© 2022 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

You Can Observe Social Distancing, And Enjoy Nature


Like everyone else, my wife and I have been challenged by the stay at home coronavirus imperative. And, so far we are doing pretty well. We limit shopping trips almost exclusively to groceries and garden needs plus some takeout from local restaurants to help support the economy.

Still, you can go stir crazy at home despite such useful tasks as cleaning out the garage. So we look for outings that stay within the bounds of social distancing. Hence our recent trip to the Red Rock area in the Blackwater River State Forest. This came right on the heels of the governor’s stay at home, uh, suggestion, but after public assurances from local law enforcement that they weren’t going to arrest anyone just for being out. Still, we set out with some trepidation.  We arrived at Red Rock, unmolested by the authorities, relieved to find only a few other people, obviating the concern that we might find a crowd to avoid.

We edged around the people, and set off into the forest determined to also maintain social distance from any animals we might meet. The trail led us up over the red bluffs looming above the creek, their crevices sheltering the mountain laurel that blooms in the spring, the only place in the forest we know of where it grows.  And as we moved deeper into the pines, oaks and dogwoods covering the high sand hills, we managed to diminish, if not escape, our worries about the virus. In large part, we were too busy listening. A subtle buzz led us to a swarm of honeybees feasting on the tiny blooms covering a holly tree. If not for the buzzing we wouldn’t even have realized the holly was blooming. The sound of rustling in the wiregrass and low shrubs along the trail led us to a beautiful blacksnake. It was so long that at first we thought maybe we were watching two snakes mating. But as it uncurled and moved off into the brush I wondered if it wasn’t a coachwhip, a long black snake I can hardly remember seeing in the wild since I was a boy. And then we followed the faraway sound of a woodpecker, its rapid, tat-tatting pecking echoing along the Juniper Creek valley and the clay and sandstone bluffs lining it.

As the trail twisted and turned to follow the meandering creek the sound seemed to alternately move closer and then farther away. Soon after determining it was across the creek from us we lost the sound, the woodpecker perhaps having finished his breakfast of beetles or ants dug from the rotting wood or bark of a tall pine tree. As we returned and picked up the sound of an occasional car on the forest road we realized that listening as intently as we had to to hear the sounds of the forest, we had been too occupied to worry about what was happening back in our world. There was plenty of time for that on the drive back home. 

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.