Eden on the Apalachicola

Ever since the Expulsion man has searched for the Garden of Eden, and we shouldn’t find it at all surprising to know that among the many who claim to have found it, one was a bespectacled, God-fearing lawyer from Weogufka, Alabama, who declared in 1956 that “the Garden was in the Apalachicola Valley of West Florida.”

Elvy Edison Callaway was a man of deep faith who fell under the influence of a Dr. Brown Landone. Among the many books Landone wrote offering advice to ordinary mortals is Prophecies of Melchizedek in the Great Pyramid and the Seven Temples. Callaway describes his meeting with Landone as a “calling,” and promptly abandoned his family.

While surveying his Panhandle land with a tax assessor–with no doubt a divorce looming–Callaway found the inspiration for his mission from Melchizedek: the rare Torreya yew tree, which Callaway, through the teachings of Dr. Landone and his mysterious “Teleois Key”, declared to be the source of “gofer wood” from which Noah built the Ark.

After that revelation, everything fell in place. Abandoning his once ardent faith in Christianity, Callaway, through “teleology”, fused what he knew of evolutionary theory and Scripture and decided that “because all informed geologists admit that it is the oldest land mass on earth”, God created Adam about a mile outside Bristol, Florida. He then created the Garden of Eden along the Apalachicola River there and filled it with citruses, magnolias, hydrangeas, mountain laurel and of course the majestic gopher yew (one of the few trees in North America considered “critically endangered”).

E.E. Callaway’s Garden of Eden is protected today as part of The Nature Conservancy’s Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve. Accessible via Garden of Eden Road, the preserve has a Garden of Eden Trail leading through the site. The scenery is spectacular; clear, bubbling streams flow through the bottoms of the steep ravines, which support rare plants and animals, some found nowhere else in the world. Callaway’s southern Eden might not be the original–who are we, or who is anyone for that matter to say so–but it’s still a little bit of paradise in this fallen world; God knows we need more of them.

Old Rain

Every childhood has a Radley house, a Boo around the corner opening our eyes to a world that doesn’t appear or work the way we thought it does or will.

Old Rain spooked my little world. Some said he was a freakish child abandoned by a troupe of carnies, others said he was a lost baby Bigfoot come south. When he wasn’t brooding in a boarded-up house in Pittsboro, he haunted the woods and hollows feeding the creeks and streams that make the Skuna River.

I don’t know why we called him Old Rain, but what else is the Skuna or any other river for that matter except rain that’s found its way from hills to the bottoms and over-wintered in owl-haunted sloughs, distilled and aged, steeped in the character of the land–an inspiration of earth itself?

We lose imaginary monsters under the baggage of adulthood, so I tucked Old Rain away after finding far more frightening things than furtive whisperings on lonely pathways.

Now I believe he was a faunus of the little river bottoms and low wooded hills that my Chickasaw ancestors knew and loved. They would call him a poboli, one of the hidden people of the woods; my Welsh ancestors would call him a woodwose, both beings living vestiges of the vital, spirit of the old forests which were themselves a manifestation of divinity on earth.

Now Old Rain in mind and memory is my companion in those places I cherish most: bright spring hills, close summer woods, and frosty winter fields. Hold close to your Boos, and make of them your own magic.

Faun Whistling to a Blackbird (1875), Arnold Böcklin

Parakeets in the Pines

In flight, a jewel, in flocks, a mandala, Carolina parakeets provided fleeting, noisy spectacles in the rain forest that was the virgin South.

It was a beautiful little bird; brilliant green, with a yellow head, and a line of red around the face. The wings were edged in orange. Audubon kept one as a pet; Wilson found them in Natchez in 1811, but records are spotty. Chances are they were never that numerous.

Their diet of green fruit doomed them, and they were easily exterminated; when one bird fell to a gun, others descended around it. Inevitably, gunfire resumed, and they were slaughtered.

Carolina parakeets died out in the early 20th century. The last known wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918.

This bird, Incas, died within a year of his mate, Lady Jane. In a case of what has been termed tragic irony, Incas died in the same aviary enclosure where the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died four years earlier.

By 1939, the Carolina parakeet had been declared extinct by most authorities. Some believed a few may have been smuggled out of the country and repopulated elsewhere, but that’s the same wishful thinking that buoys up news of ivory-bills.

And in some places, unicorns.

Days of the Dog

At the height of our summer, the winter constellations begin to be seen in the eastern dusk. Among the brightest of these is Orion, and close on the heels of this great hunter is his big dog, Canis Major, with brilliant Sirius, the Dog Star.

When we can find Sirius in the darkening east, which at this latitude (Jackson is 32.2988° N) is between July 21 and August 3, our dog days begin, and for the next forty days or so, it’s hot as hell all the damn time.

Even before you get up in the morning.

Nature Guides for Mississippians

Mississippi stretches from the foothills of the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico, and her western border, her namesake, is one of the greatest rivers in the world. The state provides both residents and visitors with a wide range of natural environments: shady alluvial swamps, sunny beaches and barrier islands, rolling wooded hills, spacious piney woods and open prairies, all the home of a rich spectrum of living creatures. While this selection of materials does not claim to be definitive, it was created by Mary Stripling, who is uniquely qualified to make such a list of guides to identifying plants and animals in Mississippi.

Mary is now enjoying retirement, but as the librarian at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson from 1978-2010, she interacted with biologists in every realm of nature. Mary has been an avid birder and leader in the Jackson Audubon Society since the mid 1980’s, and has traveled extensively on birding ecotourism trips to destinations like New Zealand, Kenya, the Amazon and Central America, as well as to birding hot spots in North America. In each case she has used a field guide appropriate for each area. She has also utilized most of the other guides on the list while pursuing butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, freshwater mussels, insects, etc. and by helping museum guests identify all the various critters they find in the field or their backyards.

“Over the years there has been an explosion of nature field guides for North America, the eastern United States, Mississippi and surrounding states,” Mary says. “I’ve consulted with the biologists and botanists at the museum regarding the most accurate guides for each discipline. Some books included in the list are not field guide size such as Sibley’s Tree Guide, Fishes of Inland Mississippi and Birds of Mississippi, but all serious naturalists should study guides at home; you should be prepared to know what you might encounter before going into your own backyard.”

Mary includes asterisks by the titles most necessary for a Mississippi nature library. “These books will give you the most bang for your buck; for the most part the list is of selected general field guides, is not inclusive and does not include specialty guides such as guides for tiger beetles, wasps, warblers, hummingbirds, hawks, etc. I’ve included a few animal sound CDs for learning bird and frog songs and two are unique to Mississippi (the Mississippi bird and frog songs recorded by Bill Turcotte).” Mary was responsible for updating the original Mississippi bird and frog cassettes to CDs and revising the accompanying booklets. “No attempt has been made to include mobile digital apps for plant and animal identification, even though in the past few years apps have made a huge impact on nature watching. They are wonderful devices to take to the field especially for compactness, ease of use and for accessing sounds.”

But, she adds, “It is always great to curl up in your easy chair and enjoy a good read with your favorite field guide to get ready for your next outing.”

For a fuller appreciation of our state’s natural environments and their denizens, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson offers an absorbing collection of informative displays as well as exhibits of living plants and animals. As a center for research and support, the Museum helps to preserve and protect the swamps, the barrier islands, piney woods, prairies and living things that Mississippi calls her own.

VENOMOUS ANIMALS AND POISONOUS PLANTS

Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F.
Timber Press; 1991

A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants, North America, North of Mexico
Foster, Steven; Caras, Roger A.; National Audubon Society; National Wildlife Federation, and Roger Tory
Peterson Institute.
Houghton Mifflin; 1994 (Peterson field guide series).

*Poisonous Plants and Venomous Animals of Alabama and Adjoining States
Gibbons, Whit; Haynes, Robert; and Thomas, Joab L.
University of Alabama Press; 1990

Poisonous Plants of the Southeastern United States
Everest, John W.; Powe, Thomas A., and Freeman, John Daniel.
University of Florida, Florida Cooperative Extension Services, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; 1996

*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet]
Terry L. Vandeventer
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)

BIRDS

Birds and Birding on the Mississippi Coast
Toups, Judith A.; Jackson, Jerome A., and King, Dalton Shourds
University Press of Mississippi; 1987; 303 p.

*Birds of Mississippi
William H. Turcotte and David L. Watts
University Press of Mississippi, 1999

*A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 6th ed.
Roger Tory Peterson & Virginia Marie Peterson
Houghton Mifflin, 2010.  (Peterson Field Guide Series)

Guide to Birding Coastal Mississippi and Adjacent Counties
Toups, Judith A.; Bird, Jerry L., and Peterson, Stacy Jon.
Stackpole Books; 2004; 168 p.

Mississippi Bird Watching: A Year-Round Guide
Thompson, Bill.
Cool Springs Press; 2004; 165 p.

*National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
Dunn, Jon L. and Jonathan Alderfer.
National Geographic; 6th Rev Updated edition, 2011;  576 pages.

*Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
Lee Peterson and Roger Tory Peterson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2008

*The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
David Allen Sibley
Knopf, 2003

*The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd ed.
David Allen Sibley
Knopf; 2014

BIRD SOUNDS

*Backyard Bird Song [CD]
Richard K. Walton and R. W. Lawson
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1991

*Birding by Ear: A Guide to Bird-Song Identification – Eastern and Central North America [CD]
R. K. Walton and R. W. Lawson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin Co, 1989

Prothonotory warbler (photo by Bill Stripling)
Prothonotory warbler (photo by Bill Stripling)

Mississippi Bird Songs [CD]
William H. Turcotte
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1985, 2008

TREES

A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada
Petrides, George A.; Wehr, Janet, and Petrides, George A.
Houghton Mifflin; 1988;  272 p.

Identification of Southeastern Trees in Winter
Preston, Richard Joseph
North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service; 1976; 113 p.

Mississippi Trees
Hodges, John D.; Evans, David L.; Garnett, Linda W., and Mississippi Forestry Commission.
Mississippi Forestry Commission; [200-?].(This book is free and updated every few years.)

Native Trees for Urban Landscapes in the Gulf South
Brzuszek, Robert F.
Crosby Arboretum; 1993; 11 p.

*Native Trees of the Southeast : an identification guide
Kirkman, L. Katherine; Brown, Claud L., and Leopold, Donald Joseph.
Timber Press; 2007; 370 p.

*The Sibley Guide to Trees
Sibley, David.
Knopf, 2009; 426p

*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana
Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters.
Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002

*Trees of the Southeastern U. S.
Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan
University of Georgia  Press, 1988. Reprinted, 1992.

Trees of Mississippi : and other woody plants
Dukes, George H. and Stribling, Bob.
Poplar Petal Pub; [1997?]

WILDFLOWERS, MUSHROOMS, FERNS AND OTHER PLANTS

Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America
Turner, Nancy J. and Szczawinski, Adam F.
Timber Press; 1991; 311 p.

*A Field Guide to Southern Mushrooms
Nancy S. Weber and A. H. Smith
University of Michigan, 1985

An Illustrated Guide to Tidal Marsh Plants of Mississippi and Adjacent States
Lionel Eleuterius
Pelican Press, 1990

Louisiana Ferns and Fern Allies  (out of print)
John W. Thieret
University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1980

*Louisiana Wildflower Guide
Charles Allen, Ken Wilson, Harry Winters
Allen Native Ventures, 2011

A Mississippi Woodland Fern Portfolio
George H. Dukes, Jr.
Poplar Petal Publishers, 2002

Mushrooms of Mississippi: and Other Fungi and Protists
George H. Dukes, Jr.
Poplar Petal Publishers, 2000

*Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of the Southeast : Landscaping Uses and Identification
Leonard E. Foote and Samuel B. Jones
Timber Press, 1989

*Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Louisiana
Charles M. Allen, Dawn Allen Newman, and Harry H. Winters.
Allen’s Native Ventures, 2002

Southeastern Flora
www.southeasternflora.com
A superior, searchable website done by John Gwaltney, Southeastern Flora is an online resource to assist you in identifying native or naturalized wildflowers you may find in the southeastern United States.  Currently there are over 1,980 species listed on this site and over 41,400 pictures to help you identify what you’re looking for.  You can easily identify trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous plants without knowing how to read a plant identification key. Simply define a few traits about your specimen, and the visual photo search results will help you narrow your selection to the exact species. Note the Plant Picks List, which is a valuable aid.

*Wildflowers of Mississippi
S. Lee Timme
University Press of Mississippi, 1989

Wildflowers of the Natchez Trace
S. Lee Timme and Cale C. Timme
University Press of Mississippi, 2000

REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS

The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana
Dundee, Harold A. and Rossman, Douglas A.
Louisiana State University Press; 1989; 300 p.

*A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America
Roger Conant and Joseph T. Collins
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*A Guide to Mississippi Frog Songs, [CD]
William H. Turcotte
MS Depart of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, 1988

Mississippi Herpetology
Ren Lohoefener
MS State University Research Center, 1983 (Out of Print)

*Salamanders of the United States and Canada
Petranka, James W.
Smithsonian Institution Press; 1998, 587 p.

*Snakes of eastern North America
Ernst, Carl H. and Barbour, Roger William.
George Mason University Press; 1989; 282 p.

Snakes of North America: Eastern and Central Regions
Alan Tennant and R. D. Bartlett
Gulf Publishing Company, 2000

*Snakes of the Southeast
Whit Gibbons and Mick Dorcas
University of Georgia Press, 2005

*Turtles of the United States and Canada
Ernst, Carl H. and Lovich, Jeffrey E. 2nd ed.
Johns Hopkins University Press; 2009; 827 p.

*Venomous Snakes of Mississippi, [pamphlet]
Terry L. Vandeventer
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, 1994 (free)

FISH

*A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes : North America North of Mexico. 2nd ed.
Brooks M. Burr, John Sherrod, Lawrence Page, E. Beckham, Justin Sipiorski, Joseph Tomelleri
(Peterson Field Guide)  Houghton Mifflin, 2011

*Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and Adjacent Waters
H. Dickson Hoese and Richard H. Moore
Texas A&M University Press, 1998

*Inland Fishes of Mississippi
Stephen T. Ross
University Press of Mississippi, 2001

MAMMALS

A Field Guide to Mammals of North America
Fiona A. Reid
(Peterson Field Guide) Houghton Mifflin, 4th ed., 2006

Black bears
Black bears

*Handbook of Mammals of the South-Central States
Jerry R. Choate, J. Knox Jones, Jr., and Clyde Jones
Louisiana State University Press, 1994

Mammal Tracks and Sign: A Guide to North American Species
Mark Elbroch
Stackpole Books, 2003

The Marine Mammals of the Gulf of Mexico
Bernd Wursig, Thomas A. Jefferson and David J. Schmidly
Texas A & M University Press, 2000

Mississippi Land Mammals: Distribution, Identification, Ecological Notes
James L. Wolfe
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Game and Fish Commission, 1971 (free)

*The Wild Mammals of Missouri
C. W. Schwartz and Elizabeth R. Schwartz
University of Missouri Press, 2001

INVERTEBRATES (divided into categories)

»Beetles

*Beetles of Eastern North America
Arthur Evans
Princeton University Press, 2014

»Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies and Moths. 2nd ed.
Carter, David J. and Greenaway, Frank.
(Smithsonian handbooks series) New York: Dorling Kindersley; 2002; 304p.

*Butterflies and Moths : a guide to the more common American species
Mitchell, Robert T.; Zim, Herbert Spencer; Latimer, Jonathan P., and Nolting, Karen Stray.
Rev. and updated ed.
St. Martin’s Press; 2002; 160 p.

*Butterflies of Mississippi: a field checklist
Mather, Bryant and Dingus, Eve.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science; 1994. (free)

Butterflies of the East Coast : an observer’s guide
Cech, Rick  and Tudor, Guy.
Princeton University Press; 2005; 345 p.

Butterflies Through Binoculars
Jeffery Glassberg
Oxford University Press, 1993

*Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History
David Wagner
(Princeton Field Guide series) Princeton University Press, 2005

The Common Names of North American Butterflies
Miller, Jacqueline Y.
Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press; 1992; 177 p.

*A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies
Paul Opler, Vichai Malikul, Roger Tory Peterson
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America
David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 2012

*Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America
Amy Bartlett Wright
(Peterson First Guides) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

»Dragonfiles And Damselflies
Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East
Dennis Paulson
(Princeton Field Guide Series) Princeton University Press, 2012

*Dragonflies Through Binoculars: A Field and Finding Guide to Dragonflies of North America
Sidney W. Dunkle
Oxford University Press, 2000

Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies
Blair Nikula and Jackie Sones
Little, Brown and Company, 2002

»Insects
*A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico
Richard White, Richard White, Donald Borror, Donald Borror.
(Peterson Field Guide Series) Houghton Mifflin, 1998

*National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders
Milne and Milne
Knopf, 1980, 1996 992p.

*National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America
Arthur V. Evans
Chanticleer Press, 2007, 496p.

»Spiders
Common Spiders of North America
Richard A. Bradley
University of California Press, 2012

*A Guide to Spiders and Their Kin
Herbert W. Levi, Lorna R. Levi, Nicholas Strekalovsky.
Golden Guides from St. Martin’s Press, 2001