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Pineland - The Calusa Heritage Trail

Author: Eric Taubert
Date of Trip: December 2007

To one side of the trail, a hollow log rests on the ground. The hole in its side is shuttered with a stretch of chain link fence and several purple flowers. This log was once the top of a tall Australian pine. After Hurricane Charley, this particular tree was brought down as part of the clean-up effort. Australian Pines are an exotic invasive species which create problems during hurricanes because of their shallow root system. Once the tree was on the ground, the cutters noticed what they hadn't before…there was a hive housing about forty-thousand bees in the hole at the top of the tree. The violent impact of felling the tree led to rotten honey and hive abandonment. The rest of the tree was put through a chipper, but the hive portion was salvaged and placed aside. Worms and raccoons cleaned out the honey, nature is quite a housekeeper. Now a new hive of bees inhabits the hollow log. The chain link fence stretched across the opening was put there to protect the, now ground-level, hive from wildlife. Don't try to reach inside.

In another area, a series of plastic tarps stretch across an ongoing archeological dig. The pursuit of lost knowledge urges us to peel away the skin of earth and claw down towards the bone and marrow beneath. Fitting, how the past is always buried and we need to dig for the truth.

Several territorial ospreys spy from their perches above.

A sign points towards a side trail. "You are about to enter sacred ground...please proceed respectfully." The wooden walkway beyond the sign marks the path on which Calusa Indians carried their dead to their final resting place. The burial mound, with human remains still intact, is protected by a small white fence at the end of the wooden path.

I loiter quietly near the sign, allowing a female trail walker ahead of me enough time and space to experience the hallowed site in solitude and reverence. She eventually walks back towards me with a puzzled look on her face. "Don't bother going down there…it's just a dead end." she says. If she took the time to read the same sign I did, she'd probably shudder at the uncanny accuracy of her ignorant utterance.

I marvel at the patch of gnarled dead trees surrounding the burial mound, devoid of leaves, clawing at the dusky sky. A quiet calm descends. Darkness is fast approaching and all the other visitors are gone. I stand alone in the silence and observe. Small animals and majestic birds skitter and soar. Heady floral scents mingle with those of mud and dank vegetation. A spatter of early rising stars twinkle their way into visible existence overhead, the depths of space finally revealing light that's been traveling towards us for hundreds and thousands of years.

The leaves of one particular tree by my side spring to life in a breeze I can't feel, while all the other trees remain perfectly still. I feel a sense of connectivity with the past. Long buried souls seem to speak across the ages to me in the peaceful language of natural phenomenon. We are still here.

"The Calusa were among the last native Florida Indian societies to succumb to the consequences of the European invasion. Smallpox and measles, which the Calusa had no natural resistance to, were brought into the area from Spanish and French explorers and these diseases wiped out entire villages. Victims of warfare, disease, and slavery, the Calusa ceased to exist as a distinctive culture in the 1700s".

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