Land of contrasts

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”?


Author: Skipper Hammond

Skipper Hammond was born on the edge of Charlotte, N.C. in a time, in a neighborhood where children were free to play. She and her friends ran, biked, rode, explored and read. The entire neighborhood was their stage for the continuing plays Skipper created based on the stories they read. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, British and American,Yankee and Confederate armies romped through woods, across fields and creeks, up and down streets until good guys prevailed or softball and hopscotch season arrived.  Then she grew up and went to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Tar Heel legislators at the time saw no reason to finance economics education for women, but Skipper contrived a major in economics by cobbling credits in business and history. Involvement in a series of strikes by textile workers led to graduate work at Cornell with a masters in Labor Union History and several years of union organizing in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.  After marriage and the birth of her son and daughter, Skipper, then living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, worked at jobs where she could punch out—stitcher, machinist, assembly worker, candy maker, database designer, economics journal editor—and still have the energy needed for the real work of political organizing for social and economic justice.  Her political work took the form primarily of writing and editing for movement publications, and when she moved from Cambridge to a farm in rural north central Florida, she began writing for the Ocala Star-Banner and Gainesville Sun, then founded the Williston Pioneer, where she was publisher, editor, reporter, ad salesperson and janitor. She also raised goats. She currently divides her time, unequally, between Williston, Florida, where she continues playing in the woods, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she invents stories. 

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