Turn Off Your News-Feed and Take a Walk

Longleaf Preserve is what Buck and I call the hundred-acre wood where we have lived for the last eighteen years. It’s not a gated community with a name that evokes some long-past history. It’s an actual preserve for Longleaf pine trees and mixed-hardwoods. Buck bought the land back in the last century, in 1974. We married in 1984 and built our home here in 2000.

Many folks think of Florida as monolithic: hot in summer, heaven in winter, Mickie Mouse, golf, alligators and sharks. But the Florida Panhandle has seasons, gorgeous emerald water sugar sand beaches, and lush forests, along with some nifty small towns, including Pensacola, where we live. And a little known fact that messes with national elections reporting: we’re in the central time zone, whereas most of Florida is in eastern. We still have folks voting while the media have already started reporting who won or lost in Florida.

I’ve been walking the third of a mile from house to gate nearly every morning for a long time now, so I recognize and enjoy all the signs of changing seasons. I’m a lot older than when I first started making those morning walks, not as eager for the next season to arrive, preferring instead to linger and savor the one I’m in.

Even August, usually the peak time for heat, humidity, and clouds of love bugs. And hurricanes. But this August, with only a few more days to go, has been a kinder and gentler month. Plenty of actual rain rather than constant steam. Cooler temps. And fall-blooming wildflowers gracing us with their presence way earlier than usual.

Maybe somebody out there understands we noise-weary humans need a break. Do yourself a favor. Turn off your news-feed and take a walk.

Early morning at Longleaf August 2018
Early morning sunrise at Longleaf Preserve near Pensacola, Florida, August 2018.
Beauty-berry August 2018
American beauty-berry, also known as French mulberry, at Longleaf Preserve, August 26, 2018.
Man-of-the-earth flower August 2018
Gorgeous man-of-the-earth flower at Longleaf Preserve, August 2018. The flowers on this vine twist up and close when hit by direct sun. Early morning the woods are bedecked. By mid-day, bereft.
Green-Eye August 2018
Cheerful green-eye at Longleaf Preserve, August 2018.
Orb-weaver's web.
Orb-weaver’s web at sunrise. Longleaf Preserve. August 26, 2018
Morning light under the wild blueberry bushes.
Early morning light under wild blueberry bushes. Longleaf Preserve. August, 2018.

Early Spring – March 2014 in the Longleaf Woods Near Pensacola

The sharp-eyed bluebird watched in his lapis lazuli suit with its apricot vest from a fence post perch as more than thirty cardinals at the feeders played a manic game of leapfrog.

The steady rain didn’t slow them down at all. Hours later, the rain continues to fall straight down and steady into the warming ground and I know that within days I’ll be cranking up the old John Deere. Mowing season will have begun. But this afternoon the circles of light inside our dry abode are all the sanctuary a creature could dream for, and a nap beacons.

First, though, a March walk in the pine woods. If you’re still awake on this sleepy day, come along. Plenty of sweet, fresh air for everyone.

Woodland fashion show. We hear chartreuse is hot this year.
Woodland fashion show. We hear Chartreuse is hot this year.
2014 March Morning deer at #6
If you’re very quiet, and look close, you’ll see a couple of whitetail deer enjoying a breakfast salad.
Old garden bench Buck and I carried down to the spring. Perfect spot for morning coffee or lunch.
Old garden bench Buck and I carried down to the spring. Perfect spot for morning coffee or lunch.
2014 March Big sister baby brother pines
“You be as tall as me by next summer,” big sister to little brother.
2014 March Streambed 4
Natural all-weather, even-flow springs in northwest Florida are not very common.
2014 March Florida Anise tree in bloom overhanging stream
The native Florida Anise tree’s boughs hang over the stream, spicing the air with an aroma that evokes kumquats mixed with herbs.
2014 March When little Smilax grows up
Even a young smilax vine will trip you up and tear your skin. But when they grow up, . . . well, see for yourself.
2014 March Moss on rocks near stream
Luxuriant moss has returned to the woods, so green it seems to glow from some inner light.
2014 March Magnolia
I have come to love the dark, glossy magnolias and their stalwart presence throughout the woods.
Together we are stronger.
Together we are stronger.
In the clearing, a young oak dreams of what life will be like when she develops gravitas.
In the clearing, a young oak dreams of what life will be like when she develops gravitas.
Home.
Home.
Perfect site for a small, woodland cottage, midnights on a screened porch, storytelling and owls.
Perfect site for a small, woodland cottage, midnights on a screened porch, storytelling and owls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2014 at Longleaf Preserve (retrospective)

I know we’re well into March already, but want to go ahead and post these photos from February in hopes of having a representative photo gallery for each month of the year. Seasons buff and polish us with our expectations and their surprises. I hope to be out in the woods with a camera later this week, but those photos will go in the March envelope.

Today was gorgeous: low seventies, blue sky, and soft breeze. Buck and I worked at the conference table from 8 this morning until 3 in the afternoon, then grabbed our cutters and hit the road between house and gate to continue our vine-slaying and streambed-clearing project.

I’m nursing dings and scratches from vines that tugged back and then slapped me in the face with their thorns, but am proud to say we rescued a glorious spreading oak and a vibrant (albeit struggling) magnolia from the strangulating vines.

We ate spicy red beans, brown rice, and corn bread back at the conference table while we continued to grind through the final reading of Buck’s manuscript. We’ve completed 340 pages in the last several days — only 60 to go! We’re going to celebrate early tonight by going to bed early, eating Dove dark chocolates, and reading.

Here, then, February in the pine woods:

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The growth tip on this young Longleaf pine is getting ready to rocket skyward.
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Brilliant berries on a Yaupon bush.
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An area we call the “Iron Rock forest.” We never thought anything could grow here, much less this lush colony of mostly volunteer and a few planted Longleafs.

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Slash pine growing up through the middle of a palmetto stand. I’ve been watching it since it was barely more than a twig.

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Various stages of growth in the forest.

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The Iron Rock Forest is a video about the area at Longleaf we call the Iron Rock Forest. I made it with my little Vimeo way back in some other year — 2009, I think. It gives you some perspective for how the trees are growing.

These are the Days

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Sunset at Longleaf Preserve near Pensacola, Florida

THESE ARE THE DAYS we have been waiting to see. The cold, wet air has pushed out and now the atmosphere is clear and crisp, the perfect recipe for sunsets like this one I captured so long ago in 2004 only a few steps from where I am typing tonight in the pine woods near Pensacola, Florida.

Buck and I have been taking our lopping tools and hand saws to the road between house and gate almost every day this week, trying to sever the “Tarzan” vines strangling some beautiful oaks. I swear I heard a tree take a deep breath and sigh today when we severed a thick vine – thick as a small tree – and together pulled and tugged until it gave up at last and we dragged it from the bound limbs of the fine old oak. We return to the house each day bloodied from hand-to-hand combat with the vicious thorn vines. We feel alive, and we toast each other and laugh, ready to do battle another day with whatever dark forces would strangle life.

Treasure Hunting on the Hard Drive

Old photo files have a way of concealing themselves on a hard drive that can defy discovery. They often hide in plain sight under false flags. This morning I found the mother lode of pitcher plant photos I thought were gone forever and was able them restore it to their place in the time continuum for May 16, 2005 in a post called Pitcher Plant Show.

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Pretty remarkable what nature does all on its own, whether we’re there to see it or not.

February Pitcher Plants: High-Style Carnivores

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Are these pitcher plants gorgeous or what? Talk about a nice surprise. A crystalline blue sky and dry, cool air drew Buck and me outdoors yesterday to wander the fire line trails. There’s a swampy area where the road is too wet to cross this time of year. We walked right up to that spot; I looked off to the right, and there, in the pine straw and muck, nearly hidden, was this stunner. No wonder hapless insects find them irresistible.

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We only saw this one cluster, but it was our treasure find for the day.

January 2014 at Longleaf Preserve

Most of us have heard the old chestnut that the trick in life isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get. Expectations shade our perception of reality. Here on the Gulf coast of Florida, we’ve had a series of mild, rather pleasant winters. Until this year. Birds skating on the frozen bird bath for days on end is not part of my world view of “how things should be” in our winters. I can almost hear my friend, Jeanne, laughing. She lives in Moose Pass, Alaska, although even she has dusted out of there for an adventure to South Africa. (Check her fantastic photos at Gullible’s Travels.)

The ice melted completely late last week and now we’re back to more typical winter weather: chilly for a day or two, then a warming trend with rain, then cool again. Repeat until spring. Some beautiful days are coming, I’m sure. Like lots of other folks around the country, we’re eager for some bright sun blue sky days.

Here are a few January scenes. I wish now I had roused myself from the warm house and gone to the woods to get some ice and snow photos, but instead was true to my hothouse flower roots and stayed by the fire with hot chocolate, Buck, and a pile of books.

Planting Day at Longleaf

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My heart is indurated, my head obdurate. The broken ground, here, friable. I kneel and smell its fragrance, nurturing as good bread warm from a mindful oven.

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The green grass, which I mow all summer on a small John Deere lawn tractor, encroaches a little more each year and the strip sown in a wheat, oats and rye mixture for the deer has narrowed. The deer nibble the grass, too, so I’m not sure they mind. Besides, they make their circuits to two other fields grown just for them. Once there were six, but as Harold has grown more frail and Buck’s bred in his bones fire for hunting has self-extinguished, the only reason for planting even two food plots now is nostalgia and the imperative of the season.

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Harold has been in and out of the hospital twice in recent weeks. His son (far left) helped plant this year’s fields. Buck is in it now for the friendship, the symbolism, the memories., and the beauty of the moment.

Our twenty-year-old granddaughter, Andie, spent Tuesday night with us, then she and I took mugs of French Roast coffee hot as fire and drove the old black pick-up truck to Sunshine Hill for the seed while Buck, Harold and Huey prepared and fertilized the ground. Andie and I saw fields nearly white for harvest up near Molino, where cotton has returned. When she and I returned, we drove to the fields and slung fifty pound sacks to the ground or slid them to the tailgate for pickup. I got distracted listening to Harold’s stories and stood in a bed of ants. Andie saw them marching double-time up my calves and alerted me. They bit in unison when I jumped, ran, and tore off my jogging shoes and socks. No damage done, just a few red bites on my feet, legs and fingers. They were a mild tribe.  Andie focused and refocused the camera in her mind, I could see her do this, and I know this is a day she shall never forget. She saw her granddad and me in a surprising venue, away from our desks, the hearth, the kitchen and the dining table.

A farmer’s rain came yesterday as if we had ordered it from a menu to tamp down the soil and swell the seeds.

The fields were prepared. The seeds were planted. And the rains came.

Protective Coloration

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The object in the center of the magnolia leaf is a mushroom resting on a lichen-covered twig. Buck and I deviated from our house-to-gate morning walking track and cut through the woods on this morning of dappled sun and cool breezes. Buck pointed to a huge old magnolia tree. Really, it was three trees grown together. A fallen log was wedged through the center of trio. It stuck out at least six feet on either end, giving the impression of a bench. We walked over to get a closer look at this curiosity and found ourselves in a magnolia grove surrounded by saplings of varying ages. We stood ankle-deep in leaf drifts.

A mottled circle  nearly covered in leaves caught my eye and I immediately became still. “Don’t move, Buck. Look where I’m looking. Is that a snake?” I watched the circle, half expecting it to move under the leaves.  We concluded it might be a mushroom, but just to be on the safe side, Buck took a long stick and nudged the object. It fell over. Mushroom. Yep. We knew it all the time. Darned unusual, though, and quite beautiful.

I didn’t have my camera, so used a magnolia leaf as a little boat to carry the mushroom back to the house. Buck spotted this patch of moss and suggested its outrageous shade of green would make a good backdrop for the photo. I think he was right. Now, the mushroom resting on the lichen-covered twig looks more like a piece of designer jewelry than a hidden snake.

Anybody know the proper name for this mushroom? (It does not have gills underneath, if that helps.)