“It was while feeling sad to think that I was only walking on the edge of the vast wood, that I caught sight of the first palmetto in a grassy place, standing almost alone. A few magnolias were near it, and bald cypresses, but it was not shaded by them. They tell us that plants are perishable, soulless creatures, that only man is immortal, etc.; but this, I think, is something that we know very nearly nothing about. Anyhow, this palm was indescribably impressive and told me grander things than I ever got from human priest.
This vegetable has a plain gray shaft, round as a broom-handle, and a crown of varnished channeled leaves. It is a plainer plant than the humblest of Wisconsin oaks; but, whether rocking and rustling in the wind or poised thoughtful and calm in the sunshine, it has a power of expression not excelled by any plant high or low that I have met in my whole walk thus far.
This, my first specimen, was not very tall, only about twenty-five feet high, with fifteen or twenty leaves, arching equally and evenly all around. Each leaf was about ten feet in length, the blade four feet, the stalk six The leaves are channeled like half-open clams and are highly polished, so that they reflect the sunlight like glass. The undeveloped leaves on the top stand erect, closely folded, all together forming an oval crown over which the tropic light is poured and reflected from its slanting mirrors in sparks and splinters and long-rayed stars.”
“Passed through a good many miles of open level pine barrens, as bounteously lighted as the “openings” of Wisconsin. The pines are rather small, are planted sparsely and pretty evenly on these sandy flats not long risen from the sea. Scarcely a specimen of any other tree is to be found associated with the pine. But there are some thickets of the little saw palmettos and a magnificent assemblage of tall grasses, their splendid panicles waving grandly in the warm wind, and making low tuneful changes in the glistening light that is flashed from their bent stems.”
-From A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf by John Muir (1916)
I stumbled across the Muir Project again the other day, the first time seeing it last Fall after their hike, and was reminded that John Muir went to Florida before he went to the Sierras. I did a search for the book he had wrote and found this great site with snippets of his book. It really enticed me to want to read it so I will be getting it sometime this Fall after I read some other books I have on my to-read list (for your interest I’m currently reading: Founding Gardeners, The Alpine Path and re-reading The Blue Castle my favorite non-Anne of Green Gables novel by L.M. Montgomery).
But, taking in Muir’s words, knowing about these places and understanding his language…there are no words for that understanding.