Photo essay: Gifts

The fate of nature rests with us

Longleaf pines stand at Curry Creek. Long ago, they were a dominant tree in the Southeastern United States. Now, only 3% of the originals remain. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Early in the new year, I am walking Curry Creek Preserve in Venice. A few wildflowers, leftovers from the fall blooming season, are in evidence. But as always, it is the trees that enchant. Longleaf pines are the centerpiece of this beautiful little park, a remnant right in the middle of town.

I am reminded that to walk in the woods, I do not have to know everything. I do not have to know anything. Not the names of plants, the species of ants, what birds are chattering in the trees, who made the footprints in the sand under my feet.

Yes, knowledge makes the experience richer, but sometimes, it is wonderful to just take in the diversity of the landscape. I can listen to bird song, the chirps of crickets, frog calls in the rainy season. And breathe.

Florida mottled ducks sometimes nest in the back dunes of a beach. This one raised her brood in a Sarasota County park. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Today, it is a reunion with old friends. A little green bee sails in to nectar on common morning glory. A sulfur butterfly, most likely one of the last of the season, flitters past. Screeching blue jays alert the community to the presence of a red-shouldered hawk claiming this territory as his own. I do not mind. His kind was here long before we came on the scene.

No matter how small the remnant, places like this are filled with enchantment. Just the play of light through branches and leaves evokes feelings of peace. Spanish moss at dusk turns to skeins of silver threads.

Curry Creek is just a microcosm of the richness of this peninsula. Every time I get on the road, I marvel at how nature serves up gifts on a daily basis in north, south, east and west Florida. Her beaches are the biggest draw but there are so many other places to see.

Pitcher plants prairies bloom in May in the Panhandle. Along U.S. 41 in the south of the state, a cooter turtle dines on spatterdock.

I never pass by the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, east of Naples, without stopping in for a possible sighting of the rarest of the rare — a Florida panther. This beautiful cypress/royal palm swamp is coming back to life after the logging out of the big cypress 70 years ago.

Wireweed blooms in fall at Crooked Lake Prairie in Polk County. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

The lakes and prairies in central Florida are all reasons for celebration. In Polk County, gorgeous pink and white wireweed blankets the prairie at Crooked Lake Preserve. Rare Bonamia (Bonamia grandiflora) blooms in summer at Hickory Lake Scrub. Spring and fall wildflowers color up the magnificent Kissimmee Prairie.

How could I forget Florida’s springs, the jewels of this peninsula? In winter, manatees congregate in Blue Spring.

Forests such as Goethe and San Felasco Hammock in Gainesville are treasure houses of plants and animals. Visit San Felasco any time; take a ride through Goethe in springtime when wildflowers carpet the roadsides.

This is the swamp at the incomparable Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Thanks to unsung guardians, the land managers, these places thrive, sometimes under huge restraints. Over the years I have learned, “No fire, no flowers.” Fire is as important to many Florida ecosystems as sun and rain. But it is persona non grataat Curry Creek because communities encircle the park.

A thousand people a day move here — and, unthinkingly, rush to make changes. Woodlands are destroyed to provide housing, strip malls, roads and all the necessities for the growing population. Trees are getting scarcer and therefore more valuable. The measure of a tree is so much more than board feet, a few hours of heat or even a piece of fine furniture. Poetry, music, beauty all flourish in one tree.

The cooter dines on spatterdock. Ditches along Florida roads are a rich repository of plants and animals. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Centuries ago, the cave painters at Lascaux celebrated animals in their surroundings. Today, our numbers have grown immensely. We are losing animals. Thinking we are IT, we forget we are one of 8 billion species on this beautiful planet.

How do we save us from ourselves? What we do matters. The wildflowers, the trees — yes, even the occasional snake that skitters away — all symbolize what we can still have with thoughtful planning, plus constant monitoring that we do not sacrifice nature to other priorities.

A sulfur butterfly nectars on Bonamia— Florida morning glory — at Hickory Lake Scrub. It is rare and beautiful, like so many aspects of this tract in Polk County. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Could a change of heart begin at home? Instead of “Chop that pine down; I can’t put up with the pinecones and needles,” we could say, “Let’s use the cones for decorations and the needles as mulch for a butterfly garden for migrating monarchs.”

Little River Springs in Suwannee County brightens up a gray winter day. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Florida leaders are planning to put a toll road through the center of the state that will adversely impact wildlife. Can we let the powers that be know that we are not in favor of this? Can we stand with Bob Knight and others who are working to protect our springs so that others in the future can dive into that glorious underworld?

The green anole, once common in Florida, is growing rare. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Vestiges of primal places and the feelings they engender in us still remain. Let us honor these feelings and hang on to these gifts for dear life. With generous dollops of grit and luck, these places will be here for us and future generations.

Public lands offer this mockingbird an alternative to city living. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
These are the woods at Ichetucknee Springs. The measure of a tree is so much more than board feet. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
The fate of the state (and the planet) is in our hands. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

3 thoughts on “Photo essay: Gifts”

  1. Thank you for this lovely and refreshing look at our Florida natural life all around us. It was a soothing morning because if your writing and photos.
    And, yes we must ensure natural Florida survives. The green anole lives well (along with various
    other species) in our yard.

  2. Fran’s photo essay is stunning, and so informative about our beautiful wildlife. We are so lucky to live in Florida.

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