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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 resisted the urge to go back out myself and buy such stuff, since with all the camping gear and stoves and freeze-dried food I have on hand, I was already set. After all, life in the Torrid Zone is distinguished by nothing if not the capacity to be able to camp out in your own home. Nonetheless, I wondered if the hawks had been watching Fox News, and knowing their prey would be lying low over the next few days, were out doing their own version of hurricane hoarding, courtesy of the comets in my pond.

In the house, I checked out the aquarium where I keep a bunch of wild goldenhorn marissa snails, some native aquatic plants and two separate species of bluegill, known locally as “bream.” The two bream, who don’t get along all that well under normal conditions, react oddly when the barometer falls and the pressure changes. Since they’re wild fish and not reared in a tank from birth, they respond as they’d likely respond in the river: They huddle back in a bottom corner and position themselves, one looking one way, and one the other, as if to cover their butts – or in this case, their caudal fins – from what unnatural disaster might come their way.

By the following day, the morning was cheery and bright, but by late afternoon, a thick band of rain and winds washed over us, a weather surge so pervasive it made everything outside look white. The rain continued into the night, and the wind picked up good with gusts up to 40 mph. A large dead limb from my neighbor’s wild cherry tree fell onto my fence, and by the following morning, the yard was full of smaller branches and moss. I tried to drive downtown, but even the main highway, US 17-92 was  flooded. Lake Monroe, a quiet and domestic looking mega-pond on most days, was raging like a little sea, waves heaving themselves up with the wind and coursing northward with the current. Boats anchored outside the marina’s breakwater were thrashing around, and at least one houseboat had sunk.

At least there was no water in the house, like there had been over on the coast. I felt bad for the local homeless folks, though, and also couldn’t help but wonder how the wildlife would fare if we had much more of this. Developers don’t create tropical storms, of course, but they distort the landscape so fully that water ends up in places where nature didn’t intend for it to be. Wetlands that historically would store such storm-water simply aren’t available anymore for that function. And the human-made retention ponds and canals, which often try to do the work of wetlands, simply hold water until that special moment when they overflow. Growth management plans and future “Land Use Maps” usually study the local landscape for potential flooding, and then try to direct development elsewhere. But “amendments” to those plans – also known as exemptions – are granted routinely by elected city and county officials. This is not against the statutory law, of course, but it’s certainly an affront to land use ethics everywhere. You may think “corruption” may be too strong a word for these exemptions. But, on a larger philosophical scale, corruption is exactly what has happened because – once corrupted – the natural values of our landscape no longer function as they should.

I thought about the Film Noir thing some more, and although that genre had mostly to do with the American gangster flicks of the forties and fifties, it’s also relevant to Florida today, with or without hurricanes. We have morally conflicted protagonists, lots of femme fatales (i.e., beautiful but treacherous women), crimes of passion or money, ill-fated relationships, paranoia, and corruption – all portrayed in a subtropical landscape of high contrast lighting and distorted shadows. Florida, at once the “plywood state” and a tropical wonderland, is Film Noir, alive and well.

It sounds a bit like another day in Noir paradise, where hawks hunt comets and homes without electricity turn into large tents, and real estate developers distort reality so that it all sounds just so darn romantic you have to resist the urge to go out and do something corrupt, just to fit in.

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