There were names like Frost Proof, Hesperides, Spook Hill, Walk-in-the-Water Road – little hard-bit places in Florida cow country; orange groves, too. It was hilly, and lakes and ponds puddled up like splashes on a windshield everywhere I looked. Citrus groves were interrupted by scrubby palmetto fields and occasional pastures sporting brown, black, and spotted cows. It sounds romantic but it wasn’t. Belying January, the parched looking land, ponds notwithstanding, gave off a heated glare that was desperate and desolate. It all seemed devoid of hope. Trash lined the road; nothing seemed to have life, not even the millions of plump oranges on the trees. Maybe they knew they would end up picked, dropped, squeezed, and processed in the huge factory I passed that had sharp metal spires burping steam, large white boxes of buildings, and hundreds of trucks in vast lots each brimming over with fruit awaiting its fate.
I am not new to orange grove lands. It is in my blood. My eccentric hermit uncle, my mother’s brother, had a grove where I spent many a day as a child and young adult. I can still smell the sulfurous water from his artesian well that he would turn on for me. The water, under its own pressure, poured out of an eight inch pipe with such force it had made a large depression in the sandy soil over the years. It took only minutes for that rotten egg water to turn the depression into a swimming pool. I didn’t care about the smell a bit as I splashed around in this jungle fairyland.
My great-grandparents had a grove not far from where I am now. They were wiped out in the great freeze of 1895. There beautiful old house where my mother was born is no longer standing. Even when I was a child, there was the old-time beauty, a gentler pattern – groves edged by sheltering trees to protect them from hurricanes, old clapboard stores and little bungalows, gardens. Once in a while now I see a scene evocative of these old memories and I feel that heart tug, a tweaking, a pull – that thing that happens when nostalgia takes me and lets me know a piece of me stayed there. I want to be everywhere at once, all the time.
I suppose that is why I am sitting miles deep in cow country at a primitive campsite I backpacked into. Not another soul is nearby. I have my fire ready to light. The thuds of falling pine cones, crisp scrabbling noises of the armadillos, the hoot of an owl – these are sounds I realize I must know so they don’t scare me in the night. My tent is under the arching branch of an ancient live oak decorated with Spanish moss. The sun is setting and suddenly the chill is coming on.
The trail to get here crossed desolate burned areas – hot, too bright – finally going into magical groves of giant live oaks all twisting and gnarly, full of nooks and crannies. I could almost see the elves and leprechauns playing in the shadows and welcoming the fairies into their little dens. You would think so, too if you saw this; you couldn’t help it.
I suppose sitting under these majestic timeless trees and listening to the animal noises, the night sounds growing, and watching the low clouds turn pink with the setting sun, palms and pines silhouetted against the pink and blue, being here on this piece of earth alone to fully embrace it – this must be what it is all about. A full moon is rising- looking like a fire burning on the horizon. And now it is time to light my fire.
I sit gazing into the fire listening to it. The fire tells me we are all made of millions of pieces of everything there ever was. That is why I stand alone in this wilderness under a full moon whose temple is the arching branches of the ancient live oaks. And that is why I watch the moon rise for hours and feel my connection to all my forebears for thousands of years and to all things. And that is why when I listen on my little music player to sacred songs I dance around the oaks in the moonlight, and why I smile and swirl to old-time banjo and why I weep and step slowly around the fire when I hear the native drums. I stand arms outstretched soaking in the now misty moon, its glow kissing the clouds showing amidst the branches wrapped around it. That is how I know I am one of these millions of parts of the universe, of us all, of the Great Spirit. I can really know this, I do know this, and I am grateful.