FERNS AFFIRM A FRIENDSHIP

Ferns like being wet. Florida is in rainy summer season now, and my ferns are flourishing. These are not just any old ferns. These ferns have a history. It involves my longtime birding friend, Sunny Bynum. Sunny gave me many plants for my yard and wooded lot in The Villages of West End, but it is the ferns that have noticeably taken root and are claiming more and more territory each day. These are big, sturdy, shapely ferns, standing two to three feet tall. They are identified as Bracken ferns. 

Sunny gave me probably three or four small fern plants and helped me stick them into the ground at the edge of the woods outside my kitchen window. Those few sprigs have multiplied into hundreds. There is no way to count them as they are all linked together by an underground root system. Suffice it to say, they have covered about one third of the wooded lot which I bought to prevent having a house built there, blocking my view of the sunset. The Bracken ferns seem destined and determined to cover the entire lot.

Sunny died five years ago this month on July 15, 2015, and I miss her very much. She drove to my house about three days before her death and wanted a brief walk through my woods. It was as if she knew it was her last time there.

Sunny taught me a lot about birds. As I sit in the rocker at my kitchen window watching her ferns take over my woods, I also watch birds come to the feeders and birdbath. Sunny and I went on many birding ventures together, and I always learned from her. One morning she called to say she and her husband, John, were driving to nearby Alachua in search of a snow goose which had been spotted at the Dollar General pond. Of course, I jumped at the chance to go with them. We never saw the snow goose, but it was an unforgettable day.

Other memorable trips with Sunny and John sometimes involved going to their daughter, Susan’s, house between the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe Rivers. Susan and her husband, Jim, lived in an elegant rustic home built on stilts designed to protect them from the annual spring flooding of the rivers. Jim had created hiking paths through the surrounding hills. The paths were well kept and seeded with rye grass, which made these walks delightful. I can’t say for sure, but some of Sunny’s ferns may have come from that area, which means the ferns growing in my woods may also have that background. I know she brought many plants home from that lovely place.

I spent an hour with Sunny during the few days she was in Haven Hospice awaiting death. We held hands while I talked, recalling many of our happy times together. Sunny could respond by squeezing my hand, so I knew she was hearing me. Sunny lived well right to the end.

More rain fell today. The ferns are wet, lush, vigorous, and spreading. They seem to want to embrace my house. I take that as a loving gesture from my sorely-missed birding friend, Sunny Bynum. It seems a poetic and perfect way to remember her.

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