Posted by: floridanature | November 4, 2008

A Mythic Vision in the ‘Burbs

And so here we are, sitting at a wooden table inside an enfenced pool-deck thing at my friend Michelle’s, working on a Powerpoint program on my laptop. It’s a glorious late afternoon Florida autumn day. The low sun is creasing the wild assemblage of sabal palms and hickories and water oaks clustering against a terrain that falls away from the edge of the screened pool.

Little Wekiva in backyard

Little Wekiva in backyard

The slope ends a couple hundred yards later in a narrow meander that is the Little Wekiva River. I’ve paddled this river downstream from here, after it crosses under the chaotic SR 434 and is newly invigorated by the outflows of Sanlando and Starbuck and other springs, their limestone vents held captive for now in a fancy development. You could, if you were a blue gill or, say, a killifish, follow this relic of Florida’s liquid wilderness until it gathers strength, passing finally into and out of state-owned swamp and forest, and confluxing with the larger Wekiva. From there, it’s an easy ride to the St. Johns, and then, 150 miles or so later, to the great Atlantic itself

But, despite the fringe of woods in the backyard, we’re in the Florida ‘burbs for now, sounds of the absurd leaf blowers coughing to each other from the street out front. In a place where a man’s worth is measured not by his true dignity, but by the size of his SUV tires and how expensive his campaign brochure was.


At this very moment I am trying to figure out what 400-year-old image of Florida and its native people and landscape to use in this slide program. I think of the shell and bone middens those early natives left behind, a testament to how nature once sustained them. As I do, I am nostalgic for the notion of a vanished Florida and the spirituality its landscape once brought to life here. I think vaguely of the upper Amazon, above Iquitos, and how alive I once felt there, inside an intact and primal flood plain that had not yet leaked its mythology away.


And it is at this very moment, when I am yearning the most for true wilderness, that it materializes just a few yards away from me.

My first clue to its presence comes when Michelle puts her hand to her mouth and makes odd gasping sounds. One finger points beyond our table, to the edge of the screen. There, strolling casually along as if he’s somewhere deep in a hydric hammock, is a nearly full grown Florida black bear. Big guy, down on all fours, lumbering slowly along.

I do a classic comic double take—seeing the bear, but not fully grasping the reality of having seen it. It’s incongruous, like being deep in a swamp in the Seminole State Forest and seeing a mortgage broker in a three piece suit.

Michelle's Bear

Michelle's Bear

The bear stops at the edge of the screen, and sits down. He looks at us curiously, as humans visiting a zoo might look at a cage of rhesus monkeys. Hmm. Odd sort of beings, hair in all the wrong places, and—why are they making those nonsensical chattering sounds ?

Michelle goes inside and grabs a camera and walks around the pool to within feet of the bear, snapping photos. He continues being a bear. Finally, the flash goes off and the bear looks up as if he just woke from a not-so-good dream. Damn, a monkey with a camera. Time to scat.

And so he does, rising and turning at once on a dime, and then disappearing inside a thicket of saw palmetto. How a bear that size can scamper away like that without breaking a palm frond—without even cracking a branch—is beyond me. I realize its vanishing was more akin to the way that alligators slip below the water when I’m sometimes out paddling my kayak. They seem to dissolve, a few molecules at a time, until nothing is left.

More like mythic archetypes, really, of the sort Joseph Campbell once described so eloquently. Images and ideals that weave their way through our consciousness over time, reassembling and surfacing, seemingly at random. At once symbolic, intangible–and, at once, more real than life itself.


Perhaps it’s the dreaming—-the visualization—that brings them up to us, giving us redemption when we ask for it.

Or maybe they simply want to remind us that, despite all that we’ve done to ignore and to devalue them, they’re still here.



  1. Those mortgage brokers probably feel like they are the wilderness wherever they go these day! Fun post, and nice to be so close to the Little Wekiva.

  2. I saw a mom and two cubs once at Rock Springs Run Preserve. There are so many bears in this area. Sometimes if you paddle the Wekiva on a quiet day you can hear them crashing around. Once in a while they come down for a drink or climb up in a tree near the river. I love it when you write about the Wekiva. As always it was a good post.

  3. The best time to see a bear while paddling is usually on a weekday. Have you ever seen one at Wekiva State Park?

  4. What an odd place to see one! Animals adapt to suburbia in strange ways. I’ve actually heard that the black bear population in Florida has been increasing in the past few years, but its population groups have been forced apart because of large developments.

  5. Thanks for the responses, guys. The funny thing is I spend a lot of time in the woods and swamps, and have only seen three bears in a decade or so. And now one comes to me in a neighborhood. A strange world, Florida. We do know that the greatest concentration of bears in the state are in the Wekiva-Ocala area, so surely we have a much better chance of a bear encounter here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: