Tag Archives: nature

Dueling narratives interact to extend Michael Lister’s literary mastery of North Florida ethos

Blood Shot, by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. 346 pages. Trade paperback $17.99.

How many writers come up with a novel that is a sequel to two of their earlier novels? Perhaps only one – the super talented and tireless Michael Lister. Blood Shot is number 15 in the John Jordan Mysteries series. It is also a follow-up to Double Exposure, a Remington James Novel. Do you need to know this? Well, there is plenty to enjoy without such information. However, the author may be leaning a bit too heavily on his established fan base. For example, characters’ names are dropped that will mean nothing to a new Lister reader.  

Set in the northwest section of Florida and taking us deep into heavily forested areas of great natural beauty that Mr. Lister describes with profound passion and acute vision, this novel runs along to rails separated by three years. The chapters alternate. Those labeled “then” trace the movements of photographer Remington James. Those labeled “now” follow sheriff’s department investigator John Jordan’s search to bring James’s killer or killers to justice – one way or another. Jordan is committed to help his good friend Heather, James’s widow find closure. It’s a cold case that needs to be heated up. Earlier investigations seem to have lacked commitment – or worse.

We meet James making his way through the disorienting woods, looking for the opportunity to snap the perfect picture, and speculating about the source and cause of a distant scream. In subsequent “then” sections James is questioned about what his is doing on his own land and warned about staying too long as darkness falls. He does, in fact, get lost. When he finds one of his camera traps, he scrolls through the images on the memory card. Plenty of great shots of wildlife, and then “the random horror his camera has captured” – a murder. He becomes panicky, wondering of the killer is still out there. And he is going to find out.

Lister

In the “now” sections, Jordan’s effort to find James’s murderer connects with the attempt to discovery what lies behind the murder of the former sheriff of Gulf County and several of his men, each “executed one by one with their own guns.” Jordan’s relationship with his boss and other law enforcement associates is developed in a context that suggest that lawmen are participating in or ignoring certain crimes.  There is an enormous amount of money coming from a huge marijuana enterprise. . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the December 13, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the December 14 Naples, Bonita Springs, Charlotte County, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Blood Shot

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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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Doug Alderson: A Prophet in Nature’s Temple

“Encounters with Florida’s Endangered Wildlife,” by Doug Alderson. University Press of Florida. 192 pages. $24.95.

Doug Alderson’s fourteen brief chapters are attractively crafted personal essays that introduce readers to the intricate world of wild Florida, particularly as it exists in the panhandle part of the state. We learn about the creatures who live there, whether native or immigrant, large as a bear or manatee, or small as a salamander or mussel. We also learn that most of these animals are threatened, and that more often than not it is human activity that poses the threat. 

Mr. Alderson mixes awe, affection, and education in these remarkably well-turned essays, which often blossom into a powerful lyricism. Many passages from his book could be excerpted and presented as prose poems. We can only hope that these passages are not elegies.

The general pattern of the essays is one of Mr. Alderson taking us on a journey into the Florida wilderness, sometimes alone and sometimes with a companion. There is usually a destination and specific focus for the journey, such as seeking the elusive, if not extinct, ivory-bill woodpecker, or searching for black bear dens. Such sections have a strong narrative dimension and even a bit of suspense.

Other sections are more expository and fact-based, and yet others are simply in the service of joyous beholding and belonging. Doug Alderson captures so well the healing expressiveness of nature’s beauty and wonder. Often, the tone of his prose is uplifting, reverent, and worshipful.

To view the entire review, as it appears in the June 9-15, 2010 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and in the June 24-June 30 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Doug Alderson.

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BOOK BEAT 41 – Three Best Bets

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times   April 25-May 1, 2007

by Philip K. Jason

What does a book columnist do for pleasure? Why, read books of course. Over the last several months I’ve had the good fortune to enjoy several top-notch books on a variety of subjects. Below, in no particular order, are three “Best Bets” for your enjoyment and illumination.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (Harper Collins) is a widely acclaimed narrative about the author’s quest to discover the fate of six relatives from the small Ukranian town where his maternal grandfather’s family had flourished for generations. There had been mostly silence in the author’s youth about his uncle, Shmiel Jaeger (the grandfather’s brother), whom he was said to resemble. And there was a great mystery about exactly how Shmeil, his wife, and four daughters died. Daniel Mendelsohn became committed to finding the answers and telling the story. His journey takes him not only to the town (called Bolechow by its Polish-Jewish residents) and its neighboring communities, but also to Israel, Sweden, and Australia. In these far-flung places, Bolechow exiles, survivors of the Holocaust, hold the bits and pieces of information that Mendelsohn seeks.

The narrative is effective in combining factual and emotional detective work. Mendelsohn’s style is majestic, especially when meditating on the meaning of discovered fragments of fact and when describing the places that he visits. What he has to describe is not very pleasant: the unspeakable horrors that the Jews of this small town had to face, the complicity of neighbors who were thought to be friends, the tortured memories of those from whom the sought information is – sooner or later – revealed. Another aspect of Mendelsohn’s style, self-consciously developed, involves a shuttling back and forth in time and often moving by association rather than chronology. In this way, he reproduces how the searching mind operates in the process of discovery.

A unique aspect of this book is Mendelsohn’s interlaced series of meditations on the famous stories in the book of Genesis. Sometimes interesting in themselves, these sections do not illuminate the moral dimensions of the Holocaust material, as Mendelsohn no doubt intends. But on the whole, this is a powerful achievement, its focus and particularity still allowing it to serve as a microcosm of the larger Holocaust catastrophe. The urgency of Mendelsohn’s quest cannot be missed. There are fewer and fewer people left to answer the questions of life and death during the Holocaust and to breathe life back into vanished communities.

***

When I saw the title of Robert Stone’s new book, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (Ecco), I knew I had to read it. Why? First of all, Stone is one of my favorite writers. Of his seven novels, four rank high on my contemporary American fiction list. These are Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, Outerbridge Reach, and Damascus Gate. The other reason is that I’ve become a sixties junky awaiting the energy flow that will bring forth my own memoir of that exciting decade. Maybe reading Stone’s book will help.

Indeed, the maps of our lives during those years had some places in common, Greenwich Village and environs being the most important. Also, we were both aspiring writers, though Stone – about five years my senior – had turned the aspiration to solid reality by the decade’s end.

Like Mendelsohn’s, Stone’s descriptions of places are superb. Not only are locales rendered with sensory power, but perhaps more importantly, Stone captures the nuances of the kaleidoscopic cultural environment. We visit New Orleans, Mexico, California, New York, Vietnam, and London – following Stone in his pursuit of his craft and his themes. Too often, unfortunately, we must tolerate the drug culture that he recalls with dangerous authenticity. This is the downside of the creative stew simmering through those years, somehow making the creative volcano possible.

We follow Stone’s relationships with individuals like Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady, already cultural icons when Stone entered their orbit. We see Stone take on Grub Street jobs to make a subsistence living as a writer while pushing his first novel, Hall of Mirrors, along. We encounter him as a young husband and parent, balancing the needs and responsibilities of art and life. We re-enter the maelstrom of attitudes that swirled around the Vietnam War.

In the end, the book leaves a taste of betrayal and disillusionment. Stone writes, “Life had given Americans so much by the mid-sixties that we were all a little drunk on possibility. Things were speeding out of control before we could define them. Those of us who cared most deeply about the changes, those who gave their lives to them, were, I think, the most deceived.” The rest of this paragraph (on p. 161 of the book) stands as a marvelous encapsulation and assessment of the times.

***

Bill Belleville’s Losing It All to Sprawl: How Progress Ate My Cracker Landscape (University Press of Florida) is also a book most notable for its author’s descriptive power. This searingly beautiful work, at once plea and elegy, confronts what we have sacrificed for residential-commercial development and short-term convenience. It is at once a teaching text in which we learn about the ecosystem that we have so thoughtlessly and rapaciously undermined and a personal story of one individual’s confrontation with loss.

Belleville is unabashedly emotional, as well as logical, in his response to the sprawl that threatens to turn Florida into a desert. His sojourns in the remaining protected areas in and around Seminole County are pilgrimages to holy places. They are also journeys back in time to a unique and glorious landscape and a spontaneous unfolding process of renewal and adaptation. Belleville literally worships unspoiled nature, and he shares his reading of what it reveals much like a priest exploring scripture.

Bill Belleville teaches us to appreciate the integrity with which Cracker architecture raised domiciles whose design did not attack the hot and swampy environment, but rather took advantage of it by working with it. He patiently explains the price of progress, how the paving over of our state not only creates unmanageable runoff of poisons but also undermines the delicate balance of rain, natural water storage, and natural water flow that allows this peninsula to exist. Dry wells, sinkholes, and impoverished flora and fauna are consequences of greed and irresponsibility. And much worse is to come.

In the final stages of the book, Belleville describes the damage wrought by hurricanes to the Sanford area he has come to love. But such natural forces are nowhere near as destructive, both spiritually and materially, as the proliferation of asphalt and the countless temples to vapid consumerism that violate a once-glorious wilderness.

Losing It All to Sprawl is a mighty and moving achievement, a telling antidote to the pro-growth boosterism that shapes the decisions of all too many private and public leaders.

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BOOK BEAT 11 – Connie Bransilver

BOOK BEAT   Naples Sun Times    September 27-October 3, 2006

by Philip K. Jason

Internationally known photographer and author Connie Bransilver has been living a most remarkable life. Born and raised in Albuquerque, she earned a B .A. from Duke and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico Law School. She practiced international law in London and served as a Legislative Assistant in the U. S. House of Representatives. During her years in London, Bransilver founded a women’s theatre and the City Women’s Network. Bransilver has also worked as a private banker. Somewhere along the way, she became an award-winning naturalist and photographer who has taken photographs on all seven continents. Her work is held in public and private collections world-wide. 

Among Bransilver’s distinctions: her photograph was the Grand Prize Winner and conference symbol for the 1995 UN Conference on Women. In 1997, her Chinstrap Penguins on Ice was the Grand Prize Photograph in Explorers Club Magazine. She was the 1999 African Wildlife Foundation Photographer of the Year.

Naples groups have recognized this creative individual as well. In 2005, she was the first photographic artist on the Artists’ Studio Tour organized by the Friends of Art at the Naples Art Museum. That same year, the Naples chapter of the American Association of University Women honored her as a “Woman of Achievement.” Not long ago, there was a portfolio of her work was featured in Gulfshore Life.

Bransilver first came to Naples in November of 1987, after many years of living in London.  For a few years she commuted between Washington, D.C. and Naples, but then she discovered that Naples was “much, much more than glitz” and spent more and more time here until finally becoming a full-time resident in 1992. She was attracted to the many interesting people with great stories to tell as well as the vast amount of wilderness within minutes of town. “The glories of the natural world,” Bransilver observes, “are generously bestowed on all of south Florida.”

As a nature photographer/conservationist/artist, Connie Bransilver can live anywhere, as long as an airport is nearby. Her work takes her all over the world, but when she is not traveling, Bransilver finds that there is much to discover and expose right here – enough to have inspired her to complete two books on our region. There may be more coming out in the future.

Bransilver’s first book, Florida’s Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps (with Larry Richardson) is a mesmerizing, inspiring journey through our neighboring swamplands. It reveals the beauty and variety of this complex ecosystem, photographs and text informing one another. More than a collection of photographs, this book pays homage to a fragile wilderness and movingly argues for its protection and preservation.

Wild Love Affair: Essence of Florida’s Native Orchids is a magnificent celebration of these captivating and mysterious miracles of nature. Bransilver gives us not only the natural beauty, but the spiritual essence of these alluring blooms, reminding us always of the hold they have on the human imagination. This book, which includes contributions by Paul Martin Brown and John Beckner, stirs our souls and minds on many levels. Both books are from Westcliffe Publishers.

Bransilver is much too active to find sufficient time to promote her books. However, this fall she is renewing the marketing of Wild Love Affair with a major exhibition at the

South Florida Community College Museum of Florida Art & Culture in Tampa and through a number of other presentations during the winter season.

On a different front, she just signed a contract with National Geographic to do a ten minute segment of a half hour show called “Wild Chronicles” that will air on PBS and also on the National Geographic Channel and will be syndicated throughout the world.  It will also be available on the web. This project is on the discovery of a new species of lemur in Madagascar. Bransilver is also working, along with five or six other contributors, on a huge and comprehensive book on Madagascar for Conservation International.  It will be accompanied by a DVD and website. 

So, as the lady says, “I keep myself busy …..”

Find out more about Connie Bransilver, including how to order her books and fine art photographs, at her website: conniebransilver.com

Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club. Send him your book news at pjason@aol.com.

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