Sunday, March 25, 2007

Stalking the Wild Azalea

I hiked around the Sopchoppy section of the Florida Trail today looking for wild azaleas. I was first introduced to them a year ago and fell in love with them.I started out trying to follow a spur trail to Monkey Creek but the trail was not blazed at all and soon any sign of a footpath disappeared. Do you see a path or a blue blaze anywhere? Maybe on the other side of that log,.... I did have a map and compass with me and forged ahead for a while. There were no wild azaleas in this area, but a lot of these little yellow flowers. I have searched for them in my wildflower book, so until I can make a positive identification they will remain nameless.
I probably should have turned around sooner, but I thought that surely I would see a sign or the trail if I just kept slogging on. I didn't. I did learn a valuable lesson, though: never wear shorts in the woods, no matter how hot it is. My legs are striped and bloody from the vines and needle palm stalks. Very attractive. I finally turned around and headed back to the car, using my compass and also some information that I learned in one of my classes: a white band painted around the trunk of a longleaf pine tree means that the tree is the home of a red cockaded woodpecker (or RCW, as they are called by the Pecker-ati), and RCWs nest on the southwest side of the tree (the theory is that it sun hits the SW side for the longest period of the day which draws out the pine sap to keep snakes from slithering into the hole.) So, if you are lost in the woods in north Florida and don't have a compass, look for a tree with a white band around it, find the woodpecker hole, and you know which direction is southwest. Pretty neat, huh?

I found another access spot which was much better marked and set off on my quest.
I knew I was close to water, and that the wild azaleas grow close to water, so I was hopeful and was soon rewarded. They are so subtle and beautiful. I also like that they are elusive; it makes seeing them all the more thrilling.
The picture above shows how low the Sopchoppy is. The highwater mark is about 2/3 from the top of the photograph. I doubt you can paddle much of it until we get a whole lot of rain. Below is a photo of the trail that I took from the ground so you can see that it is barely trodden at all. I felt very lucky to be able to traipse around all afternoon and never see or hear another person.
That was my day. It was great.


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