Florida Native Rhythms Festival

Last weekend, we took a little trip down to Melbourne, Florida for the Eighth Annual Native Rhythms Festival sponsored by the Indian River Flute Circle and Native Heritage Gathering, Inc. It was set in Wickham Park, a lovely little wooded park in the midst of an enchanted forest, or so it seemed with the trills of the flutists wafting along on the breezes.

There was something magical about hearing Native Americans playing their tunes that most learned from their forefathers, legendary music passed down through generations, while wandering between the ancient live oaks that flanked the tall pine forest. It set me back in time.

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While we were there we browsed the vendors and came across a very kind lady who hand makes drums with different animal skins stretched across the raw hide frames…buffalo hide, deer, and elk. Each drum has its own pitch and tone, depending upon the thickness of the animal skin. Drum circles are popular events around here, especially on the beaches. I wanted one, but I also wanted a new Keurig, and coffee won that battle.

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Artists and craftsmen/women had their works displayed throughout the park and the vendors were very friendly, taking the time to teach people about their crafts. I tried to learn how to play a flute. I need a lot of work, but it was fun trying. No trading with beads and shells here, but they take VISA and MasterCard.

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But, by far, the coolest exhibit was a real teepee.

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The teepee was fashioned from dyed and painted animal hides braced on poles. We hesitated to go inside the tiny doorway, but the gentleman standing by the door told us it was not something we wanted to miss, so we went inside.

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He was right. It was stunning, and much larger inside than it appeared from the outside. There were two cots, one on either side, and a large living space adorned with trophy furs and blankets.

The costumes were beautiful and colorful with leather, seed beads and bone. Don’t see too many feathered headdresses with the Florida native attire.

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There is a short clip of some of the sort of flute and drum music we heard playing. The weather was perfect and it was a nice day out. omanyteBTW, the park is an Omanyte nest right now for all you Pokemon Go players. That’s a very rare and ancient fossilized snail.

Book Two in the Naked Eye Series: Vegas, Florida Cowboys and Indians

Most of my writing these past few weeks has been marketing related. I’m jonesing to get back to creative fiction writing. I’ve been toying with the title of the next book. I was going to call it Naked Malice. But Naked Odds seems to suit the characters and gambling component that is expanded on.

We’ll be at SleuthFest in February, and then Vegas in April. There are a couple of scenes that take place in Vegas and I have never been. I’d like to get a feel for both the layout of the Strip and the people. (Being able to take in the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil show is an added bonus.)

The Seminole Indians, (Native Americans to be more politically correct), here in Florida have a colorful recent history that is also finding its way into Book Two. Another fascinating tid-bit that I’m working in has to do with the “real” American cowboys. There were even Seminole Cowboys.

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Let’s start with the horse. Horses were not native to North America. Or were they?

Should the wild horses that roam North America be considered native wildlife? They may have been “introduced” by man, but scientific evidence suggests that they are genetically the same as the horses that became extinct on the continent between 11,000 and 13,000 years. In fact, the genus Equus could have been wiped out entirely had it not crossed the Bering Strait land bridge into Eurasia. 

Had it not been for previous westward migration, over the land bridge, into northwestern Russia (Siberia) and Asia, the horse would have faced complete extinction. However, Equus survived and spread to all continents of the globe, except Australia and Antarctica.

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Native status for wild horses would place these animals, under law, within a new category for management considerations. As a form of wildlife, embedded with wildness, ancient behavioral patterns, and the morphology and biology of a sensitive prey species, they may finally be released from the “livestock-gone-loose” appellation.

Those of us who have been here a while equate wild horses with cowboys and Indians. Anyone who grew up in the sixties (with, at most, three TV channels) has seen the Wild, Wild West movies and TV shows, which showcased and romanticized the life of both cowboys and Native Americans. So, where did the cowboy originate? Out west? Most would think so.

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In 1493, on Columbus’s second voyage to the Americas, Spanish horses, representing E. caballus, were brought back to North America, first in the Virgin Islands, and, in 1519, they were reintroduced on the continent, in modern-day Mexico, from where they radiated throughout the American Great Plains, after escape from their owners.

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The historic American cowboy of the late 19th century arose from the vaquero traditions of northern Mexico and became a figure of special significance and legend.

However, out west in the 1880s, one loosely organized band was dubbed “The Cowboys,” and profited from smuggling cattle, alcohol, and tobacco across the U.S./Mexico border. It became an insult in the area to call someone a “cowboy,” as it suggested he was a horse thief, robber, or outlaw. Cattlemen were generally called herders or ranchers. They were gentlemen and rarely carried weapons (unlike the the cowboys of the wild west shows).

There is regional history of Cowboys; the Texas Cowboy, the California Cowboy, and others. They developed climate suitable regional attire. Florida has its own history of “Cowboys” and they are a proud bunch.

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The Florida “cowhunter” or “cracker cowboy” of the 19th and early 20th centuries was distinct from the Texas and California traditions. Florida cowboys did not use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools were bullwhips and dogs. Since the Florida cowhunter did not need a saddle horn for anchoring a lariat, many did not use Western saddles, instead using a McClellan saddle. While some individuals wore boots that reached above the knees for protection from snakes, others wore brogans. They usually wore inexpensive wool or straw hats, and used ponchos for protection from rain.

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Cattle and horses were introduced into Florida in the 16th century . In the 18th century, CreekSeminole, and other Indian people moved into the depopulated areas of Florida and started herding the cattle left from the Spanish ranches. In the 19th century, most tribes in the area were dispossessed of their land and cattle and pushed south or west by white settlers and the United States government. By the middle of the 19th century white ranchers were running large herds of cattle on the extensive open range of central and southern Florida.

Horses first arrived on the southeast North American mainland in 1521, brought by Ponce de Leon on his second trip to the region, where they were used by officers, scouts and livestock herders. Later expeditions brought more horses and cattle to Spanish Florida. By the late 16th century, horses were used extensively in the local cattle business and by the late 17th century the industry was flourishing, especially in what is now northern Florida and southern Georgia. The horses brought to North America by the Spanish and subsequently bred there included Barbs, Garranos, Spanish Jennets, Sorraias, Andalusians and other Iberian breeds. Overall, they were relatively small and had physical traits distinctive of Spanish breeds, including short backs, sloping shoulders, low set tails and wide foreheads.

The vaquero tradition has had little influence in Florida.

The early cattle drivers, nicknamed Florida Crackers and Georgia Crackers, used the Spanish horses to drive cattle. The cowboys received their nickname from the distinctive cracking of their whips, and the name was transferred to both the horses they rode and the cattle they herded. Through their primary use as stock horses, the type developed into the Florida Cracker horse, known for its speed, endurance and agility. From the mid-16th century to the 1930s, this type was the predominant horse in the southeastern United States.These were replaced mostly by thoroughbreds after introduction of “screw worms” from imported cattle, and the Spanish breeds nearly went extinct.

Long before Mickey Mouse came to town, the major attractions in the Kissimmee/Orlando area were the local rodeos. You can still experience the traditional culture of Kissimmee’s cowboys through the Kissimmee Sports Arena Rodeo. The rodeo runs at least twice a month on Friday nights at 8 pm. The Florida cowboy, or Cracker Cowboy became a branding symbol in the 1930s-50s.

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There was a local watering hole called the Big Bamboo on highway #192 for decades. It was a bamboo structure that sat in the midst of a pasture when I was a child. All the cowboys came by to wet their whistles after a long day of herding and told their stories. A wrecked plane and rusted out ambulance graced the front yard, the owner keeping them there as conversation pieces. He was a funny old man and refused to sell the Big Bamboo when all of the million dollar hotels were going up around him. It wasn’t until he died at the turn of the 21st Century that his grandchildren sold off the property and the Big Bamboo was no more. It’s where I had my first taste of alcohol while visiting my Uncle Jim, who started Cypress Cove nudist resort.

But I digress.

Several documentaries have been made about the Cracker Cowboys as they fight to defend their ranch land from encroaching development. Here’s a short clip from one of them.

More than one of these Florida Cracker Cowboys makes his way into Book Two of the Naked Eye Series.

Naked Malice, or Naked Odds? ….the story focuses on some gambling and other issues surrounding gambling in Florida and how the Seminoles are dealing with getting rich quick.

Help Me Name This Character

When I was working for Hospice in the year 2000, I had an assignment that involved delivering morphine to a guy in Hallowpaw, Florida. With a town name like that, you can imagine the characters who live there.

Hallowpaw is a little village that sits out on a swamp in the middle of nowhere about forty miles south of Orlando.

It was pouring rain that day and I drove down a long sandy road with cypress swamp on either side to get to the address. When I arrive in front of the tiny makeshift shack, I turned onto a drive that was flooded in places and wondered if my car would make it out.

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Sitting on the front porch was a huge Haitian man of about four-hundred pounds, give or take a few.

In a foot and a half of murky coffee-colored water, I took my umbrella and waded, in my three inch heels and stockings, to the front steps.

A pillar of smoke rose from his head and I noticed he was smoking a doobie the size of a Cuban cigar, the fragrance unmistakable. I stepped up onto the porch, introduced myself and took a seat across from him. It was then that I saw the two foot alligator on a leash that he held in his hand. It lay quietly on the floor a few inches from my wet feet.

He was jovial, but obviously in pain, wincing with every move. I handed him his bag and he told me a couple of swamp stories and I was on my way.

A couple of months later I was in Washington, D.C. attending a luncheon hosted by Elizabeth Dole’s  secretary, where I was asked to describe a day in the life of a Hospice nurse. Hospice was a relatively new concept in this country at that time. We were trying to get political support.

The day I met the Haitian man came to mind because it was a full day. I had to leave him, go home and shower, and be at the top of the Winter Park Towers to give a presentation to a bunch of doctors and suits on the benefits of Hospice services and the feasibility of instituting an inpatient suite of beds in their facility. Next, I had to meet with a family in their home to process an admission of their dying family member. Those appointments took me from sunrise to way after sunset. I thought that day offered a comprehensive overview of what Hospice nurses do.

First lady: Did you call the police and report the illegal drugs?

Me: No, I was there to deliver his morphine. I doubt if anything he was imbibing in was anymore detrimental to his health than his disease or his narcotics.

Second lady: Did you call the Humane Society or Animal Control about the alligator?

Me: The man was dying. If he found some pleasure in entertaining himself with an alligator while getting high, who am I to wreck his fun.

They didn’t seem at all interested in my day beyond the flaws they found in that situation. I guess those stuffy, high society ladies had never seen the real Florida.

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I told you about this man because I’m thinking of working him into this book, Naked Malice, as an ancillary character.

He was a storyteller and I’m certain he knew all the secrets the swamp could hold in his area. I need people who know secrets of the swamp for this story. I mentioned him in Red Clay and Roses, but I really want to bring him to life in this next book. I’d like the old man to be immortal. I can’t recall his name. Any suggestions?

He was Haitian, so I’m thinking something with a bit of Creole French, but also need something that suits his quirky character or swamp life.

Book Two in the Naked Eye Series Sprouts Wings

Being introduced to Social Services at a very early age as a result of entering the foster care program, I have always had an interest in social issues.

With my debut novel, Red Clay and Roses, I focused on the inequalities of people living in the Deep South during the 1950s-60s, Women’s Rights, and Civil Rights as I told the stories of a black family and an independent, high-spirited white woman and her relationship with an African-American man who was in medical school and became very active in the Civil Rights Movement.

For a long time, I pondered over how my social issues of interest could be written into genre specific novels. Historical fiction was not conducive to current issues, except by virtue of how it is that current issues came to be issues at all.

I read across many genres and have always loved a good crime novel. But what is “good” to me may differ from what is “good” to you. I enjoy the witty comedy of crime that is characteristic of Serge and Coleman in Tim Dorsey’s work. I love the way Carl Hiaasen integrates current issues and history into his eco-thrillers and crime stories along with humor. Randy Wayne White fascinates me with the historical elements of place and time and contemporary elements of technology and current events. Tim Baker keeps me amused with his iconic justice for Florida weirdo criminals. They are more than crime novels, they are adventure stories. Not gritty noir, not hardcore city streets…but regional crime fiction that illuminates the unique culture that is Florida.

With this in mind, I set out to write my first crime novel, Naked Alliances. My goal was to write a Florida regional crime fiction novel that addressed the social issue and crime of sex-trafficking. I chose a private investigator as a protagonist because they have the unique ability to sometimes skirt the law to accomplish their goals, yet have boundaries they are governed by. (Though, sometimes, my P.I. oversteps these.) Richard Noggin is a bit naive, and a bit scattered, but both brave and intelligent, in his own way. I wanted him to have a female co-protagonist who was strong, smart, and skilled…but not necessarily traditionally feminine. Brandi, a transsexual exotic dancer, who was a cop briefly, and served time in the military as an E.O.D. Specialist, became his sidekick.

I’m not a comedian, but wanted there to be opportunity for subtle humor, while keeping the social issues and crimes serious. To that ends, I’m quite satisfied with book one in the Naked Eye Series.

Naked Alliances should be released this September, if all goes well.

In keeping with Florida themed social issues and crime, I have completed the outline of my next book, titled Naked Malice.

Richard Noggin, P.I., a gambler, sets out to investigate the suspicious death of his investment partner and friend, Milton Rexrode, in Vegas, but another death at the Reedy Creek Kennel Club and Card Room raises his suspicions that another investment partner is guilty of murder. But when a string of young Seminole men in the 3320 member Seminole Nation die under suspicious circumstances, and the Federal agents investigating rule the deaths accidents, Council Elders fear these are crimes against humanity in a conspiracy to commit genocide.

Each and every Seminole man, woman and child receives a check of from $7000. to $150,000 per year from the tribes’ gaming industry and non-gaming enterprises. The tribes have quickly gone from poverty to immense wealth over the past three decades. With a new generation that has never lived in the thatched roof chickees of their ancestors, or suffered the deplorable conditions of reservation life in the sixties and seventies, new problems arise as they receive distributions that lead the young people to believe they do not need to go to school or work for a living. Crime, excessive gambling, financial irresponsibility, and drug and alcohol problems threaten the existence of their culture. This is the skeleton that forms the basis of my next crime novel.

Huge efforts are being made to bring the youth back into the fold and keep the nation and its culture intact.

The Seminoles were not originally a single tribe. They were an alliance of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia natives that banded together in the 1700’s to fight the European invaders, including people from the Creek, Miccosukee, Hitchiti and Oconee tribes. Later the alliance became even closer, and today the Seminoles are a united sovereign nation, even though their people speak two languages and have different cultural backgrounds.

I really want to shine a good light on the Seminoles. In recent years, they’ve taken a lot of heat for irresponsible fiscal management, and I’m trying to use the story to demonstrate the positives that are coming out of their progress.

Reedy Creek: The Launching Point of Book Two

My next book focuses on a crime that occurs south of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). This is an area of old world Florida that was raped to create Disney World. I say raped, although Disney’s RCID works hard to maintain the district now, because it has seen some dramatic changes over the past forty years that have totally disrupted the natural ecosystem.

Disney called on his friends to lead the way in turning the marshes, swamps and wetlands of Central Florida into what would become the Walt Disney World Resort.

The headwaters of Reedy Creek are not natural. An effort to demolish a stand of low rent housing unearthed the waters. The low-lying swamps were essentially drained into what became Reedy Creek. It is now in what is one of the busiest parts of the world. But there is some effort to maintain the beauty and cleanliness of it.

Walt Disney World sits on of 25,000 acres in Central Florida governed and managed by an essentially “private” government—the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). RCID levies taxes on its residents, devises and enforces building codes, handles waste management and fire protection, issues bonds to finance infrastructure projects, and performs many other functions ordinarily performed by local governments.

With its headwaters in what is now Walt Disney World, Reedy Creek flows sluggishly southward through cypress swamps into pristine Lake Russell, and is one of the northernmost sources of water for the Everglades.

The Osceola County Schools Environmental Study Center has a nineteen acre area of Reedy Creek where you can walk out through the swamp.

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The cypress with its air-pine bromeliads growing on the trunks and the water fowl are powerfully breathtaking. I always think of the Indians who made this their homeland long before we came along. What we see as inhospitable, they made their homes and learned to work within the environment to survive.

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This nineteen-acre segment of the Reedy Creek Swamp offers elevated observation boardwalks, three hiking trails and indoor educational displays. You can see alligators sunning on turtles and turtles sunning on alligators.

The Reedy Creek Elementary school is an earth-bermed structure designed to be obscure in the natural habitat. Many Indian artifacts were unearthed when the school was built, including full-sized dugout canoes, which are on display inside the school.

Book Two of the Naked Eye Series begins as one of the private investigator’s former investment partners plans to work with the Seminole Indians to build a casino near the RCID and another one plans to build condos. One former partner ends up dead.