Architecture / Florida / Travel

Cross Creek: A Small Place of Enchantment

“I do not understand how anyone can live without some
small place of enchantment to turn to.” 
― Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The cicadas droned their endless summer song and the sweet scent of Confederate Jasmine hung in the air. Dragonflies danced on dew covered leaves, while something rustled in the dry oak leaves beneath the sabal palms.

We’d been here before – back when we were Floridians, always searching for “Old Florida.” Tourists rarely discover this face of Florida – seldom venturing beyond the alluring coastline with its slick veneer of beaches, suntans, and bikinis … unless it’s for a visit to see Mickey.

This “small place of enchantment” in central Florida is called Cross Creek … and it’s the real deal. It’s the former home of author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who left her New York life in 1928 and bought an orange grove in rural Florida. Here she endured the hardships of the land, embraced the people of Cross Creek, and wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling.

IMG_0709 - Version 2

A trip to Cross Creek is an authentic journey back to a simpler time. We opened the creaking wire gate and followed the winding path along the edge of a small citrus grove. The pine needles underfoot hushed our approach.

James said, “It feels snakey.”

I knew he was right. When a Southerner says that, you know to pay attention. That’s why you rarely see a country woman without her trusty hoe. Garter and rat snakes have their place – it’s the rattlers and coral snakes you have to watch out for.

MKR Barn

We emerged into a sunny clearing dominated by a sturdy barn complete with hay loft, farming tools, and of course – snake skins.

MKR House

But the real treat was just around the corner – Rawlings’ whitewashed cottage. She created this classic Florida Cracker style house by joining three separate buildings with breezeways, then encasing the open spaces with screen to create the perfect Florida wilderness home.

Bedroom Porch

MKR Carport

Back of MKR House

The front porch served as entrance, parlor, bedroom … and the ideal place to write the great American novel.

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Out back, a woman worked in the garden, tending vegetables and gathering flowers. Ducklings ran willy-nilly around assorted outbuildings, while chickens pecked at the sandy ground.

Woman in MKR Garden

Today the nearby creek is clogged with water plants due to the recent drought.

Cross Creek Plants

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Home, not too far from Gainesville and north of Ocala, is part of the Florida State Park system and open to the public. Volunteer guides give a great tour, offering insight into the author’s life.

If you’re not familiar with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ work, then you may enjoy her books The Yearling and Cross Creek … and the wonderful movies by the same titles.

So I’ll close with my favorite MKR quote:

“A woman has got to love a bad man once or twice in her life,
to be thankful for a good one.”
― Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Count me thankful!
Terri

P.S. For you foodies out there, Rawlings also created the Cross Creek Cookery – a marvelous collection of her favorite Florida recipes. We truly enjoy Mrs. Chancey’s Spanish Bean Soup and her observations on the nature of soup:

“I associate soup with either poverty or formal elegance. The poor make a meal of it. The elegant dabble in it, beginning a long dinner of main courses with a cup or plate of it, aggravatingly small.” –MKR

 

Originally published June 10, 2013

If you enjoyed this post, then you may enjoy these!
Living Off the Grid in the Okefenokee Swamp
Okefenokee Swamp: A Hike in the Land of Trembling Earth

Fern in pot

43 thoughts on “Cross Creek: A Small Place of Enchantment

  1. beautiful post! made me feel quite nostalgic for growing up in sunny, hot eastern north carolina. long, swelter-y summer days.

    enchantment: now that is a word that i need to use more often. 🙂

    • Many thanks Liz. That area of Florida does have a lot in common with parts of North Carolina. And you get to re-experience those “sweltery-y summer days” soon! Yay! All the best, Terri

  2. Love this post. I grew up in a very, very small town in Louisiana where houses looked just like the ones you photographed. We also head to S. Carolina each summer and pass through small towns where there are still houses, people, and yes, snakes there, too. Love picture of what I think of as the Real South. http://ohtheplaceswesee.com

    • It sounds like we’ve traveled a lot of the same ground, Rusha. Although we’ve lived all over the USA, the “real south” has a very special place in our hearts. These simple houses are everywhere, but the Cracker style houses have that wonderful added feature of screens that seem to “cocoon” them. 🙂 ~Terri

  3. How wonderful! I read Cross Creek recently and thoroughly enjoyed it, but haven’t visited her homestead yet. And yes it is that “snakey” time of year. I opened the metal predator guard on our purple martin pole recently, and a yellow rat snake practically fell in my lap. Now that was a surprise!

    • Yikes Pam! I know they’re not harmful, but that up-close-and-personal encounter would get my heart racing. A few years ago James was cleaning a gutter drain when a 4′ black snake slithered out into his hands. I don’t know who was more shocked – him or the snake! They both went their own separate ways – quickly! 🙂 ~Terri

    • Joyce, I knew you would love the snake reference – your favorite critter! The barn smelled so good – just like my Dad’s. And the house reminded both of us of our grandparents. Love, Terri

    • Curt I laughed out loud the first time he said it to me … many moons ago. He’d taken me to see his Granddad’s old homestead in rural Kentucky – totally overgrown and covered in vines. He said, “It feels snakey. Don’t just look down – look up too.” And sure enough, up ahead a snake appeared suspended in mid air from a branch above! I bet you have some wild West Africa stories. 🙂 ~Terri

      • Snakey was great. And yes, I have many, many stories… including the green mamba that leapt from limb to limb. Hopefully my book will be out on the Africa Peace Corps experience this fall. –Curt

  4. I really did not know much about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings but have read her book “The Yearling”. That quote is priceless and so true. 😉

    • She was quite a fascinating character – definitely a woman who knew her own mind. The Cross Creek book or movie (Mary Steenburgen, Alfre Woodard, Peter Coyote) are a wonderful account of her life. And yeah, great quote~ 🙂 ~Terri

  5. I would add that it smells snakey! Wonderfully evocative post. Having been there, you have captured the lazy cicada song that mimics both the thrum of blood in the veins and the sway of the hammock I image MKR enjoyed. Cross Creek is truly a verdant spot on earth–bringing forth new life, inspiration and new novels with abandon. Cross Creek is creation of every kind, at its heart. Thank you for triggering the memories and the muse.
    EL

    • Oh El, you’re so right! “It smells snakey.” Not sure how to describe that to someone who hasn’t experienced it, because there’s the “Florida snakey” and the “leaping green mamba snakey” described by Curt (above). Yikes to both! Your words are poetry and you definitely captured Cross Creek. Glad to trigger memories any time. Love, T

  6. Hi there, thanks for liking my post on flowers in Vietnam. How inspiring to read about your journey together, and how romantic! I may have to add these books to my holiday reading list, and I love that last quote, it is very pertinent! I see you’re also a fan of HomeAway – strangely that’s where I used to work – but in the London office, for six and a half years! Sarah

  7. There is so much history in FL. My dad lives in Crystal River and I had the occasion to visit many of inner FL wonders. Last week, I was sweeping the yard after I mowed and swept up a snake, when I went to empty the bin I don’t know who was more surprised.

    • Hi Laura, Crystal River is a very cool place! There are lots of stories there! As to sweeping up the snake – yikes! When I was a teenager my family owned a farm, so in the summer we always ended up hauling hay. It wasn’t uncommon to encounter a snake (or part of one) in a hay bail! It kept us on our toes. 🙂 Terri

  8. Love the quote, Terri, and I’m glad you did too. 🙂 🙂 The nearest I’ve been to this neck of the woods is Cypressa Gardens and a world full of crinolines.

    • Many thanks, Jo. Cypress Gardens is truly a blast from the past – all those southern belles in big dresses and teams of water skiers! And now it’s all gone – replaced in 2011 by Legoland of all things! Cross Creek is very low key – it feels like “time out of time.” Maybe next trip you’ll have a chance to stop by. 🙂 ~Terri

      • Oh, what a shame! Though I do love Lego 🙂 We went to Legoland in California when we were there the second time. I doubt there’ll be a third, though I’d love to see San Fran and Yosemite. 🙂

      • I too love Legos, Jo! I’ll have to put the California Legoland on my list. And you can’t go wrong with San Fran and Yosemite – both so special in their own ways. ~T

  9. You conjure up great atmosphere here. I’ve never been to the American South, have never heard of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, but now I want to go, and I want to read her books. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Thank you, Tracey. The American South has so many fascinating faces, and central Florida has a character uniquely its own. Rawling’s house is removed from the coastal beach life and the popular amusement parks. Cross Creek is very serene and a great escape for a day. So glad you found it inspiring. 🙂 Have you visited other parts of the USA! ~Terri

    • That quote just says it all, doesn’t it Sue? I don’t know what the snake situation is in your neck of the woods (hopefully none), but in the southern US, their presence is a given. We once had one in our garage that would chase us – now that was creepy! 🙂 ~Terri

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