Tag: Indiantown

The Smell of Rain

I am not a synesthete, a person who was born with a perceptual phenomenon in which the stimulation of a sensory or cognitive pathway leads to an automatic experience of a second sensation. I don’t see colors with letters or words, taste an emotion, or get an uncomfortable tactile response to hearing fingernails on a blackboard. However, I do share a cultural synesthesia with people who have a positive response to the smell of fresh rain, particularly after a prolonged dry spell, or the aroma of newly mown grass, particularly from a clover pasture or a Bermuda covered baseball outfield.

Isolated showers in Florida in the 1950’s were a very unique experience for me as a child because I clearly remember many times witnessing rain falling on one side of a street and not crossing to the other side or seeing a downpour approaching across a distant pasture that abruptly stopped before reaching me. The smell produced by those rain moments struck me as incredibly fresh and invigorating and seemed to emotionally lighten my mood no matter what I had been feeling prior to that natural occurrence. I do not witness those undefined barriers to isolated showers as often any more, but I do see the phenomenon along the Gulf of Mexico coast regularly. Storms appear on the horizon over the water, move shoreward, and dissipate without coming ashore, but that observation does not engender the same responses I had as a child on land. When I am on a golf course, showers do drift over fairways, but never really stop on one side of a fairway as if there is an impenetrable invisible wall prohibiting an advance. Did my childhood imagination create a more distinct sensation than actually occurred? I don’t believe so.

Petrichor is a word coined by two Australian chemists in 1964 for the earth smell produced when rain falls on dry land. That word does not evoke the aroma I’m familiar with at all, but I have found no better word for the physical experience either. Karl Smallwood contended in “What Causes the Smell After It Rains,” that “There are three primary sources of smells that commonly occur after rain. The first, the “clean” smell, in particular after a heavy thunderstorm, is caused by ozone. Ozone (scientifically known as trioxygen due to the fact that it is comprised of three oxygen atoms) is notably pungent and has a very sharp smell that is often described as similar to that of chlorine. Some people can smell ozone before the storm has even arrived. Before a thunderstorm rolls in, lightning can sometimes rip nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the environment to pieces. This can ultimate result in a small amount of ozone forming, which wind then carries down to ground level. Ultraviolet light in the atmosphere is also known to split O2 molecules, with the freed oxygen atoms sometimes joining with oxygen molecules for an ozone party.” His explanation has a ring of scientific truth but also doesn’t elicit my childhood memories.

From Chapter 1 of Growing Up Floridian:

Rain fell across the street, but not even a drop touched me. I saw concentric circles form as drops hit the surface of the water in the ditch 40 feet away. My five year-old mind had problems processing the isolated storm cell phenomena of Florida. I wondered if there was a barrier in the middle of the street. My family, my parents, my brother, and I, moved to Indiantown from Springfield, Massachusetts two weeks earlier after my father’s return from his tour of duty in Korea. I knew I wasn’t supposed to leave the yard, but Smokey was at school in the second grade and my mother was busy in the house. There was no one else at hand to ask why the rain didn’t come across the street. I looked both ways, saw no vehicles, and dashed to the other side of the two-lane road. The rain moved on into the woods behind the ditch and the barbed wire fence that bordered the property.

Wild Hogs in Florida

A NPR Morning Edition news report last September by Jessica Meszaro, “Meat Industry Turns Florida’s Feral Hogs Into Prime Pork,” reminded me of my encounters with wild pigs on the Quarter Circle A ranch in Manatee County in the 1950’s, particularly shortly after my family moved onto the ranch in 1957.

My father quit his ranch hand job on the Circle T spread near Lake Okeechobee for a similar position on the ranch outside of Parrish. Although the pay was not much greater, the opportunity to build his own new house, have a cow to milk, have chickens for eggs and meat, have a steer to butcher once or twice a year, and have a garden as benefits enticed both my parents. His salary of $250 a month, supplemented by beef, chicken, eggs, milk, housing, and utilities, allowed him to buy a decent truck, a serviceable car for my mother, and a horse he could train and use in local calf roping competitions. He felt he was in hog heaven.

Wild pigs added to that sense of wellbeing. He and Vick Blackstone, the ranch foreman, decided one way to lessen the destructive impact of hogs on the pasture land Vick was trying to develop to improve beef production would be to trap the feral pigs, keep them in a pen for a couple months to fatten them on grain, and butcher them for food to feed the ranch families. They built two large wooden traps out of two by ten pine boards that stood eight feet tall and were fifteen feet by fifteen feet square. A single hinged trap door four feet square propped up by a two by four driven slightly into the ground served as a simple mechanism for capturing the pigs. The traps were pre-baited with livestock feed, tomatoes from the local commercial farms, and, occasionally, carrion (road killed raccoons or possums) with the trap door tied open for a couple weeks so the hogs would get used to the structures. Once the traps were set for captures, my brother and I were often sent to check on them.

The first capture of two yearling hogs proved entertaining as my father and Vick took turns roping the 75 pound pigs as though they were calves, tying them off to posts, jumping down into the trap to hogtie their rear feet first and then their front feet, and putting burlap bags over their heads to reduce their struggles. The hogs were dragged out through the trap door, thrown onto the bed of a pickup truck, and driven to their brand new sty. My brother and I happily took on the new chore of daily feedings. The unpleasant task of mucking out the sty also fell to us after a fence with a gate divided the sty in half, so the pigs could be enticed with food to gather in one half of the enclosure while we closed the gate. We cleaned the empty half and repeated the process to clean the opposite half. We made sure we never leaned over the fence when we poured feed into the troughs. After the hogs got over their initial fear of being near people, they would charge toward the fence in efforts to get at us for days as if they were defending territory. That charging behavior occurred most frequently when sows were captured along with two to a half dozen piglets. One 250 pound sow that had three piglets grunted and charged us every day for three months before she was finally slaughtered and sent to a butcher.

Pork chops, roasts, and sausage filled our freezer. Pork and beef dominated the dinner table because the chickens were only replaced every 18 months or so. We gathered eggs every day from the thirty chickens that were kept in a wire cage that was suspended from the barn rafters, but the complex process of slaughtering and plucking chickens took most of a day, a task both Vick and my father put off until their wives repeatedly complained about not having chicken as a meal alternative.

Small herds or drifts of pigs were common sights along the length US 98, US 19, and all the other rural roads in the 50’s and 60’s, and, because the state was much less developed, the feral pig population did not get the attention the animals get today.

Wild pigs have become a problem in Florida as hundreds of thousands roam the state and destroy pasture land, crops, and residential property. There’s an effort now to turn the pest into a profit. According to William M. Giuliano in “Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management,” “Wild hogs are now found in every county in Florida and in at least 35 states and Canadian provinces, including most of the Southeast. Florida’s wild hog population is second only to Texas’s; the state is estimated to have more than 500,000 wild hogs in a relatively stable population (there are from 1 to 2 million wild hogs in the southeastern United States). Some of the highest hog population densities in Florida can be found north and west of Lake Okeechobee in areas with large forested tracts, dense understory vegetation, and limited public access. Hog numbers tend to be lower in areas with intensive agriculture and urbanization, and little water.”  The  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contends “the wild pig (Sus scrofa), also called the wild hog, wild boar or feral pig, is not a Florida native…and prefers oak-cabbage palm hammocks, freshwater marshes and sloughs and pine flatwoods. Wild pigs can reach weights of more than 150 pounds and be 5-6 feet long. They usually travel in small family groups or alone.

Laura Reilly, argued in 2014: “One solution to Florida’s wild pig problem: Eat them.”  She put forth that “Anna Maria restaurateur Ed Chiles’ three moderately priced indoor-outdoor restaurants, Anna Maria’s Sandbar, Mar Vista on Longboat Key, and Anna Maria’ BeacHhouse, showcases Florida foods, which includes Braised Punta Gorda Wild Boar Au Jus with Beagle Bay Organic Sauerkraut. That is a pretty upscale treatment for meat coming from “descendants of pigs brought by Hernando de Soto in 1539.” She did address a question most restaurant patrons would ask: “But is this wild pork safe? Field dressing wild hogs puts hunters at risk of brucellosis infection, and then there are the specters of dangerous diseases such as trichinosis, pseudorabies and leptospirosis. According to D.J. Conner, who regulates animals coming in and out of the state for Florida’s Department of Agriculture, if it’s cooked thoroughly (the USDA says that means an internal temperature of 160), it poses no greater risk than commercial pork.”

From chapter 9, “The Barn,” of Growing Up Floridian:

Lessons in how steak, pork roasts, and fried chicken got to the table were taught in that barn, too. Every six months a steer was grain fed for a couple of months before he was butchered to serve to families. Wild hogs were as frequently trapped, fed, and slaughtered. The anatomy lessons offered during those very real life moments identified livers, hearts, stomachs, and intestines in three vivid dimensions. Every eighteen months the chickens were replaced after they were slaughtered and distributed to the ranch families. I was not quite prepared for the spectacle of bringing to life the adage of “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.” Even at eight years-old, I had heard the saying many times but did not realize such a behavior could happen. When Vick and my father set up a huge iron scalding pot over a fire in front of the barn one Saturday morning, I had just finished cleaning the chicken area and washing off the red wagon with the hose at the back of the barn. Both men had hatchets and oak stump chopping blocks set near the bubbling pot. They went into the chicken cages, brought out two chickens at a time, and chopped their heads off. Then, they tossed the headless bodies into the grass. The white unbalanced forms ran or stumbled around the area for ten to twenty seconds, sometimes going fifteen to twenty feet away from where they were tossed. The actions of the headless chickens were the strangest I had ever seen, and I was hesitant about eating chicken for some weeks afterwards. After all the chickens were dispatched, both men plunged the bodies into the scalding water, plucked the feathers, dressed the birds, and wrapped them in white freezer paper. I carried a box filled with white packages to my mother so she could place them in our freezer.

 

Indiantown, 1956

         My brother and I embarked on our careers as bandits when we arrived in Indiantown. With our toy guns, Mexicali hats, and inspiration from the Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) and Pancho (Leo Carrillo), we raced through the palmetto scrub looking for wrongs to right.

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