Summer is the time when snow birds and tourists abandon the state and leave native Floridians to swelter alone in the subtropical sun. Instead of bemoaning the heat and humidity (and occasional hurricane), delve into some writings that celebrate -- at least, in most cases -- what it means to live in this state.
While most Florida reading lists would likely be populated by salacious crime novels and quirky Carl Hiaasen characters, this list is focused more on the ecological aspects of the Sunshine State. To be fair, though, one will find a few unusual human characters in the mix.
"Goodbye, Miami," by Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone, July 4, 2013
Since the online release of Rolling Stone's farewell to Miami, there have been dozens of reactions to Jeff Goodell's postmortem of the Magic City. WLRN weighed in on the piece -- which examines how sea level rise will impact Miami and other U.S. cities -- saying, "Goodell cites a great many experts, whose opinions you can choose to ignore or accumulate anxiety over depending on your own take."
Goodell's well-researched article opens with a hypothetical look at Miami in the uncomfortably-close future. He takes readers through the sea-water-soaked streets of a once-great and now water-logged city that has been swallowed by a rising Atlantic Ocean:
When the water receded after Hurricane Milo of 2030, there was a foot of sand covering the famous bow-tie floor in the lobby of the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. A dead manatee floated in the pool where Elvis had once swum...The president, of course, said Miami would be back, that the hurricane did not kill the city, and that Americans did not give up. But it was clear to those not fooling themselves that this storm was the beginning of the end.
It's good writing, if depressing as all hell. Some folks have argued that it's a reality check for a nation that must start coming to grips with an impending disaster. Others have called it alarmist claptrap. Alarming? Yes. But nonsense, no. The piece, while luxuriating in a fictionalized glimpse of the future, is grounded in the realities of today. Sea levels are rising. Florida sits on porous rock. Miami Beach floods. Often. Salt water is creeping into fresh water supplies.
If Goodell's fanciful tale rattles a few cages and gets people to talk -- in concrete, time-to-take-action terms -- it's well worth the read. Buy the magazine on newsstands, or find the article here.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The pages of Miami native Karen Russell's debut novel are drenched in a sweaty, mosquito-bitten tale of love, betrayal, death, loss, and family. It's a bizarre coming-of-age story set deep in the swamps of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands. Young Ava Bigtree alternately wrestles alligators and reality in a story that is lush with historical and ecological detail. Anyone who has spent time in the Everglades -- not counting those tourist-trap commercial air boat rides -- will relish dozens of passages that pay tribute to the creepy and ethereal power of the marsh.
Russell's prose and off-beat storytelling earned the praise of dozens of critics and fellow authors when the book debuted in 2011. She was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but no prize was awarded that year. The story is so disturbing, original, and engrossing, one can almost catch the sulfury whiff of mangroves when cracking open the cover.
The Everglades: River of Grass, by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Light beach reading this is not, but Douglas' detailed (sometimes excruciatingly so) look at the decline of the Everglades is a classic work of ecological significance. It's a must-read for any South Floridian who is interested in understanding the modern plight of an embattled ecosystem. Penned in 1947, the book is still considered a relevant guide for both hardcore science/ecology nerds and the casual wildlife observer.
Life and Death on the Loxahatchee: The Story of Trapper Nelson, by James D. Snyder
No other state besides Florida could be home to a tale so weird and fascinating as that of "real-life Tarzan" Vince "Trapper" Nelson. At just 156 pages, this slim nonfiction packs in plenty of strange anecdotes and detailed descriptions of the daily life of the folk hero who lived and died by the Loxahatchee River in northern Palm Beach County.
Nelson, the ultimate outdoorsman, lived the life of a river man. He hunted, fished, and sold furs to survive. He shied away from modern society but welcomed tourists and celebrities alike to his riverside cabin where he wrestled 'gators and lived off the land. He was the original Ron Swanson and the Most Interesting Man in the World rolled into one. Not surprising, his life's story is a fun read.
Bonus: Read the book -- it'll take just a few hours -- and book a summer kayaking or canoeing trip down the Loxahatchee River past Trapper Nelson's still-standing cabin.