by Tim Gilmore, 4/17/2016
Often I sit beneath the magnolia and red cedar and redbud and laurel oak and live oak and sweet gum in Native Park and jot observations and thoughts in a notebook. I forget the roaring shush of Park Street traffic and a feeling overcomes me that this ground was here before the beginning and will persist beyond the end.
Everything growing in Native Park is indigenous to the region, as the cairn with the bronze plaque proclaims:
NATIVE PARK / established by / AVONDALE GARDEN CIRCLE / 1923 / DEVELOPED FOR THE STUDY OF / FLORIDA PLANT LIFE / Dedicated 1932
I enter through what I deem the apex of the small triangle bordered by Park Street and Belvedere and Avondale Avenues. I pay special tribute to certain plants. Here I read Han Kang’s great novel The Vegetarian, the Korean novelist obsessed with the Korean surrealist poet Yi Sang’s statement, 100 years ago, “I believe that humans should be plants.”
I lean forward on the wicked-thorned Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia Spinosa), replace my blue eyes with Blue-Eyed Grass blooms (Sisyrinchium
Augustifolium), grow my green beard of Scrub St. John’s-Wort (Hypericum Tenuifolium), and sip my steeped Wild Coffee (Psychotria Nervosa).
The Green Man becomes me, I’d like to think—that trope and mask of ancient vegetative man that adorns so many pubs and cathedrals across old Europe. I hope I’ve made myself the best gargoyle, hanging leaf-bearded and green-haired over the city, observing, taking notes.
Then maybe, after I’m dead, Jacksonville residents will whisper by the green beans in their grocery stores and say, “He wrote this city. I saw him once. He was dressed all green in leaves.”
Or maybe, by the canned green beans and tender peas, they’ll laugh and call me the Jolly Green Giant.
I’m jotting notes, sitting on the ground by the Coonties and the Coral Beans. I want to write Jacksonville like O. Henry wrote New York, like Charles Dickens wrote London, like James Joyce wrote Dublin, like Thomas Jefferson wrote the United States. I want this ground to write itself up through me.
Wild Florida herbs thread themselves about my wrists and ankles. Scaevola (Scaevola Plumieri) curls blue-green rosemary-like leaves and thin stems
around my left-hand fingers. Scaevola’s Latin for left-handed, as Gaius Mucius Scaevola, a Roman assassin, burnt off his right hand to demonstrate his lack of fear.
Wild Florida Indigo’s not indigo-colored at all. It’s white. I remember the indigo
garlands on my childhood Christmas trees. I imagined being very small and making my way up cyclically inside the tree, right around the central trunk, bright red and gold ornaments and gold and indigo garlands wrapping the further lengths of branches around me.
But the soft white delicate blooms that most endear me, petal pearls hanging bell-shaped underneath light bright green leaves enshrouded in springtime
sunlight, are Pipestems, Florida Hobblebush (Agarista Populifolia).
They take me away from my notebook repeatedly. They bring me back to my notebook, again and again, to fill it with Pipestems.
So too does the Wrinkleleaf Goldenrod (Solidago Rugosa), with its one insubordinate flaming yellow radius atop a single thin green stalk. No social system informed this flower that it shouldn’t declare itself so. No circle of violently insecure middle-school students broke down its pride in its youth forever.
The Flatwoods Plum rises above the blue-blossomed Spiderwort that covers the city like no other living being but human beings and rats and fleas.
As the summer becomes unbearable, I keep coming. I write foolish aphorisms of bright berries and abandoned buildings.
Native Park, this tight triangle, welcomes me each morning, secret handshake and password. The Giant Sword Fern’s promised to cut out my tongue if I speak its code.
If tomorrow morning rises apocalyptic, Jacksonville reduced to cinders, cauterized to crumbling ashen powders, never having been, this native triangle remains as it has since before the rest of the world.
I’m disturbed by such clearly fascist tendencies, all this talk of invasive species, and I recognize nativist patriotic talk of the beginnings of time blooming resurrected as pure futures.
But the morning after the end of the world, I’ll burn racist nationalists alive to fertilize Darrow’s Blueberry (Vaccinium Darrowii) and this shooting nubile
Longleaf Pine (Pinus Palustris). Mussolini and Donald Trump don’t stand a chance against my dear friend Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Quercifolia).
Eccentric Jacksonville artist Mac Truque tells me that in maps of ancient Pangaea, the Paleozoic supercontinent, the land that will later be Jacksonville occupies a central and Edenic geographic position. So Native Park’s the Omphalos, World Womb.
The world ends as it begins. They’re interchangeable. Magnolia leaves jaundice and prepare to fall above the branch’s bright green spring shoots. Dying’s for living and death’s nutritious.