It was Rene Dubose that first made me appreciate how much human-culture determined landscapes in environments long settled by humans. The fabulous domestic and public views of England have a long evolution which is political as well as artful, and scientific: as well as “natural.” Bill Bryson’s At Home goes into this beautifully about half way into the book. “All that can be said is that by about 1710 people suddenly had lots of ideas for how to improve the landscape, principally by giving it an air of greater naturalism. One event that seems to have contributed was a storm of 1711 known as the Great Blow, which knocked down trees all over the country and caused a lot of people to notice, evidently for the first time, how agreeable a backdrop they had made. In any case, people suddenly became unusually devoted to nature.”
In this context I want to narrate how hard I worked the season in which I conducted the tram tour public “interpretations” at Highlands Hammock State Park — 1990 — making the human preserved bit of wilderness appear to be “natural.” A lot of cosmetics artifice was involvd: a lot of sawing, chopping, dragging, and weeding.
I’ll add illustrations here at my leisure, launching with just a couple:
The CCC dug the park’s south canal: bay head to the south, cypress swamp and hammock and pine flats woods to the north. Bordering the south bank of the canal runs a berm which supports the road the tram drove on. Plants seek light. Live oaks grow their branches sidesways into any roadway in the hammock pert of the park. Down on the south canal trees lean out over the road: the red maples especially. The bay head soil is shallow, part liquid: it’s bay head after all: and Florida: thin soiled. When the wind blows … the red maple must fall.
Every morning the “early gate” team drives around the parts of the park with public access: and also follows the tram route into restricted areas. Trees down, branches down, collapsed road way … are reported to the office, repair teams are dispatched. A ranger arrives at the fallen tree in his park truck with his park chain saw. RRR! RRRR! rrrrrr! The fall is cut up, the pieces dragged from the road bed to the road side. Without cosmetic action the public will see nothing of the bayhead except through walls of chopped red maple.
I’d go out there, alone, or with some community service workers, and drag the debris further into the bayhead, making it seem to disappear. Anyone descending from the tram and stepping into the bay head (across the CCC’s south boundary fence line) would see bayhead while stumbling over sawed debris. The bay head rots things quickly, but not instantly.
Further: caesar weed (seizer weed)
Alien plants colonize disturbed ground. When I was writing my first novel on a mountainside, the meadow where I parked the car was full of the same plants I grew up with on Long Island: dandilions, plantain … Up the mountain in my glacier-smoothed alpine meadow there were no swuch invading weeds. They’d grown where the road was built. They grew around where the house was erected: disturbed ground. I was camped in undisturbed ground (ground only lightly disturbed).
Highlands Hammock is preserved park land: disturbed preserved park land. The Roosevelt’s CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built the south canal in the 1930s; the south canal came with alien weed infestations. The weed I hated the most was the caesar weed. I gave two trams a day. They were scheduled to last an hour. I liked doing it. The public liked them. The public liked me doing them: I had fans tell me they were back for the Nth time: from Germany! Re-crossing the Atlantic, to hear pk! So: I did tours for four hours a day. The rest of the day I was expected to clean the bathrooms like the other rangers. But I wanted to do what I saw to be neglected: the park appearance of naturalness. When the chopped logs, cawsar weed, kudzu and potato vines take over the public won’t see any hammock, any canal, and bay head: just chopped logs, caesar weed, kudzu and potato vines. So I’d to back out to the south canal and pull the caesar weeds. That season I actually freed the route of caesar weed: at least along the tram route. I pointed out my accomplishment to the boss, emphasizing that it would be easy to maintain weed free; neglected the weeds would rapidly reclaim everything. Naturally, not a thing was done. The south canal resumed being wall to wall caesar weed, and chopped logs.
The natural look takes a lot of work.
The administration? They weren’t aware that I was doing anything! They never left the office except to do a specific duty. I was out of sight: with the ‘gators, and the weeds.
(The red neck won’t notice when some non-red neck empties the ash tray either!)
(I know one house where the ash trays were the size of the largest salad bowls. In fact they were those wooden salad bowls! I’d empty them, they’re fill right back up again.)
PS A tram rider sent me a video tape of a huge otter emerging from the south canal with a gigantic snake in it’s mouth: biggest otter I’ve ever seen, gray and grizzled: also the biggest snake I’ve ever seen in Highlands County!
If you have a way of preserving it, let me know: I’ll turn it over.
PS I’m still readying Bryson, wonderful additional stories and illustrations, good history of parks, England, New York. I may find time to cite more stories: here and elsewhere.