Daylight matters

I realized yesterday that none of my missions this week has involved a long walk.  I’ve done short trails, non-trails, partial trails, but none of the longer trails that really make me feel like I’ve done something.  So today I decided to go down to one I’ve been meaning to check out for a while, Bivens Arm.  It’s near lakes and Payne’s Prairie and seemed like a gatory place to go.  Then I looked at the times it is open and realized that I would have to go there long before any gators would be around, since it closes at 5:00 and gators like to show up near sunset, which is about an hour or so later.

It turns out that the time of day isn’t the only thing keeping the gators away these days.  There was very little water, and gators like water.  Oh, there were creek beds and swampy looking places that should have been wet, but they were all dry.  Part of that is the near-drought we’re in, which is always a little hard to believe when you see how much green there is here, and part of that is that winter is drier than the rest of the year.

There are reminders of the lack of rain around us, even though sometimes they are harder to see.  Almost every day I go somewhere that smells of smoke from pine trees, which is an entirely different smell from that of a fireplace fire.  Pine smoke has a smell like incense, almost like being at church on a solemn occasion.  It’s a beautiful smell, but a bit disconcerting when you realize that it’s coming from a wildfire.  In fact, ten people died today from crashes on I-75 due to heavy smoke from a wildfire.

Although Florida usually has a tremendous amount of rain, many of the plants are amazingly drought-resistant, including the palms.  They will remain green even when the ground is parched and cracked from lack of water.  There are many different types of palm trees, too.  The tall, stately palms that frequently line public streets in Florida or California are what most people see and think of when palms are mentioned, but these shorter varieties are much more prevalent in the wild.  I love the way the fronds sprout from the trunk on these ones.

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The lack of water does not keep Bivens Arm from being beautiful, however.  This trail meanders through perfectly Floridian primeval forest, with palm trees and oak trees living right next to each other.  Ferns grow along the branches of the oaks, taking advantage of their altitude to catch extra rays of sun.

Kids growing up in Florida know the power of the palm tree.  The spines that naturally grow on the palm tree are often trimmed off to give them a more groomed look, with a smooth trunk.  On trash pickup days, they can be found in the piles of refuse.  Instant swords for swashbuckling kids!

As much as I love trees, I am also fascinated by their death and decay.  When a tree has fallen, it gives life to so many creatures and smaller plants, who sculpt the leavings into fantastic shapes.  The chunk of wood balanced atop one precipice looks like a rock formation from the desert.

Long after a tree has been felled, there are indications of its original structure.  The whorls where branches were become rosettes along the waves of the remaining wood.  On another log, the wood is marked with rivers of cracks along the wood.

And speaking of structure, this partial hive was just sitting on the ground.  I’m pretty sure it was a wasp hive, since it’s papery, not wax, but look at the perfect structure of it!  The beehive shape is very strong, but has enough flexibility to protect the hive from breaking in wind.

Even without the concerns about seeing alligators or other wildlife, the timing of my visit today was problematic.  With the sun so high in the sky, the light becomes uneven in forest edges, too bright where there is no tree cover, but not bright enough where the canopy is thick.  It makes it difficult at times to show exactly what you see.  The brain makes adjustments for these differences of lighting, but the camera records only the light itself as it actually is.

While I love the way this forked branch straddles the nearby oak tree, the resulting image does not show all of the rich colors that I saw when I snapped it.  It illustrates the problem with midday forest lighting well; the fork is nicely saturated, but most of the scene is overexposed.  If I were using Photoshop, this would be relatively easy to correct, but since I have decided to use only straight out of the camera shots for this blog, I don’t have that option.

I try to always be open to possibilities, though, because at the same time that the sun’s light was making some photos difficult to get right, the angle of the sun did make it possible to capture other images that would not have appeared in more ideal lighting conditions.  As seen below, a single shaft of bright sunlight broke through the trees where the canopy was thick.  That ray of sun illuminates this fairy ring of cypress knees, making them to make them glow like a miniature Stonehenge.

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