Top o’ the rocks
When I set out to walk through Kanapaha Park (not the Botanical Gardens), I was expecting to see lots of palms and oaks and maybe cherry trees. Those were there, and they were pretty, as was this green pond. I’m not sure how the pond stays that green, since there is a fountain and a pump system that helps keep the mosquito population down.
What I did not expect at all was to be walking along a scenic, although too groomed, trail and suddenly come upon a wall of rocks. These slabs of limestone are obviously not there naturally. They are too uniform in size and too stacked to believe that they have always been here. Just as obvious, however, is that they have been here long enough to have been taken over by the natural order of things.
My attempts to find out exactly where they came from and why they are there were fruitless, which leads me to conclude that they were probably hauled here when the houses in the neighborhood were built, or even when the park itself was set up. Generally, if there were any more historic reason for them, it would show up in a search. It is fun to believe that they might have been an early fort, but even if they were not, they are now an impressive fortress of stones.
Approaching the wall of rocks, I was struck by the beauty of the light shining through openings in the pile. They are stacked rather haphazardly, not as a mason would carefully stack a course of stones, but just in a ragged pile as if they were refuse. Limestone is often treated in this way, because although it is very important to our water sources in Florida, it is not very useful in building.
The haphazard stacking allowed for spaces to form around some of the rocks. The sun streams through the spaces, highlighting the rocky forms and the porousness of the limestone itself. The green of the moss growing on them glows in the sunlight, and the pale stones themselves reflect back some of the surrounding colors, such as the browns of the earth below, which become almost lavender along the bottom edges of the rocks. Rather than a boring pile of nearly white rocks, this sunlight transforms them into a beautiful swirl of soft color variations.
Standing and looking at the light emanating from this scene, I felt almost as if I had found my own personal Stonehenge, with its own particular viewing time. I was not given the wisdom of recognizing when that time would be, but it is fun to speculate on it. Today was a good day to see the glorious lighting and I was there at a good time for it, but is there a day when the light hits just right and exposes the secrets of these rocks? Will it touch the ground just right to imbue it with the deepest meanings of life?
Now, when faced with this pile of rocks, what do you think I wanted to do? Of course I had to climb them! As I got close to them, I noticed that the air was quite a bit cooler as soon as I got within a foot or so to the rocks. This huge bunch of rocks is a perfect heat sink, drawing in thermal energy. In the southwest, using rocks to help with heat regulation is quite common. In the southeast, it isn’t enough to ensure comfort, because the humidity is so high. These rocks quickly demonstrated the efficacy of such a strategy even in Florida’s humidity.
Limestone is a very porous rock, so there were plants growing all over them. Mosses and ferns are common, as are small weeds such as this thistle which was at the top of the rocks. There was a whole tree growing out of one rock! To be perfectly honest, the largest root did go off to the side and into soil, but the tree itself was firmly embedded in the rock, with smaller roots reaching through it to the soil below.
These rocks are an interesting part of the fossil record. Although Gainesville is definitely inland and now has no salt water, you can see by the seashells in the limestone that that was not always the case. The whole state of Florida was under water until relatively recently in geographic terms. In fact, Gainesville streams are full of sharks’ teeth that were deposited in the soil when the state was still underwater. Some of the largest shark teeth ever found were in this area.