1950s Florida – Panhandle Images

Wikipedia Graphic

The Florida Panhandle, an informal, unofficial term for the northwestern part of the U.S. state of Florida, is a strip of land roughly 200 miles long and 50 to 100 miles wide (320 km by 80 to 160 km), lying between Alabama on the north and the west, Georgia also on the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. Its eastern boundary is arbitrarily defined. – Wikipedia

My books are set in the Florida Panhandle because that’s where I grew up, learned the lay of the land, and heard the old stories. I lived in Tallahassee which is sometimes considered part of the panhandle and sometimes considered part of the “Big Bend.”

The panhandle is often viewed as more like Georgia than the peninsula part of the state. Panhandle residents often think the peninsula with its tourist attractions has been ruined by overdevelopment and destinations that either don’t belong there or are caricatures of the once wild land they displaced.

The Panhandle features white sandy beaches, often called The Redneck Riviera, but now generally in advertising and promotion are referenced as “The Emerald Coast.”

If you sample the beaches of the Emerald Coast and the Atlantic Coast, you’ll notice that most of the Emerald Coast isn’t covered with the kind of excessive development such as that found around Daytona Beach and other cities. (Gosh, I hope I don’t sound biased.) You’ll also notice the sand, is pure white, in fact blindingly white making sunglasses highly desirable. This sand is much different than the coarser sand of the Atlantic Coast.

Florida Memory Photo

 

According to Wikipedia, “The Apalachicola River /æpəlætʃɪˈkoʊlə/ is a river, approximately 112 mi (180 km) long in the State of Florida. The river’s large watershed, known as the ACF River Basin, drains an area of approximately 19,500 square miles (50,505 km2) into the Gulf of Mexico. The distance to its farthest head waters in northeast Georgia is approximately 500 miles (800 km). Its name comes from the Apalachicola people, who used to live along the river.”

The river is not only a recreation spot, but highly important in the watershed’s environment as well as the oyster industry in the Gulf Coast town of Apalachicoa. Water usage of the river between Georgia and Florida has been under dispute for years, with Florida saying that Atlanta draws off too much water at Florida’s expense.

Florida Forest Service Photo

According to the Florida Forest Service, “The natural resources found on Tate’s Hell State Forest are very diverse due to the unique and various natural community types. At one time Tate’s Hell State Forest supported at least 12 major community types, which included wet flatwoods, wet prairie, seepage slope, baygall, floodplain forest, floodplain swamp, basin swamp, upland hardwood forest, sandhill, pine ridges, dense titi thickets and scrub. Currently, the forest contains approximately 107,300 acres of hydric communities such as wet prairie (contains a vast diversity of plant species), wet flatwoods, strand swamp, bottomland forest, baygall and floodplain swamp.”

The area is under restoration to repair damages from the forest’s long-time usage by the a timber industry that logged out many of the older trees, disrupted natural waterflows throughout the region by constructing roads that served as dykes, and a rape the land style of forest management.

Wikipedia Photo

 

The logging industry also had very poor stewardship over the Panhandle’s once ubiquitous wiregrass and longleaf pine forsts, cutting out the old trees and either not replacing them or replacing cut areas with slash pines. Many native species have been threatened by this policy. The forest service was very slow to understand what Native Americans and early residents understood: longleaf pine forests need fire to survive. For years, fires were extinguished before natural processes could be completed.

Florida Memory Photo

These boats still exist, but I see the 1950s as the heyday of the cabin cruiser. Most of us knew somebody who owned one, and fortunately those people liked to cruise the rivers, head to obscure beaches, and visit the barrier islands (St. George Island and Dog Island).

Florida Memory Photo

 

The Garden of Eden was once a tourist attraction near the small town of Bristol with signs pointing to places where Biblical events purportedly occurred. A local minister worked out a rather complex theory that sought to prove this spot along the Apalachicola River was the real garden of Eden. The signs are gone now, though a Garden of Eden trail still exists. The unique habitat is managed by the Nature Conservancy as the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve.

Florida Memory Photo

 

The St. Joe Paper Company was a major economic player in the economy of the Florida Panhandle and probably the area’s largest landowner. Like the Florida East Coast Railway (the old Flagler system route to Key West), the company was owned by Dupont. The tracks that remain are now used by a shortline railroad (Apalachicola Northern) between Port St. Joe on the Gulf coast the town of Chattahoochee near the Georgia Border.

Google Maps

 

This is where I grew up. You can see the barrier islands just south of Carrabelle and Apalachicola. My friends and I sailed boats between beaches near the junction of highways 319 and 98 to those islands, and my scout troop camped there and in many spots in the Apalachicoa National Forest. The wildlife refuge near St. Marks was a favorite family day trip. My Florida Folk Magic Novels are set near the towns of Hosford and Telogia. The area is rich in history, myths, habitats, recreation, and experiences perfect for a kid growing up who loved being out doors more than indoors.

–Malcolm

 

If you live in Florida, Tupelo Honey is “the” Honey of Choice

“In practice, because of the difficulties in containing bees, a small proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other flower types. Typical examples of North American monofloral honeys are clover, orange blossom, blueberry, sage, tupelo, buckwheat, fireweed, mesquite, and sourwood.” – Wikipedia

In Florida, honey producers are as protective about their Tupelo honey as Georgians are about what can be called a true Vidalia onion. I mention white Ogeechee Tupelo trees in my books because they’re a major tree along the Apalachicola River in the panhandle section of the state. They’re a primary source for Tupelo honey and, less well known, as a source of pecan-sized fruits which taste like limes (sort of) and make a pleasing drink and some great preserves.

Tupelo honey, which I thought was the only kind of honey on earth when I was growing up, is light-colored and has a slightly floral taste and (kind of) smells like cinnamon. When I mention it outside of Florida and southern Georgia, most people have never heard of it.  Being old fashioned–or possibly just old–I remember buying honey in boxes where you got a giant slab of honeycomb which I thought was the best part. Now we get strained honey at most stores. What a loss.

Here’s a great picture from Florida Memory showing Tupelo trees along the Apalachicola River:

1960 photo from Florida Memory

I like the passage in Florida’s Wetlands, Volume 2, about the Tupelo: “Like cypress, Ogeechee tupelos are practically immortal. They can live for hundreds of years and they keep replacing their stems, so they need not reproduce frequently.” Old trees carry the land’s stories if you know how to listen.  You can find these trees most often in floodplain swamps, as shown by this photograph from the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI):

Tupelo at Torreya State Park in Florida’s Liberty County–FNAI photo.

In Florida, you’ll find these trees primarily in panhandle swamps near the Apalachicola River. This is where a fair amount of Tupelo honey comes from.  For those of us in Tallahassee, that was close enough to have a constant supply of quality honey.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s “Lena” will be released on August 1 as the final novel in his Florida Folk Magic trilogy.

 

On Location: The Florida Panhandle, AKA ‘The Other Florida,’ in another era

“The Other Florida’s pines will survive too, I think. Often among them I remember the person I was before I came to them and what I thought was important then, and the landscapes I have since known, and the history I have since learned, and the friends I have since made. Whatever the fates may take me in the years to come, I shall not be the same again.” – Glorida Jahoda in “The Other Florida” (1967)

ConjureLandThe Other Florida, as viewed by anthropologist Gloria Jahoda, was raw and wild and distinctly different than the peninsular part of the state which was being taken over by developers and snow birds and the others who indulged in the kinds of vandalism that destroyed the natural beauty of the state in order to present a man-made, safe and sanitized version of sunshine, flowers and paradise.

In folklore, fantasy and magical realism, other denotes that which is not only different from ourselves and our kin, but is also dangerous, potentially malevolent and probably beyond our comprehension. In the hero’s journey motif made famous by Joseph Campbell, other is the unknown world outside the city gates. Other, in the Harry Potter books and movies, was the forbidden forest next to the school. In psychology, other is the part of ourselves–often called the shadow–that we do not know and do not want to know. Other can also be used to dismiss and/or subjugate peoples, places and ideas that we see as inferior to our comfortable way of thinking.

The Apalachicola River Watershed

I chose Liberty County and the world adjoining the Apalachicola River in Florida for the setting of my novella Conjure Woman’s Cat because historically–and psychologically–it was highly other to everyone, including most of the population of Tallahassee fifty miles away, but more so to those who lived outside the state and/or in the peninsula.

This world felt other to me when I first saw it, the family having moved to north Florida from Oregon when I started the first grade. I was used to mountains and the Pacific coast, all of which formed what I knew of the world. The pine forests, blackwater rivers, basin swamps, savannahs, sheepshead ravines, cypress trees and sweetbay magnolias, Spanish moss and saw palmetto, and white sand beaches seemed fictional. I grew to love them though it’s taken me a lifetime to wrap my consciousness around a place where Southern Gothic was a way of life.

The Other Florida

Apalachicola River at Torreya State Park, one of the most diverse habitats in the world.
Apalachicola River at Torreya State Park, one of the most diverse habitats in the world.

My bible was a book written by family friend Gloria Jahoda, another outsider who described in detail the world between Jacksonville and Pensacola with the detailed and poetic accuracy alien eyes often bring to new experiences. She called this world the “Deep South with a difference, worlds from homogeneous Alabama and Mississippi and even rural Georgia. Though you can never realize it as you speed through the pinewoods to get somewhere else, 20 miles in any direction may bring changes in the country’s life and essence that are dazzling in their variety. Oystermen, cotton planters, millionaire quail hunters, moonshine-makers, vocal conservatives, doctrinaire liberals, scientists, game wardens, fortune tellers and hermits inhabit a land that is above all things deceptive because it looks as if it offered hardly any variety at all.”

En route from Tallahassee to the “forgotten coast” we drove through, economically speaking, the poorest county in the country with miles of pines tapped for turpentine, miles of unpaved sandy roads through scrub oak, sink holes with seemingly no bottom beneath the cold clear water, and that sign that said it all: “Impeach Earl Warren.” I don’t remember who coined the phrase or when, but Southerners were said in those days to like individual Negroes (the terms Blacks and African Americans hadn’t yet been invented) but dislike them as a group while Northerners were said to dislike them as individuals but like them as a group.

Segregation

Wildflowers in the flatwoods section of Tate's Hell Forest.
Wildflowers in the flatwoods section of Tate’s Hell Forest.

Suffice it to say, Sunshine State tourism brochures did not highlight the active and volatile KKK presence nor the fact that Florida had more lynchings, torture, fires and explosions than just about anywhere else.  Proper people knew better than to talk about the Klan even though the group was as integral to the state’s politics and culture as Tupelo honey and grits were to meals cooked and served by Negro maids. The brochures also didn’t say that turpentine camps and orange groves used Negro convict labor, conscripted under false and fanciful charges, to bring us paint thinner and orange juice.

The maids who–as we said–“pert near” raised white children weren’t allowed to eat in our restaurants, attend our churches, use our restrooms or drink out of our water fountains. Negroes were in every possible way, other. Since I wasn’t born in the South and didn’t have a Southern accent, I was called a Yankee and a “N”-lover.

One heard the blues and did a dance or two at the local jook - Florida Memory Photo.
One heard the blues and did a dance or two at the local jook – Florida Memory Photo.

Hell, as a six year old from Oregon, I had never heard of the Civil War and then when my parents told me it happened one hundred before, I didn’t know why folks talked about it as thought it were yesterday. Seeing the war as yesterday was a way of life and the KKK made sure nobody forgot that segregation as by no means gone with the wind. My parents were very liberal and we went to a liberal church, one of the first in town to allow Negroes to attend. The pastor had a cross burnt on his front yard for opening our sacred place to the others and a fair part of our congregation left in a snit and started their own church which was kept Ivory Snow white. My best friend was among those who left. So were my grandparents. I still haven’t forgiven them for that.

I tell you all of this because it’s the impetus behind Conjure Woman’s Cat, a novella set in a Jim Crow era in a violent state that tells the story of a granny and her kitty using folk magic to fight the Klan. Hoodoo was, of course, about as other as you could get and the bond between it and the congregations of Negro churches (praise churches, the were often called) could not be comprehended. The blues told the stories because the blues and Negroes and hoodoo and praise churches and troubles were all wrapped up together. Perhaps I loved the blues because I was an outsider, that is to say, other.

I was other watching other.  My childhood had little innocence in it. Eulalie, my ancient conjure woman in the novella is modeled after the maid who worked for years at my best friend’s house, and I expect I learned more from her than my grade school teachers. Eulalie’s friend Willie Tate is modeled after an elderly Black gentleman who (like many) used a mule-drawn farm wagon for transportation. His family brought their produce to our door every week. Stopped by my best friend’s house around the corner as well. They didn’t come to the front door because that just wasn’t done. Lena, the cat in the novella who travels between words is, of course, me.

Magical realism thrives on people, places and things considered other. Readers believe magic is possible wherever the other is and less likely in the worlds they know. Perhaps so. Perhaps I found magic in the other Florida because I went there as an outsider like the writer of my bible. Like her, I was changed by the pines, landscapes, experiences and friends. Inevitably, writers write about what changes them, what impacts them–what they find, so to speak, on location.

–Malcolm

KIndle cover 200x300(1)Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Cora’s Crossing,” set in Marianna, Florida, “Moonlight and Ghosts,” set in Tallahassee, the “Garden of Heaven” trilogy set, in part, in Tallahassee, Carrabelle, Tate’s Hell and Florida’s “Garden of Eden” near Bristol, “Emily’s Stories,” set in Tallahassee and St. Marks, and “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” set in Liberty County, Florida.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello Florida Readers: Need fantasy, magic and ghosts?

One of my contemporary fantasy novels, three paranormal short stories and a collection of three folk tales have Florida settings. I grew up in Tallahassee and explored most of the state’s panhandle, so I enjoy going back for story locations.

  • The Seeker: (Tallahassee, Panacea, Carrabelle, Tate’s Hell Forest) – Contemporary fanntasy novel about a perfect love gone horribly wrong between a young man from Montana and a young woman from Carrabelle who meet on a summer job in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Misunderstandings arise after the young woman is assaulted on a dark, Tallahassee street.

    Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook, and they are family friendly.
    Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook, and they are family friendly.
  • Emily’s Stories: (Tallahassee, St. Marks) – This three story set of magical paranormal stories features a 14-year-old girl who talks to ghosts and birds to solve problems. She doesn’t want a housing development in her favorite woods, sees a bear stalking her father on a Montana vacation, and wonders why her grandmother loves the sweetbay magnolia tree in her back yard so much. The audiobook was narrated by actress Kelley Hazen who makes you feel like you’re right there in the stories.
  • Cora’s Crossing (Marianna) – In this paranormal story, two college students driving home on a stormy night find their route oddly detoured across an ancient, haunted bridge north of Marianna. What they find there, and the danger it gets them into, will make them truly believe that Bellamy Bridge is haunted. The bridge, which is still there, is closed to vehicles but can be reached by a trail.
  • Moonlight and Ghosts (Tallahassee) – An abandoned and purportedly haunted mental hospital attracts the attention of a young man who used to work there. Something or someone wants him to return and, as it turns out, solve a crime in progress. Needless to say, this is a paranormal story, but it also ties into my experiences years ago as a manager at a center for the developmentally disabled.
  • Spooky Stories (Marianna, Tallahassee) – This two-story set bundles “Cora’s Crossing” and “Moonlight and Ghosts” together in one volume. This edition is also available as an audiobook.
  • Kindle and Audiobook
    Kindle and Audiobook

    The Land Between the Rivers (Tate’s Hell Forest) – This three-story set of folktales features Panther, Snakebird and Bear at the dawn of time as they make their way through the wetlands and flatwoods between the Apalachicola and the Ochlockonee rivers. I camped and hiked throughout this area when I was growing up, so it’s a favorite of mine–one that still needs the determined efforts of those protecting Florida’s endangered species of plants and animals in the state’s at-risk ecosystems.

  • My work in progress is a folk magic story set in Liberty County in the 1950s. The characters include a conjure woman, her cat, her customers, and some really nasty people who need to be jinxed. More on this later.

Malcolm

New Personal Note: The HVAC Georgia Summer Blues

On Location: the Apalachicola River

Near Ft. Gadsden - U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr
Near Ft. Gadsden – U.S. Dept of Agriculture photo on Flickr

The Apalachicola River in the Florida Panhandle is created at the Georgia border by the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers and then flows 112 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The river has been in the news in recent years as Florida, Georgia and Alabama fight over who owns the water. Atlanta takes more than its fair share, some say, starving natural areas North to South down the panhandle and, worse yet, the fragile ecosystem of Apalachicola Bay.

From the air, there are places where the river looks like a very large green snake because it twists and turns and almost coils back on itself. The ecosystems have been under stress for years. The river has been improperly dredged; the pine forests have been over logged and–when it comes to longleaf pines–poorly managed; roads to the timber have blocked natural water flows through swamps and other wetlands. The rare Florida Panther can no longer be found in the river’s watershed.

The Apalachicola River was the western boundary of my childhood, for we camped along its banks and on the barrier islands protecting the bay, sailed from its mouth to and from Alligator Point and the St. Marks River to the east, drove or walked every forest service road from Tallahassee to Tate’s Hell Forest (near the mouth of the river at Carrabelle), and experienced one of the most unique ecosystems in the country.

The Apalachicola Riverkeeper says that the river’s basin is home to 127 very rare plant and animal species along with more reptiles and amphibians than any other place in the in the northern hemisphere. The river is not only a resource many habitats, but also for kayakers, fishermen, paddle boaters, swimmers, photographers and–in the bay–a very large fishing industry.

Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests
Pine flatwoods, typical of much of the areas national forests – Geoff Gallico on Flickr

I’ve always been rather jealous of those who knew every plant in the swamp and forest as well as those who knew how to chart river flows, analyze soil and restore forest lands. The Nature Conservancy is at work in this area, trying to undo many years of damage while protecting lands from more “development.” Since I’m not a scientist or a naturalist, I try to focus on natural resources in my fiction. It’s my way of drawing attention to the environment.

Lately, I’ve been at work on a novella set in a fictional town a few miles from the Apalachicola River in Liberty County, the Florida county with the lowest population. In many ways it’s like going home to look at these areas again and put them into stories. I recently finished reading a political thriller novel called Mercedes Wore Black (which I review here.) The main character is an environmental reporter, making the book a very strong window framing Florida’s ongoing developers vs. the environment battles.

The author of that book lived in Florida more recently than I have and as a long-time reporter, she could focus more clearly on the issues from a practical standpoint. I try to focus on the locations and make readers aware of the ecosystems’ value in the scheme of things without getting into many political rants.

Some of my poet friends write poems about the environment. Photographers are taking pictures of things the way they are while hoping they won’t become the way they were. I’m pleased at the number of groups, blogs, Facebook pages and initiatives that are campaigning for various ways to save the land before we ruin it all.

Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.
Click on the photo to learn more about the river and the threats to it.

I’m not a political activist, though I’ve dabbled in it from time to time. My focus is fiction. Many of my readers’ focus is travel and outdoor recreation, often with a spiritual component. If you’re a writer, you can “go on location” in a dozen ways to pinpoint natural resources and the need to keep them natural.

There are times when I think that the land itself is an important “character” in my novels and stories. If the land draws you, then your pen, camera, blog and voice can help preserve it.

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Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel “The Seeker” is partially set in Tate’s Hell Forest, while his short stories “The Land Between the Rivers,” “Emily’s Stories,” “Cora’s Crossing” and “Moonlight and Ghosts” also have Florida settings.