Back to Nature (Published on - July 28, 2004)
Nature holds secrets that we can share
Photo by Rick Tremmel
The Florida moonflower
The aged Smoky Mountains hold secrets. So many joys and sorrows have been shared on these wild, Blue Mountains covered in morning glory and dogwood.

They’ve seen babies born, young men come of age, mother’s tending children and father’s tears shed over lost sons at the hands of brothers against brothers’ wars. No one was ever right. No one was ever wrong but the soil remembers those tears of joy and sorrow just the same.

Along her ledges, I put my feet in her cold stream waters, breathe her pine scented breezes. I can feel her. There, somewhere in the heavy sultry fogs that shroud her in blue mists she holds secrets. I grew up in these mountains, sipped honeysuckle, ate wild watercress, apples, blackberries, pecans, persimmons, walnuts.

The mountain offered a plentiful bounty to a roaming, wild red-headed child with cloud dreams and pure, innocent love of nature. This young girl learned early in life that peace, harmony, balance and beauty were found in nature and these Blue Mountains. My soul needs to return to this soil every so often to replenish itself, to touch nature, nurture and truth. I learned this from three important people in my life, my mother, my uncle and my grandfather, my role models. They tolerated my wild explorations and encouraged them with books on birds, plants, trees and wildlife.

My uncle made certain I always had a supply of paints, pencils and paper. My grandfather gifted me his love, wisdom and humor. My mother gifted her gentle love, soft spoken, with a gentle awareness and forever with a nurturing hand extended. She healed dogs, chickens, children, horses, squirrels, plants, man or woman, mean or kind, she made no distinction. She forgave those that harmed her. She held, fed, sewed for, cooked for and gently offered that loving part of herself to all that touched her life.

When I lost her in my life I felt as if the earth shifted.

My father, outstanding in our community, was outwardly kind to all he met, but behind closed doors he was volatile. We never knew from one minute to the next what his mood would be. He abused his family. My brother and I stood by disabled to help. Mother knew we could do nothing without making matters worse. She would push us outside, out of his reach.

When I remember back it was the verbal abuse that was most harmful. No matter how anyone tried to make this man happy he found something wrong. He constantly badgered his family with statements such as: You’re no good. You’re mean to me. If you had not done that, then this wouldn’t have happened. It’s all your fault. I’m in control.

We could’ve carried this abuse, negativity and harmful words with us for the rest of our lives but we chose not to be his victims. My brother and I fled to the mountain. When not in school we disappeared into the folds of the mountain’s arms. She nurtured us and held us. We learned her ways and we learned that no matter how a person is treated there is strength deep within us to go forward in harmony, balance and beauty. People go on. Nature is persistent. Nature has the will to live.

I was reminded of these lessons as someone recently asked me about the Florida native moonflower. I explained it was of the same family as morning glory, Ipomoea, but that it had quite a secret story behind it. Indians lived in Florida in relative harmony for thousands of years. It wasn’t until 1513 when the white man claimed to “discover” Florida that these peoples and natural Florida began to decline, but it took some doing. These people knew their land. They knew what was edible, plants for medicine, natural insect repellent, how to survive our own breed of violent weather. This was their home.

Andrew Jackson returned to Florida in 1821 to establish a new territorial government on behalf of the United States. What the U.S. inherited was a wilderness sparsely dotted with settlements of native Indian people, African-Americans and Spaniards.

As Florida’s population increased through immigration, so did pressure on the federal government to remove the Indian people from their lands and take away their homes. Indian removal was popular with white settlers, but the Indians would not give up their homes without a fight.

One legend states as the white man approached their villages the inhabitants would suddenly vanish in what seemed to be thin air. The invaders had no way of knowing that the moonflower’s thick, strong vines provided the Indians a soundlessly upward escape. They climbed and then ran over the top of the moonflower canopy. These peoples were in harmony and balance with their natural world, their home. They learned nature’s ways, secrets and knew that no matter how a person is treated there is strength deep within to go forward.

People go on. Nature is persistent. It has the will to live back to nature.

Today, reservations occupied by Florida’s Indian people exist at Immokalee, Hollywood, Brighton (near the city of Okeechobee), and along the Big Cypress Swamp. In addition to the Seminole people, Florida also has a separate Miccosukee tribe. (Florida Division of Historical Resources: A Short History of Florida, Web site:

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