Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Walk In The Woods

This post originally appeared March 31st 2008. A reminder of a different season in the Keys.I imagine there are a fair number of people on Big Pine Key who aren't too fond of J.C. Watson, a man credited with reviving the expiring breed of deer known as Key Deer, which currently thrive on Big Pine and the Torch Keys. Key Deer are known to their critics as "small white deer," where biologists tell us the little deer are actually a sub species of the white deer genus. In any event Key Deer are one of those species that take precedence over development, and that includes construction on individual lots, which creates friction when people feel their needs are taking second place to an animal they'd rather eat than preserve.
J.C. Watson was the first ranger in the sanctuary on Big Pine Key after World War Two. At the time Key Deer were on the verge of disappearing but Watson set about preserving their habitat, such that today they are positively flourishing.
And let me tell you they are not the dainty creatures you might imagine- I heard this little doe clumping around in the silver palms long before she appeared in the open, where she paused long enough for me to shoot her... with my pocket Nikon. J.C. Watson must have had his work cut out for him.His legacy lives on in a splendidly well organized Nature Trail almost a mile long. I did as I was told though this might not have been the trunk the sign writers envisioned:

I decided to pay a visit to this outpost of nature in the heart of Big Pine Key about an hour before sunset on a Sunday evening, and I was rewarded by a walk all on my lonesome. The trail winds prettily between the pines and the palms, the surface a loudly crunching gravel path:My clumping size eleven dinner plates sounded for all the world like a regiment of infantry on maneuvers, or a large child chowing down on an even larger bowl of cereal. I went crunch-crunch-crunch as I strolled through the silence of the pine forest. It was a quite glorious evening and I was revelling in the silence (aside from my feet) and the incredible skies. I love the big sky of the Florida Keys and even though it isn't quite yet summer the heavens are starting to show signs of heavy dark clouds so typical of the rainy season here:The trail wound its way through a variety of trees and shrubs that grow in the higher, drier ground of a tropical hammock. The buttonwood, very similar to a black mangrove, tortured and twisted as though in agony:And on the drier ground the long straight trunks of the slash pines that are growing at the southern limit of their range:There are other plants worth knowing, including the rather nasty poison wood tree, known across the Caribbean as the manchineel (man-chin-eel) which has some profoundly irritating sap. It's easily identified by the black splotches on the trunk: and the leaves:There are stories of travelers in the tropics of taking refuge from sudden downpours under manchineel trees, and coming out from under the tree with their skin in a pitiably reddened state, such is the strength of the poison in the sap- it will react with the skin even when watered down by rain. I try to avoid it. Then of course there are other less noxious plants properly labelled:This I think is Cat's Claw:And this should be Blackbead: but I continue to insist I am no botanist, so I offer these up in hopes that I have it more or less right . Besides which I am not that terribly keen on labeling things all the time and birdwatchers and plant aficionados always seem to feel the need to stick a label on things and then record the sighting. I am more of a wanderer. Here's another one:Much to my astonishment I peered into the "muddy area" in the low spot, and damned if there weren't tracks of some mysterious, and likely deadly predator:On reflection I suspect they may have been the most un-ferocious Key Deer.However I did actually find the edges of the trail, and irritatingly said trail showed signs of continuing on into the mysterious West, however managers of this natural resource have decided that the rest of us aren't fit to see the delights beyond the sign:But I do have to give credit to the sanctuary managers; they provided a very nice map of their resources on Big Pine Key, which was a somewhat eccentric location as I was already where the map was guiding me to:And all that remained was for me to get on the Bonneville and take off down Key Deer Boulevard, while keeping it down to a sedate 30-ish miles per hour. Sheriff's deputies are positively ferocious when it comes to enforcing the speed limit on this long (5 miles) straight road.A cool southeasterly breeze, no mosquitoes and a sun that doesn't set till almost 8pm. A perfect time to explore beyond the boundaries of the city of Key West.