buddies in school who did and I would find nests and I would tell them where they were.”

One day, a hunt for an egg took him down a wooded private trail.

“I walked by and there was, right at hand height, a nest of a little English robins sitting at the side of this track in a little bush,” he recalls. “The female was sitting on the nest and stayed there while I stood there. I reached out very slowly and touched her on the back of the head and she stayed there, and never once did I ever show anybody a nest again.”

Hince, 65, tears up a little talking about that memory.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he says with a choked-up chuckle.

The teacher at his “one-room schoolhouse,” also inspired him to pursue birding.

“She used to show us Super 8 films that she would take of birds when she went out watching birds,” Hince recollects. “I thought that was really cool, and then I remember coming home one day from swimming lessons with my parents and I saw my teacher at the side of the road filming. I said, ‘Mom, mom! Stop! It's Mrs. Wright.’ We pulled over and there she was filming a barn owl sitting on a fence post in the late afternoon. I've always remembered that as a very formative moment.”

Hince’s mom was from Scotland and his dad was from England.

“We grew up all over England, Scotland, Wales and Denmark until I was about 9 years old and then we emigrated to Canada in ‘67.

In Canada, Hince studied environmental

science and educated the public as a national park guide and naturalist. He would show visiting birding groups birds nesting along the marshlands of Point Pelee National Park in Ontario, one of the best inland spots in North America to observe bird migrations.

Later, Hince became one of the highest-paid columnists for the Discovery Channel in Canada, shooting nature shows and documentaries. One highlight involved filming an endangered flightless parrot halfway around the world.

“I went to New Zealand and I wrote to the Department of Conservation several times to see if I could come out to film their research with the kakapo and I finally got permission,” he recalls. “I went onto the offshore islands and a kakapo walked up to me and sat on my foot. Oh, my God, I cried. It was the greatest moment of my birding life. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.”

Birds, Hince explains, have been the gift that keeps on giving for him.

“I think there's a lot of reasons why people like birds, because they are showy, colorful, they're relatively easy to see,” Hince offers. “Birds are part of our everyday lives. As a birder you can pretty much travel anywhere in the world and walk out into a little park in Colombia or in Panama or in Italy and see different birds you wouldn’t see at home. It's a fantastic hobby for people who like to travel and I've made a living out of showing people birds all around the world because it's an opportunity for them to learn about different environments and different species of birds.”

April ‘23 43

Birding In Focus

How did the term “birding” even come about? Scott Weidensaul’s 2007 book Of A Feather: A Brief History of American Birding states that the term became commonplace in the 1970s in North America.

The book explains the concepts of listing (notating birds observed over a period of time in a journal) and big years (an effort by one person to identify more bird species than anyone else in a defined geographic area within a year).

Speaking of big years, Hince triumphed as a Marion County Big Year winner shortly after relocating to Dunnellon from Michigan, identifying a total of 251 species in 2021.

On a recent warm late-winter morning, Hince once again has his telescope perched on a tripod focused on a pond teeming with shore birds.

Herons, egrets and ibises cavort between the lily pads of a pristine but untamed oasis in the middle of the ultra-landscaped trappings of a residential retirement haven.

It’s a scene that represents to Hince what birds mean to people, on many levels.

“I look at this pond as a microcosm,” he offers. “I was here to look for one bird that’s been spotted in this location, the stilt sandpiper. It's a scarce bird in Central Florida. It's just a little, nothing sandpiper to most people. It has yellow legs, but it's got a little droopier bill than other sandpipers.

So, for the avid birders, they'd come here and they would look at all these birds, but they'd be looking for the one bird. That's it. Just the stilt sandpiper. I mean, they look at everything else, but a lot of the serious birders came here yesterday morning looking for that one bird.”

Winter, as you might guess, is the most diverse season when it comes to identifying birds.

“In winter, we have all of these species coming from the north, even species like, for example, the eastern bluebird, which is a species that breeds commonly in Marion County,” Hince explains. “The population swells with northern bluebirds that come down this area. And then we have species, for example, that come here only during the winter. A lot of the ducks that come down here in the winter, things like green-winged teal, ring-neck ducks and blue-winged teal, they're long gone.”

Before moving to Dunnellon a few years ago, Hince often visited South Florida to check out the area’s abundance of shorebirds. He decided to move inland to be farther away from coastal regions where tropical storms and hurricanes typically wreak havoc and appreciates birding experiences that are exclusive to North Central Florida, especially in terms of viewing Florida scrub jays and red-cockaded woodpeckers. The Sunnyhill Restoration Area, Ocklawaha Prairie and Lake Weir are a few of his favorite Marion County birding spots.

When discussing the untapped potential of the Ocala National Forest, the expert birder offers some interesting facts that non-birders might be unaware of.

“If we don't actively burn or let passive burns occur, Florida scrub jays will disappear,” Hince stipulates. “It's a species that requires a landscape that has open areas or open spaces with sort of mid-size scrub.”

According to Hince, the scrub jays need wide open areas for foraging.

“They have a very complex family unit,” he adds, “where they actually are a social species and cooperative breeders. One pair will be the active actual breeders,” he clarifies, “but a group of scrub jays might have five to 10 birds in it and the others simply support and help to raise the young. This is a very common thing that happens in species that are surviving in very difficult, harsh environments.”

Connection and Conservation

Hince is taking a hiatus as a tour guide, but he does plan to take a personal trip to Africa later this year. He makes a living these days taking bird and nature photos with his wife, Kathi, under the moniker TomKat Images.

As a member of the Marion Audubon Society,

bird name Northern Parula

he encourages people of all ages and birding/wildlife experience levels to connect with the natural world.

Hince claims that providing more sustainable access to nature lovers—not closing off wide swaths of nature preserves—is key to a successful conservation effort.

“Birders have walked the Earth,” he says. “They have a memory of seeing a bird or seeing flowers or firsthand experience, and if we lose that connection and that firsthand experience, we are going to lose these places. So, as much as there's a tendency to want to close areas to protect them, that's a really easy thing to do. Anybody can close a place off. The challenge is keeping it open and keeping people in connection with it. That's how we're going to save green spaces, not through just simply the gut reaction. I used to always fight that argument at the management table with resource managers and warden types. Let's educate them, work with them, stand next to them and get them to understand. That's the real challenge.”

You can visit TomKat Images at the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts in Cedar Key on April 1-2 and at the Brownwood Paddock Square Art & Craft Festival on April 8-9. To learn about Hince visit tomkatimages.weebly.com and for more information about the Marion Audubon Society, go to marionaudubon.org

Roseate Spoonbills Frilled Coquette Stilt Sandpiper


Sculptor Nilda Comas is creating a statue of the beloved canine Molly, the ambassador for the Marion County Animal Abuser Registry.

From her studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, Nilda Comas looks out upon the majestic Apuan Alps mountain range that extends between the Garfagnana, Versilia and Massa Carrara areas. The mountains are a natural masterpiece and the home of Carrara marble, which has been transformed into art masterpieces by sculptors including Renaissance artist Michelangelo and Comas herself.

Works by Comas have been featured in solo and group exhibitions in numerous museums and galleries in the U.S. and abroad. She recently was chosen by the Florida Council on Arts and Culture to create a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune for

the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

She also has a studio in Fort Lauderdale and is a frequent visitor to Ocala, where her brother Tito Comas, an artist and businessman, has lived for years. She was moved when she learned the story of Molly, a snow white mixed-breed canine who survived being beaten and stabbed in 2014. Molly’s accused attacker spent time in prison. Molly became the ambassador of the Marion County Animal Abuser Registry, also known as Molly’s Law. After Lilly Baron, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) of Ocala, and Molly’s longtime human companion,

found out about Nilda, a plan was formed to commission a sculpture of Molly.

“Lilly told me what she was thinking about, and I got to meet Molly, who steals your heart,” Comas recalls. “I saw Molly several times and I accepted the commission. I measured her, took lots of pictures, played with her. She would come and sit really close to me. She would look up and that was really nice as I could see her eyes and her expression.”

“When Nilda met Molly, she loved her and what she represented,” Baron offers. “That’s what grabbed her, what Molly represented.”

An anonymous sponsor backed the commission and Comas announced in October 2021 in Ocala that she would be creating the sculpture of Molly.

Sadly, Molly died of cancer, peacefully at home with Baron, on February 22nd.

In a telephone interview in early March, Comas, who was working on the sculpture in her studio in Italy, expressed how sad she was to learn of Molly’s passing. Of her work on the piece, she offers, “It’s coming along quite well.”

“I’ve been working on Molly and other projects at the same time. I always work on different projects because it’s not good for the hands to work on the marble all of the time,” she shares. “I work with natural light. And I try to be consistent with the light and work at the same times of day. That way, the sculpture is the same when I look at it. When you have different light, it changes what you are looking at and you can make mistakes because you may think something is deeper than what it is. The lighting is very important.”.

As it was to Michelangelo himself, who said, “I live and love in God's peculiar light.”

She feels a deep connection to history both through the view from her studio and the very marble she is using to create Molly’s statue.

“I can see the marble quarries up in the mountains and it’s so beautiful and so inspiring. I see Michelangelo’s three caves and this piece of marble, Molly’s block, came from one of Michelangelo’s caves,” she notes with pride. “It will be very historical and beautiful of course, and I’m very privileged to work on such beautiful marble and do a sculpture of Molly since she’s such a legacy. It is the most precious marble that exists. It’s very compact and you can carve it without it falling apart and that’s why people come from all over the world to get it. Other marble is good for kitchens and floors and buildings, but they cannot be carved because they fall apart. Like when sugar gets hard, if you hit it, it could fall into dust again. That’s what happens with marble, when you hit it with a chisel, if it's not the right marble it will break in many pieces or not give you good detail. You can

be working on a piece and, all of a sudden, you hit and ‘Poom,’ it just disintegrates.”

While Comas gave us a glimpse of Molly’s delicate paw for this story, the final sculpture will not be seen by the public until it is unveiled on June 7th at 11am at the Citizens’ Service Center Plaza at 201 SE 1st St., near the Ocala Downtown Market. Baron is hosting the event, which is being sponsored by the city of Ocala.

Comas explains that the sculpture will serve as a tribute to Molly’s legacy, and by way of the marks carved in the white marble that represent

where she was injured, a poignant reminder for the community of the need to protect animals from those who would abuse them.

“Her life became very important, and the sculpture is going to be forever, so she definitely is going to have a lot of impact,” Comas offers.

Baron visited Tallahassee on March 29th (Marion County Day) to invite politicians to the unveiling and promote a statewide animal abuser registry.

“There are only eight or 10 counties that have an animal abuser registry, and those are different versions. So, someone who is on it can just hop over the line and go to another county and keep doing what they do,” she says fiercely. “That’s why it’s so important that we have a statewide registry. I’ll never stop until we do. For Molly.”

The SPCA of Ocala has launched a campaign to raise $5,000 to transport the sculpture to Ocala. To donate, go to tinyurl.com/mollystatue

The county’s animal abuser registry is accessible at marioncountyfl.org/aar

Learn more about Nilda Comas at nildacomas.com

April ‘23 47
Comas and Molly Opening portrait courtesy of SPCA of Ocala; Other images provided by Nilda Comas
BUT IF I’M NOT, WHO WILL? We know your strength is super, but you’re still human. 1-877-333-5885 YOU DON T HAVE TO BE SO STRONG

Situated on nearly 30 peaceful acres two miles west of The World Equestrian Center you will find Luxus Retired Equine Care. Inspired to life by its owners, Dr. Arno and Lynn Loeffler, and family equestrians Brian and Rene Hollis, Luxus offers a very different approach from others with, essentially, all-inclusive care that focuses on mind, body, and soul. Hoof trims are even included! There is no a la carte menu of extra charges so it’s a very simple and easy experience for boarder owners. The care is tailored to individual needs on a daily basis with loving hands, compassionate hearts, and uncompromising standards.

“It’s so cliche to say we couldn’t find the care we were looking for so we started our own, but it’s true,” said Lynn. “No matter where or how much we paid for ‘top-notch’ care, they were still one-size-fits-all boarding programs that didn’t meet the individual needs/wants of our horses, and we never achieved the peace of mind we were looking for. Luxus is redefining extraordinary retirement care to offer that peace of mind for discerning owners who want nothing but the best for their equine friends.”

Luxus understands no two horses are alike and that’s where everything begins. The detailed care is provided strictly by the owners/family. They are supported by a team of top-notch equestrian professionals, and boarders may choose the ones with whom they wish to work.

Monthly weights and vitals are taken, then scale-weighed feed with feed-thru fly control and lab tested and analyzed hay

is provided. Numerous enrichment activities keep horses engaged and happy. They even practice trailer loading so no one forgets! The included services, enrichment activities, amenities, and high quality products seem never-ending.

Everything is new and designed for safety, comfort, and convenience. All horses have a stall and pasture, and the concrete barn has a sprinkler system. There’s even a solar power system, so no one is ever without water or electric. Did we mention the pasture shelters have fans? Still ride your horse? No problem! There’s a new nylon footed arena to use. They’ll even tack/untack your horse. In addition to the secured, 24-hour surveilled property, there is the boarder’s favorite—cameras they can log onto to view their horses anytime and from anywhere. “We also offer 18’x75’ paved, full hook-up RV sites for out-of-town visits,” adds Arno.

Equine Director Rene Hollis says, “There’s no greater compliment than repeat clients.” One such client is Susan Kang, who retired her Selle Francais mare at Luxus and is now flying in another of her retired warmbloods from California this month to join her mare.

“It is hard separating from your horse that has been your partner for so many years and walk away when it’s time for their retirement. It’s like sending your child off to college. It has to be the right fit! I have absolutely found the most amazing boutique retirement facility in Ocala—Luxus Retired Equine Care! I love it so much that I am flying my 23-year-old horse from California, so my two furry loves can be together again and have the most amazing retirement they deserve. Rene and Lynn are what make Luxus amazing!”

For additional information, visit fb.com/ LuxusRetiredEquineCare

Luxus Retired Equine Care 12203 NW 35th St. Ocala, FL 34482 (941) 592-7531 SPONSORED luxusequinecare@gmail.com

Secretariat & Ocala

There are several Ocala connections to Secretariat, who captured the 1973 Triple Crown, and Bridlewood Farm has a unique living link to the legendary thoroughbred racehorse.

In 1973, a big red equine comet named Secretariat streaked through the Triple Crown races and left his indelible mark. He set track record times that still stand 50 years later: Kentucky Derby (1:59 2/5 for a mile and a quarter); Preakness Stakes (1:53 for a mile and three-sixteenths) and Belmont Stakes (2:24 for a mile and a half). Secretariat’s otherworldly 31-length victory in the Belmont Stakes is regarded as one of the most spectacular feats in all of sports. Big Red, as he was called by his legions of fans, graced the covers of Time and Newsweek, both declaring him a “Super Horse.”

Retired to stud in 1974 at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky, Secretariat was a successful sire. While he didn’t reproduce himself—after all, he was a singular phenomenon—he did sire 57 stakes winners, including Lady’s Secret, the 1986 North American Horse of the Year. Fillies by Secretariat were highly sought after as broodmares and made him a leading broodmare sire.

Secretariat unexpectedly died of laminitis, an incurable hoof disease, on October 4th, 1989. His death was covered by media outlets across the world. A necropsy conducted by the University of Kentucky Veterinary Sciences Department revealed that Secretariat’s heart was almost three times the size of a normal thoroughbred’s heart. Secretariat’s heart weighed 22 pounds, while the average thoroughbred heart weighs 8.5 pounds. Secretariat’s heart was not diseased, just extraordinarily large, as befitting a once-inlifetime champion racehorse.

One of several Ocala connections to Secretariat was Charlie Davis, who was the champion’s exercise rider throughout his racing career. Davis moved to Ocala not long after the Triple Crown winner was retired. He continued to exercise racehorses in Ocala until he injured his back in 1981. Thanks to his connection to Secretariat, Davis was a sought-after special guest at events celebrating Big Red over the decades. Davis died in Ocala in December 2018, at age 75.

A Special Local Connection

With the racing world currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s 1973 Triple Crown, Ocala-based Bridlewood Farm is home to no ordinary pensioner in Maritime Traveler. In fact, Maritime Traveler belongs to an exclusive club of only two known living horses sired by Secretariat. Furthermore, Maritime Traveler, a chestnut colt foaled May 15th, 1990, has the distinction of being the only known living member of Secretariat’s last crop.

Out of the Northern Dancer mare Oceana, Maritime Traveler was bred by the late E.P. Taylor’s Ontario-based Windfields Farm. His breeder consigned him to the 1991 Keeneland September yearling sale, where Arthur Appleton bought him for $55,000. Maritime Traveler made five lifetime starts, all at Canada’s Woodbine Racetrack, with his best finish being a fourth. His earned all of $1,572 and soon after his last start on June 12th, 1993, Appleton retired him to Bridlewood Farm. That operation, one of Ocala’s legacy thoroughbred farms, was founded by Appleton and his wife Martha in 1976.

George Isaacs, who is the current president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association board of directors, has a long history with Bridlewood Farm. He was the farm’s stallion manager from 1989-1992, leaving to become the general manager of Allen Paulson’s Ocala-based Brookside South Farm. In 1996, Isaacs returned to Bridlewood

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Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths Secretariat image by Bob Coglianese, provided courtesy of The New York Racing Association. All Rights Reserved.

Farm as general manager, remaining in the position through the death of Arthur Appleton in 2008 and the ensuing Appleton Family Trust ownership. In 2013, John and Leslie Malone purchased Bridlewood Farm and Isaacs remains the operation’s general manager.

“When I returned to Bridlewood Farm in 1996, I found out that we had a son of Secretariat as a teaser, which is kind of a cool thing. Maritime Traveler was initially the broodmare division teaser, and he did his job very well for years,” says Isaacs. “When the breeding shed teaser was retired, Maritime Traveler was moved into that position, and he took to it just fine.”

A teaser stallion is used on thoroughbred farms to “tease” broodmares to elicit their readiness for breeding. Broodmares can be teased in paddocks, teasing barns and the breeding shed. Teasing is combined with veterinarian exams to determine the best time period to breed a broodmare to a resident breeding stallion.

Isaacs notes that when Maritime Traveler lost his enthusiasm for being a teaser about five years ago, he was pensioned.

“He earned his keep. He’s 33 now and lives

in a great paddock that backs up to 100 acres of forest. He has a great life,” shares Isaacs.

Indeed, Maritime Traveler is enjoying his retirement. And on a recent day, he is initially none too pleased with visitors entering his paddock. With a swish of his tail, he turns and walks away. Isaacs quietly follows him, and, with some gentle coaxing, Maritime Traveler allows Isaacs to snap a lead rope to his halter. Led toward the visitors, he stands quietly for the photographer. A bright chestnut like his sire, and with a white blaze the length of his face, Maritime Traveler is still handsome at 33.

When the photo session is over, Isaacs releases Maritime Traveler, who takes a dozen steps and begins grazing. Then realizing his visitors are still there, he lifts his head and directs a scowl at them as if to say, “Why are you people still here?” The photographer seizes the moment, taking a few more pictures. Now deciding he has absolutely given enough of his time, Maritime Traveler turns and ambles to the other end of the paddock, blissfully unaware of his celebrity status.

Preserving A Legacy

Besides Maritime Traveler, the only other known living horse by Secretariat is Trusted Company, a 34-year-old chestnut mare. The New York-bred mare out of Star Snoop, by Stage Door Johnny, made only one start and earned a paltry $60. But she went on to become a successful broodmare before being retired from that duty. Trusted Company now resides with Bev Dee at Bright Futures Farm, a Thoroughbred Aftercare Allianceaccredited sanctuary in Cochranton, Pennsylvania.

Maritime Traveler and Trusted Company are included in award-winning photojournalist Patricia McQueen’s recently released book, Secretariat’s Legacy.

“As a kid, I watched Secretariat on TV in 1973 become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. I never let that memory go. I followed him through the rest of his racing career and then as a stallion,” shares McQueen. “In 1982, while I was still in college, I went to see Secretariat at Claiborne Farm. The following year, I started going to the races and always looked for sons and daughters of Secretariat at the racetrack.”

A journalist by profession first, McQueen

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Maritime Traveler at Bridlewood Farm in 2023

became a self-taught photographer and combined both skills to honor Secretariat.

“After Secretariat’s death, I began to track his offspring over the years, documenting their lives with stories and photos. I was particularly interested in the foals of his last crop in 1990. And that’s how I came to Bridlewood Farm in March 1993, to photograph Maritime Traveler,” explains McQueen. “It was a very foggy morning and as Maritime Traveler cooled down from his morning gallop, the fog lifted. His chestnut coat just glowed in the Florida sunshine. To this day, I remember that magical morning and because of it, still feel a strong personal connection to Maritime Traveler.”

In addition to Maritime Traveler, there are other Ocala connections to Secretariat included in McQueen’s book. Among those, the late George Steinbrenner bred and raced Florida-bred Image of Greatness. Well-named, he was one of Secretariat’s major stakes winners. When retired, Image of Greatness stood stud at Steinbrenner’s Ocala-based Kinsman Farm.

Patricia McQueen’s book can be purchased at secretariatslegacy.com Maritime Traveler at Bridlewood Farm circa 1993
#Dadication fatherhood.gov

LIVING Smooth Sailing

As an award-winning lady angler who spends long days on the water fishing with my family or with our competitive team, I take nutrition and hydration seriously.

When we are out on the water, aside from having a great day of fishing, I like to ensure we keep our energy at its peak. The days are physically demanding and we can have a crew of five to 12 people, so grab-and-go, nofuss food is key. When we have rough seas, the last thing we need is any potentially unsettling food.

The days begin around 5:30am, so prepping the night before is key. Everyone loves fruit, so I make kabobs with strawberries, blackberries, pineapple and watermelon. They are delicious and an additional source of hydration.

On land or at sea, a platter of turkey wraps with avocado or hummus, in place of mayo or mustard, is a quick and yummy protein-packed option.

Everyone appreciates something sweet to nibble and my peanut butter energy balls are just the ticket! These are full of nutritious ingredients and so easy to make. Just combine, roll and refrigerate.

One of my favorite nature encounters happened during a swordfishing trip last summer. This type

of fishing involves dropping your line and slowly drifting for a few miles while dragging the bait along the ocean floor. These days are long, so I always bring along a good book. On this outing, a little “tweety” bird landed on our boat. He stayed with us for six entertaining hours and was truly not intimidated by humans. He went from the outriggers to the helm, landed on our captain’s hat, landed on my husband’s arm, stood next to the reel and even visited me while I was reading my novel.

The trip back to shore was windy and long, so I placed the bird in our phone charging box at the helm to ensure it didn’t get swept away with the wind. When we reached the shore, we slowly navigated a canal lined with mangrove bushes and just like that, the bird flew off and landed safely.

As a fun play on the immortal words of Forrest Gump, I’ll sometimes say, “Fishing is like a box of chocolates, you are never sure what you are going to get.” That day was like a sweet chocolate and we still savor the memory of it.

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Photo, this page, courtesy of Jill Paglia

Avocado, Turkey and Hummus Wraps

Whole wheat tortillas or wraps, (8-10 inches)


Oven roasted deli turkey breast, thinly sliced

Sliced Swiss, Muenster or provolone cheese

Cucumber, thinly sliced, lengthwise

Red leaf lettuce

Diced red pepper

Avocado, thinly sliced

Salt and pepper to taste

Lay each wrap on a flat, clean surface. › Spread hummus around the center of the wrap, leaving about 1/2 inch around the edge free. › Add some diced red pepper, a couple slices of cucumber and some lettuce in the center of the wrap, followed by the avocado, sliced turkey breast and cheese. › Carefully roll the wrap/tortilla up like a burrito, taking care to make it as tight as possible. › Wrap each piece in parchment. › Cut in half to serve.

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Easy Fruit Kabobs

This is such a beautiful and easy way to serve fruit.

Fresh strawberries

Fresh blackberries

One whole pineapple, trimmed and cut into cubes

Whole or half watermelon (Grapes, blueberries, kiwi or honeydew melon are also great choices)

Wooden or bamboo skewers

Thoroughly wash berries and cut the pineapple and watermelon into bite-sized pieces. › Thread the fruit onto skewers . › Store in a long, airtight plastic box with a snap tight lid. › Refrigerate overnight and transfer entire container to a cooler just before you set out › You can save these fruit skewers for up to three days if properly refrigerated.

7 Ingredient No Bake Energy Balls

1 1/2 cups no stir natural creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup raw honey

1/2 cup flax seeds

1 1/3 cups old fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup vanilla protein powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mini dark chocolate chips

Add the peanut butter, honey, oats, protein powder, salt, and chocolate chips to a mixing bowl and use a rubber spatula to mix until the batter is combined. › Use a mini cookie scoop or a spoon to drop energy balls onto a wax paper covered cookie sheet. They should be around 1 inch in size. Roll the energy balls with your hands to form the shape. › Place cookie sheet with the energy bites on it in the fridge for 1 hour or until the balls are hardened.

› Transfer energy balls to a freezer bag and store in the freezer.

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Carole Savage-Hagans



Fresh Flowers in the House

Betty Cakes

My amazing husband and children, especially my two beautiful boys, mean everything to me. And my siblings and chosen family of friends are the biggest part of my heart. 3

If you’ve ever had one, you know why.

Carole is Executive Director of the Pace Center for Girls Marion/Citrus, which offers counseling, academic and life skills services for at-risk girls ages 12-17. She has long been a leader with the Ocala Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association and many other local organizations.

I grew up on 11 acres that my father made colorful with beautiful blooms year-round. He would cut a vase full and bring them in for my mom. I find my floral beauties at local Publix stores.

Eating Out

I love our downtown eateries and fun spots (Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, La Cuisine, Katya Vineyards, Soleil Bakery and Social House, The Keep and The Corkscrew, among others) and around our community (Laki’s Restaurant, Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard and Taverna Berrocal). We have so many good choices!


I’ve been to all 50 states, five continents and many countries, and loved the adventures. It can be Florida day trips or international destinations; there’s something beautiful to find nearly everywhere. I use travel sites, Trip Advisor and sometimes still go to Barnes & Noble to find travel guides and publications with cultural information about destinations.

The Arts

2 4 6

An imperative part of life! I especially love the Reilly Arts Center (where my husband proposed to me), the The Appleton , Marion Theatre , NOMA and The Brick . I will also travel anywhere to experience the arts.

April ‘23 59
Portrait by Bruce Ackerman. Far right: Appleton Museum photo by Meagan Gumpert.

The Hidden Wildlife of Marion County

Marion County is blessed with large expanses of natural areas that are home to a variety of fascinating wildlife. Time spent outdoors may yield glimpses of the black bear, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, American alligator and a multitude of birds, fish and reptiles. However, hidden creatures exist, or in some cases used to exist, all around us. While a complete list could fill a book, the pocket gopher, big-claw river shrimp, American eel and Eastern whip-poor-will are wonderful examples.

Southeastern pocket gophers live almost all of their lives underground. They look a bit like big hamsters (although I’ve never actually seen one myself). Built for a subterranean existence, they have lips that close behind their teeth to

keep dirt out of their mouths and strong front legs for digging. The “pocket” in their name refers to cheek pockets, or pouches, used to carry food. They live in open sandy habitats and create noticeable mounds as they push dirt up from their tunnels to the surface, a characteristic that has earned them the nickname name “sandy mounders,” or “salamanders” in local critter slang. Southeastern pocket gophers are solitary animals that rarely, if ever, come to the surface.

The big-claw river shrimp is the largest freshwater river shrimp species found in Florida. These now rare crustaceans used to be common in the Silver River. Their bodies can reach 12”, not including the claws, and they look more like small lobsters than shrimp. They are aggressive towards

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Photo by Scott Mitchell; opposite page, photo by Tom Murray Big claw river shrimp

one another, so much so that local efforts at farming them failed because they kept killing each other. The shrimp must migrate downriver to lay their eggs in salt or brackish water. In the 1930s, plans were started for a shipping canal across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The construction of the Rodman Dam and locks on the Ocklawaha in 1968 as part of the canal project effectively blocked the shrimp’s migration route and they all but disappeared from the spring-fed waters of the Silver River.

Another victim of the Rodman Dam and locks is the nocturnal and secretive American eel. This slender fish is the only species of freshwater eel found in North America. Eels were once common in Atlantic coastal rivers and streams. They are valuable as a source of food for people and animals alike. These unique fish live most of their lives in freshwater rivers, but migrate out to the ocean to reproduce. Young eels then return upriver to miraculously repeat the cycle. They are covered with mucous, which makes them very slick. The slimy layer protects them from infections and parasites and is also the reason for the phrase “slippery as an eel.”

Like the pocket gopher, the Eastern whippoor-will is present but seldom observed. Whippoor-wills are nocturnal birds that sleep on the forest floor or tree branches by day. They are extremely vocal birds and once you’ve heard one, you’ll know their call. They have a habit of calling repeatedly on summer nights, as in hundreds of times, as they sit in the dark. Whip-poor-wills feed at dusk and dawn, and by the light of the moon. Their diet consists of insects, especially moths. In recent years their numbers have declined (likely related to lower insect populations from insecticide use). These unique birds have evolved to feed while most others are sleeping and they are a great reminder of all the animals that are present, but not often seen.

Scott Mitchell is a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center, located at 1445 NE 58th Ave., Ocala, inside the Silver River State Park. Museum hours are 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission to the park is $2 per person; free ages 6 and younger. To learn more, go to silverrivermuseum.com.

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The Bittersweetness of an Empty Nest

The thumping sounded like a malfunctioning dishwasher—loud, erratic and alarming to the people who pay for dishwasher repairs. Then came the whining—high-pitched and clear in its intentions. Rigby Floyd, our 70-pound doodle puppy, wanted attention. He rhythmically pounded the wood floor with his tail and whined, his eyes fixed on us.

It happened around 8:45 one night when my wife and I were watching TV. Then it happened around 8:45 the following night and then the following night. It is a call for attention on his terms, to come to him, to rub his belly, to milk the most out of the day’s final hours.

It has become an essential part of our nightly routine as empty nesters. I get on the floor, stretch out, rub his belly and then attempt to get up. Amy and I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Then we go to bed before 9:30.

Sometimes sooner.


Because we can.

As empty nesters, we eat dinner on the couch with great Why-the-Hell-Not? fanfare. Sometimes we play pickleball, other times we just think about pickleball. Oft en we opt for wine on the couch before eating—get this— anything we want!

We are blissfully boring people.

Make no mistake, we miss our daughters terribly. They are doing amazing things, and our time between wine and dog bellies is spent discussing their pursuits and independence. We

worry about their safety. Amy sends them recipes. I hound them about car maintenance. We wonder when they will call next.

Then we yawn and discuss how early is too early to go to bed.

It took Amy some time to warm to the empty nest. When Caroline left for the University of Central Florida and Katie moved to Virginia, Amy cried. I, on the other hand, measured their rooms to see if my desk and record collection would fit. Amy processed the silence with bittersweet tears. I immediately jumped to “Ooh! Man cave.”

On the man cave door, however, is a brass knocker inscribed with “Kay”—my mother. It is at least 75 years old and makes me think about a young Kay, the only child of a dentist from South Carolina and a Southern belle from Atlanta. My grandparents became empty nesters after my mom and dad eloped in high school. My mom and stepfather became empty nesters when I, the youngest of five, flew the coop.

It was one of the few times I saw my mother cry, and I remember thinking, “Why is she crying? I’ll be home next weekend with my laundry.”

Now I get it. It is not the silence so much as the Cats in the Cradle reflections: Did we do enough for them? Did we offer any useful advice? Will they take the cars in for oil changes?

Here’s what I know for sure: Rigby Floyd’s tail will start thumping at 8:45 tonight, shortly after we finish dinner on the couch. We will laugh and laugh and laugh. Then we will say, “I wish the girls could see this.”


Create A Backyard Wildlife Habitat

It can be fun to entice critters into your yard and you may help save them in the process.

Part of the reason I like digging in the dirt and playing with plants is because I like the animals that come to my yard as a result. When butterflies come flitting around before a plant is even in the ground, that just reinforces how effective small efforts can be.

After five years in my current home, I saw a rabbit in my backyard this past fall and I was thrilled. Even in this suburban neighborhood, I’ve attracted red-tailed hawks, barred owls, mice, voles, skinks, lizards, anoles, corn and garter snakes, foxes, red-shouldered hawks, ibis, kites, bats and songbirds of all kinds, including my first-ever spotting of a cedar waxwing and a greenfinch.

If you want to attract wildlife to your yard, just offer food, water, shelter and a safe place to raise young.

Food for birds can mean setting up feeders, along with scattering seed on the ground for cardinals, doves, sparrows and the other ground feeders. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a feeder or you can rig one up out of an old soda bottle. (Not Instagram-worthy, of course, but

effective.) Setting out seeds, nuts and fruits in trays or clay pot saucers works well, too. Because Marion County has a significant bear and coyote population, it’s not recommended to put out any other types of food, such as corn or meal scraps. Coyotes are especially prevalent, even in the city limits, and they adapt far too well to suburban lifestyles. I’ve gotten in the habit of only putting out a day’s worth of bird seed in the morning and taking in my feeders at night to discourage raccoons, coyotes and possums. A water feature in your yard adds to its appeal for humans and critters. You can get as elaborate as you like or set up a small birdbath. The UF/IFAS Extension Service website recommends, “In general, the lower the birdbath, the more open space there should be around it. Birds prefer baths with textured bottoms for firm footing. You can cover smooth bottoms with pebbles or sand. Water in a birdbath should be no deeper than two to three inches in the middle, and the sides of the bath should slope gently so birds can easily climb in and out.” Pre-made, formed ponds can be dug into the ground or be left above

April ‘23 63 LIVING
And more than one happy birder has found a bird’s nest in a door wreath or potted plant on the front porch.

ground and surrounded with curbing stone. Add some water plants inside and some potted or planted shrubs around it to offer a little shade, and maybe a fountain, and you’ll have a charming vignette. Animals especially like the sound of running water and I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment watching my solar-powered fountain attract them. I have three birdbaths, set at three different heights, and I’ve seen hawks take a drink from them.

Shelter for critters comes with dense hedges and plantings. Classics like ligustrum, privet and hollies do a great job of giving cover to birds and animals on the ground. The dense leafing pattern also provides privacy for humans. You can leave small debris piles around your yard to provide cover for toads, frogs, mice and snakes.

Animals need a safe place to raise young. Many area bird species will move into a birdhouse, such as bluebirds, purple martins, chickadees and wrens. It’s a good idea to clean them in late winter and you can scatter small twigs and bits of cloth

nearby to help the avian construction process. The value of dense hedges come to light again as many backyard birds will build nests in the thick branches. And more than one happy birder has found a bird’s nest in a door wreath or potted plant on the front porch. Give them the cover and they will build if they feel safe.

If you want to be recognized as having a Certified Wildlife Habitat, you can do so through the National Wildlife Federation. For $20, you get a certificate and a subscription to National Wildlife magazine and its monthly e-newsletter. You also can buy a sign to proclaim your garden as a wildlife haven, which can help educate others about the program. For more info, go to nwf.org/certify or nativebackyards.com/certifiedwildlife-habitat

There’s something peaceful and inspiring about watching animals play, eat and live in your yard. Watching a cardinal parent tote seed to a youngster and feed it is quite sweet. Seeing a dozen bright yellow goldfinches glom onto a Nyjer feeder warms my heart. Finding a black garter snake napping in a pile of leaves, well, let’s just say it usually surprises me!

I hope you’ll consider sharing your yard with wildlife by offering diverse plantings, limiting chemical usage and giving them a safe place to live.

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at belea@magnoliamediaco.com

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When moments matter

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