A Visit to the Big Lake Country
Lesley A. Diehl
Lesley A. Diehl
Oak Tree released the second book in my Big Lake murder mystery series—Grilled Chilled and Killed in late December. It’s set in rural Florida and features a retired preschool teacher turned bartender, Emily Rhodes. I’m not a native of Florida, but a winter visitor like my protagonist Emily. I try to capture life around the big lake, Lake Okeechobee, a farming and ranching area. There are more cattle, alligators, maybe horses and certainly palm trees than people in our county.
If you research the area, which I did for this second book, you’ll find other interesting aspects of the area also. The names of families are often French in origin like LeFebre or DeBerard. Other names are more unusual like Upthegrove, a name that often arises when the famous Ashley gang is mentioned. Sink holes, unexplained phenomenon for Yankees are common here, caused by water eroding limestone and creating huge depressions in the ground. Sometimes earth covering the holes gives way and buildings and yards collapse into the hole. A drive down the road leading to the coast leads through Spanish moss covered oaks and palms whose limbs and fronds reach across the road to create a canopy, a kind of green lush tunnel for the highway. That same drive can take you past pigs dead on the side of the road, not like those you might find up north, but feral pigs, wild hogs, hybrids with long tusks.
A tree of purple blossoms towers over a rusty trailer. Floppy-eared cows roam a field accompanied by cattle egrets eager to eat the bugs stirred up by the cow’s feet. The swamps nearby provide home for alligators, snakes, mud hens, water lettuce, brilliant yellow water lilies, and cat tails. Blue herons, snowy egrets, and ibis feed in the canals. Beauty and danger everywhere, this is the contradiction I try to capture as background in my books.
The people who live here are of two sorts: those who work the land, those who own the dairies and those who work on them and the ranchers who raise cattle. The second group is made up of the large corporations, sugar and agribusiness. They also hire workers for the fields. The land here is important. The waters of the lake used to provide catfish fished for commercial purposes, and the icehouses along the creek stored the catch for shipping. Now they are gone. Fishing is done by winter visitors and locals who catch for their own pleasure and for their tables. Bass tournaments are popular as is mud racing. Leave your bikini at home. The waters here are run by the alligators.
I want my readers to enjoy reading about a place not often visited by tourists. Let me leave you with my favorite image of this place: Cows. I am, after all, a country girl.