Words and images by Stephen Ambrose, December 2022
A few things I’m practicing…
We’ll start with storytelling.
The place is Wonderfield, a 66-acre permaculture farm, grove and retreat center in Floral City. What does permaculture mean is the big question?
Permaculture is a way of land stewardship that draws inspiration from observing flourishing natural ecosystems, and integrates them with synergistic farming techniques focused on crop diversity, resilience, natural productivity, and sustainability.
It’s a big focus of ours, but also not the main character of the story. You could say the land is the main character, but what does that really mean?
The land consists of all sorts of living beings, dead ones too – still connected to other living beings, ancestors, fungi, moss, lichen, Cypress, Cedar, Magnolia, River Sage, Carolina Willow, red shouldered hawk, deer, wild boar, alligators, and raccoons oh my! Opossom, chickens, bovine…to name a few. It needs to be acknowledged Raccoons have become my mortal enemy and nemesis, as I am entrusted with protecting our flock of chickens. More on that later. As such, they have my utmost love and respect.
We had two pairs of Sandhill Cranes here over the summer. They have since migrated elsewhere now that Winter is coming. They mate for life so they’re always in pairs… and if you’re lucky enough to hear their birdsong it’s all but a religious experience. If you’re in the right place at just the right time you can catch a few bats around twilight, majestic Barred owls perched on sturdy Oak outstretched arms during daytime in the old Orange Grove and hooting throughout the dark of night (I heard one outside my window as I wrote that).
Most nights stars steal the show. Two shot across the sky two nights ago in long form slow motion, another last night and one tonight. With no light pollution the sky comes alive. The Spanish moss dangling from and shadow dancing with the massive oaks at night are best supporting roles and a sight to behold.
Citrus, Oak, Cedar & Cypress
Forest canopy silhouette of your Highness
Moonlit reflections brimming with stillness
These life forces sustain and some say encapsulate our soul. They have been around longer than us, without which we would not be.
Part of my role as a land steward and another part of my practice includes deep listening and observation of the land itself. Did you know that places can be characters too with lives of their own, filled with stories and relationships just as wide ranging, diverse, and intricate.
There are Cypress swamps teeming with mystery and Oak forests whispering ancient wisdom. The Juniper tree – the Axis Mundi – the Three Worlds Unifier of the Seminole tribe, is located near the center of the property atop one of only a handful of hills.
The Seminoles are almost wholly a product of the merging of immigrant tribes such as the Creek, Hitchiti, Yamassee, Yuchi, Oconee, Tamathli and Chiaha, said the late J. Clarence Simpson of High Springs (Florida State Board Of Conservation, Florida Geological Survey, Tallahassee, 1952). J. Clarence Simpson was a Naturalist and a supervisor of comprehensive archeological studies in Hillsborough, FL, as he brought to the attention of scientists such localities as Thomas Farm in Gilchrist County, the Itchtucknee River, the Santa Fe River for vertebrate fossil collecting and the many archaeological sites within that area, as well as in other parts of Florida.
A natural spring feeds the canal that encircles most of the property. That area has its own microclimate which keeps the water temperature at 72⁰F year round. The Banes family who stewarded this land before us dug the canal themselves some decades ago. When they were digging they broke through limestone which uncovered the natural spring. Magical.
Just across the canal due East of us opens up to 10,000 acres of Flying Eagle Nature Preserve. That speaks for itself. Lake Tsala Apopka is just North of us, Apopka being the oldest recorded name from the Creek or Hitchiti language. Palatlakaha is a sacred name for watersheds here, and also the name of a local river.
Learn more about Stephen here.