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The Politics of Nature

Sanford nature writer Bill Belleville's latest book of bittersweet essays wins National Outdoor Book Award

Photo: Bill Belleville, License: N/A

Bill Belleville

If there’s any sort of silver lining to be foundin the impact the economic recession has had on Florida, perhaps it’s that it has saved the state’s natural environment – or at least derailed the development machine that is consuming swaths of delicate ecosystem to make way for more houses, office parks and strip malls.

In 2006, Sanford author Bill Belleville responded to the rapid overdevelopment of the state with the publication of a book called Losing it All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape, which documented the transformation of his neighborhood from old Florida quaint to new Florida chaotic.

Fast forward five years and progress has slowed (somewhat), hopefully long enough for Belleville’s latest – Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost and Found in the State of Dreams – to sink into the Floridian psyche. The book mixes personal experiences and reflection (Belleville describes some of the essays as “transcendental”) with occasional commentary about the poor growth-management practices that threaten Florida’s remaining wilderness. Unlike his last book, Belleville says, his current one is less a dirge and more a celebration: “I wanted to share my experiences with nature that I’ve had and help people connect,” he says. “I wanted to help folks understand that we have some really neat places that are still here, despite some of what we’ve already lost.”

In late November, Salvaging the Real Florida was named a winner of the National Outdoor Book Award for natural history writing. It was selected, says Ron Watters, chairman of the National Outdoor Book Awards, from among 130 entries and is being recognized for both the quality of Belleville’s writing and the importance of the subject matter.

“If you happen to be a Florida developer, it would be quite uncomfortable to read his stuff,” Watters says. “He doesn’t mince words at all, he tells it like he sees it. But I think he does that in a way that, at least if you’re a lover of the outdoors, is understandable and comfortable and enjoyable.”

Belleville is recognized alongside iconic nature writer John Muir, whose My First Summer in the Sierra was released this year in a 100th anniversary illustrated edition.

With Belleville’s permission we are publishing the following essays from Salvaging the Real Florida, which is available through the University Press of Florida.

– Erin Sullivan

Welcome to Midge World

Ijoined some friends for dinner at a little waterfront restaurant on the south shore of Lake Monroe here in Sanford the other evening. Nice breeze coming up off the dark night water and truly lovely the way late springtime in Florida can be sometimes. I arrived a bit late, so I’m just getting seated as the food arrives. We’re inside a large screened porch attached to the restaurant to take full advantage of the fine weather and the liquid geography. A waitress is bustling about, saying waitress-type things and a very animated woman I don’t know is also at the table, waving her arms. But this is not the strange part.

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