‘Florida Nature’ is an un-blog about places and people who move me. It’s less about nature as science, than nature as a salve. And each post is less of a blogesque riff than a traditional print essay—except rendered in virtual reality. What links these blips between media is emotion, an expressed sense of caring about what happens and what doesn’t.
I so enjoy folks who fully give themselves over to all this, especially those with courage in their hearts.
As the great nature writer Ed Abbey once wrote: “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” I deeply respect those who get off their butt and take a stand, and don’t worry about how it affects the stasis of their job, their perceived social standing, their public self-image. The whole corporate mentality breeds a sort of toadyness among men and women that will sooner or later dissolve all that is righteous and fair. Imposing a “distance” between you and reality only delays the reality, insulates it for a moment, a year, a lifetime.
One of the most courageous men I ever met was my Dad, who was soft spoken but never backed down. I learned a lot from him. I strive to be as even tempered as he, but also to keep my passion. That works, with varying results.
Despite my advocacy, I try hard to avoid becoming part of what poet/novelist Jim Harrison once described as the “burgeoning legion of eco-ninnies.” The political correctedness of it all can sometimes be a bit much. In too many cases, the quest to be pc is really a quest to “seem” or “appear” to be so. When that happens, the core message is often lost and the illusion of ethics takes its place.
I live at the edge of the historic district in the old riverboat town of Sanford, Florida, and spend a lot of time outdoors. I’ve made my living as a non-fiction writer for a while now. For now, I’ve written five books, a bunch of nationally published articles and essays, and written and co-produced seven documentaries. On assignment, I’ve traveled to the White Sea of Russia, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, both up and downstream on the Amazon, to the Galapagos, Central America, and so on—sometimes scuba diving, sometimes mucking about in the jungle, sometimes paddling a dugout up a sliver of the Rio Samaria.
Sometimes I’ve forged ahead in places I shouldn’t have. (Although, honestly, I seem more afflicted with treachery back in our so-called civilized world than in some wild geography.)
I do odd things beyond writing to make sense and money, like book signings (in this photo), lecturing, and other dancing bear behaviors.
Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
If I have a “hobby” beyond the behaviors I also use to help me story-tell (like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, etc.), it would be cooking. Geez, you get to create art and then eat it, too. If you do so with neat folks, it really cranks up the collective gratification. I like the old naturalist Billy Bartram a lot and enjoy the symmetry between what he found in Florida, and what can be found here now. Otherwise, what I particularly find enchanting here are our magical springs, our misunderstood and vital swamps and marshes, and our ever-blooming wildflowers—the tiny, seasonal icons for a place first mapped as “La Florida”.
I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and much appreciated having a mom and dad who had enough heart to encourage me. With my younger brother, we spent a lot of weekends fishing and crabbing together. We went to church together. When I played sports, they came to all of my games.
During summer vacation, I worked in farm fields loading watermelons, and by winter, spent some Saturdays culling oysters on a small open work boat on the Tangier Sound of the lower Chesapeake Bay. It was bitter cold, but I can still see the sunrises with the sails of the old Skipjacks slicing into the red horizon. Caring for nature didn’t begin as an intellectual experience. It came right out of my gut, because when you grow up in the country so much of what you do takes place outdoors.
My daughter lives with her family—Her husband Chuck, her boys Ray and Will—in Kitty Hawk, N.C., which is on the Outer Banks, that great jaw of coastal land that juts out into the Atlantic. The Gulf Stream, Hemingway’s “great blue river” moves in closer to the shore there, and fish move in with it, including the large pelagics. I remember once on a visit going out to see a baleen whale that had washed up on the beach one day, and was busy dissolving itself. Another time, when they came to see me, we hiked in the woods and snorkeled in Wekiwa Springs nearby. I miss not being closer to them.
For me, nature comes down to experiential behaviors, not just in the being outdoors but in acknowledging fully that you are. After the cerebral public arguments for sustaining the environment are squashed into so much puree by arrogant little rich twits who win—more often than not— by lying, you can still keep your sense of caring alive in your heart. And in the long run, that may be what will save us all.
• As for the blog title: “Sauntering” is how Thoreau described his own walking through nature. Said it was derived from the notion of pilgrims in the middle ages who were traveling to St.Terre—many of whom made a career of it, asking for charity along the way. Sort of like mystical hobos, a description Gary Synder would appreciate, surely. The forever-wandering pilgrim became known as a “Sainte-Terrer.” Thoreau seemed to appreciate those who really had no homes to return to, as they were “at home everywhere”. (Which he claimed is the secret of successful sauntering.) More to the point, they were unbound by materialism, and their spirits were thus unencumbered by the transience of human conceits.
The phrase “state of dreams” is a nifty steal of a title shard from Dr. Gary Mormino’s wonderful non-fiction book about the history of Florida (Land of Sunshine: State of Dreams). I worked with Gary when I was Writer in Residence at USF in St. Pete, and between Gary, professors Tom Hallock, and Ray Arsenault, I learned as much as the students. Tom is working on a book on unpublished letters to and from Bartram, and he is also a Quaker like “Billy”. So you can imagine that I much enjoy hanging out with he and his wife, Julie, also brilliant and wonderfully funny, in their Gulf side “Blue Heaven Rendevous”
- Bill Belleville