There was a time that you could walk anywhere along the southwest coast of Florida and hear the Calusa Crunch - the distinct sound of shell, breaking upon shell. You can still hear it if you know where to walk, but the remnants of this fierce, fishing tribe of Florida have been paved over, built upon, or lost to the walking trees, known as mangroves.
The last Calusa died of small pox in the late 1700's in Havana, Cuba. They had, for thousands of years been the dominant tribe in peninsular Florida and thrived on the abundant fish and shellfish along the coast. They were the first humans to attempt to terraform the land by creating inland canoe trails and ate so much shellfish that their shell middens or mounds are still some of the highest points in southern Florida. Marco Island, Chokoloskee Island and Mound Key are some of the largest mounds, amounting to hundreds of acres in some cases and high enough to protect their cities during most storm surges.
When I was growing up in Florida, the Calusas was the name of the 3rd grade class at Garden Elementary. Beyond that I had no idea who they were. Today, a drive along Fort Myers Beach is nothing more than a concrete parade of hotel floats and bikini clad marching bands, noisily making their way too and from the beach. But I noticed as I drove, tucked on the bay side of the island, a well hidden rec park, truly off the beaten path, so I pulled in to explore.
While beach revelers splashed about in red drift algae and seemingly innocuous sugar cane refuse trickling down river from the Agricultural Area, this tiny little park sits quietly, unused. So I took the time to walk the mile long boardwalks and checked out the ghost crabs in the mangroves. It was low tide, not much to see, but there were, enveloped by Mangrove roots, several old shell mounds, left as a reminder of an extinct race of people.The docent at the park suggested I check out the "Mound House" - an old house built on a shell mound and now a museum. I did and thought about the refuse, left behind by the Calusas. No one left to tell their story but the "trash" they left behind. There were 20,000 Calusas at the height of their empire. They were excellent fishing people and incredible navigators. They fed on dozens of species of shellfish. They hunted for turkeys, turtles, manatee and bear. They successfully fended off Spanish conquistadors for centuries before finally succumbing to European diseases.
When they dig up our trash heaps in a few thousand years, they'll find Red Bull cans, Tickle-me-Elmos, TV Dinner trays, Dole-Kemp bumper stickers, IBM computers with only 10 trigibytes of memory, snow globes, BeeGees CDs, Ooops - All Berry Crunch boxes, Heely's, Starbucks Megalattes, 42 trillion poopy diapers, bulky credit card sized cellphones and they'll wonder....what exactly did these people do?