Tag Archives: essays

Invite the essential Florida into your life before it’s gone

“Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida,” by Andrew Furman. University Press of Florida. 192 pages. $24.95.

Florida is blessed with writers devoted to its natural splendors and to exploring the relationship between human endeavor, the environment all creatures share, and the severely threatened nonhuman creatures. I’ve had the privilege over the years to read and write about such passionate and skilled guides as Bill Belleville, Doug Alderson, and Jeff Klinkenberg. Andrew Furman, a professor of literature and creative writing at Florida Atlantic University, joins this company with his totally engaging collection of short essays about his seventeen year journey towards a deep understanding of the place he has chosen to make his home.  Bitten_cover

This place is not the Boca Raton with which most of us are familiar.

Prof. Furman’s quest was a search for understanding and belonging. He sought to remove the distance between the patterns of his daily life – the routines of suburbia and academe – and the coexistent but largely unnoticed patterns of wildlife and plant life. Over the course of many years, the accumulation of observations and knowledge took on, more and more, a spiritual dimension.

With the exception of an extended meditation on squirrels, the essays mostly concern fish, birds, and trees. The author’s amateur “field work” is accompanied by a great deal of reading and by interaction with those who share his developing passion. He finds that it takes determination – even hard work – to  make the time and effort. Energy and hours need be stolen from set responsibilities and ingrained habits. That’s where family comes in.

One of the several charms of this inspiring book is how Andrew Furman and his wife, Wendy, involve their children in this experiment. Child-rearing is enhanced by the ways in which the author shapes his children’s informal education through shared experiences of nature. A redirected use of family time deepens relationships.

Furman

Furman

The essays reveal Prof. Furman’s keen descriptive skills. He can pin down not only what we need to know, but also what we need to see in order to value the importance – the essential distinction and dignity – of the live oak, the Geiger tree, and the coontie plant. Each essay includes the author in the act of seeking and discovering. Exposition, description, and narration interact with grace and power.

This slim book includes beautifully fashioned fishing essays; gardening essays; detailed appreciations of burrowing owls, painted bunting, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the snail kite; and many essays of moral import.

Andrew Furman and his family are fighting against time, indifference, poor resource management decisions, and the seemingly inevitable consequences of paving paradise. People still don’t get it: remove a grove of trees and you remove the birds that nest only in that particular kind of tree. Every action we take in our shared environment has expected and unexpected consequences. Endangered species? What isn’t? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the July 10, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte edition, and the July 16 Fort Myers edition, click here: Florida Weekly – Furman

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Belleville’s ode to Florida’s threatened wilderness

“Salvaging the Real Florida: Lost and Found in the State of Dreams,” by Bill Belleville. University Press of Florida. 240 pages. $24.95.

People who spend their lives marching in the parade of what we call progress need passionate artists like Bill Belleville to help us see – or see again – the natural world. Not just see it, but feel and respect it. Not just that, but blend into it, merge our souls into a wilderness landscape and match our heartbeats to the rhythms of flowing waters, birdcalls, and swaying branches. 

Mr. Belleville is a cautiously hopeful elegist and a word wizard. In his earlier books and in the 47 brief essays – most of them meditative narratives – that comprise “Salvaging,” he presents himself as a committed seeker of whatever he can learn about his own place in the world of living things, and the place of each in the whole. Most often, the whole is the microcosm known as Florida, or a region of Florida. It can just as well be a nature preserve, a fishing camp, a cave through which spring waters burst, or his semi-wild back yard in Sanford, Florida.

One theme is loss: how mismanagement, ignorance, and abuse of the land and its creatures threaten our humanity on several levels.  Bill Belleville’s elegy is rich in reminders of how immense the value is of what we allow to be destroyed.

Because we don’t really know what we are losing, Bill Belleville takes the time to educate us. However, his exposition is not primarily technical, but rather a blend of science and poetry. He respects myth, and he conveys it. He teases us into caring about the apple snail and the sand dollar. For Mr. Belleville, ecology is spiritual as well as material. To read him best, read your favorite passages aloud so that your lips join in prayers of praise for the created world and prayers for the wisdom and fortitude to love it actively.

Bill Belleville

Mr. Belleville writes, “We’ve compromised the river’s watershed with hard surfaces, and by doing so, have kept rainfall from soaking into the ground – and being absorbed by natural wetlands. Then, when things go terribly wrong, we blame nature, since blaming ourselves for our lack of wisdom is simply not an option.” Can we reverse flood-causing processes like this one?

To enjoy the full text of this review as it appears in the June 16, 2011 Naples Florida Weekly and the Fort Myers edition for June 15, click here: Florida Weekly – Bill Belleville pdf

See also the third item in this 3-part review essay: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2007/04/25/book-beat-41-three-best-bets/

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