Is it a nature trail or a theater? Are those mangroves really thespians, performing in quiet splendor?
Listen carefully, Anne Schmidt tells those who trudge through the natural coastal terrain with her at Weedon Island Preserve.
See this plant? Now amble over here. See this one? Look much the same, don't they? Both are wild Florida blueberries.
She produces a magnifier. She points out the tiny gold dewdrops behind the little green leaves of vaccinium myrsinites (evergreen blueberries).
It happens suddenly. "They see the magic," said Schmidt, 57, a conservation botanist who volunteers her time to do nature walks at the preserve.
Among the first times she saw the magic, Schmidt was 2 years old, and her father was pointing out a bug on a rock at Martha's Vineyard, an island off Massachusetts, where she grew up. Yet her first occupational love was theater and dance. She worked on stages for many years as a nonunion actor. Late nights under artificial lights were followed by sunrise in the woods.
One year, she visited Sarasota for a Florida Native Plant Society conference. She saw the magic again. She decided to change careers.
At the University of South Florida, where she got her master's degree in conservation biology, she'd write out theatrical skits based on the relationship of atoms.
A few years ago she was hired by Pinellas County as a botanist in the environmental lands division. One of her last projects was a floristic inventory of Weedon Island — she documented every plant before her job was recently eliminated by budget cuts. She now works for a private engineering firm.
Schmidt is happy to come back to her old workplace. She really likes telling the stories behind that long list of plants. Take the myriad ways that mangroves adapt around saltwater.
"Because plants can't walk, they've evolved these amazing capabilities to survive," she says.
Schmidt will raise the curtain again Saturday during a two-hour walk that begins at the education center, winds through mangroves and gopher tortoise habitat, and ends in the history ecological trail.
Reach Luis Perez at email@example.com or (727) 892-2271.