November 17, 2007

DeFuniak Dogs

I quickly found out that stopping at H & M Hot Dog in downtown DeFuniak Springs was a must. True to legend, my hamburger didn't disappoint. No one there had any Chiles tales to tell, but they the staff was tired from feeding the whole town at their 60th anniversary hot-dog-eating-contest. As I waited for my burger, I read the Walkin' Notes and listened to the country radio station 96.9 "The Big Dog." It was the full experience.

I re-read Chiles' classic encounter with a bull mastiff outside DeFuniak Springs, and the local remedy he used to scare him off:

I was in a conversation about dogs with a couple of fellows from DeFuniak Springs...

So we swapped stories. One fellow said that if a dog came after you and if you pointed your finger at him, many times he wouldn't attack you. Which prompted the other follow to suggest this just might be a good way to lose a finger. Then this man said someone had told him that if a dog really charged at you, you should pull your pants pockets out and then kinda bow over and make a loud noise. This would present a picture so different from a man that it would thoroughly confuse the dog. So, we all laughed about this and I went on walking and talking.

Well, this morning as I was walking out of DeFuniak, a dog — looked like he had a lot of hound in him and maybe some mastiff or pit bull — started for me, barked some, then went back. I quit paying attention to him and kept walking. But I heard or sensed something and looked around. Here he came, really bearing town on me. His head was all in a ruff and he was charging. I started to point my finger at him when I realized that that wasn't going to stop him. I somehow thought about what the man had said and I turned my pockets out, bowed over and bellowed. Well, that mutt just veered off and went yelping away. I just had to sit down — though I was still a little scared — and laugh about the picture I must have made to that dog (and any nearby voters). Thank goodness I had seen that fellow the day before.

November 15, 2007

Walkin' DeFuniak Springs

DeFuniak Springs boomed soon after its founding in the late 19th century, especially after the New York-based Chautauqua educational movement chose the town for its winter meetings. New money paid for Victorian manors--bay windows, gingerbread trim, turrets--along Lake DeFuniak's Circle Drive. If you look at it in the right light, especially in autumn, it looks a bit like New England. The town has loads of personality and everyone I met there was in good spirits and courteous. I'm sure Chiles loved returning there in future campaigns.

November 14, 2007

Carrabelle Beach, Utah Beach

In honor of Veteran's Day a couple days ago, I have some slides of Carrabelle Beach, used as practice by the American military for the D-Day World War II invasion. The Gulf Coast from Ochlocknee Bay to Eastport was Camp Gordon Johnston, where more than 250,000 amphibious soldiers practiced storming beaches. In the distance of this first shot, you can see Dog Island. For more information, see North Florida & the Florida Panhandle: An Explorer's Guide, by Sandra Friend & Kathy Wolf, a 2007 Countrymen Press publication.

November 13, 2007

Graham Creek

More shots of Graham Creek in Tate's Hell State Forest. The camp area at the boat landing smelled of burnt firewood and my belly started to growl for s'mores. The creek flows west into the Apalachicola River, which flows into a Bay that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The woods were silent except for the whoosh of 75 mile an hour traffic coming over the creek bridge. Those suburbans and minivans thought they were pace cars at the Indy 500 or something.

Florida's Hellscape

More than a century ago, an old cracker pioneer in North Florida grabbed his shotgun and called his dogs. He walked south into the swamp to find the panther that had killed his livestock more than once. For seven days and seven nights he waded through upland pines, sawgrass-and-cypress marsh, and mucky creek bottoms. His rattlesnake bite ached. Fire ants stung his legs. He gulped down gallons of swamp juice to cool his fever. When he smelled a salty wind off Apalachicola Bay, he hurtled toward it till he cleared the forest. "My name is Tate," he stammered before dying,"and I've just been through hell!"

Tate's Hell State Forest, Florida's harshest fen, belongs to folklore as much as Macbeth's Great Birnam Wood, Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest, and Westley's Fire Swamp. It is home to the endangered black bear, bald eagle, and gopher tortoise, but it's hell to the average hiker. Floridians have told and re-told Tate's journey for generations. It's fun to add your own adversaries and embellishments to keep the story going.

The forest, about 200,000 acres total, stretches from Liberty County in the middle of the Panhandle south to Apalachicola Bay.

I took pictures for an hour or so when I visited. A couple mosquito bites and some close encounters with the local ant population were worth it for twilight shots of the creeks and bogs in autumn. The boat landings were great for stopping and getting out to look around.

Graham Creek Bridge.

November 12, 2007

Florida's Exurban Boom

Swing State Project, a great political watchdog blog, just released a list of the fastest-growing congressional districts around the country. Ever on the search for new residents, Florida made top billing at #4.

The Sunshine State's 5th congressional district: all or parts of Pasco County, Hernando County, Lake County, Citrus County, Levy County, Marion County, Polk County, and Sumter County.

In the 2004 presidential election, the district gave George W. Bush 58% of the vote. Between 2000 and 2005, it grew 27%. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Republican, speaks for the district in Washington.

Just from my drive through Lake County's Clermont, I believe the growth is real. I passed acre upon acre of unfurnished tan and peach suburban homes, vacant dirt lots, mucky backhoes, and the vanguard of any big development push--the orange big box called Home Depot. All this building is so close to I-4 you can almost hear the curses of stranded drivers, but far enough way from the Tampa-Orlando-Daytona corridor that you can also hear moo cows grazing in roadside cracker ranches.

This is what the politicians call "exurbs" now--the outer rim of suburbia. They sprout in the oddest of places, behind an orange grove here, next to a horse pasture there. Heck, I snapped pictures of cattle in the same shot as Citrus County's Crystal River Energy Complex. Exurbs boast all of what you'd expect from a 21st century Florida suburb. Starbucks is nearby; so is Target and Wal-Mart. Some exurbs have key-code gates just like the richest McMansion communities. And often, they vote Republican to keep it that way.

You can barely see the smokestacks above the trees that power the state's exurban boom. It's not all fields and fish fries anymore from Levy County to Lake County. Since Democratic and Republican strategists crowned 2004 the "Year of the Exurb," they've been out getting new precinct maps to study. And they're picking up lunch at a brand-new Panera Bread on the way.

November 11, 2007

Bradley's Country Fun Day

This coming Saturday, an old-fashioned good-time party will rock Bradley's Country Store. Homemade sausage, fresh-milled grits, wagon rides--the whole ball of beeswax.

Should be something.

"Bruce, Blues, and Barbecue"

I saw this event on John Edwards' (D) public schedule and it reminded me of the feasts--or "feeds" as they were called sometimes back then--that Chiles attended in rural Florida as he worked his way down to the Keys.

Something about the mix of big personalities, food, and music.

I've studied the material up to where he walks Sarasota, and still get a kick out of his stop in Kissimmee:

I walked into Kissimmee Saturday morning and right on into the Silver Spurs Rodeo parade. For the most part it was just me and the horses walking in that parade. Unfortunately, there were a bunch of horses ahead of me and I would have to say it caused a bit of a problem for me. But it being July 4th and my first taste of getting home — Osceola County is in my senatorial district — no problem could keep it from being a great day. The crowd was tremendous and reacted warmly to my walking while the other officeholders and office seekers rode in cars. They talked to me and applauded enthusiastically and about had me floating over the problem the horses were leaving in the road ahead of me.

Now that's a 4th of July celebration!

The Panhandle's Pull

One thing I've noticed as I end a close reading of the Walkin' Notes: the journal entries get longer and cover more than just one day--a week even.

It gives a visceral sense of the blur of time as the Chiles for Senate campaign peaked. Also, it shows the minute by minute description he dedicated to the towns in the Panhandle. A sense of priorities.

The descriptions of food in particular get sparse once he leaves the Panhandle.

Chiles and His Florida: DeFuniak Springs

From the Walkin' Notes:

The kindness and generosity of the people in this part of Florida has completely overwhelmed me. I went to church yesterday in DeFuniak Springs at the First Presbyterian Church. When the service was over, I think just about everyone there came over and spoke to me. It was one of the most friendly groups of people I have ever seen.

Then, this morning, we parked our camper in downtown DeFuniak, and Mrs. R.D. Claussen, who runs a restaurant, came up and said she'd been following my walk since it first started and she would like very much to have me be her guest for lunch.

The former site of Mrs. Claussen's bus station restaurant, now a state's attorney office.

Gosh, what a wonderful lunch it was — fried chicken, turnip greens, blackeyed peas, rice and gravy and cornbread and chocolate cake. People keep asking me if I'm losing any weight, but with all the food everybody is giving me, there's no way in the world that I can lose weight, even with all this walking and talking.