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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Woodlands Perfume

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Honeysuckle

The sweet smell of honeysuckle was the top note in the perfumery that enveloped our walk to the gate this afternoon. The lush boughs of white ti ti would have been overpowering alone, but when tiny bell-like blueberry blossoms, purple and yellow irises in the stream bed, and cinnamon ferns swirled in the soft breeze, the resulting aromatherapy took the sore from my shoulders and the vertical fret line from my brow.

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White Ti Ti
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Wild Blueberry Blossoms
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Louisiana Irises

The Louisiana yellow irises that now thrive in the stream bed are the only thing besides one calla lily bulb that I actually planted on the walk from house to gate. Everything else found its way here by itself. There are purple irises in the stream bed, too. Together they put on quite a show each spring.

 

August 2008 at Longleaf Preserve

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A friend looked at a spider on one of our sliding glass doors. It was carrying off a bug bigger and even weirder looking than itself. “What are those?” she said.

“They’re bugs. Don’t you know you’re in the woods?”

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Not all the ground is sandy here. Some places have a red clay base; others iron rock that would break a drill. Now I think of it, it seems odd that this “beach white” sand is out here in a Longleaf pine forest. Pretty, though, and soft on bare feet.

July 2008 at Longleaf Preserve

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I feel like an invader walking in the woods on these early July mornings. Baby turkeys with their mothers, a clutch of young quail, bunnies playing hide and seek, the young spike buck still in velvet, and innumerable hidden nests with peeps like an amateur orchestra tuning up. They are at home here, and I try to walk softly. Buck and I discovered a nursery of granddaddy longlegs of all sizes. Question: What are the metaphysical implications of being born a granddaddy?

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First June at Longleaf

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Buck and I built our cottage here just over three years ago. We have spent the last seven summers in North Carolina’s Rice Cove. This is our first June here at Longleaf. I grew up in Florida summers and know them well. Still, it’s a shock.

The temperature is nearly 90 degrees, and so humid my glasses steam up when I walk outside. It rained several inches yesterday and there have been flash flood warnings today.

We walked for an hour yesterday, wandering through a gauntlet of showy bead tongue colonies, which are much prettier than the name suggests. We marveled at the thick stalks bursting upward from last year’s planted pines, and the “me, too” effervescence of this year’s seedlings.

Beads of sweat running down my spine turned into a rivulet. Clearly, my medium long thick hair has got to go. Tomorrow. The air felt too thick and moist to breathe.

And yet — my eyes, which have been swollen and red due to allergies from the beautiful hayfields in North Carolina, are almost back to normal, no long itching and crusting.

And everywhere, flowers I have never seen before; flowers that only emerge in this wet, tropical season. They are surprising me with their paint box welcome.

It’s home, and I thrill to each new discovery. The southern fox grape, or scuppernong, vines have covered acres of woodland, tiny grapes have formed up, and are swelling with juice. I get so excited, I begin to babble about making scuppernong wine. Buck casts a sidelong glance in my direction, raising an eyebrow as if to check on whether my brain has begun to simmer in the heat.

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Some of the most beautiful wildflowers are Thumbelina-sized, like this Milk-Pea.

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We walked and talked, Maggie’s tongue hanging out, but staying with us. When we reached the spring, she gratefully lowered herself until the cool water touched her belly. I want to plant fig trees and Buck wants a grape arbor, and as we talked, an idea emerged for a sort of fruit salad of trees and bushes near the (to be built) pool. I can only imagine how happy the raccoons and possums will be when they hear that news.

After the Rain

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It rained last night, the kind we call a farmer’s rain, not a frog strangler or a gully washer. It was steady and gentle, a good soaking rain. At 8:30 this morning, when I walked to the gate, a clean mist hung in the woods.

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A pleasant smell of rich earth mingled with wild onion and mint. I developed a hunger for a bowl of taboulleh scooped up with crisp Romaine lettuce leaves. White toadstools with purplish splotches had sprung up beside the dirt road. I found the dotted horsemint again and, after a bit of looking around, discovered an entire colony nearby.

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Due to a trick of light, a spider’s web was completely invisible, and it seems as though she is magically suspended in mid-air.

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I walk this path almost every day, at least once, but the gaudy violet beautyberry clusters which have sprung up seemingly overnight are lovely in the mist. Up close they remind me of the plastic costume jewelry beads worn by a girl I knew in high school named Rhonda.

Dotted Horsemint: Smells Like Oregano

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I found this wild plant growing near the stream by the roadside this afternoon. Its leaves are fragrant. They smell like oregano. So far, I haven’t been able to locate any photos that resemble this plant, but it is one beautiful wild thing. Any ideas?*

*Thanks to B. Wayne Harris, Wildlife Biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, our latest mystery plant has been identified.

“This plant is a common but attractive variety of Monarda, particularly Monarda punctata. The most frequent common names that you hear for this flower is horsemint or dotted horsemint. They are very aromatic. I walked through a patch of them yesterday in Calhoun County and smelled like them all afternoon.”

August Afternoon

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THE STOCK MARKET CLOSED ATt 3:00 CST. Time for exercise. Buck wanted a true, heart-pumping workout, so he prepared to head for the weight bench and treadmill. Lacing his jogging shoes, he looked up at me, my hand on the front doorknob, “You just want to get out there, don’t you?”

He knows me so well.

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Looping Maggie’s whistle around my neck, grabbing my camera and a peppermint drop, I stepped from the cool dark cave of the house onto the screened porch. A slight breeze stirred the thick hot porridge. Maggie had heard the little bird chirp sound made when an exterior door is opened and greeted me, ears up, tail wagging and ready to go.

Just a few steps on the dirt road, away from the house shade, the full power of an August afternoon in panhandle Florida wrapped me up in a smothering blanket of heat and humidity. Magnificent in its way.

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Skinks and six-lined race-runners made the woods loud, racing around in the palmetto fronds and underbrush. Every now and then one of them would cross the road. Maggie was hilarious. Her legs turned into pogo sticks, as she bounded around in four-legged springy jumps. Seems an odd way to try and catch a lizard, and indeed, it was 100% ineffective, but dogs are entitled to their bizarre forms of entertainment, same as we are.

August is the last full month of true summer. There’s a sense of “too much” in the woods today, the grasses too tall, the twining vines taking it to the limit, the lush overgrowth at the edge of hysteria, verging toward the cellular overgrowth of cancer, sticking out its tongue at the approaching moderating voice of autumn and the denouement of winter. Even the dragonflies and other insects are obnoxious, loudly buzzing and popping their way around my ears.

The boggy areas are full of the white hatpins of the pipewort family and fine-leaved white top sedge is in bloom there by the roadside. The tall spiky stems of Chapman’s Blazing Star have begun to open purple flowers from the top.

I have learned that the bitter black berry I tasted when young Walt visited was gallberry. Now I see them everywhere, but am no longer tempted to put one of the plump shiny berries into my mouth.

Yellow St. Andrew’s Cross shrubs are springing up from seemingly bare ground, perhaps from underground runners.

Cheerful, sturdy looking yellow balduina flowers have begun to make their welcomed annual appearance.

Huge armfulsl of a white flowering plant have scattered themselves across the open pinelands. They look a little like Queen Ann’s lace, but I think they might be false hoarhound. Who named the wildflowers? I remember hoarhound drop candy. Is there true hoarhound versus false?

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By the time I get back to the house, it’s time to fix supper. Maggie is wet and muddy from wallowing in the stream bed, and my face is bright pink and slick with sweat.

Later, in the relative cool of the evening, we stand on the porch in the dark, listening to the deep musical bass notes of an owl’s song.