MIAMI—When Hurricane Irma sprinted toward Miami–Dade County, Jeff Ransom couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t just worried about gusts shattering windows, or sheets of rain drowning highways—that’s far from unusual near his home in Broward County, where extreme weather verges on routine, and patches of US-1 are regularly submerged.
Ransom, the county archaeologist, was preoccupied with an oak tree and its 350-year-old roots. If the tree capsized with enough intensity, he worried, the flailing roots could dislodge human remains.
On a blazing blue morning in early November, weeks after the storm, we trek to the site of the Tequesta Native American burial mound that kept Ransom awake.
“All night long, I was just thinking about that oak tree flipping over,” he says. “The big roots are growing right into the burial mound. That would’ve just blown human bone everywhere.”
Irma’s winds shaved canopies off the trees at the Deering Estate, a historic homestead that contains the burial mound and other fossil sites and is managed by the Miami-Dade County Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Space. Under those bald branches, growth was rapid as vines and chutes—nourished by seaweed deposits—scrambled for sunlight. The result has been a second spring: bright, young leaves, greedy for purchase among the gumbo-limbo and strangler figs. Ransom knocks a path for us with a machete, which he carries slung in a holster. Two thwacks splinter the Brazilian pepper branches—but that’s only because the machete is dull, he tells me. Usually, a single smack is enough to slice straight through, like butter.