On The Road
February turned out to be a mellower weather month than I expected. The air was warmer and much of the seven feet of snow that fell in January started to melt. I can see the ground for the first time in months.
With spring chores beginning sometime in late March there is no better time of year to go on a road trip. I needed some warm sun, so I decided to head south.
The plan was to stop in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida for both business and pleasure. I left early one February evening and planned on driving through the night.
There I was at about 2 a.m. somewhere in Southern Virginia cruising along I-85 zoning out to classic rock when all of a sudden I smelled smoke. The first thing that went through my mind was the car is on fire, but the smoke smelled like pine needles and leaves. I was driving through a forest fire in Southern Virginia not far from the North Carolina border.
The southeast is very dry and there are numerous small brush and forest fires. They need rain.
My first stop was in the Atlanta area where I saw my first signs of spring. With temperatures in the 70s under a warm February sun, bulbs where coming up and early flowering trees and shrubs where beginning to bloom. What a welcoming sight.
My next stop was the Ocala, Florida area. Ocala is farm country, and the area I spent some time in was on the south side of town. Early spring is in full bloom in North Central Florida, I saw Southern Red Bud in bloom with numerous other shad type shrubs. Many bugs were working the flowers early during a sunrise hike. Silently walking through the Palmetto Forest, I heard wild boar battling in the woods about 50 yards from the trail I was on. My curiosity almost took me to the battle scene, but defending myself with a four-inch pocket knife would not have been enough against an angry pig.
The south side of Ocala is the most recently developed area of town. Back in the day, this was the hunting area for many of the locals. Deer, rabbit, fox, turkey, bear, cougar, and boar were the game. Today many of these animals are still hiding in the shadows, but their woods are shrinking.
From Ocala it was south east to Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. The Florida Turnpike was open and straight and I made good time across central Florida in my Dodge. I got 30 miles to the gallon in a car that puts out 365 horse power. That is a fine feeling.
The last leg of the downhill trip was the east coast to Key West. This part of Florida is called the Hammock Region. The origin of the word “Hammock” is not definitely known. According to some historians, the word may be traced to an Indian word “Hamaca” which means “a shady place” Several thousand years ago the sea in this area covered exciting living coral reefs. As the sea level fell, reefs were exposed and the coral died. The exposed lime stone formed the islands now known as the Florida Keys. Seeds, arriving on the golf stream wind or carried by birds colonized the new islands and eventually created tree communities such as the Tropical Hardwood Hammock.
The tropical hardwood trees of the hammocks are restricted to the highest elevations of the Florida Keys because they generally do not tolerate salt water or saline soil, their crowns form a canopy overhead, keeping the ground moist and the air cool by blocking out the sun’s rays. This is a unique microclimate scenario in a tropical south Florida ecosystem.
Two plants that deserve merit in the Florida forest are the Sable Palm and the Saw Palmetto. The Sable Palm, or cabbage palm, Florida’s state tree, was of great importance to the early Floridians. The trunk was used by the Indians and pioneers for log houses, and when cut into small blocks became a durable scrub brush. The leaves are used for roofs by the Seminoles. The heart wood of swamp cabbage could be eaten raw or cooked.
The Saw Palmetto is another Florida native that gets its name from the saw-like teeth on the leaf edge. The dark berries and leaf buds can be eaten, and the roots produce tannic acid used in tanning leather. The fragrant blooms furnish a rich source of nectar for pollinating insects.
I highly recommend this south Florida trip in February or March. Just when you have had it up to your eyeballs with the snow, it’s nice to get away to south Florida in our late winter or should I say, their early spring. It’s just what the doctor should order.
Pete and the Natives