Life in the wilderness among the dirt roads of eastern Florida brings at times the feeling of being swallowed up, of being devoured by the quiet roar of growth swelling outward from every leaf and blade of grass, a green world bristling with the buzz, the chirp and rasp of secret signals, for the most part an unseen world that churns like a breathing engine beneath a green exterior, under a coat of bark, around the whorl of roots—so far off the beaten path every moment is cheek by jowl with an uncountable variety of living things that strive, push, bite, fly, croak, sting and struggle voraciously through abbreviated lifetimes that often end as another’s food.
Walking across the yard in what looks like open space gets me tangled in the elaborate web of one more spider. Neither web nor spider is visible and I swat at sticky, invisible strands that cling like silken tape to arms and face. At the gate I lean over to open the lock and startle two fat brown lizards entwined on the gatepost propagating the species, and then my attention is snatched away by the sharp sting of a fire ant that has found my sockless toes inside a flimsy shoe. Nothing to do but kick the shoe off and scratch around for the fiery devil tormenting tender flesh. I count myself lucky it wasn’t one of the hairy and poisonous caterpillars that hatch from cocoons under the eaves and inch their way down the house walls to drop suddenly on shoulder or head.
From a chair in the backyard the grass looks like it might be visibly growing. I would almost bet it was shorter when I came outside a half hour earlier. Between the two camphor trees is a new patch of orange and black mushrooms, a type that lacks any beauty and comes out of the ground already gnarled. Sitting outdoors at this season and this time of day means that no amount of dedication can hold the focus on only one aspect. Arms, neck, ears and ankles are slathered in Skin So Soft to deter the mosquitos from draining my blood in double-time, but it does nothing for the large, black mud wasps who hover around and under my chair testing the wood for a choice spot to build a nest. Comforting to know that stings from these insects are rare.
One of the large gopher turtles that occasionally lumber out of the woods at the end of my backyard was here yesterday. I tried to entice him with a cut of watermelon but he went right past it, preferring instead the tender shoots of grass all around. A week ago I looked out from the back porch thinking it was another of the unwanted armadillos rooting among the tall oak trees and so unslung the BB gun to run it off. Only after two bright copper BBs pinged off the animal’s back did I realize it wasn't an armadillo at all but one of the gopher turtles, a shape unclear in the distance. No wonder the BBs provoked no reaction. Happy I wasn’t frightening one of the friendlies. Along with the rat snakes, black snakes and three resident marsh hawks, the turtles are welcome neighbors in this hotbox-petri dish that surrounds my four walls in a last frontier.