These are the times that try men’s souls

“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

 – Thomas Paine in “The American Crisis”

Thomas Paine (Common Sense) wrote the essays that comprise The American Crisis between 1776 and 1783. We have had many such times between 1783 and this moment and may, in fact, be living during such times today.

Wikipedia Photo

I have always liked the phrase The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot because those terms encapsulate so many of the oftentimes lazy and safe responses to the ideals we revere as a country as well as to the comfortable people one never finds “down in the trenches” when the moment comes to not only make a commitment but to sacrifice one’s time and money to engrave our ideals into the real fabric of everyone’s daily reality.

In Congress, business, the organized church, and other groups the committee is often mocked as a group that talks and ponders but never takes definitive action. If you want to bury a proposal, assign it to a committee. At the same time, committee members (like groups of concerned citizens talking during barbecues and dinner parties) believe talking and pondering is synonymous with action.

If asked, these summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots will say “I’m very involved with cleaning up rivers and lakes. . .saving and restoring-old growth forests. . .stopping human trafficking and female genital mutilation,” etc.

It’s tempting to respond with: “How many riverkeeper/keep-my-county-beautiful treks have you made to haul garbage bags of trash out of rivers, lakes, and shorelines. . .how many trees did you save or did you plant. . .how many mutilations did you stop?” Or, alternatively, are you an active (that is to say, a working) member of any groups or agencies working to improve the status quo of such issues?

It’s wrong to criticize friends, neighbors, and co-workers in this way, so the typical response to “I’m involved with…” is silence, and that’s one of the reasons why these are the times that try men’s souls.











Keeping up with Florida’s trees

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” – John Muir

If you live in Florida, you probably already know that–other than Hawai’i–the state has more species of native trees than any other. My easy-to-use tree guide was published in 1956, so I can only consider it as a starting point since some of the nomenclature has changed since then.

Chinkapin Oak – Wikipedia photo

For example, the Chinkapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) used to be mixed up with the Pin Oak and the Chestnut Oak. Confusing matters more is the fact that one of the popular names for a Chinkapin still is “Chestnut Oak” even though the Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) is another species. Both are in the white oak group. There are so many popular names for Florida’s trees, shrubs and flowers that it’s often difficult to be sure what another author is talking about, especially when names change from region to region. Many of those names figure into the state’s old stories.

I refer to trees a lot in my novels, so I’m constantly reading about them, looking them up, verifying habitats, and enjoying myths and legends about them. Florida has a lot of species because of its diverse habitats. That’s a lot to keep up with. Fortunately, there are plenty of sites available on line. When I first started writing, one had to call or send a letter to get the kind of information that can not be found with a few good Google search words.

There are 50 species of oak in the eastern U.S. and that means you’ll find a lot of them in Florida in addition to Tupelo, Cypress, Slash Pines, Longleaf Pines, and Palm trees if you know where to look. Longleaf pines are a sad story because the original forests covered so much of the southeastern U.S. (a 140,000-mile swath through nine states). Naturally, most were logged off and the land was converted to other uses or replanted with the faster-growing Slash Pines. Not the forest service and others are trying to re-educate landowners about the value of Longleaf Pines, especially their important wiregrass habitats that are sustained by fires that clear the unwanted and choking invasive shrubs and trees out of the forests. See the Longleaf Alliance’s page.

Florida Yew – Floridata Plant Encyclopedia photo

The Torreya (also called Gopher Wood) and the Florida Yew are endangered and may well disappear except in managed arboretums. That’s sad to see. Look for those still around on the Garden of Eden trail near Bristol in the Florida Panhandle.

According to, Because the Torreya is one of America’s most endangered trees, a major effort is underway to save it. The Florida Park Service is working with the Atlanta Botanical Garden in a commendable effort to grow new Torreya trees. Using seed obtained from living trees, the agencies are growing seedlings that are being planted in the ravine habitat at Torreya State Park. Perhaps over time, the Torreya will once again thrive along the Apalachicola.”

Always nice to see people using native trees in their yards rather than stuff that really doesn’t belong there. (If you’re not sure and there’s no native nursery when you live, check this link and this link for names and pictures.)

In case you were going to ask: no, I don’t hug trees. Yet, I agree with Hermann Hesse, who wrote: “Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”


My upcoming e-book short story “En Route to the Diddy-Wah-Diddy Landfill While the Dogwoods Were in Bloom” obviously focuses on the dogwood (Cornus florida), not to be confused with the imported Jamaica Dogwood that’s often called the Florida Fishfiddletree or Florida Fishpoison Tree.


National Parks Boast a $34 Billion Boom as Budget Cuts Loom

from the National Parks and Conservation Association

Record-visitation pumps billions into national, local economies in 2016

WASHINGTON – National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016, a $2.9 billion increase from 2015, and supported 318,000 jobs, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today. The number reflects the significant, positive economic impact national park visitors have on gateway communities, including sales, lodging and jobs, as well as the impact on the national economy as a whole.

Read the rest of the press release here.

Acadia National Park in Maine. © Coleong/Dreamstime.

It’s widely known that our national parks are having infrastructure problems because funding has been so insufficient that keeping roads, bridges, structures, trails, and emergency and communications systems up to date is impossible.

Like infrastructure needs outside the park system, allocating money to roads and bridges isn’t sexy in spite of the fact that we see periodic reports about the number of bridges, dams, locks, levees and other vital transportation and safety structures and systems that are below par throughout the country.

Writing for SmartAsset in January 2016, Amelia Josephson said that, “According to the NPS, the nearly $3 billion appropriated for the NPS budget falls short of what’s needed. In May 2015 the park service said it had delayed $11.5 billion in necessary maintenance in 2014 due to budget shortfall. Although national parks charge fees, these fees are not nearly enough to fund the national park system, which is why the NPS depends so heavily on Congress’ budget appropriations.”

A small fraction of this money can be made up by friends of the parks organizations that raise money and fund discrete projects within the parks they’re associated with that would otherwise fall outside NPS’ spending. But this is like bailing a lake with a thimble. It does help, but the overall park’s system continues to fall behind.

Cheating the parks isn’t just about nature, protected areas, and outdoor recreation. It impacts the local economies as well–generally those within 60 miles of a park. As the NPCA press release notes, park visitation doesn’t simply bring money to the park, but also to gas stations, camp grounds, stores, restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. Those who visit national parks tend to stray longer than random tourists who make brief stops at roadside attractions and less-well-known tourist destinations. Of course, park service employee salaries add to the “new money” brought into the regional economy from the park.

Cheating the parks and other public lands is cheating the future, and not just the environment on which we all depend even if we never go out and visit it. It reduces the value of the country in terms of assets and makes the ultimate loss of parks, or parts of parks, more and more likely in the future. We can pretend it isn’t happening just as many pretend there’s no such thing as global warming. That’s the head-in-the-sand approach. We can do better.



You may live in Wiregrass Country and not know it

By and large, people have forgotten wiregrass. Time was, it occupied the forest floor where longleaf pines grew. Sadly, most of the longleaf pine forest is gone as well.

Wikipedia photo
Wikipedia photo

The deep South is wiregrass country and for those who remember, there’s a lot of folklore in and around those old woods. “Progress” killed the longleaf pines. And, wiregrass, too. (Some people call it “Pineland Three-awn.”)

Like longleaf pines, wiregrass needs fire to prosper. Native Americans in the Florida Panhandle and south Georgia knew this and so did incoming settlers. They burned off the grass yearly. This helped the forest by clearing out all the understory clutter of brush that choked pines and pine seedlings. The grass, which returned soon after the burns, came up fresh and new and was succulent enough for cattle for a while before getting wiry and inedible.

In some ways, Smoky the Bear helped kill off our wiregrass and longleaf pine forests because he kept brainwashing us with the phrase “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.”

But here’s the thing: forest fires are a natural part of environmental renewal. Preventing them where they are needed harms the forest. In the 1940s, the forest service banned controlled burning and we have been paying for that mistake ever since even though the practice is now more in favor.

wiregrasscountryIn Wiregrass Country, one of my favorite folklore books about the world where I grew up, Jerrilyn McGregory writes that “Wiregrass (Aristida stricta) depends on fire ecology to germinate. Its fire ecosystem created a unique set of circumstances, tied closely to a way of life…Although it was once the most significant associate in a community of species that formed the piney woods, many human inhabitants of the region have lived and died without knowing the plant.”

I grew up with wiregrass and longleaf pines and miss them. Perhaps that’s why I’m working on another novel set in “Wiregrass Country.” Maybe talking about wiregrass and pines will remind people what we once had and will help garner support for restoration efforts.

Traditions in Wiregrass Country run deep even though they often seem out of place in an increasingly “citified” world. If you grew up there, you probably ate mullet, went to peanut festivals and rattlesnake roundups, knew well the “shape note” old-style hymns of Sacred Harp music, fished or played a rousing game of fireball and loved storytellers.

If you didn’t grow up there, you missed a lot. Same goes if you grew up there in a suburban neighborhood and never ventured out into the piney woods and small towns.

Maybe it’s time to go see what it’s all about.


KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell’s “Conjure Woman’s Cat” is a magical realism novella set in the wiregrass and piney woods country of the Florida Panhandle.



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: the Apalachicola River

Near Ft. Gadsden - U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr
Near Ft. Gadsden – U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr

The Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle is created at the Georgia border by the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers and then flows 112 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The river has been in the news in recent years as Florida, Georgia and Alabama fight over who owns the water. Atlanta takes more than its fair share, some say, starving natural areas North to South down the panhandle and, worse yet, the fragile ecosystem of Apalachicola Bay.

From the air, there are places where the river looks like a very large green snake because it twists and turns and almost coils back on itself. The ecosystems have been under stress for years. The river has been improperly dredged; the pine forests have been over logged and–when it comes to longleaf pines–poorly managed; roads to the timber have blocked natural water flows through swamps and other wetlands. The rare Florida Panther can no longer be found in the river’s watershed.

The Apalachicola River was the western boundary of my childhood, for we camped along its banks and on the barrier islands protecting the bay, sailed from its mouth to and from Alligator Point and the St. Marks River to the east, drove or walked every forest service road from Tallahassee to Tate’s Hell Forest (near the mouth of the river at Carrabelle), and experienced one of the most unique ecosystems in the country.

The Apalachicola Riverkeeper says that the river’s basin is home to 127 very rare plant and animal species along with more reptiles and amphibians than any other place in the in the northern hemisphere. The river is not only a resource many habitats, but also for kayakers, fishermen, paddle boaters, swimmers, photographers and–in the bay–a very large fishing industry.

Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests
Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests – Geoff Gallico on Flickr

I’ve always been rather jealous of those who knew every plant in the swamp and forest as well as those who knew how to chart river flows, analyze soil and restore forest lands. The Nature Conservancy is at work in this area, trying to undo many years of damage while protecting lands from more “development.” Since I’m not a scientist or a naturalist, I try to focus on natural resources in my fiction. It’s my way of drawing attention to the environment.

Lately, I’ve been at work on a novella set in a fictional town a few miles from the Apalachicola River in Liberty County, the Florida county with the lowest population. In many ways it’s like going home to look at these areas again and put them into stories. I recently finished reading a political thriller novel called Mercedes Wore Black (which I review here.) The main character is an environmental reporter, making the book a very strong window framing Florida’s ongoing developers vs. the environment battles.

The author of that book lived in Florida more recently than I have and as a long-time reporter, she could focus more clearly on the issues from a practical standpoint. I try to focus on the locations and make readers aware of the ecosystems’ value in the scheme of things without getting into many political rants.

Some of my poet friends write poems about the environment. Photographers are taking pictures of things the way they are while hoping they won’t become the way they were. I’m pleased at the number of groups, blogs, Facebook pages and initiatives that are campaigning for various ways to save the land before we ruin it all.

Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.
Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.

I’m not a political activist, though I’ve dabbled in it from time to time. My focus is fiction. Many of my readers’ focus is travel and outdoor recreation, often with a spiritual component. If you’re a writer, you can “go on location” in a dozen ways to pinpoint natural resources and the need to keep them natural.

There are times when I think that the land itself is an important “character” in my novels and stories. If the land draws you, then your pen, camera, blog and voice can help preserve it.

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Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel “The Seeker” is partially set in Tate’s Hell Forest, while his short stories “The Land Between the Rivers,” “Emily’s Stories,” “Cora’s Crossing” and “Moonlight and Ghosts” also have Florida settings.

Briefly Noted: ‘Walking away from the King’

walkingawayAs I read this book on Kindle, I cannot ignore the fact that we need more page-turners like this that speak to the values in the current debate about ecology and our changing world. Mike Penney’s novel, released in March, is both entertainment and education. And, at present, the price is right if you’re of a mind to sample the story: it’s currently free on Kindle.

From the Publisher

The time has arrived to “walk away from the king.” The change necessary to save the human species and salvage the planet from impending ecological disaster cannot come from the powers that be, who only perpetuate their own ill-fated system.

A swell of diverse grassroots movements has arisen to create a very different culture than our contemporary world controlled by corporations and plutocrats. Rather than the status quo with its patriarchal, domineering, and exploitative culture of Empire, these groups favor a truly democratic Global Community, centered on bottom-up ecological revival, gender equality, cooperative action and individual responsibility. Collectively, they have determined they must “walk away from the king,” in preparation for a Grand Transition from contemporary self-destruction to a world of resilience and sustainability.

A prominent co-partner in the struggle is an organization calling itself Gaia/Universe. Many have galvanized behind its spokesperson, Bruno Panoka. A charismatic third generation televangelist that has turned from the “Heavenly Father” to “Mother Earth,” Panoka steps over the line and enrages the powers that be when he espouses the use of psychedelic mushrooms to expand consciousness, so as to jumpstart massive cultural change, and in turn economic and political change.

The book has some great reviews on Amazon with a 4.7 overall rating.


Protecting Parks from Fracking

“From the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park in Montana, visitors can throw a stone and hit any of 16 exploratory wells and associated holding tanks, pump jacks, and machinery used to force millions of gallons of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock formations thousands of feet beneath the surface.”  – James D. Nations, Ph.D., Vice President for NPCA’s Center for Park Research

Center for Park Research
Center for Park Research

The existence of wells and the infrastructure of fracking within a stone’s throw of Glacier National Park is unacceptable. Some have said we are powerless to prevent it because those wells are within the sovereign Blackfeet Nation. To that, I ask, does sovereignty extend outside a nation’s borders?

Some years ago, the proposed Cabin Creek mine in British Columbia was stopped, in part, because it was likely to pollute rivers flowing from Canada into the U.S. The same is likely to be true of groundwater outside the immediate proximity of those wells on Blackfeet land.

James D. Nations writes in “Fracking and National Park Wildlife” that a third of the nation’s national parks are within twenty-five miles of shale basins. This means that a great number of wildlife habitats are potentially at risk. These risks come primarily in the areas of habitat fragmentation, water quality and quantity, and noise and air pollution.

There’s an old fashioned Libertarian principle that may finally be taken seriously as we realize more and more that the Earth is one community. The principle is that you cannot do anything on your land that harms your neighbor or your neighbor’s land.

The dangers of fracking and other forms of pollution are not restricted to the property where the industrial development occurs. Air and water carry the negative impacts many miles away. This is not acceptable.

While we may not be  able to quickly wean ourselves away from older coal fired power plants where no alternatives are quickly available, fracking is relatively new. The complete nature of its threats and risks are not yet known. We don’t need it any more than we need new coal fired power plants.

We need, I think, to look not only at the threats to Glacier and other national parks, but to the places where we live and work. If we take life seriously, we can no longer permit one company or one nation or one developer to do as he wishes on the land he owns or leases when his actions affect people, habitats and wildlife many miles away.

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Montana’s Uncommon Critters Posters

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has four great posters featuring the burrowing owl, paddlefish, cutthroat trout, and coeur d’alene salamander. As you can see from the salamander art shown here, artist Peter Grosshauer uses vivid colors to bring these critters alive for your PC’s wallpaper or as illustrations for your next nature talk or hike.

You can find these posters ready for download on the Glacier Park Fund’s “Just for Kids” page. (I hope it’s legal for adults to enjoy these posters as well.)

You May Also Like: Good Nature Stories Make Good Earth Stewards posted yesterday on Magic Moments.

Coming June 22: An interview with author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, who will be talking about her new novel The Storyteller’s Bracelet.

Coming Soon: Author Melinda Clayton will stop by to talk about her new novel Entangled Thorns.


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