Thank you, Chris, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog today. It’s a real pleasure to have an opportunity to meet some of your followers!
When I was five years old, there were two things I loved more than anything else in the world—reading and wildlife.
My love of reading led to a profound desire to become a writer, but that was thwarted early on by well-meaning (but possibly misguided) parents who thought it a foolish career path. Had I been a child of a more recent era, I might have rebelled, but in the 40s and early 50s, that behavior wasn’t quite so common.
Happily, my love of wildlife was allowed to run amuck, and has played an important role in my life, in one form or another, ever since. From being a volunteer at the Florida Audubon Society and the Central Florida Zoo, to hiking, canoeing, and birdwatching my way across much of Florida, I indulged in a love affair with nature that continues to this day. And I managed to amass a lot of information about critters and habitats everywhere I went.
Some things, I picked up from herpetologists and ornithologists who were friends of mine, and others from first-hand experiences on various rivers, creeks, and woods, both here in Florida, and in the stunningly beautiful North Carolina mountains.
All of these tidbits got stashed in my overcrowded little brain, just waiting on opportune moments to be shared with others, whether they were as excited about this kind of thing as I was or not. I guess I figured it was fascinating to me and therefore, it ought to be equally fascinating to others. So, by golly, I shared. A lot. From the mating habits of the American alligator to the rarest and most secretive wading birds in the state, I spread the word. Purple gallinules, alligators compared to crocodiles, coral snake mimics, limpkins, rails, coots—what have you—I did my best to observe it, understand it, and share it.
When I decided I was not going to shuffle off this mortal coil without having authored at least one book, I wrote Wake-Robin Ridge, and filled it with lots of scenic descriptions of one of my favorite natural places in the world, the aforementioned North Carolina mountains. Amazing rolling vistas, towering waterfalls, blazing autumn scenery, and miles of wooded wilderness—everything about the mountains I loved most showed up in the book. Of course, I threw in some romance, some Appalachian legends, and a whole lot of creeping kudzu, too, just to round things out a bit.
When Wake-Robin Ridge started selling and garnering some good reviews, I decided I’d write a second book. This one would definitely focus on Florida, and the many things I’d learned about our wildlife over the years. And of course, I’d throw in a love story, a few eccentric locals, and a serial killer, just to keep it interesting for those not looking for a travelogue.
The result was Swamp Ghosts, Book 1 of my Riverbend series. At last, I could share my love of things like blackwater creeks, hungry alligators, ibis, brown water snakes, and wood storks with a larger audience than ever. I even incorporated a few events that actually happened to me, like the day a turtle fell out of a tree and into my canoe, landing with a crack like a gunshot. Yep, there are turtles who climb trees. Not very tall trees, you understand, but they can get up there eight or ten feet above the water.
I also got to indulge my love of albino and leucistic reptiles, and to explain some of the differences between them. I’ll give you a hint. Both are gloriously white creatures, but they are not the same thing, nor is their rare coloration caused by the same condition.
Most of all, though, I tried to paint a beautiful picture of the scenic St. Johns River, as viewed from a canoe or boat, including the wildlife spotted along the shore, or swimming off the bow. I wanted readers to “see” exactly what I’ve been enjoying for many, many years, right down to the yellow spatterdock blooms floating on the dark, tannic acid stained waterways. There is a primeval beauty to the Florida rivers and lakes, unlike anything else in the world. And don’t even get me started on how I feel about the Everglades or Corkscrew Swamp, two more of the most interesting and beautiful places I’ve visited over the years.
If you are ever in this area, and able to paddle a canoe, you should treat yourself to an afternoon on the St. Johns River. It’s one of the best ways in the world to view animals and birds up close and personal, allowing you to slip through the water in nearly total silence. Talk about terrific photo ops!
If a canoe is not for you, there are many eco tour opportunities on the river, as well, and some of them are truly excellent ways to spend a few hours, relaxing in comfort while someone else does the work. Usually the tour operators are quite knowledgeable about both the natural aspects of the river and its history. I can point you to the best of the best, and you’ll have a chance to see what the real Florida is about, away from all the hustle and bustle.
In short, when life is wearing you down, Nature is there—a refuge from day-to-day stress, and the single most restorative thing you can do for yourself. Forget massages and day spas. Nature is better, I promise. And usually free!
Believe me, there’s nothing like the sound of a waterfall plunging over a rocky cliff, or the midnight call of a barred owl in a Florida swamp, to soothe your soul. Unless it’s the rumbling growl of a bull alligator cruising a dark creek in search of a mate. That might soothe your soul, too, though I can pretty much guarantee it will give you a few goosebumps, as well.
The wild places and creatures of our world call me just as surely today as they did way back when I was a small child, and I answer that call as often as possible. I heartily recommend you answer it now and then, too. You’ll be surprised at how enriching and healing it can be.
About the Author
Marcia Meara lives in central Florida, just north of Orlando, with her husband of over thirty years, four big cats, and two small dachshunds. When not writing or blogging, she spends her time gardening, and enjoying the surprising amount of wildlife that manages to make a home in her suburban yard. At the age of five, Marcia declared she wanted to be an author, and is ecstatic that at age 69, she finally began pursuing that dream. Today, she’s still going strong, and plans to keep on writing until she falls face down on the keyboard, which she figures would be a pretty good way to go!