I’m staying in an old Florida fish camp, on a swampy creek that leads to a lake. Fishing is big here in the Gainesville area. I decided to take in the local ambiance and stop over at Cross Creek, home to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, National Historic Site, and the author’s home. I thought it would be a place of inspiration and I was richly rewarded. I spent many years in Gainesville getting educated at the University and never bothered to entertain a rural attraction such as this. I wasn’t ready to appreciate it then. Now, is a different story.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Yearling in 1939. It was made into a movie in 1946. She wrote of cracker life in the scrub palmetto woods of Florida. It was a tough existence amidst the gators, bears, snakes, and skeeters. But it was beautiful too. As I drove to the site I was reminded of the poetic beauty of live oak trees with moss hanging. The moss drips off the trees like sugar in Southern sweet tea. It’s too much and it’s everywhere, but it feels like home.
The homestead is a farm style house with ducks and chickens, a barn, a vegetable garden, and other typical farm features, save for one. It has a path into the Hammocks and it goes a ways into the thick, lush Florida brush, filled with palm trees, palmettos, and live oaks. It smelled peaty and was still vibrantly green, despite this being November. I imagined Marjorie walking here to spin her tales and develop her characters. The Yearling is a distinctly southern novel set just after the Civil War and depicts families that are toughing it out to exist. Hard life is an understatement and it was their life to live.
Some people criticize Rawlings for being too sentimental. She reflected how she felt about her home which she loved and appreciated. She had a kinship to the cracker country living and shared it with others through her work. Though I can’t imagine taking on that life, it had its beauty. Below is Cross Creek which ran behind her homestead, a plaque depicting her words about how she felt about home, and my personal touchstone – Paynes Prairie. Paynes Prairie sits just outside Gainesville to the south. Whenever I would return to school I would know I was almost home when crossing the Prairie. It was a favorite spot to hang out and watch the night sky and kiss a boyfriend. It was a special space that meant the campus was nearly in sight and the campus was my sanctuary. It’s good to come home again. And even though the city is barely recognizable, the Prairie endures.