Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ocala National Forest, Florida

Hello, everyone.

The last time I posted I brought our Miami trip up to arriving in the city of Ocala. Near Ocala is a national forest--a hybrid kind of area that isn't a park, because you can fish and collect things in it, but isn't privately owned woodland, because the harvesting contracts for commercial lumber and such go through the government. They seem to be part of the legacy of Muir, who was very fond of unpeopled lands and didn't want their mystical beauty to be mussed up by such things as tour operations, farming, logging, and so on. Mr. Muir had a very great influence on the US national park system. While I don't think he's directly connected to the national forests, the idea that the forests are "patrimony" of the entire nation and should not be let go into private hands was certainly gaining a lot of steam around the time he was active.

Ocala National Forest, according to its web site, is one of the most used forest properties in the entire country. It is convenient not only to the nearby city of Ocala, Florida, but also semi-convenient to Orlando, the Space Coast, and so on. I can well believe that a lot of people go there! It's pretty.

It's also occupied by the most rapacious, stubborn, sneaky, ugly ticks and chiggers we have ever seen in our lives. I am convinced that as soon as the spy-mites saw us pause to focus the camera, they waved a flag to the field officer, who blew his teensy-tiny bug whistle and hollered "CHARGE!" They were running up our shoes. They were parachuting down from trees. And we thought we had them well picked-off before departing, but there were still more that appeared when we sat down to chat with friends. Even after we checked into the hotel that evening and showered, there were still more of the evil things!

But I was saying that the forest is pretty, so it's only fair to post some pretty after that long rant.
Deer moss, a lichen that colonized patches on the forest floor

Pretty sure this is bull nettle, whose sting is legendary

The scrub oak forest was thick and we were the first ones to go through in a while.
Many spider webs across the path!

Lake with spatterdock lilies in the midst of the pines and scrub

Pretty moss cushion

The path here was on leaves. Other places it was mostly on white sugar sand, with the occasional leaf or moss bit. Palmetto shrubs on the left. Pines in the distance, with gray Spanish moss hanging down.
The interpretive signs call the scrub forest a "desert with water" because the sugar sands it is growing in don't retain any moisture at all from the frequent rains. We saw eastern forest yuccas (a succulent family plant, somewhat more shade tolerant than Spanish Dagger yuccas) growing in the ground near trees and fern fronds sprouting from any place the spores had landed on the tree trunks. And lichen, lichen everywhere: white deer moss, red round patches on trunks, gray frilly "leaves" on twigs.

It's a pretty place to walk--we did four miles of easy trail walking and picture taking--but you really, really need to put the bug repellant on your ankles, your shoes, your socks, your arms...you get the picture. There are a few benches along the trails we walked, but I didn't see any picnic tables. There was a facility, with the standard Forest Service pit potty, where we parked the car. Bring your own hand sanitizer. Also, like most Forest Service properties, there is not much in the way of concessionaires in the forest itself, so pack your drinks and your lunch, and get your fishing license before you head off to drown worms in the little patch of wild in the middle of Florida.