Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories

Living Sanibel by Charles Sobczak

living sanibel charles sobczak

The weight and glossiness of Charles Sobczak’s “Living Sanibel - A Nature Guide to Sanibel and Captiva Islands” caught me off guard.

I was expecting another pretty Sanibel book. Tourism fare. The literary equivalent of a fried grouper sandwich - a quick and easy way to coerce cash out of vacationing wallets.

The sales pitch to families visiting from colder climates, is an easy one -- put the word “Sanibel” on the cover and they’ll buy it. Everyone wants to take a little Sanibel home with them, something to suntan their nostalgia when the real beach is a thousand miles away. The content doesn’t need to sell the book...the island does all the work.

That’s why I was surprised.

The volume I held in my hand was over 500 pages and weighed almost two and a half pounds. As I thumbed through the pages, the sheer magnitude of work that had surely gone into compiling and organizing the information in this book intimidated me. As a writer working on a Sanibel book of my own, I felt professionally challenged by what Charles Sobczak had created -- and I hadn’t even read it yet. A humbling experience, to say the very least.

“Living Sanibel” has the feel of a book only made possible through passing years, the culmination of a lifetime of knowledge. This is “the” definitive nature guide to our beloved barrier islands, an honor which, until recently, had been held by George Campbell’s “The Nature of Things on Sanibel” - an out of print book originally published in 1978.

In his eloquent, self-written introduction, Sobczak fingers Campbell’s volume as providing the inspiration which blossomed into “Living Sanibel”. It’s always great to see a near forgotten book assert forcible impetus to the creation of new ideas.

“Living Sanibel” is gritty and real, exposing the full magnificence and beauty of our island ecotone through the lens of science -- without any tourism-friendly intellectual airbrushing or digital Photoshop filters. These are the plants and animals of Sanibel the way they authentically exist...which is to say beautiful, complex, symbiotic -- pure and unadulterated raw interconnected nature, a snapshot of the geo-specific web of natural history all residents of, and tourists to, Southwest Florida are effortlessly caught within, oftentimes unconsciously.

There’s no way one could catalogue the array of nature represented here in such precise and scientific grandeur without a team of learned experts assisting the effort. Sobczak gives credit where credit is due, in this case the invaluable support of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), of which Sobczak is a lifetime member.

There’s no way you could effectively deliver such a high-density serving of education without the buffering balance provided by copious colorful images. Over 600 photographs and illustrations, by heavy hitters like Dick Fortune, Sara Lopez, Alan S. Maltz and Diane Rome Peebles serve in perfect counterpoint to the words on the page. It’s an effective combination. The visuals pull you in, the words enlighten...acquired knowledge becomes the naturally occurring byproduct of a pleasurable reading journey.

A thirty-one page “Environmental History of Sanibel and Captiva Islands” sets the stage for all that follows:

  • 291 species of birds
  • 21 mammals
  • 50 reptiles and amphibians
  • 49 fresh and saltwater fishes
  • 73 species of the most popular shells
  • 50 species of insects
  • 36 species of trees, palms and plants
  • A comprehensive section on Museums and Eco-Attractions and
  • Some of the best Sanibel and Captiva maps ever published, detailing bike paths, hiking and kayak trails.

“Living Sanibel” resonates with the undeniable truth that Sobczak has blessed the literary history of our beloved barrier islands with a volume sure to leave you in naked awe of the wildness, remaining so fragile -- and so deserving of continual preservation by our human world. Consider “Living Sanibel” an open invitation to finally learn the names and habits of some of your closest neighbors, the plants and animals surrounding you every day. Only by becoming intimate with nature, can we ever grow to care deeply enough about its well being that we’re moved to stand up and offer protection when it comes under unnecessary threat.

-- writing by Eric Taubert

“Living Sanibel” (along with Sobczak's latest book, "The Living Gulf Coast") can be ordered by visiting the author’s website at http://www.indigopress.net/

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