In this 2007 video, Bob Gore urged the Conservation Collier land preservation board to buy his wildlife sanctuary. Collier County
The metal signs display poetic passages and scripture verses bolted high on wooden poles or tree trunks, sometimes above placards that warn: "POSTED. NO TRESPASSING. KEEP OUT."
Bob Gore put them there.
Years later, visitors must crane their necks and squint to read the faded messages waiting along the trail that wends through the Naithloriendun Wildlife Sanctuary in rural Collier County.
Gore, a zoologist, pieced it together over two decades, parcel by parcel, intent on preserving what he could of the environment he saw being destroyed around him.
He claimed it as his domain, named it and lived there in an Old Florida stilt house he designed himself. He wrote poetry and smoked cigars on the porch.
He took school groups on nature hikes. He hosted folk music sessions on Saturday nights.
One day in 2009, broken by vandals, wildfire and Hurricane Wilma, Gore drove to Miami. He parked at a condo and started walking down the Rickenbacker Causeway. Police officers found him, lost and confused. He told them he was looking for the school where he earned his doctorate degree.
Gore never returned to his beloved Naithloriendun.
***** "The forest breathes. Listen, it answers. I have made this place around you. If you leave you may come back again, saying 'Here.' *****
On a break from college, Gore found the hardwood hammock and mangroves behind his family's house in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea bulldozed for new homes. In his book, "Right Smart to Say," he wrote about seeing nature laid to waste, seven bloated rattlesnakes the bulldozer operator had killed and lined up in a neat row in the sun, and the vultures circling overhead.
"Instantly, I became an environmentalist, and my life's direction was forever changed," Gore wrote. "I vowed that if I ever found another hammock like the one from my childhood, I would own it and protect it from all comers."
That would eventually be Naithloriendun, but first he would earn a doctorate degree in marine zoology from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
He would work for the Smithsonian Institution at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce for 10 years, discovering several new crab species.
He later would work for Collier County's natural resources department. He lasted five years, until he grew tired of telling developers what was OK to pave over, said his brother, Paul.
"He saw the destruction of Collier County and was a voice crying in the wilderness, and no one would listen," Paul wrote in an email from Montana, where he lives.
Along the way, Gore learned to speak German while he was stationed in West Germany to intercept enemy messages during the Korean War. He could play the dulcimer, harmonica and 12-string guitar, among a long list of other instruments, and, by his friends' accounts, he developed a reputation as a curmudgeon, a label they said he embraced.
Former Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve manager Gary Lytton, who befriended Gore when they helped found the Friends of Rookery Bay volunteer support group, remembered listening to Gore play the mandolin, recite poetry and tell stories around campfires in the Big Cypress.
"You sort of felt like you were going back in time with Bob," Lytton said.
*** "Perditus in Silvae" ***
On one of his trips into the field for his county job, he happened upon the hammock that would become his home.
In the 1980s, he began buying parcels from owners, and their heirs, caught up in a great land scam that ditched and drained vast swaths of rural Collier County to turn it into the "World's Largest Subdivision." They called it Golden Gate Estates. The developer went bankrupt, and buyers were left with unfulfilled promises.
Nebraska, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky: Gore tracked down owners and bought land, eventually accumulating 71 parcels, mostly contiguous, amounting to 200 acres. On one 10-acre parcel, purchased in 1986 from a couple in New Brunswick, Canada, he built his house, roughly in the center of Naithloriendun.
He was careful to build within the natural footprint, vowing to fire any worker who disturbed even one fern.
The two-bedroom, two-bathroom house has high ceilings with a ventilated cupola and ceiling fans to keep the home cool without air conditioning. Wood paneling covers the walls. Limestone from the job site is built into the fireplace. The pecky cypress mantel was hewn from a 600-year-old tree felled 70 years ago, Gore wrote in an article for "Fine Homebuilding" in 1990.
The sign on the entry gate says, "Perditus in Silvae," translated from Latin as "Lost in the Woods." A sign on the front door says "Please Use Other Door," though it is the only way in.
"That was his home, but his refuge as well," Lytton said.
Gore named it Naithloriendun, a name cobbled together from various languages, including one borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the "Lord of the Rings" fantasy trilogy. It means, roughly, "Garden of the Fairies."
The trouble started when he put up the sign that marked the dirt driveway. Word of the scientist who lived alone in the house in the forest got around. So did the rumors about experiments and deformed creatures wandering the woods. Venturing onto the Gore place in the middle of the night and pulling some stunt became a teenage rite of passage. Gore installed monitoring equipment and kept guns. His reputation grew.
**** "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor's land lest he be weary of thee and so hate thee." — Proverbs ****
The gray Pontiac careened down Golden Gate Boulevard and turned north on Wilson Boulevard and then turned west on Immokalee Road. It was about 12:30 a.m.
When a sheriff's deputy stopped the car, the driver and four teenage passengers poured out, screaming. A 17-year-old boy lay in the backseat covered in blood, shot twice in the head. They were coming from Naithloriendun. They had left a sixth person behind in the chaos.
The driver said he had pulled into the driveway to go to the bathroom. Gore stood at the gate wearing a straw hat. He started shooting a 12-gauge Winchester Eastfield, maybe a dozen times, shattering the front window on the driver's side as they sped away, he told deputies.
Gore called friends living nearby to tell them the vandals had returned. By the time deputies arrived at Naithloriendun, three friends were at Gore's side, armed with a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson, a 9mm H&K and a Colt .45.
Gore was charged with aggravated battery, shooting a deadly missile into a vehicle and six counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.
In 2002, two years later, he eventually pleaded to a lesser charge of improper exhibition of a firearm. He was sentenced to six months of county probation.
In 2005, Gore fired shots over the heads of a man and woman as they ran from the sanctuary gate while tracking a black bear, and he held an FPL tree-trimming crew at gunpoint, according to sheriff's reports.
Gore was charged with aggravated assault in connection with the bear incident. In 2007, he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to four years of state probation.
** Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called "Here." **
Gore, who stood 5-foot-8, pulled the microphone toward him at the podium and told the Conservation Collier board he wanted to sell Naithloriendun to the county for preservation.
"The whole area deserves to be preserved," he said. "I can't emphasize that more."
He talked about the wildfire that swept across the sanctuary, killing the giant cypress tree he called "Grandfather" and weakening many others that toppled when Hurricane Wilma made landfall in Collier County in 2005. He discussed how he had to stop giving nature walks. He talked about how he tried to keep the "riff-raff" off his land. He talked about how he could no longer afford to maintain his sanctuary.
Potental buyers were calling him every month or two, asking whether he wanted to sell. His answer was always, "No," he told the county preservation board.
"It will stay that way until I leave Naples, which depends on what God thinks for me," he said. "Beyond that point, everything is exactly as it is when I moved in there, and it will stay that way."
Gore was 77 when he died peacefully Feb. 7 at his home in Port St. John, where his family moved him after police found him on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami. His family decided Gore was no longer able to live at Naithloriendun and wanted him closer to them.
After Conservation Collier turned Gore down, he deeded the sanctuary to a trust managed by his brother, Paul. His sons, Robert Jr. and Dan, are the beneficiaries. A caretaker lives in a room of Gore's otherwise abandoned house and wards off the occasional intruder.
Paul said they want to honor Bob's wishes and sell Naithloriendun to a conservation group. He won't divulge the asking price, though the Collier County property appraiser put the taxable value at almost $2.9 million when Gore offered it to the county in 2007. Paul Gore said he's not sure how long he'll wait for conservation groups to raise the money before taking offers from other buyers.
Cypress Cove Conservancy President Bobbie Lee Davenport and nature photographer Jay Staton have filmed a short documentary about Naithloriendun that she hopes to use to spark a fundraising drive to save Gore's legacy. Even before Gore's death, she was knocking on doors.
Paul Gore said Davenport is up against the same attitude that bedeviled his brother and eventually proved a sadness he was unable to overcome.
"She's running smack dab into the fact that people don't care," Paul Gore said.
*** "Running to Paradise" ****
The photo on the memorial cards handed out at Gore's funeral at a Titusville church shows him looking at the camera with his arm around his golden retriever, Seana-Rhu. She is looking at Gore.
She died 22 years ago, and Gore buried her at Naithloriendun — where he wanted his ashes spread.
Under the stilt house, an embossed bronze plaque lies on a patch of concrete with neatly formed edges on top of Seana-Rhu's grave:
"The wind is old and still at play, while I must hurry upon my way, for I am running to Paradise."
When the concrete was still wet, Gore etched simply: "Sweet Baby Dog."