Goethe State Forest

There are definitely perks for being a farmer. I can't think of any other career besides Ten-Speed Greens where the job description includes spending time outside every day with my best friend, working hard on a project I feel good about, AND making jams and pickles and daiquiri mix.

There is, however, one major downside to farm life. The best time of the year-- March through June-- is our busiest time of the year. Both Travis and I get a little frantic in Spring teaching workshops, speaking at events, and preparing for the end of the cool season greens and the beginning of warm season tomatoes.

A long distance relationship in addition to being insanely busy with work means that we have to fit in our hangout time whenever we can. For April we couldn't work out an epic weekend,  so we settled on day trips to decrease our rising stress levels. So where to? How about a state forest that's home to an ancient cypress tree? It's only an hour away from Gainesville? Sounds perfect: Goethe State Forest it is.

The part of the forest we visited is a transitional zone between Longleaf Pine Flatwoods and Floodplain Swamp. The vegetation in flatwoods is mostly longleaf pines and palmettos, but the swamps have more water-loving plants like loblolly pines and bald cypress. The flatwoods are nutrient-poor, and depend on animals to bring nutrients from the swamps further upland, by pooping. That's a scientific term.

The point of the visit was to see an enormous cypress tree called the Goethe Giant. This tree is over 900 years old, stands 105 feet tall, and is 9 feet in diameter. Nine feet! It lives the end of a boardwalk built through through the swamp, so you can walk over to it without soaking your shoes.

So what makes this cypress so big and special? That's the kicker, y'all. It didn't used to be special. Florida's swamps used to be populated with these enormous cypress trees, but our voracious hunger for lumber has decimated most of our old growth cypress forests. This tree was left standing not because of its magnificence, but because it was too gnarled and knotty  for straight lumber. So how's that for a thought-- Florida would have had its own redwoods if the conservation movement had taken hold down south like it did out west. So we just have to appreciate what's left, and hope that development in Florida doesn't destroy the treasures still standing.

There were lots of other pretty things to look at in this forest, and after the Apalachicola National Forest Trip, my man has no qualms about venturing into the thick of it to capture the right shot, even if it means getting soppy feet or a potential encounter with a water moccasin (hasn't happened yet, knock on wood).

He does take some pretty good shots, though. Have you looked at his bird pictures on Heavy Birdin?

We drove down a side road in the forest and passed an SUV pulled off to the side. A cooler was strapped to the back on a little trailer, so we figured there were hunters taking advantage of the last day of turkey season. The road quickly disintegrated into washed out sugar sand, so in a clearing I made a U turn in my little Honda Civic. And RIGHT THERE IN THE ROAD we saw a man just standing there watching us and REACHING FOR HIS HOLSTER. I waved at him and he started to put the gun away, and then we saw his friend who was sitting crosslegged in the shade of a tree, camo-ed out, clutching his rifle and staring at us. He didn't move or acknowledge us, just watched us. There was something so creepy about the whole situation, I just drove away fast and then did the exact wrong thing, which was to Google redneck horror films. There are a lot. I have never seen Deliverance, and if I keep trekking around the Florida backwoods I think it's probably for the best that I never do.

But hey! Other than unsettling hunters, Goethe was totally worth the drive, at least in the cooler season. In the interim between epic, weeks long bike tours you gotta do something to remind yourself of the wonders close to home. I got plenty more left to explore.