Back to my roots
I fell in love today. No, not with another person, with a park. If you have read many of my previous posts, especially my trail ones, you know how much I like roots. Their structure is fascinating, strong, yet somehow delicate. Well, today, I went to O’Leno State Park because I was in the mood for water, but what I found there was so much better than I ever expected. Everywhere I looked, there were roots!
Cypress knees and cypress trees grow along the Santa Fe River in beautiful formations. I cannot get over this field of trees and knees! They are each so wonderful, I wanted to spend the whole day just taking photos right here. I am pretty sure that this area must be swampy at times, but right now it is dry and you can easily wander among the knees.
The edge of this grove is on the bank of the river itself, which is, as most rivers in Florida, very smooth and slow. It’s sometimes hard to even tell whether this is a lake or a river. Since I’ve never done any whitewater rafting, these smooth rivers are fine with me. They offer beautiful views and are safer for swimming in than the wilder rivers are. You can see lily pads floating in this river, which are not only beautiful, but provide some shelter to the fish below.
Cypress trees are amazing things that grow in weird and wonderful shapes. Their wide bases that grow into slender trunks have an important structural function. The base of the tree is wide not only to provide stability in a storm, but also to maximize oxygen intake. The wood is rot resistant, because much of the time the roots will be immersed in water. Even after harvesting, the wood does not rot easily, but remains strong for many years, whether on land or in the water. In fact, for many years, hollowed cypress logs were used as water pipes in tropical climates.
One of the most arresting scenes I found today was this double tree that is so amazingly beautiful and graceful. There’s space enough between the trunks for a even a large person to easily fit. Rather than having a circular cross-section, these trees are each crescent shaped, with a hollow portion that could easily shelter all manner of animals in a rainstorm. Near the roots, the trees are striated, looking almost like seashells. What I love most though is the positions of the two trees as they almost touch each other. They look like they are dancing together. It makes me wonder if Frank Gehry has spent time in the swamps of Florida, getting inspiration for his Fred & Ginger building!
As much as I loved the cypress trees and their knees, I couldn’t really stay there all day. There are trails and a river to explore and there is this bridge hanging in suspense across the river, and I had to see what was on the other side! Well, actually, forget the compulsion to see what was on the other side, what I really wanted to do was walk across this bridge and see what it was like. I have a slight fear of bridges, but a stronger love for them. No cladding or wall board or plaster covering up the structure, just pure structure for all to see.
But even if I weren’t a structure-loving archigeek, look at this scene and tell me who could blame me for wanting to cross the river? The bridge itself is so inviting, made doubly so by its reflection in the calm waters of the river. The trees and knees on the other side don’t hurt, either.
It’s a narrow suspension bridge (if you look carefully, you can see the cables), built wide enough for only a single file line to pass across. Walking across it makes it swing slightly from side to side, as does the wind, but it is possible to stop and look over the side without feeling as if it would tip over. I imagine that a mass of children running across it could get a bit unnerving, especially if there were one in the group (isn’t there always) who would rock the bridge, but for the most part, it felt pretty solid.
It seemed like everywhere I looked there were more wonderful things to see. Cypress trees lead the way along the river, providing shade for the promenade to the swimming area. Limestone outcroppings make good benches on a hot day, remaining cool even when the sun is hot.
Cypress trees are not the only roots in the forest. Intricate patterns of roots on this tree, which I think is an oak, are visible as they reach across the trail. The roots weave themselves together, forming spaces and voids that harbor woodland creatures. Nearby, palm stars sprout around these roots, brilliant green against the dark wood of the tree.
And lest you begin to think that the only thing that makes my heart beat quickly are roots and structure, I must insert these last two images. Down on the river banks, there are stones that reach almost all the way across. They could easily be used as stepping stones right now, when the water is low, but they are covered with a fantastic coat of moss that would not only be damaged by people walking on it, but that would make the rocks themselves slippery.
Then again, alligators are often a very similar color and very good at looking like rocks. They are not, however, very good at letting people walk all over them, so it is safest all around to just admire the beauty and stay off the rocks.
Well, okay, this one might be cheating just a little, since it does look so bridge-like. I have an urge to walk out onto that tree and sit over the water, or to inch out a bit further just test how far I can go, but I swear, it isn’t just the bridgeness of it that makes my heart sing!
There is such beauty in the laciness of the leaves, the clarity of the reflections, the rich layering of greens and browns. The palms on the ridge that peek out from the tree screen in front of them lend a certain Floridian edginess to the Eastern feel of the overall look of the tableau. The Spanish moss softens it up a bit, with its frothy veil of paler green caught among the hard-edged water oak leaves. Most of all, though, I cannot resist the whimsy of the scene, which looks for all the world as if this graceful tree is stretching out over the river to check its own reflection in the mirror-like waters.