by Kurt Zuelsdorf
A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. John Muir
Modern day flip-flops plopped and slapped down the brick street of the old town and with every step I could hear subtle voices. When I stopped to touch a rough, stone wall built by the elders I heard them there too. Porches of the older homes tilting sharply and lacking paint still hold space for a cat in an old cedar rocking chair, I could hear them there. But it wasn't until I saw their children's deer hide shoes as some of the only remnants recovered from the hurricane of 1852 did the voices become louder. I traversed the cemetery where the original warmth of cedar plank headstones have long been removed and replaced with cold marble. Woodsman, carvers & fisherman alike lay side by side on the hill overlooking an endless sea of grassy wilderness. Whitman “The Shell Man” is buried here too he must have heard them for he had one of the largest collections of artifacts ever seen, some arrowhead and spear tips were dated to be 20,000 years old....shhhhhh. Their spirits mingled about even as the clam shell coffins cover their faces and I hear them... through time and in the breeze they speak in native tongue. I followed their voice and passed through the shadows that pointed me down a path deeper into history of Cedar Key.
The brilliant white plumes of the egret flash along the canopy covering the abandon railroad built by Faber in 1855. No longer can you hear his old locomotive...but you can hear them. Images of the Temucuan natives piling shells from oysters, chonk, muscle, & green turtle into a huge mound that towers 28ft above the mud flats took 6000 years to build! Standing atop the remains now covered in palm and cedar I wondered "Why here? Why this spot so far from anything and plagued by biting deer flies?" My questions, asked aloud into the cooling summer breeze were heard, but left unanswered until the Children running through the marsh grass flushed scores of egret, ibis and laughter in to the timeless sky....I heard them
Standing alone on the center-line of Hwy 24 I bonded with the swallow tail kite and we both heard them. I would have like to see this landscape through the native's eyes. John Muir on his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf in 1867 heard them. "The traces of war," he wrote, "are not only apparent on the broken fields, mills, and woods ruthlessly slaughtered, but also on the countenances of the people." Ancestors of the great cedar tree still twist in the breeze and drop scented blue seeds to the rich earth...maybe again someday, but for now "savaged" he said, unfinished vine and scrub for miles. A watery and vine-tied land!
The kayak trip the island and the Seahorse Key lighthouse from my condo is civilized, but civilization does not appear to be welcome here and I heard them. Not the electricity, nor the air boats, or the gulf carts, restaurants or tour boats. Remnants of history remain; Giant cast iron pots used to make salt and hulls of old clam boats litter the rugged landscape. I'd not regret the loss of the pier to the west or the famous "Guest House" that is disappearing with every tidal change just like modern-day locals.
“Atsena Otie” from the Muscogean language “acheno ota” or cedar island...the only Native American words that I can speak and understand. I'll likely not return to this place of cloudy water and clams, but will never forget what I heard. - Kurt Z
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals