What I think of as Florida’s “condo conga line” starts at Ormond Beach and snakes southward to Miami, where it ends in a riot of tropical colors suggestive of sun and water. Above Ormond Beach, the line is disrupted here and there by a large estuarine research facility, the ugly, low-slung condo bunkers at Flagler Beach and by St. Augustine. Jacksonville to Ormond on the A1A isn’t the prettiest drive in Florida, nor does it contain the type of seaside restaurant I am always looking for and failing to find. This stretch of the A1A suffers a bit, I think, from not being what people envision as “Florida.” There’s not a lot of aquamarine and coral used in housepainting palettes and there isn’t a lawn flamingo in sight. It’s windy and often damp. If you keep on the A1A you will be at risk of yawning your way south, not to perk up visually or intellectually until the chesty condo towers of Palm Beach make you question the enormous gap between the haves and the have-nots and how it got so damn big.
Just off the A1A, though, as you head towards Ormond Beach is something called the “Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail” that encompasses the Bulow Plantation Ruins, the Fairchild Oak (impossible to photograph without an ultra-wide-angle lens), North Peninsula State Park, and Tomoka State Park. The loop is a thirty-mile spectacular that crosses two rivers and offers up massive live oaks, coastal marshes, wading birds, jumping mullet, dolphins, whales, peregrine falcons, harriers, alligators, and turtles. It’s an amazing piece of Florida that has–almost–resisted development. Where possible to build people have; but for the marsh acreage the whole thing would probably resemble Biscayne Bay.
A thousand years ago, this area was once home to the Timucuan Indians. Within Tomoka State Park lies the footprint of Nocoroco, a Timucuan village, The park contains small barrier islands that were rich in fish and shellfish. Today, I’m sorry to say, the little island was rich in Bud Light–both box and empties. This refuse sat at the base of a palm tree, surrounded by shell middens.
A more cheering sight is to be seen at the site of the village itself. Here the visitor will be dazzled by a wonderful roadside attraction that has become a bit temperamental to keep up. Due to its concrete construction, the statue of Chief Tomokie that rises into the air above what once was a reflective pool has become a challenge to maintain. On the day I visited, some kind of kiddie nature class was taking place on the perimeter of the old reflective pool. Nearby, a gopher tortoise that was covered in brown sand sat motionlessly outside his burrow. Chief Tomokie, also motionlessly, rises above this landscape, while his rust-colored warriors draw their arms back to shoot arrows into the bright blue Florida sky.
The Tomokie statue is a happy legacy of a bygone day in Florida statuary. He was created by illustrator Frederick Dana Marsh, who in his heyday had been responsible for murals titled “Allegories of Industry” and “Maritime History of the Hudson.” Mr. Marsh, who moved to Ormond Beach in 1931, adapted to the Florida style well. His Tomokie is a prime piece of mid-century Folk Art combined with a bit of the rustic and a flair for the dramatic–there was no Chief Tomokie. There is only the legend that tells of how Chief Tomokie drank from a sacred spring and thereby doomed both himself and his people. Now, someone has come along and drunk from the Bud bottle and doomed both himself and our present-day civilization.