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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

I’m wondering if eating all the mercury-enriched bass from “lakes” like this for years hasn’t somehow made us more addled than the usual Floridian, and thus, unable to make good decisions about mixing insect management with al fresco dining. If Jerry Garcia was here, maybe I could ask him.

A Tropical Storm is Coming: Another Noir Day in Paradise

It’s hurricane season here in Florida, thatspecial time when the big blows rise up out of the Antilles and travel through the Torrid Zone for a visit. Like blizzards up north, tropical storms and ’canes are a way of life here, something you sort of try to work around. Still, there’s something very ... unreal and conflicting about it all. My point? Bad guy Edgar G. Robinson made it in the vintage film noir flick Key Largo. When told a hurricane was coming his way, he was amazed to learn that storms like that had hammered the Keys in the past. “You mean to tell me,” growled Robinson, “that there was a hurricane here before – and people still live here?”

I knew something was up late yesterday when I came home. I walked through the long and narrow screened back porch, headed for the enfenced yard. As I did I noticed two very still and strange objects on the top of the cypress fence. I stopped inside the porch and saw it was two red-shouldered hawks, positioned about three feet from each other. They were wonderfully intent on studying the fishpond just below them, so much so that they almost completely ignored me.

I walked carefully back into the house, grabbed a digital camera and came back, shooting as much as I could at a distance, and then slowly moving toward them. I got to the other edge of the pond before they even noticed me. At that point, there was only about seven or eight feet between us. I continued to happily click away and they continued to happily ignore me. There are a couple large comet goldfish in the pond, fish I had bought as inch-long culls from the aquarium store and let loose many months ago. With the sunshine and rain and dissolved oxygen, they grew fast, and were now almost 10 inches long, plump from grazing on the underwater plants and algae in the pond. There were also countless tadpoles from a bullfrog and a Southern leopard frog, along with scores of gambusia spawned by a few tiny mamas I brought back from the St. Johns just a couple months ago.

While I’d seen the hawks around before, and often heard them calling from the thick canopy of live oaks overhead, it was strange for them to be so close, and not reacting to my presence. Then I realized what was happening: I tapped the glass on the barometer in the porch and saw the needle plummet like the GPA of a FSU lineman. And it was summer. I didn’t even have to turn on the self-consciously melodramatic Fox News to know a tropical disturbance of some sort was on its way.

But I did turn on Fox for the theater value, and it was as expected, the usual scare-the-bejesus-out-of-the-audience sort of performance weather people in Florida love to indulge in, a journalistic train wreck in slow motion. The screen was full of charts and maps and pretty, green and yellow splotches that were spinning about, headed towards the Keys and South Florida. A route was already predicted, and the tropical storm known as Fay was eagerly moving along it, churning its way up into central Florida. The Fox reporters remind us that outsiders still refer to Florida as the “plywood state” as the result of heavy damage from a series of back-to-back ’canes a few years ago. I saw clips of manic consumers south of here eagerly buying everything manic merchants would sell them, stuff having to do with batteries, bottled water, plywood, canned goods and so on.

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