Monday, May 27, 2013

A Sense of Place

I visited my favorite ditch yesterday and it was as full of life as ever. As we ease into summer, it is hotter and more humid and the afternoon rains have started again. The plant life is changing with the heat. The Skullcaps have finished blooming and now all that remains are the seed pods that give them their common name. The Lady's Tresses Orchids seem to be gone, but I found 2 Grass Pink Orchids, which is a marvel to me because I'd never seen them prior to this year. The carnivorous plants are enjoying the moisture and bugs. The tiny Sundews still cover the ground, although I didn't see any of their flowers. I cannot avoid stepping on them and I feel like a huge monster, leaving destruction in my wake. The Hooded Pitcher Plants were still blooming. One of these days I'll have to remember to look and see if there are any bugs or frogs inside. Pale Meadow Beauties have popped up in the last 2 weeks and there will be other varieties by the end of summer. The grass is pretty with splashes of pink throughout. There are still a few holdout Yellow Colic Root flowers and Oakleaf Fleabane. The Yellow Eyed Grass is blooming, now, and the ground is covered with teeny tiny Eryngium flowers, that I would have probably missed if it hadn't been for the heads up from my friend Bubba. There is an abundance of Blackroot blooming and the butterflies are very attracted to this strange flower with its winged stems. You can smell the strong aroma of Vanilla Leaf as you walk through the Flatwoods. The plants are growing tall and should bloom any day. The Little Metalmark Butterflies were there, as I knew they would be. I can always count on them. Rosettes of the Deertongue plants are growing everywhere on the ground and they should soon be sprouting taller with purple flowers that the swallowtails won't be able to resist. And I'll be watching all summer for signs of big orange Catesby's Lilies and hope that the county mowers won't come by and disrupt the whole scene. I'll have to be realistic and acknowledge that it may still happen, though, whether it's out of concern for fire danger, road visibility, or just force of habit. We'll just hope not.

Skullcap Seed Pods (Scutellaria integrifolia)

Grass Pink Orchid (Calopogon multiflorus)

Tip of My Boot Near the Tiny Sundews (Like Godzilla!)

Hooded Pitcherplant (Sarracenia minor)

Pale Meadow Beauty (Rhexia mariana)

Yellow Eyed Grass (Xyris difformis)

Eryngium baldwinii

Blackroot (Pterocaulon virgatum)

Little Metalmark on Polygala lute
It's great to have a place that you can watch and get to know really well. I have a few of those kinds of places around here in Gainesville, and I try to visit them as often as I can because I can't wait to see what will happen next. I've been visiting them for a while now and have a photo almanac of sorts that I can draw upon to compare year to year. I'd like to keep a journal. When did this flower first sprout last year? Where was I when I saw a certain butterfly? I know when I can see Bluebirds and Nuthatches at Morningside and Cranes and Glossy Ibises at Paynes Prairie, or when I can find hummingbirds at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, and Poppy Mallow at San Felasco. I love going back over and over again, because they make me feel like I know these places.
Hatpins and Polygala in the Ditch
Every year at Memorial Day, for as far back as I can remember, my grandma would make the trip down to her home town, Moroni, Utah. She called it "Decoration Day" and she would visit relatives and bring flowers to the cemeteries in Mt. Pleasant and Nephi where her family and my grandpa's family were buried. It was an important time for her and when she got older she had my aunt and uncle or cousins take her. Somehow, I never made the trip with her, even though it was only a few hours from Salt Lake, where I grew up. But when she died, I finally did go to the cemetery in Nephi. It was a very moving experience, not just because I was burying my beloved grandmother, but because as I looked around at the headstones, I realized that I knew all the names. I've done a little genealogical work and was very familiar with the names of my grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. The ancestors born in the harsh environs of pioneer Utah, and their parents and grandparents born in England and Denmark, Scotland and Sweden, who left their families behind, sailed across the ocean and made the arduous trek across the country by wagon train and hand cart to this new land. Here they were, right next to me. And these were actually only part of the family. This was where my grandfather's family was buried. Relatives in my grandma's family were in the cemetery in nearby Mt. Pleasant. My grandma often referred to family in Central Utah as "my people". And that is where she rests, surrounded by her people. My people. As I stood there in the cemetery, I felt this confusing rush of emotions. If these were my people, this must be my place. The names were familiar, and the town was a source of family stories, but it was also unfamiliar to me. I was connected through family but I did not know the place.

I've lived here in Florida, far away from "my people" for going on 17 years, which is getting to be a long time. But no matter how long I've been here, I do not have the ancestral claim to the land that  Florida Natives have. My ancestors came to Utah in the 1850's. My roots go back 5 generations. I don't have that in Florida. I still struggle to mentally place cities and towns because I don't have the geography of Florida in my personal folklore. The family stories we have here are limited to the ones my husband, my daughters and I have made in those 17 years.  But I have made a connection to the nature of Florida. I know that when I need to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, all it takes is a mere whiff of the ocean air. In the summers I crave the cool of the freshwater springs with their deep blues and greens and cypress knees.  When I've been away, returning to the heavy, humid air and buzzing cicadas feels familiar and comforting now. I have become enchanted by the world of Florida's wildflowers, insects, birds and mammals. As I have learned more about them I have also come to appreciate the complexity of their ecosystems, their variety and the changes brought about by seasons, drought, storms and fire. I am getting to know them. Knowing a place makes one feel grounded and connected. You get the inside references. You understand the jokes. You know what's happening. You know what to expect.

We are a nation of nomads who leave our histories and connections behind as we seek new lives--jobs, school, love and adventure. Change is exciting and good, but can also leave you adrift. I imagine that my great-great grandparents experienced this when they left everything they knew behind and started a new life in the desert of central Utah. But they came to that strange land with a purpose--building a religious paradise on earth. Some of them eventually brought their parents and other relatives and settled in. That focus and determination gave them connection. I too have settled in a new place and left behind my ancestral roots. But I have found connection to Florida by learning about its nature, and in the knowing, I feel my own purpose and sense of place.
Southern Hairstreak on Blackroot (Pterocaulon virgatum)


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it. I hope to get out there again soon. It's butterfly time!