Endangered: a Sunday Short

I was inspired some time ago by all the recently published YA novels in the fantasy fiction genre. My last student that I worked with got me into the teen fantasy-romance, particularly following sagas of adapted folklore surrounding shifters, werewolves, and other lycanthropes. I normally wouldn’t have chosen to explore this genre at all, except I’ve been noticing the rise in its popularity among tweens, teens, and young adults. There’s not much in this world that could please me more than watching teen students willingly pick out fiction literature and actually enjoy it.

So with my newfound inspiration, I decided to explore the shifter/werewolf fantasy element, albeit with a twist. So without further adieu, here’s a recent flash piece I’ve been playing with, taking place in my beautiful Florida. This short definitely feels like the beginning of something bigger, so I’ll be brainstorming where to go with Mia’s story in the future.

In the meantime, enjoy, and be sure to click the links at the bottom of this post to explore the ever mystifying Florida panther, as well as the rich culture and history of the Seminole tribes of Florida.

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This was her favorite part. If there was something in the world Mia Thompson could love more than David Bowie’s music, she had yet to find it. Cranking up the volume on Moonage Daydream Mia sped her Jeep onto SR 29 North, toward home. She had just finished a particularly straining shift at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge where she’d managed to land her part-time dream job, and she was anxious to get home. Mia had been floored when she was told she’d been granted her employment shortly after summer vacation had started. But today was a daunting day, and the thought of a warm shower and pajamas had its appeal.

Belting out the last of the lyrics, Mia began her routine of formulating her thesis of what would eventually become her entrance essay into the Biology department at the University of Miami. She hoped to present the research she’d been participating in at the Refuge: the growing pockets of small populations of endangered species native and unique to Florida. Using her data, she hoped to persuade a halt on agricultural and commercial development throughout the unprotected northern reaches of the Everglades she knew and loved so much. The land of her family. Her people, her mother would correct her.

Smiling to herself at the thought of her mother and what she’d surely be cooking up for dinner, Mia let herself relax and enjoy her familiar surroundings. State Road 29 was a country road and mostly straight traveling, leading south toward Ave Maria, Alligator Alley, and her lovely Refuge and the Fakahatchee Strand, with occasional bends along the way. Travel about an hour southwest, and she’d hit Naples and Marco Island. North brought her to LaBelle, and Miami was only a two hour drive southeast.

Soon the wetlands started giving way to drier land, offering up sand pines, saw palmettos, sawgrass, scrub oak and the occasional live oak draped in Spanish moss. The road started the last of its bends here, where the air was growing still and humid. Mia breathed it in; she loved this place. And she was going to save it.

Halfway through Changes, Mia turned her headlights on, cursing the longer than usual shift. Should’ve called in, she thought. She hated driving this last stretch of road into Immokalee in the dark. She sped up, shifting to fifth, hoping a little more speed would get her home sooner.

As she rounded another curve, she spotted a creamy blur dart across the road and into the brush, heading east. Into the gathering shadows. Slowing down enough to see the spot where the thing ran, Mia looked for a place to turn around. Using an old gravel trail as a drive, she reversed and headed back to where she remembered seeing what she could have sworn was a panther. She’d been waiting and watching these areas her whole life practically, and she wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip by. Especially since the elusive cats tended to stay within the bounds of the refuge. She had never heard of panther sightings this far north, but this area was virtually uninhabited by humans, so the possibility that it truly was a panther was quite high.

Pulling off to the shoulder, Mia parked the Jeep and cranked up the emergency brake. Flashlight and cell phone in hand, she headed toward the edge of the pine and oak and alligator grass. The flashlight’s beam only illuminated a small portion of what looked like a deer trail, though Mia wasn’t sure. She’d be late for dinner, but she very much wanted to see if she could spot the big cat. So she took a steadying breath and stepped onto the scrubby trail.

[Featured image, Florida panther, courtesy of FloridaPanther.comRead about this endangered species here.]

[Read about the Seminole Reservation in Immokalee,the history, and culture.]

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Bee-friendly gardens w/ FL native plants

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In light of the tragedy of the 37 million bees found dead in Canada, I wanted to include a little blurb (late though I am) about planting bee-friendly gardens that are composed of FL native plants/flowers.

Keep in mind that bees are going to be attracted to brightly colored flowers that have petals that splay open, exposing pollen and nectar that these insects thrive on. So a good tip as far as flowers are concerned, have a variety of brightly colored blossoms that produce decent amounts of pollen.

Remember that bees are very important to the care-taking of the agricultural industry as well as being the means that most plants/flowers are able to be seeded and spread. Bees also make honey–duh–and in order to prevent harm and to keep the bees hanging around, please, by all means, NO pesticides. Not only do they get into some veggies and herbs (this is why you thoroughly rinse any veggies/fruits/herbs you purchase from the supermarket that aren’t organic), pesticides can be the nemesis of some very garden-friendly and beneficial insects that are those ”good guys” in keeping the true pests at bay alongside maintaining the health of the garden.

A great article provided by Mother Earth News on organic pest control

**Again, bees will be/are great for helping your herbs and fruit/veggies! There are a number of FL native flowers that are also beneficial for companion planting with many fruits and veggies, as well as herbs.**

Five great FL natives to include in your garden/landscaping plans to attract more native bees:

  • Azaleas (Rhododendron genus) such as common, pinxter, and FL flame azaleas, attract butterflies, birds, and bees. These are FL natives(with the exception of some common rhododendron species) and offer a variety of colored blossoms, depending on which species are planted. These plants are perennials.
  • The FL blanket flower/Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia varietiesis a common native found in wildflower patches and in gardens alike. The daisy-shaped flower is perfect for landing bees and they love this flower’s nectar and pollen. This is also a perennial with some species natives, and some not. These little flowers are very hardy, perfect for growing in virtually all regions of FL, from north-central, all the way down to the FL Keys.
  • Milkweed/Butterfly weed (Asclepias spp.) is another beauty that will attract the bees as well as butterflies. Some species are non-natives, but this is another hardy plant that can be grown from north to south FL. Another perennial with flowers perfect for landing bees.
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is not only a FL native completely, it also has medicinal value as well. A great addition to any FL friendly garden, this blossom will attract a variety of wildlife including native bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and other species of birds as well. This is also a native perennial and hardy in virtually all FL regions.
  • Swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) and beach sunflowers (Helianthus debilis) are both FL natives and perennials. These attract a multitude of species, including birds, butterflies, and bees and are super easy to grow. These spreading flowers are hardy in all FL regions.

I just wanted to include some of my favorite FL native bee-friendly flowers that can be incorporated in your own FL garden. Remember that most flowers that attract butterflies will also attract bees. FL native plants will most of the time be the only source of food for FL native bees, but the native bees may sometimes feed on exotics as well.

Some related blogs that I found useful:

Central Florida Gardener

NE Florida’s Native Bees

FL Native Plant Society

Our Native Bees — a word about this blog, it’s not about FL at all, but there’s some great information regarding bee keeping, attracting native bees to your garden, etc., which follow the same principles for attracting and maintaining a FL native landscape for FL native bees.

Some awesome FL resources for bee friendly landscaping/gardening, info on wildflowers and FL natives, etc.:

FL Friendly Landscaping

UFL’s FL Natives and Landscaping Guides (PDF)

Sarasota Sustainability: FL Native Bee Information (PDF)

Michelle Patterson, St. Lucie Master Gardener (PDF)

Bees of Florida