What does it mean to belong in a place? Can I harmoniously fit into an ecosystem, a human and non-human community? If so, how? These questions have been percolating for me recently as I start plans on a “food forest” at my parent’s home in Central Florida. I’m not sure they know what they’re in for, but they’re nonetheless cautiously excited.
At a certain point in planning said forest, I realized that armchair research on Florida’s native species could only go so far. I was eager to experience Florida’s wildlife face-to-face. What was really growing in Florida unkempt by human hands?
So when I found out about the Lake Apopka North Shore Wetlands Preserve, I jumped at the chance to get into nature in a COVID-appropriate way. The park had some deserted hiking trails as well as a road for vehicles to drive (verrrry slowly) alongside the river and canals.
Passing Trump-country farms and cookie cutter developments, my mom and I finally pulled onto the long, sandy road that would take us from the lake shore through 11 miles of wetlands. When we finished, we went on a mid-day hike. Nary a soul to be found on an August afternoon on these trails. It didn’t stop us from exploring, but it should have! (That, or the horseflies, or the ankle-high mounds of fire ants.)
According to the audioguide, the park has gone through extensive conservation, removing algae and fish, cultivating native plants, even turning polluted soils literally upside down. As a result the place was alive and CROWDED! Not with people, but with chirps, rumbles, squawks, and bellows. And there are plenty of videos of just how crowded with gators it can get. But beyond gators, there’s so much to see here. Here’s a small slice of what we found.