The Sassy Sandpiper: The Muse and Mr. Neri
The Sassy Sandpiper talks of her love for “Lealman’s Eden” – Joe’s Creek Greenway Park, which will officially become the Raymond H. Neri Community Park.during a ceremony next Saturday (Oct. 27). All are invited to the event.
By M.R. Wilson, Columnist, TB Reporter
LEALMAN – I haven’t always lived within walking distance of “Lealman’s Eden,” the 38-acre park that has been renamed for a community activist who advocated passionately for its development, the late Raymond H. Neri.
Discovering the wooded refuge, formerly called Joe’s Creek Greenway Neighborhood Park, was serendipitous. Several years ago I was the new kid on the block, missing the urban wilderness in Largo surrounding the Lake Seminole By-Pass Canal. This new place to wander and ponder was even better. I never liked the rush of traffic from Bryan Dairy Road, which was widened in 2003. Once a cattle trail, it became a major east-west artery.
“My” new park was like a portal to some magical, mystical healing realm. Perhaps I could find my long lost Muse here? I was enchanted immediately, first by the dark green quiet. No traffic noise intruded here. Inhaling the fragrance of brackish water, I soon found the lake, a widening of the headwaters of Joe’s Creek. I first wrote about this place in the spring 2016. Everything about it whispered, “Your spirit has a home here.”
And so my love affair with the park took root. Here I met fellow nature enthusiasts gazing to the islands beyond “the Turtle Bridge” where ibis balanced delicately and anhingas stretched their wings to dry. The park’s moods changed with the seasons; autumn brought cooler mornings and eerie mists that blanketed the open green field and swirled like dragon’s breath over the water. One might get lost staring into it until an ancient beast drifted into view, just inches below the surface: An alligator, possibly the massive one nicknamed “Big Joe” (or maybe it’s Josephina), cruised for breakfast.
I was so enamored of the place that I created a park friends group. It’s been hugely rewarding to connect with kindred spirits who understand Rachel Carson’s famous quotation: “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” Mr. Neri understood it, too.
The group includes several distinguished photographers and shutterbugs, among them Carla Anderson, Laurellee Faith, Kim McDonald, Nancy Sohlgren Stephens, and Debbie Wolfe. Jorge Mercado posts the latest news about plans for park improvements; Dennis Curcio advocates for nuisance vine clean-up and greater maintenance vigilance. Laura Petersen Brown shares her love and enthusiasm and Laura Simkanich is a staunch advocate for preservation. Mary Beth and her dog, Snickers, encourage everyone. Other “Friends” are fitness guru Ashely Anderson and Benjamin Carlson who runs like a gazelle. I’ve heard his record is 16 laps. To all, including those I do not know personally, my thanks.
I never had the privilege of knowing Ray Neri, yet I feel power in his friends’ memories and his presence along the path. I hope you’ll join me at 10 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 27) at the park for the official park dedication and unveiling of its new sign.
Photos of Raymond H. Neri Community Park courtesy of the Friends of Raymond H. Neri Commnunity Park: Carla Anderson, Kim McDonald, Laurellee Faith, and Nancy Sohlgren Stephens, David J. Porch, Jack Sharp and M.R. Wilson. Main photo of sunset by Carla Anderson.
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