Hosford, Florida, has a Dollar General store.
That’s not unusual, I suppose, since anymore most every little town in the United States has one or more. This one, though–the one in Hosford–brought a smile to my face like no other Dollar General has ever done.
We weren’t planning to stop in Hosford on our way to the Gulf Coast, but according to the ‘net, it was our last chance to pick up the gallon of milk needed to replace the one that didn’t fit in our cooler as we packed it that morning. So, Hosford it was.
As is my habit when I can, I opted to sit in the car with the grandkids while their mother, along with my wife, went into the store. The kids were chattering in the back of the van, and I was enjoying the sound and just hanging out some eight feet in front of their carseats.
I’d examined the wall ahead of me already, and found it to be wholly unremarkable. From where I sat, I could see the ice cooler wasn’t locked, but that probably wasn’t unusual in a town this size. Beyond the cooler, though, the store didn’t offer a lot to look at. My eyes wandered to the vacant lot beside the store, and from there to the vacant lot just behind that one.
And then I smiled. Big.
The lot closest to me had been mowed sometime in the last few months, but the one further away had trees and shrubs within their first few years of life, nothing more than 10 feet tall.
My smile didn’t come immediately, because it took my brain a few seconds to process what I was seeing. Pines, again, not more than 10 feet high. But they were dense, the individual trees were. Each tree had three or four branches reaching skyward, and they were thick with lush green needles. Lush, long, green needles. Long, green needles.
Longleaf pine needles. The reason for my smile.
I’d lived in Alabama for a few years before I became aware of the longleaf pine and its history. The tree, native to the southeastern coasts of the United States, both the Atlantic and the Gulf, was once abundantly spread through the region. Found up to a few hundred miles inland, spread from Virginia to Texas, the longleaf ecosystem was primary in the coastal areas of the region, until it wasn’t.
Since the earliest days of European colonization of the continent, the longleaf pine was logged for its lumber as well as tar, pitch, and turpentine. The long, straight trees were first prized for their nautical uses: masts and the pitch used to make hulls watertight as well as others.
Originally covering nearly 100 million acres, the natural resource was considered inexhaustible, again, until it wasn’t. Now, less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the original range can be considered old growth, and just around one percent of the original range has stands of the trees at all, with much of that planted and managed.
But not that vacant lot near the Dollar General in Hosford, Florida. Seeds for those trees arrived without a plan other than nature’s. Those trees, growing in a gravel lot, will probably never see maturity, but their presence is still enough to warrant a smile.
Check it out!