Swamps, Surfers, Cheeseburgers and Politics

August 31, 2011

Labor Day weekend is always synonymous with the end of summer, although that’s highly debatable here in Florida.

So, what’s going on around the state  this holiday weekend? Here are a few events that caught my eye.

Swamp Walks:  Take a swamp walk into The Big Cypress Swamp with nature photographer Clyde Butcher.  The walk begins behind Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery in the Everglades. All you have to bring with you is a pair of long pants, a hat, old shoes and a sense of adventure.  Oh, and be prepared to get wet.

Pioneer Florida Days Festival 2011:  Check out the celebration at the Pioneer Florida Museum in Dade City,where you can experience early Florida history.

26th Annual NKF Pro Am Surf Festival:  Cocoa Beach is the place, National Kidney Foundation is the cause.

Jimmy Buffet-Style Music in Jacksonville:  Throughout the Labor Day weekend, the “margarita-flavored tunes” of Jimmy Buffett can be heard at The Jacksonville Landing courtyard.  On Saturday, come “decked out like your favorite Buffet song.” (Cheeseburger in Paradise anyone?)

Flashback, the Classic Rock Experience:  Experience the re-creation of the classic performances of  Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many more, by Mystic Orchestra, a group comprised of 14 rock musicians and singers, and an 11-piece string and horn section.

Spirit of the Suwannee River Music Park: Pull out the tent, or pack up the RV, and head to this music park just north of Live Oak for a weekend of musical celebration. Listen to Southern Ruckus on Friday and Honkeytonk Hitman on Saturday and Sunday.

Fight for Florida:  Apparently a new movement is organizing here in Florida and its called the Working Families Movement. The movement will be hosting Labor Day weekend events across the state, including ones in Palm Beach, Ft. Myers, Tampa, Orlando, Daytona, Ocala, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Pensacola. If you’re looking for “a little fun, a little politics” and want to build the camaraderie needed for “the struggles that lie ahead,” check out one of these events.

It’s a great weekend to get out and do something a little different.


Cross Creek

February 23, 2011

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.
–Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Cross Creek, 1942–

Sign at the entrance to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, Cross Creek

I’ve often thought those who visit the graves of people they have never met to be a bit odd, maybe even morbid. Now I have to question whether I myself fit that description after my adventures this past weekend. 

But let me start at the beginning. For years I have wanted to visit Cross Creek, the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling.  The sheer knowledge that Rawlings moved from New York to the backwoods of Florida, maintained an orange grove and lived off the land, while writing full-time, inspires me like few others have.  

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park (Cross Creek, FL)

Once inside the gate, I wandered around for an hour or so before the house tour began. The  tour group consisted of approximately ten people and I quickly learned that I was the only one, besides our tour guide, who had actually read Rawlings account of her life at Cross Creek. 

The tour guide then asked the group what prize Rawlings had won for her book The Yearling.  I knew the answer, which of course is the Pulitizer Prize, but kept quiet so someone else could show off their knowledge. No one said a word. For a brief moment I began to wonder why exactly these people were here if they knew nothing of the history of the place and the history of the author.  Just as quickly though, I  got over myself and moved on, wrapped up in the stories of life at Cross Creek.

The front porch is where Rawlings did most of her writing, including for The Yearling.

Rawlings also entertained quite often at Cross Creek, including serving dinner in this dining room to such guests as poet Robert Frost.

In her book Cross Creek, Rawlings details many of her cooking adventures on the old wood burning stove. One day she saw blackbirds and, remembering the line “4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie” from a nursery rhyme, she shot down the birds and secretly took them home to bake in a pie.


Antioch Cemetery

Now, for the odd, and possibly morbid part.  While waiting for the house tour to start, I perused through scrapbooks that had been left out for visitors.  I came across an untitled paragraph which contained directions to the cemetery where Rawlings is buried.  Before I knew what was happening, I was writing down the instructions in my notebook. When the house tour ended, I took out my notebook, turned to the page with the directions to Antioch Cemetery, and was on my way. 

Miraculously I was able to follow the directions and soon arrived at the cemetery out in the middle of practically nowhere. A peaceful place, on a dirt road, wide open to the sun and blue sky. Perfect.

As directed, I parked on the side of the road, got out and entered the second gate. I walked toward the utility shed, then turned left. The directions in the old scrapbook said I should look for the flat slab about four rows in. Well, I did just that, but with no success. So I began walking up and down rows 1-5, just in case I had missed something. Still no success.  I stopped and stared out across the field. As I shielded my eyes from the sun overhead, two flat slabs, a few rows ahead and to the right of me, came into view. One had three deer sculptures resting at its head. That’s when The Yearling came to mind. I walked over, and was rewarded (if that is truly what you call such a find). There lay Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, with her husband Norton Baskin at her side.

Norton and Marjorie

And on her grave, I read the following:

Wife of  Norton Baskin


Indeed she did.

A Remarkable Three

February 9, 2011

In honor of  Black History Month, I began searching for  influential African-Americans with a Florida background. It didn’t take long to find a remarkable three.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955):  Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, FL was started by Mary McLeod Bethune,  an educator and civil rights activist who served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960):   Author of four novels and two books on folklore, Hurston grew up in Eatonville, FL, the first incorporated black township in the nation. Her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937, “has become the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.”

Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981):  Born in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1899, Dr. Thurman was an author, theologian, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader. He wrote 20 books, started a multicultural church in California, and served as Dean of Theology at Howard University and Boston University.

Bethune and Hurston are already well-known, but the achievements of Daytona-born Thurman are new to me. A few fascinating quotes by Dr. Thurman are now among my favorites.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.

A dream is the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.

Florida Authors

September 28, 2010

This past weekend St.Augustine hosted the 3rd Annual Florida Heritage Book Festival. Although I was unable to attend Saturday’s event, I was able to attend the Writers Workshop held on Friday at the historic Casa Monica Hotel. It was here that I picked up great nuggets of wisdom from some of Florida’s greatest writers.

  • Robert N. Macomber, a prolific writer and speaker, is the master of historical fiction.  His Honor series of naval novels has garnished many awards, including the Outstanding Achievement Award of Florida and the Patrick Smith Literary Award for Best Historical Novel of Florida. The eighth novel in his series was released just this past March.
  • William McKeen, former professor and chairman of the Department of Journalism at the University of Florida, now at Boston University, is the author of several nonfiction works. His latest book, Outlaw Journalist, is about the life and times of Hunter S. Thompson.  Other works include books on Tom Wolfe and Bob Dylan.
  • Karen Brown, Ph.D, who teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida, is a champion of short story writing and has already received the O. Henry Prize not once, but twice. She has an award winning book out entitled Pins and Needles.
  • Larry Baker, a former St. Augustine resident who now teaches at the University of Iowa, has set two of his fictional stories in the St. Augustine area. His book, The Flamingo Rising, became a Hallmark movie. His newest book, A Good Man, is, as he puts it, “about an African-American preacher who arrives in St. Augustine during a hurricane.”

There were plenty of other writers in the audience and I felt privileged to be sitting among them.  Steven Kerry Brown, a private investigator out of Ponte Vedra, is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private InvestigatingRik Feeney, a former gymnast, is the author of two books on gymnastics and numerous books on writing.

Then there was the 82 year old lady sitting next to me, who is often questioned as to why she is writing now at her age.  My response to this was, why not write at age 82?  She firmly agreed and a short while later handed me a copy of her poem, or as she referred to it, her rhyme, about an old stocking at Christmas time.  One quick read and I knew it should be in print. 

Beginning in October I will be posting only once a week so that I can have more time to pursue other projects.  I will continue to wander the great state of Florida and report in every Wednesday.

Florida’s Hemingway

July 16, 2010

I must say, Florida has legitimate claim to one of the most dynamic writers in literary history.  Ernest Hemingway was quite a character in his own right, and Florida claimed him as one of its own for some 30 years (1931-1961). When he fell for his first wife’s best friend while in Paris, divorce then marriage quickly followed.  Key West eventually became the newlyweds’ home, thanks more to her money than his. 

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Key West was a visit to the Hemingway House.  The tour of the Hemingway House is absolute entertainment.  The tour guides tell a good story, all at the expense of Ernest himself. 

Ernest Hemingway House in Key West

One of my absolute favorite nonfiction books of all time is A Moveable Feast, a memoir of Hemingway’s days in Paris.  As someone who has lived in Europe, I can relate to many features in this book, particularly the time spent in cafes.  I find his writing unique and intriguing.  This became even more evident just last year while reading Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway’s “nonfiction novel” about a month spent on safari in Africa.  I wonder if I will like any of his other books as much.  

Unsure of what to read next, I discovered that Hemingway wrote three of his books while living in Key West:  A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  I have already read the first two and am now looking forward to reading the third.

Dance, War and Art

May 25, 2010

The Artist’s Job Is To Explore
To Announce New Visions
And To Open New Doors

–Etched in stone, Entry to Small Gallery, Maitland Art Center– 

On a casual drive in the Orlando area this past weekend I came across a fascinating building tucked away in a quiet, upscale neighborhood near water.  The sign on the building declared it to be the Maitland Art Center.  I parked and wandered inside. 

Of Dance and War
As I weaved my way among the artists’ studios a man emerged from one of them. His name was Steve Piscitelli (Pi for short) and he invited me in to his Figure Sculpting class. There were only three students and a model named Claire posing on the small stage area. One of the students continued to sculpt a figure of the model out of wax. Another sat quietly sketching the model.  The third student busily worked on a head/bust of one of her grandchildren.  Apparently this grandmother was immortalizing each of her grandchildren in this way.

Pi is best known for his sculptures of ballet dancers.  Interestingly though, Pi is also known for his war themed sculptures.  On his website, which he admits needs a little updating, he is quoted as saying the following in relation to his dual themes of dance and war: 

I dealt with war imagery by making statues of what was bothering me. In order to counterbalance that depressing, miserable subject, I took the most beautiful form of human endeavor, which is dance, and began making dancers just simply as a balance. 

As a little background, Pi served in Vietnam when he was 19 years old.  One of the figures on his workshop shelf, he tells me, is that of the youngest soldier to die in Vietnam, a 15-year-old.  He was there to witness it. 

Pi graciously walked me around the center, showing me the foundry and his work area.  He then took me into the only other class taking place – Jewelry Fabrication.  There were only two students this day and one of the women showed me a beautiful ring she had made for her boyfriend. 

Artist's Studio


Andre Smith 

The Maitland Art Center was formally an artists’ compound designed and built by artist and architect Andre Smith in 1937.  Across the street from the compound Smith also built an open-air chapel and courtyard. These still remain today. 

Outdoor Chapel


My favorite spot of the Center was the outdoor chapel, surrounded by oak trees draped in Spanish moss.  At its entrance you will find this, etched into the stone wall: 


The Gallery
Since I was already there, I decided to pay the $3.00 to view the art gallery.  The gallery was small but just enough for the day.  The exhibit, entitled “The Matrix: Andre Smith’s Prints and Beyond,” not only contains exquisite etchings by Andre Smith, but art by several other artists as well.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Women Looking at Flowers (Andre Smith)


Reflections 1980 (Maury Hurt)

Poster for Picasso Designs 1966-69 (Pablo Picasso)

News Boys 1934 (Minna Citron)

The Center’s unique features are the accessibility to artists and the offering of various art classes including pottery, stained glass, painting and digital photography. There are also classes for children, as well as workshops for teens.  The Center has recently merged with the Maitland Historical Society and Museums and changes are bound to be in store.  How this will affect Pi and his class of figure sculpting remains unclear at the moment.  I will have to check back later in the year, or possibly attend a workshop myself one of these days. 

A Pulitzer and an Artists Hall of Fame?

April 30, 2010

Today in Florida History

A quick online search for “today in florida history” led to the discovery that on this day in 1939 Ellen Taaffe Zwilich was born in Miami.  This would be great news except for the fact that I have no idea who  Ellen Taaffee Zwilich is. 

Another quick search results in a  brief bio on Zwilich proclaiming her fame as the first woman composer to win a Pulitzer Prize in Music.  This happened in 1983, long after her graduation from my alma mater, Florida State University.  Zwilich also earned a Doctorate Degree from the ulta-infamous Juilliard School in New York.  You can’t have much higher credentials in music than that!

According to Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians,

There are not many composers in the modern world who possess the lucky combination of writing music of substance and at the same time exercising an immediate appeal to mixed audiences. Zwilich offers this happy combination of purely technical excellence and a distinct power of communication.

I’m no classical music aficionado.  My education in music consists of one course taken in college, an Introduction to Music, if I recall correctly. What I do remember well from that class is my joy of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Debussey’s Claire de Lune

In the past, music has been mostly a background theme in my life.  Songs to dance to, rock out to, cry to, daydream to, sing along with, or help promote a self-pity party now and again.   What have I been missing out on?  I’ve decided to start really listening, to step outside my comfort zone in this creative art.  Maybe I’ll even choose Ms. Zwilich as the composer/musician to start with.   

Florida has an Artist’s Hall of Fame?

Many articles I came across during my search for more information and insight on Zwilich reveal that she has been elected to the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.  Who knew Florida had an Artists Hall of Fame?   From Ernest Hemingway to Burt Reynolds, they’re all there.  Should make for an interesting side trip the next time I’m in Tallahassee.