In 2015, my family and I visited Sanibel Island, and a kayak trip through the Commodore Trail in Tarpon Bay was a must.
Our guide was quite animated and knowledgeable, and he relayed a story of how Sanibel Island almost lost most of its precious red mangroves: After the causeway was built in 1963, developers saw a golden opportunity to develop the island, envisioning multi-story resorts and high-density neighborhoods, especially along the gulf shore. When Lee County decided to expand development on the island so that the population would reach almost 100,000, residents voted to separate from county government and in 1974 incorporated as the City of Sanibel.
Had the developers succeeded, one of the casualties in their rapacious plan would have been the red mangrove. Thousands of acres of these important salt-tolerant trees—which protect shorelines from hurricane winds and floods, prevent erosion with their tangled roots and provide a nursery for young fish and shrimp—would have been destroyed. Instead, the determined island residents implemented building height restrictions and lower-density plans. Mangrove forests were purchased and today almost 70% of the island is made up of wildlife preservation areas.
I admit that my memory of the guide’s stories is spotty, and I had to round it out with a bit of historical research, but I do remember his main points. And I also remember sitting in the kayak, gazing at the red mangroves as he spoke, and formulating a story in my mind—a story of a courageous critter who had to defend the mangroves from patrians (humans). I did not yet know what kind of critter it would be, but after a bit of research I found that chipmunks do not live in southwest Florida, and round-tailed muskrats dwell in salt marshes. I started to develop the story, and I soon realized that I would have to begin at the beginning: How did these creatures, namely a chipmunk and round-tailed muskrats, end up in such an unfamiliar environment?
I peppered my first draft with extraneous bits of information that included several Scottish Gaelic words (which I believe are quite beautiful). When I realized a glossary would have been needed, I decided that readers would be pulled out of the story while searching for definitions.
A total rewrite was in order, but I left in some Gaelic words and kept the Gaelic spellings of the characters’ names. Subsequent rewrites caused the story to twist and turn and go in directions that I had never thought possible. Characters and subplots were added, and after almost five years I am proud of what Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery has become.
This journey was not trouble-free, and I am reminded of the words of a clever elder:
“This will not be easy,” Elanora whispered. Beathas shook her head. “Nothing of worth ever is, child.”
Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery will be available for download soon on this site!