The Southern Gentleman (Goethe State Forest Part 1)
When I researched for my initial visit to Goethe State Forest located in Dunnellon, Florida, I discovered a specific and unique characteristic about the area that I wanted to experience for myself. I found more. A lot more. This is a two-part story. The first part is about finding what I was not looking for. The second part is about possibly finding what I was looking for. Thanks for tuning in!
I will call my Sunday, 1/10/21 adventure:
“They say first impressions are everything…”
“What’s in a word?”
My morning was a lesson in perception, patience, tolerance, and one of my personal mottos: “Live and Let Live.” This is not the story I was planning to write, so it was also a reminder to continue to be fluid since my plans change often.
I was supposed to visit Goethe State Forest on Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, my car decided that was not going to happen. I finally got my car out of the shop Wednesday. I planned to go Saturday, but something else came up, so I went Sunday. The third time was the charm!
I often say I am going places to “see what I can see.” Since I could not go previously as planned, I do not know what I missed out on seeing. Probably Sasquatch riding a unicorn. What I do know is that all of time and space had been marching up to ensure that I made it specifically when and where I was meant to be.
I saved a map on my phone and let five people know where I would be and when I would be finished. I checked to see about prescribed burns and hunting dates, since parts of Goethe include Wildlife Management Areas. I am glad I checked because Sunday was included as a day for small game hunting. I grabbed my blaze orange and stuffed it in my pack before I left home. I told Gossamer (my beagle-terrier mix, I call him a Berrier) and the cats my usual, “Behave. I love you! Gossamer, stay out of the cat litter and keep the cats off the dining room table.” Do they ever listen though? Negative.
With over 50,000 acres and several entrances to choose from, I wanted to explore at least 2-3 trails. I set my sights to start at the Big Cypress Boardwalk Trail. The morning was overcast and cool so I dressed in layers. It was a 43 minute drive from home, which was a nice test to make sure my car was running better. GPS took me on a route that was different than I expected, but after the drive I was thankful for the direction I traveled. It really is a great feeling to be surrounded by forest.
When I arrived at the turn off from the main road on to a dirt road, a red truck was parked. Perhaps they decided to trek the 4 miles from there to the boardwalk. I considered it, but was not in the mood for 8 miles round trip since I wanted to check out other trails within the forest and only planned to hike 5 miles that day. After bouncing and shaking the 4 miles on the one-way dirt road in my sedan, I reconsidered my decision to drive instead of walk. The man at the car shop told me I was missing 5 lug nuts. I had to put the image out of my mind of my wheel popping off and continuing to roll without me. I will be getting that rectified Friday. I turned down my music and cracked the windows so I could try to listen to Nature despite the noisy drive on the rocky road. I spooked a few wading birds in the creeks nearby and they took flight. I arrived at my destination and turned left to park.
There was a lone empty vehicle, a Jeep: the stuff my dreams are made of! I noticed the bumper stickers. State of Florida flag, Sasquatch, military, and a few others. The usual. I looked around at my surroundings. There was no facility but there was a sitting area. I looked at the density of the trees so I could anticipate what I may encounter in the form of wildlife. There were educational plaques on this short trail but I skipped taking photos of most of them. I have photographed them enough times in the past on other trails. The plaque that stood out though, talked about the coral snake and cottonmouth. Duly noted, I proceeded with additional caution.
The uneventful round trip trek was only about 0.5 miles. With the high-30’s, low-40’s chill in the air, it was eerily quiet. There was not even a breeze in the leaves and only the occasional bird chirped. When I got to the boardwalk, I looked this way and that for snakes (there were none) and in the distance this way and that for a glimpse of deer (also none). I walked slowly. Listening to nothing. No small planes or vehicles on distant roads. Just nothing. I love nothing! It makes it easier to hear if something is coming.
As I approached what I did not realize was already the end of the short boardwalk, still looking to each side, I felt the pull of energy before I saw her. I looked ahead to see what commanded my attention. Oh! The Goethe Giant. I do not think my pictures do her any justice. Being near a 900+ year old being, the moment for me was more about what I felt vs. what I saw. I pondered the things she has observed through her roots and branches and leaves in her lifetime. Someone carved a heart and initials near the base of her trunk. I automatically went to unkind thoughts of a befitting punishment to someone who would deface someone or something that is supposed to be sacred and protected. I let that feeling pass so I could reflect. To the left of the boardwalk there was another giant cypress.
After I made it to the ancient tree and did a pan, once I stopped recording I heard gunshots in the distance. Several, maybe a dozen or more. Someone was hunting small game (I hope). Someone who in my amateur opinion was probably a terrible and wild shot. I made a mental note to make sure to put on my blaze orange before I went to any other trails that morning. I did my usual bow of respect to the tree and to Nature, and slowly walked back along the boardwalk and short trail to my vehicle to head to the next trail.
That’s the end of this adventure, y’all come back now, ya hear?
Now, let the story begin! First a side note that I think is relevant. Something about me: my demeanor is receptive, at least in my opinion. I like to greet people with a smile and a wave. We either strike up a conversation or continue passing. Sometimes people do not respond to my greeting, but I try not to take it personally. I extend my perception outward to “feel” if another person is receptive and try to meet them on the level that their energy exudes. I have been told some people are taken by surprise by my personality, so I try to be cognizant and not overwhelming. I am mostly overly cheerful (especially in the morning), friendly, and open-minded, but I have my moods and moments. I was put to the test on Sunday. I think I passed. Let’s see.
I arrived back at my car. I noticed the Jeep’s passenger side was now occupied by a canine. Next to him was the driver. I was parked next to the Jeep and about a car-width apart. Since I was dressed in layers, it took me a few seconds to slide and shimmy my pack off my back. Out here, I tend to do things with the same rehearsed motions to ensure I am not forgetting anything. I sat my pack on the trunk of my car. I grabbed my car keys and unlocked the doors. I took off my jacket and placed it on the passenger seat. I turned to grab my pack that was sitting on the trunk. Then I heard the words that (in my opinion) no black person (from the north? or anywhere?) ever wants to hear (especially accompanied by a masculine Southern drawl):
“You from around here girl?”
My brain immediately: Oh God(dess), is this it? Is today my turn?
My physical reaction: I jerked my head up and froze. My eyes may or may not have visibly narrowed as my heart pounded and my stomach felt uneasy. Every, and I mean e-v-e-r-y bell, whistle, red alert, imminent “Danger, Will Robinson” alarm was blaring inside of me. All that stuff I said before about me being friendly and cheerful, um, yeah, we can go ahead and set that aside for a while.
I was unaware the man had exited his vehicle. Strike one for me. Or maybe not.
I was still on the passenger side of my car and he was walking around from the driver’s side of the Jeep. I did not budge or answer as I watched him intensely and observed as much as I could.
(As I wrote this I realized: I was actively in the process of experiencing a previously unexperienced trigger. I was showered with an extreme sense of vulnerability. I felt exposed both physically and emotionally, all from five little words.)
I understand that this is the south. That there is a certain way people talk and have talked for many, many years. For you see, it was not the “you from around here” part. It was the “girl” part.
Sadly those words catapulted me to an unexpected place in 2021: the past. The ugly part that I have only seen in movies or TV shows or heard about from news stories. The part where prior to violence, I could hear the words echoing, “You from around here boy?”
At that moment, lives that are not my own were flashing through my brain. Externally, I was calm (I think). I needed to breathe. What was his intention? I saw the Coast Guard hat. Maybe he worked for FWC and he asked me because HELLO, my irresponsible ass still did not have on my blaze orange that I promised myself I would put on.
Me to me: don’t assume he’s racist, don’t assume he’s violent, but don’t trust him either.
At work we take a mandatory, “Managing unconscious bias” course. There is only so much managing I can think to do and be PC when I may need to react.
From there I hoped he was about to chastise me about the need for wearing the proper colors this time of year.
All of this is going on in my head in the span of 3-5 seconds and I realized I never answered his question.
Instead of what I hoped he was going to say, he asked me what I knew about turpentine. I think I blinked.
(I enjoy writing descriptively. Sure I could video more, but where is the fun in that? I get to paint a picture with my words, using my brain and maintaining good grammar. In this story I keep saying “I think” because I was so flustered in that moment, I forgot much of what I was doing to focus on him and every detail I could observe.)
Him: Yes, turpentine. You do know what turpentine is?
Him, clearly exasperated: Girl!
I know how to be quiet, but in the process of finding my own voice, I encourage open dialogue, especially with girls and women, especially lately. Yet this man rendered me speechless, all from his original inquiry.
Me, stumbling over getting my thoughts together to have a logical reply, my brain still searching for words and not just sounds: …
Him: I was wondering if you were from around here and knew the history of the turpentine. They used to harvest sap from these pine trees to make it.
Me, finally breathing: Ohhhh, turpentine (as though it rhymes with any other word in English I could have mistaken it for). The solvent (yes! I finally found more than a one syllable word to utter).
Although I did study a little for the day, it was more about knowing the terrain, trail lengths, and wildlife. I knew I could read about the history later. Oh no, he wanted to talk about everything right now. Everything? Everything!
If you’ve watched Bob’s Burgers, there is a groaning sound Tina makes when she is nervous. During the length of my hour-plus long conversation with him, I mentally and occasionally audibly made this sound several times.
This accounting is about two perspectives: a black woman born and raised in Michigan that dreams of traveling the world, and a white man born and raised in Florida that probably has traveled the world. This is where I should not be too hard on myself for not hearing him exit his vehicle earlier since maybe, just maybe he is used to being stealthy as retired military. Lesson learned.
During the turpentine discussion he brought up a picture on his phone and walked toward me to show me a man from decades ago, harvesting the sap from a pine tree. He indicated this task was delegated to black men in times past. I semi-peek at what he showed me, holding my breath, because social distancing is still in play. He said it is a shame the way blacks in this country have been treated. I am in agreement but still wary and watchful. The dog in the front seat whined.
Me: It’s ok to let the dog out if you want.
Him: Nah, he’s ok.
Darn, I needed that buffer/distraction.
I asked if he was from the area (turnabout is fair play, but I asked nicely!) as I glanced at his license plate. He said yes, he’s a Florida “c” word (more on that later). He talked about the Inglis area and how there is a certain gas station that was built on top of a black cemetery and the lynching tree that still stands there today.
Me: It figures.
He nodded his head in acknowledgement.
He recommended I go to that gas station and order some boiled peanuts (I most certainly will not, I have tried them once and that was one time too many) and sit back and watch the [people] that come in and out of there (he used another word for “people”). In Inglis. The place where just last year I took a photo of the racially charged graffiti. I told him that I would pass. I told him whenever I go to many areas, I have a full tank of gas and am mostly just driving through.
This prompted him to mention the “sundown towns.”
He recalled a story from the 1970’s when he was in uniform. A young black man’s vehicle broke down on his way to Westpoint. The day was progressing into evening. He offered the young man safe harbor, knowing no one would mess with him in uniform. The young man thankfully was able to get someone to come and get him before dark.
At some point early on in the conversation he voluntarily told me his political stance. Then he hesitated when I did not respond. I suppose that was my opening. I held up my hand and said, “Look, I get it. I can have a decent conversation with someone with opposing viewpoints. Most of the people I have met here lean towards a certain political party.” I skirted around the topic of recent events that occurred, just referring to the “violence up north.”
He prodded me directly, asking me what I thought happened.
Me: A lot of bad things.
Him: Who do you think caused it or was behind it? (If he was not already standing I would say he was on the edge of his seat. He looked intently at me, waiting for my answer, and I think it threw him for a loop.)
Me: Humans. Mostly men. Yes, there were women involved. But it was predominantly men. I don’t think this would have happened if more women were in power.
He paused, reflecting. Then he…agreed with me!
He is a Sasquatch hunter and told me of his two prior encounters with the hairy beast. He emphasized the importance of protection because there are a lot of bad things that can happen out here (no kidding!). We talked about the larger cats of Florida and of course my mental nemesis, bears. He told me he was talking to me about safety just like he would talk to his wife or daughter. Yet there were several points in this part of the conversation where he was emphasizing the bad two-legged creatures here, and not just Sasquatch. Based on the context of how he was saying what he was saying, I did not miss his race-themed implications.
We talked about kayaking and he reasoned why he prefers a sturdy canoe, snakes falling from branches, alligators, and bull sharks. He mentioned he caught a bull shark once, but I know how some people can be with their fishing stories. He mentioned he is having a hard time finding a good fishing buddy. Whenever he finds a potential match, he has a coming-to-the-Lord conversation with them about language they can use on and off the boat. Him being a Southern Gentleman and all. Then he indicated Robert E. Lee was a Southern Gentleman.
He happily dominated the conversation, which is fine. He is 63 and has seen much more than me at 39. Although I did not agree with some of what he said, I politely listened. I was not offended by his comments, I just have my own views and opinions. There was nothing I could or even wanted to say to change or influence his opinions. Or was there?
Because his next topic for discussion led him to the Rebel flag and the word heritage.
He motions to the State of Florida flag on the back of his Jeep (Mylanta I am observant! It was uncanny how the things I noticed when I arrived were all coming up in conversation). He asked me what I thought it looked like. I told him I know exactly what it looks like.
This is where he said something a bit refreshing, at least in my opinion. He used to have the Rebel flag on the back of his vehicle. He looked me in the eyes and smiled, but his smile did not reach his eyes. Although his smile was not sinister, it was not particularly kind when he made the statement that he never had a care or concern if ANYONE did not like him displaying his heritage. The key phrase here was he “used to” display it. Until he had an eye-opening conversation with the fine black men of Monticello, Florida. He told me if I ever have the chance, I need to visit there. Whatever conversation he had with these men about their history, it opened his eyes and expanded his perception. Not only did he stop displaying the Rebel flag, he had several hundred bumper stickers made of the State of Florida flag. I should have asked why he ordered so many, but my brain was still a little fried from earlier.
Although the sun was starting to peek, it was getting colder so I grabbed my jacket. He grabbed his jacket a few moments later and let the dog out. When he let him out and the dog curiously investigated me, I let him sniff my hand and he let me pet him. I asked, “Who’s this?” He told me the dog’s name. I told him my name. Then he told me his name. This was a rarity for me that I remembered a person’s name and forgot the dog’s name. The leashed and harnessed pooch went to play, checking on us occasionally. I mirrored the man’s posture, both of us stood facing each other, leaning against our vehicles. I occasionally put my hands in my pockets to warm from the chill, but otherwise I stayed relaxed, transparent, and alert. A short while later he and the dog snacked on boiled eggs that looked green after he removed the shell. I inquired and he told me they were from a specific breed I had to Google after I got home. Ameraucana.
I am going to leave out the more charged statements he made regarding race, religion, and politics. The most I chose to tell him about my stance is I am a tree-hugging, peace-and-love, “why can’t we all just get along” kind of person. It is not that I do not care nor have an opinion about many things, but I come out here to not dwell on it.
Moving right along…
Sometimes the inexperienced get lucky (me). Sometimes the wise get challenged (definitely him, me on occasion).
He rummaged in the back of the Jeep. Something fell to the ground on his side of the open door. For a split second I thought to grab it for him but I decided against it for my own safety. He made that grunting sound people make when bending down, the sound I hope I do not need to make for many years, or preferably never. (Just to be sure, I tested my own flexibility today and yes, I can still silently bend forward, knees straight, palms flat on the ground. Just do not ask me to do squats or it might sound like popcorn).
He pulled out a modified boat hook. He said when walking over logs, he uses it to check for snakes that may be on the other side. He twisted part of it to extend it. If push comes to shove he could use it to keep a potentially striking snake at bay. On one occasion, he was hiking on seemingly dry terrain. After one fateful step, he suddenly found himself chest high in mud or possibly quicksand. With this tool, he was able to use the hook end to grab onto a nearby root and pull himself out. I pictured myself in that situation, with and without the tool. Whew.
Him: Here girl, this is your gift from an “r” word.
(Before I wrote this, I planned to spell out the “c” and “r” word. Then I saw an article the next day about a NASCAR announcer being scrutinized for accidentally using the “r” word on air. Welp! In addition to some other taboo words, maybe it is time to make a new and improved alphabet? But I digress…)
I finally started to see him calling me “girl” as a term of endearment or a colloquialism. This was a welcome realization from how the conversation started. Here, I was dreading the worst. Here, he was speaking to me like normal.
We could have talked longer. There were a few comfortable pauses towards the end of our dialogue. People started to arrive, including a handful of happily energetic, screaming children indicating the time for quiet reflection was over. I bid him a good rest of his day and he went to his vehicle. When I got in my car I realized he came back and was standing outside my window. I let it down slightly.
Him: Here girl, take down my number. The next time you are in this area, if you get into any trouble, you give me a holler. You just make sure it’s a bear or Sasquatch because I’m coming out guns ablazin!
I laughed and thanked him. After Sunday, we text daily and I’ll include a snippet that made me laugh from today.
From the picture he showed me earlier, he mentioned a historian in Levy County to look up. She has some published books about the black history of the area, and he messaged me two of them to research. I did not know I was going to have homework, but I think I was meant to receive the information I received that day from the person I received it from. He gave me much of his perspective as a Southern Gentleman. I listened to his thoughts as objectively as I could and came to a basic understanding when I tried to see things through his eyes:
I get it.
There are a lot of things I don’t get, especially lately. Yet in being able to have a civil and open discussion where ideas are shared and respected, even where there is disagreement, I get it.
It took me 5 days to write this. Partly because I was considering what to include and what to omit. Partly because my cat takes over my chair after a certain time of day. As I wrapped this up, I felt a lot lighter in spirit than I felt on Sunday. I have my own private questions “to myself, about myself” stemming from the initial encounter, the progression of the conversation, and our chatting over the past few days.
My time is up, Kano is clawing for his evening lounge chair.
I cannot change history. I am not here to change people’s minds or sway their hearts. I am simply here to be the best me that I can be and encourage others to do the same for themselves. I am not here to make history. I am here to write herstory.
Several days later on January 16, the Southern Gentleman gifted me a bouquet of peacock feathers before my trip to another trailhead (Buck Island Pond) at Goethe.
If given the chance, people can be surprising in the best of ways.
I met him at the Crystal River Mall before my drive further north. He was already standing outside his Jeep, wearing bright orange and his Coast Guard hat. I flashed him a Kim-smile before parking. He was walking around to my side of the vehicle and I hopped out. We bid each other good morning.
Him: Here you go.
Me: Thank you. Here you go.
I handed him a palm-sized quartz crystal.
Him: What’s this?
Me: It’s an energy stone. I told you I’m a tree-hugging hippie!
I wanted to find something of sentimental value to gift him, thus the stone. I held it during my drive to him, thinking happy and positive thoughts to pass on without a verbal word. He looked happy to receive it. Now it was time for him to grab feed for his animals and for me to head to an adventure!
Him: Have a good day girl!
Me, giggling inside: You too!
In Another Life I Should Have Been a Florist (Goethe State Forest Part 2)
This is the original story I was planning to share!
This story picks up after I was gifted the bouquet of peacock feathers from the Southern Gentleman. After my trip to the Big Cypress Boardwalk on the previous Sunday, I journeyed to the next trailhead, Buck Island Pond, on January 16, searching for what I was originally seeking. Usually my few goals are to finish the length of a trail without getting lost, not be unprepared if I see any bears (or Sasquatch), and to not have to spend a penny with mosquitos around. Thankfully it was still too chilly for the latter. Both Buck Island Pond and subsequently Tidewater Trails were enjoyable. But first…
I was a high school freshman at a vocational school in Detroit, Michigan. I had a specific field of study I wanted to pursue, but only if I had the opportunity to attend the schools I really wanted to attend. Alas, the decision was out of my hands. So at the school I actually did attend, the closest option to my desired major was Visual Arts. I had three choices: Photography, Commercial Arts (I cannot draw to save your life, let alone mine!), or Graphic Arts. I chose the latter.
During my first year, I participated in the externship program. I recall being in class as the teacher read out loud where each student would be assigned. When she got to me, shy, reserved, quiet little me, she indicated that my assignment for every Friday for the next year would be at Black Orchid. I had no reaction whatsoever.
Several of the boys, however, started whispering and snickering. First, they wondered which of their classmates was Kim Griffin because hi, quiet girl. Second, they wondered why my externship was at an, ahem, Adult Entertainment facility.
No way! I was mortified!
Black Orchid was indeed a strip club. There was another business, several miles away on 7 mile near Wyoming, with the same moniker. This business was a flower shop, and much more respectable for me. That did not stop me from being teased and asked if I was a stripper. At 12 years old. In my Dr. Evil voice: Riiiiiight.
I settled in nicely at Black Orchid THE FLOWER SHOP. I worked under the tutelage of Ms. Norma Jean, her daughter Leslie, and Ms. Ethel. They were church-going women, or at least Ms. Ethel was. Here was where my ears were introduced to gospel music. Ms. Ethel would play repeatedly: Kirk Franklin and the Family’s “Why We Sing.” Over. And Over. And Over. And Over. I do not know many gospel songs as it is not my preferred genre, but I heard that song probably 1,000 times in the span of nine months.
(Side note: I had to look up when the song came out, which was earlier that same year.)
I was tasked with making simple arrangements: single- and up to three-flower designs in a small vase, surrounded by baker fern and baby’s breath. The most frequent requests were for roses or carnations. I used a box-cutter type blade to cut the ends of the stems at an angle to encourage them to “drink” the water in their vases. To extend the life of the plants, they were kept in a refrigerated area. To get the roses to open their blooms, Ms. Norma Jean would put them in a bucket of hot water. Within the shop, I mostly stayed in the same area, but sometimes I wandered over to the other side that was less floral and more green and leafy. I noticed a goldfish in the soil in one of the potted plants. I asked her about it and learned it was used to nourish the plant. I only hoped the fish had passed on from natural causes and not just to be plant food. Now that I reside in Florida, whenever my cats dispatch lizards, I add the dearly departed to my potted plants. I have no idea if this is helpful or not, but circle of life, and my plants are still thriving.
Every now and then, Ms. Michelle would come in to the shop and help out. We hand-wrote custom messages on the small cards that were pre-printed with a theme to accompany the arrangements: birthdays, just because, mother’s day, and others.
I remember Ms. Michelle telling me my handwriting was not that great. She was correct, and in 28 years it has only gotten worse. Hey, as long as I can decipher what I write…
She would have me use a ruler as a guide when writing on the small cards, but that was so impersonal compared to my custom chicken scratch.
The professionals handled the larger and more intricate arrangements like the casket sprays for funerals, wedding bouquets, and elegant center pieces. On one occasion I accompanied Ms. Norma Jean to deliver the center piece for the Sunday service for Greater Grace Church, which was still on 7 mile and Schaefer at the time. Gasp! For me, church was literally forbidden (more about that another time. Maybe). I felt mischievous. Oh the scandal! I never told anyone until this story right now. Mayhap confession really is good for the soul? Anyway, I was nervous going into the church, but I was curious and wanted to see what the big deal was. It was a Friday so there was barely anyone there. We walked into the auditorium, moving past rows and rows of empty seats, down to the front of the large room. She placed the beautifully arranged center piece in front of the podium. And then. We left. That was it. Nothing happened. I was not struck by lightning or anything.
Back at the shop, the grueling chore that I was assigned was ribbon bow duty. This might be the equivalent to peeling potatoes constantly somewhere. I made many, many, many ribbon bows on a regular basis. I could always tell when my fingers were getting tired because I did not get the loops of the bows as evenly as I should have. To get the ribbons to stay in place, I wrapped them with floral wire. That floral wire was so tough on my fingernails, which I used to wear long back then. My nails would always be ragged and uneven by the end of each shift.
As the school year progressed and spring came around, prom and wedding season approached. I enjoyed assembling the corsages and boutonnieres, choosing the prettiest of the flowers, taking care not to stick myself with the pin that went in the ribbon. Roses and carnations again were the main flower of choice here. Occasionally, orchids were requested in the arrangements. White orchids, so beautiful and delicate. They needed to be handled with care to avoid injuring the petals, so it was rare but appreciated whenever I was trusted to make an arrangement featuring orchids. I would watch Ms. Norma Jean, a floral arranging master, as she studied her works of art like a painter looks at a canvas, stepping back, bundles of flowers and greenery in hand, choosing the best length, placement, and angle for each stem. My clumsy 12 to 13 year old hands did not have the beauty and grace she commanded as she designed innumerable masterpieces.
Norma Jean’s daughter, Ms. Leslie, handled the office management side of the business. Once, their nephew stopped in, who was around my age. I remember him for two reasons. One, his name was Holly, which I found rare for a boy’s name. Two, he was the absolute cutest thing 12 year old Kim ever did see. I was so bashful, I think I greeted him with a sheepish, “Hi.”
Several weeks or months later, I was in the office, filling out paperwork, probably to account for my time for the week. I was seated at the desk, facing away from the open door. In the background either Ms. Leslie or Ms. Michelle mentioned Holly might be stopping in. Since I was facing away from the door, I did not even try to hide my instant smile at just the sound of his name and the thought of seeing him again. It did not matter that I was not facing anyone else. My smile was so big they could see it from behind me!
“Would you look at that smile?”
Busted! (These accursed chipmunk-cheeks I have yet to grow out of.)
I was so embarrassed and flushed with heat. Holly did not show up that day, but I had always hoped to see him again back then.
After 9th grade was complete, I wanted to get a job helping out at Black Orchid THE FLOWER SHOP, but summer became a slower season, and I was still too young for the necessary permit for a part time job. Although we parted ways, I have fond memories of that place and the women I worked with. Sigh, in another life I should have been a florist…
~Fast forward to 2007-2015ish~
My green thumb lay dormant for decades until I physically worked in an office where I cared for the plants during my 30s. I would get to know each species, placing them throughout the office to give them the best lighting that was right for them. I inherited many plants that were older than me, propagating and repotting with care, in addition to performing my normal job duties. Eventually coworkers and associates in the rest of the building would bring me their plants to revive. I call those people herbicidal maniacs. Sometimes I would get a plant and it was just too late. However, I would still try. This is where I developed the motto:
Where there is green, there is life. Where there is green, there is hope.
I would look at the plant and assess intuitively, asking the plant what it needed. I would get so attached! I always gave each plant a name, mostly feminine, but the occasional masculine name slipped in depending on whose plant I was caring for. I played them classical music, sang to them, and I made sure by noon each day I sat with them to listen to “Bird Note” on an analog AM/FM clock radio. I would situate them so that the older plants and newer plants were closest. I always felt that the plants that were healthy and established could encourage those that had been neglected, so that they too could flourish in their own way and in their own time. I tended and nurtured them frequently, and before the office closed and we all went to work from home, I had at least 50 plants in 3 or 4 areas of our 10,000 square-foot office. Sometimes I would go to water them and I would find a random coworker sitting in peace, with the plants, listening to the classical music and reading or just…sitting. It made me happy that I inadvertently helped create a tranquil space that others enjoyed.
I know the window washers were probably annoyed with me from spraying the plants so much, because I did not take care around the windows or the sills. Oops.
I kept as many of the plants as I could when I came home to work full time, or I gave them away to where I thought they would have a good home. I was brought several orchids that were just the stem and the leaves, vibrantly green, to determine if I could help them blossom again. After researching, I determined it could take upwards of two years or more for the orchids to grow new buds. I gave them enough light and water, but not too much. The delicate orchids again became my favorites. This time it was a happy challenge in the promise of future blooms. If my hoya plant could bloom again after almost 10 years, I could be patient enough for the excitement of new orchid flowers.
So what does any of this have to do with Goethe State Forest?
Well, in preparation to visit Goethe, I researched to see what I could expect. As I previously mentioned from the Southern Gentleman post, I planned to go Christmas Day. When things do not work out like I think they should, for me personally they often work out better. I have to trust the process and roll with the waves in the sea of life. With 53,398 acres, Goethe features some rare animal species. Groovy! It also features at least 34 species of orchids. Equally groovy! This gal was on the hunt for any orchids I could observe in the wild. In reading about the flora, I determined that even during December there was the possibility to see them blooming here in winter.
Based on what I already knew about orchids, my mind was buzzing with the possibilities. (No worries, I am a “leave no trace” kind of gal, so I was only seeking pictures and new experiences, nothing more.)
Several, but not all, species are classified as epiphytes, commonly known as air plants. The temperate climate of Florida is a haven for air plants. Resurrection Fern, Spanish moss, Bromeliads, and Ball moss are just some of the species that I see daily and year round. Air plants are air plants because they do not like their roots immersed in water for a length of time. The wet season here can pose a problem. Their evolutionary solution is to hitch a lifetime ride on other plants or structures, and I have even seen scores of bromeliads growing on power lines.
~Buck Island Pond Trailhead~
I arrived at the Trailhead and took a selfie before exploring. I never know how I will look after my hikes, so I start off with a picture of me and Nature in the background. It was still hunting season but the blaze orange looks so unflattering on me! So I took a photo in my blue hat, and then got my life together to prepare for the trail.
My lip gloss goes in my front right pocket, always. My camera lens cap goes in my left back pocket, always. My phone goes in my back right pocket only after I start the trail to ensure I do not accidentally sit on it. I looped my knife through my jeans. My camera goes strapped around my neck, and my mace gets attached to the strap. I checked the canister and OMG! How did it get set to the “on” position? Note to me: do not spray self in case of emergency. Whew, glad I checked and made corrections. My other tools and weapons go wherever else I need them. And on this day I had the first-time honor of carrying the modified boat hook tool / weapon the Southern Gentleman gave me.
The day was cool and overcast, but not as chilly as Big Cypress several days before. For the most part, as long as I keep my neck and chest covered I can stave off catching a cold. There was no facility here, but a large clearing with outdoor seating. I grabbed a map at the trailhead and looked it over. Maps go in my back right pocket with my phone, or in my pack if I do not think I need it on looped trails. Although this was a loop, the map indicated interpretive stations A – H, so I kept it close to monitor my progress. After a last check of my lip gloss, it was time to get started. Yes, I have my priorities and lip gloss is numero uno 99.9% of the time (don’t judge me!).
I began the 1.8 mile loop, approaching the ramp to a small bridge and platform that overlooked the water. This was interpretive station “A” for Flatwoods Lake and a bat box. There were pine needles everywhere. I gladly walk on them when they are dry, which they were that day. They are treacherous when wet!
Since I was on the lookout for orchids, which could be tiny, I walked very slowly, seeking out splashes of color, but trying to remember to enjoy the moment: the sights, sounds, and scents of the forest. There were small pools and cypress knees on either side of the ramp and bridge, and I peeked over to see what I could see. A burnt orange fungus stood out and I snapped a photo. When I got to the platform, I basked in the symphony that was so many birds. Where Big Cypress Trail was majestic yet so quiet I could hear a snail surfing, Buck Island Pond was lyrical and filled with chattering wildlife.
After drinking in the scenery, I exited the platform and bridge, heading down the ramp to begin the trail. Someone had either a bright, humorous, or goofy idea to blaze this trail green. Between the foliage and the brilliant moss on the bark of the trees, at some spots it was difficult to see the blaze indicators, even in winter.
I inched along, thinking about the orchids that have been in my keep in the past, and reflecting on the little I know about Florida so far. As I trudged along, eyes gliding over every surface, I pondered:
The store bought orchids people have given me to nurture, species unknown, had exposed roots. I gave them minimal water and let them dry out between watering. Because I was in an office, the fluorescent lighting would have been a factor. Those orchids did not like to be in direct sunlight for extended periods, or their few leaves would turn brown. I watched them closely daily for any changes, and made adjustments when needed. Based on this, as I was walking I pondered where the sun was in the sky at the moment, pretending I knew what I was doing. It was still early in the day. I needed to determine which way the sun was moving in this shaded area.
Although it was chilly out, according to a resource, blooms should be seen in this area through February.
Air plants. Right. How high do I actually need to look? If a stranger saw me right then, they would probably swear I was on something illegal, walking slowly, stopping, suddenly looking up as high as I could, turning in slow circles. I do this on all my hikes, even when I am not looking for anything specifically. I just like to immerse myself in Nature.
I looked for other types of epiphytes. Here I found some low hanging Ball moss, just over head, and Resurrection fern, maybe 10-12 feet up. I determined this was where I needed to look from here on out. If this was where these air plants were hanging out, surely I should be able to spot some orchids that day, right?
Remember what I said earlier about orchids? “Several, but not all, species are classified as epiphytes…”
Shall we continue?
I moseyed along on my trek, looking more up than down or around. I had been doing toning exercises and had to keep adjusting my clothing. It is one of those good problems to have when it is time to buy new clothes due to a changing body. In the process of hitching up my jeans, I nearly tripped over a cypress knee even after signage just told me to watch my step. I have mentioned on my other adventures that I am a slow walker because I am clumsy, right?
As I forged ahead, the trail curved to the right, pointing in the direction of the lake. There was a dirt road to my left, and on it I saw a man in a dull orange sweat shirt, coffee cup in hand, accompanied by two beautiful, pointy-eared black dogs that were not on leashes. They were very curious about me, but very obedient to him. I am that person that greets every dog like a puppy, no matter their size. The man and I exchanged a greeting and I had to maintain my composure, resisting the urge for puppy play time. They stayed on the road and I stayed on the trail. Each time they inched toward me, he gave a short command, and they minded him. I wonder what that is like, having a dog that will listen. Maybe I do play too much, because getting Gossamer to listen is like getting my cats to listen.
I proceeded on the trail as he continued in the opposite direction on the road. I was still on the visual hunt, my eyes scanning here and there. Lo and behold, what did I see laying in the bushes?
An axe! It was just a small camping tool, but litter is litter, and now I have an axe. It has a little weight to it. So there I was for the rest of my short hike, boat hook with stabby end in one hand, slightly rusty axe in the other hand, feeling like the big bad wolf in the forest.
Side note: I have a gal pal that watches true crime documentaries. Later that night when I told her I found an axe in the forest, she immediately and suspiciously asked, “Was there blood on it?” Leave it to my happy-go-lucky buns to find an axe and think, “Oh look, a new tool,” but other people can see me as an accessory to a crime. The cosmic balance on a small scale occurred at the end of my hike. When I went to grab my camera lens cap out of my left back pocket, it was no longer there. To humor myself, I checked my other pockets, knowing it would not be anywhere else, because I always put it in the same place. Sigh. Nature giveth and Nature taketh away.
Back to the adventure…
Just under ¾’s of a mile in, I spotted the first pile of dung in the middle of the trail. At just a short glance, I did not see any vegetation in it. Hmmmmm was this a bear pile? From that point on, the quest for orchids was over. I committed to finishing the trail, but…bears. I did not want to be distracted, so if I lucked out on finding orchids, good, if not, I would enjoy a peaceful day in the forest.
I walked the full loop. Somehow I went from A-D, and then to… H? I brought out the map I had picked up at the trailhead. If I get lost on an adventure, please trust me that I am going to admit it because it may help someone else but it will also help me when I return to that trail. So on the map, everything was sensibly in alphabetical order. The only thing I can think of is at one section, the loop trail became a shared foot and equestrian traffic trail, which was rather muddy. There were a few areas where there looked to be old and fallen sign posts. Maybe these were E, F, and G? There was horse manure everywhere on the trail, so I decided against going back to look for the other lettered interpretive stations on this visit.
Station H was still pretty groovy, because there I saw a celebrity! Ok, maybe not a normal person’s version of a celebrity, just a Kim-version of a celebrity. I grew up watching Nature documentaries, and that has carried into adulthood. My favorites are deep ocean exploration, but the variety of life found in forests is also filled with my kind of drama. Station H had a short and narrow boardwalk, just one step up, to a transition zone slightly off trail. It was a tad slippery from the moisture so I remained cautious. I got to the end of the boardwalk and looked around for the celebrity. In person, the pitcher plant was a lot more humble than expected, but I still appreciate the nutrient-seeking solutions of a carnivorous plant.
Feed me, Seymour!
The sun shined just so as I took photos from different angles, hoping for the possibility of seeing the silhouette of a struggling insect. Although I did not, it was still groovy to see a plant growing in the wild that I have only seen on TV or for sale at the local country market (for $80, yikes!).
I returned to the trail and walked the rest of the loop back to Station A at the ramp and boardwalk area. Some of my favorite and most frequent photos are the sun through the trees. I interpret the images as a reminder for me to always look for the bright side, even through the shadowy challenges I face.
I did not see any orchids at Buck Island Pond. I was not disappointed either. As I smiled at the sun that was smiling at me, some heart shaped leaves danced in the wind, almost as though they were waving at me for a hike well done.
I visited Tidewater on January 24, 2021. Yet again the 3rd time was the charm! If my honest and true goal is to travel the world and write fiction, I can at least keep readers in suspense for a little while during the “Goofy Yet Groovy Misadventures of Kim.” Goethe kept me in suspense on all three visits.
I will remove one part of suspense for you here: again, there were no bears. Yay!
There was primitive camping and a restroom facility, but no potable water or shower facilities. The multi-use trails included foot, bike, and equestrian traffic. My goal was the 5.5 mile trail but I finished at 2.6 miles as a completed loop. I parked near the rest facility. I am already observant by nature, and I increasingly work on being acutely aware of my surroundings to avoid any repeats of Big Cypress Boardwalk. There were a few tent campers in this section, and a man tending to his horse across the lot when I first arrived. The closest camper to where I parked had a dog that was upset with me about something, but I just greeted their human as she reclined in her hammock.
I performed my usual pocket-preparation, starting with my lip gloss, mourning the loss of my camera lens cap at Buck Island Pond. The day was overcast but warmer than my prior two Goethe visits. My scarves with no jacket or sweater suited me for the morning. Hunting season was still in progress. I took off my driving hat and put on my blaze orange hat. Pack, check. Umbrella, check. Kitchen sink, check.
Two young women with a canine greeted me as they approached the same trailhead I was approaching. They asked me if I thought it was ok for them to go on the trail, since they saw me wearing my blaze orange, and they noticeably were not. I politely told them to do so at their own risk, especially for the sake of the pooch, but I personally would not. I shut out images of an accident waiting to happen and advised them to be safe in whatever they decided to do. For that moment, they chose not to proceed on trail. I grabbed a map at the kiosk and looked it over, then walked to the trail.
I observed purple, blue, and yellow trail signage throughout this trek. The map also indicated a tan colored apex trail that I did not physically come across. I stuck to the yellow blazed trail for foot traffic. This trail was sandy for the horses, then grassy later on. A spiny orb weaver was busily occupying the full width of the wide trail, now working her way vertically. If anyone had come that way that morning, either it had been a while or she worked really fast!
From my research, websites indicated orchids could be found growing along the roadside. On the two-lane, narrow shoulder country roads, I could be looking forever and not find anything. I considered walking along the road if I did not find any orchids in the wooded area. But I did not need to. Because part of the sandy trail ran parallel to the road, outside the woods and between a barbed-wire fence. I walked in the sand, letting my boots fully sink and balance between each step. I kept looking in the trees and now safely had the opportunity to look alongside the close road for the plants I was seeking.
Ever optimistic, I had already committed to coming back to each trailhead at Goethe as much as I could to find what I was looking for. Just being out in Nature was enough. Then being out there looking for something specific, was a challenge. I have always enjoyed a good challenge, especially when it is meaningful and I learn something. The trail ventured left, away from the road, back into the forest. I came across the dissection of the path, along with signage. Although I was on the yellow trail, there were two options: I could go right, cross the country road, and proceed on a 15 mile loop. Or I could stick to the 2.5 mile loop going left. Oh I most definitely went left! (The max I have ever completed for a day hike was just under 8 miles at Croom.) At this point I was already a mile or so in, and I could not tell from the map if it was an additional 2.5 miles to the distance I already walked.
There were woodpeckers that were too fleeting for me to get a good shot. I paused to admire them and then proceeded forward. I found respite at some bench seating after about 1.6 miles. I could set my camera here to try and get a one minute recording of the sights and sounds between the noise of distant small planes. After getting set up and seated, I looked back from whence I came to see two equestrians flanked by two dogs. The man reeled in the happy dogs with vocal commands before they approached me, but as usual I was not concerned. When they got close enough, we all greeted each other. They asked if I saw anything (pertaining to wildlife).
I told them no, but I was on the lookout for orchids. “Orchids?” The woman asked. I smiled and said, “Yes, there are over 30 different species here. I am not sure if it is too cold, but I am still looking.” I asked them the same question, but they had not seen any other animals yet either. They hoped I found what I was looking for on my quest as they continued theirs. From their direction, they continued right to proceed on the purple trail.
I lingered where I was sitting for a few more moments. Potentially I only had about another mile to go. Here again I decided to just enjoy my time, knowing with my tenacity that I would find orchids here one day. The yellow trail continued on the left.
Sometimes you find what you are looking for when you stop looking.
The chorus of insects was delightful. I desperately need a tripod. I tried using part of the boat hook to hold my camera for a recording, but with no success. I carefully sought out a branch where I could make little to no impact, ever wary of spider webs I did not want to disturb. I found a branch on the left of the trail, but I could not position my camera perfectly, so I kept moving. There was saw palmetto and scorched pine trees to my right, and more scorched pine accompanied by cypress trees to my left. I noticed the markings of the water lines at the base of the cypress trees, an indicator of wet seasons from times past. This portion of the trail probably gets flooded, or at least muddy, during certain times of year.
By this point I had completed about 1.7 miles total. I found a nice looking branch. I looked all around for spiders, their webs, and other critters. I looked down and looked back at the branch I chose. Then I did a double-take and looked down again.
As if they were waiting for me at this spot during the song of the forest where Mother Nature knew I would take pause. I squealed and laughed with glee!
They were so tiny and unassuming and clearly growing in the grass and not on any high structures. I had probably been passing them by this whole time, looking in the wrong places.
Sometimes you have to forget what you think you know in order to expand your mind to total possibility. The wisdom of Nature is infinite, clever, and patient if you just pay attention and remain humble.
This was a happy moment for me. When I looked up the name of the species later that day, the photos I took were spot on:
Zeuxine Strateumatica, also known as the Soldier or Lawn Orchid.
Although these are not native to Florida, in 53,398 acres I found what I was looking for on several technicalities.
I find the miraculous in the mundane as much as possible. This is part of what makes life worth living.
This species is indicated as common, and some references even call it a weed or a nuisance. I call her beautiful, elusive, promising, and worth the effort.
Consistency is Queen.
One of my favorite parts of this saga is the fact that this species only blooms for about three weeks. I could have missed her and I probably almost did! This was my third visit to Goethe State Forest.
-My first trip was to meet the Goethe Giant and the Southern Gentleman, but no orchids.
-My second trip, I found an axe with no blood on it, but still no orchids.
-My third trip was successful in finding a plant that literally grows on my front lawn. Literally. I cannot make this stuff up.
I still say I was in the right place at the right time. I never knew adventuring, even on seemingly simple day trips, would gift me with profound life lessons about myself and the people I meet on the trails and in adventure groups. I reaffirm some of what I already know, and remain open enough to realize I barely know anything.
Now that I have one species down, I have at least 33 more to go. Maybe I’ll luck up and find a new, undiscovered species. And I shall name her…