Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Florida Keys Journal: The Lignumvitae Channel

photograph of "Hurricane Memorial" by Hallie Cohen
Lignum Vitae is a kind of hard wood, whose Northern most appearance may be in the Florida Keys and which ironically finds a use in manufacturing the edges of cross country skis. It’s also the name of a passage in Islamorada where the bay meets the ocean. When you cross the Lignumvitae Channel you come to Robbie’s Marina which is a popular gathering place and market. There you can rent a kayak to explore the intricate lattice work of waterways that run through the mangroves where houseboats sporting aphorisms like "I'm on an all rum diet, so far I've lost three days," share parking spaces with ospreys, iguanas, and an occasional crocodile. This is tarpon country and you see driveways and houses named after this powerful fish. A little further north at Cross Indian Channel you will find monuments to Ponce de Leon, the Cuban Rafters, and a armada of 14 Spanish ships carrying gold from Peruvian mines that was nearly totally destroyed by a hurricane in l733. The coral reefs that surround the Keys can be treacherous to ships in stormy weather and interestingly coral from the Windley Key fossil quarry was used in one of the areas most famous and heart wrenching local monuments, the Florida Keys Memorial. Known locally as "the Hurricane Monument,” it commemorates the hundreds of people who died on Labor Day of l935 when a storm with 200 miles per hour winds hit the area. Many World War I vets encamped in Matecumbe and working for the WPA perished along with the dream of a Key West extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Inhabitants of the Keys have always lived dangerously and the environment's very vulnerability to the onslaughts of nature may account for its fragile beauty.

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