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NOTE: University of Arkansas Professor Dave Stahle identified the oldest trees east of the Rockies on North Carolina’s Black River in 1985. He recently revisited the area and wrote this article as a result.
The oldest baldcypress trees ever found are located on the Black River in Pender and Bladen Counties. Tree-ring dating, or dendrochronology, has been used to prove that some of those old baldcypress are over 1,500 years old. A few may be over 2,000 years old, but this will be difficult to prove because many of the oldest trees suffer some degree of heart rot. Nevertheless, only a handful of tree species worldwide have been proven to live for more than 1,500 years.
The exceptional age of the Black River baldcypress trees has been known since 1985 when we first extracted small core samples from some of the old trees (core sampling does not seriously harm these ancient cypress). Microscopic analysis of the annual growth rings proved their great age and measurements of the dated growth rings have been used to develop a chronology of growing season rainfall for North Carolina dating back to A.D. 372. We visited the Black River three times in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but did not appreciate the full extent of the old-growth baldcypress forests along the Black River or their significance to the conservation of this remarkable stream.
We returned to the Black River last June and got a much better impression of the true size and significance of these ancient cypress wetlands. It has been 20 years since our last visit and we were amazed to see so many super ancient cypress along the river. In many areas along the Black it is possible to turn in a circle and see 10 to 20 baldcypress trees over 1,000 years old. This density of millennium-old trees is rare in any forest worldwide. Although a dozen or so species can live for more than 1,500 years, most of these old growth stands have very few individual trees in the oldest age class. Not at the Black River. There are literally hundreds of millennium-old trees at the Black River, which has the largest concentration of ancient baldcypress trees we have ever found after 30 years of searching in the southeastern United States, Mexico, and Guatemala.
Ancient baldcypress stands can still be found along other streams in the Southeast, but not quite as impressively as on the Black River. These remaining ancient cypress stands do not necessarily include huge trees with valuable timber. Their “decrepit over-mature” condition, the result of recurrent drought and gale over the centuries, reduced their value for saw timber. During our June field trip we also visited a fine tract of ancient cypress trees on the Little Pee Dee River, South Carolina, with Dr. Maria Whitehead who is heading a Nature Conservancy conservation effort in the Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin. It will be a big job, but these ancient cypress forest remnants ought to be systematically mapped throughout the Southeast. Knowing where these ancient forest parcels are located is the obvious first step in their conservation. Where possible they ought to be conserved for their beauty, biodiversity, and scientific value. They are among the last pristine examples of the pre-settlement environment in the Carolinas.
We had not realized how large the area of ancient cypress forest actually is along the Black River. During previous trips we had only surveyed about 300 acres, but The Nature Conservancy has helped to conserve over 11,000 acres along the Black River, and much of it includes remarkably old trees. The Black River retains some of the highest surface water quality in the state of North Carolina and has been named an outstanding water resource by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We were gratified to learn that our research on the ancient baldcypress trees was helpful in raising awareness and interest in the conservation of these irreplaceable natural resources.
But the highlight of our trip was the visit to the ancient cypress wetlands of the Black River, certainly one of the greatest natural areas left in the southern United States. It was hot and the river was low. The stream is choked with sand in the Three Sisters area, where the oldest identified trees have been found. It braids into several channels of whiskey-colored water flowing over white sands and among the gigantic baldcypress trees. A colony of wood storks has recently moved into the forest, reclaiming habitat lost during their near extinction. If these ancient forested wetlands can continue to be protected then we are certain that these efforts will be appreciated by future generations.
Meet me on the buy, sell, trade radio show July 2 at 10 am EDT (or anytime via podcast) to discuss some of these items with show host (and specialist) of The Peddler Hour Tradio Show Debra Fischer-Santavicca.
This gingham dog and calico cat were made by my Aunt Mary, probably in the 1920s. These aren’t for sale. I just thought they could introduce my many items which are for sale. These were characters from the poem “The Duel” by Eugene Field in the 1800s.
Debbie was interested in hats and purses. These range from the late 1800s to the 1920s from those worn by my great grandmother to those of my mother and her sisters. Can anyone place a value on these?
Linens and lace were handmade by many families in the early 1900s and of course earlier. From baby clothes to bedding and table linens, here’s a look.
For tables, beds and dressing up the parlor.
Furniture, books, glassware, art and much more to follow. See anything you like?
The Ringling Museums & Mansion are a full day of educational fun! I just love stuff like this. Another must-do during off season. The grandeur and splendor that await at this vast estate are amazing, astonishing, and really cool! The stories behind it all are fascinating. And I thought I heard the voices of various animal handlers and performers whispering to me throughout the day….and maybe Mable herself.
At the entrance you are greeted by a bevy of little old ladies waiting to tell you about different exhibits and shows in the visitor center, hand you programs, sell you tickets and make sure you stay on the walkways! (They are rather strict about this.)
The miniature circus exhibit takes up the entire first building that we decided to check out and is based on the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919. It took the model builder, whom the building is named after, Howard Tibbals, 50 years to create the finished product, referred to as the “Largest Miniature Circus in the World.” He started building it in college in 1956. Pretty impressive that what started as a hobby turned into a life-long pursuit. The second story of the Tibbals Learning Center was closed for renovation when we were there.
The Circus Museum is the second stop with its musty smell of Grandma’s old steamer trunks and attic, but as is also the case, it is filled with costumes, dresses, trinkets and such that were once treasured by their owners and now tell a story of times past and lives lived long ago. There is a collection of parade wagons, some original, some replicas, the difference pretty apparent, but not always. I just loved the ornate hand carved wooden wheels.
Another exciting find here is the original rail car that John & Mable Ringling traveled in all across the country. Plenty of original woodwork, fixtures and glass are still present in the impressive car circa 1905. The restoration is ongoing.
A refreshing stop at the Banyan Cafe’ centrally located on the grounds was perfect timing for lunch. A couple of college aged guys took our orders, fried up and prepped a few chicken strips and sandwiches and had the most amiable dispositions of those we encountered the entire day. Couldn’t help but notice they were also the only employees who appeared to be under age 60. The food was very good, but pricey for small portions, not surprising though since they are the only option, they have AC, indoor and outdoor seating, and they serve cold beer.
On to the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, while we quickly finished our ice cream cones before they melted in the heat & humidity that engulfs SW Florida year-round. Owners John & Mable Ringling were so enamored with a particular style of architecture from Venice, Italy, Venetian Gothic, that they built their 36,000-square-foot (that’s right, 36,000, I did not misplace the comma) in that style on the expansive shores of Sarasota Bay which somewhat mimicks the canals of Venice.
Ca’ d’ Zan means “House of John” in Venetian and was apropos since we had Grandpa Jon with us that day. The mansion is heavily roped off and visitors are allowed very limited access to the estate’s 41 rooms & 15 bathrooms. For an extra $5 per person you could access 5 more rooms upstairs, but we declined. Seemed quite restrictive, frankly, what little they would let you tour. Nonetheless, I just loved it!! I could have stayed in there for days daydreaming about fancy dinner parties featuring sideshow acts and a full staff of servants, dessert on the marble terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay while watching the sunset with a couple hundred of your closest friends…ah the life they must have led. By far my favorite part of the day, if I had to choose, which I am glad I didn’t.
Next was the enormous Museum of Art. This place is so big, I almost had to stop and take a nap halfway through. There is almost too much to see…room after room after room. Some of the highlights though are the largest of the paintings, which John Ringling actually built the museum to house. These things are so big!! A single one of these monstrous pieces of art takes up more square footage than my first apartment! You could probably make a day just of the Museum of Art if you wanted.
The courtyard is in the middle of the museum’s two wings. This is a very inspiring location on the property and features casts of original works from the Renaissance, including Michelangelo’s David, in all his glory, as well as many others, several fountains and plenty of flowers and vegetation that stays green all year in this tropical climate.
This was the end of our day at the Ringling Grounds and well worth every dime we spent. There was a special on the tickets that day and I think we spent less per person to see all this than we did at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens just down the road. So if you have limited time in Sarasota–hands down, you must make a day of the Ringling Museums & Ca’ d ‘Zan before devoting time to any other tourist sites. Be sure to have plenty of batteries for your digital camera and take your time wandering through the acres and acres and many thousands of square feet of rich, Ringling estate. And please, be sure to tell Mable I said “Hello” and “Thank you.”