On Location: Longleaf Pine along the Florida coast
“The average American’s view of the natural communities of the Southeastern U.S. is that it is comprised mainly of swamps, alligators and big, old moss-hung cypress trees. On the contrary to this view, when early explorers visited the southeastern region they saw “a vast forest of the most stately pine trees that can be imagined, planted by nature at a moderate distance. . . enameled with a variety of flowering shrubs.” Fire defined where the longleaf pine forest was found and fostered an ecosystem diverse in plants and animals.” – Longleaf Alliance
I have been working on another short story for my evolving “Land Between the Rivers” collection about the animals who lived along the Florida Gulf Coast before man showed up and who are now endangered species.
These stories are set in what is now called “Tate’s Hell Forest,” a diverse habitat along the gulf coast near the mouth of the Apalachicola River. This mix of swamps and wet prairies and mixed forests used to flow into the continuous longleaf pine forests as shown on the map.
Why I Like the Setting
The endangered gopher tortoise, the main character in my current story, loves sandy areas for creating its underground burrows and depends on the grasses and other plants the grow on the floor of a well-maintained longlreaf pine forest. Unlike hardwood and mixed forests, longleaf forests feature widely spaced trees with minimal brambles, mid-level trees and shrubs. These forests are maintained by natural fires that roar through and clean away the clutter that would eventually destroy the forest.
The den of a gopher tortoise is great protection against such fires, fires that often run through quickly without burning as hot as summer fires in hardwood forests, especially where brush has built up.
In addition to logging off most of the longleafs and replanting with slash pines and loblolly pines, many don’t understand the need for fires and tend to put them out before they do what nature intended.
Fortunately, enlightened forest management specalists are showing show landowners, as well as active forest companies, the value of these trees, not only commercially as tree farms, but for the environment as well. Click here if you live in the Southeastern United states and would like to visit a longleaf pine forest park or recreation area near you.
Realism and Magic Together
According to Seminole legends, the Earth’s animals emerged from the Creator’s birthing shell in a specific order long before man arrived. My stories about the animals of this time focus on their learning what their living place is all about—what to eat, how to find shelter, how to raise their young. I mix my talking animals out of myth with settings as realistic as I can make them. So now I’m studying the tortoise’s habitat.
Every time I pick a new animal and a somewhat new habitat, I have a good excuse for learning more about the Florida world where I grew up. I started writing these stories when several sequences in my upcoming novel The Seeker were set here and I fell in love with the place all over again.