Friday, September 7, 2012

FPAN Northeast keeps quite busy, but once in a great while we find the time to go explore our region as a group.  This summer, after seven months of hard work on all manner of events, including no fewer than eleven workshops, center staff made time to do just that--we set out on a journey to try and visit a site in every one of our seven counties in a single work day.  Let me recount to you the great monsters and curiosities that we met along the way...

Looking back toward the portentous skies of St. Augustine (from Fort Matanzas).
Meeting up bright and early on a summer morning, we piled into the trusty FPAN Escape and headed south in pursuit of the lesser-known Spanish fort of St. Augustine, Fort Matanzas.  Fort Matanzas was built between 1740-42 in order to thwart British sieges from the south--and provided an almost immediate effect, preventing just such an attack by Governor James Oglethorpe in 1742. 

The lovely, calm waters of the Matanzas Inlet.
We arrived just in time for the very first tour of the day, only to find we'd have to travel a little further.  Two kind rangers ferried us across the River Styx Matanzas Inlet.  It was a long, strange journey of nearly five minutes, but eventually we spotted our destination.  If I'm being completely honest, we could actually see it before we ever left shore.  Nevermind that.

The quiet protector to the Old City's south.

Our vessel approached the fort cautiously, wary of the vigilant sentry--an egret who stood (perched?) guard.

An egret guards the fort, clearly very concerned about our intrusion.

Turn back now, lest he get your toe!

 Clearly there was to be plenty of ecology with our archaeology in these travels. We pressed on, barely escaping the myriad crabs that threatened our progress (well, scurried through the grass).

Finally we reached the fort, ready to hear tales of life as a young soldier at the fort.  A savvy fellow facing our crowd of four women, plus a Michigander dad &; his young son, the ranger also shared what life was like for women in St. Augustine.  Unlike their counterparts in British colonies, Spanish ladies could own property and  have agency for themselves after their husbands died.

A little presence goes a long way.

Most importantly, our guide revealed that Fort Matanzas not only warded off attacks, but regulated commerce and travel toward and through St. Augustine. 

 Then we were turned loose to explore the small but mighty fort!  We climbed a ladder through a truly tiny aperture to reach the fort's upper deck, where the view on all sides was breathtaking.

Gazing homeward from the deck of Fort Matanzas.
Armed with little more than shortbread cookies to sustain us, our little band of adventurers took our leave of the fort, determined to make it through only six more counties!  In a virtual eternity of 4 1/2 more hours! Our little Ford Escape carried us through winding roads along beaches, through canopy roads, and finally into a thick forest...

It appeared, at first, to be a forest without end.

...but finally the woods gave way to our next adventure.

Ruins at Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park.

Like Scylla, the many-headed Music Video Crew met us at every turn.

Bracing ourselves for the stoic, lonely ruins of the Second Spanish Period plantation and sugar mill at Bulow State Park, we faced quite a surprise--an onslaught of gear and staging by the dreaded Music Video Crew.

They blocked our path, meeting us at every turn, as they set up to film a romantic scene for a country music video.  Undaunted, we persevered.

Our determination was soundly rewarded with visions of some of the most extensive sugar mill ruins  in Florida.  We wandered among the remains of the 19th-century sugar mill, taking in the sheer space and organization required to process dense, woody sugarcane.

In this part of the mill, juice from crushed cane was boiled down to make a thick syrup.  This process used five separate kettles.
Not to be outdone by our little expedition, this plantation had a misadventure of its own during the Second Seminole War.  After John Bulow made clear his preference for Seminoles over U.S. military forces (by firing an empty cannon toward approaching troops), he was held prisoner on his own plantation for a month as troops made a base of it.  They fortified the perimeter using bales of the cotton he had intended to sell!  Seeing that the U.S. had established a stronghold there, the Seminoles had little choice but to attack, setting it ablaze.  According to historical accounts, the fire burned so brightly that people could see it 30 miles away in St. Augustine.  For more about sugar mills and the Bulow story, check out this lesson from Coquina Queries.

Despite the calamity that befell them, the majesty of these ruins is intact.
Eventually drawn like the Lotus Eaters back to our carful of cookies, the FPAN crew set out to our third destination, Samuel Butts Youth Archaeological Park and Recreational Trail.

The park was established by the City of Daytona Beach in 2004, ten years after avocational archaeologist Samuel Butts submitted his extensive finds there to the Florida Master Site File. The park is surrounded almost entirely by a pond, requiring us to traverse a bridge to reach various areas.  We made a beeline for the peninsula as if beckoned by Sirens.  Luckily, we discovered just in time that we were careening toward a backhoe and other active construction equipment, making a narrow escape.  Averting that imminent peril, we encountered interpretation through the rest of the park that covered much of the site's archaeological story:

Butts found evidence of the area's prehistoric past, including megafauna remains...

...and pieces of the historically African American neighborhood's recent history.

The park has seen better days to be sure.  But the range of this multicomponent site, which also features a prehistoric mound, remains impressive.  Having taken in all we could given construction and an increasingly achy broken-foot-on-the-mend, our group set out for a most important leg of our journey: a very late lunch.

Setting our sites on Jacksonville, our merry band would soon encounter its most terrifying foe of the day: a Florida Storm.  The skybound Charybdis spewed a tempest, turning roads to rivers in only minutes.  The terrible Storm made an impressionist work of our windshield and assaulted our ears.  In Florida, raindrops the size of small children reach terminal velocity before crashing to the earth.  Meteorologists don't measure the scope of the Florida Storm in terms of inches; they measure in decibels.

Impressionist landscape, courtesy of a gentle Florida storm.  Photography using glass, water.
Undeterred by the watery onslaught, we made our way to shelter at Jacksonville's Queen of Sheba Restaurant.  It was 2:30 and we found ourselves the only patrons.  We feasted on injera and other tasty fare, unaware that destiny was to offer up a doleful coincidence.  We paused, puzzled as upbeat Ethiopian tunes gave way to a single, authoritative voice, which carried on loudly for several minutes in a language unknown to any of us.  Finally one of the restaurant's staff came over to check on us, explaining that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had died rather unexpectedly only hours before.  We had unwittingly stumbled from the ruins of our own local past into the historic calamity of another nation.

Our enthusiasm thus tempered, our bellies full, and--let's be honest--some of our kids about to get off the school bus, we conceded the day--but not defeat!  We had taken on all manner of beasts, outmatching all foes but Father Time.*

Returning to my car, I crossed paths with several bullfrogs celebrating the storm's passing.
Give us another dozen workshops to rebuild our fortitude--we'll embark to master the region another day!  In the meantime we'll have to live vicariously: I challenge you to sally forth and create your own adventure.  We can't wait to hear what site(s) you visited and what strange encounters befell you. 

*Note: not formally acknowledged in The Odyssey.

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