It was over 100 degrees when I took this yesterday. The railings on the boardwalk overlooking the marshy fringe of Lake Jackson burned my arms as I leaned to capture this photo of dead trees and scorched grass lining the shimmering lake. This lake disappears every twenty years or so, leaving a scarred grassland in its place on the north side of Tallahassee, but Florida’s most powerful Mississippian chiefdom was based on its shores 500 years ago and this rich ecosystem continues to shape the region. Florida’s prosaic landscapes, far away from its charismatic beaches and springs, have both delighted and baffled humans for thousands of years. It’s difficult to know what to make of scenes like this, but for me they are just home.

On the Edge of the Ocean: Florida and Sea Level Rise

As the Florida legislature takes up sea level rise, I keep hearing voices from the past resonate over the conversation.  This passage, from Willis Blatchley’s A Nature Wooing at Ormond By The Sea (1902), highlights one northern visitor’s awareness of the state’s precarious seat on the edge of the ocean almost 120 years ago.

This isn’t a secret, of course. You could find thousands of similar quotes and passages in Florida history. But it can be easy to forget when just about every reporter writing a story about sea level rise in Florida pretends that seawater washing over the peninsula is a new problem instead of an ancient trend.

To be sure, sea level rise is a new problem. Understanding that Florida is built from the ocean, however, that it was seafloor not so long ago, and that it is a vast watery expanse even at the best of times, can help us adapt intelligently.

Screenshot from 2019-03-21 23-14-53


Camera Roll: Lake Talquin, Quincy, Tallahassee

Today’s perambulations took me from the shores of Lake Talquin, where the wind bringing in the next layer of December cloud cover whipped the water to a hard chop–which is the only way I’ve ever seen Lake Talquin, to be honest–to the crisp winter understory of the Lake Talquin State Forest, where the pines are awaiting the distant spring in silent resignation. State Road 267 then carried me north to Quincy, where the clouds ruined my original plan (I’ll be back another day) but cleared enough for me to grab a few shots of a beautifully-restored Gulf Station on the Old Spanish Trail, US 90. A couple shots in Tallahassee caught my eye in the late afternoon and evening.

Sketch Book: Abandoned House in Cape Sable

Today’s notebook entry is based on this photo of an abandoned house in Cape Sable hosted at Florida Memory. If you’ve never visited Florida Memory, it’s a wonderful resource full of photographs, documents, audio, video, maps, and other gems from the Florida Archive. It’s a bottomless source of inspiration for me as a historian, artist, and information geek.

Based on a 1925 photo in Florida Archives.

Brief Visions of New York

Sorry, I’ve been neglecting this in favor of Instagram–bad me! Here are a group of photos from my trip to New York City over the long weekend. I’m working on an essay about the trip and have some film to develop as well. This was my first excursion using the Sony RX-100, and I have to say it: I LOVE this camera!

While we’re on the subject of instagram, I would be extremely grateful if you had a look at my page there @cbcrens. If you like what you see there, please follow. I’ll most likely follow you back.

St. Johns Meditation

Source: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St._Johns_River_in_Downtown_Jacksonville_with_John_T._Alsop_Jr._Bridge_-_panoramio.jpg

This is not my photo. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, my mind turns homeward, back to Jacksonville, and I find myself looking at pictures of the river I love. I look out over this river and I see my own history running through the current.

Sometimes memories of my dad’s fishing buddies flow in ripples and eddies on the far shore. One of the waves washes a brief but rich memory over me of riding in the back of a pickup truck, one interminable summer Saturday afternoon, beer cans rolling around the bed, hair tousled and burnt by wind and sun. Over and through countless bridges and marshes we rode to the mouth of the river, where I rolled with languid Atlantic waves on the ocean side of the jetty listening to them talk about work.

Dad’s friend asks me to manage the fishing pole while he walks down the beach for awhile, and I take the rod from him with gravity, eager to stand in the surf with purpose. I feel a tug on the line. A joyous weight pulls against the end of the line and I know the fish is hooked. I let out a little yelp as I reel the fish in from the surf, turn by turn, until I see a silver flash just beneath the roiling surface a few feet away. I did not know then that I would remember that little Whiting 25 years later, so I simply took the fish off of the hook and put her back in the water as I had been taught. Some people say it’s not right to catch a fish and throw it back. I don’t have an answer for them all these years later. This is how I was taught, over and over again, right here on this river.

Later that night I felt the waves in my body as I fell asleep on the couch, the warm tones of a PBS documentary and the struggling air conditioner laying down a pattern of white noise that was suitably oceanic in its own way—a way that continues to whisper home in my ear whenever I stop to listen.