Like my old friend who lives here at Longleaf, gopherus polyphemus, I think it’s high time that I stick my neck out just a bit and come out of my well-upholstered shell.
I awoke this morning from the deepest sleep I can remember in a long time, hair tangled and damp and though a fever had broken. And maybe it has. A fever of the spirit, chronic for many months.
Maybe it was last night’s chicken soup?
More later, but the time for early morning walking is here and I’m not going to miss this incredible 52 degree Florida panhandle morning. We have had rain for two days, beautiful rain, breaking a high-heat drought that went on the entire months of August, September and the first week of October. The morning is glorious. Lou, the little Lab, and I are heading off to the gate. She of course wears a fur coat every day. I plan to wear my usual shorts and t-shirt and savor the shiver.
Hope all is well in your neck of the woods whether it is morning, evening or dark night when you read this post. (Funny — when I first posted this, I wrote “Hope all is well in your neck of the words.” Freudian. And my true thought — I do hope the ink is flowing for you.)
It’s late April in the Longleaf woods of panhandle Florida. One day has the kind of crisp blue sky mornings that make you want to fling open all the doors and windows. Another, this morning for example, has you checking the calendar to see if maybe April morphed into August. Step outside and your hair begins to fatten and curl in the steam.
Buck and I are not the only critters in the woods contemplating new shelter. Wrens hop around under the cars and in the grass, snatching up shreds of nest-building material and chittering like garage-sale treasure hunters.
A resourceful gopher tortoise has repurposed an old slab of tin-covered wood into a roof for its den. It’s just out back a little ways from the fence. We can watch the tortoise emerge to graze on sunny afternoons. Two Sundays ago, a dry, bright day, he hung out on the “front porch” of his den for hours, not so different from the rest of us contented householders.
I don’t know how a gopher tortoise processes information about the world. I wouldn’t imagine he chose this spot for a new den based on the idea that its tin roof would make a pleasant sound when it rains. Then again. I could swear I saw him smiling that Sunday afternoon.
IT’S ALWAYS A GOOD DAY WHEN a Florida gopher tortoise (gopherus polyphemus) shows up to graze at the same moment I happen to be looking out the window.
Look close and you can see the red clay and sand mix from his tunnel still clinging to the back of his shell. I saw a funny video of a gopher tortoise getting his back scratched with a toothbrush and thought about giving that a try, but this guy looked sufficiently pissed off about having his likeness struck that I decided to leave him alone. Scratching a gopher tortoise’s back with a toothbrush isn’t nearly as bad as dressing up a dog in people clothes, but it seemed like it might offend the ancient critter’s dignity.
Nature’s lagniappe. It’s there whether I see it or not. I love the shapes of the vine leaves and their textures, some so smooth and others lacy.
These tiny clusters look like champagne grapes now, but by mid-September they will be large and the color of Crayola’s Hot Magenta.
Sometimes a year or more will go by and we won’t see one of our gopher tortoise friends. It’s always a treat to see one of these ancient creatures. We saw one a few days ago out in the clearing when Buck was about to bush-hog. He worried the tortoise might get hurt or killed by the tractor, so he picked up the critter and put it in a wood wildlife feeding trough for safe-keeping near a big spreading oak out back. The tortoise spit in Buck’s face and on his shirt, but at least he was safe during his half hour confinement.
I forgot to close the gate that surrounds a fenced yard area in back. It surrounds the swimming pool plus about an acre. It’s where Maggie used to patrol her territory. Buck and I had just finished a dish of pinto beans and cornbread for lunch today when he noticed a guest coming in through the gate. It was the gopher tortoise.
We watched him a few minutes, then took his picture and herded him away from the pool and back out the gate. He looked annoyed. But then, every gopher tortoise I’ve ever seen up close looks annoyed.
Click on the photos and they’ll pop up into a full-sized gallery.
Buck and I almost walked straight into and through this beauty's web late this afternoon when we walked to the gate.
The out-of-focus brown furriness on the other side of the web is Maggie. Click here for info on the exquisite Nephila clavipes from BugGuide. She is also known as the Golden Silk Orbweaver.
Today was a double treat. Buck was talking on the phone mid-morning as he and I worked at our side-by-side workspace in the Lodge. Suddenly, he stood up, craned his neck toward the front window and pointed at something moving at the edge of the woods.
"Mr. Westmark, did you get what I said? Mr. Westmark? Hello?"
"Oh, sorry, Mark. Got to go. I'll call you back. Just saw a gopher tortoise."
I already had my camera and was headed to the front door. Buck came with his binoculars.
Any time a person is privileged to see one of these ancient, gentle herbivores, it is a good day. Click here to read more about gopherus polyphemous from the folks at gophertortoise.org.
When the sun is bright and hot enough to melt my sins, that's when I begin to think maybe a gopher tortoise will come out from a tunnel near enough to the house for me to take a picture.
Today fit the bill, for sure, with the temperature close to 100 and the humidity following too closely. I've been thinking about the folks in town who live in that trailer park where the landlords didn't pay the water bill and so the water got turned off for days on end, with all those old people, sick people, and babies. That's a misery index to ponder.
Maggie's wild weasle bark broke into my fretting mind. She only barks at armadillos, deer who come within spitting distance of the backyard fence, the shadow cast by low-flying military helicopters or buzzards, and grazing gopher tortoises.
I hopped up from my desk and ran to see which one it was. Gopherus polyphemous! Buck saw me grab my camera and run for the back door. He followed along and tried to get me to pick up the grand, ancient creature so he could take our picture. Nothing doing. Not me. You do it.
Is it just me, or do you think G.P. looks seriously aggravated?
These dens are two of four spotted while checking the progress of young planted and volunteer longleaf trees. We saw the big guy (or gal) from earlier pictures — I think we’ll call her Polly — aggressively grazing two days ago. She stuck that big neck out and almost pulled the browse up by the roots. She eats rapidly and does not chew twenty-eight times before she swallows!
Long, slanting rays of an August sunset reached their tentacles into the living room where I stood like a tanned flamingo, left foot balanced on right knee, wearing a leopard print gown, sipping from a glass filled with Famous Grouse scotch, water and ice cubes.
Where did that big grey rock come from?
Oops. That’s no rock. That Gopherus Polyphemous! Himself! Uh, or Herself!
Uncoiling and getting both feet back on the floor, I reached for the camera and decided to go-pher the shot. Sorry. Slipping into my garden clogs out on the screened porch, I eased through the door, and circled around in back of where the tortoise was feeding. I walked a few steps, stopped to see if the tortoise would run off. He didn’t, so I moved forward a few more feet. Stopped. Waited. Until I got close enough for a picture.
When I got within two feet, I began to talk softly to the tortoise. He seemed a little curious about me, too. I expect I presented a fairly weird sight, hunkered down in the weedy dirt right in front of him. His black eyes opened wide, glittered in the sunlight, his head jerked upward and he stuck his tongue out at me. Then, those large digging tools began to propel him forward, and he headed back toward his den at a relaxed pace.