An Ode to Florida’s Natural Beauty
I recently observed the anniversary of the passing of my father, Howard Carraway. Dad was originally a newspaper man of the old school, which is to say that he actually practiced journalism. He was simultaneously a businessman, operating a printing business in his homeland of South Carolina until he moved his young family to Fort Pierce, Florida in early 1959. There, he continued his business, and worked for The News Tribune as an investigative reporter and as a writer of a column called Cracker Barrel. It was something we would think of as a lifestyle column today, in which he reflected on all manner of things, including the natural beauty of Florida’s interior, as you will see below.
Dad was all about personal freedom and personal responsibility, and bridled at intrusive government. It is not ironic at all that he could have that kind of sensibility and still appreciate what many of us love about Florida – its natural places. Sounds like most of the people I know in the Green Industries. It is personally insulting to me (and probably to you too) that there are people who would condemn the urban landscape as anathema to those natural places. Let me just say that’s just crazy talk. And even in 1959, Dad saw the complete compatibility of the two.
I am proud to share this with you, because I believe you will find his writing to be special, and his storytelling to be both charming and inspiring.
Cracker Barrel / By Howard Carraway / October 6, 1959
Florida is a beautiful land, naturally. Although a late comer, a new arrival, I’m no snowbird. It was Florida in the winter that I came to see and visit, but it is Florida in the spring and summer that I have stayed to enjoy and admire equally, and that is to say, excessively.
Such lushness of growth, such cleanness of air, such wetness of water! It is a fine combination of excess and moderation that appeals to me, and the wilder and more “original” it is, the more it appeals.
The prairies are the places I have like the best of all I’ve seen in seven months. Enough of them should be preserved permanently to give a fellow a place to go and lose himself in the vastness and isolation almost like a desert. The coast is delightful, and the water is, of course, fine. The highways are beautiful and efficient, and the city is a joy to live in. Yet there is a magnificence about the back country that defies comparison. It is unique, yet to me it was as familiar the first time I saw it as though I had been there before. There was, in the roughest sense, a communion of spirits, and even the mosquitoes seemed to know me. They flew right up and sat down.
The first trip into the back country, it was to fish in the ditches of an abandoned tomato field. Isn’t that something, now, to drive 40 miles, much of it over rough, swampy country, leaving behind some of the finest fishing waters in the world, to cast a plug in a ditch you could spit across? It may seem dizzy, but after the first cast which brought a scrappy five-pound bass onto the bank, it makes the best kind of good sense.
There was much more than just hungry black bass to appeal to one, too. Two whooping cranes, so rare as to be practically extinct, launched themselves almost awkwardly to the air, and blasted their hoarse, hollow klaxon horns over the savanna. It was one of the most exciting events of my outdoor life. I saw them again foraging in the palmettos.
I saw wild turkeys, an alligator, and huge herds of slick, red beef cattle miles from the nearest barn. I saw quail in great abundance, a hundred varieties of birds, some of which I had never seen before and others that had been so long unseen as to be practically forgotten. I saw great cottonmouths, and turf freshly rooted up by wild pigs. Deer trails, raccoon tracks, and what seemed like thousands of crows.
Many of these things can be seen closer to the centers of civilization than I was on this memorable first journey into the interior. But I don’t believe they will be found in such abundance, nor in such compatible surroundings. A wild turkey trotting through the palmettos at daybreak looks just as natural as an alley cat darting across 26th street at dusk.
Floridians take them for granted, but the newcomer is quite a while accepting them as natural phenomena, for the hammock is a thing of beauty too, like a landscaper had forced it into that shape. It fits where it is, and you wouldn’t want it moved or changed. Until you finally come to recognize it as a natural occurrence, you think someone is playing tricks on you.
A hammock is an oasis, a natural place for life to gravitate. I feel drawn to one as though my chair and slippers were waiting, and the evening paper opened to the sports page.