Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remarkable Trees in the Land of My Ancestors

Many years ago, my father's grandparents lived in 
Florida surrounded by acres of orange trees. I've 
heard stories of that wild land, the various people who 
worked in the orchard, and a brave neighbor who swam in the
 river with the alligators. There was the time that my grandfather
shot a hole in the bottom of the boat because a very large, very 
poisonous water moccasin jumped aboard. He killed the snake, 
but also scared his passenger half to death as he hadn't seen the 
snake come aboard.  

I remember stories of the orchard hands teaching my father to fish 
and tying bacon to his ankles to protect him from chiggers. My 
ancestors hauled water, and lived with the fragrance of 
orange blossoms in the night air. 

Though these stories are a part of my family history, they never 
seemed to take root inside me as something that bound me to my 
great grandparents. I have always lived in the north, comfortable 
and happy away from heat and humidity. 

Last November, my parents moved to the West coast of 
Florida. It surprised me, as I always considered them 
connected to the northlands here. As a family, we spent a 
considerable bit of time in Puerto Rico when I was child, 
as my father had a factory there, so who knows why 
it seemed so surprising that they should feel drawn 
to the tropics once again. 

I flew down to visit them last weekend, in the land of sun and 
alligators. My first sighting of an alligator was at the creek by 
their house. At first I thought a tire was floating in the water, 
until the fish started jumping and the alligators tail - with 
remarkably good tread - sank and re-appeared near the bank. 
If you look closely, you can see the nose sticking 
out of the water to the right. 

We went hiking on a boardwalk through a swamp.
Gray, Spanish Moss hung from the oak branches, 
and the palm leaves created linear light 
patterns that enchanted me. 

I recognized  many forest species, surprised to see
them in such a tropical climate. The old man's beard
below is a familiar forest lichen. 

I leaned in close, marveling in vine lines and leaf textures.  

Eventually, the swamp opened up to a river plateau, 
and we watched vultures soar on the thermals overhead
and egrets forage in the marsh. 

We were gifted by a sundog - a rainbow 
encircling the sun. 

Gnarled live oaks draped in moss
held court in the clearings, and shadows 
danced on palm leaves. In a moment of midnight
magic, I wonder if this palm leaf might turn 
into a peacock?  

One day we visited the Myakka River State Park, the 
largest state park in Florida. We took an airboat tour
and saw herons, egrets, cormorants and many, many

We climbed high into the canopy on this tower, 
walked across a small suspension bridge through the 
foliage, and up higher for the view. 

In the town of Venice, I met remarkable trees, and 
would have spent hours with them, though we were 
just passing through. Below is one of several 
Banyan trees in the center of the boulevard. 

The oaks lining the street also captivated me, wearing 
their Spanish Moss finery and shading the sidewalks. 

All of a sudden, when I viewed the scene below, a 
memory of a painting that hung in my grandparents' house 
came to me. Palm trees, and a man, or men, leaning on a trunk. 
A thread of memory, something familiar though distant, began 
stitching me to this place. These visual stories have been 
with me since I was a small child, though only called up again 
now, as I hear the whispering of the palms in the warm, 
afternoon breeze and smell the grapefruit blossoms 
and jasmine in my parents' garden. My father has come 
full-circle, choosing to return to the land of his youth, and I, 
on a pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors, 
feel connected to stories rooted here that
 I didn't know I had lost. 



Ms. said...

What a lovely, evocative ancestral post. How fortunate you are to still have your parents to visit. The trees are truly astounding...proof that what needs to survive, survives!

Dreaming Woods said...

i have always wanted to wander in forest in North Tunisia, the trees and plants quite different what we have in here. In Tunisia people add rose, geranium and orange flower water in to their coffee and other treats, i think rose is good for the heart, but i am not sure what orange blossom water do.

what a wonderful place to visit, you must have had lovely time wandering between the old trees.

The Cranky Crone, she lives alone! said...

Beautiful and evocative post, I would love to see those Banyan Trees in person, but this is the next best thing, thank you.

Lunar Hine said...

Mm, I also yearn to meet a banyan. We do a good line in oaks round here though, which keeps me going. Thanks for this vision of the tropics. Dartmoor is bathing in spring sunlight today, but horizontally. Sometimes a profusion of the vertical is very refreshing.

Anthropomorphica said...

A beautiful post, I love the images you have chosen and the ones created by your words. How wonderful that your ancestral connection has become found root in your physical world.

Lynn said...

Thank you for a beautiful post. It's like another world down there.

I love all the roots: the roots of the family tree, that connect us to our ancestors and ancestral lands, to our memories, even those we haven't yet discovered, the roots that I can imagine growing deep down in the earth of your forest and reaching and entwining with those of the humid forests down south.

You've captured that world so wonderfully with your photos and words.

(I've always wanted to saunter down a lane lined with oaks dripping with Spanish Moss. Maybe one day...)

Maery Rose said...

Thank you for taking me on a beautiful tour. As others have said, your words and photos are moving.

Donna~Q~ said...

What a lovely connection-filled post ~ to family, history and Mother Nature, all so beautiful.

Kimberly Wachtel said...

I loved reading more about your ancestral connection to Florida. You caught some stunning moments on camera. I love the palm photo's and the light circle from the sun. The banyan trees are so beautiful. I used to visit them in Balboa Park when I lived in San Diego. Beautiful, warm and lush post...

Unknown said...

I am so glad you got to spend time with your parents, V - and in such a warm part of the Forest, too! I appreciate the vicarious break from winter. Banyans always fascinate me - I've only met them in Hawaii.

Unknown said...

I just came across your blog today. :) Although I now live in Pennsylvania, and enjoy the deciduous seasons, I actually grew up in Venice. I spent my childhood canoeing on the Myakka and palying on Venice beach. I hadn't been back for over 20 years until last year, when my husband and I and our two dogs drove down, camping along the way. I felt a jolt as I started seeing the trees covered in Spanish moss. I revisited my old house and neighborhood, and saw the huge trees on the Boulevard once more. We watched the pelicans at the beach too. My husband saw his first wild alligators at Kissimee National Park.

There is so much beauty in the nature of Florida. Maybe it just feels like "the right kind" to me because I grew up with it. Your photos are beautiful and so enjoyable to look at.

Velma Bolyard said...

how the land speaks to us, even in a place called florida. i have roots in another place, too, and feel a call from time to time. but here i stay, visiting someday, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog searching for images of omphalos for an exhibit I will be a part of. Absolutely beautiful work. I also love the way you have integrated your writing/feeling/visual self elementals into this blog. I was in florida in a boat out in these places over 20 years ago and it was a wonderful revisiting of that place and time with your blog. Thank you.

Mel said...

Beautiful post and pictures. I thought I recognized the paths of the Myakka. I spent a magical day there with my daughter while the boys played golf. We loved the boat ride and saw many alligators. It is a magical part of the country, with such stunning visuals at every turn. Thanks for sharing, and helping me remember a wonderful day.

Valerianna said...

Ms. - I do feel fortunate that my parents are vibrant... It was great to see them easily climb the to the top of that very tall tower when younger folks found it difficult!

Robin and the Sage- I look forward to returning to have more time with the spectacular Banyan trees. I love the walks we took, and also look forward to seeing the gardens develop once my father puts in a small Japanese garden and continues to tidy up a bit. Their house was empty for a while so the gardens are in need of lots of love!

The Cranky Crone - I highly recommend meeting the grand Banyans some day, until then, I'm glad to offer a second best.

Lunar Hine - I love that "a profusion of the vertical", great wordage!

Anthropromorphica - working a lot with roots at present - ancestral, and also deep rooting into Earth.

Lynn - I'm a bit obsessed with roots myself - that branching thing again! And I sometimes imagine all the roots from my forest mingling with those in all the forests in all the world. Quite an image!

Maery Rose -Thanks!

Donna Q - It was a very mother- nature and mother-filled journey. Mom and I spent most afternoons soaking in the heated spa outside on their lanai. So luxurious with Jasmine blossoms in nearby bushes.

Kim - Someday I'd like to visit CA.... I can imagine its beauty. And I MUST visit the big trees, its on my must do list.

Susan - I had never met Banyans before, I found them sooo amazing. I didn't spend enough time with them. I also could have photographed for days there, such great textures and light patterns.

Brooke - Interesting how where we grow up, of course, feels like its the "right" kind on nature. I love the forests here, though I found so many of the same species - ferns and lichens and wild iris in the swamps - that I began to feel the presence of all the forests I have ever loved. So, even though the palms are so different, there are oaks and maples. It felt familiar, but with a twist. I felt at home in that forest realm, too.

Velma - I wonder what root-place calls to you?

sistertounge - thanks for the great feedback, thanks for stopping by, glad the "omphalos" drew you here.

Mel- I wonder if you rode in the airboat with the rather annoying guide/captain who just kept inserting his desire for tips in his speech about the wildlife? Other than that, we loved the boat trip.

Donna Iona Drozda said...

What a magnificent story and journey you've taken me on this morning...exotic surroundings and magical views. I love the way that you weave the senses through this ancestral meander...jasmine and oranges and beauty in the palm frond turned to peacock tail/tale, under the night sky.
I'm happy for you to have made these connections with times past, present and clearly, as you visit again, future.

layers said...

Wow- magnificent trees here-- I was in Hawaii in Nov. and they have some of the same trees- tropical I suppose-- and those banyan tree trunks really are quiet incredible!

jude said...

i have lived here all my life, by the sea, but i often feel that it is another place that i belong to. i am being drawn to desert like landscapes in my dreams.

angela recada said...

What a gorgeous place! I can't stop looking at the pictures of those magnificent trees! It's such a blessing to be able to walk where your ancestors walked. Remembering family stories. I'll be doing the same when I go to Germany later this month.

illustration poetry said...

i saw a big tree today and thought of you...

india flint said...

what a splendid journey
beautiful trees

Valerianna said...

Donna - Coming from the snow-covered northeast, my senses were tantalized by the sweet smells. I'm glad that translated!

Layers - They sure are. My father mentioned that in Florida, he thinks they might be banned now... maybe they are invasive. However, they did seem to be keeping to a small spot, maybe its hard to keep them contained. They sure did demand attention!

Jude - I know that feeling. I have mostly lived in this familiar forest land, or forest by the sea. When I lived in Greece and traveled to Turkey and Egypt, other kinds of energies entered me through my feet. When I hiked in the valley of the Kings in Luxor, ancient memories - sensations were stirred by the sound and feel of my sandaled feet on hot sand.

Angela - It was something to tie those loose strings together and walk in the land of a few generations past. Have a good trip to Germany.

Sympathy - cool!

iNdi@na - I imagine you meet a lot of wonderful trees on your journeys?

Tammie Lee said...

it sounds and looks like you had a wonderful time seeing amazing sights and most so different from where you live. Stepping out of the snow for the tropical land. Those trees are amazing.

Barry said...

V- love the exquisite soft and meldingness of the water colours - Dawn - magic. B