Rarely do writers wish their book were less timely. • Just five months ago, the editors of a new book to be called UnspOiled: Writers Speak for Florida's Coast put out a call for authors to contribute works to a collection intended to defend the state's environment in the face of increasing political pressure to allow undersea oil drilling closer to its shores. • Thirty-eight writers responded, but before the book could even make it into print, it has become a eulogy instead of a battle cry.
All of them wrote with deep affection and understanding about Florida's waters, and some of them imagined the worst-case scenario that could devastate that ecosystem — what Susan Cerulean, a writer and a co-editor of the book, called in an updated introduction "only a distant nightmare." The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon and the resulting volcano of oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico have made that imagined scenario appallingly real.
UnspOiled was published last week, and some of its contributors will appear at a reception Friday at the Studio@620 in St. Petersburg. Proceeds will benefit the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, which is gearing up for rescue operations.
The book's contributors range in age from 9 to 72 and include scientists, students, novelists, professors and journalists (among them the St. Petersburg Times' Real Florida columnist, Jeff Klinkenberg). Some are Florida natives, others came here from elsewhere, a few live in other states but hold Florida dear. Here are some excerpts from the book.
Florida stands out. A beacon and a redoubt, a defiant finger and a proffered hand, this place embodies unlike any other the riddles of peninsularity. We listen here for the first strains of the exotic, in the parrot's squawk, the coqui's clamor, the reggaeton beat — but also for the beleaguered howl of the native: the panther's scream, the ivorybill's rap, the Miccosukee's lilting tongue. The first beachhead in the conquest of the South, this land of sunshine — rising on the one hand, setting on the other — has become, improbably, a last stronghold of wilderness.
Where that wilderness clings on, in the sloughs of the Fakahatchee and the blue springs of the Ocala, stealing down the swales of Saint Vincent and slipping through the Big Bend turtlegrass, it has done so by the grace of water. Mapped as hard land, a swatch as solid and crisp as its neighbors, Florida is in truth as ephemeral as Atlantis, risen from the waves, cradled and nursed and suffused by the sea, and condemned to rejoin it. In a kayak on the Aucilla or a skiff off the Tortugas, one can feel it. To enter the water, here, is not to confront something passive, something marginal. It is to enter a bloodstream, to pulse with a heart.
To treat the sea as passive and marginal is the first fallacy. To treat it as incorruptible, inexhaustible, is the second.
Matt Smith, writer and naturalist
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Here's the thing about Florida and money. Other states sell stuff they make (widgets, cogs), stuff they grow (corn, cotton) or stuff they think up (dot.coms, insurance). Florida sells itself. Come live in tropical warmth, palm-treed beauty, low-tax condo paradise. Is drilling a draw for snowbirds? Maybe we could market an adventure holiday scrubbing spilled oil off sea birds on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Diane Roberts, author ("Dream State") and professor of creative writing at Florida State University
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A (marine) collecting business is subject to tides, winds, and weather. It follows the movements of jellyfish, the migrations of squid, the ripeness of sea urchin eggs and the spawning patterns of polychaete worms. Large conchs spew out ribbons of accordion-like egg capsules, and purple sea hares ooze copious green strings containing millions of jelly-coated eggs. Female blue crabs carry thousands of developing larvae under their aprons in the form of a sponge, and commercial shrimp migrate to the deep waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf and explosively burst forth sperm and egg that unite — and the tiny planktonic larvae drift shoreward with the tides and currents, along with uncountable numbers of fish eggs, larval fish, and a host of other developing creatures. The ocean is so full of life, so productive that one can only marvel at it. . . .
I long ago realized that I had to get involved. I could not close my eyes to evil and just go on collecting specimens and selling them to universities. If I did not take action, it was obvious that nothing would stop the destruction of north Florida estuaries.
Jack Rudloe, author ("Shrimp: The Endless Quest for Pink Gold") and manager of Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories
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As I write this, I am left with a familiar longing that humankind not blow asunder what nature has made. I gaze out my window at the Gulf of Mexico and am reminded of something Nick Blue says in Remembering Blue, my novel about the area of Florida I live in.
"I know what the Bible meant when it said God cast Adam and Eve out of paradise," he tells his wife, Mattie. "God didn't send them anywhere; he took something away. Their animal eyes, all that under the surface stuff that lets us know we're part and parcel with the beasts and fish and snakes. He turned us into fools in our own land."
Nick was being harsh on himself. He still believed in Florida as paradise. He paused, and listened, and understood that he was an ever-evolving, deeply important participant in something awesome, something that should be considered sacred: this good earth.
Connie May Fowler, novelist ("How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly")