Tag Archives: nature guide

No one ever steps on the same beach twice

“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.

Tonya Clayton

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

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A delightful inventory of the Gulf Coast’s natural delights

“The Living Gulf Coast: A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida,” by Charles Sobczak. Indigo Press. 512 pages. $26.95.

People who live in and visit Southwest Florida are drawn by its natural beauty. In spite of many decades of development, the region still has a remarkable diversity of life forms and relatively unspoiled habitats in which they thrive. Furthermore, public and private efforts have done much to insure the future of these natural treasures. “The Living Gulf Coast” is a generous, lavishly produced, and inspiring guide to this distinctive paradise. 

Charles Sobczak

Mr. Sobczak’s encyclopedic effort is divided into two major sections of approximately equal size. The first section is the field guide itself. Defining the region as including Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Glades, and Hendry counties, the author provides detailed information on the birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to be found here. He employs an efficient set of symbols and abbreviations to map basic facts of size (for birds, length, wingspan, and weight), degree of endangerment, where found, the various names applied to the species, and so forth. Mr. Sobczak also provides vivid descriptions of each creature’s appearance, behavior, habitat, and diet.

Blending information and entertainment, Charles Sobczak entices his readers to move beyond the passive engagement of entering a book. He urges them to engage directly and actively with their fellow creatures. Whether introducing the Green Iguana, the Everglades Mink, the Pileated Woodpecker, the Florida Banded Water Snake, or the lowly Nutria, the author gives each critter its due. Often, his discussions are leavened by humor and wit.

Where to engage? That’s what the second half of the book is all about.

Nature lovers will revel in Mr. Sobczak’s survey of “managed lands” available for public exploration and enjoyment in this six-county region. Over 2,000 of the region’s 6,000 square miles are under federal, state, or local public or private management, providing countless opportunities for birding, hiking, kayaking, camping, and just plain meditation. The author provides information about 162 destinations, 61 in elaborate detail and the others in a more compact overview.

This latter half of the book is arranged by county, with a north-to-south plan within each chapter. With Charles Sobczak as our guide, we can travel from Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to Punta Gorda’s Peace River Wildlife Center to Boca Grande’s Gasparilla Island State Park to the Naples Botanical Garden and to various eco-destinations out east in Hendry and Glades counties.  Many of these destinations are well-known, while many others are relatively obscure. The author locates each entry not only by address, but also by GPS coordinates. You won’t get lost.

To read this review in its entirety as it appears in the May 25, 2011 Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the May 26 Naples Florida Weekly, and the June 2 Port Charlotte/Punta Gorda Florida Weekly, click here: LivingGulfCoast pdf – 1 and then here: LivingGulfCoast pdf – 2

See also: Florida Weekly – Living Sanibel and https://philjason.wordpress.com/2006/12/27/book-beat-24-charles-sobczak/

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Sanibel Author’s Guide to Paradise

“Living Sanibel: A Nature Guide to Sanibel and Captiva Islands,” by Charles Sobczak. Indigo Press. 498 pages. $26.95.

A lavishly produced coffee table book and an authoritative, user-friendly field guide, Charles Sobczak’s “Living Sanibel” is also a labor of love. Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Sobczak and his wife moved to his treasured island from the Midwest. He explored its soul – its inner nature – with his first title, the novel “Six Mornings on Sanibel” (1999). Now, six titles later, he has explored its body – its outer nature.

Although Mr. Sobczak apologizes for what he has had to leave out, he erred on the side of being utilitarian rather than encyclopedic. Who would want to carry three volumes around to become intimate with the flora and fauna of those delightful islands off the Lee County coast? This single volume manages to cover its subject generously and with passionate attention.

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 31-April 6 2010 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click on Florida Weekly – Charles Sobczak. This review appeared four weeks later in the Naples Florida Weekly. 

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