“How to Read a Florida Gulf Coast Beach,” by Tonya Clayton. The University of North Carolina Press. 228 pages. $40 hardcover, $16.00 paperback.
When I came across this title, part of the publisher’s “Southern Gateways Guides” series, it was apparent to me that I had an obligation to review it for this column. By the time I had read the first two chapters, my sense of obligation had turned into astonished pleasure. Tonya Clayton loves her subject and respects her readers. Her prose is clear, sinuous, and delighted. Her transformation of scientific information into an accessible guide for the beach-loving non-specialist is a total success. She has earned the glorious excess of her subtitle: “A Guide to Shadow Dunes, Ghost Forests, and other Telltale Clues from an Ever-Changing Coast.”
Ms. Clayton begins with an overview of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches, indicating the hallmarks of the various locations along the long, long stretch of mostly sand-blessed shoreline. Then she introduces us to the key elements that define the character of any beach, beginning with the overall tectonic setting of the coastal area. Sand supply (and the nature of the sand types), the effects of waves and tides, local geological history, climate and weather, and sea level are the defining factors in the very existence and personality of a beach.
I use the word “personality” to capture the author’s style and vision. Not only are the flora and fauna of the beach world alive, but also each beach has, as Tonya Clayton sees it, a living quality: a pulse and individuality. And, like our friends and family members, these beaches are processes more than finished products. They have something like life cycles. The causal factors of change are Ms. Clayton’s primary subject. Those factors, summarized early in the book, get detailed exploration in the later chapters.
Readers will learn how islands are formed and how their shapes change. They will come to understand the language of striation, the comings and goings of dunes, the movement of sands through actions of wave and wind. Inviting us to look closely, Tonya Clayton validates what is probably the most charming assertion in her book: “No one ever steps on the same beach twice.”
Coastline Floridians know well the influence of large-scale natural disruptions to the normal patterns of beach evolution. Without ignoring to teach us about such blows (no pun intended) to the everyday patterns, the author makes sure that we also understand the influence that we can control: the human factor. The residential and commercial development that takes esthetic and economic advantage of attractive beaches is also their nemesis. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the November 28, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the November 29 Naples edition, and the December 13 Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Tonya Clayton 1pdf and here: Florida Weekly – Tonya Clayton 2pdf