The most blasé sophisticate would have trouble not gushing over the wonders of the “real” Florida, the “other” Florida, the Florida far from Miami glitz and Orlando glimmer, the Florida tourists fly over, the Florida of the Suwannee, Apalachicola and Okeechobee.
Float on a Florida river, spring, or lake and your imagination easily drifts back millions of years to a time when mastodons, mammoths, three-toed horses and sloths roamed hammocks and swamps and munched giant fern. Gaze out across Paynes Prairie, blink, and you’ll see Indians on horseback, America’s first cowboys, rounding up cattle to feed the Spanish in St. Augustine. Sit still and quiet in a seemingly endless piney woods and you’ll hear the crack of a whip and the approaching creak of leather harness and wooden wheels as Crackers from Georgia drive their oxen south, hoping to escape civilization and poverty. Breath deep the intoxicating scent of pine needle, magnolia and jasmine. Savor the flavors of swamp cabbage, fried mullet, roasted oysters, pecan pie and you’ll be transported to another land. A lush land that inspires poets and musicians, photographers and gardeners, cooks and quilters. It’s a land of beauty, a land of enchantment.
But it’s also a land of violence, ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy, greed. It attracts pimps as well as poets, poachers as well as producers. Confederate flags and swastikas emblazon tees stretched across harry white chests. Preachers preach hatred. Librarians censor. Ladies lie. Politicians pander and pollute.
Authors, folk musicians and the Florida Park Service often contrast the “real” Florida to the plastic world of theme parks and beaches lined with highrise condos. Generally what their songs and websites are referring to is the land as the early settlers found it in the decades before the Civil War and the values those Cracker pioneers brought with them. Or maybe they mean Florida before the Second World War. Open range and cane boils often find their way into conversations about the real Florida. But there is no clear definition, and I suspect that the real and the plastic not only have similarities but are even co-dependents.. I’ll be looking at how they support each other in future posts.
Meanwhile, tell us what images come to your mind when you think “Florida”?