‘Alphabet Soup’ series continues
Author’s note: “Alphabet Soup” is a series occasioned by the diversity, the beauty and — more and more — the vulnerability of natural Florida.
What soup has only one “P” in it? What follows are a few variations.
The iconic description of Florida: palms waving in a gentle breeze, white sandy beaches and flowers blooming in winter.
Beloved by beachgoers, the brown variety of this large water bird is a year-round resident in Florida; the white, a winter visitor. Both birds dive for their dinner from heights up to 50 feet, stunning fish and scooping them up in their pouches. Protected by the Endangered Species Act in 1970, their numbers have increased dramatically, but now plans to weaken the act have put them and other wildlife and plants in jeopardy.
The true originals of the Florida landscape, pines are beautiful to behold, with bundles of dark green needles. They are home to Eastern screech owls and red-shouldered hawks. Woodpeckers probe the chunky bark for insects. In spring and fall, migratory birds rest and feed in the canopy. An osprey will sit high atop one to eat his “catch of the day.” Eagles build their huge nests in pines.
A pine constitutes a “community”: vines — some as thick as a man’s arm — climb the trunk, which is splattered with lichen. Saw palmetto, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses grow at its feet. A census might list birds, squirrels, lizards, spiders, grasshoppers, bees, ants, beetles, a dragonfly at rest and a sulphur butterfly flitting through the branches — all in one tree.
There are still places that evoke the old Florida, such as Paynes Prairie in Gainesville and the Fakahatchee Strand east of Naples. Both are state parks. Land outside parks is another story. Riding down the Tamiami Trail, with its fast food eateries, big box stores, malls and gated communities, we could be in “Anywhere U.S.A.” Most of us are imports. We make over our new place to please ourselves.
Consider the early morning landscape most anywhere in this peninsula.
And think of the “Power of One.”
Eagles are another success story. Rachel Carson made the difference. Discovering that DDT weakened the eggshells of eagles, impeding their ability to reproduce, she wrote her seminal work Silent Spring. Facing numerous detractors — including Congress and pesticide companies — she stood up for what she knew to be true. We, too, can be the “power of one” and act on what we know to be true.
Walk a park with those who are intimately connected with the land — biologists, who see to the functioning of ecosystems, and land managers, with the responsibility of preserving it — and you will see the pride they take in the place. Their public faces are optimistic, hopeful that the land will remain pristine in perpetuity, as it is supposed to. In their private moments, they may weep with the knowledge it is slipping away.
The “Florida of First Peoples” was depicted by the artist Jacques le Moyne, who — in 1562 — sailed into the St John’s River with French conquistadors. In the 1770s, William Bartram captured natural Florida in images and words in Travels, a book that is still in print. Wintering in Mandarin in the mid 1800s, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Palmetto Leaves.Inspired by her writing, visitors poured into Florida and are still doing so (1,000 people a day move to this state.) In 1887, composer Frederick Delius, captivated by the singing of farmhands at Solano Grove on the St. Johns River, blended the New and Old Worlds in Florida Suite.
“A chief delight of the flower-hunter in the Florida Peninsula is that on each day of the year something of interest may be found,” wrote Mary Francis Baker 100 years ago in the introduction to Florida Wild Flowers.
Even as it was being portrayed as a kind of paradise, it seemed to be slipping away. In Yesteryear I Lived in Paradise, Myrtle Betz — who grew up on Caladesi Island in the early 1900s — mourned the loss of the land of her childhood.
The bottom line for developers. In his book The National Parks, John Muir wrote, “Nothing is safe that is dollerable.”
Many, many individuals and groups are building coalitions to slow sea level rise and other aspects of climate change, which already threaten the peninsula.