Book excerpt: The Corridor by Tom McGrath

“The Corridor” is Tom McGrath’s first novel. A retired biology professor, McGrath is keenly aware of the devastation that invasive Burmese pythons have wrought in the Everglades. So it was a short hop for him to imagine what might happen if a second invasive predator arrived. That possibility is the driving force in this eco-suspense story.

While scientists, journalists, and park rangers work together to investigate the problem, politicians, and opportunists undermine their efforts and increase the danger to all,'' McGrath writes.

This excerpt is reprinted with the author’s permission:

Steve and Saul were really not worried about scaring off animals until they got into the side creeks. There, they’d be in kayaks, which would be nearly silent. Jake, Shelly, and Kim were going to stay on the big boat and wanted to stay as quiet as possible when they got to the new bodies of water they were exploring, so they brought along a small electric motor for the front of the boat. It wouldn’t move it fast but it would move it quietly. 

Once everything was loaded, they headed up the canal in tandem. When they were about even with the mangrove creek between Coot Bay and Mud Lake, Steve peeled off to the west. He and Saul waved to the others, who stayed on course to the north.

When Steve anchored their boat in the shallows near the entrance to the creek that would take them to Mud Lake and shut off the engines, the first thing both he and Saul noticed was the profound silence. No generators, air conditioners, electric motors of any kind. No airplanes overhead either. Steve remembered this kind of silence from years ago when he was out here in the field far more often, but this was new for Saul. While he had spent time outdoors, there had always been the sounds of humanity and civilization somewhere close by. This was amazing. He wanted to write down this experience while he was living it, but as soon as he got out his notebook and pencil, he found himself at a loss for words to describe what he was experiencing. It was amazing and somehow uncomfortable at the same time. Not even a breeze rustled the leaves on the mangroves.

Finally, Saul broke the silence. “No birds.”

“I see,” said Steve. “Maybe we’re in the wrong place for them. Or maybe the pythons have had more of an effect out here than we even thought. I don’t know, but it’s not comforting.

“Let’s get the kayaks off this thing and start into the creek and see what we find.”

They slipped the kayaks off the deck and tied them to the rail while they geared up. When they got into them, each carried water, some snacks, repellent, and a machete. Saul had his notebook and pencil, and Steve had his rifle, some extra ammunition and some sampling equipment. It seemed like a lot to carry for a day out on the water, but it was all necessary.

They untied and pulled away, paddling silently into the creek. The mangrove canopy seemed magical to Saul. He was hot and uncomfortable but had you asked him, he wouldn’t have even been able to tell you that. Every so often, they had to lie back flat and bring the paddles horizontal along the boat to slip under the limbs. 

Nothing along the route looked out of the ordinary or unexpected to either of them. When they broke out into Mud Lake, the flat calm surface of the water spread out in front of them, broken here and there by low islands covered in scrubby vegetation. 

By now both men were perspiring profusely and the silence they had experienced at the start of this trip was now broken by the incessant whine of the hordes of mosquitoes buzzing around their heads and sweat-stained shirts. 

“So much for the beauty of nature,” thought Saul as he took a long pull on his water bottle. And now the sun was hammering down on them as well. “Maybe I should have gone with Kim,” he thought. “At least their boat has a top and shade. It’s bound to be more comfortable.”

But Kim, Shelly, and Jake were in the same river of grass and the shade didn’t help all that much.

About the Author

For 43 years Tom McGrath was a professor of biology at SUNY Corning Community College, where he taught college biology, genetics, and field courses; directed the college’s honors program, and was the first professor in the State University of New York system to be awarded both the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Professional Activity.
McGrath was also an active researcher. He developed and served as principal investigator for the long-running Bahamian Reef Survey, sponsored by Earthwatch Institute. He and his wife moved to St. Petersburg in 2010, and they have been exploring the Everglades and Florida’s other ecosystems ever since.

“The Corridor” is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon, and in paperback at Haslam’s Book Store in St. Petersburg and many Pinellas County libraries.
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