March 1, 2015

Wild and Beautiful Rural Florida by Lesley A. Diehl

I want to take you on a journey most tourists and many residents don’t ever take.  It’s the Florida I live in six months of the year and where I set my cozy mysteries.  This is rural Florida, home of cowboys on horses, lots of alligators and even more cattle, where spurs still jingle in the post office, Florida yet untouched by development. 

On a map it is marked by the huge lake, Lake Okeechobee, that forms the center of the area.  One of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, not very deep, perhaps sixteen feet at the most, it is a fishing lake, providing bass, crappie, speck and catfish, an angler’s paradise. 

Knowing that a feral hog or alligator may be hiding near the many water holes in the swamp areas can make many want to run away.  That would be a mistake because this part of Florida hides beauty that is worth hanging around for.  One of the most scenic drives in the state is the canopy road, Martin County Route 714, which leads from the city of Okeechobee to Stuart on the east coast. The two lane highway is lined with sabal palms and live oaks which have grown in an arch over the road to form a kind of tunnel.  Arguments over widening the road and removing its quiet beauty have so far been quelled by local residents.

I guess, as my website states, that I’m really just a country gal because I find great comfort in seeing the herds of flop-eared cattle grazing the fields.  Many of the horses used to work the herds are direct descendent of the ponies brought here by the Spanish.  They are intelligent and beautiful animals.

Yes, you say, that all sounds quite lovely, but what about all those alligators?  And aren’t there a lot of snakes around?  I live on a small canal with two small alligators as residents.  Everyone here knows enough to leave the alligators alone.  We don’t feed them and they don’t bother much with us.  When they grow big enough, they are removed or have the misfortune, as one did several years ago, to meet with another of its kind who is bigger.  Although the ensuing struggle took place across the canal from my back door and it wasn’t pleasant to witness, it was part of the natural order which I observe here and which is not so obvious in other parts of Florida.  It’s not unusual to see one of the bald eagles gliding across the field to land in an oak tree nearby.  Or to drive past two sand hill cranes and their gawky youngster.

There is a time of the day when Lake Okeechobee takes on a beauty unexpected from this shallow, brown lake.  When the clouds rest on the western horizon and the sun slips behind them, the waters are turned deep purple, the sky above pink and coral.  The only sounds heard as darkness descends are frogs calling to one another and the soft ripple of a fish as it moves through the reeds.  

Rural Florida is a place of complex and subtle beauty, a step back in time, a step into nature’s world.

Lesley Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York.  In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport.  Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse.  When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work.  She is author of numerous short stories and several mystery series including the microbrewing series (A Deadly Draught; Poisoned Pairings), two rural Florida mystery series (Dumpster Dying; Grilled, Chilled and Killed), and the Eve Appel mystery series—A Secondhand Murder; Dead in the Water.  Other mysteries include Angel Sleuth,and Murder is Academic. Please visit her website for more information on her books and stories.

Her newest book in the Eve Appel mystery series is Dead in the Water.  Set in rural Florida, in this second book of the series Eve finds herself learning a whole new meaning of the word “family”.  Between the difficulties of her consignment shop business and her uncle getting whacked, Eve’s feeling a little swamped.

I will be giving away a copy of the first book in my Eve Appel mystery series, A Secondhand Murder, to one person leaving a comment.  Add your email to your comment so I can contact you easily.
 (all information-and extremely awesome pictures-provided by author)


  1. Sixty years ago I traveled around in the Everglades by airboat. It was only for a day, but what a magical day that was. Most of all I remember the wonderful flights of birds turning the sky white. The last time I was in that area, perhaps ten years ago, I found far less wilderness and fewer birds. I am glad to hear that there are some people in Florida who value the wilderness. The problem may be, however, that there are too many of you and too little swamp left.

  2. It is nice to meet you here, Lesley. I enjoyed reading about the central part of the state and love what evidence is left of the "old Florida" and wish there was more of it. We have a few things in common. My husband and I also migrate to our FL home for half the year, but we are on the Gulf Coast. I also worked in education as a psychometrist. I'll be blogging in May about the "other half" of my life in KY.

  3. I grew up in Jacksonville and my sister and her family live and farm in Raiford. You captured some of elusive mystery and beauty of rural Florida. I wish more people could see it the way we do. I hope the locals can preserve the oak shaded highway you talked about. A lovely piece.
    Lida Bushloper

  4. Your part of Florida sounds lovely, Lesley. I hope some of that charm can be preserved for many years to come.

  5. I left a comment earlier but don't see it. I really enjoyed learning about rural Florida, and your pictures are great. I've spent time in the tourist areas of FL but never the rural. You make me want to visit there.

  6. Lesley,
    You obviously love rural Florida and, from your descriptions, I can see why. I hope it remains unchanged for many years to come!

  7. My husband and I have gone across Florida in our boat a couple of times. You are right about the lake being shallow. We had to carefully follow the map to be sure we didn't run aground. At one place, boaters hire a local firm that roars up and hangs several big containers of water over one side of the boat to tip it enough so the keel isn't straight down---and we had one of the shorter keels available.

  8. Amazing. I've been wanting to move to a nature center (that won't happen) and this appears to be perfect. More perfect than West Palm Beach which is paradise. I watch bull-riding regularly and was looking to move closer to the Rodeo which just relocated to Kissimmee. Looking forward to reading your books. I am a member of MWA-FL. Blessings, Janet

  9. Wow, I knew the lake was shallow, but the story about tipping the keel to one side to make it possible to navigate the shallower areas is fascinating. I do love this part of Florida because I feel most at peace when I'm around nature-birds, cows, horses and lots of green from vegetation. It's a wonderful place in which to write.

  10. Love the wild Florida thattourists cannot see.

  11. Thanks for sharing your insight into such a beautiful place. I've only been to Miami, and then only on the way to a cruise. Sounds like your area needs to be added to the list of places we must camp in someday. We won't worry about the depth of the water, since we only have a canoe.

  12. Thanks for a trip to what is (for me) the unknown Florida.


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