Davis and the Fire of Change

Ranger, Darryl and I are in an ongoing discussion: What to make of the story of MC Davis. What, indeed?

MC Davis identified himself as, “Somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun,” when he was interviewed. He was referring to a time before he became a committed conservationist. He went on to create the Nokuse Plantation, the 56,000 acre preserve that is bringing back the long leaf pine and it’s ecosystem. Now Ranger and I try to understand what happened to him.

Ranger: “So he was a hard driving gambler, developer, entrepreneur and finally a very wealthy man when one day he stopped in Tampa to get out of the traffic on Interstate 4. But he did get out of the traffic, he went into a school where there was a program on bears, and he went in and sat down. That alone makes him different.”

Me: “Certainly, because he wasn’t concerned about niceties, pretty much did what he wanted to do. But I think it also says that he had been getting incrementally ready for change all along. It wasn’t a bolt of lightning that hit him. There was something in him that felt incomplete, even with all his success. Money and power didn’t fulfill some deep thing in him. BUT HE WAS READY, perhaps had been inching toward this all along.”

Ranger: “So you think that most people would just endure the traffic or get out and go to a Starbucks? Frankly, I can’t imagine that many people would exit, seek out a high school, and actually go into an auditorium that had almost nobody in it other than the presenters. Right there he showed he was different, right? He apparently didn’t care much about what people thought of him. I would bet he wasn’t a fashionista!”

Me: “Wow…. great word, that…. fashionista. No, he was not that, for sure. He was a “cracker,” a term that implied all kinds of things. To those in the rural South, it was an honorable term for folks who lived there and loved it.. It still is an honorable thing to be. To outsiders, it was a term of derision. But MC wore that label proudly. And once he ‘saw the light’ he didn’t care about the consequences. He moved in the direction of his vision and built it.”

Ranger: “So you are saying your theory of change holds: just like you were changing (what’s the term you use… bursting into furious flower….) even though it looked like you were safely and securely enmeshed in your previous life, and then there was a spark that ignited you to act. But that spark was thrown on a pile that was all ready to burn?”

Me: “Well, that’s one way to put it. We grow and change, and in my case there was a catalyst, just as there was for MC Davis. You and I were just looking at pictures of two pinecones… the slash pine (the quick growing tree farm choice) is a small cone, but the long leaf pine cone is much bigger, and do you know what? It is programmed to open up and send out seeds only through fire. So the long leaf forests, if they are to regenerate, must have the tempering of fire. On Nokuse there is a regimen of burns so that the entire long leaf ecosystem can be recreated. So like MC Davis, the long leaf cones spend a long time getting ready to do their thing, and then finally when the fire hits them they spring into action. Perfect illustration of change theory, I think.”

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Tortoise Tales

Darryl and I returned home a week ago! Seems like yesterday that we were out in the Rocky Mountains filming grizzlies and pronghorns. On the way back we stopped to film on the Nokuse Plantation on the Panhandle of Florida.

Amazing as always, the Plantation is out of another time and place. The trees come in waves as you drive through the 56,000 acre preserve, in windrows, in small clumps. They don’t come in straight lines, in human spacing, in order for plucking. They have grown! They grow so slowly. But they grow.

Ranger: “How I wish I could have been part of this film shoot. I know I was having fun here with my other family, but still…. tell me how it looked, how it smelled, how it felt.”

Me: “It had to have been 20 degrees cooler out among the trees, and the breeze picked up the faint imprints of fall foxglove and other wild flowers. Matt Aresco, the Director of the Plantation, and Derek Brookfield, Wildlife Biologist, had recovered a gopher tortoise from the local airport, and were ready to introduce her to a new home. It was an existing burrow way out near Highway 331, where traffic to the “Riveria” towns of Panama City and Santa Rosa remained steady and oblivious. They had brought the tortoise in a large storage container, with some sand from her previous burrow. First step was to turn off the solar-powered electric fence that protects the acres dedicated to reorienting the tortoises. Then we crossed a double line of fence into the plot, where an abandoned burrow conveniently presented itself. “Maddie,” the new acquisition, would either accept it as her own or scurry somewhere else to start her own. Fortunately, she thought it was fine and scurried on down the mouth of the burrow without hesitation.”

Gopher tortoise, so critical to the long-leaf ecosystem.... and vice versa!!!
Gopher tortoise, so critical to the long-leaf ecosystem…. and vice versa!!!
Matt Aresco with the rescued tortoise, one of thousands in his keeping.
Matt Aresco with the rescued tortoise, one of thousands in his keeping.

Ranger: “So, what exactly is your fascination with this particular plantation? It’s size? It’s relationship with MC Davis? Why do you want to go back, see more, tell this story to the public?”

Me: “Oh, Ranger! You know me better than most people, and I know you already know the answer to that question. Let’s make that the subject of our next conversation, okay?”