Three feet high, painted yellow, deep black-swabbed letters incised on at least one face of a triangular post, marching down vertically:
I am intrigued by these monuments.
First because of the thing itself, or the thing each represents: St. Joe Paper Company.
Second is about myself and what I see while I roll through this world, or more to the point what I fail to see.
I have not discovered where these monuments fit in the story of the St. Joe Paper Company or anything about their context – neither era, nor purpose, nor provenance. I do own an inkling, however, about how prominent a role St. Joe occupies in the last century of North Florida. It squats atop all else in the last 85 years as the most significant individual economic actor in the Panhandle.
That I appreciate.
This makes me want to figure out the rest. Who made these concrete monuments? What years were they conceived and placed? Were these section corner designations an innovation of Ed Ball? There are definite periods of manufacture, as well as paint and paint style. What do they signify and how were they used? How many still exist? Was there ever a comprehensive tabulation or map?
I’ve never known the SJPC pillars to prompt recognition much less nostalgia among natives. Someone, somewhere, knows the story of the SJPC obelisks and can easily recall anecdotes about their production, stories of hauling them, erecting them, knowing the stories they herald. I’m determined to find that person, that book, that resource to tell all. I want to inform these photos with a real story about a place that no longer exists. The St. Joe Company still exists, but as a mere memory of a shadow of its former self. There was a time in my own experience as a Florida resident when any reference to St. Joe was invariably followed with the ubiquitous description of the company as the single largest private property owner in the state.
That’s no longer so, of course, but also bygone is the day when that phrase stood in as a way to show and not tell about St. Joe’s power and influence. You didn’t even have to recount the tale of Ed Ball rejiggering the time-zone line to accommodate his production meeting schedule. Now there’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a transfer of title boost from the acquisition of much of St. Joe’s holdings. It’s now the state’s largest private landowner. In no small part because it wants it that way, AgReserves Inc. is little written or told. Florida’s largest landowner is not seen.
But maybe it’s there and we’re just missing it. This happens. All the time.
Here is my second fascination.
Pictured on social media are 15 SJPC monuments photographed over 16 months in four different counties. I pedal different routes, but rarely new ones. Now when I discover a new SJPC monument it is more likely than not to be along a stretch of road I have traveled before. I pass the revolutions of pedals by searching the roadside for flowers and St. Joe markers. Changing seasons make for changing views. Trees leaf in spring. Limbs bare themselves in winter. Sunlight angles at an autumnal slant through the dust of dry fall or sunbeams shining through the pollen-choked yellow motes of fertile spring.
And yet, how many times did I ride by the four SJPC markers on Natural Bridge Road, the four I noticed for the first time, all on the same ride? At least six times in the last 21 months. I never saw any of them. Then, on Sunday, I saw all four.
How can this happen?
The fact it happens is befuddling and frustrating. The idea it happens, the certain knowledge of unseen and unknown specimens I’ve rolled by innumerable times without seeing is what really grabs the imagination.
What else am I missing in this world? Plenty, it’s been proven. What are those things I am failing to see? It’s impossible to know until I see it, until it is revealed, until I am able to see it.
There will come a time of day, a perspective offered by the depth of light or the contrast of shadow or the slant of beam, a view opened up by prescribed fire or winter’s wind or FDOT’s mowing deck and the thing I’ve been seeking will show itself.
Will my eyes be open enough to see?