Colors of the Spirit
My Dad was a builder of homes. Much like any kid, I valued those days I rode along in the pick-up truck to a job site. The sights, sounds and smells of a new house being built can be pretty heady stuff for an eight-year old. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but by far the most significant part of the experience was time spent with my Father.
On the way home from a job one day, Dad pointed to a huge billboard advertising “Buy A Piece of Natural Florida!“. He said, “See those trees beyond that sign? Those are cypress trees. They can’t grow if their roots aren’t constantly wet. What do you think will happen when folks try to build houses out there?”
Within 10 years, almost no homes had been built in that spot and those which had, needed a lot of fill brought in to create a suitable foundation. Even then, each summer their houses were surrounded by water. “Nature gives us hints”, Dad said. Wise man.
We surveyed the pine woods. Gini has the eyes (and skills) of an artist and her perception of a scene is usually different than mine. I see dead snags which might harbor a Red-headed Woodpecker nest. She sees the different shades of green pine needles and textures of overlapping bark of the trunks. I observe the dense growth of Saw-palmetto beneath the pines. She marvels at the dull green color of the fans and spots tendrils of several species of vines in the undergrowth.
“Nature gives us hints.” A Great Egret stands motionless, patiently waiting for the frog to make a move. The large white wading bird’s presence in the middle of a pine forest may seem incongruous unless one is aware that this area is pock-marked with shallow pools throughout most of the year. Without that knowledge and without the “hint” provided by the egret, one is destined to end up with wet feet.
Our morning was absolutely glorious! No birding checklist, no agenda. Observe. Breathe. Absorb.
In his 1836 essay, Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Nature always wears the color of the spirit.” If we are depressed our view of the woods may focus on the dead leaves. A cheerful attitude may enhance our enjoyment of the varying hues of those same leaves.
We know we are not normal. Our over-the-top zest for life has been known to actually annoy friends and family. Nature seems to appreciate our attitude and always manages to wear the color of our spirit.
Grab your sunglasses. It’s about to get bright in here.
The American Kestrel is North America’s smallest falcon. Bright facial stripes, crisp spots on a light breast and yellow legs really stand out while perched on a bright green pine tree.
Rays from the sun were captured and reflected in waves of sunflowers. Narrowleaf Sunflower, or Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) can grow to four or five feet in height and spread several feet in width. The results can be some pretty spectacular yellow vistas.
That Great Egret we mentioned is actually standing in a shallow pool which is almost completely covered in grass just waiting for the unsuspecting hiker to come splashing along.
As we neared the spot where the egret was hunting, the pool opened up a bit and its surface had the appearance of dozens of fallen stars. The illusion was thanks to the diminutive Virginia Buttonweed (Diodia virginiana). Closer examination of these hairy little plants revealed a really beautiful flower.
More highlights of white around the edge of the pool turned out to be Dotted Smartweed (Persicaria punctata). Again, a closer look at the very small blooms showed an intricate beauty we could have easily walked past.
Down in the weeds around the pond, one of the bright grass skippers, a Phaon Crescent (Phyciodes phaon) ignored our presence as it searched for sustenance.
Ray, a drop of golden sun. We were surrounded by gold! And we truly felt enriched. Pinebarren Goldenrod (Solidago fistulosa) was blooming all along the edges of the forest.
Watching a Red-shouldered Hawk on the hunt was one of the high points of our morning.
Purple! It can be a bit startling to be surrounded by the green of the pine woods and green of the saw-palmetto understory and all of a sudden encounter large swathes of purple. Hairy Chaffhead (Carphephorus paniculatus), also called Deertongue, is impressive in this setting. Plants are nearly three feet tall and each “head” sports dozens of unique flowers. The Deertongue epithet is apparently due to the resemblance of rather large and wide basal leaves to the tongue of a White-tailed Deer. Those crazy botanists sure have an imagination!
So, there we were, watching butterflies nectaring at some tall flowers in the distance. Yours truly set out to get closer in order to present you, dear reader, with an acceptable quality of images. One of the large Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Pterourus glaucus) appeared in front of me and I snapped a quick in-flight shot knowing I would soon be obtaining better pictures once I reached the flowers. In tracking the butterfly through the lens, I stepped in a hole. I didn’t fall, but as I glanced down to see what I stepped into, my gaze stopped a few feet ahead.
I was convinced you all didn’t really need any more butterfly pictures. The Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) agreed with my decision to back up. Rapidly.
Overhead, a Tufted Titmouse observed my predicament. You may not be able to see it, but there is a definite grin on that little beak.
Even more yellow to enjoy! Growing on stems about two feet tall and with leaves like grass, the Narrowleaf Silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia) is also known as Golden Aster.
Tangles of bright red stars decorate saw-palmetto and the butterflies appreciate it. So did we! Belonging to the morning glory family, the Cypressvine (Ipomoea quamoclit) has a wonderful combination of beautiful blooms and delicate foliage. A Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae) doesn’t care about all that as long as the juice bar is open!
We prepared to leave and were completely ignored by a Red-shouldered Hawk who seemed more interested in something she could have for a snack. Our feelings were not hurt at all.
Our attitudes, emotions and personal circumstances influence how we view life. That view changes as our mental state changes. More often than not, the two of us are able to be optimistic on a daily basis. It truly helps as we explore Nature since she “always wears the color of the spirit”.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!