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Nature's edge

Bill Belleville's latest book of essays challenges Floridians to explore their own backyards

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Get out - Author Bill Belleville's newest release celebrates wild Florida and laments its destruction

The surreal bioluminescence of Haulover Canal in Mosquito Lagoon near Titusville has readers expectantly awaiting the odd glowstick-like light emitted by a certain kind of plankton at night during the summer in "Fire, Water, Friendship in the Night." As Belleville's group of friends slide their kayaks into the water and venture into the twilight, they're not looking to catalogue specific animals or accomplish physical feats - they're playing; pulling their paddles through the water to make illuminated eddies, watching the mullet create streaks of light as they dart under the surface and sometimes thunk into their boats, scooping up handfuls of water and letting it trickle through their fingers like liquid electricity. It's a bonus that they happen to see a pod of dolphins, a young alligator swimming beneath them and a manatee who greets Belleville with a benign snuffle.

"Regardless of how well a person writes or describes a place, I don't think that in itself ­- that narrative, that ability to describe a place - is not going to change a person's mind," Bellville says. "I think what it can do, in the best of worlds, is to have that person want to go outside and want to have 
an experience."

Belleville grew up on the eastern shore of Maryland, but he got his first taste of Florida when he visited his grandfather in Wauchula, near Lakeland, where he worked as a produce buyer. Young Belleville remembers visiting Silver Springs, then one of the larger tourist attractions, and taking a glass-bottom boat ride. As he peered down into the clear water, he recalls thinking, "This is magical. I've never seen anything like this." As a young adult, he and his wife moved to Florida so he could learn the craft of news writing while living in his favorite place. "I always wanted to come back to Florida," he says. "I saw that magic in the landscape."

Belleville describes how, on a Saturday in early March, he led a group of people on a short hike as a guide for the Friends of the Wekiva River, a nonprofit that protects the Wekiva River basin, through the Rock Springs Run State Reserve between Sorrento and Sanford. It's a 27,000-acre track of public land where Belleville recently spotted a rare, carnivorous 
pitcher plant.

His intention is to explain how the plant has evolved to lure insects. This encounter, he hopes, will motivate the hikers to create their own adventures. "I don't think we can appreciate a place until we know that place," Belleville says. These everyday encounters are what Belleville strives to show us in Salvaging. And although not all of us will recreate these scenes, it's nice to know that we can.

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