Tuesday evening the moon was a brilliant yellow-orange crescent in the sky, colored and softened by the recent fires along Alligator Alley that have filled our atmosphere with smoke and haze. The fire was ignited the previous Tuesday by a lightning strike and burned about 34 square miles of land, to both the north and south sides of the Alley.
Contrary to its name, Alligator Alley is not a small road, it’s also Interstate 75. It crosses the state of Florida in an east-west direction linking the cities of Naples and Ft. Lauderdale. Last week, state officials closed the entire Alley because of this fire for several days, and just recently reopened it.
I live in Naples, and all week we’ve smelled the burning and squinted through the hazy brightness. Last Thursday I watched feathery flakes of ash fall around me as I worked outside. The ash was carried by winds aloft. We are not in danger, but it’s a remarkable thing to hold the possible remnants of a cypress tree or slash pine in your hand, and wonder if it’s from the Big Cypress National Preserve several miles away.
Fire is a part of the natural ecological cycle in Florida, and this is a vulnerable time of year. Factors like dry winds, low humidity and low water tables join with extremely dry vegetation to create the perfect environment for combustion. All it takes is a source of flame. This time of year a motorist will be ticketed for throwing out a cigarette butt from a car window.
This sketchbook painting is a composite of scenes: my memory of that vivid waning moon and the hazy skies, and a setting from a recent visit to the Cecil B. Webb Wildlife Management Area.