When you break open a slash pine branch laying on the ground in front of your face, you can see its yellow insides. When you break it open, if you bring it close to your face, you can smell the yellow pitch. When you’re on the ground dying and bleeding and there is a slash pine branch on the ground in front of your face, you must break it open and bring the yellow wood close to your nostrils and breathe the sharp pine smell.
Before you lay on the ground to let yourself die, you were stumbling through the pine and saw palmetto, gutshot. It burned here three years ago. Now there are yellow grasses and young palmetto fronds crunched under your heavy steps, the fire tattooed black scars on the pine trunks around you.
A shadow glides on the ground next to you. A vulture. You turn to follow its path, their ability to sense death is amazing. But it is not a vulture. A tiny darting kestrel looking for a snake.
There is badness coming here. This land has killed you and it will die. Gators, ibis, oaks, tortoises, rats, snakes, cypress, hawks, bobcats, storks, coyotes, ferns. They will be replaced by the full emptiness of simple human desire. It was a mistake to come to Florida, to join the Army, to hunt the Seminole.
You can know these things now because you are in the very moments before death. Your ludicrous wool clothing has become ephemeral, you feel yourself slipping through pants and coat and collar into the real heat and sun and breeze.
Now you are watching yourself bleed. They will take your body away but your blood will stay in the ground and nurture the trees and grass for one hundred and seventy years. You looked so alien here when you were alive and marching in the woods, smoking and talking and shooting. Now you are welcome to join the sandy soil. It isn’t until you are still and dead that the land wants you.