Monday, August 4, 2008

Secret Places, Sacred Ground

Last Saturday I officially became a Florida  Freshwater Wetlands Naturalist, having completed the first of three 40- hour courses in the University of Florida-IFAS Master Naturalist program. I then started immediately into the Coastal Systems class -- life is busy -- but life is good. I am taking the classes in order to be a more informed advocate for the preservation of Florida's natural environment, to better inform my "eye" for photographing what I so dearly care about, and to continue my life-long learning process -- something we should all take care to do.
The field-work during the wetlands class was incredibly informative and inspirational. Learning the science was important, but learning to interpret what one sees, and even more learning how to see the natural world was the most beneficial aspect of the process. I hope to be able to pass some of that along both here and in the "real" world. Among the coolest things I was taught is how to use my "wide-angle" vision to see to the edges of my peripheral vision, rather than focusing on a specific object. We are so habituated to look strait ahead -- at a TV screen; at a computer screen; at a PowerPoint presentation; at the work before us, that we miss probably 75% of the activity in our field of vision. I stood amazed as our guide last Saturday pointed out a small pygmy rattle snake at the edge of the trail, literally inched from my feet, that I never would have noticed. Then, equally amazed as he headed down the trail in front of 15 of us students -- who suddenly realized we were leaderless until he came up laughing from behind after eleven of us walked past him where he was simply leaning on a tree, hiding in plain sight.

So the next day I headed out early, on my own, to one of my secret spots in the northeast Florida wetlands (what's left of it), and practiced broadening my point of view -- looking ahead, but looking at everything, aware of my full field of vision, being quite, being invisible, being observant. Maybe I got lucky -- maybe I actually got it right -- in any event, here's what I saw:

This handsome fellow is a juvenile cottonmouth -- a water moccasin. He was contentedly sunning himself in the shallows of a small black water creek, seemingly as curious about me as I was about him. This is the best of three photos that I took. He never moved -- and allowed me to observe him until I was ready to move on.

Just beyond this wetland the terrain rises a few feet to a sand hill habitat, where within two minutes of leaving the water snake, I caught a glint in the dry scrub to my right, where I found this beauty:

This is a black racer -- about three feet long -- probably believing that I could not see her from less than 3 feet away. She is non-venomous (though will bite if cornered), whose best defense is her incredible speed. I got two quick frames off before she bolted, disappearing in the under-growth like a flash of black lightening. 

For me this was a great day -- it can hardly get any better -- and with every encounter in the natural environs of Florida, and every class with my expert teachers, I appreciate it more. More knowledgeably, more reverently, more respectfully -- and more determined to advocate for its protection and preservation. Really: don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone?

No comments: