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Articles Lodging on the Santa Fe River, Alachua County, Florida

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An August Day at the Yurt Treehouse on the Santa Fe River

By Virginia Seacrist

August 2, 2013

I postpone leaving Gainesville until evening traffic, then stop for dog food and Lysol during our daily downpour. As I turn onto the country roads, taking the leisure route, I am amidst the ever-growing rush hour all the way to Ft. White. Twelve years ago, I wouldn't have passed a vehicle.

“I'm not sure I want to do this any more,” I'm saying to myself. Alone, out there in the woods, cleaning up for other people to use my son's yurt on the Santa Fe River. No renters at all this summer, and I don't know why: Is it the sequester? Is it the flooding river? Has everyone who wants to experience a night in the tree house already done so?

I pass that rather newish cracker house on 2nd Way with all the green grass around it. “For Sale, hmmm.” I slow down, almost back up to see who is the realtor. “No, I'll bike over; we've walked this far.” It's a thought I've been having about holding on to property in Florida for my kids or grandgirls who live 3,000 miles away in the NW. Lots of taxes, lots of work.

I reach the lane through the woods, passing a few other “For Sale” signs on the vacant lots adjoining Suwannee River Water Management District lands. Like mine, they are in the flood plain, yet taxes on them keep going up.

When I pull in, I sigh: “Still there. Thought maybe one of those giant trees would have dropped on it by now. Already two trees dropped in town on my property. Trees dropping like....Mosquitoes. Yikes.” I reach for the can of Off I'd packed, pointing it down my back. It fizzes, but does not spray. “Geezzzz.” Twenty insects cover each leg; they buzz around my face. I seek my back up, SkinSoSoft, begin lathering it on my legs, arms, chest, face. Only then do I catch sight of MyGirl. She looks like dotted Swiss. I pour lotion on my hand as she tucks her tail, seeking escape. “No, MyGirl, you need this.” As I pass my wet hand over her face, back, legs, it comes up full of her shedding, long, black fur.

It's only then that I notice the quarry, not only full, but spilling over into the depression above it; must be 15 feet deep. The woods are sodden; just try to light a fire with any of this down wood.

Down wood: across the path is a “branch” I have to say in quotes, because it's as big as a trunk. Under it lies a heavy metal table frame: squashed. I think of the unlucky few people who happen to be under a branch when it hits the ground. Strange way to die, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could happen here; I scan the treetops for branches overhanging the yurt.

I get right to it, doing what I'm here to do. First put the cooler in the anti-raccoon cage. Wait: shredded metal of those two inch catchup, mustard containers you get when you order a hamburger. Lifting the dish drainer, a colony of ants greets my eyes. Eggs and their tenders. The insect spray is right there, so hate as I do to use it: blast them. I watch them writhe, curl, fall. It's not a pretty sight.

I walk down the path to the outhouse, peak in to see what disaster the woodland critters have wrought. Spiders. Don't complain to me about spiders in the woods. They love to dwell in between our cedar panels, in the knot holes, in the cracks between. Enough spider webs for knitting a wardrobe, if the strands were silk. They should be able to catch all the mosquitoes, but no..... Some people hate spiders; they don't examine the intricate webs, which sometimes are four dimensional, or the contents, which are often roaches all wrapped up as babes swadded.

But get rid of them once a year at least, and so I grab the stiff brush to begin destroying their homes. The brush soon becomes as full as if I'm grooming the shedding dog. Inside the outhouse and outside the outhouse, all around the house: brush off the spider webs. It's like Mrs. Habersham's house in Dicken's tale, I think as I work silently in the dark, dank woods alone.

Maybe that's the value of literature, anyway. We used to say before women had careers, if you go to college you'll have something to think about when you are cleaning the toilet. So it is with me: a lifetime of reading accompanies me during my mundane tasks. I've stopped resenting cleaning, giving over to the joy of touching what I own.

Someone left a nice soap on the counter; that accounts for all the little black droppings. Roaches and mice love to eat soap. Did you know that? Maybe not, if you don't live in the Florida woods. Gingerly, I open the cabinet below the sink. Once I pulled it open to see a snake.

OK, it was only the skin, but then, where is that skin's owner? Coiled around the Clorox bottle? So, I clean up the droppings.

Next the bikes, which both have flat tires. I wheel them one at a time away from the rotting boards where they rest under the roof of the outhouse, wondering if the tires have dry rotted. Yea. They inflate. But the hand brakes are locked up, and the chain's off one of them.

I pause. The sky is still light, but, silver, not yellow with sun. Before spinning away on the bike, I pull out the Coleman stove. Whaddaya know? I left a small jar of rice years ago, and one of coffee in the cage. Only plastic tops on plastic or glass jars work; metal caps rust; cans rust, but ants, roaches, mice, and even raccoons in this part of the woods can't get in plastic jars. More sophisticated raccoons can, in state parks where they make a living raiding campers; park raccoons are smarter than the average wild mammal.

Drat. This Coleman stove doesn't have a striker. All I have is a small Bic lighter. I screw one propane canister into the stove, turn it on; empty. Great. I've hidden one in my trunk, so I'm in luck. When I hear gas coming into the stove, I flick my Bic. Ouch. No deal, just lit my fingernail. I find a piece of paper in the bin, roll it, try to light it. Too moist. A paper towel inside the cage is dry enough, so it lights a flame for cooking my rice.

Leaving that, I pull off my clothes to my bathing suit, jump on the working bike, peddle to the river lot. Great: gears actually shift as I struggle up one of Florida's slopes. Using a spider stick, I rip ankles on thorny vines down to the water's edge. There they are, way, way out there. Half of my river lot is under, so I swim 25 yards out to the hydrobikes. I'd tied them there at the water's edge six weeks ago, before the rains came. I struggle to lift myself onto one of the pontoons in water now 20 feet deep.

It's a crisis, and I don't know which will “give” first. The metal bar between the handle bar and the seat is wedged under a branch the size of my thigh. I jump on the pontoon, but with too little weight to depress it far enough under water to free it. I wiggle it, jiggle it, pull it, push it. Stuck. The sky is still gray, but in the woods it's already dark. I swim to shore.

I call it a day, pulling out all the bins. I've added my black beans to the rice and found the half bottle of wine in the cooler. Can't be tempted to drink too much with only half a bottle.

What does an old woman do in the woods alone at night? Well, I've lots to think about, lots to listen to, lots to see. I keep company with MyGirl, who is wallowing in a hole, but who slinks under the deck eventually. She'll be vigilant all night, old as she is. One bark scares away any marauding raccoon, or even a shy doe.

Upstairs, I have surround view. Nothing compares to opening my eyes in the night to be completely surrounded...360 degrees...not just a window...by tree limbs. Out of the now-clouded dome still glows the sky; moonlight penetrates. My dreams are sweet and long, so I linger even in the morning when the hammering begins. No it's not my neighbor putting on a new roof, but a Piliated Woodpecker. H/She begins early on that 20 foot Resurrection Fern-covered limb that's being held in the boughs of other trees, waiting to fall one day, just far enough away not to hit the yurt.

I lay for an hour or two listening, waking, dreaming, before descending the ladder to brew coffee in the French press pot.

How can I give this up? What would I do with the money I'd get from selling this unique piece of Paradise? Tell me.

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