A Florida black bear was killed by state wildlife officials earlier this year, in the suburb of Orlando where I am from. The bear had bitten a woman as she was walking her dog and as the bear was walking with her cub. The woman and the dog were okay but the bear was designated as dangerous and the state captured her, put her down and relocated the cub.
The place where I am from, a golf-course subdivision in Longwood, Florida, was built on the Wekiva River basin, adjacent to the Wekiva River, Wekiwa Springs, and Wekiwa Springs State Park. Deer and bear sightings were common on the fairways of the golf course and the green lawns of neighborhoods.
When I was younger, the narrow patches of woods and swamps surrounding the golf course were a playground for my friends and me. We’d run through the corridors of wilderness, scavenging errant golf balls from the mud to sell them back to the golfers. Each hole seemed to have its own ecology and appeared to us as a frontier far from home—plains of cypress knees, dry palm and pine forests, man-made lakes containing real alligators.
At some point in 2008, the recession hit the golf course and it closed down. What had previously only been allowed to survive on the edges and corridors soon consumed all 18-holes: High wild grasses, maypop passion flower vines, and palm saplings all run wild now, providing new adventures for my dog and me, a dark green flatland to hike through.
I like to think that I’m seeing some of what John Muir described as “the flowery Canaan” when he traveled through Florida by foot in 1867. On that trip, he proclaimed in his journal: “…if a war of races should occur between the wild beasts and Lord Man, I would be tempted to sympathize with the bears.”
Perhaps the fallow golf course is a small, temporary victory for the bears and other wildlife who have been made to scavenge the suburbs for food and habitat, a minor truce and consolation prize compared to what’s been lost.