November 29, 2007

Hagen's Cove Classroom

In Taylor County, along Florida's Big Bend, I found Hagen's Cove on the Gulf of Mexico. It got me thinking about a couple things.

One is an episode from the general election phase of the 1970 U.S. Senate campaign that I think I'll focus on, which is the annual Forest Festival in Perry, the Taylor County seat. I don't know if the paper mill is still there, but it was there and employed hundreds and hundreds in the county back then. If Bill Cramer was gonna fight for the cracker vote, Perry was as good a place as any to start. If the GOP was gonna resurge in Florida since Reconstruction, it would have to get into the hinterland. Civil rights, feminism, counterculture--they would be the wedges to pry social and religious conservatives away from the Democratic Party.

Second, it got me thinking about contrasts. Seems to me that's what writing is all about.

-If you don't see family life, Christmas, vacations, hunting trips, stories; you don't appreciate the huge cost of a campaign life on the highway

-If you don't see Chiles driving around Spessard Holland as a teenager in 1946, you don't appreciate the moment he took Holland's seat in the U.S. Senate in 1970

-If you don't see Chiles choking his way through a conventional campaign strategy at the beginning of the 1970 U.S. Senate campaign, you don't appreciate the creativity of the The Walk

-If you don't see him taking his first big risk on Red Lobster, you can't put The Walk and his limits on campaign contributions in perspective

It's no different than the way you appreciate the photo of Hagen's Cove. It's barren and lonely. It's in conflict with your mental image of Florida, the one you carry with you--and there you've got meaning. There's also just the contrast of shadows and the sun's glare on the Gulf.

Tom Sawyer

One of the news clips I'm working with for the walk chapter called Chiles a "40-year-old Tom Sawyer." He still had a boyish grin before long hours of Washington politics rubbed it off.

I pulled Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer off the shelf a couple days ago. For months, I had been planning to look at it for ideas on how to think about and write the first chapter. In my mind, the halcyon days of a rural boyhood and life on the riverboat went together. Turned out it offered no help at all. The widow Douglas, Aunt Sally, Jim; they just didn't really hit the spot. I gave the book to Goodwill. Huck Finn is supposed to be Twain's masterpiece, anyway. And I still have that.

I'm going back to the book on Polk County and the lore for ideas. I think the last minutes before a rally at Munn Park in Lakeland is the best place the start. The story of Jacob Summerlin, "King of the Crackers," is one I'm really focusing on.

November 28, 2007

November Progress Report

Expect light blogging from now through the holiday season. I'm getting close to a draft of the chapter on "The Walk." And I've been to most of the stops I planned in North Florida. Right now I'm focusing on writing the last and first chapters as well as the walk across Florida.

November 27, 2007

Florida from Chattahoochee Bluff

This photo has been posted before, but five months and 200 blog posts later it's worth revisiting. I can appreciate it better.

It's my attempt at a perspective shot of Victory Bridge, which crosses the Apalachicola River at its Lake Seminole headwaters. In terms of flow volume, Florida's other rivers are a trickle. Over the eons, the river has cut deep ravines and grooves hundreds of feet deep. The two rivers that feed into the Apalachicola begin in Georgia's Appalachian Mountains. On the uplands, strange and lush plants grow like the torreya tree, the Florida yew, sugar maple, and ashe magnolia. I defy you to find a single leaf of the state tree, the sable palm.

There just isn't a vista anywhere in Florida like it. The bridge separates the Central and Eastern Time Zones. It's not the elevation really that's so dramatic. It's also the confluence of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama at one river head. From Chattahoochee bluff, you can see all the Florida that's missing in Disney World.

To the east, Gadsden County is your gateway to the part of Florida that was once its richest and proudest--the cotton and tobacco plantation belt. It's the westernmost Democratic county. Farther, Tallahassee's cosmopolitan political culture awaits. To the north, you can see Georgia; its rivers and its culture drain into north Florida. To the west, you're entering a different time zone politically and culturally. Anywhere outside Pensacola, you're inside the Panhandle pinewoods and its most conservative values. To the south, you can just admire the vista of Old Florida.

On the bluff, you get a measure of all there is to know from Miami to Monticello.

November 25, 2007

Slash Pinewoods of the Panhandle

In the last light hours of the day, I entered Apalachicola National Forest via Tate's Hell State Forest. At first I thought I would look for a trail to the river, then I just picked a random trail and drove in to take a look. There were a couple campgrounds near the river but I stopped and turned back just before. I tried to cram as much woods into my shots as possible.

On the Apalachicola River floodplain, slash pines canopied saw palmetto underbrush as far as I could see. After the timer industry clear-cut the entire native longleaf pine plantation, foresters seeded fast-growing slash pines as a placeholder till the land is ready for longleaf again.

In the middle and upper story of longleaf pinelands, you can hide a dozen turkeys easy. In the stark, widely-spaced slash pine, the gobblers might as well have a target on their heads. The longleaf pine will be a blessing to them and their playmates.

There is something dizzying about driving by forested pine woods. Something about the exact order of the trees.