November 24, 2007

Steinhatchee Falls

The Steinhatchee (STEEN-hatchee) River forms the border between Taylor County and Dixie County until the Gulf of Mexico. It just about slices Florida's "Big Bend" region in half. The river "falls" are hardly steep, but its wilderness more than compensates.

You'll have to bump along a gravel dirt road in a skinned out timber yard to get to the public picnic area on the falls. On one of the country roads I've traveled I acquired a nail in one of my tires--occupational hazard. With a new car battery, new alternator belt, and new tire, I'm back on the trail.

The sun set as I took pictures. There are grooves, ruts in the river bank where a pioneer or Native American bridge might have been.

Autumn in Monticello

In my short time exploring the Florida section of every Borders and Barnes & Noble from Tallahassee to Lakeland, I've come across enough collections of ghost stories that I could write another book just on the spooks and sprites of the Panhandle pinewoods. Monticello especially seems to be a sort of spiritual center, a hellmouth. Lots of books on what must be the ghosts of old plantation nobility. I'm sure Monticello went crazy for Halloween.

They certainly are ready for Christmas. This time, with the leaves fallen, I appreciated the road to Monticello much more. The last time I visited, the landscaped section of US 90 called "Fred Mahan Drive" that leads to the Jefferson County seat was like a skeleton forest. During the Great Depression, the state road department paid laborers 30 cents an hour to beautify the highway with arbor vitae, palms, and crape myrtles. In summer, the roadsides flower pink-red.

Now the foliage is much less dramatic. But there were some flashes of November color in town.

I walked by Jefferson County High School again. Monticello struck Chiles. It struck me. The school was built by slave labor in 1852. This is Florida's Old Cotton Belt.

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been thinking a lot lately about images and writing--also about film scoring.

I wonder if one way to test a chapter's quality is to ask where the story is. What is that iconic scene that drives the narrative? If it's at the middle, end, or beginning it doesn't matter. There should be a scene somewhere--a key snip of dialogue and action--that captures everything you need to know in one or two paragraphs.

The picture above to me is an icon for Florida's "Nature Coast." It's lonely. It's marshy. It's rough terrain. Your cell phone barely gets signal and there isn't a gas station for miles. There aren't even many animals around except for an occasional sea gull or tern.

More than anything, what I noticed was the sun. As cliched as it is, the sun beat down the day of my visit. On a boat, away from the tree canopy, you'd feel it even more. The air was crisp, cool, and cloudless; the sun's glare blinding.

Probably an icon for the entire Chiles journey is the Jay Hill episode. It's a slice of life. It reminds me of the Haitian proverb: "Beyond mountains there are mountains." The proverb is the inspiration for the title of a book by Tracy Kidder about world health expert Dr. Paul Farmer. Chiles' journey up Jay Hill:

We talked with a number of people in Century and had breakfast there. At first they wanted to talk only about the 800-mile plus walk before me, but then everybody started telling me about the Jay hill which lay ahead of me on the way to Jay.

I don't believe it was more than three or four miles but it looked like eight miles when I started up. The word was that if I could make it up the Jay hill, the trip would be coasting the rest of the way to the Keys. I thought I had made it up and stopped to rest. About that time Officer Wood, a highway patrolman who used to be stationed in Lakeland, came by and stopped to see what I was doing there. He broke it to me that I was only halfway up the hill. It was kind of a blow cause I hadn't realized that when the road curved ahead, I'd have another half of the hill to traverse.

November 20, 2007

Chiles Niece Runs for North Carolina U.S. Senate Seat

Last week, Governor Lawton Chiles' niece, Kay Ruthven, a Democratic state senator in North Carolina, declared her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Elizabeth Dole.

In 1998, when Ruthven first won her state senate seat, Governor Chiles traveled to North Carolina to walk the district with her. The legend Florida knew as "Walkin' Lawton" was "Uncle Bud" to the Ruthvens.

The Lakeland Ledger reported it last week. Her campaign website is up and running. All the best to her efforts.

Walton County Courthouse

Just before I left DeFuniak Springs, as the sunlight faded, I saw the county courthouse. The fall colors were so great I had to walk over and take a few shots. The lighting was great. The angles I got could have been sharper but it was the end of the day and I had a bag dinner from H & M Hot Dog waiting in the car.

I don't know that Chiles stopped at the courthouse in 1970. On later visits he probably spoke in front of it. I can see him giving a real barnstormer at that amphitheater by Lake DeFuniak.

1968: The Culture Wars

We've had a couple good movies lately covering 1968 or thereabouts. American Gangster comes to mind first, but before that there was Talk to Me, about Washington, DC radio rapper "Petey" Green.

It was the first time that "liberal" was used as a smear word in a national political campaign. In the 1968 Florida U.S. Senate race, Republican candidate Edward Gurney tarred former Democratic governor LeRoy Collins with every permutation of liberal possible. All designed to evoke images of social "excess"--radicals, hippies, and yippies. Feminism, civil rights, national welfare policy, and the peace movement spurred the social schism. To me, the telltales spoke quickly:

January 13: Johnny Cash records "Live at Folsom Prison."

January 30: The Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam.

March 31: President Lyndon Johnson announces he will not seek re-election.

April 4: An assassin's bullet kills Martin Luther King, Jr.

April 11: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

June 5: Robert F. Kennedy shot by assassin. He dies the next day.

August 5-August 8: Republican National Convention nominates Richard Nixon for U.S. president.

"Liberal" is still just seven letters, but it was a bigger fightin' word back then. Nixon bludgeoned the Humphrey campaign with it.

When "conservatives" realized they could win by saying "liberal, liberal" rather than stringing a complete sentence together, they laced all their campaigns with it. For empty suit Democratic candidates, the "liberal" moniker stuck--and sunk them. For principled governors like LeRoy Collins, the label stank enough to make years of reform irrelevant on the campaign trail. "Liberal" said everything in one word that no one wanted to say with a hundred.

In Florida and elsewhere, those lost Democratic votes went to conservative Republicans and George Wallace. This was the social arena where the Chiles for Senate campaign summer of 1969. And the Culture Wars speak loudly in The Walkin' Notes.

November 18, 2007

Lake DeFuniak

Circle Drive winds around Lake DeFuniak about a mile, long enough for a good brisk run in the morning--past piers, wading ducks, the Chautauqua Assembly, an amphitheater, the public library, and other sights.

Pier close to First Presbyterian Church.

The town public library (1886). Unfortunately, it lacks DeFuniak Herald clips from 1970.

Amphitheater close to First Presbyterian. A nice spot for a lakeside rally under the oak's shade.

The front entrance to the Chautauqua Assembly. When I walked by there was a rock band jamming country and rock music.

Chautauqua Assembly from the North. The building dates to 1909.