Scrubbing

The summer sun in Florida is brutally hot. It’s almost directly overhead, and the protection supposedly afforded by Earth’s atmosphere seems marginal at best. Those who live only a short distance from the beach can look forward to the cooling effect of the sea breeze, but for those of us who are farther inland, that breeze is rare and not to be counted on.

That’s what’s so nice about getting out into Florida’s natural areas: Many of them are wooded, which affords some shade, but the woods in Florida are relatively open, which allows the breeze to continue blowing through.

So when the call came for volunteers to help ERM perform trash pickup and cut trails at Yamato Scrub, I replied without hesitation: Sure! It’s one of my favorite places, and I’m happy to do anything I can to help keep it open and friendly for the public’s enjoyment. There is a beautiful (for concrete) path through a lovely pine woods, lots of shade, and plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.

When we arrived at the site, though, I discovered what was actually in store for our little band, we happy few: clearing the trail through the scrub habitat on the south side of Clint Moore Road. That’s right: our site maintenance of Yamato Scrub included maintaining the scrub itself!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Florida Scrub, let me put it this way: in a state that receives between 50 and 60 inches of rain per year, scrub sites look more like the Mojave Desert than the Everglades. The soil is sand, and what plants there are tend to be succulents or have other adaptations that allow them to conserve moisture, because even though the rainfall is abundant, it drains away so quickly that there is very little water for them to use unless they can store it themselves.

Another aspect of Florida scrub that hits you right away is the height of the vegetation. It’s the rare plant that is over 8 feet tall. Result? Very little shade, and yet almost total deadening of the breeze. It’s a potent combination, as I can attest.

Even though our work crew started at 8 a.m., we could tell that the day was destined to be a hot one. I had cycled to the site from home, the first time on my bike since my son was born 4 months ago, and hence I arrived a bit fatigued already. No problem, though. I had arranged with my wife to come pick me up at the end of the day (end of the morning, actually–we were scheduled to be done by 11 a.m.).

The day began relatively simply: we were issued work gloves, split into teams, and picked up trash along the northern edge of the property.

After that, though, the real work began. We were driven to the south side of the property, bribed with popsicles and granola bars while being treated to the song of an Eastern Towhee holding forth from a nearby Sand Pine snag. After our snack, we were issued loppers and machetes, and told to cut anything someone might trip over, get caught on, or might otherwise impede progress along a 4- to 5-foot wide swath laid out earlier by the site manager.

Into the scrub we went, merrily hacking and cutting into Sand Live Oak, Staggerbush, and scores of other native plants (it made me wince to cut away so easily what, had they been in my yard, I would have tended lovingly and defended to the death), making the trail safe for those who would come to the site and expect a clear, obvious path through the scrub. (As I myself would, and do!)

We started out strong, but after half an hour or so, our energy was already beginning to flag. Volunteers began dropping out, some on the brink of heat exhaustion, others over the edge. Those of us who trudged our weary way to the end of the path began using our feet to tramp down the path, rather than our tools to cut it out. We will have to return to this site to finish the job at a later date. But we had over a dozen volunteers, and what we got done in that initial rush of enthusiasm was tremendous indeed.

More in the next post…