Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Up the river

Passing the bamboo forest, beyond the palm trees, on the Estero River.

Perfect peacefulness. We are on the Estero River, paddling upstream against an almost non-existent current. To our right is the Koreshan State Historic Site where we live and volunteer. The bamboo forest is creaking in the wind that is 199 feet up but not at the river level. To the left is a wild tangle of trees, ferns, strangulating vines. There are fish leaping in the river….but very little bird life.

Bamboo can grow at about 2 inches per hour. On the slower side, most estimates place bamboo at about 24 inches in a single day. The record for the fastest growth is 47.6 inches in a 24-hour period. Additionally, there are records of large tropical bamboo plants growing 100 feet in the span of merely three months!

We reached State Road 41, known as the Tamiami Trail because it links Tampa with Miami. It is a busy four-lane highway and the crunch of tires presses in on us as we paddle under the bridge. On the other side, we lose ourselves in a river that is even quieter. There’s a tiny one-person suspension bridge across the river, with electric cables hanging under the walkway. I surely wouldn’t want to test this little bridge. Off to our right now is more Koreshan Unity acreage. This cult surely was industrious and acquired hundreds of acres. This 65-acre parcel is now for sale.

We decided to turn back as the river narrowed and got more and more shallow.
We passed back under the highway and came upon a mobile home park that lies along the river. They are putting in about 20 boat slips so this river is going to get appreciably busier in the months ahead.
It’s still a pretty special place – a haven in the midst of this megalopolis, this sprawling parking lot of big box stores, outlet malls peopled by hundreds of Brits who seem to fly over just for the shopping, and a couple of million Floridians and snowbirds who flood in at this time of the year from the cold north.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Different World View

 This device demonstrates how the Earth surrounds the universe.
 This is the device the Koreshans used to demonstrates how the Earth is concave.

The Art Hall is the site for concerts, plays and communal events.

We have arrived at the Koreshan State Historic Site. And I have to tell you a little about this strange site to give you the flavor of the place.

It was founded in the late 1890s by a Dr. Cyrus Teed from Chicago. Cyrus changed his name to the Persian/Hebrew name Koresh (it supposedly means Cyrus).  He came up with the strange notion that we folks on Earth live on the inside of the planet and, when we look at the stars, we are actually looking into the center of the Earth. He believed the Earth was concave so we surrounded the universe.

He managed to get 250 hard-working people to come down to Estero, Florida, and set up a commune here. He was a big proponent of women in leadership roles and seven women lived in the Planetary Chamber and ran the commune. They, as well as the other top people in the group, committed to celibacy. But you could join the Koreshans and not be celibate. If you had kids, you would turn them over to the commune. Generally, the men lived in one big building, the women in another. The kids stayed in a separate dormitory and were looked after by a group of women.

These were not hippies. They were hard-working folks who were inventive and incredibly industrious. They set up a bakery that produced 650 loaves of yeast bread each day. This was a stopping off place for people trying to travel between Fort Myers and Naples to the south. They created a steam-driven laundry that had a spin cycle that would blow any Whirlpool or Kenmore out of the water today. They created their own electric generating plant as well as a machine shop that ran off a series of pulleys and belts. All of that remains in working condition today.

But celibacy will always do you in. And the group had a hard time sustaining their numbers and they dwindled to almost nothing by the 1950s.

Jo is a docent at the Planetary Chamber, and the Art Hall. The hall has a spectacular Steinway grand piano, built in 1885. It is considered unique in the world and is beyond price. I must admit to sneaking on stage when we were closing the hall on Sunday and tinkling away on the Steinway. Nice sound!

Jo was demonstrating spinning at the art hall, while keeping an eye on all the folks who wandered through the hall and trying to answer their questions.

There’s an interesting rig that was created by the Koreshans to demonstrate (and “prove”) their theory that the world is concave. They supposedly set up the device on the beach and then precisely measured and moved it repeatedly for some miles. As a result of those measurements, they said, it was conclusively proved that the earth rose up to prove its concavity. Well, sort of! People in later years took the device, along with a laser level, back to the beach and repeated the measurements. What they discovered, of course, was there was a tiny aberration in the device and this amplified the inaccurate reading as the miles went by.

The historic site has all manner of exotic trees and shrubs. There are three Sausage trees from Africa, an Orchid tree from India, Crepe Myrtle from Asia, Night Blooming Cereus from South America, Red Silk Cotton tree from the East Indies and southern Asia.

There’s even a Women’s Tongue tree with long pods that rattle in the breeze. And there’s a Soapberry tree, the fruits of which make abundant lather when crushed in water and have been used as a laundry soap substitute in Mexico and Central America.

One of the last Koreshan women to live here was named Vesta Newcomb. Before she died, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. That signal act brought home to Vesta that the Koreshans had gotten it all wrong. She acknowledged they were wrong about the earth surrounding the universe.

Cyrus, by the way, designed what he called The New Jerusalem for Estero. It was a city that could accommodate up to 10 million people. Those folks never came to Estero and it now is a lovely community that lies about 14 miles south of Fort Myers in Florida. The Koreshans donated their land to the State of Florida about 40 years ago and the park now is run as an historic site.

We have a delightful campground, with 60 sites. My job is to keep the place clean, answer visitors’ questions. It’s a great way to meet folks and we are having a ball. We are here for two months.