Sunday, April 29, 2012

Alligator Lilies in the dark and mysterious Blackwater Swamp

I was running along the dirt roads that pass through the dark and mysterious Blackwater Swamp this morning. For ten miles I didn't see a single human or car. I could hear lots of strange noises coming from the swamp. Noises I don't normally hear in my high and dry scrub. Tall, mossy trees hung over the road and fat snakes whipped into the vegetation.

Eveything cheered up though when I came across a large patch of alligator lilies. Hymenocallis palmeri is a swamp lily that is relatively common, especially in the southern areas of Florida.

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Olivia Brophie Art Contest!


Artwork Contest! - Win a $25 Barnes & Noble card and a personalized, signed-copy of Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus!
Draw, sketch, color, pastel, paint or even sculpt your favorite character from Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. Use your imagination and artistic talents to show me what you think Squirt looks like. Or a viscious giant tardigrade. Or suspicious yet loyal Cheeto. Or maybe even Olivia's younger brother Gnat. It is up to you!

Once your artwork is complete, you can scan it or take a good picture of it, then send it to me at my email address:
Or, if you are unable to send it in email, let me know and I will send you my address so you can mail it to me.

Make sure I have your first name, your age, and an email address to contact you. Don't forget to put the name of the character on it too!

Deadline is July 15, 2012

On July 15th, I will select the pictures that best represent the characters that I saw in my mind when I wrote the book.  I am looking for the artwork that best captures the spirit of the character.

I will then post the pictures on this page for readers to vote for their favorite. On August 1, 2012,  the winner will receive a $25 Barnes & Noble giftcard and a personalized, signed copy of Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus.

All contest entrants must agree to allow me to post their artwork on this website. I will never use any last names, just your first name and age.

If you have any questions, please email me and ask.

Let your inner artist shine!

Click here to see the Contest Page

Florida Black Bear in the Scrub

While running along my Florida scrub trail this morning, I came upon this cute little guy. Perhaps he is the bear that left a perfect track last week. Look at it here. What more could I ask for than a beautiful early morning run in the scrub and a great bear sighting?

Black Bear doing what bears do best, looking for food

Here he is in the classic black bear pose.

Finally he notices me. Seconds later, he was huffing it down the trail and out of sight. You can see a little bit of the white "V" on his chest.

These pictures were taken with the crummy camera I take when running. For some much better shots, check out these cubs we caught napping in the pine tree next to our house.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ant Lions

When I was a young boy, I was borderline obsessed with finding an ant lion. I had a worn-out insect guide with drawings instead of photographs. Pages were missing. I had taped the binding with yellowing masking tape. I even drew my own version of an ichneumon fly on the back page, next to the ruler that bordered the inside cover, presumeably to measure your finds. I had pretty much mastered the limited amount of knowledge contained in the book.

Only the ant lion managed to elude my understanding. The book had a magnified illustration of an ant lion of course, and I thought it looked awesome. Huge sabre-like mouth. No discernable eyes. Voracious killers that set traps for hapless ants. However, the text only briefly mentioned the pits that they dig. How would I ever find an ant lion of my own? I didn't know what to look for.  Remember that this is pre-internet...I trudged 10 miles on my bike to pour over all five of the public library's books on insects. No luck. I had no idea what to look for. I had no idea how big they were either.

As many youthful obsessions, my need for ant lion satisfaction probably lasted all of one week. I gave up.

Well, this is for you young Chris. The Florida scrub is pock-marked with countless ant lion pits!

Ant lion  pits underneath the shade of a shiny blueberry bush

Four ant lions in a row

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Beetle Pollinators

This is the best time of year to find beetle pollinators, and there is no better place to find them than the Florida scrub.

The nopale cactus are in full bloom. This one has a Trichiotinus beetle on the left. Notice its hind-end looks just like a wasp face.

Further down the trail, I found this paw paw tree (Asimina reticulata)

Notice the young fruit already starting to grow

Best of all was this Strangalia melanura beetle.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Scrub Paw Paw (Asimina obovata)

It is paw paw season in central Florida. Scrub paw paw (Asimina obovata) is our most common species. Paw paws are pollinated by beetles not bees. If you look inside the blooms, you can find some pretty cool stuff, including the zebra swallowtail caterpillars who eat the leaves.

Asimina obovata

This little beetle fell out of the flower in the picture above. I think it is some kind of Strangalia beetle, but I'm not too sure. If you have any idea what kind it is, please let me know.

To learn more about paw paws and the animals that use them, please see my article The Inner Lantern.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

WGCU Public Radio reviews Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus

Here is the full transcript, but I prefer to listen to Linda Fasulo's audio recording of the broadcast. Her mellifluous voice conveys a lot of meaning that the text only hints at. Thank you Linda!

The other night, a 30-something year old contestant on the game show Jeopardy admitted to being particularly fond of reading teen fiction. When asked why, she replied that there is a sense of innocence and wonder in these books that cannot be found in adult novels. It was an interesting comment. And having just finished today's featured novel titled Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus by first-time novelist Christopher Tozier, her statement is one with which I fully concur.

In Tozier's novel, premier book in his planned Olivia Brophie series for children ages 8 through 14, readers are introduced to 10 year old Olivia Brophie.  Olivia lives in Wisconsin with her dad and video-game-obsessed younger brother Nathan, or "Gnat" spelled G-N-A-T to Olivia's way of thinking. Her mother is a soldier fighting in Iraq and other than missing her mom, life in Wisconsin has been pretty good for Olivia Brophie. That is, until a package arrived and changed everything. Now, she and Gnat have been sent to live in the Florida scrub with a crazy Aunt and Uncle she didn't know she had. Coral snakes keep leaving her presents. At night, tree frogs write eerie messages in cursive on her window. And bears follow her home from school each day. At least they keep the bullies from bugging her like they had when she first arrived. Yet what Olivia doesn't know but will soon discover, is that bears aren't the only scary things following her home from school. And that far worse things lie in wait in the Florida scrub.

Frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. The book is written in an easy style, simple to follow, easily relatable to its target age-group. The storyline itself is purely magic. And the sense of wonder created by some of its unique characters is truly magic in itself. Take Squirt for example, but then you will have to read the book to figure out who or what he or she really is.

Yet, there is far more to this novel than first meets the eye. Tozier has carefully crafted his prose to illustrate to teens and pre-teens the importance of persevering in the face of adversity and of standing firm in their belief in themselves and in the sure knowledge of their own self-worth. The importance of failure is also explored. By adulthood, most of us have learned that failure is only a beginning, its never an end, but rather the first step on the road to incredible and amazing possibilities. Just ask Olivia Brophie.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Florida Pennyroyal (Piloblephis rigida)

Florida Pennyroyal is a low-growning mint that grows in the Florida scrub. It is pretty common out here, mostly flowering in the late-winter, I found this one today with a few remaining blooms. It seems like the individual plant only lives a couple of years. It is relatively common, but only lives on pennisula Florida. I have heard you can make a good tea from the dried leaves, but I haven't tried it. Hmmmmm....sounds like I need to run a little experiment.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Florida Scrub Running Trail

A beautiful morning for a run in the Florida scrub!

My scrub trail about two miles in

Shiny Blueberry bush in the middle of the trail (Vaccinium myrsinites) This will make a great trail snack in a few weeks!

Closeup of (Vaccinium myrsinites)

I'm not the only one out here. There are tracks everywhere.

A Narceus millipede track - You can see each individual footprint

A competitor for the blueberries, a small bear track.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fetterbush with red blooms

Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida) doesn't always have pale pink flowers. Here is one with red flowers on the trail through the sand pine scrub. To learn more about this beautiful scrub flower and other lyonias, please see my essay "Heaths, Lyonias"

Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad (1925) by Edward Hirsh

Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant;

This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands.

But the man behind the easel is relentless.
He is as brutal as sunlight, and believes
The house must have done something horrible
To the people who once lived here

Because now it is so desperately empty,
It must have done something to the sky
Because the sky, too, is utterly vacant
And devoid of meaning. There are no

Trees or shrubs anywhere--the house
Must have done something against the earth.
All that is present is a single pair of tracks
Straightening into the distance. No trains pass.

Now the stranger returns to this place daily
Until the house begins to suspect
That the man, too, is desolate, desolate
And even ashamed. Soon the house starts

To stare frankly at the man. And somehow
The empty white canvas slowly takes on
The expression of someone who is unnerved,
Someone holding his breath underwater.

And then one day the man simply disappears.
He is a last afternoon shadow moving
Across the tracks, making its way
Through the vast, darkening fields.

This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression,

The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.

Edward Hopper and the House by the Railroad (1925)  by Edward Hirsh

Friday, April 6, 2012

Reading at Flagler College

I will be reading at Flagler college April 12 at 5PM.  FLARE: The Flagler Review, the literary magazine of Flagler College, will mark the publication of its Spring issue with a reading and celebration at the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum on Thursday, April 12 at 5:00. Please stop by the Museum to help us celebrate FLARE and to learn more about Flagler College’s vibrant literary scene. Liz Robbins, Jim Wilson, Dimitri McCloghry, and Athena Sasso will also be reading. For more information, please write

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spring wildflower fields in Florida

Although phlox drummondii isn't technically a native wildflower in Florida, it might as well be. It has naturalized so beautifully in fallow fields and roadsides. This field of phlox and tickseed is one of my favorite spring spots. I love this time of year!