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Old Florida: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Park

Temperature right now in Minneapolis: -8 degrees.  It was about the same yesterday when I took my dog for a gorgeous and sunny but “brisk” walk. There’s something satisfying and contrary about going for a walk in extreme cold.

It’s also fun to talk to people where its warm and make plans for a visit. That’s why right now, as I sit under a blanket drinking hot coffee, I’m thinking Unknownabout my recent conversation with Valerie Rivers, manager of Marjorie Kinnan Rawling Historic State Park, located in tiny Cross Creek, near Gainesville. The conversation started with, “When you come to the park in spring the smell of orange blossoms waft over you.”  That’s enough to set me off to find one of Rawlings’s classic books such as The Yearling and to set me dreaming about a visit to her home, now a Florida State Park. My glasses are steaming up just thinking of it.

It’s hard to imagine Florida before the developers came. Yet, visiting Rawlings’s home where she settled in 1928 offers a glimpse of Florida before high rises and posh swimming pools, before air conditioning and even electricity–and bug spray. Rivers says fans of Rawlings’s classic novels find themselves transported into the world of The Yearling  (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) or her memoir of living on this site, Cross Creek, as they tour her farmyard, orange grove, seasonal garden, trails and home.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic_2010 contest_Brittany Dugger_Tenant House (2)“Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s books portray the land and the hardscrabble “cracker” people who first settled Florida,” says Rivers.  She broadened my definition of the word “cracker” which I have always used as a synonym for “redneck.” (My aunt who lived in Florida called it “The Order of the Scarlet Nape.”) But, by Rivers’s definition, crackers were the early Florida settlers who loved the land and made a living on it, though barely.

Visitors may stroll the homestead here and take a tour of Rawlings’s home. For the short term ccfirst1aanyway, I’ll do that in my mind with a copy of Cross Creek. As Rawlings said,”It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of one world and in the mysterious heart of another. And after long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is that mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home.”

(photos courtesy of Florida State Parks)

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