Category Archives: conservation

Florida Wildflowers: Seaoats

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“Seaoats are important dune builders and protect beach dunes from erosion. It is unlawful in Florida to destroy or take this grass.” – “Florida Wildflowers: a Comprehensive Guide” by Walter Kingsley Taylor

“It shall be unlawful for any person to cut, collect, break or otherwise destroy sea oat plants, Venus’s-flytrap plants or any part on public property or on private property without the owner’s consent. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days nor less than five days. Each violation shall constitute a separate offense.” – SC Code § 16-11-590 (2013)

Herbarium Specimen – Atlas of Florida Plants photo.

Seaoats (Unicola paniculata) are perennial grasses, often clumped and with vast root systems, that can grow over six feet tall that are found throughout the state in coastal uplands and beach dunes. The flat, inch-long flowers (spikelets), which are slightly purple or the color of straw, blooms throughout the year.

Seaoats can be found along the coasts and on barrier islands along the eastern seaboard from Virginia to Florida. Seaoats are very tolerant of salt spray. They are also very heat and drought tolerant and green until late in the summer. While the conditions under which they thrive reduce encroachments from other plants, beachfront development is a primary threat. (As you can see in the Florida state park photo below, developers, dune buggy enthusiasts, and others are likely to write the plant off as a weed.)

Some people like using them as accents in flora arrangements or as the focus of dried arrangements–one reason why some areas classify the grass as a threatened or endangered species as well in addition to being vital to soil stability within its habitats. They not only protect dunes year around but are an important factor in protecting coastal areas from the erosion associated with tropical storms. Restoring seaoats often becomes an important part of dune restoration programs.

Seaoats provide food for songbirds, burrowing owls, mice and marsh rabbits. While the grass produces numerous spikelets, these don’t generate a lot of viable seed. Fortunately, the seeds don’t have any important commercial value.

Seaoats on the crest of a dune at the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, Florida – Wikipedia photo.

“What is so tantalizing about sea oats, making one wish to break the law to have sea oats in their own garden? For starters, they have a striking appearance growing and swaying in the slightest breeze. The decorative plumes (seed heads) are often dried and placed in floral arrangements, or displayed alone as a focal point. Sea oats are quite easy to have without breaking the law, but few people are aware seeds and/or plants may be bought legally from nurserymen licensed by the state of Florida to propagate them. These nurseries supply sea oat plants to local, state and federal government agencies for dune restoration after hurricanes; the nurseries are allowed to sell them to the public as well.” – Darius Van d’Rhys

Seaoats are edible (browned or used as a cereal), but if you want to try them, you have to grow your own. Note that the plant is not the same as Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) that often grows as a ground cover in open areas and is found in northern states as well as the southeast.

–Malcolm

For a chance to win a free Kindle copy of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” see the Amazon giveaway which runs through August 8th.

 

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Should I be writing about political issues?

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Arts, publishing and books websites are showing us a large number of links about writers and politics these days. Some writers are speaking out (from one side of the aisle or the other) at rallies, via letters to Senators and Representatives, and posts on Facebook profiles. Others are writing poems, entire poetry chapbooks, essays, book reviews, short stories and novels that reflect their concerns about a wide variety of political, economic and social issues that became part of the very polarized national debate during the Presidential campaign.

Somebody–I forget who–once said that all fiction and poetry is at one level or another political. Perhaps so. My contemporary fantasies can’t help but show sadness over a world that relies more on technology than spirituality. My two Florida conjure novels shine a light on the racism of the 1950s. Nonetheless, my primary intent with these novels was telling stories I was passionate about rather than creating “message novels.”

When I think about the folk songs of the 1960s–and a lot of the poetry and fiction as well–I remember them as being intensely political, about “the military industrial establishment,” segregation, poverty, and the Vietnam War. We seem to have come full circle back to writings of protest and resistance against conservative policies as well as writings suggesting that that previous liberal policies created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course I have opinions about the issues. One opinion of longstanding favors a better approach to the environment, conservation, protection of wild areas and natural resources, and more care about not polluting the environment. Since these views go all the way back to the days when I was in the Boy Scouts and first began to participate in conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, I will keep writing about this–and referring to it in my stories.

While I respect writers and others who feel a need to speak out for or against the issues that now threaten to further divide this country into camps that refuse to work toward consensus, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I have no credentials that give me any special insight into whether we should be doing ABC or XYZ.  For another thing, much of the debate in both the news media and the social media is being driven by biased or skewed news, sensationalism and other misleading information, and voters on both sides of the issue who approach discussion with a “my candidate right or wrong.” All of this divides us further and makes the truth harder to find.

So my “voice” is going to stay focused on environmental issues and in writing fiction even if the two things get stirred up together a little bit. None of the rants–even those I basically agree with–on Facebook and elsewhere are changing people’s minds. Why not? Because they’re skewed toward the far right or the far left rather than a more centrist approach where people can really discuss the issues sanely rather than throwing gasoline on the fire with dueling wisecracks and graphics.

I welcome those journalists and other writers who do their best to look past the hysteria and tell us the facts and/or to carefully analyze the practicality, ethics, and legality of the issues in their news stories, features, essays, poems, and fiction. Anything else is pretty much spitting into the wind.

–Malcolm

 

Rescued Florida Bobcat Release in Protected Preserve

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florida-bob-catThis cute kitten is called Spirit Feather. She was found on a road near Orlando last summer, turned over to Big Cat Rescue, and given medical care, food, and the kind of training she needed to live in the wild–including how to hunt.

“Spirit Feather has grown up to become a strong, feisty bobcat equipped with the skills to return to the wild where she belongs,” said Jamie Veronica, President of Big Cat Rescue. “We are very happy that she will be released on a vast, protected property and find everything she needs there to thrive.”

You can see pictures of the work behind the scenes here as well as a video showing the bobcat’s release several days ago. I really applaud the work of these folks. Florida has diverse habitats and animals. If things had been done right over time, we wouldn’t see long lists of flora and fauna on endangered lists. The Nature Conservancy is a partner in many of the rescue, re-establishment and conservation projects,

Let’s hope it’s not too late to save the Gopher Tortoise, the Indigo Snake, and the Florida Panther as well.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Piney Woods novel “Conjure Woman’s Cat” will be on sale Friday, January 20th on Amazon.

You may live in Wiregrass Country and not know it

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By and large, people have forgotten wiregrass. Time was, it occupied the forest floor where longleaf pines grew. Sadly, most of the longleaf pine forest is gone as well.

Wikipedia photo

Wikipedia photo

The deep South is wiregrass country and for those who remember, there’s a lot of folklore in and around those old woods. “Progress” killed the longleaf pines. And, wiregrass, too. (Some people call it “Pineland Three-awn.”)

Like longleaf pines, wiregrass needs fire to prosper. Native Americans in the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia knew this and so did incoming settlers. They burned off the grass yearly. This helped the forest by clearing out all the understory clutter of brush that choked pines and pine seedlings. The grass, which returned soon after the burns, came up fresh and new and was succulent enough for cattle for a while before getting wiry and inedible.

In some ways, Smoky the Bear helped kill off our wiregrass and longleaf pine forests because he kept brainwashing us with the phrase “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.”

But here’s the thing: forest fires are a natural part of environmental renewal. Preventing them where they are needed harms the forest. In the 1940s, the forest service banned controlled burning and we have been paying for that mistake ever since even though the practice is now more in favor.

wiregrasscountryIn Wiregrass Country, one of my favorite folklore books about the world where I grew up, Jerrilyn McGregory writes that “Wiregrass (Aristida stricta) depends on fire ecology to germinate. Its fire ecosystem created a unique set of circumstances, tied closely to a way of life…Although it was once the most significant associate in a community of species that formed the piney woods, many human inhabitants of the region have lived and died without knowing the plant.”

I grew up with wiregrass and longleaf pines and miss them. Perhaps that’s why I’m working on another novel set in “Wiregrass Country.” Maybe talking about wiregrass and pines will remind people what we once had and will help garner support for restoration efforts.

Traditions in Wiregrass Country run deep even though they often seem out of place in an increasingly “citified” world. If you grew up there, you probably ate mullet, went to peanut festivals and rattlesnake roundups, knew well the “shape note” old-style hymns of Sacred Harp music, fished or played a rousing game of fireball and loved storytellers.

If you didn’t grow up there, you missed a lot. Same goes if you grew up there in a suburban neighborhood and never ventured out into the piney woods and small towns.

Maybe it’s time to go see what it’s all about.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell’s “Conjure Woman’s Cat” is a magical realism novella set in the wiregrass and piney woods country of the Florida Panhandle.

 

 

How can you not love a great city park?

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“One of the most important but least recognized essentials to an attractive and healthy urban environment is a well-designed and well-maintained network of city parks—an essential component of any city’s infrastructure. Parks support public health, the economy, the environment, education, and community cohesion. They are also critical to workforce development, particularly green career tracks. Parks make our cities sustainable, livable and vibrant.” – City Parks Alliance

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco - Wikipedia photo

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco – Wikipedia photo

Do you have a favorite city park?

I remember the parks of my childhood, Winthrop and Myers in Tallahassee, Florida; Nelson and Fairview in Decatur, Illinois; and Golden Gate in San Francisco.

If you’re a New Yorker, perhaps Central Park or Union Square Park or Bryant Park fits your style. In Boston, perhaps you stroll about the Boston Commons.  In San Francisco, you may like Mission Dolores Park–I do, I once had an apartment next to it. Forest Park in St. Louis has a lot to offer as does Griffith Park in Los Angeles.

Forest Park, St. Louis - "Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all."  - Forest Park Forever

Forest Park, St. Louis – “Help sustain Forest Park as it sustains us all.” – Forest Park Forever

Many of us enjoy little pocked parks whose names aren’t well known outside their neighborhoods. Some of them are great for lunch with business associates; others appeal to dog owners and their pets; and some feature swings and green space for children.

Every time I receive a copy of “land + people,” the publication of the Trust for Public Land, I smile. Why? This magazine is a celebration of parks. New Parks being created. The latest innovations. Spotlights on trends and recent park ideas.

Some people criticize parks because they cost money, attract noise and/or “the wrong kind of people,” or create headaches when those who built them cannot afford to maintain them.

Griffith Park, Los Angeles - Wikipedia photo

Griffith Park, Los Angeles – Wikipedia photo

Aside from quality of life (as in beauty, play and relaxation), parks generally increase nearby property values, reduce hardscape, aid wildlife and increase the city’s tree canopy. Or, as the Trust for Public Land puts it, “We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to connect with nature. And as research clearly shows, access to nature is an essential prescription for the physical, environmental, social, and economic health of a community.”

I recently saw a link on Facebook to doctors who were prescribing time in a park for some of their patients. Many of the comments were along the lines of “about time.” Unlike some of the medications we’re given, park addiction is a habit we can live with. We’re hard pressed to live without it.

The current issue of “land + people” includes a photograph from Knight’s Pond in Cumberland, Maine, of a boy in old clothes walking along the shoreline with a net. The cutline reads, “Dragonflies and salamanders, fish and frogs–who knows what the day’s exploration will turn up. Every kid needs a place to discover the natural word.”

I like that. It reminds me of long childhood days. And it reminds me, too, that discovery of the natural world leads to respect.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a 1950s-era novella set in the piney woods of the Florida Panhandle he discovered as a child. Thank you all for your support of this book:

CWC05072015

On Location: the Apalachicola River

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Near Ft. Gadsden - U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr

Near Ft. Gadsden – U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr

The Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle is created at the Georgia border by the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers and then flows 112 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The river has been in the news in recent years as Florida, Georgia and Alabama fight over who owns the water. Atlanta takes more than its fair share, some say, starving natural areas North to South down the panhandle and, worse yet, the fragile ecosystem of Apalachicola Bay.

From the air, there are places where the river looks like a very large green snake because it twists and turns and almost coils back on itself. The ecosystems have been under stress for years. The river has been improperly dredged; the pine forests have been over logged and–when it comes to longleaf pines–poorly managed; roads to the timber have blocked natural water flows through swamps and other wetlands. The rare Florida Panther can no longer be found in the river’s watershed.

The Apalachicola River was the western boundary of my childhood, for we camped along its banks and on the barrier islands protecting the bay, sailed from its mouth to and from Alligator Point and the St. Marks River to the east, drove or walked every forest service road from Tallahassee to Tate’s Hell Forest (near the mouth of the river at Carrabelle), and experienced one of the most unique ecosystems in the country.

The Apalachicola Riverkeeper says that the river’s basin is home to 127 very rare plant and animal species along with more reptiles and amphibians than any other place in the in the northern hemisphere. The river is not only a resource many habitats, but also for kayakers, fishermen, paddle boaters, swimmers, photographers and–in the bay–a very large fishing industry.

Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests

Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests – Geoff Gallico on Flickr

I’ve always been rather jealous of those who knew every plant in the swamp and forest as well as those who knew how to chart river flows, analyze soil and restore forest lands. The Nature Conservancy is at work in this area, trying to undo many years of damage while protecting lands from more “development.” Since I’m not a scientist or a naturalist, I try to focus on natural resources in my fiction. It’s my way of drawing attention to the environment.

Lately, I’ve been at work on a novella set in a fictional town a few miles from the Apalachicola River in Liberty County, the Florida county with the lowest population. In many ways it’s like going home to look at these areas again and put them into stories. I recently finished reading a political thriller novel called Mercedes Wore Black (which I review here.) The main character is an environmental reporter, making the book a very strong window framing Florida’s ongoing developers vs. the environment battles.

The author of that book lived in Florida more recently than I have and as a long-time reporter, she could focus more clearly on the issues from a practical standpoint. I try to focus on the locations and make readers aware of the ecosystems’ value in the scheme of things without getting into many political rants.

Some of my poet friends write poems about the environment. Photographers are taking pictures of things the way they are while hoping they won’t become the way they were. I’m pleased at the number of groups, blogs, Facebook pages and initiatives that are campaigning for various ways to save the land before we ruin it all.

Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.

Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.

I’m not a political activist, though I’ve dabbled in it from time to time. My focus is fiction. Many of my readers’ focus is travel and outdoor recreation, often with a spiritual component. If you’re a writer, you can “go on location” in a dozen ways to pinpoint natural resources and the need to keep them natural.

There are times when I think that the land itself is an important “character” in my novels and stories. If the land draws you, then your pen, camera, blog and voice can help preserve it.

You May Also Like:

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel “The Seeker” is partially set in Tate’s Hell Forest, while his short stories “The Land Between the Rivers,” “Emily’s Stories,” “Cora’s Crossing” and “Moonlight and Ghosts” also have Florida settings.

New edition of Patricia Damery’s ‘Farming Soul’

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Leaping Goat Press has issued a new edition of Patricia Damery’s Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation, a unique look at our relationship with our psyche and the natural world. I enjoyed the first edition of this mythic book when it appeared in 2010. Now, with a foreword by Robert Sardello, co-founder of the School of Spiritual Psychology, Farming Soul will transform the lives of more readers drawn to its wisdom.

From the Publisher

farmingsoul2014In the Foreword to the second edition, Robert Sardello states, “What differentiates this book from being an autobiography is the invitation to enter a unique form of initiation, one that seems so suitable to this age, this time, our given circumstances, now. This story is really a myth, a myth of the future.” A psychological and spiritual reckoning, ‘Farming Soul’ questions theories and assumptions that date back to the early 1900’s and the days of Freud, assumptions which have too often separated spirituality from psychology.

Suffering the trials of her own individuation process, Patricia Damery finds answers through a series of unconventional teachers and her relationship to the psyche and to the land—answers that are surprisingly deeply intertwined. One strand of ‘Farming Soul’ is about redeveloping a relationship to the land—Mother Earth—being rooted in a particular place and being guided by the tenets of Rudolf Steiner’s Biodynamic® Agriculture. Another strand is about Damery’s professional path of becoming a Jungian analyst, a path filled with review committees and unexpected and unorthodox teachers. It offers perspective on the complicated dynamic of therapist/patient bond and individuation, and a personal account of when one must step out on one’s own. Bringing together paths of spiritual, ecological, and psychological exploration, Farming Soul is a courageous offering that will help reconnect us to our deeper selves, the often untouched realities of soul, and at the same time ground us in our physical relationship to self and Mother Earth.

From my Review

Damery’s memories, dreams and reflections are woven from the warp and woof of her experiences arising out of analysis, meditation, shamanism and farming. “I understood,” she writes, “that the ‘garment of brightness’ from the Tewa song was being woven for me, and that, in time, perhaps I could ‘walk fittingly’ on this earth.”

Farmers, psychologists and other seekers on the path will find many correlations between their own journeys and the one that so beautifully unfolds in “Farming Soul.” Damery’s garment of brightness is kind lamp for eager eyes. Read the full review here.

Damery, a Jungian analyst and biodynamic farmer in the Napa Valley, is also the author of Goatsong and Snakes.

You May Also Like: New edition of ‘Snakes’ by Patricia Damery

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of heroes’ and heroines’ journey novels and paranormal short stories, including “Moonlight and Ghosts.” “Moonlight and Ghosts” was inspired, in part, by his experiences with meditation techniques and his work as a home manager at a center for individuals with developmental disabilities.