This post is a continuation of a discussion that began over here, in “Rewilding Witchcraft: Speaking from the Swamp, Part 1“. If you haven’t yet read that, it will get you up to speed on the topics touched in this post.
As I stated in Part 1 of this essay, I live in a unique part of the country, one that has a bit of a reputation that surpasses the borders of the state. There have been countless articles trying to dig into the phenomenon that is the special brand of insane crime that happens, seemingly only within Florida. I think that as it relates to this discussion, there’s a pretty clear correlation. Florida (especially South Florida) in a lot of ways was a frontier until about 20 years ago. There are six lane highways here that friends of mine in their 30’s recall being gravel roads. Things have changed that quickly. Several real estate booms and the marketing of this area as a great place for retirees literally turned swamps into condos. People came here in droves, knowing nothing about the state, its nature or its history. They moved to a place with a wild heart, the Everglades, surrounded by a turbulent ocean on one side and a serene gulf on the other, both sides nevertheless capable of kicking up some of the most awe-inspiring demonstrations of what nature can really be like, hurricanes.
I think that people do go a bit crazy when they come here, or the crazy that they bring with them is sussed out. For most people, South Florida is a suburban strip that runs more than 70 miles along the east coast from Miami all the way north to Jupiter. Between that stretch, there is not a single interruption from one city to the next, things are that built up here. And for those people, there is little in the way of nature that is actively pursued. People take out boats for fishing but there’s not a lot of pursuit of the true wild, nature at best is another commodity to be purchased for an afternoon of fun. So few people are actually FROM here (admission: I’m also not from here) that when they come here, it’s accidental, or temporary, as with the snowbirds who box up their temperature controlled shoreline condos when the wild months of summer monsoon kick in. But the lack of actual connection with this place is just one symptom.
Another symptom is the absence of an informed history, the Florida Wars that happened throughout the 1800’s stole the land away from the First Nations folk who lived here, as well as some who didn’t but were forced to live here. There were sizable populations of native African and African descent people who had their own settlements or were fully integrated into Seminole tribes. These wars lead to the removal of or essential quarantine of the tribes. These wars set up the groundwork for Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, which connected the Florida Keys all the way down to Key West, to the rest of the mainland. That rail line was itself an extension of another run of tracks that created or connected rail service from Jacksonville to St. Augustine to Daytona and on to Palm Beach where Flagler set up a resort. He then continued all the way down to Miami, where the Overseas line joined.
Finally, one more symptom of the problem with South Florida Rewilding is that it has a totally different climate. It’s a subtropical zone here, so the plants, animals and spirits of this place are markedly different. I’d love to find a book of magical correspondences for the plants I see around me, but to the best of my knowledge, such a thing doesn’t exist. As an aside, if you’re in Florida and looking for a great resource for edible and medicinal plants, Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds is without comparison. I suspect if there is an attempt to truly get to work with the spirits of different plants, a lot of it begins with the work he’s done.
Florida is a land that has been inundated with invasives too… what do we do about them? Sure there are gopher tortoises, alligators, black racers, crocodiles and black bears. There are majestic live oak winding their thick branches in patterns of green and black chaos, pond apples that drop their fruit on alligators below, enormous cypress canopies that spring from the swamp and send up knees to help them breathe. But thanks to carelessness or ignorance, there are pythons and anacondas, Brazilian pepper trees, feral pigs and iguanas so numerous that you can spot dozens sunning themselves on canal banks. Let’s not forget the invasive with the biggest environmental impact, humans. Some of these invasives are being combatted, others have basically made themselves at home, like the fire ant that is as much a part of the wild background as manatees are in the streams and intracoastal areas. Do we worship the spirits of the invasives too?
Our communities here desperately need a rewilding, without its nature, Florida has no heart, no wild soul. It’s still there now, but for how long? How long can the few allies of wild Florida hold back the tide. We need witches and we need communities that support them, that value them. There are some that exist here, though they probably wouldn’t refer to themselves by that term. There are those that have knowledge but it rarely leaches out, as the tannins from decomposing plants leach out to make our tea colored water. Yes, let’s rewild, but let’s also step forward and do the things that foster strong communities that elevate the wild and knowledgable amongst us to their rightful place.