Florida Wildflowers: White Birds in a Nest

Wikipedia photo

White Birds in a Nest (Macbridea alba) is a threatened Florida wildflower in the mint family that is found in the panhandle. It favors pine woods and savannas in environments that require periodic fires that manage the ecosystem. Years ago, somebody said the flowers reminded them of birds eggs or the heads of baby birds, and the notion became its common name.

Fire suppression–rather than letting natural and necessary burns take place–has played havoc with this plant along with many others in longleaf pine environments. It depends of bumblebees for pollination, and those are in decline. And then, too, there’s always the land’s old enemy development which takes its toll. Pesticides and pastures are among the usual suspects.

When I was growing up in Florida, these plants were much more common than they are now. I mention them in my 1950s-era folk magic crime novels because they were very much a part of the characters’ environment, a part of the wild flower display you can see along state highway 65 between Eastpoint on the Gulf coast north through the Apalachicola National Forest to SR 12 just west of Quincy. The flower can also be found in Alabama. The blooms stand out in their natural habitats between May and August.

When people find these flowers in the wild, they often pick them, thinking they can take them home and display them in a vase. They’re too fragile for that and will probably wilt in the car on the way back to the house. The Forest Service, in Ethics and Native Plants, states that “For many of us a field of wildflowers is one of the most beautiful experiences we can encounter in Nature. There is a deep impulse we carry from childhood into adulthood to reach out and pick a flower in a beautiful butterfly-filled meadow or along a public wooded trail lined with spring beauties, irises, or wake-robins. It is because we all carry such memories that we have devoted an entire website to Celebrating Wildflowers. Millions of people visit the public lands each year and if only a small fraction of them each picked a few flowers, soon there would be none for the rest of us to enjoy.”

If you live in Florida or are visiting the state, you can see White Birds in a Nest in Bay, Gulf, Franklin, and Liberty counties. The Apalachicola National Forest has the most stable populations.

I find these flowers to be quite showy and hope we can preserve them via common sense and Forest Service preservation plans.


“Lena,” the final novel in Malcolm’s Florida Folk Magic trilogy will be release by Thomas-Jacob Publishing on August 1.







Will Earth last forever in spite of the damage?

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.” – Terry Tempest Williams in “Red”

Some claim that no matter what foolishness we bring to our planet, Earth abides. Do you agree?

I hope that claim is more than wishful thinking. For years I thought an ever abiding Earth was a certainty and that even in the worst-case nuclear winter we can imagine, the planet could shake off the damage. Now, I think we’ve done too much for that certainty.

Author George R. Stewart certainly took that view in his famous 1949 science fiction novel called Earth Abides. While this book, which is among the best novels I’ve ever read, is a eulogy for civilization as we know it, it’s not a story about the end of the Earth. This book is somewhat responsible for my thinking that when all is said and done, the planet will one day be reborn without us.

Plenty of Time?

For years, people have said that no matter how badly we treat the environment, the ultimate destruction of the planet is so many years into the future that we still have time to change what we are doing. In that vein, saying that global warming or dying oceans or dangerously high population growth will one day do us in, is about like telling a teenager he needs to save some of his summer job money for retirement or he’ll starve some day.

As an author, I have absolutely no interest in writing post-apocalyptic fiction. Nonetheless, I often play the what-if game inside my head about all sorts of things that will never evolve into my books.

One game involves walking down a long highway into the future and seeing alongside the road a timeline of positive and negative news events, discoveries, storms, political decisions, and other critical moments. How far can I walk and still find mankind here? Are there actually multiple roads? Perhaps a frightening event leads us to make positive changes and one prospective road gets longer. Perhaps something else lures us into a false sense of security and we begin to think Earth will abide forever. At that point, all the roads get shorter.

If we knew how long the Earth would abide at our present rate of destroying it, what would we do? Would we keep on keeping on or would we finally realize that the world’s wild mercy really is in our hands?

This post first appeared on my now-discontinued Magic Moments blog in 2012.



On Location: Longleaf Pine along the Florida coast

97% of this forest is gone, leaving only isolated pockets of longleaf pines
97% of this forest is gone, leaving only isolated pockets of longleaf pines

“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

When men came, the found a forest they could drive their wagons through. - Longleaf Alliance Photo
When men came, the found a forest they could drive their wagons through. – Longleaf Alliance Photo

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

gophortortoiseAccording 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.


Coming March 2013
Coming March 2013

In praise of urban trees

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I’ll never see a tree at all.

– Ogden Nash

If only billboards were the only threat to trees.

We’ve all seen it: the shady tree-lined street that’s ultimately widened at the trees’ expense to improve traffic flow; buildings placed so close to trees that ultimately the trees must be removed for fear they’ll fall on the buildings or ruin the foundations with roots; old farms and woods that are clear cut to make room for subdivisions and shopping malls.

Most of the old trees on my subdivision lot have fallen down during the ten years we’ve owned the house. Why? The contractor’s grading crews got too close to them or otherwise disturbed the lot’s water flow. Recent droughts in Georgia haven’t helped.

Fortunately, more and more people are getting tired of a world of hardscapes and tree canopy losses. Initially, people spoke only about sacred spaces, habitats, shade and ambiance, but in a practical world, those weren’t considered important enough reasons for conserving and maintaining urban trees. Now, like most things that should be saved simply for themselves, trees are standing a better chance of standing because we have found economic reasons for doing so.

Click here to learn more

In Virginia, Tree Fredericksburg is typical of the kind of local initiative that demonstrates the rationale behind saving trees, showing the day-to-day economic benefits of preservation (in addition to the ability to attract grant money).  The group’s WHY PLANT section on its website lists reasons that are (thankfully) becoming disseminated more widely these days.

  • Improve air quality
  • Protect air and water
  • Save Energy
  • Extend the life of paved spaces
  • Increase traffic safety
  • Sustain local economies
  • Increase real estate values
  • Increase the quality of life

For years many conservationists (including me) focused our efforts on habitats and quality of life, but few people cared. Perhaps we have become a little wiser by pointing out that while “quality of life” is usually the last on most lists of benefits (and habitat/ecosystem is often missing), we can influence people toward a praise-of-urban-trees stance with the other items in the mix.

Events such as this one in Jefferson, Georgia draw attention to the need for trees in urban settings.

Many organizations are willing to help you translate your love of trees into tree-canopies-favorably-impact-your-pocketbook facts that people will listen to. Among my favorites are the Arbor Day Foundation (including its Tree City USA program and standards) and the Trust For public Land* (with a focus that includes urban parks as well as wilderness).

Local groups, such as my town’s tree council, work with volunteers and local governments to assess tree canopies, recognize heritage trees, sponsor tree donation programs, and add tree-favorable provisions into land use management codes as well as historic district regulations.

Joyce Kilmer’s widely known poem “Trees” ends with the lines:

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

In the current century, we can still love Kilmer and ambiance and our fine feathered friends. But stronger tools are needed for effectively praising urban trees. Since money appears to speak louder than the gods and goddesses—at least in a voice we can hear and understand—then perhaps we must stop talking about the joys of shade and bird songs, and focus a bit more on real estate values and the preservation of pavement.


* The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with Cox Communications, announced May 23 that Anne Little has been selected as Virginia’s Cox Conserves Hero. As her nonprofit of choice, Tree Fredericksburg will receive $10,000.

Adventure fiction can be a strong advocate for the environment

Piping Sewage into the Holy Land

from Women’s Earth Alliance:

Support the protection of a Northern Arizona holy mountain
Northern Arizona ski resort Arizona Snowbowl has begun the construction of a 14.8 mile pipeline that will trasnport up to 180 million gallons of treated sewage water from the City of Flagstaff to the ski area, for artificial snowmaking.Not only will the  proposed 10 million gallon wastewater pool harm the environment and public health (the treated sewage water has been proven to contain contaminants), but  it will destroy land that is holy to more than 13 Indigenous Nations.
The peaks are their place of worship, where deities reside, and where they go to collect medicine and herbs. Klee Benally, who was arrested on Saturday August 13 for disorderly conduct and trespassing, explains: “How can I be ‘trespassing’ on this site that is so sacred to me?  This is my church.  It is the Forest Service and Snowbowl who are violating human rights and religious freedom by desecrating this holy Mountain.” (Click on the link for the story “Direction Action To Save Holy Peaks Continues” in Indigenous Action Media.)

With just a few minutes, you can take meaningful action to protect the Peaks.  Call the USDA, which oversees the Forest Service, and let them know you support the preservation of this sacred mountain.

Take Action:

  1. TODAY: take 5 minutes to call Tom Vilsack of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to urge the USDA to place an administrative hold on all development  of the SF Peaks. Phone: (202) 720-3632
  2. Contact Flagstaff City Officials and urge them to respect the environment, Indigenous culture, and protect public health by finding a way out of their
    contract to sell Snowbowl wastewater.  Phone: (928) 779-7699 Email: council@flagstaffaz.gov

This is the kind of post that I expect to see in “The Onion” or some other satirical newspaper or website. Unfortunately, this is one of those times we can get a bushel of industrial strength absurdity straight out of real life.


Premier Stelmach, Alberta’s bears hope you’ll do the right thing

Alberta Wilderness Association
Dear Premier Stelmach:

We need your help to save the last 691 grizzly bears in Alberta. And, since natural habitats flow across boundaries, what you do to (or on behalf of) the bears in the Castle Wilderness impacts the bears in Waterton Lakes as well as in Glacier National Park.

Unless the Alberta Government makes a serious commitment to protecting habitat, the grizzlies have no chance of survival.

Many of the steps to save these bears have little cost. For example, the Province could close or restrict remote roads, trails and seismic lines which have outlived their purpose and have no economic benefit.

It’s not just a problem of grizzlies, as magnificent and symbolic as they are to us. The disappearance of bears reflects a problem with the whole eco-system. Other species are severely threatened in Alberta because the Province has not taken care of its wild lands and wild life.

You have said that “nothing is more important than protecting the land we’ve inherited”. I hope, Mr. Premier, you will act on this conviction.

There was a time when Alberta was committed to conservation. You have the opportunity to restore a conservation ethic in the life of Alberta and leave a proud and profound legacy.

Yours truly,

Malcolm R. Campbell
DreamHost codes

The Devil Rides an ATV

“The fat pink slobs who go roaring over the landscape in these over-sized over-priced over-advertised mechanical mastodons are people too lazy to walk, too ignorant to saddle a horse, too cheap and clumsy to paddle a canoe. Like cattle or sheep, they travel in herds, scared to death of going anywhere alone, and they leave their sign and spoor all over the back country: Coors beer cans, Styrofoam cups, plastic spoons, balls of Kleenex, wads of toilet paper, spent cartridge shells, crushed gopher snakes, smashed sagebrush, broken trees, dead chipmunks, wounded deer, eroded trails, bullet-riddled petroglyphs, spray-painted signatures, vandalized Indian ruins, fouled-up waterholes, polluted springs and smoldering campfires piled with incombustible tinfoil, filter tips, broken bottles. Etc.” — Edward Abbey

My TV viewing is occasionally spoiled by advertisements showing clowns in four-wheel-drive and all-terrain vehicles bounding across the landscape as though such people are the conquering heroes of the wilderness.

While I often wonder why people think ownership of a 4WD or ATV vehicle provides them with status, the ads imply that it does. I’ll praise the man who claims status from his vehicle when he tells me that he designed and built the thing from scratch.

Until then, what is it in the wilderness that needs to be conquered by a vehicle, especially when the thing one’s riding is destroying the place itself while drowning out the natural voices of the ecosystem? Off the road, the vehicle is generally a blemish, the kind the devil himself might ride with an innocent grin.

“Enjoy the great outdoors, folks,” he might exclaim as he wrecks the place, disturbs its natural songs, spoils the quiet, and steals the back country’s soul.


for the latest Jock Stewart satire, visit the Morning Satirical News, last updated July 31, 2009