Cross Creek: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Posted by on Aug 23, 2017 in Unmowed Authors, Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

“Enchantment lies in different things for each of us. For me, it is in this: to step out of the bright sunlight into the shade of orange trees; to walk under the arched canopy of their jadelike leaves; to see the long aisles of lichened trunks stretch ahead in geometric rhythm; to feel the mystery of a seclusion that yet has shafts of light striking though it.”

(from Cross Creek)

It’s a tribute to Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s sheer toughness that she adored backwoods Florida in the 1920s, before the importation of two key things: air conditioning and window screens. Lover of nature though I am, I’m not sure I could cope with rashes of prickly heat, 100 degree temperatures, and endless mosquito bites. But Marjorie flourished in the heat and the sunlight, just like her orange grove.

(She hated mosquitoes, however, and is credited with the introduction of the screened-in porch to Florida. If you saw the movie Cross Creek, it was very accurate, except for two points—Marjorie was not a gorgeous movie star, and she did not sit on that wonderful porch typing her masterpiece until the porch was completely surrounded by dense “mosquito-bar” screening.)

Cross Creek, now a state park, still has much of its loveliness. The house is beautifully preserved, looking like she just stepped out for a minute. Her typewriter is still on the porch. Water lilies dot the creek and palm trees sway in the breeze. There are still remnants of her orange grove, a few old trees with dark emerald leaves. The shade under them is deep and cool.

Perhaps more than any other writer, her love of the land and the waters flowed through her books, with trees and flowers appearing on almost every page. She loved every leaf. Sparkleberry, gooseberry, huckleberry, brierberry. Live oak, pawpaw, persimmon. Pine, scrub palmetto, catbriers. By the second paragraph of her 1938 Pulitzer-Prize wining The Yearling, she’s already mentioned chinaberry, yellow jessamine, sweet bay and magnolia.

She remembered, as most of us do not, to engage all the senses. Of course she reveled in the tastes of oranges, tangerines, pecans, and wild poke salad. She also touched plants, smelled them, and even listened to them. In her work you can almost hear the bees buzzing, “burrowed into the fragile clusters of lavender bloom as greedily as though there were no other flowers in the scrub.”

“We at the Creek need and have found only very simple things…the sound of wind in the trees—and there is no more sensitive Aeolian harp than the palm. The pine is good, for the needles brushing one another have a great softness, and we have the wind in the pines, too.”

Florida seems seasonless, the land where it is always summer, where Northerners like me flee to escape winter. But years of living in the wilds made her as sensitive to the seasons as a tree is. “At the Creek, spring is as definite and as exciting as in Greenland,” she wrote. “If anything comes first, it is the jessamine. Along the fence rows, through the hammocks, slim dry vines are suddenly a mass of golden bloom, so fragrant that the initiate all but swoons. …I have been on Orange Lake by night and had the scent of jessamine come so strongly from the far shores that it seemed an immense perfume flask had been spilled from the stars.”

 Her book Cross Creek, her passionate love letter to wild Florida, closes with these words:

“It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed, but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers, and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time…”

(from Cross Creek)

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Thanks to Wells Horton for the water lily photo!

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