The Woods is a Time Machine
It was dark when we arrived. No moon in the sky. Just headlights, then pitch black, then our footsteps in the sand.
Alex and I are on pace for visiting the prairie once per month this year. That’s about half of what I’d prefer, but families and jobs are priority, and it's hard to complain about a consistent one for four.
This past weekend we camped in what used to be a pine forest at the southwest corner of the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. The trees had presumably been harvested and the field burned, and although it is an unusual place to set up camp, it was one of our last remaining areas to explore west of Juniper Creek.
The sky was clear and the stars were bright. I could see the Milky Way with my bare eyes, which is rare for Florida. I stayed awake until about 3:30 a.m. looking up, wondering how many of those dots were the ghosts of long since burnt out giants.
I woke up at 6:30 a.m. to two little turkey heads poking out at me from behind the palmettos. Despite the clear sky, the outsides of our tents were soaked from moisture, so we left them to dry in the sun while we explored.
After walking the perimeter, we started down a path that leads directly east toward the Florida Trail. We had studied this path in Google Earth, so we were aware of its existence. Nevertheless, we were impressed with its relative lack of obstruction.
At the end of the trail we found a tiny lantern hanging in a pine tree. This is the second lantern we’ve found out here, and while it probably doesn’t sound or look all that remarkable, it really is a strange place to find anything at all. I often make the mistake of thinking Alex and I are the only ones out here exploring these obscure prairies and so-called “trails,” but discoveries like this make me second guess everything I think I know.
We also found what looks like a feeder hanging from a tree, so Alex left a note attached to a flag with questions and contact info.
By the time we finished exploring, our tents were dry, so we packed up and drove north to Pat’s Island to visit a location we discovered last November.
I hesitate writing this paragraph, because I don’t have a photo to show for it, but as we traveled on F.R. 33, we saw a huge black bear standing in the road a couple hundred yards north of us. It reminded me of that time we found Juniper (the dog) on our way home from the woods. Alex was able to capture a blurry image of the bear, but other than that, our bear encounters up to this point remain devoid of much proof.
We met a woman named Krysten, whom Alex recognized from Instagram, at the Pat’s Island Trailhead parking lot. Much like what Jenny and I used to do, Krysten lives and travels in a large shuttle bus named Bertha. Seeing her rig parked in the lot made me miss life on the road.
After grabbing a portrait, we headed south on the Florida Trail and then east onto the Yearling Trail toward a location we call “Silver Nip” due to the 65 Silver Nip bottles we found there. Research indicates the bottles date back to the early-to-mid 1900s.
Similar Silver Nip bottles are going for about 10 to 14 dollars a piece on eBay, so this is probably the closest we’ll ever come to finding treasure.
Alex brought his metal detector and, along with various pieces of pull tabs and aluminum foil, found an old Colgate Shave Stick container, which also dates back to the early 1900s. Pretty cool!
As we hiked back toward the van, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the people before us who had visited these areas, stood in these locations, looked up at these stars. Like ships passing in the night, we find evidence of each other but never each other. Once in a while we are fortunate enough to cross paths with a bear, or a woman traveling the country in her vehicle, and I’m able to place faces with these artifacts, even if the faces I’m placing don’t actually belong to those items at all.
At the last dirt intersection during our drive out, we came across a shot up stop sign. And again, I pondered all the stories the woods has to offer, secrets it shares only with those who care to listen.
The woods really is like a time machine, but it only seems to point back.