This is a book recommended to me by a business associate. (Book recommendations sometimes come from unexpected places.) It’s the story of three generations of a family in Florida from the Civil War years to 1968. It may resonate more fully with lifetime residents of Florida, or those who have at least spent most of their lives here. (I’m a “recent” transplant, since I’ve only been here 12 years. I was originally from Tennessee, which makes me practically a Yankee.)
But it’s my guess that anyone from anywhere would love this book. Especially when you consider that the author, Patrick D. Smith, was nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize and once for the Nobel Prize in literature. Those nominations are not made lightly, and there has to be a broader appeal than what a local or regional work could provide.
What keeps you glued to your seat is wondering what disaster the family will face next. And there are many. Many if not most of them are weather-related, but there are also cattle rustlers and various other kinds of bandits.
The original patriarch, Tobias,is struggling terribly, until he meets with a small band (three individuals) of Seminoles. He is kind to them, and in gratitude, they send him a marshtackie. A small, nimble horse able to negotiate around trees and slog through marshes. Tobias already has a horse, but it can only run in a straight line, and will actually run right into trees.
Tobias becomes a “cracker”, short for whipcracker. They use whips to control and drive cattle, and also to kill small game, like rabbits, for food. Whips also come in handy for control of villains.
The disasters they face are too numerous to count, but there is one that completely resonates with me. Tobias eventually accumulates a sizable herd, and is driving them west to market, even though he doesn’t really know where he’s going. It’s during a drought, but one night, a blinding rainstorm takes place. They resume driving the cattle the next morning, and in the distance, they see a black cloud coming toward them from the land, not from the sky. The rain had animated all the dormant mosquito larvae, so what they had was a giant black cloud of mosquitos (the unofficial State Bird of Florida).
They had nowhere to run. The mosquitos killed 72 of their cattle by clogging up their mouths and nostrils so they couldn’t breathe. The description is quite vivid. The cow’s eyes were bugging out when they couldn’t breathe.
If this seems like something from a fantasy novel. it isn’t. As I know firsthand from a visit Fakesister and I took to the Everglades (what’s left of them, anyway). We attempted to go down a trail. I regret we didn’t see much of it, because it was fascinating. The creek was literally a brilliant red-orange from the tannins from all the tree leaves that had fallen into it.
As Fakesister put it, we were protected from mosquitos by all the power modern chemistry could provide, in the form of repellents, and it wasn’t enough. It was kind of like a riot, or a Rolling Stones concert, where the pressure of the people (mosquitos) behind those in the back propels the people (mosquitos) in front of them forward. We had to flee, and by flee, I mean, we ran. I think I coughed up mosquitos for a week. Then I understood why they sold hats with mosquito netting draping down to the shoulders in the gift shop.
For more about Patrick D. Smith: http://patricksmithonline.com/index.html