Thursdays on Central and in the Tampa Bay Times

torreya tree

After I left my full-time job and returned to la vida freelance, I realized that, without the daily pressures of posting x pieces of content a day, editing other people’s writing for print and online, sending weekly newsletters, and — among other things — worrying about web traffic, I actually liked writing again. Writing was fun. I pitched the piece you’re about to read to a Florida environmental website, and although they didn’t pay, I was excited when they said yes.

But then came the editing. In 20 years of writing professionally, I’ve prided myself on two things: meeting deadlines and being an easy writer to edit. That’s not the same thing as writings tight that editors don’t need to edit much; what I mean is that I don’t make every comma a hill upon which I’m willing to die. Way I see it, my job’s to write the thing. An editor’s job is to take it to the next level.

This particular organization wanted me to make some edits that, after a few email exchanges and a couple of nights of sleeping on it, I couldn’t bring myself to make. This is the first time this had happened to me, and I felt horrible. Was I being a diva? An asshole? I asked an editor friend to take a look; she said perhaps they didn’t understand what they’d asked me to do. The website editors and I amicably parted ways on this piece.

Long story short (too late?), I sent the piece to a couple of other publications. Lovely, they all said, but not right for us. Then I sent it to the Tampa Bay Times.

They loved it. And — this teeters on petty vindication — they changed precious little, affirming that my instincts to pull the piece.

I hope you enjoy it.


“There is unrest in the forest; there is trouble with the trees …” —“The Trees,” Neil Peart, Rush, 1978

Last year, I rescued a waffle plant from certain death. A collection of withered purple leaves stared up at me from rock-hard soil. Chalk it up to perimenopause, my handling stress in peculiar ways, a vein of a special kind of crazy running through my family, but I started to cry right there in the Walmart garden center. Even when the discount for “mostly dead plant” was only 10 percent, I still needed it.

“I couldn’t leave it there; no one else would buy it and it would just get thrown away,” I explained through sheepish tears to my husband, who has comforted me when a bird ate Dixie, our resident crab spider, and had learned that every insect in our Gulfport home gets a chance at a humane rescue and relocation.

“Did it press its nose against the window and wag its tail?” he asked.

I have a soft spot for underdog plants and animals. I’ve written before about my 17-year love affair with an Australian pine on the 7-Mile Bridge and how Fred — that’s his name, Fred — fared after Hurricane Irma. (Spoiler alert: He made it.)

Not every tree gets so lucky.

In my book Backroads of Paradise, I wrote about the torreya (rhymes with Gloria), a diminutive conifer listed as one of the most endangered on the planet. Half of the remaining torreya tree population exists within the confines of Torreya State Park north of Bristol. I wrote that the tree lived “one wildfire away from extinction.” I believed wildfire posed the largest threat to the tree’s existence. So did the park manager and conservationists.

Then Hurricane Michael happened… {keep reading this on the Tampa Bay Times website (support local journalism!), or on Cathy Salustri’s Great Florida Road Trip website}


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