Saturday Breakfast with a Ranger

This morning, we had ‘Breakfast With a Ranger’ over at the clubhouse. Volunteers had made a good Southern breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and we got to ask the ranger lots of questions about the park. Rangers are so full of enthusiasm and knowledge of their calling.

We asked about the turpentine farming that used to dominate this area over 50 years ago, and he told us where we might see ‘cat faces’: the slashed scars, like cat’s whiskers, remaining on some of the slash-pines on one of the trails.

When we asked about the prescribed burns of yesterday, he bounded out to his truck to bring his flame-pourer in to show us. The eco-system of this area of FL is fire-dependant, and what looks like misfortune is really absolute necessity for life. The short-needled sand pines hold on to their numerous, small round cones, and only release them after storms or fires, when they can safely reseed. They must land on the bare minerals of sand, not duff or pine-needles, in order to germinate.

Fires keep the underbrush open for the gopher tortoise, which is a surprisingly essential creature for all the other inhabitants of these dunes and woods. Whenever natural fires sweep through, all small reptiles and mammals go into truce mode and hide in the cool, safe gopher tortoise burrows which can be as long as 40 feet, only to re-emerge later to resume their prey-predator relationships.

Our enthusiastic ranger described how the deer will stand by and actually watch as they set the fires, eager to eat the first ashes, and later nibble the abundant new growth that quickly shoots up. Nature, it seems, is as tightly interwoven as ‘Ragtime’.

On our way out to one last day on the beach, we encountered our ranger, now sooty and helmeted, at the edge of a charred landscape beautifully layered in scrims of smoke. Unfortunately, the trails with the ‘cat faces’ had to remain closed as the fires were still smoldering in the roots, and smoking heavily.

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