I have known John Spohrer since the late 1980’s, when he was introduced to me as one of the locals who lived year-round on St. George Island. I often rented houses with friends for weekends on the island back in those wacky 80’s and 90’s and he was always a welcome addition to whatever revelry would breakout in our kitchen, on our deck or on the beach.
Michael Harrell is a local artist, brought to WFSU-TV’s attention by one of our viewers. Michael paints in both oils and watercolors and among his nautical themes are depictions of the oystermen of Florida and South Carolina. This video looks at that series of paintings. The thing that I found so beautiful about his work is his ability to capture a sense of time with his portrayal of light. You can find additional information about the artist at MichaelHarrellArt.com.
Our local oystermen, as you see in this video, typically harvest subtidal oyster reefs like those in the Apalachicola Bay. Michael Harrell also shows South Carolina oystermen harvesting intertidal reefs like those covered in this blog (i.e. Alligator Harbor). The South Carolina sites of the biogeographic oyster study are sampled by Jeb Byers’ group.
A few weeks ago we posted a video of a blue crab molting, and about the blue crab reproductive cycle. The man narrating the video was Leo Lovel. That video was an offshoot of a segment for WFSU-TV’s dimensions program, which we present here. As a commercial fisherman and restauranteur, many of the species he makes his living off of are residents of Salt Marsh and Oyster Reef habitats.
Clay (L) and Leo (R) Lovel outside of their business, the Spring Creek Restaurant.
I heard about Leo Lovel from Rick Ott, a friend of mine who owns a recording studio in Sopchoppy, FL. Rick was working on a project to record Leo’s books, The Spring Creek Chronicles 1 & 2, to audio files for books on tape or CD. Rick thought I might be interested in Leo’s short stories about his fishing and hunting experiences around the big bend, dating back to his childhood, so he gave me a copy of the first book. I read some of the stories and then arranged to meet Leo to talk about the books. At that meeting is where he told me about his idea to publish the All Florida Reader. Now, Leo’s day job is owner of a restaurant called Spring Creek Restaurant. It’s a family run business and the Lovel’s have cultivated a very loyal following throughout the southeast over the past 30+ years. They either catch the seafood themselves or they buy it fresh, only from local fishermen. It’s a pretty time consuming way to stock a seafood restaurant menu, but it’s the only way Leo Lovel will serve you a meal.
Back in the 90’s, Leo was also a commercial fisherman who was on the front line of the Florida net ban battle. Although it doesn’t seem like such a long time ago, that era is quietly passing into Florida’s history as those old-timers pass on. And that’s the unusual value I found in the stories that Leo took the time to put down on paper… these are first hand personal accounts of a specific area and people over a long period of time. But Leo took his book project a step further. He turned it into a tool in his personal attempt to help motivate local school kids to “want” to learn to read and write. That’s the All Florida Reader and I think that speaks volumes about Leo Lovel.
Leo's marina at Spring Creek Restaurant. Into here will drift boats carrying what will become dishes in the restaurant.
Here are two more poems by Dawn Evans Radford. In her first post, she depicted the day of an oysterman. Here we have a limerick about the oysters themselves, and a more serious piece on our relationship with our natural surroundings.
Dawn Evans Radford
Down in the bay lived a plump little oyster
whose hormone changes eventually forced her
to fly into a tizzy.
Cried she, I get dizzy
trying to decide if I’m a girl or a boyster.
In Yesterday’s post, Tanya Rogers wrote about an old-timer oysterman in Jacksonville whose local knowledge aided David Kimbro and his team in locating reefs to study. In today’s post, we take a poetic look at the life of an oysterman.
This is the first post by Dawn Evans Radford, a resident of Franklin County with deep roots in the area. She is a published writer of poetry, literary research, and fiction; her novel Oyster Flats won the 1993 Sherwood Anderson Award. Most recently she contributed to Unspoiled, a compilation in which Florida writers speak for the preservation of Florida’s wild coast and against offshore drilling. She is currently writing a second novel and, happily, contributing posts to this site.
We have some photos from the event, and you can see the turnout was good. The SAIL Bluegrass Ensemble played in the garden. It never ceases to amaze me how many young people in Tallahassee not only get into bluegrass but put on a good show. Inside, there were some artful cards made by LeMoyne students that could be obtained by donating, and which were intended to be sent to legislators so that people could express their concerns over offshore drilling in Florida. And then of course there was the art. Allison Jackson’s oil paintings were featured in our previous post. They depict scenes along the Forgotten Coast, or scenes featuring animals of the Forgotten Coast. Patrick Lane had some mixed media pieces, some of which are featured in the slideshow below. Their artwork will be sold and the proceeds split between LeMoyne Center for Visual Arts and two organizations, both of whom were present on Friday.
The show opening tonight at the LeMoyne Center for Visual Arts has a topic close to our hearts. It’s called “Thicker than Water: an Exhibit of Community Concern,” and it features works by two artists concerned about human impact on Gulf ecosystems. The proceeds from tonight will be split three was between the art center, Crude Awakening Tallahassee and the Florida Wild Mammal Association, and the Wild Mammal Association will have some statistics on the current crisis. The artists are Patrick Lane and Allison Jackson. Allison’s paintings are featured in the slideshow above. One painting is titled St. Joseph Bay, which is of course where we are following Dr. Randall Hughes and her biodiversity in salt marsh ecology study. The first painting of the slideshow features something that’s been a common sight the last couple of months in the bay, horseshoe crabs coupling.
The Panhandle has been my home for most of my life and the older I get, the more fun I have looking at – and photographing – it in an “up close and personal” manner.
There is great fun in “really seeing” something for the first time and being surprised by just how beautiful it is.
The slideshow above was photographed by Beth at Alligator Point, not too far from where David Kimbro is studying oyster reefs, and many of the photos are of salt marshes, such as those studied by Randall Hughes. So I knew when I saw them that they would be a great fit for this site.
You may know Beth Switzer as Executive Director and on camera personality at The Florida Channel, and before that on WFSU-TV. I was surprised, after years of watching and occasionally working with her, to discover that she liked to photograph nature. What’s not surprising is that she has forged a connection with the natural splendor of our area. Those of us working in broadcasting in the panhandle end up seeing a lot of the area, and meeting a lot of the people. It’s impossible to work in TV here and not love it here.
We’re two months into “In the Grass, On the Reef,” and so far the winds have been kind to Randall and David’s sites in St. Joseph Bay an Alligator Harbor. When Deepwater Horizon exploded, we stepped up production on the project thinking that oil would arrive at any moment, and that we should get as much footage as we could before it hit. Now, the more I go to these places, the less I think about oil while I’m there. I hear about it on the radio as I’m driving to and from the shoots, but then I’m walking in water, planting my tripod in mud to get a steady shot of a periwinkle climbing a blade of cordgrass, or trying to see through my lens a stone crab that looks only slightly different than the oysters surrounding it. In those moments, it just doesn’t feel like it will happen. I know it will most likely happen, but it never feels like it will.
One of the pleasant developments of doing this has been having artist features like the one above. So far we have had photographers and musicians, and we are talking to some writers as well. We want to hear from artists in any medium who depict or are inspired by the coastal habitats of the Forgotten Coast. Photographers, painters, musicians, writers: share your art with us! You can e-mail us at email@example.com.
And, as always, comments and questions are welcome.
Today we feature a song by Hot Tamale, “Crystal Gulf Waters.” In lamenting what we may lose if oil inundates our coast, Craig Reeder and Adrian Fogelin evoke some of the areas in which we are interested on this blog. And while the song tackles a heavy topic, it does manage to end on a hopeful note. The video was created by Craig:
The following is a short essay by Craig where he explains a little about why he was compelled to write “Crystal Gulf Waters”.
Craig Reeder Singer/ Songwriter
When the oil spill occurred, I wanted to write a song that would give voice to the feelings and emotions of everyone affected. And even though the song is about the Gulf of Mexico, it took me back to memories of sailing Biscayne Bay when I was a teenager in a tiny little boat. The water was so crystalline, I could see every plant and creature on the bottom, and I’ll always remember the beauty of the gently swaying grasses growing by the edge of the salt marshes. As the waves rolled by, they swayed with an almost musical rhythm, a rhythm I still feel in my dreams and memories.
Now we are all learning how critical those salt marshes are to the entire ecology of the Gulf, and it is sad to think how the damage will spread from one ecological niche to another, eventually affecting nearly all the life of the Gulf, including not only the creatures like oysters, pelicans and crabs, but extending also to the human beings that depend on the fishing industry, people who are likewise a piece of the fabric of the Gulf. When I think back to visiting places along the Gulf like Alligator Harbor and St. Joe Bay, places of pristine nature and crystal clear water, I feel like we are now saying a farewell to all these scenes as we once knew them.
I thought people’s feelings of helplessness needed someplace to go, and I know music is a powerful, cathartic vehicle. The melody came to me quickly, probably an echo of early folk songs from people like Woody Guthrie and Stan Rogers, songs that delivered simple human emotions and socially conscious messages. When the first draft was complete, I turned it over to my singing partner, Adrian Fogelin, who happens to be an award-winning author, and she completely transformed the song by bringing it home on a soaring note of optimism for the future. That’s the kind of hope we all need now.
If you are a musician living in our general area and you’re interested in having us use your music on our video posts, or any kind of artist with works inspired by Florida Gulf environments interested in sharing with us, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To submit materials (like CDs), you can write to:
Rob Diaz de Villegas
1600 Red Barber Plaza
Tallahassee, FL 32310
And, as always, we encourage your comments or questions:
John Spohrer is author of Forgotten Coast, which collects years of photos taken in habitats along the stretch of Florida’s Gulf coast from which the book derives its name. We wanted to talk with him to get a different perspective on the ecosystems with which we’re most concerned: those in the grass and on the reef. John, who is also a Master Naturalist, talked to us about how he photographs the smaller critters on our coasts (like fiddler crabs) and why it’s important to have wild places in Florida.
larval shrimp, such as this one photographed by John Spohrer, often reside in salt marshes
This is the first of what we hope will be many conversations with artists inspired by the richness of our coast. There are many talented people taking photographs, writing essays, painting landscapes, and writing songs about these ecosystems and reminding us why we love these places.
The music in this piece was provided by the Mayhaws. The song is “When I’m Dead,” an environmental ballad. We will as much as possible feature music from local musicians, look for a musicians page on this site soon.
We want to hear from you! We welcome any musicians, photographers, or other artists who work in salt marshes, oyster reefs, or in the Forgotten Coast in general to share your work with us. Add your question or comment below: