Oct 5, 2020 – Her Florida

After several months of traveling, we are welcomed back to Florida.

We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban confusion.” Marjory Kinnan Rawlings

After several months of traveling, crossing the state line into Florida conjures mixed feelings. We could easily turn around and continue traveling, but we also get a warm and fuzzy feeling when we come back to Florida. It is our home and despite all the baggage that Florida carries with it, we love it and always look forward to coming back to it. It is for this reason and the fact that our home base is way down on the southern end of the state that we take advantage of the great distance between the state line and Chokoloskee to explore Florida.

And no matter where we are in Florida, we experience everything we dislike about the state and everything we love about it. While getting our annual Forever Warranty service done in DeFuniak Springs, we decided to check out the little town of Seaside.

A walking path or an actual road? Hard to tell in Seaside.

Seaside is an unincorporated planned community on Florida’s Gulf coast designed by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, architects that have influenced the green urban design industry. Their vision was to create a community that would “cut through the smog of America’s car dependency”. The result was Seaside that is laid out with a grid so that stores and community buildings were only a few minutes away from any home on foot. Never been to Seaside? If you watched Jim Carrey’s movie “the Truman Show”, you most certainly have seen it as it was the backdrop for Truman’s Rockwellian hometown, aptly named Seahaven Island.

Just a block or two off highway 30A, one can easily drive through the neigborhoods of Seaside. This leaves you feeling secluded and you would not think about all the traffic and crowds along 30A.

So while I can appreciate the green architects vision, driving around a Florida coastal town with a full ton truck does nothing to cut through the smog of America’s car dependency. Seems everyone visiting Seaside and perhaps living in Seaside leave a vehicle parked somewhere, which is why we could not find a place to park (or at least one accommodating to our smog-creating diesel engine truck). Besides, you could not spit without hitting a tourist or community dweller, so we drove slowly around the Trumanesque town, enjoying the neighborhoods filled with a range of building designs from Victorian to Postmodern, often hidden by a thick growth of native plants in the front yard.

The boardwalk in Deer Lake State Park stands above a beautiful dune ecosystem. The boardwalk keeps people from walking all over the dunes.

Along highway 30A, the crowds and traffic were relentless, that is until we came onto a little oasis in the middle of a sea of development, and that is Deer Lake State Park. Deer Lake is one of the rare coastal dune lakes which, in the United States, are found only along the Gulf Coast. From 30A, a small gravel road takes you to a deadend parking area where $3 gets you a parking pass. From there, a short walk on a boardwalk takes you into (actually over) the dunes before ending at the waterfront beach. Except for the surrounding development, it is pristine and and wild, and without human footprints. The dune ecosystem is one of 11 natural communities in this 1920-acre state park and the boardwalk provides a full view of it.

The dunes overlook the Gulf of Mexico.

After a few days, we left the panhandle to settle in for a week at Wilderness RV Resort, right up against the Ocala National Forest and on the Ocklawaha River. This gave us an opportunity to paddle a wild Florida river as well as visit the little town of Micanopy and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Never heard of either of these places? Welcome to old Florida!

I had the best turkey reuben at the Old Florida Cafe in Micanopy.
And after lunch, we visited the Micanopy cemetery.

Kirkpatrick (once the Rodman) Dam was built along the Ocklawaha River to facilitate navigation along the Cross Florida Barge Canal. The Florida Barge Canal was to go through the Ocklawaha River and construction was stopped in 1971. Thankfully, there are over 70 miles of natural river with a significant part of it running through undeveloped Ocala National Forest giving you a scenic view of Old Florida. This is the part of Florida that we love.

The Kirkpatrick Dam is a leftover from the Cross Florida Barge Canal project. You can read more about the canal in one of our first blogs from 2018 when we began to travel with the RV and passed through another area of Florida also affected by the canal project.
We spent a day paddling the Ocklawaha River.

Speaking of Old Florida, long before I moved to Florida, I knew about a book popularized by a movie, titled “The Yearling”. In the spirit of “Old Yeller” I honestly could not gather the nerve to see the movie. Nor have I read the Pulitzer Prize winning 1939 novel by Marjory Kinnan Rawlings. But having recently seen the movie titled “Cross Creek” which stars Mary Steenburgen as Rawlings in the biographical drama romance film, Vivian and I took a keen interest in visiting the Marjory Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park located in Cross Creek.

At the entrance of the Marjory Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park is a wooden sign with a Rawlings quote befitting of Old Florida.
Rawlings home is on display at the park, and is pretty much the way she left it when she passed away in 1953.
Unfortunately, the house tour was closed and we were unable to go inside.
But the park volunteer spent some time with us telling us about Rawling’s life on her orange grove. In the bowl are small fruit called roselle, a type of hibiscus First time I ever heard of it, but apparently, Rawlings grew it on her land.

Rawlings once wrote, “Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time.” There Rawlings lived on a 72-acre orange grove between Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Her stories that fictionalized many of her Florida cracker neighbors immerse the reader into the remote wilderness and those that lived in the area. Rawlings spent long periods of solitude at Cross Creek and wrote that she could feel “vibrations” from the land. Her Old Florida land is now her historic state park.

A 1940s Oldsmobile, similar to the one Rawlings owned, sits in the farmhouse’s car port.
I believe the boat is the original one used by Rawlings, whereas the motor is a replica of the one she used on her boat.

After our short time in Rawling’s Old Florida, we headed south and eventually crossed the bridge to nowhere – our home. Fall did not feel much different from spring when we left five months earlier, yet there was just a hint of winter in the air as hurricane season finally passed and we settled in for the long haul. As our northern friends and family braced for a long cold winter, we got our canoes out and enjoyed the Everglades for the next four months. As Rawlings once wrote, “Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing”. Indeed, as I write this, we are well into spring barely feeling a change in the air.

Still hurricane season when we arrived at the bridge to nowhere, rains clouds hover over Chokoloskee Island.

Yet, the calendar says it is time to go. Our 2021 travel adventure begins – now.

As Rawlings has said, “Here is Home”.

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