Places have a way of seeping into your blood. Sometimes it happens without you even being precisely aware that it is taking place. But slowly, over time, your cells are being replaced. Like petrified wood. As the old cells die they are replaced by minerals and the tree is preserved forever. Its lines. Its grain. Its rings mark a time long since passed.
This place is seeping into my pages. I never really meant to do it. It just started coming out of its own accord. I grew up in the desert. An arid place of sagebrush, dirt tracks and skies that stretch clear to the horizon. But since moving to Florida, this place has overtaken my person in the same way the green vines try to consume my house. I am reminded of a line from Young Catherine, “The girl goes as native as a Cassock”. I’ve gone Native. I’ve grown Wild. But it’s a different sort of wild than I grew up with. It started in the mossy oaken woods and stretched to the rivers and springs. I was overtaken by the quality of light. I fell in love with the place.
Inevitably, when I drive back into “civilization” from the Wilds, something in me breaks. Something in me aches with the loss of a place that is slowly turning into condos, clone homes and strip malls. Pavement to the horizon. And in trying to reclaim small pieces of the wilderness, restore them, replant them, re-wilding the Wild, I became obsessed with how things used to be. I started pulling maps. Microfiche. Papers crisp at the edges and presided over by silverfish. Photos yellowed with age. Black and white figures with straight backs and the glassy eyes of enduring another time. Staring at the camera in stiff collars and dresses that must have strained and sweated in the Florida heat. Sitting as still as possible, so that the daguerreotype would preserve their image forever. And the minerals would take their forms. Slowly over time.
These figures have started to seep into my pages too. They’ve come alive. They are having conversations with one another. I didn’t expect them to be so funny. But they are making me laugh out loud at inappropriate times. They are trying to get me into trouble I think. They are feeding me their stories. And little by little, their stories are coming out. Taking shape. Word by word. Molecule by molecule their stories are being crystallized on 21st Century technology with 21st Century ink.
This place brought together a strange collection of refugees from the rest of the world. Escaped slaves. Circus performers. Inventors. Petty thieves. Missionaries. Sideshow freaks. Soldiers who survived the Civil War and brought wives down the river in coal-fired steam boats, to grow bananas and sugarcane. They had children who swam in the ocean.
The photo at the head of this post was taken on a 1200 year old Native American Temple Mound. 1,047 years later, two lovers would drown here as one tried to save the others life. 153 years after that, I would eat my lunch under the shade of the tree they planted. Their hands touched its bark. Their voices rang out underneath its branches. They may have made love in the very spot where I sat, staring out at the blue and peaceful water that somehow claimed them in its depths. Their photo is laminated on a placard by what it left of the foundation of their house. Perched upon a 1200 year-old mound of shells, that were eaten by bare-skinned fisherman who piled them up day after day until the top produced a view. Until the vines took it over. And the trees pushed their roots down into its depths.
I never meant to write this book. I don’t even know what genre it is supposed to be. Or what it’s supposed to be about. Truly. I could more easily put an identifying tag on the ghost of circus performer in a top hat that built a museum out of stolen artwork, or put a label on an escaped slave who built a fantastic garden out of bones. Or the lovers who survived a war and grew bananas in an isolated spot and transported them by rowboat to market.
I never meant to write this book. But I can’t wait to see how it turns out.