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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Gentle Fireworks of Spring

Some Notes:

29 January 2008:

Evening, and robins, wild and fat, clutch the tallest shoots of the huckleberry bushes at river’s edge. They sway and dive. The 75’ space between house and river throbs with robins. These puffy-chested, red-breasted robins clutching the tips of the tall pines are swinging in the wind.

This evening the trees at the river’s edge are a little less naked than when I wrote a few days ago about the samara of the red maple, small bits of pink, thrown like silken flame onto Hwy 41. Now, I carefully work my way down the river bank to see if any have fallen from the Florida Maple at the river’s edge.

Thomas flies past me and runs straight up a tall water oak that leans out over the water. “Careful. Water,” I say, reassured by the thought I’ve never yet seen a cat in the river. I have seen logs, boats, kayaks, inner tubes, canoes, people, fish, otter, snakes, alligators, small turtles, and once a white tailed deer swimming past. Thomas comes down in his own good time and is sprawled here beside me now, in case I need help with the spelling of “cat.”

Sunday, 10 February 2008:

This is too much: here I am, having just written about the wonders of cold weather and there’s a bee buzzing the new huckleberry blooms beside the river. It’s 5:00 p.m. and splendid on the deck, light whitening the upper reaches of the west sides of tree trunks, limbs, branches, and twigs all grayed out on the north and east. Close to the ground, the tree trunks are in shadow, the black gum especially dark.

The bee’s buzzing stops and I hear a mewling, maybe the cry of an infant squirrel. The black berries on the smilax move in the wind as the bee drones from one bell-shaped flower to another, blossoms so small that ten could easily fit on my thumbnail. Along the branches of the wild azalea and curling vines of the wisteria, I finger nubs that will unfold into leaves.

Here, trees, bushes, and palmettos all lean toward the river. In strong winds, dead trees fall forward, the cracking of their wood sudden as thunder. Such a tree lies only a little way from where I am sitting. I heard it rip and crash from inside the house during a high wind, perhaps last Tuesday, the night of tornadoes in Tennessee and Mississippi. The broken tree is now a heap of huge splinters, lying on the Suwannee’s bare, white beach. The bee returns, circles my head, slows before my face, considers whether or not I am a flower he can drink from.

The sun’s an inch from falling out of sight behind Suwannee River Water Management woods and only the tip top of the black gum here beside me is lit. My own shadow extends the width of the deck and ten feet beyond, dissolving into the thick piles of coppery straw fallen from longleaf pines. Thomas appears frozen in place; he's my watch cat and alerts me to the presence of fox and deer.

13 February 2008:

While folks in other parts of the country are sloshing through horrid (magnificent) winter snowdrifts, in North Florida we are counting the winged samara bearing the seed of the Florida Red Maple ((Acer rubrum) that sprinkles them down by the river in early spring. The two halves of the samara are delicately joined, as fragile as an insect’s wings, and a deep rose. Under the gossamer covering are the maple’s seeds.

Primary colors: Driving today along the road I saw the year’s first blue-lavender blur of toadflax, Linaria canadensis. On the roadsides, whole bushes are curled over with the vines of the Yellow Jessamine (Carolina Jasmine, Gelsemium sempervirens), and the two reds of sheep’s sorrel and the Florida Maple.

At Suwannee Springs near Live Oak, I stood on last year's brown palmetto fronds and prickly sweet gum pods , to photograph the long crack in the wall of an old springhouse built, along with hotels and private cottages, when these springs were a tourist destination (from the Civil War until the 1920s). A branch of Florida Maple hung just in front of the camera, its unopened samara, points of red. The Black-eyed Susan (Rudibeckia hirta), phlox, Horrible Thistle (Cirsium horridulum), and Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) will soon be blooming.

The curly red plant on the sides of the road is called Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and that may be what the ground-feeding songbirds are eating, also the rabbits and deer. In folk memory, Sheep sorrel represents the language of parental love. Think about that when you pass a whole field of cream-of-tomato red soup. Observe how it spreads.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

UPDATE On The Book, SOUTHERN COMFORTS: Rooted in a Florida Place

SOUTHERN COMFORTS: Rooted in a Florida Place (available from the University of Georgia Press and at has been nominated for The American Book Award, The Florida Book Award, and the Florida Historical Society's Samuel Proctor Award.

Lizard, Cat, Cold Porch

Blog Sunday 10 Feb 2008

I believe this is Sceloporus undulatus, an Eastern Fence Lizard, this fellow Thomas has brought in. Thomas, of course, doesn’t know “lizard” and thinks this is a toy, his own toy. I praise Thomas for his amazing lizard catching skills and, while his eyes adore mine, I snatch the lizard and hide him behind my back. Out on the stairs, I place Sir Lizard on the top of the stair’s banister: dark brown stripes on his sides, neon blue on belly and throat, a really astounding blue.

Mr. Sceloporus isn’t moving and may have internal injuries, so I set him down in bannister sunshine. Ten minutes later, I open the door and he looks exactly the same, a miniature dragon, toes splayed, but unmoving. When I step toward him, he comes alive, scurries along the banister, and pauses at the edge of the upstairs entrance as though considering a jump. I pull the door closed behind me, lock the cat door so Thomas can’t get out, and give Mr. S. some time.

This day is why people move to Florida: full sun, slight breeze, 70 degrees at 2:00 p.m. It doesn’t get any better than this which is why, last night, I undressed for bed on the dark, screened porch. I wanted to feel the cold and remember it in summer when even the screened porch is almost too hot for stepping out on though, not, I suppose, too hot for shucking one’s clothes.

When I built and moved into the house in 2002, I resolved to live without ac, a notion I endured for less than two months, during which I remember wearing nothing but bathing suits and large scarves. So now there is ac and, as with every other comfort I can think of, something has been gained and something lost, which is why I take outdoor showers in the summer and sometimes sleep with the porch doors open on our coldest nights.

A certain measure of discomfort is invigorating. In fact, I know of a man who has for many years taken all his baths outside, cooks outside, and eats from his own garden. He does have a phone and a TV, though, so he is only a partial Spartan. If you think on this for about five seconds, you will realize that, in attempting to keep things simple, this modern Thoreau stands a little closer to hundreds of thousands of people he’ll never see anywhere but on his tv screen, folks for whom a drink of water is a gift and a bath, unimagined. When I was undressing on the cold porch, it seemed to me that in the night sky each star grew whiter and more distinct and, in embracing dark and cold, I had joined myself more surely to many things I could not name or even see.

Mr. S. is gone, invisible, has left us, but in the feeder below three pine warblers with yellow wash across their backs peck out a beat, small, feathered drummers, keeping time.