The Pines Of Fort Zach Essay Contest • August 6, 2004

Selected by Rosalind Brackenbury

After the protest against removing the shady casurinas at Fort Zachary Taylor, the organizers set up a contest for the best piece of writing about these much-loved and appreciated trees.  Here are some of the written results. 

Once... I would anticipate the relief offered by the canopy of pines along Card Sound Road en route to Miami and the huge shaded canopy along the now bright and concrete Palm Avenue. When the tall pines were torn down in front of 5th Street Baptist, dove nests landed all over the ground. Tank Island had osprey perched in its pines (as did Fort Zach, not 2 hours ago) and heron on its beach until it was turned into what Sunset Key is today.
— Captain Lynda Schuh
When you ask what feelings I attach
to the stand of Australian pines, bending
like ballet dancers over the beach at fort Zach...
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
— Mary Ames
Key West is my hometown, Old Town is my address. The pines at Fort Taylor
transcend my island living - it’s the place that speaks softly to my soul.
— Annette Liggett
I must ask, at what point in time does a tree warrant the esteemed title of indigenous, or was there a Johnny appleseed of sorts, roaming from tropical shore to shore scattering pine cones? I see the eradication of Australian pines as an erratic, ironic twist. If you cut down our tall canopy...we, the residents of this island chain will bake and burn, blister and swell.
— John Gerace
My husband and I celebrated birthdays and anniversaries under the pines and my summer pregnancy was soothed in a colorful Mexican hammock strung between them.
— Judi Bradford
I am a 4th generation Conch. This island would not be Key West without pine trees. They were introduced here over a century ago... I feel a special touch of nature under their shade.
— Violet Turner
Fort Zach is the only acceptable playground in Key West... It is the only place where you can have a break from cars or trucks and feel safe for your kids to run around. The pine trees make it easy to keep an eye on your kids, even at a distance. With leaf trees, all that would change.” And, “Please, instead of destroying what’s already perfect for the enjoyment of a hot day at the beach, let’s work on parts where there is a real need for change. Let’s build more natural places for different uses.
— Angela, a local mother, Pines Contest Winner: Adult's Category
The pine trees at Fort Taylor are beautiful trees. They are strong, they give a huge amount of shade and they give the feeling of a forest. If the trees would disappear then fort Taylor would be like any other beach. My brothers, sister and I love to go exploring and play hide and go seek. The combination of the pines and a few other kind of trees make a great environment for butterflies, dragonflies, beetles and a variety of different birds. I also love to go snorkeling and see all the beautiful fish. When I’m finished snorkeling I poke my head out of the water, I look towards the shore and I see the pines and I see the people enjoying themselves. Let’s say that the pines were replaced with palm trees and seagrape, which are not nearly as tall as the pines. So this time I poke my head out of the water and see palm trees, seagrape, the tops to buildings, and the tops to cruise ships. Which one would you like?
— Guy Hemilen, 10 years old, Pines Contest Winner: Young People's Category

Essay by Sandra Lee   

Fort Zachary Taylor was one of the first places I visited when I came to Key west.  It was wild and heavily wooded with Australian pines.  There were no parking facilities or toilets, showers or concession stands.  No one took money at a gate and there were no picnic tables, beach or breakwaters. There was just a magnificent view of the water from a substantial height of fifteen or twenty feet that dropped straight down in a steep crag to the waters edge.

What made it so special was the wildness, the lack of amenities, the raw beauty of nature, and the sense of solitude without any visible trace of humanity.  It was very much what I still remember and love about childhood visits to State Parks with my family.  It was unknown territory.  It was what it was without tweaking.  It was Mother Nature at her best without any need for our so-called improvements.  Beautiful, tall trees; soft filtered light; a persistent breeze that wicked away the humidity, and a carpet of needles underfoot with the clean smell of the sea and land to finish it off.  It was a magical simple place. That raw natural setting enabled me to imagine how that spot must have felt centuries before.  It was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

Natural parks are supposed to be areas preserved so that people can escape the demands and tempo of daily life.  The calming and meditative effects of a brief return to nature without having to travel far to do so has numerous rewards. The unique location of Fort Zach enables those of us with busy lives to enjoy a return, if for just an hour or two, to a quiet uncluttered space; a little piece of the planet we like to call our own, without any of the cultural tools and baggage that are so often required.  

Now that nearly every square inch of Key West has been built upon, paved or bricked or made into a tourist venue, some of us who are not getting any younger long for places that just are; Great parks are like great teachers.  They encourage the young and old to discover, relax, and enjoy what separates them from ordinary daily experience.  I want to visit the waters edge in ten years with a young child and recognize that marvelous raw majesty I experienced twenty-five years ago and share the simple beauty of that pine filled point overlooking the sea.