Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Along the Loxahatchee

Location: Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Jupiter, Florida

Click for Larger Image of ScrubThe area around Jupiter, Florida, is a place in search of a character type. Money, on one hand, is everywhere. Palm Beach is just to the south, and Fort Lauderdale below that. As I was driving through Palm Beach, I spotted a thrift store -- and had to see what a thrift shop here would be like! It was, in a word, neat. Nice items, gently used, hung carefully on hangers, and female mannequins were dressed in work-appropriate outfits complete with handbag and jewelry. Nothing was out of order, on the floor, or shuffled through. The prices seemed to be what you'd expect in any thrift store, but the customers -- other than myself -- were totally absent. If you didn't know it was a thrift store going in, you still wouldn't know it until you checked the tags.

Money is obviously everywhere -- Tiger Woods has a mansion on the beach, and Burt Reynolds lived here most of his career and has a museum. You see a lot of older men zipping through traffic in expensive convertibles, and every available spot on the waterfront is filled with yachts and pleasure crafts ready to go out for a day of 2-miles-per-gallon fun.

But that is the eastern side of Jupiter. To the west lies the Loxahatchee River, Florida's first federally designated Wild and Scenic River. There are miles of scrubland with sharp-teethed saw palmettos covering the palm forest floor like underbrush. The river twists and bends for miles, and is a haven for osprey, herons, eagles, kayakers and people fishing.

Click for Larger Image of Jupiter Inlet LighthouseAs you drive through Jupiter, you can't fail to notice the 1860 lighthouse that graces the inlet. While in Bushnell, I had the opportunity to watch a reenactment of a battle in the Second Seminole War. Now I have a second connection to that war -- the park was the site of another battle in that war, where General Jesup had his eyeglasses shot off his face. Then the Third Seminole War was touched off when the lighthouse builders destroyed prized banana plants belonging to a Seminole Chief.

I am going to quote a paragraph about this lighthouse written by the Lighthouse Friends, as I could never summarize this story as well:

Captain Charles Seabrook became head keeper of the Jupiter Lighthouse in 1919, a position he would hold until ill health forced his retirement in 1947. During his watch, a fire destroyed the original keepers’ dwelling in 1927. The tower was electrified in 1928, but the keepers soon discovered that electricity wasn’t always as reliable as an oil lamp. On September 16, 1928, reports were received of a powerful hurricane bearing down on Florida’s southeast coast. By that evening, the winds had reached gale force, and the power to the lighthouse reservation failed. The backup diesel generator wouldn’t start, and the tower would have remained dark that night, if Captain Seabrook, in spite of a badly infected hand, hadn’t installed the old lamps inside the lens. There was still one more problem. Since the weights had been removed earlier that year, there was no automated way to rotate the lens. Noticing red streaks running down his father’s arm from his infected hand, sixteen-year-old Franklin Seabrook volunteered to perform the needed task. While trying to climb the steep stairs leading up the hill to the tower, Franklin was blown back four times. Then, once safely inside, he had to ascend the tower, which was swaying an estimated seventeen inches at the top. For four hours, Franklin manually rotated the lens, timing the revolutions as accurately as he could. As he worked, he could hear “cracking sounds as the mortar was ground out from between the bricks by the working of the iron bolts holding” the lantern room. During the storm, glass panes in the lantern room were shattered and one of the lens’ bulls-eyes was blown out. Through all this, the light did not go out.

The Loxahatcee River was named by the Hobe Tribe of Seminoles and means "River of Turtles." The State Park, where I am staying, was named after Jonathan Dickinson, a young Quaker who was shipwrecked here in 1696 with his wife, infant son, and 11 slaves. He was held captive by the Hobe for three days, and then released to continue his journey to St. Augustine. His journal provided the first written description of the Seminole's daily life.

Click for Larger Image of Tree RootsThe tree in this photo lies along the banks of the Loxahatchee not far from my campsite. Its root system has been exposed by erosion and I imagine it won't be able to hang on if the area is hit by another hurricane. But the Loxahatchee looks like it will be there for a while, and, thanks to the Wild and Scenic River designation, will continue to be a home to all sorts of fish, birds, and mammals who are living both in the shadow of, and in oblivion to, all that hustle and bustle to the east. Developers will just have to look elsewhere -- these niches are taken.

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