I have lived on 300 acres in west central Florida near the coast for 29 years. I could write a book about what I have seen growing up, but now…now I don’t want to talk about what is left there. Perhaps though, I should.
Little…nothing. The land was a sawmill between 1903–1915 but before and since it was untouched. Signs of the old sawmill are still there, the stills to boil out turpentine are still standing. The woods are quiet now. There are no squirrels left in the trees. The undergrowth is perpetually dry when it’s not raining every day. There is no in-between. The giant Pileated woodpeckers that used to float beneath the canopy between the trees are long gone. The monkey sized fox squirrels disappeared around 2000. I recall seeing the last one in January of 2001, his big bushy tail flowing behind him as he ran up a tall pine tree. I didn’t at the time know of the change that this indicated. The fireflies that would fill the yard beneath the oak trees by the tens of thousands during those steamy late summer evenings are gone now. I haven’t seen one of the fly looking variety since 1997. My dad used to tell me stories that as a kid he’d pull those glowing tails off and stick them on the headlights of his model cars. And how I’d roll my eyes and complain how I’d heard that story before…Jesus, Dad I miss those days now. I found one single firefly this summer- but a different variety…some type of beetle and the first in near two decades. I frantically scrambled to catch him and hold him carefully in my hand. “Where are the rest of you?” I cried.
The tortoise holes are still there- abandoned. The rattlesnake dens beneath the palmettos are empty. The vile bugs I feared so much I now miss. The palmetto bugs, the spiders, the beetles, the variety…where did all the moths go? How heartbreaking it is to remember falling asleep hearing that old purple bug zapper light buzzing downstairs on the porch. In the mornings I’d pick through the hundreds of dead moths. Now there is nothing. At night…now only mosquitoes. 20 years ago the night sky would be filled with bats eating the moths and other flying insects. We had a single apparently sick and very very small bat nest in the back shed back in the winter of 2008. He was so small. He hung there for weeks before finally leaving as well. He never came back. None have returned since.
In the woods there were once deer, boar, turkey, foxes, bobcats and all manner of Florida wildlife. They have all gone now. In the sandy patches I would walk to as a child to look at the hundreds of animals tracks there are now none. No animals cross these areas any longer aside from the occasional raccoon or opossum. The variety is gone, there seems to be nothing left. The trees are still there…for now. The woods are still alive, but their heartbeat is faint. The animals within are now gone. Its soul.
It is sterile and frightening. Echoing like an empty gym.
This property was the last bastion for miles around. Untouched for a hundred years. Then, siege was laid upon it. Roads border this chunk of land on three sides. Across these roads used to be vast stretches of similarly untouched land where I assume these vanished animals would roam to. The streets used to be silent at night, traffic during the days was always minimal. Currently these roads are being widened and traffic is dense. There is nowhere left for the animals to roam to, and they died as a result.
Now these adjacent stretches of land were wiped clean. In 2006 they began developing thousands of acres into subdivisions. Scouring the earth clean and wiping out any trace of anything that came before. Thousands of acres wiped clean, fire hydrants and sewers dug in, roads lain, street signs erected…but then something funny. The bubble burst. The paper chase, the thoughtless, senseless, sickening race that resulted in this utter rape ended. The contractors put up their tools and went home. It was over, completed. Now everything was quiet.
This was an extremely rural area. Land was readily available but nobody had any real reason to come here. 2008 came and these enormous empty plots of planned land sat empty save for 3 or 4 model homes. It is like some sort of Orwellian dystopia. Three homes spaced out across a 200 acre planned and laid out subdivision. I can think of at least five major subdivisions within 5 miles of the house that fit this description. It makes me feel sick. Such destruction, such immense waste. Sometimes I want to scream and beat my fists on the ground. Gas stations and hotels and strip malls and retail centers all erupted from the earth long after the housing bubble burst. The corporate boom would continue its rape of my home town for some time yet. Now they too are empty. FOR RENT signs in the windows of the empty strip malls. Gas stations boarded up. The Taco Bell that closed and has traded hands 10 times between various failed franchises…the waste of it all crushes my soul.
I no longer feel comfortable going into the woods I grew up in. It is too empty and it feels different. It always feels as if something is watching me. I feel it may be the trees gazing upon me knowing the destruction, the hideous things we have done to them. I feel guilt.
It is only 2018. What have we done? How were we all so blind? The Matrix struck far closer to home than I think we all gave it credit for.
The way it was was the best it was ever gonna get. I realize that now looking back on my childhood.
We do not have much time left, I hope. I am rather confident of it.
Editor’s note: this originally appeared as commentary titled “Trust your senses. We are all front-line observers to species/habitat destruction in our own backyards” on the Reddit community r/collapse, and has been republished with permission of the author.