Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Buck bought most of the land we now call Longleaf Preserve in mid-Escambia County near Pensacola back in the 1970s as an investment and deer hunting land. The first time I saw it was in late 1983, shortly before we married. I inherited my Daddy’s love for the land, and looking at those sixty-plus acres for the first time caused my heart to pause, altering its rhythm from that moment forward. Almost twenty years later now, we have added more land to the parcel, making it very nearly 100 acres.

We built a small home on the property in 1999, and live there half the year.

IM000504We call it our cabin in the woods.

Working with the County forester, we have begun a reforestation project to bring the property back to being a Longleaf pine forest. Longleaf pines, known as the “fire specie” because they can survive fire as long as they are still in the grass stage, are not grown much these days because they are not commercially viable (take too long to grow). But our plan is to never cut these trees, but rather to create a sort of family park for generations to come. It’s our romantic vision.

A prescribed burn in March, 2003 preceded planting 13,000 containerized seedlings. Another 7,500 have been ordered for planting next season. This is a long-term labor of love, and just beginning. I’m not a good photographer, but will try hard to get better. At least with a digital camera, I’m less intimidated and don’t feel like I’m wasting film.

For several years now, Buck and our friend, Harold Swilley, have been feeding the deer year round with corn and protein pellets. They planted clay peas and oats for them, too. The herd has grown, the deer look fat and glossy, and increasing numbers of young rack bucks are being seen. An occasional deer is shot and the venison eaten, but there is almost no hunting pressure here.

1-IMG_8495This property is unique. It is close to Pensacola, but self-contained in its hundred acre wood. There is a locked gate, guarded by a magnificent ancient oak tree, and a gravel road leading to the house, crossing a flowing spring-fed stream about between gate and house.

The oak is full of squirrels. On one side of the current fence gate we have planted a climbing rose-bush with red/yellow blossoms,  and on the other a yellow Jessamine. It takes a while for these to take hold, but I am pleased with their progress so far, especially in the face of no fertilizer or other attention from me.

Last December, I planted a bare root trumpet vine not too far from the climbing rose-bush. It looked like a dead stick for months, but sure enough, in early April it began to sprout. By next year, it should become vigorous and eventually please all the neighborhood hummingbirds with its gorgeous red trumpet-shaped flowers.

The stream is fed by a lively natural spring. It’s a magnificent resource for us, and we have barely begun to scratch the surface of the possibilities. It has a variety of beautiful ferns, unusual aquatic plants, fish, owls living nearby, and is a year round water source for wildlife living in the neighborhood.

Morning and afternoon sunlight streams through the upper story of trees and literally sparkles on the water’s surface.

The stream meanders through our property and out the other side, onto International Paper land. Most of the stream-side area is shady, with a high tree canopy. The stream splits, comes back together, twists all around,  and occasionally disappears altogether.

IMG_5505It is a thing of beauty, wonder and mystery.

One of project goals is to clean up the stream bed to improve the flow by removing old tree trunks and fallen limbs, but otherwise we plan to leave it alone. I find it hard to walk the third of a mile from house to gate without lingering awhile at the stream. This fall we hope to put a bench there, and then I am sure a cup of coffee will go with me each morning.

We’re in the North Carolina mountains now, but will head back to the piney woods before Thanksgiving.

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