Monday, July 23, 2012

Where Literature and Nature Meet

A few weekends back I went hiking on the Yearling Trail, the part of the Ocala National Forest where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings developed the idea for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Yearling.

Along the trail, markers correspond to places Rawlings wrote about in the book.

This part of the forest is known as the Big Scrub. It's an unforgiving landscape -- essentially a desert of sand overlaid with a thin layer of vegetation, shading into a pine "island" where the terrain is slightly lower and more friendly. But it definitely has its own isolated beauty, which shaped the folks who lived here back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, just as it has shaped the birds, animals, and plants who still consider it home.

This Florida Scrub Lizard lives nowhere else in the world. Doesn't he/she have a beautiful blue underside!

Blue must be the Big Scrub's favorite color. This dayflower is delicate, but tough enough to survive.

The pine islands offer some shade and a different feeling, which is probably why the homesteads were sited in them.

Rawlings visited the Big Scrub many times, immersing herself in the lifeways of its residents. She stayed with the Long family in 1933 and heard stories about how one of them as a boy had raised a pet deer. Those stories and her own impressions became her novel, which captures this unique part of Florida's history and preserves it forever.

All of the Long family's homes are only scattered foundation stones now.

This old cattle dip still had some of the post-and-rail chute leading to and from it. To kill ticks, the cattle would be driven into the chute, down the steps, through liquid pesticide up to their necks, and out the other side. It's pretty narrow because the cows were pretty narrow.

The families got their water from this very large sinkhole, both in real life and in Rawlings' story. It's dry at the bottom now. Bill and I had lunch on the edge. I thought I'd be nervous getting this close to a sinkhole (not eager to take a sudden, unscheduled tour of the aquifer), but this one seems very stable, judging from the large trees growing inside.

The landscape hasn't changed in about a million years (literally), but people haven't lived here since the 1930s. The Long family cemetery gives testimony to how hard this life could be: a 16-year-old was killed in a hunting accident, and a 4-year-old died by playing too close to the fire.

I can't decide if this is a desolate or a peaceful place to be buried. I suspect it would depend on whether you liked it out here while you were alive.

The silence and solitude that surrounded us made it clear we were the only humans for miles and miles, and that the scrub would persevere long after we had passed through. It's an isolated, wild place to visit, spacious and untamed in all the best ways.

3 comments:

  1. thank you for showing us yet more beautiful parts of Florida!!!!!

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  2. I like that place. It does have a beauty all its own. Your comment on the blue color was right in tune with my thoughts as I went from photo to photo.

    Interesting how much life there is is in seeming desolation.

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  3. This was beautifully rendered, Jane ! You really caught trailings of the fleeting mystery of this place---a place both stuck in time, and timeless.

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