Tag Archives: Florida

Florida Swamps: no, ducks don’t smoke duckweed

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It’s easy to overlook this as well as the gators that might be hiding it it.

When you drive past a Florida swamp, it’s easy to see the duckweed without seeing the duckweed for it often covers the surface completely.

Swamp plants are classified as submersed, immersed, and free floating. As a group, they’re referred to as aquatic macrophytes to distinguish them from algae. All of them are large enough to be seen by the naked eye. Florida’s varieties of duckweed are included in the free floating group:

  • Water Meal (Wolffia columbiana) the world’s smallest flowering plant is a duckweed variety
  • Duckweed (Lemna valdiviana)
  • Giant Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza)

Even though private property owners are often at war with the duckweed that covers the surfaces of their ponds, the plant has more protein in it than soybeans. It’s eaten by waterfowl, can be skimmed off the surface and fed to cattle, and humans consume it in some parts of the world. It also “cleans the water” of farm and industrial waste.

Water Meal and Giant Duckweed – wikipedia photo

Ansel Oommen writes in The Incredible, Magical Properties of the Ugly Duckweed “the common duckweed provides an almost magical solution [to water pollution]. Duckweeds are natural super-filters, sucking up minerals and organic nutrients from the water, which then accumulate into the plants’ biomass. This process, called bioremediation, is not only safe, but effective. Central to the duckweeds’ success is their ability to grow at a rapid rate and hence, their ability to consume large quantities of contaminants such as ammonia, lead, and arsenates. In fact, duckweeds can double their weight in one to two days under ideal conditions.”

It’s often hard to convince those who see duckweed as a habitat-choking, invasive pest that there are benefits to it, including potential use as a biofuel.

Why do I read about duckweed? It’s in the Florida Panhandle swamps where I grew up, and Eulalie and Lena, two of the characters in my Florida Folk Magic series of novels see it and (in the work in progress) have to contend with it.

I love tromping around in the swamps and leafing through the stack of reference books that remind me what everything is–and whether it will attack me. As far as I know, ducks don’t dry it and smoke it in order to fly.

Malcolm

 

‘Mountain Song’ is a story about love that might be too broke to fix

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As far as I know, we all experience “first love” and ultimately we all “come of age,” yet these subjects have become so cliched, that they are very difficult for writers to tackle with any hope of getting it right. We know in spades what it’s like to experience what our elders in a other era used to call “puppy love,” telling us it was immature, part of growing up (like falling off a bike), and ultimately wouldn’t matter.

mountainsongcover4We all know the territory, don’t we: the love that seems both fresh and infinite that for reasons unknown collapses without warning as thought it never happened. But we never forget and we could easily bore young people with our stories about it, but just in telling old secrets about long-gone moments, we would appear to be discounting what people in high school and college are feeling right now.

There’s always something heroic about the risks of first love, yet when it comes to fiction, we can hardly turn a boy-meets-girl story in a college geography class into and epic of star-crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliette. It strikes me odd that such a common occurrence as first love boils down to something each of us must suffer alone when we experience its collapsing.

The world seems to end for us and while it’s ending, we’re mostly silent. From time to time, I read a short story or a novel where the author gets it right. I’ve tried to get it right–but the words never seem to match the experience. Perhaps they can’t because we’ve all been there and have our own stories to tell (should we ever dare) about what it was like.

Based on a true story (kind of)

That said, Mountain Song has kernels of truth in it. I’ve obscured them because the real life characters, one of whom was me, were two people who had a summer romance while working at a resort hotel. By itself, that doesn’t make for a compelling novel because we took long walks in the moonlight and stole guarded kisses while on duty, and there’s just so much that can be said about that.

Plus, the characters had to be very different than their real-life counterparts. Otherwise, one has to worry about libel and invasion of privacy. So, in Mountain Song, the characters’ diverse backgrounds provided the framework for the story. Bottom line, as was true in real life, the two main characters were poles apart in terms of upbringing, home towns, and lifetime goals. But neither of us had the bizarre, flawed upbringings of the characters representing us in the novel.

The people who knew me then, said the true story ruined me. It did for a while. Then I recovered (mostly). If you’ve read everything I’ve ever written about Glacier National Park (and heaven help you if you have), then you’ll know I’ve tried twice before to tell this story. The first time was in an experimental novel that made Finnegans Wake look like an easy read. The second time, I had a publisher who wanted the book turned into commercial fiction. That didn’t work.

I’m not sure whether I’ve gotten it right yet because, truth be told–and it can’t be–I’m not a fan of sentimentality, worse yet novels where the protagonist comes across as a whiner with a “poor me” attitude because, well, nobody likes reading that schlock and one way or another we’ve all had a wedding ring ready and waiting in our pocket for the right moment when things fell apart.

–Malcolm

 

 

Florida: it’s like living in an asylum and loving it

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“The deal with Florida is the charlatans and lunatics and Snapchat-famous plastic surgeons. It is the Ponzi schemes, the byzantine corruption, the evangelical fervor and the consenting-adult depravity. It is the seasonless climate. The lack of historical consciousness. The way in which this nation’s unctuous elements tend to trickle down as if Florida were the grease trap under America’s George Foreman grill.” – Kent Russell in a tongue-in-cheek review of the book “What Makes Florida So Weird”

Shug, I’m not a Florida native. That means I’m not allowed to psychoanalyze the state, as Kent Russell says natives are inclined to do. I will say that time has ground away some of the state’s weirdness, the alligator wrestling and jungle petting zoos that once lined major tourist arteries from the Georgia border to Key West like dead skunk roadkill.

gatorgirlSad to say, most of the real jungles and pristine beaches have been paved over by the grease trap of a million condos and bikini-clad bodies per square foot enjoying nature in a former natural setting. I know this will offend some people, but when I saw what was happening to the sunshine in the sunshine state as a kid, I frankly hoped a badass hurricane would clear away all the crap in the peninsula part of the state like a giant flush in a huge toilet so that “we” could start over.

God knows, Mother Nature has tried, but there’s more work to be done before the seas rise and the state slides down into the Bermuda Triangle with the missing ships, squadrons of military aircraft, and maybe Atlantis. Word is, Atlantis sank because its movers and shakers abused their power. By the time I graduated from college and left home, I thought Florida would go that route, compliments of rogue developers more prevalent than palmetto bugs and equally able to slither away out of the light.

When my fiance came down to Florida to meet the family, she decided one afternoon while we were tip-toeing through the alligators at a nearby wildlife refuge that we were crazy. “What about those gators?” she asked. “No worries, Sugar, they’re in the swap and we’re here on the road through the swamp.” That made her feel about as safe as a can of tuna in a room full of cats.

But here’s the thing. When one moves into the state, one usually starts out sane. But things happen. Maybe it’s the water or too much sun or a million mosquitoes per square foot no matter how many times Mother Nature tries to blow them out to sea. Nobody knows because the people who’ve been there long enough to judge are no longer competent to judge.  With more data, people could get out before they’re involuntarily committed.

Looking back on it all–chasing stingrays, sinking speed boats, teasing copperheads, crawling into dark caves, camping in the piney woods, getting addicted to boiled peanuts, dining on bait fish–I truly think the large blue welcome signs on I-75 and I-10, need to say “No exit,” meaning once you drive into paradise almost lost,  you become lost and can’t leave. You won’t know any better.

If you figure out how to leave, you’ll miss it fierce. If you’re a writer, you write about it. If not, you’ll look at your summer vacation  slides on an old Carousel projector and tell people that in those days, you had it bad and that wasn’t good. Of course, if you’re an FSU Seminoles fan, you’ll still hate the U of F Gators while you watch every game on ESPN. You’ll watch folks boarding of their windows with plywood on the Weather Channel during hurricane season, and you’ll remember the good old days when you road out all the storms because you didn’t know any better.

(Fact of life: people buy new plywood every year when the first big storm approaches because they threw it all away last year, thinking they wouldn’t need it again. If this isn’t a clue to something or other, I don’t know what is.)

Here’s a tip. If you’re planning a Florida vacation, keep it short because if you stay there long enough to start believing the Swamp Booger is read–maybe even in your closet–then you’ve gone native, lost in the swamp, so to speak.

–Malcolm

In a continuing search for sanity, former Florida resident Malcolm R, Campbell is the author of the following stories and novels set in Florida: “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Visiting Aunt Ruby,” “Carrying Snakes Into Eden,” “Cora’s Crossing,” “Moonlight and Ghosts,” “Snakebit,” “Dream of Crows,” “College Avenue,” “Emily’s Stories,” and “The Land Between the Rivers.” Learn more on his Amazon page.

 

 

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.

Florida Legends: The man who could turn into an alligator

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One of my favorite stories out of the Federal Writers Florida Folklore project, is the one about Uncle Monday collected by the author Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s. Among other places, it appears in “Uncle Monday and Other Florida Tales” by Kristin G. Congdon.

Uncle Monday was a powerful conjure man who brought his magic from Africa. He was sold into slavery. When he escaped, he joined up with the Seminole Indians to fight against federal troops. He vowed that he would never be taken captive and enslaved again.

ewgatorDuring a ceremony at Blue Sink Lake in central Florida held by Africans and Indians, Uncle Monday danced and transformed into an alligator and plunged into the lake with all the other alligators. He is said to live there even now and to change into a man again when it suits his fancy. At the end of the day, though, he returns to the lake and, as Congdon writes in her rendition, folks “feel more comfortable with Uncle Monday home in the waters with his reptile family.”

If you search on line, you’ll probably find a number of tales about the alligator man, one of which relates the story of one Judy Bronson of Maitland who claimed she was a more powerful conjure doctor than anyone else. One night when she was fishing at Blue Sink, she saw Uncle Monday walking across the water in a beam of light with an army of gators.

She tried to escape, but her legs wouldn’t function. Uncle Monday told her she would stay right there until she admitted that her magic wasn’t as powerful as his. This was the last thing she wanted to do, but she had no choice. When she confessed she could not do such magic, she was carried back to her house. Soon, she threw away her conjure bottles, candles and herbs and claimed that she fell ill on the shore of Blue Sink and that Uncle Monday cured her.

As Congdon writes, “Folks will try to tell Judy that she only suffered a stroke and fell in the lake, but she knows better.”

Since I’ve read more than one story about this man, I couldn’t resist mentioning him in my Florida folk magic novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, along with other legends such as the giant gator named Two-Toed Tom, the Swamp Booger, and the ghost from Bellamy Bridge near Marianna.

Malcolm

 

Florida Legends – All You Can Eat if You Know How to Find It

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Zora Neale Hurston’s “tales from the turpentine camps, on the surface, could be seen as silly, promoting these stereotypes. A sweet potato floating through the air with a knife sticking out of it? Pure fantasy. But a closer reading shows a culture of resistance and resilience. In the camp workers’ wildest dreams, all they want is unlimited access to food, a basic need that often locked them into the camp through debt racked up at the company store, or one that they were sometimes flatly denied. Food was hope and optimism.” – Julie Botnick in “Zora Neale Hurston, Diddy-Dah-Widdy, and the WPA Federal Writers’ Project”

The legendary Florida town called Diddy-Wah-Diddy, collected–or perhaps, imagined–by Zora Neale Hurston in 1938, has been celebrated by numerous blues singers and included in anthologies and re-tellings by Mary E. Lyons and others for years.

zoradiddyIn his New York Times review of The Food of a Younger Land, Jonathan Miles writes, “Couched between a selection of black Mississippi recipes transcribed in dialect (‘wrop cakes in a collard leaf, place on dese coals coverin wid some more hot so hot’) and the Christmas dinner menu at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., is a stunning prose poem by Zora Neale Hurston about a mythical place in African-American folklore — a kind of barbecue version of Shangri-La — known as ‘Diddy Wah Diddy.'”

While the WPA Federal Writers project featuring the story was never completed, Hurston’s work lives on, describing her take on the many dreams of food and better times and magical places from Blacks enslaved in the turpentine camps, usually for minor or imaginary offenses.

Unfortunately, Lyons’ book appears to be out of print. Her website description sounds tempting: “During Virginia’s 2008-2009 Big Read for Little Readers, Mary E. Lyons rewrote these same stories for young people. Now children in grades 1-4 can travel with Zora to a magical land where nobody cooks, but the food is always ready. In Diddy Wah Diddy readers meet Chicken, Pie and Moon Man. They wander to Zar and stroll through Bella. They amble across Amen Avenue, then fly down to West Heck with High John.”

bodiddleysingleI came across the mythical town while researching Florida legends for my upcoming novel Eulalie and Washerwoman. I couldn’t resist including a reference to the place, a town nobody knows how to get to, but if they happened to find it, all that had to do was sit and wait and pretty soon the best food they could possibly want appeared, ready to eat, with knife, fork and spoon ready to go.

In her collection, Uncle Monday Monday and Other Florida Tales, Kriston G. Congdon’s version includes the line about a town “way off somewhere” that “Is reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagon-load of feed can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.” Congdon says that most people think the place exists.

Perhaps so.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “The Sun Singer,” and other magical novels. The soon-to-be released “Eulalie and Washerwoman” is a sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”