The Lightning Forest



















The Lightning Forest

Scenes from a natural life in Florida’s endangered scrub




By Christopher Tozier









Please note that the poems and narratives on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.











Table of Contents


  1. Introduction
  2. The Lightning Forest
  3. The Inner Lantern
  4. Nobody’s Dog
  5. Measures
  6. Seahorse
  7. Heaths, Lyonias
  8. A Migration
  9. Hurricanes and Walkingsticks
  10. Behavioral Activity of Anisomorpha Buprestoides Possibly Associated with Hurricane Charley
  11. Muskmares
  12. Sugar Lake
  13. The Springs
  14. Kings
  15. The Manatees Return to Camp
  16. Night Spring
  17. Last Panther
  18. Three Poems in a Florida Brush Fire
  19. Alligator Sunning
  20. Upon Misidentifying a Blue
  21. North Florida Autumnal
  22. Bears
  23. The Scarlet Oak
  24. Lawn Ornaments
  25. The Bobwhite Witch
  26. The Tears of Wikaiwa
  27. The Forest Baby
  28. A Florida Snowstorm
  29. The Exemplary
  30. Palmettos, Scrub and Saw
  31. The Lunchtime Naturalist
  32. The Dahoon
  33. Frittilaries
  34. Country Darkness
  35. Central Florida Natural History – An Annotated Bibliography






Introduction


      I grew up in the Penobscot valley in Maine, the turtle ponds of Connecticut, and the sand counties of Wisconsin. To this day, I miss certain things. The timberline, the aurora, the frosty pumpkin harvest, the view into the valley. I miss the spring ice breaking up into billions of prisms that chime together like a bell choir rolling in the cold waves and glittering in the moonlight. I miss the polished pocket-sized stones, the jaspers, the agates. I miss the prairie. My memory has stored away distinctive childhood sanctuaries to which I will never return. A rocky cove, a secret effigy mound, a limestone grotto, a mossy shire, an ice cave.

      Now I am a Floridian. Like most Floridians, I am not a native-born cracker. One thousand people each day move to Florida. It didn’t take us long to outnumber the natives. One of the central themes of environmental degradation in this state is the reality that people are attached to the land on which they were born and raised. They tend not to transfer their attachment to their transplanted homes. Even John Muir visited Florida and considered it a “dangerous climate.” He was not very successful transferring his attachment from the Sierra mountains to the Floridian sandhills. We often take our Floridian environmental guidance and wisdom from the crackers, and that is good. They remember a Florida closer to paradise than strip mall. But a path must also be forged for the outsider to grow their own native wisdom. We must find a way to learn and love what the crackers take for granted and grieve. It certainly is possible. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, often cited as one of the great protectors of old Florida, walked the same University of Wisconsin hallways that I did 60 years before me. This change of attitude and latitude is important not just for the benefit of an embattled land, but for the benefit of our embattled souls. A space must be found in the heart for two childhoods and new private sanctuaries. For the beauty of Florida to survive, it has to become your home, not just on the address printed on your envelope, but in spirit.
      I live in the middle of a Central Florida sand pine scrub, not far from rampant urbanization, but far enough to still be considered a pitifully backwards country. I don’t have cable TV or high-speed internet. There is pristine land all around me. It takes at least a ½ hour to drive to the store.  I know I am blessed here. This is a vanishing lifestyle.  Scrub is the least loved of the beleaguered Florida landscapes. It has plenty of scientific attention because it is so rare and special. It is one of the smallest and most endangered ecosystems in the world. The scrub is not a vast wilderness like the Everglades. It is a scrappy patchwork, tucked in-between other habitats. No one protests the bulldozing of a few acres here and there. The scrub is easy to plow. It is easy to build houses on. Its quickly draining sands are perfect for growing orange groves. The scrub’s trees are small and lack the grandiose scale of other hardwood forests. The scrub rewards only the patient and attentive, two qualities that must be actively cultivated in an instant gratification society.
      So The Lightning Forest has, buried in the stories and essays, a roadmap.  On the surface it is about what it means to live in the scrub, its animals, plants, and mythologies. Underneath the narrative, there is a map to scrub attunement. The scrub is filled with animals and plants that are either unknown or barely understood. This is a story of mystery and discovery, and the new mysteries that inevitably follow. This book is an accretion of experiences and senses.  It is not intended to be a field guide, although you will learn about the lives of many scrub animals and plants. It isn’t a scientific article or a poem. It is not a eulogy but a celebration of what is living here now. This book is my attempt to understand the scrub, not as a naturalist, but as a complete person. This book is how I came to love scrub as if I were born from its deep white sand.








Please note that the poems and narratives on this site are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.