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This synopsis and excerpts are from P.C. Zick's NATIVE LANDS.Thank you, PC, for sharing this with us!
Native Lands is a novel rich in intrigue and history as a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be extinct, fight to save their beloved heritage. They join with others willing to sacrifice everything to save further destruction of the Everglades and St. Augustine.
Forbidden loves, deceptions, and murder threaten to destroy nature and families in a saga stretching from the 1760s to the present day.
Join Locka and Mali as they lead their tribe of Timucuans away from the Spanish near St. Augustine in 1760 and settle into a new life in the Everglades alongside the Calusa Indians. Their progeny grow up in the Everglades, attempting to keep their bloodlines pure.
By 2010, Mangrove Mike, Joey Cosmos, and Rob Zodiac live among the white people and learn that the human connection transcends the fear of extinction of their people. Barbara Evans in the Everglades and Emily Booth in St. Augustine are the glue as the different cultures combine forces to fight a conglomerate of international interests.
It’s a dangerous journey as this oddly matched group attempts to halt the destruction of the natural world they treasure. Cultural boundaries established centuries ago are erased as love and nature seek the balance lost during the battle for power and control of the last of the Florida frontier.
1760 – near St. Augustine, Florida
Locka walked from his village through the marsh, carefully stepping between the sharp reeds as he headed to the estuary. He wanted to reach the weir before the tide retreated. Perhaps he’d have caught a mullet or pompano that swam into the estuaries during high tide. Locka inhaled the heavy salt air as the humidity of late May washed over him, and the smell of decaying plants emanated from the soggy soil with every step he took.
Behind him lay his village of Seloy tucked into a grove of live oaks dripping with gray moss as the sun edged its way up from the horizon. He noticed Mali walking parallel to the marsh carrying a large basket, most likely on a mission to gather blackberries from the bushes ripe with fruit after the spring rains.
Every movement was graceful as she carried the basket on her hip just above the line of her moss skirt. More moss, entwined with small shells and pearls, hung around her neck. It swung from side to side revealing her full breasts not yet turned soft from nursing a child. Her sturdy physique, caramel-colored skin, and raven hair made her an attractive prospect for one of the young warriors who vied for the attention of this beautiful woman.
He wanted to turn away from watching her, but couldn’t. Her hair hung straight down her back. She’d wear it up in a knot to keep her neck cooler once the intense summer heat settled for a long visit. Her almond-shaped brown eyes and her ample body made him feel the risings of something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Mali’s body and carriage reminded him of his wife Suri before she gave birth to their son Olio. When Mali turned and saw him staring, he quickly turned away. Even though his wife had vanished five years earlier after a raid by the Spanish, he still ached for her. Chief Calumba often encouraged him to seek out one of the maidens, but he kept his distance. He didn’t want to feel the pain he’d experienced the day he learned Suri and Olio were missing.
Locka was a perfect specimen of a warrior with his broad, muscular shoulders and beefy chest. His eagle-like nose, chiseled jaw, and bronze skin created a stir among the maidens whenever he appeared in the village. They had all made it clear that they’d welcome the head warrior’s attention, but he ignored them, despite urgings from the chief that he should marry again. The only one who never fawned over him was Mali. She kept her distance, always polite and circumspect whenever they came into contact.
When he turned back around, he saw her nearing the blackberry bushes. He also saw a white man wearing boots and a tall metal hat walk out of the woods. Locka recognized him as one of the Spanish soldiers from the fort downriver. The soldier moved toward Mali, and when he stood in front of her, he reached for her breasts.
“Locka!” Her voice carried across the marsh to the estuary, but it only excited the soldier more as he pulled Mali toward him and pushed his leg between hers. With one hand holding her close, he used the other to rip the moss skirt from her body and reached down between her legs.
Locka was already moving, even before her screams rang across the marsh. Mali was spitting and pushing the soldier away, but he held her tight, continuing to probe her with his hands and mouth. So absorbed was he that he failed to see Locka’s approach.
Locka leaped at the man, shoving him to the ground as Mali escaped to the side. She watched as Locka rammed his spear into the man’s chest. The Spaniard died quickly, his smirk replaced by the open-mouthed shock of surprise.
Blood dripped from the spear as Locka wrenched it from the dead man’s chest. He reached down, rubbed the soldier’s blood on his hands, and smeared it on his face.
“He won’t bother you again.”
“Thank you, Locka,” she said. “I was certain he was going to kill me or take me back to the fort.”
Locka wiped the blood off his spear with his bloodstained fingers.
Their blood is the same color as mine, he thought. A chill descended over him, despite the heat of the morning air.
He looked down at the man he’d stabbed through the heart.
“Go back to the village now. I’ll take care of the body,” he told Mali as she attempted to cover herself with the moss the Spanish soldier had ripped from around her neck and from her waist. “Stay to the estuary.”
She reached to touch his arm, but Locka pulled away, turning his attention to the dead man.
“I’ll cover him at the base of the burial mound.”
“Do you scalp him like the rest before burying him?” Mali asked.
“No, and I teach my warriors not to do it either, but they are young and foolish,” Locka said. “I hate these white men who’ve taken over our land, but I respect the soul of all living things. Now go back, and tell the others to stay close to the village today.”
Mali nodded, and then headed back to Seloy.
He dragged the body by its boots to the line of trees away from the water. When he came to the base of a mound twelve feet high, he dropped the boots and began digging a shallow grave with his spear. If the animals came and dug him up, so be it. He had at least made the effort to bury him.
When he finished, Locka stood and looked east to the estuary and the river beyond. The sun was higher now, and the water was receding from the mud flats. On the opposite bank of the river, Locka could see the dunes thick with the orange sunflowers and yellow daisies of spring. Tall and spindly sea oats waved in the wind. He couldn’t see the ocean beyond because the land was so flat and the dunes were taller than his six-foot four-inch height, but he could hear the waves.
Now that the water was receding, he could go to the weir and see if he’d captured any fish in the nets. He’d also try to fill up his pouch with whelk and oysters.
Locka climbed another mound, this one made from centuries’ worth of shells thrown there by his people. His eyes took in the different landscapes. He’d missed living near the sea. The Seloy had returned from their wintering site deep in the woods to the west a few weeks ago. He pulled his thoughts from the violence of a few minutes earlier to the sights and sounds of the marsh and the ocean beyond. Balance slowly returned to his blood.
He watched as the egrets and ibis pecked in the mud for food. A lone great blue heron stood on the edge of the water, patiently waiting for a fish to appear. A pelican flew close over his head spying to see if he had any fish he was willing to sacrifice. His village lay to the west in a low-lying canopy of live oak trees weathered by the constant salt breezes. He surveyed the river immediately in front of him and let his gaze wander south to the settlement of St. Augustine.
The peace of the moment disappeared as he thought of the Spanish. They called his people Timucuans.
“We are Seloy,” Locka shouted to the wind as he tilted back his head with its tall top knot. He raised his tattooed arms and shook his fists at the fort on the riverbank.
The Spanish worked continuously to clear land to build houses and churches. They ripped trees from their roots as a black bear ripped the meat from fawn’s bones. Locka’s heart broke every time he thought of it.
2012, St. Augustine, Florida
Emily Booth watched as the sun began its descent over the marsh during an idyllic evening ritual. Daniel intruded into her reverie with the fading reds, oranges, and yellows of the grasses before her when he made his announcement. The day turned as sour as the margarita mix in the cocktail-hour drinks. Her mood changed from peaceful to dark and murky as she faced her husband. His words from only a moment earlier sunk into her brain.
“Why in the world would you ever run for the county commission?” Emily asked.
“It’s time somebody stood up for the environment in this town.” Daniel Booth turned from his wife to look at their daughter Janie and his father-in-law Jack.
Emily left unsaid what she was thinking: “Why didn’t you discuss this with me first?” She knew the answer to that question as well as she knew that she’d probably lose this battle. Daniel made his announcement during the family happy hour because he knew the others would outnumber her. Emily fumed at her own surprise; Daniel often proceeded in this manner. He went to the people with the least resistance first, and Emily knew as his wife of sixteen years, she didn’t rank high on that list.
Evenings often began on the Booth’s front porch as the sun set over the marsh grasses in front of them. The Tolomato River flowed on the other side of the rusty brown reeds now backlit by the light of the sinking sun. Unseen, but felt in the heaviness of humid salt air, lay the Atlantic Ocean which greeted the river around Porpoise Point. The Tolomato met with the Matanzas River to the south as it flowed past the riverfront of St. Augustine. Emily often imagined the native Timucuans who once lived on the land where her house sat. When she dug in the sand around the house, she often found remnants of shells. She shuddered to think that the homes here on the edge of the marsh might have been built over shell and burial mounds of the extinct people of north Florida.
Emily cherished these moments with her father, Janie, and Daniel. Her father came by on his way home from work, and many nights stayed for dinner before heading to his condo at the beach. They usually discussed the day’s events, sharing the tidbits of time spent as newspaper editor, high school student, and environmental lawyer. They laughed and planned as Emily sat and listened. She knew the details of her day running a hair salon didn’t match the observations and experiences of the others. Now Daniel ruined the peace with his pronouncement. Emily resented the intrusion as much as she hated what he intended to do. Even though she knew it was useless, she tried to enlist her father in her protest.
“Tell him, Dad, tell him what it would be like,” Emily said. “You know about those meetings and the pressure and the nastiness of politics in this town.”
Jack Dugan, editor at The St. Augustine Record for the past decade, cleared his throat.
“Emily asked you a question, Daniel,” Jack said. “I’d like to hear your answer before I say anything else. Why do you want to run?”
“I don’t like what I’m seeing and hearing. The current commission is filled with land developers and real estate moguls who approve projects without asking questions about environmental impact,” Daniel said. “Harbors and inlets and creeks are dredged and turned into marinas. Cars drive up and down the dunes of St. Johns County. All the while, our beaches are eroding, and populations of sea turtles and shorebirds are diminishing. Just look at Porpoise Point,” Daniel gestured across the marsh to the inlet. “We are doing just what south Florida did: Growth and human consumption above all else, including nature.”
“Sounds as if you’ve been practicing your campaign speeches already,” Jack said. “But knock it off, Mr. Tree Hugger. Talk to me, not your adoring choir.”
“Daniel, you can’t change things with just one vote,” Emily said. “And besides you’re a Democrat.”
“I can have my voice heard more than when I speak during public comment time at the meetings,” Daniel said. “All right, Jack. Here’s the truth. I’m tired of Julia Curry shutting me up whenever I try to protest or ask questions. ‘Speak to the subject, Mr. Booth,’ she says. She keeps getting worse, and you know it. And it’s not just me; it’s anyone with a question on her questionable decisions. She’s killing democracy in this county.”
“You’ll put me in a difficult position with the paper,” Jack said.
“Haven’t you said for the past year that you’re ready to retire to the front porch to read about the news rather than report on it?” Daniel asked his father-in-law. “You know you’re not made to sit back and relax, but I know you want to retire from what you’re doing. If you did, you could help me win a seat on the commission.”
“Honestly, Daniel, you don’t expect Dad to retire just because you’ve gotten a notion to run for the county commission,” Emily said. “Next you’ll ask me to close the shop so I can be your campaign manager.”
“It’s all right, Emily. Daniel’s right,” Jack said. “I’ve been looking for something else to do, and here it is. I’ve been in the news business far too long; I’m losing my objectivity when I see what’s happening here with the same things Daniel’s mentioned.”
“Meredith is going to run the campaign, so you don’t have to worry about that part of it, Emily,” Daniel said. “It won’t affect her job at your shop, but she’s committed to helping me win, too.”
“You talked to Meredith about this before telling me?” Emily asked, but Daniel and her father had already started strategizing. His ears were shut down to everything else that might interfere or go against what he wanted.
Emily fumed to think about Daniel and Meredith, her assistant at A Stylish Affair, keeping this from her. In addition, he’d convinced her father to retire. She knew her father and Daniel were friends and confidantes before father-in-law and son-in-law. It had been that way since the first time she brought Daniel home from college. It was bad enough that for the past sixteen years of their marriage, Daniel continually brought public attention to himself, first by representing the poor in civil rights cases, and more recently by fighting the land grabbers and developers and championing the wetlands, beaches, and sustainable living. He didn’t bring in much income as a lawyer, but he gained the respect of the street artists, the homeless, and the environmentalists in the community. Daniel received all the attention, while Emily brought in more than half the family income. Now, he’d recruited her assistant without consulting her first.
“I think it’s a great idea, Dad,” Janie, their fifteen-year-old daughter, said. “Ignore Mom. You might be able to get the beaches closed to cars if you win the election. And I can help get the students at Flagler registered to vote in this county.”
“That’s good,” Daniel said. “We need the college kids to vote, if we can get them registered as Democrats. We’ll need that in this Republican county.”
“The Flagler students are fairly conservative, but it’s worth a try,” Jack said.
“You haven’t met them yet, but two new kids—a brother and sister—just moved here, and they joined the ecology club on their first day at school,” Janie said.
“Invite them over for dinner some night this week,” Daniel said. “I think it’s important to get the youth involved.”
“I will. Peter and Lori moved here after their mother married Eric Dimsdale,” Janie said. “Do you know him?”
“I know him,” Jack said. “I hear he might be running for the commission, too, in District 3. If he follows the Dimsdale legacy, he’ll probably run as a Republican and be in cahoots with Curry in no time, if he isn’t already.”
“Maybe his new step-kids will have an influence on him,” Janie said.
Emily decided it was useless to fight all three members of her immediate family. Janie, finishing the ninth grade, took more after her father in temperament and passion. The teenage years brought a rift between the mother and daughter that separated them more each day as Emily fought to retain some sort of control over her family. The careful, methodical approach she learned to use first on her mother, and then later on her husband, failed when it came to Janie. She envied her daughter’s fearlessness. With her long and thick sandy-colored hair, Janie looked like a typical teen. But once she opened her mouth, she sounded like a grown woman. Janie’s interests separated her from kids her own age, so Emily was heartened to hear she’d made some new friends her own age.
The year before, Janie’s passion for the environment led her to volunteer with the sea turtle patrol. Daniel and Emily joined as well and participated in the early morning walks with her during nesting season. Emily walked with her husband and only child on Saturday mornings, before the sun rose, because sometimes it was the only time the three of them did something together without quibbling. Those quibbles usually saw Emily on one side and Daniel and Janie on the other.
Now as she sat on the porch listening to the discussion about Daniel’s bid for commissioner, she knew she’d eventually help. She believed in the same causes as her husband and daughter, but not with the same intensity. While Emily believed the environment needed protections, she also knew it wasn’t her passion. She failed so far to determine what that was. It certainly wasn’t styling hair and catering to the rich and pampered women of St. Augustine, even though she’d made a success of the salon. Despite Emily’s floundering sense of self, she knew she would have made a better choice as campaign manager than Meredith, whose talent lay in life’s more esoteric and ethereal matters. That type of mind had no patience for planning, plodding, and figuring. Emily felt as if a brick had been laid across her shoulders.
As the waning light turned the marsh grasses from yellow to brown, she watched the shore birds dive into the swamp waters for the last bit of the day’s morsels as the light of the fading day cast deep shadows over the marsh that lay in front of them. Then she went inside for drink refills while the conversation continued. When she returned, the discussion went on uninterrupted even when she handed fresh margaritas to the men and a soft drink to Janie.
“Daniel, there’s one thing that concerns me,” Jack said. “You’re still considered an outsider in St. Augustine. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here; you weren’t born here.”
“I thought about switching party affiliation, but that lost George Stone the election a few years ago. He lost his Democrat voters, and the Republicans were wary of him. I have to do something. This commission is rubber-stamping anything developers want. They don’t even ask questions anymore. And there are plenty of folks moving here who know it and will support my campaign.”
Emily thought about her drives with Daniel around the county. He incessantly complained about what he saw on the landscape and often exploded with frustration when all seemed hopeless. She was sympathetic when she saw bulldozers occupying the sides of U.S. 1 from the city limits of St. Augustine to the Duval County border north, which encompassed nearly twenty miles of roadway. The bulldozers stood like a platoon of King Kongs in a city of trees ready to step on everything in their path. Daniel ranted about the dangers of the rapid development to his family and anyone who’d listen. When Julia Curry, the chair of the county commission, came to the salon for her weekly styling, Emily heard the other side of the story. Julia loved to brag about her accomplishments in developing St. Johns County. Sometimes hearing both sides confused Emily, but mostly she sided with her husband.
“Now Curry wants to limit the public comment time,” Daniel said. “I meant to tell you, Jack, that your editorial chastising her for severing the ties to democracy in local government was a brilliant piece.”
“Thank you, but that doesn’t change the fact that you know absolutely nothing about running for office or about being a politician,” Jack said. “Let me think about it for a few days before I make a commitment.”
The phone rang, and Daniel went inside to answer it. Emily grabbed the opportunity to change the subject.
“Dad, I heard on the news earlier that they’re predicting an active hurricane season this year. Think we’ll feel it here?” Emily asked.
“I never say never, but we’ve been pretty lucky so far,” Jack said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t happen. NOAA usually does a good job of predicting the number of storms, but not the intensity.”
“There’s so much variability in tides and winds that anything could happen,” Janie said.
Emily looked at her daughter with a slight grin. “Where did you learn that?”
“I read, and our science class is studying climate change,” Janie said. “There’s more involved in global warming than melting glaciers.”
Daniel returned from the phone call as Emily sat there musing about her daughter and her intelligence.
“That was a friend of mine who lives in the Everglades,” Daniel said when he returned to the porch. “He wants me to connect with an environmental writer who lives down there. Something about fish dying.”
“Now you’re broadening your scope to the whole state?” Emily asked.
“It’s all connected, every bit of what they do down there is connected to us up here,” Daniel said.
“He’s right, Mom. We’re learning about the mangroves in environmental biology. The loss of mangrove trees in south Florida impacted species as far north as Georgia when they started removing whole groves near Tampa and the Everglades.”
“And don’t forget what happened to the snowy egret a century ago just because women wanted the feathers in their hats,” Daniel said. “It nearly wiped out the whole population across the state even though the hunting usually took place in the Everglades. It’s all connected, Emily.”
“I know an environmental writer down in the Everglades. She writes environmental columns for The Miami Herald. You remember Barbara Evans, don’t you, Emily?” Jack asked, but no one heard them because they were watching a tall, copper-skinned man walking toward the side door of the porch.
“Daniel, isn’t that the Zodiac fellow from the Plaza?” Emily asked quietly as the man looked around the yard before spotting the family on the porch.
“Hello, Rob. What brings you to the marsh?” Daniel asked, walking to the screen door.
“I’m sorry to bother you and your family, Daniel, but I wanted to tell you something about the work they’re doing out at the place where they’re making those canals off U.S. 1.”
“You mean Venice Village?” Daniel asked.
“Right. Some of the homeless vets have holed up there under the bridges since they’ve been kicked off the benches in the Plaza. I don’t want them to get kicked out of there, but I thought you should know something.”
“What’s the problem?” Daniel asked.
“I discovered today that they’re bulldozing shell mounds, maybe even a burial mound, to make way for the canals,” Rob said. “Jeremy—he’s one of the vets—showed me some mounds out there in the marshes, and I’m sure they contain artifacts. I know the Timucuans had a settlement near there. How can this project be allowed to continue? One of the mounds is already flattened.”
“Let me make some inquiries with the folks at the University of Florida,” Jack said. “It might be reason enough to stall. Isn’t that a Global Seas project?”
The mention of Global Seas caused Daniel’s hands to rise and ball into fists as if warming up for a boxing match. “Yes, those bastards. I’d like to see that company destroyed.”
“They’ve got their hands in too many things,” Rob said. “I’m going to contact Florida’s AIM, too. Sometimes when they get involved some action can be taken.”
“What’s AIM?” Janie asked, saving Emily from having to ask the same question.
“The American Indian Movement,” Rob said. “They’re a group of activists fighting for the rights of all Native Americans.”
“I’ve always worried that our house was built on or very near one of their mounds,” Emily said. “But I didn’t know what to do about it.”
“Not much to do once it’s been destroyed,” Rob said. “But maybe we can save at least something out there. I didn’t know the Timucuans had a settlement that far away from the estuary, but maybe flooding moved them further out.”
“Didn’t they call themselves the Seloy?” Janie asked.
“They did indeed,” Rob said. “You’ve been studying your history of the area.”
“We don’t get much in school, but I read a lot. It’s so hard to believe a whole tribe could disappear like the books say they did. It’s the same with the Calusa in the Everglades.”
Rob smiled. “We need to sit down and have a long talk about it one day, Janie.”
“Are you noticing anything else out there?” Daniel said.
“That’s the other thing I wanted to tell you. The fish in the canals used to be plentiful, but now the guys either can’t catch anything or dead fish float to the surface. I’ve asked Jeremy to make sure they don’t eat those dead fish out of hunger. He told me they haven’t caught a live fish in more than a month. Something’s not right out there, Daniel.”
About the Author
P.C. Zick began her writing career in 1998 as a journalist. She's won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction. She describes herself as a "storyteller" no matter the genre.
She was born in Michigan and moved to Florida in 1980. Even though she now resides in western Pennsylvania with her husband Robert, she finds the stories of Florida and its people and environment a rich base for her storytelling platform. Florida's quirky and abundant wildlife—both human and animal—supply her fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable.
She writes two blogs, P.C. Zick and Living Lightly. She has published three nonfiction books and six novels.
Her writing contains the elements most dear to her heart, ranging from love to the environment. In her novels, she advances the cause for wildlife conservation and energy conservation. She believes in living lightly upon this earth with love, laughter, and passion.
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