Book Report: Read Spring Creek Chronicles

Spring Creek Chronicles v2

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself drawn to people and things that are genuine. I don’t know if that’s a natural part of aging or a just a product of hard times, but either way it has changed the way I look at the world and a lot of the people in it. I’ve learned wealth is a poor measure of character. And I’ve come to appreciate characters for whom experience is the measure of their wealth.

That’s been on my mind a lot over the past three or four years, but it really hit home for me recently as I read Leo Lovel’s book, Spring Creek Chronicles. Leo is a commercial fisherman and owner of Spring Creek Restaurant in that small Wakulla County village. He’s as genuine as they come.

Spring Creek offers some of the most beautiful scenery there is on Florida's Gulf Coast.

Spring Creek offers some of the most beautiful scenery there is on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

My brother, Bill, who knows Leo and who lives only a couple hundred yards from his restaurant, told me about the book several years ago. Since then, I’ve seen it from time to time and read snippets of it. A couple of months ago, a friend asked my help in getting an autographed edition. In turn, I asked Bill to approach Leo.

As luck would have it, Bill and I ran into Leo (at a seafood store) the last time I was down there and he generously signed a copy for me. I eagerly read it from cover to cover in a couple of nights.

The book is mostly a compilation of stories from Leo’s years spent in the woods and on the water, making his life and his living in nature.  Leo is a great storyteller and the book is illustrated simply but beautifully by his son, Clay. So it makes for an entertaining read from start to finish.

Literary purists might not like his informal style and imperfect grammar. In fact, Leo’s son, Ben, edited the book and said in an interview that the hardest part was balancing authentic Florida vernacular with overall readability. However, I have a feeling that Leo doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about what critics might think anyway. In fact, what makes this book a significant piece of Florida literature is that it’s written without the pretense and political correctness that waters down other books about the Sunshine State. It’s as if Cross Creek had been written not by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, but by her cracker neighbors instead.

From the get-go, you understand that Leo is an unrepentant hunter and fisherman, who views nature’s bounty as just that – a renewable resource that can and should be harvested for the benefit of man. Through his eyes, Florida’s net ban wasn’t a boon for the mullet population. Instead it was an assault on a way of life that had sustained generations of hardworking people since time immemorial.

I realized as I was reading that it was far too easy for recreational fisherman like me to enjoy the benefits of that ban, while overlooking the devastation it caused for the small-time commercial operators.

This isn't abstract art. It's a satellite view of the maze of oyster bars, islands and flats that fisherman have to know to get in and around Spring Creek.

This isn’t abstract art. It’s a satellite view of the maze of oyster bars, islands and flats that fisherman have to know to get in and around Spring Creek.

Leo’s book is also unique in that it focuses on an area of the state that is often ignored. Here, I’ll admit to some regional prejudice: The lion’s share of Florida literature is focused on the peninsula. But Leo does an outstanding job of describing Spring Creek’s freshwater boils, oyster bars, brackish creeks and sawgrass that rival anything you’ll see in the Everglades. He talks about encounters with gators, sharks, bald eagles and other species that make their home there.

My favorite parts of the book describe the excitement and urgency of striking a mullet net around schools of fish or reeling up grouper from reefs offshore.

Leo also introduces readers to some of the salty characters who are as much a part of the ecosystem as the wildlife. And he talks openly about some times when he actively defied the law and evaded the officers who were trying to enforce it.

When Florida banned gill nets, it forced a fiercely independent group of working men and women into new lines of work if they were lucky -- and into poverty if they weren't.

When Florida banned gill nets, it forced a fiercely independent group of working men and women into new lines of work if they were lucky — and into poverty if they weren’t.

As I said, this isn’t your generic, chamber-of-commerce tourism pamphlet. It’s a gritty, raw and unapologetic Florida story. It’s real. And it’s well worth reading.

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If you’d like a copy of Spring Creek Chronicles, or Leo’s new Spring Creek Chronicles II, visit the Spring Creek Restaurant at its physical location or on the web at www.springcreekfl.com.

Copies are also available at select bookstores or online at Amazon.com.

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