Fragmentation: An Attitude or a Choice?


Henry Carrigan


Back in the late 1960s, the juggernaut of commercial development—which cannot let any sleeping land lie—threatened to destroy some of Florida’s most pristine natural areas. The lazy St. Mary’s River, the tranquil St. John’s River—flowing from Jacksonville into the Gulf of Mexico—and the towering pin oaks and squat scrub pines and cabbage palms of the Osceola and Ocala National Forests lay smack dab in the center of the sights of bulldozers from the Walt Disney Company. In a first step to expand its empire of theme parks and feel-good family attractions, Disney altered the flow of the St. John’s and destroyed acre after acre of forest and river lands to build Walt Disney World. Despite the protests of several of us environmental activists, the land of the Mouse opened in 1972. I vowed then never to darken the gates of Disney World or its relatives, and I’m proud to say that neither my family nor I have ever visited the park nor have any desire to do so.

Disney’s incursion into and destruction of the delicate web of life in north Florida is simply one of the most recent examples of the assault on Florida’s beleaguered beaches, swamps, rivers, and estuaries. When the great hurricane of 1928 turned Lake Okeechobee into an angry, roiling ocean and killed 2,000 people (an event Zora Neale Hurston dramatically captures in Their Eyes Were Watching God), the Army Corps of Engineers built a dike around the lake and a system of canals that diverted water from the Everglades. Twenty years later, the fragile Everglades ecosystem had suffered irreparable damage that was exacerbated by the failed attempt to build a jetport at the northern edge of the ‘Glades in the late 60s. Dredge and fill operations in the 70s destroyed the intercoastal waterway from the Palm Beaches to Miami, and one glance at any of Carl Hiassen’s hilarious mystery novels reveals the extent to which Biscayne Bay in Miami is now little more than a stinking sewage pond.

Fortunately for us, a handful of passionate activists have been writing and fighting for Florida since the nineteenth century. At the turn of the century, Guy Bradley, one of Florida’s first environmentalists, fought poachers from Fort Myers to Palm Beach in an effort to save Florida’s snowy egret population. After three valiant years of enforcing unpopular laws on the Florida frontier, Bradley found himself on the wrong end of a gun. Stuart B. McIver narrates Bradley’s poignant tale in a fascinating biography, Death in the Everglades: The Murder of guy Bradley, America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism. In 1947, Marjory Stoneman Douglas published her lyrical tribute to her beloved great swamp in The Everglades: River of Grass. The Thoreau of the Everglades, Douglas lyrically captured the lasting beauty of the swamp as she lived on its edge among the alligators and skunk cabbage.

And now Janisse Ray joins this exalted rank of naturalists and environmentalists in a marvelous paean to the swampy parcel of land that bridges the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia to the Osceola National Forest in north Florida. In Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land (Chelsea Green; $9.60), Ray introduces us to the people involved in saving Pinhook as well as to the numerous creatures who call it home. Along the way, she uses Pinhook as a symbol of our separation from nature and our willingness to destroy the natural world in order to protect ourselves from the terrors of the wild that we cannot control. Like Thoreau at Walden, Muir at Yosemite and Douglas at the Everglades, Ray conducts us into the beauty and solitude of Pinhook and the varied lives of its denizens, from black bears and red wolves to the fetterbush and gallberry plants. Ray’s lively tale pulls us into the sadness of the swamp’s destruction by loggers in the twentieth century and the elation at the swamp’s restoration to wholeness in the reforestation of acres of logged land.

Pinhook is a pocosin, “a tract of low swamp, usually wooded, a shrubby bog or a swamp on a hill” that is “170,000 acres of dreary dismal. It is a giant piece of ground too deep for a human to wade in, too shallow for a boat to draw.” As Ray points out, most people would take a few steps into Pinhook, sink down into the boggy peat, and beat a hasty retreat. To those who would run from the pocosin, Pinhook seems little more than a place to be forgotten and covered over. Yet, as Ray reminds us, Pinhook is home to river otters, bobcats, minks, weasels, gray foxes, sandhill cranes, and swallow-tailed kites. The rich diversity of Pinhook cries out for preservation.

Until the 1990s various special interest groups had so divided Pinhook that species that required large tracts of land began to dwindle. The fragmentation of Pinhook into discrete parcels created “edge” populations of plants and animals that were even more threatened by factors such as predation, parasitism and death by poachers and glory-shooters. In addition, “populations of species tolerant of edges and of habitat disturbance displace less common, less tolerant species.” Thus, red-bellied woodpeckers have colonized the territory that the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker might once have populated.

Ray reverently marvels at Pinhook’s inscrutable silence. The pocosin recalls, she observes, “the time before silence, before roads, before the modern age. It remembers what fires left behind, what storms left behind, what loggers left behind. It remembers the tambourines of leaves.”

Our own separation from nature makes it difficult to integrate the natural world in our daily experience. Can we imagine what life would be like without Pinhook? Would we be poorer if Pinhook and all its rich ecological diversity ceased to exist? What difference does it make to us that the last red wolf was heard near Pinhook Swamp around 1915? Ray urges us to recognize how impoverished we become when places like Pinhook cease to exist. “So many of us are estranged from the land. We find its processes strange. We are afraid that nature equals death, and it does, but the other, more necessary truth is that nature means life. For you, my beloved human, what does it mean to your life that the Pinhook has been saved, and that now we have preserved a state of wildness more than 750,000 acres in size, straddling two states? Could it mean that your life is enhanced? As are your children’s? Could it mean your great-grandchildren may hear a red wolf calling or a panther cry?”

Although much of the fragmentation of Pinhook has been reversed through the efforts of environmentalists like Ray and others, there is more to be done. Ray’s vision is to purchase what’s left of Pinhook Swamp—“so far 120,000 acres of 170,600 acres have been purchased in Pinhook Corridor”—and “fill it as Noah filled the Ark, with creatures of the southeastern coastal plains, limpkins and bald eagles and Florida panthers and southeastern shrews and pinewoods tree frogs and big brown bats.”

Ambitious and unwavering, Ray is a visionary who embraces our true nature as part of the sometimes savage, sometimes life-giving natural world. Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land takes us into a world at once wondrous and strange and calls for us to once again relish that world’s silence and its rich diversity. More than anything, Pinhook calls out to us to be part of that world and to resist the fragmentation that is so often our response to nature. 

Henry Carrigan dreamed of being a rock ‘n roll star with a life of coast-to-coast tours and wild parties with Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell among others. But books intervened, and instead he went to Emory University to major in Religion and Literature. Later, teaching humanities in college, he took up writing about books—this time to avoid reading students’ papers. Henry soon became Library Journal's religion columnist, then religion book editor for Publishers Weekly. While working as editor-in-chief for Northwestern University Press and editing classic books for Paraclete Press, he still continues to write for LJ and PW, as well as the Washington Post Book World, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Charlotte Observer, ForeWord magazine—and now, BiblioBuffet. And he still enjoys playing his guitar. Henry can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  

Contact Us || Site Map || || Article Search || © 2006 - 2012 BiblioBuffet