Fifteen years ago the Florida Studies Program at the USF St. Petersburg asked me to develop a course called “Rivers of Florida.” With giddy early optimism, we fantasized about paddling every river from the Perdido east of Pensacola to the Everglades River of Grass. By the second semester, I narrowed the class’s focus to the four rivers that flow out of the Green Swamp (the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, a fragment of the Ocklawaha and the Peace). Later iterations narrowed our subject still further, following the Hillsborough River from its headwaters in the swamp and across Tampa Bay. But even that course proved to broad.
Besides something felt false. I started taking students to the closest navigable stream to our campus, Salt Creek. This fragmented and mostly culverted was historically estuarine, connecting Bayboro Harbor (off our campus) with the inland “Salt Lake,” or what is now Lake Maggiore. Follow Salt Creek still further and its course will lead you almost into Clam Bayou, then to Gulfport, on the southwestern shores of the Pinellas Peninsula.
The students and I set up a website, Friends of Salt Creek [www.friendsofsaltcreek.org], and later on a book, Salt Creek Journal. The teacher in me loved how an urbanized creek tossed aside the clichés of nature writing. Many of Florida’s rivers remain beautifully and scenic, though I could not stand reading another breathy reflection about “untouched” nature and “the beauty that once was Florida.” Salt Creek forced us to rethink how we write about nature, starting from everyday Nature.
When Salt Creek Journal came out a few years back, I felt as if we had reached the headwaters of a project that went back to 2004. Copies of the book are still sitting in my office, and if you’d like one, send me an email.