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Florida Time Forgot


Being a Florida native does not make me any more or less special than anyone else. It does allow me to occasionally look at things differently than newcomers. When bald cypress trees drop their needles during the dry season, only to refoliate when our summer rains begin, visitors often ask, what's killing the trees? When they see the natural cypress oil floating on the surface in a swamp they may wonder why someone dumped oil or gasoline in such a pristine place.

As an avocational paleontologist, I spend a lot of time chest-deep in our rivers and streams, searching for fossils of prehistoric mammoths that dominated our landscape at the end of the last Ice Age. With their fossilized bones, but from an era when Florida was submerged by shallow seas, I come across teeth from an extinct shark that nearly reached the length of two school buses.

I see things "off the trail" that inspire me to always have my camera on and lens cap off. Some scenes occur once in a life time while others are commonplace. I try not to look at them straight on. Reality may be real but not everyone sees it the same way. So it is with nature photography. Two people can wander through the same forest and see the trees differently. All that may change is their perspective. For me, the natural world is fair game for my twisted sense of reality--with a PG rating of course. My perspective is constantly in flux. One moment the easy chair some neanderthal discarded in the woods makes me angry, while the next moment I am chuckling to myself about the "armchair environmentalist" who left it there. Or the concrete block on the riverbank -- refuse to the discarder but for me it's proof the Romans vacationed in Florida.

I use my camera largely to ask questions. I want to know if alligators ever mistakenly romance a log. Do they ever kiss? Who washes spider webs? Can musical notes be found growing wild? How do snakes resolve their differences? Can leaves fly? Can panthers read "Panther Crossing" signs? Do fish look up and see the reflection of the river bottom? To them, are trees stalactites or stalagmites? Can they see the hairs up our noses?

On a serious side, I want to know how long the wilds of Florida will remain wild. Is there time to go back and visit all those out of the way places that knew me well as a kid? Is our state color still a lush green and blue? Or is it fast becoming a concrete gray?

I hope you are moved enough by the beauty of Florida's wilder side to recognize the natural world as a necessary friend, not an annoying adversary. And I hope this section will motivate you to put on your hiking boots and take to the nearby woods or swamps. Gently, of course. --Mark Renz

Mark Renz

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