Friday, March 6, 2015

A Visit to Cross Creek - Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site

I must have been in sixth or seventh grade when I read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. This coming of age novel about a year in the development of a young boy named Jody raising an orphaned fawn on an isolated farm in central Florida until he must release it into the wild, left a strong imprint on me, while the details have been lost to my memories, the overall sense of wonder, loss, and development of understanding have remained. Wednesday dawned bright and warm, so we decided to drive over to the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Park, which lies about ten miles from this week's camp at Payne's Prairie State Park.

Located in Cross Creek, Florida, the Kinnan Rawlings park in located on what's left of a seventy-two acre Orange Grove Rawlings (1896 - 1953) bought in 1928 with a small inheritance from her mother. The countryside is mostly characteristic of central Florida flatlands, with a few feet of rise in elevation creating changes from cypress swamps to palmetto grasslands and cattle ranches, interspersed with a number of small lakes, nowadays the home of fish camps. Rawlings worked as a newspaper writer, changing jobs along with her husband while also writing short stories, which caught the idea of super-editor Maxwell Perkins (editor for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe) who encouraged her to publish. After several other successes, her most successful novel, The Yearling, was published in 1938, won a Pulitzer Prize and was turned into a movie by MGM after the war. It has become a standard among what are now called Young Adult novels or Juvenile Fiction, read largely in late elementary school.

Walking up the dirt path from the parking lot takes a visitor into the world of the late thirties and early forties in central Florida. Friendly volunteers are pruning an overfilled tangerine tree bearing slightly sour and delicious tangerines with paper thin skins that peel off easily. They welcome us to the site, telling us that the buildings are only open to tour from Thursday through Sunday, but the doors are open for us to look in through the screens.

The farmhouse and the attached work-space Rawlings had built for her are simple, reflecting both the times and the location. The central farmhouse is a Cracker style building built in 1884. Other buildings were added by Rawlings to make living there easier or to accommodate guests and her writing. Much a Rawlings' writing depended on the relationships she developed with local people who were further developed as characters or portrayed in profiles in another major work, Cross Creek. Rawlings' subjects were not always fully enthusiastic about how they saw themselves portrayed in her books.

Rawlings at Work

The Farm House

The Barn

For a more detailed picture of Rawlings' life, see the entry on her in Wikipedia.

First Edition of Cross Creek

 Rawlings Commemorative - Issued 2008

The Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is worth an hour or so stop for a taste of an earlier era in central Florida with the lovely historic village of Micanopy nearby as well as the home of the University of Florida in Gainesville.