River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River

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9780820321561: River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida's St. Johns River
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First explored by naturalist William Bartram in the 1760s, the St. Johns River stretches 310 miles along Florida's east coast, making it the longest river in the state. The first "highway" through the once wild interior of Florida, the St. Johns may appear ordinary, but within its banks are some of the most fascinating natural phenomena and historic mysteries in the state. The river, no longer the commercial resource it once was, is now largely ignored by Florida's residents and visitors alike.

In the first contemporary book about this American Heritage River, Bill Belleville describes his journey down the length of the St. Johns, kayaking, boating, hiking its riverbanks, diving its springs, and exploring its underwater caves. He rediscovers the natural Florida and establishes his connection with a place once loved for its untamed beauty. Belleville involves scientists, environmentalists, fishermen, cave divers, and folk historians in his journey, soliciting their companionship and their expertise. River of Lakes weaves together the biological, cultural, anthropological, archaeological, and ecological aspects of the St. Johns, capturing the essence of its remarkable history and intrinsic value as a natural wonder.

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Review:

Less well known than the embattled Everglades, northern Florida's St. Johns River has long been subject to the same forces that have imperiled that vast wetland. "The St. Johns," writes naturalist Bill Belleville, "is surely one long and meandering palimpsest," a place that has been remade many times over as humans have sought to grow crops, raise livestock, and otherwise make the river bend to their will. With 3.5 million people now living in its broad valley, the St. Johns is coming under increased pressure to change, its dense forests cleared for shopping malls and housing developments.

The river harbors many secrets, and Belleville is only too happy to share them as he makes a case for why the river should be allowed to follow its own path. It is a place, he writes, of giant snails and nesting herons, a place of wild storms and suffocatingly hot days. And more: it is a place of rare qualities, one that deserves to be protected. The author writes approvingly of grassroots efforts to do just that. His book is a fine piece of advocacy journalism blended with memoir, as he recounts his long history kayaking and hiking the length of the St. Johns. In Belleville, the river has a gifted champion. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Bill Belleville, an award-winning environmental journalist and filmmaker, is also a veteran diver. His books include River of Lakes and Deep Cuba (both Georgia). His articles, which have appeared in such publications as Sierra Magazine, Oxford American, Islands, and Salon, have been anthologized in six other collections. Belleville lives in Sanford, Florida.

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