Just Above Sunset
July 24, 2005 - July 2005, After the Hurricane

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Readers of Just Above Sunset are familiar with the photo essays of Phillip Raines, particularly those about the treehouse he built deep in the wilds of northern Florida. The first of these is The Treehouse, continued in a second piece Treehouse Chronicles, and extended with supplemental photographs in Phillip Raines Photographs. These are from early August through September of 2003.

The treehouse is in the panhandle of Florida, which was clobbered by Hurricane Dennis on July 10. He returned. Phillip sends us a new Treehouse Chronicles.

Mid-summer trips to north Florida are difficult.  The heat is exceeded only by the mugginess, and the bugs are a constant nuisance.  There is a lush beauty to the deep woods.  Mornings the sky is deep blue, but in the afternoon thunder can be heard and even if it isn't raining on us, it is raining near us.  When the skies clear after about an hour the air becomes ultimately thick.  Glasses fog up and dogs and people flee to air-conditioning. There is no air-conditioning at the treehouse, but we dive in the river and lounge in the 80-degree water until we feel our inner core chill.  For an hour after a swim I can feel comfortable, not dripping sweat, just a glow that makes me feel like I've just put beauty cream all over me.


I went to Panacea down by the coast, about twenty minutes from the treehouse in Sopchoppy.  A tidal surge during hurricane Dennis had raised the ocean twelve feet, though a surge of only six feet had been forecast.  My destination had been to a seafood icehouse that brings in grouper and shrimp.  The store has its own boats.  Driving through roads that had just opened days ago I saw what looked like hay scattered all over the side of the road.  It was the saw grass that makes the marshes and savannahs.  The waves had risen and then pulled back and fourth, tearing away at docks and houses.  Most of the low houses were still intact, but belongings were piled, ruined, on the curb.  Some black scars on the road shoulder showed that front-end loaders had scraped away piles earlier.  In one driveway I saw mattresses leaning against a fence in the sun and a man in a garage wiping tools, a can of spray oil near by.  At the docks boats that had been left tied up were smashed up against the post - one commercial fishing boat had been lifted out of the water and was resting on the post.  Beneath it a man was scraping and painting the bottom of the boat awaiting a crane to lift and lower it back into the water.  We made it to the fish store and a woman was talking about how her husband and his crew had moved their boats way up river almost to Sopchoppy so they were able to fish the next day.  Other fisherman weren't so prepared.  With the price of fuel a boat would burn up a thousand dollars worth of diesel in a day.  I've forgotten how many thousands of pounds of fish she said a boat needed to bring in just to break even.  She chattered while a broad-faced kid in his early twenties carved up a grouper for us in fillets, my friend saving the backbone for soup.  It was a thirty-pound fish.  We also bought some "cheeks" for appetizer delicacies fried in rice flour.  As we settled up she muttered she had heard that the oyster beds were opening today, but she was going to wait a week to sell any.  There was just too much trash still in the water.


We drove along the coast a little further to Alligator Point at the mouth of the Ochlocknee River.  I looked off the bridge at Angelo's restaurant, where the water had risen to the ceiling.  It looked charred and the windows were broken, a deck roof collapsed.  Angelo had built on pilings over the river way back in the 60's so he could serve mixed drinks in a dry county.  I'd had some of the best seafood meals there.  Pecky cypress on the walls and a view of the water that you usually only see on boats.  Condemned.  I don't know if they will be allowed to rebuild there, unless they put in concrete pilings twenty feet higher, then probably not over the water. 


Farther out on Alligator Point the road had only opened days before.  A lot of yards that made the shore of the bay were now just gone, waves lapping up to the houses.  All the concrete-block houses were destroyed - shoved off the slab, cracking at the corners to the first window opening, roofs collapsed.  The houses that were up on high post and pilings were fine, except most were missing their stairs.  We drove until we met utility trucks and heavy equipment still clearing the only road to the point. 


Sections of the coastal road had been destroyed and hour-long detours were sporadic.  Until this week a car had to go 200 miles out of the way to reach Carrabelle.  On St. George Island the dunes had been flattened and now the island is flat and never more vulnerable.


At the campsite a local boy had killed a "momma" rattlesnake.  After killing it, it had rolled away from him and had been caught up in some branches over the river.  It had gone to stinking.  I told him since he had killed it he needed to get it away from the swimming hole.  It had been killed four or five days before we got here and was kind of falling apart.  He lifted it with a stick and shouted, "It's dead babies is falling out."  Zack, one of my son's friends, a sponsored and trophied skateboarder, uttered one of the few things I heard him say on the trip.


"Well that's disgusting."  His tone was deadpan. 


His long blonde hair was parted to one side.  I think the local boy was trying to gross out the city boys.  Earlier he was showing off his gator bite.  The gator was only a couple of feet long; it's head smaller than a child's hand.  He told the story as if the gator bit him out of the clear blue, but he admitted after a little prodding, that he saw it while he was swimming and tried to catch it. 


"You were messing with it so it bit you.  Isn't that how it went," I said to him, forcing the issue.  He admitted it was true. 


I couldn't help but admire the kid though.  He wore the same cut-offs everyday, and nothing else.  He was barefoot, but didn't have any bug bites on him.  Not even chiggers.  His skin was a brown-red and he had a crew cut.  Fifteen and going in the 8th grade.  The first morning we arrived he came by at eight in the morning and asked if the boys were up.  "Oh I think it will be a couple of hours at least."  It was after eleven actually and there was Matt chatting to them while they looked groggy having slept in their clothes on cots in a tent.  They swam before a breakfast of BLTs and cokes.  The smell of bacon cooking brought a puppy named Buddy to the campsite.  It's whole body moved when it wagged its tail, and that was pretty much constantly. 


Photos and Text Copyright 2005 – Phillip Raines


The Treehouse, Summer 2003


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
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