The Weazel is not only old, but poor; so, during my recovery from a broken back my first order of business was to get serious about selling Frog city, a 25 acre patch of swampy forest in central Florida that I have owned for almost forty years. Toward that end I had to kill a lot of native plants. That may not sound much like fun, but it was. Here is the backstory:
In 1979 I purchased Frog city for a pittance because of its wildness and wetness, and especially for the extraordinary number of resident frogs and water moccasins.
The neighbors were equally wild, savage trailer dwelling Crackers who raised fighting dogs and cockfighting roosters whenever not busy poaching alligators. They shared the Arrowhead community with numerous retired motorcycle hoodlums from Tampa, all of whom featured pot bellies, gimpy legs, and ugly wives. None of the roads are either paved or public, yet over 600 people live in Arrowhead. The cops won’t come near the place, so rural anarchy reigns.
I will not forget the day in 1978 when I first met the realtor who sold me the property. By good fortune the nearby Withlacoochee river was experiencing a 100 year flood so the swamp was brim full. As we stood there gazing at the apparently endless expanse of water and trees I asked the golfing attire clad Yuppie where the reputed dry land might be? He assured me that there was lots of it out there somewhere, so I said, “Great! Let’s go find it!”
I waded into the water, then turned around to beckon to the realtor. He stood there aghast while contemplating the swamp. I said, “Come on Jim, but watch out for that moccasin coiled by your left foot, and those two over there on your right”. That did the trick, and I bought the place for a song!
All the ensuing years thereafter I paid the taxes but rarely went there, for the forest is impenetrable and full of ghosts. It held bad memories of the long ago day when I got married at a beautiful nearby spring. Marriage was an act of desperation, a final attempt to salvage a disastrous decade long relationship. The end, a blessing in disguise, came not long thereafter.
That was bad enough, but after I left the aforementioned alligator poaching pitbull breeding lowlifes descended on my unguarded property to cut down many of my beautiful cypress trees. They left the trunks lying in the swamp, for they only wanted the buttressed bases to make cypress clocks. My fence was torn down so that my next door neighbor could dig ditches to drain his hog pens onto my land. Poachers roamed freely, and nearly wiped out the deer, hogs, and turkeys. Others stopped by to throw away their garbage. I planted an orange tree over the placenta of a dear friend’s daughter, but the bastards stole it!
Here you see an arrest photo of Rodney K, a typical area inhabitant and premier gator poacher. This is the son of a bitch who cut down my trees.
The Weazel is very good at hunting and tracking, so perhaps I should have been a detective? When I learned that my trees had been cut I tracked him down in half an hour despite the fact that I was in Washington DC at the time. A few phone calls to knowledgeable neighbors was all it took.
Meanwhile I was stuck in DC, but soon got a lucky break. One day I was on my way back to Rockville MD (where I had the misfortune to grow up) from yet another fruitless business meeting with a loathsome developer in downtown DC when I beheld an ancient school bus with Florida tags parked in an abandoned lot where there is no doubt a high rise office building today. The mere fact that I was wearing a business suit meant that I was already in a black mood.
The scruffy looking owner of the bus was selling cypress clocks and cypress knees, all of which were on display outside the bus. It was as though a justice seeking deity had delivered him unto me!
He was eager to show me his wares, and delighted when I announced that I was a cypress knee collector. He was especially impressed with my knowledge when I said, “These look like Withlacoochee knees to me. Are they from Arrowhead?” He replied, “Damn if you don’t know your business buddy, you must be a big time collector! But no, these knees came from lake Panasoffkee (a place upstream of Arrowhead along the Withlacoochee). My buddy Rodney works the Arrowhead area. Wanna buy some knees?” “No thanks” I said, “I already bought some from Rodney, he is an old friend of mine, but perhaps I will see you later”.
Half an hour later I returned clad in camo from head to toe, and bearing an oversized sheath knife. I looked like Rambo on his way to the apocalypse. The poor unsuspecting fellow had no idea that I was the harmless looking business nerd he had met a short time before.
In a vehement and menacing manner I asked him if he thought it was a coincidence that someone he had met in suburban Maryland could possibly have known anything about an obscure rural area in Florida, must less intimate details pertaining to his friends? When he realized who I was a look of consternation came into his eyes. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
I said, “Don’t worry chump. I’ve decided that I like you, and besides, I throw back small fish. I’m a secret agent for a government task force which is why I know so much. I know more about you and Rodney than you know about yourselves. I know where you eat, sleep, and shit. I know the bars you frequent and the cars you drive. I know your friends, and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of your friend’s friends.”
By that time he was trembling like a leaf, and his face had assumed an ashen pallor. I continued, “I hate to waste taxpayer dollars, and scum like you never spend enough time in jail to justify the expense, so pack up your shit and leave. As for your friend Rodney, tell him that I don’t plan to arrest him either, too much trouble and I would have to testify. Instead, I plan to hunt him down in the swamp while he is busy gator poaching and leave him where I find him. Maybe I’ll use this knife (which I flourished in the air like Crocodile Dundee). It won’t cost the taxpayers a penny. Now get your ass out of here!”
Some may criticize me for taking pleasure in terrorizing a poor fool, but I thoroughly enjoyed the moment, especially when his ancient smoke belching school bus headed south to carry my message to Rodney!
After returning to Florida I invited a deputy sheriff to investigate the scene of the crime. When I told him Rodney was the culprit he said, “That figures. Aside from poaching alligators and trees, he is a known criminal who steals cars, rapes women, and shoots into occupied dwellings. If you see him please just shoot him, but don’t tell us.”
The final blow came when my dog and hog breeding neighbor decided to “liberate” the beautiful blue spring by bulldozing it so that rednecks in boats could access it without crossing private land.
About a month later I drove down from DC to see what had happened. I was joined by an old friend and a strange young woman who I later concluded was an FBI agent seeking to infiltrate Earth First!
In place of paradise I found a garbage dump with a party in progress. Dozens of boats were tied up, country music blared, and broken glass, beer cans, and used diapers littered the ground. Many of the people were on the land, despite the fact that the land was still private property even though the owners had given up trying to police it.
I completely lost it and started screaming threats and obscenities, ordering everyone to leave immediately! Needless to say that news was not well received.
The biggest meanest redneck wanted to fight, and started climbing out of his boat. That was when I said, “Go ahead cocksucker, give it a try, but first we are going to have a little race. That is my truck over there. If you can catch me before I get there then maybe you can beat my ass, but if I get there first then you are gonna be a dead piece of dogshit!” It was all bluff, I didn’t have a gun, but it worked and they left.
It was more than I could take, so for many years thereafter I stayed away from my beloved Frog city. There were just too many ghosts.
From the very beginning I had planned to undertake a much needed ecological restoration program. Once upon a time when Florida was still wild most of the land had been open flatwoods savanna with longleaf pines, cypress domes, and magnificent live oaks in between. The remains of an old turpentine operation can still be seen.
Then three bad things happened. First turpentine lost value so the virgin pines were cut. Then, a catastrophic forest fire raged through the fallen debris. It even destroyed the cypress swamps. The ecological clock was reset back to zero. I am going to guess that this happened sometime in the 1950s.
The final blow was when land speculators carved roads through the wilderness, thus stopping the natural fire cycle. By the time I bought the place in 1979 it had become an impenetrable thicket.
None of the invasive plants that had grown up in the aftermath of the fires were exotics. Many people suppose that invasive plants and animals are always alien species newly arrived from some foreign land, but that is not necessarily the case. Ecological disturbance, or in this case a lack thereof, can cause even native species to run amok. The worst problems were caused by the unrestrained overgrowth of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and water oaks (Quercus nigra). Neither of these species would have gotten out of control if the natural fire regimen had not been interrupted by roads and settlement.
I knew what I needed to do, but fire breaks and controlled burning takes time and money; besides, whenever I contemplated the project the resident ghosts would reemerge.
So I did nothing until last year. I knew there was great beauty waiting to be revealed, so I started chopping. It was so thick that it took three months of machete swinging just to lay out the proposed route of a firebreak/trail system, along with wildlife openings.
The trail system passed by all the beauty spots, the towering cypress domes, the open marsh full of wading birds, the huge palmettos, the elegantly gnarled bonsai forms of the flatwoods shrubs, and especially the magnificent oaks. In the end it was more than a mile long.
Next, I hired a monstrous machine known as a mulcher, a tracked vehicle featuring a high speed rotating drum that weighs almost a ton and is studded with hundreds of teeth. It can be raised high overhead then be brought down to destroy anything in its path. The idea was to cut the trail without damaging the ground or leaving piles of ugly debris.
I had never seen such a monster before, and was skeptical that it would work, so I asked the operator what he could do to remove a worthless seventy foot tall ten inch in diameter water oak? (Water oaks, Quercus nigra, are the curse of Frog city.)
He rumbled up to the tree, raised his grinding head ten feet into the air, then said , “Watch this”. He revved up the engine then brought the massive head down. To my complete amazement the entire tree disappeared in a matter of seconds. The unstoppable force had definitely overcome the immovable object. There was nothing left!
Other land clearing companies had declined the job for fear that the giant palmettos, the largest I have ever seen, would destroy their machines, but my man wasn’t afraid. This is all that was left after he attacked a palmetto that would have stopped most bulldozers.
It was glorious combat, man against nature for nature’s benefit!
In a single day the work was done, but the problem remained that the palmetto and other roots were still in the ground, and were certain to re-sprout. So it was that I spent much of the time recuperating from my broken back by wandering my new trail system while squirting full strength Roundup (My favorite poison!) on the emerging sprouts.
It was all a great success! Now anyone willing to walk can see the inherent wild beauty of Frog city. Deer, turkeys, and hogs have returned, but unfortunately the moccasins have not. The neighborhood has gotten so civilized that even the damned dog breeder found Jesus and opened a blueberry farm.
Frog city has become a birdwatching paradise now that you can actually see the forest for the trees, and best of all, the beauty of the primeval live oak hammocks has been revealed!
Much more remains to be done. Prescribed fire over a period of many years is needed to return the uplands to their original condition as longleaf pine dominated flatwoods. I don’t have either the time or money for that, but at least I’ve made a start. A future enlightened owner will have to continue the work.
Selling swampland to Yankees is a venerable Florida tradition; so, if I can find a billionaire birdwatcher with a commitment to conservation then Frog city will be safe after I’m gone, and in the meantime I’ll be able to grow old and fat in comfort!