Tag Archives: Cross Creek

Happy Birthday Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

DSC09504More than 120 people turned out to help celebrate Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 121st birthday in Cross Creek on Saturday.  They were treated to a fish fry with all the fixings including fried fish, grits, hush puppies, coleslaw, cake and sherbert made from tangerines and oranges from Marjorie’s grove on the farm.

 

See video highlights of the event below:

The Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm and the staff of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park sponsored the event with support from Visit Gainesville/Alachua County.  Northwest Seafood in Gainesville donated and fried the fish.

Visitors were treated to the jazz tunes of the band, “Uptown Swing” as they ate their meals on tables set up all around Marjorie’s home and barn.  The August 5th event was part of the year-long activities planned around the 75th anniversary of Rawling’s publications, “Cross Creek,” and “Cross Creek Cookery.”  For more information about upcoming events go online to marjoriekinnanrawlings.org

Animal Exhibit at Yearling Restaurant (1)Meanwhile, at the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, visitors can see a Florida wild animal exhibit which showcases the animals made popular in the literary works of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Owner of the Yearling Restaurant, Robert Blauer, has recently added the colorful taxidermy-mount exhibit featuring most of the species of wild animals found throughout Florida. Many of these, particularly the bear and deer, were made famous by Rawlings in her many books like The Yearling (Pulitzer Prize 1939), and Cross Creek (1942). Some 40 animal mounts, called “Fodderwing’s Creeturs,” belonging to Cross Creek naturalist, Jim Stephens, are displayed against a spectacular mural setting painted by St. Augustine artist, Gayle Prevatt.

Artist Gayle Prevatt and Naturalist Jim StephensBlauer is inviting the public to come and see this new attraction while also enjoying the old-time dining favorites at the eatery such as gator-tail, catfish and grits, seafood, and sour orange pie, which have made the short drive from Gainesville a memorable dining adventure.

 

 

Contact Information:

Mural Artist: Gayle Prevatt, 904-377-7917, gprevatt@aug.com
Animal Exhibit: Jim Stephens 352-466-3034, sloughfootcreek@aol.com
Yearling Restaurant owner: Robert Blauer, 352-466-3999

 

Bluesman Willie Green- The Real Deal

Willie Green 1 2007 FL Folk FestBluesman Willie Green has just won the 2017 Florida State Heritage Award!  

 Patrons of the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, FL are treated every weekend with the Delta blues sound of Willie Green.  Music is Willie’s life.  He began playing harmonica as a teenager and eventually picked up the guitar after being inspired by the music he heard in Florida clubs like the Blue Chip, the Down Beat and the Diamond Club.

Life wasn’t always kind to Willie in his early years.  He was born in the mid-1930s to a family of sharecroppers and migrant laborers in Pine Level, AL, outside of Mongtomery.  He had to quit school at a young age to help support his family by travelling from farm to farm throughout the Southeast harvesting peanuts, fruit and vegetables.  Later in life he ended up in Ocala, FL, though the 1980s were also hard times for Willie as well.

Now in his “golden years” he’s attracting a tremendous following for his authentic blues music.  He’s become a favorite at various state festivals such as the Florida Folk Festival, Magnolia Fest, Springing the Blues, the Gamble Rogers Festival and at blues competitions such as the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN.  Willie has opened for well-known blues musicians including Robert Cray and Eric Clapton, Grammy-winning blues musician John Hammond, shared the stage with the late “Honeyboy” Edwards and collaborated with Southern rock group J.J. Grey and Mofro.   In 2010, he received Stetson Kennedy’s Fellow Man and Mother Earth Award.

Reporter Trimmel Gomes and Donna Green-Townsend brought Willie into the WUFT studios in 2005 to hear the story of his life and to hear him play a little blues.

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Below are a few more of the songs Willie performed at the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek on June 15, 2014:

Song 2

Song 3

Song 4

Song 5

Song 6

 

Willie playing Baby You Mine

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Willie singing a song about Muddy Waters called Hoochie Coochie Man

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Willie performing Blue With A Feelin

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Willie Green

On October 15th, 1935, or there abouts, a baby boy was born in a rural Alabama sharecropper’s cabin. His mother Mattie and father Willie Green Sr. named him Willie Grant Green. The Grant comes from the famous Union general. Willie doesn’t know the name of the little farm hamlet, only that it was near the city of Montgomery. He doesn’t have any family photos or even a birth certificate. Only that his family were sharecroppers and travelling migrant workers. He was lucky to go school for a of couple years, but was soon pulled from the 4th grade to start working in the fields, picking everything from peanuts to potatoes. Travelling around the southeast in the back of a truck, field to field, farm to farm, he picked vegetables and fruits through his teenage years and into his twenties. By then he had left the family following the crop harvest north as far as Maine, he met a girl there, a local farmer’s daughter. He says he always wished he would have stayed, but time to head back south: more crops coming in the spring. His brother was called to Vietnam. Willie never saw him again.

While still at home as a teenager, Willie would sneak out at night, sometimes catching a ride on a passing freight into Montgomery to the juke joints. He wanted to hear the music, the BLUES music, from the greats like John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Muddy Waters; all those cats getting home before sunrise to the welcome of a belt in the hands of Mama Mattie, who wasn’t fond of the juke joint scene.

Willie-Green Old City Life
Photo Courtesy of Old City Life publication

One day an old boy gave Willie a harp, and the rest is history. He continued his migrant worker job, with the harp in his back pocket, playing when he could, sitting in with anyone he could. In the 1960s Willie found his way to Florida, were some cousins lived in Pompano Beach. During this time he was called back to Alabama one time. Mama Mattie had passed away on the farm. This was the last time he saw the place and his only relatives there. Willie remembers he inherited her refrigerator, but had no way to haul it home on the Greyhound bus. Back in Florida he found new jobs like pipe laying, driving a pulp wood truck, laying cement roads; anything that made a little dough. Heven started learning to play some guitar to go with the harp. He got to sit in with some of the great blues players travelling through. Cash was king, no bank account needed…..

To continue reading more from this article in the publication, “Old City Life” about blues singer and performer Willie Green click here.

A true “Mother’s Day” story about courtship in Cross Creek

DSC08728Editor’s note: I’m tickled to say that even though he didn’t use his rifle to shoot down this year’s magnolia blossom, my husband kept his Mother’s Day tradition alive this year (2017).

 

 

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Here’s the audio version of the chapter called, “Mother’s Day” by Shelley Fraser Mickle. (full written text with pictures can be found below)

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I’m proud to call Shelley Fraser Mickle a friend.  Shelley is one of the most entertaining writers I’ve ever met.  For many years radio listeners were able to hear her commentaries on life on not only WUFT-FM, but also nationally as she contributed her talent doing commentaries for NPR‘s “Morning Edition.”  She’s also an award-winning author of several novels.

I always looked forward to the days she would come in to the station and record her commentaries because on those days we had the opportunity to catch up on life.  That being said, as a journalist I should have known that some of the “Cross Creek” stories I shared with her would one day make it into print.  I’m actually quite pleased she was listening so closely.  My family is very proud of the chapter she wrote on my Cross Creek romance called, “Mother’s Day.”  She genuinely captured some of the unique qualities of my husband Lee Townsend in our “courting days.”

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(Full text of chapter called “Mother’s Day” from Shelley Fraser Mickle’s book, The Kids are gone; The Dog is Depressed & Mom’s On The Loose.)

 

 

I have a friend who lives at Cross Creek. She moved there over a decade ago from up North, and she would have left probably any number of times except that she fell in love with a man from the Creek. And that made all the difference. Apparently men at the Creek take the romancing of a woman very seriously.

For instance, a first date might be only a midnight fishing trip under a full moon on Orange Lake. It might be a frog gigging, or a beer shared out on a wooden bench near the Creek until it is dark and quiet, so that then you can listen to the alligators bellow in Lochloosa.

scan0001And you’ll know when the courting gets serious if a fella invites you to ride a boat out into the cypress woods after a big rain to watch the water run into the lake.

 

 

 

Let's Go Fishin'But no matter if you are fishing, gigging, or watching water, it’s a pretty sure fact that all the while, a certain magic is being practiced on you. So that afterward, it is very likely, your life will never be the same.

Creek men are aware of their power. And they strut it comfortably. For instance, it was reported that at the Marjorie Rawlings’ house, the staff spotted a snake sneaking into one of the rooms, and out of desperation, called one of the Creek men. After all, a man who has grown up at the Creek knows more than you ever want to know about snakes and how to handle them.

Chicken Snake MKR pump house A 2012-11-04_12-36-26_781As the story goes, this Creek man sauntered up the steps to the house, saying he’d handle that snake, just point him to it. Then went into the room where the snake was and shut the door. In a few minutes he came back out and announced, “That’s a female chicken snake. And it won’t take me but a minute to get her to move on out of here.”  One of the caretakers was really curious and asked, “But how do you know it’s a female snake?”  The creek man didn’t even blink. “Because she quivered when she looked at me,” he said.

sweethearts 1985I guess that really does say it all. Yes, the men at the Creek have a certain powerful charm. And it’s said that everybody knows when a creek man is seriously courting a woman, because that’s the only time he wears shoes.

 

scan0002So after my friend fell under the spell of one and married him, then stayed there to raise a family with him, she had to learn how to take on all sorts of new ways of thinking and saying things.

 

 

 

Pregnant with Ellie

When she became pregnant with their first child, she says she had to relearn how to announce that fact. For out at the Creek no one is ever pregnant. No. Rather it’s that you’re fixin’ to have a youngin’.

 

Baby Ellie

And then when the second one came, it was that she was fixin’ to have another one.Jessie

In fact, my friend says, since she has made her life at the Creek, she has found that almost everything she does has the word fixin’ it it.

File0009Last year on Mother’s Day, she was in the kitchen fixin’ to have a cup of tea when her husband sauntered up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and said to follow him, that he was fixin’ to give her a Mother’s Day present.

 

 

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He then led her outside, and on the way, grabbed his rifle, so that in only a minute they were standing under the giant magnolia that shades the whole side of the backyard. Then he propped his rifle on his shoulder and aimed it up toward the tree.

My friend says the blooms were like round white stars, perfuming the air with a sweetness that was like the smell of warm honey, or of spun sugar. Then her husband said to her, “Pick out one darlin’.”

And when she raised her hand toward a bloom near the top, he focused his eye down the rifle’s barrel and shot it down.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” he said, as he bent down and picked up the sweet white blossom that had fallen at her feet.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Memories of her life and times in Cross Creek

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings & Cracker Culture
A video written and produced by University of Florida Student Monica Berra.  Script Editing assistance and narration by Donna Green-Townsend

 

Two versions of a video produced by Dorsey Lee Townsend III for a class project while in Santa Fe College:

 (Longer version with additional interview added)

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A video distributed by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection called, “Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park”

 

History of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings featuring MKR reenactor Betty Jean Steinshouer produced by Visit Gainesville.

 

Interviews regarding the scheduled play, “Invasion of Privacy” which took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall of Santa Fe College in June of 2015. The interviewees were on the Ilene Silverman Show.

 

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The old Alachua County Courthouse in Gainesville, FL

The 1946 “Invasion of Privacy Trial” of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings vs. Zelma Cason has captivated lawyers and literary experts alike.  On June 18th thru June 20th, 2015 the public got a flavor of the famous trial  when the award-winning play by Larry Parr, “Invasion of Privacy,” took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College.

It was after Marjorie Rawlings won the Pulitizer Prize for “The Yearling” that she continued her success with her book, “Cross Creek,” a book which captured what her life was like as well as her neighbors in the small fishing community.  But one friend of Rawlings, Zelma Cason, didn’t take “too kindly” to the way Rawlings described her in her book and decided to sue the famous author.  Click here to read more about this famous legal case.

Park Ranger Lee Townsend being interviewed on November 13th, 2009 at the MKR home about Marjorie’s life at the “Creek.”

 

A video interview with author J. T. Glisson about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Cross Creek for Putnam Schools TV.

 

Shelley-Fraser-MickleA True “Mother’s Day” Story About Romance in Cross Creek by Shelley Fraser Mickle

I have a friend who lives at Cross Creek. She moved there over a decade ago from up North, and she would have left probably any number of times except that she fell in love with a man from the Creek. And that made all the difference. Apparently men at the Creek take the romancing of a woman very seriously.

For instance, a first date might be only a midnight fishing trip under a full moon on Orange Lake. It might be a frog gigging, or a beer shared out on a wooden bench near the Creek until it is dark and quiet, so that then you can listen to the alligators bellow in Lochloosa.

 Click here to read more…

 

Cross Creek Summer

MKR on her porchThe first  weekend in August of 1997 kicked off the first annual Cross Creek Summer, Arts and Culture in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Florida.  Organizers hoped the week-long event would introduce people to the Florida Rawlings loved and attract those ecotourists looking for the real Florida. To hear the report produced by Donna Green-Townsend  Click here

 

 

50th Anniversary of “The Yearling” Celebration on the MKR farm in Cross Creek in April of 1988
Includes rare video of the late Idella Parker, Cousin Thelma Boltin, Will McLean and Gamble Rogers.

 

Video with interesting pictures of Marjorie, though not all the facts are precise.

 

1979 video talking about the architecture of the MKR home in Cross Creek

Marjorie K. Rawlings: Invasion of Privacy Trial continues to fascinate

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Scene from the “Invasion of Privacy” play
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The cast of the play at Santa Fe College takes a bow

The 1946 Invasion of Privacy Trial of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings vs. Zelma Cason has captivated lawyers and literary experts alike.  On June 18th thru June 20th, 2015 the public got a flavor of the famous trial  when the award-winning play by Larry Parr, “Invasion of Privacy,” took to the stage of the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College.

It was after Marjorie Rawlings won the Pulitizer Prize for “The Yearling” that she continued her success with her book, “Cross Creek,” a book which captured what her life was like as well as her neighbors in the small fishing community.  But one friend of Rawlings, Zelma Cason, didn’t take “too kindly” to the way Rawlings described her in her book and decided to sue the famous author.

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Actors in scene from “Invasion of Privacy”

Rawlings described Cason in her book as an “ageless spinster resembling an angry and efficient canary” and someone that Rawlings couldn’t decide if she should have “been a man or a mother” since she had the “violent characteristics of both.” Rawlings also talked of Cason carrying a gun and her penchant for profanity.  The lawsuit brought by Cason was based on a person’s right of privacy against an author’s constitutional guarantee of free speech.

Alachua County Courthouse
The old Alachua County Courthouse

The 1946 five-day trial held in Gainesville’s old courthouse attracted many spectators and drew international attention.  At least one book and several plays have been written about the famous trial.

The public had the opportunity to meet the director of the play, soap-opera star Judith Chapman, and the cast of characters for the play at “The Invasion of Privacy” preview party which was held on Friday, June 12th at the Matheson Museum in Gainesville.

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Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings on her front porch in Cross Creek

The Invasion of Privacy Trial between Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zelma Cason has also been the basis for other plays, including “My Friend Zelma:  The Trial of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings,” written by retired University of Florida Distinguished History Professor Michael Gannon. Gannon’s play was presented at the Limelight Studio Theatre in St. Augustine in 2010.

Deborah Dickey, who directed “My Friend Zelma,” says Professor Gannon was a friend of Marjorie Rawling’s husband Norton Baskin, both of whom lived in St. Augustine.  She says Gannon consulted with Baskin on the play when it was written and that his mother worked for Zelma Cason.

Deborah Dickey
Playwright Deborah Dickey

Dickey adds there were performances of the play in the historic Fernandina Beach Courthouse where the jury consisted of an entire group of Jacksonville lawyers and a sitting judge.  There was also a performance for the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society during a meeting in St. Augustine.

Dickey has also written her own play called, “Cross Roads:  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Norton S. Baskin in Unguarded Moments.”  The play premiered at Flagler College in 2012 and was presented again in March of 2013. Her play, based on the letters of Rawlings and her husband Norton Baskin, chronicles the couple’s courtship, marriage, and long separation during World War II when Baskin served as a volunteer ambulance driver for the American Field Service in India.

 

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Cover of J.T. Glisson’s play, “Sigsbee Scruggs”

Another popular play about the famous “Invasion of Privacy Trial” is called “Sigsbee” written by Evinston artist and author, J.T. Glisson.  The play had sold-out performances at the Ocala Civic Theatre in 2001. Sigsbee Scruggs served as one of Marjorie Rawlings defense attorneys in the 1946 trial.  Sigsbee was one of Gainesville’s more colorful lawyers. Playwright J.T. Glisson had the opportunity to interview Scruggs to gather the material for his book which takes a close look at several of the more interesting legal cases handled by the late Gainesville attorney, known for not only the cases he won, but for how he won.

 

 

 

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Writer and artist J.T. Glisson

Playwright Glisson recalls how his father Tom Glisson encouraged Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to hire Sigsbee Scruggs to represent her in the Invasion of Privacy case

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Glisson says anyone sitting in the courtroom during a trial with Sigsbee Scruggs was never bored

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Fred Mullen
Actor Fred Mullen as Sigsbee Scruggs

Fred Mullen was the actor who portrayed Scruggs not only in Ocala, but also when the play was presented in Gainesville in 2002.  Mullen says the one-man play gives the audience real insight into the famous Gainesville attorney

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Rip Torn
Actor Rip Torn portraying Marsh Turner in the film, “Cross Creek”

 

 

When the play “Sigsbee” was presented on stage on the University of Florida campus in University Auditorium it featured a special guest director.  Internationally acclaimed actor, Rip Torn, a good friend of Glisson, spent the week in Gainesville assisting with the play.  Torn, who received an Oscar nomination for his role in the movie “Cross Creek” filmed in the area, is also known for a noted acting career including “Men in Black I and II.”  Donna Green-Townsend talked with the actor about his decision to direct the play.

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Transcript of feature produced by Donna Green-Townsend on March 19, 1997 about J.T. Glisson’s play, “SIGSBEE” just after it was published.

Sigsbee flier0001Actor Fred Mullen reading from play script “Sigsbee,”— “In the trial of the case Cason v. Rawlings, it was our last chance to persuade them of the innocence of our client and their time to decide if Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Baskin was guilty or not guilty of “invading the privacy and slandering Zelma Cason.”

Defense attorney “Sigsbee Scruggs” spoke to a standing-room only crowd in the Gainesville courthouse in May of 1946.  Throughout the trial of Zelma Cason vs. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings a packed courthouse turned out each day to listen to a colorful cast of characters called upon from Cross Creek to defend the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author who was being sued for 100-thousand dollars by her close friend Zelma Cason.  The suit was over Rawlings description of Cason in the book “Cross Creek.”   Evinston author and first time playwright J. T. Glisson has retained a fascination for the trial and defense attorney “Sigsbee Scruggs” for 50 years….a fascination which lead him to interview Scruggs in the 1970s ….an interview now turned into a one-man play simply entitled “Sigsbee.”

J.T. Glisson said,  “ I was away in service when the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Zelma Cason trial happened which was the biggest thing that happened in Gainesville up until that time.   And I thought I’m going to stop by and see Mr. Scruggs and let him tell me, because he was a wonderful storyteller anyway, and so he lived out on South Main Street in Gainesville and I went by his house and he knew my father well and he was polite enough to say he remembered me but, what he really remembered was me trailing along after my dad I’m sure, but he invited me in.”

Glisson fondly recalls Scruggs colorful play by play account of the Cason-Rawlings trial,   “..and then he told me who was sitting where.  How many people were there.  He gave me a brief description of the judge.  He described Zelma whom he was very, unfriendly towards.  Said she was a great lady and wonderful person, interesting, real fine lady and then he desribed Mrs. Rawlings.  Of course in the description though he said Mrs. Cason was a fine lady and interesting person and as good as anyone you ever knew, helped anybody out that she could but, profane.  He said Mrs. Rawlings, he pronounced Mrs. Rawwwwlings and he said Mrs. Rawwwwlings, a profane person also. ….”

Glisson remembers how his own father, Tom Glisson, a good friend of Rawlings, encouraged her to select Sigsbee Scruggs as part of her famous defense team, most of which came from out of town,

“He said, “yes, you’re  going to have a local jury and you bring in all that high-powered out-of-town stuff and it’s not going to go well and he said if you do that you ought to lose.  She said well who would you suggest and my dad said “You’re guilty, I would suggest Sigsbee Scruggs”

????????????????????????????Cason vs. Rawlings was just one of the more interesting cases involving Scruggs.  In his half century law practice in North Central Florida Glisson writes that Scruggs, a 1922 graduate of the University of Florida Law School, became notorious for his defense in a very unpopular murder trial and his defense of local fisherman against state game wardens.  Besides Alachua and Gilchrist, this son of a Baptist deacon frequently defended clients from Dixie, Lafayette, Taylor and Suwannee counties.  Even though a family lawyer, Sigsbee Scruggs hated divorce cases.  Glisson writes he considered them the most unpleasant part of his practice.  Glisson includes in his play one of the more unique divorce cases Scruggs turned around.  It was the divorce case of Sam Hemings vs. Beth Hemings.

Actor Fred Mullen performing a scene from the play, “I said I see you folks come into town nearly every Saturday and after you finish buying groceries I see your wife sitting in your pickup, waiting while you swig down three or four bottles of beer in that juke joint out on the High Springs road.  I think it is called the Heatwave.”

His ears turned red and his face went white.  He shouted, “You just hold on there, Sigsbee Scruggs!  What the hell does that have to do with a de’vorce?”

I said, “Before I answer that, Mr. Hemings when was the last time you took your wife to a picture show or treated her to a meal she didn’t cook.”

“Sigsbee” is J. T. Glisson’s first play.  He’s already achieved recognition  for his artistic abilities and most recently for authoring the book “The Creek” written about his early recollections of Cross Creek from an insider’s point of view.  “Sigsbee” is a new endeavor for the artist and is geared as a one-man play in two acts,

“I thoroughly enjoyed “Give ‘em Hell Harry.”  I saw the Will Rogers play which are both the same types of plays where you have one person who comes on the stage and they are that person.  And I envisioned it with only the props around him and one person who had to captivate an audience from the moment they walked out there and do it which can be done.  If they can be Sigsbee Scruggs, Sigsbee Scruggs could have held an audience for six hours.

Local playwright J. T. Glisson has high hopes for “Sigsbee.”  Already nationally acclaimed actor/director Rip Torn is considering bringing the production to stage in New York.  For Florida Public Radio, I’m Donna Green-Townsend.

Water levels improving on Alachua County lakes

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Boat ramp at MKR park in March, 2014
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Boat ramp at MKR Park in September, 2013

 

Business has picked up in the Cross Creek area in the past few weeks thanks to heavy rainfall during the first three months of this year.  Lake levels are up in Orange and Lochloosa Lakes in Alachua County resulting in more boat traffic in recent weeks.   People are fishing and airboating once again.

For many months boaters couldn’t navigate Cross Creek to get in to either lake because of dense plant growth due to low rainfall.  According to the St. John’s River Water Management District, Alachua County received 14.28 inches of rain between January 1st and March 18th.  That’s 11.33 inches more than the same period last year.  The Keystone Heights area has received 14.35 inches since January 1st, which is 12.02 inches more than the same period last year.

Local residents in Cross Creek say that in the past week they observed the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission releasing 125,000 fingerling bass in Orange Lake. Area residents are calling this a positive move to help recreational fishing for the near future.

Original Story in September, 2013

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Cross Creek Lodge owner Gary Palmeter stands near grass-filled boat slips

 

By Donna Green-Townsend and Amanda Jackson

Cross Creek Lodge once catered to fishermen, hunters, and people with a love for the great outdoors.  But with lake levels staying low for many years it seems the lodge will never thrive as it did in the past. Owner and operator of the Cross Creek Lodge Gary Palmeter opened the doors to his business, which sits on the creek between Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, more than three decades ago.  With lake levels constantly rising and falling he has only been able to operate for 12 of the 33 years he’s been in business.  (Video below includes interviews with Dale Crider on Newnans Lake and with Gary Palmeter on the Cross Creek area)

“I’m losing a lot of money every year, we used to have a cafe, that’s gone,” says Gary Palmeter, “Had we had enough water we could have probably maintained that. If the state would do something about the hunter permits that they allow people to use we could have hunters here. Right now we have hunters, a few of them for maybe like 2 months.  We used to have a number of people that stayed here through the hunting season, but if they don’t get a permit, which is a lottery type thing, they don’t come. That’s a loss to not only the community but the county because that’s tourist dollars, out the window!”

Palmeter says he feels there’s more to this problem than just rain. A sinkhole under Orange Lake, which is a major source of contention between Marion and Alachua counties, is also thought to be draining a large amount of water from the lake.

“So that’s you know the crux of the problem besides the rain.  I mean yeah, we get water levels and I understand that we’re not going to maintain a high level, but with the water continually flowing out of the lakes there’s nothing that’s ever going to be done to help stabilize them.”

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Low water level at the boat ramp at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Park

But for those who think that large amounts of rain that accompany Florida summers can refill the extremely low lakes, Palmeter knows the reprieve is only temporary.

“Even when we got the two hurricanes that came late in 2004 if I remember right, that water only held for 18 months. It was up sufficiently so that we could have boats here launch.  We had boat and motor rentals again. And we’re not going to go through that again I don’t think.”

For now, boats slips at the Cross Creek Lodge are filled with grass instead of boats. Other local businesses have been suffering as well. Although it is still open for business, the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, is up for sale. With continued limited lake access Palmeter says its hard to keep these businesses running.

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Though the business is still open, there’s a for sale sign in front of the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek

“We still keep the motel going and we try to keep the campground going the best we can, but the motel hasn’t done anything because most of the people that want to come here to stay are fishermen.  The first thing when they call I explain the situation.  And I like to be up front with people, and as a result it probably in some way hurts our business.  But I kept thinking in the long term it would improve but it hasn’t. We’ve lost our base of business, the fishermen that used to come here.  They call and sometimes want to bring their son to where they used to fish.  Well, they can’t do that anymore.  So you’ve really lost your whole base of business.”

Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird says that no matter how much it has been debated over the past 50 years there isn’t anything that can be done to the Orange Lake sinkhole without causing even more damage.

“The geology of that lake is such that if you did try to plug them up, the sinks in the bottom of the lake, assuming you thought it was a good idea, most likely what would happen is that there would just be other sinks that would open up other places because there’s just a lot of pressure,” says Bird.  “And the way that system naturally flows is that actually the southern part of Orange Lake is recharge.  They’ve actually done dive trace studies that suggest that that water is draining back into the aquifer.  And it’s part of the Silver springshed, so again, there’s just a lot of important relationships.  And because of that, at least in my opinion, it would not be wise to start trying to mess with mother nature.”

To see a music video highlighting lake levels click below:

Orange and Lochloosa lakes are not the only lakes experiencing low levels in Alachua County. Newnans Lake has also felt these water fluctuations. Retired wetlands and wildlife biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Dale Crider has seen the level changes while living by the lake. Crider says the situation is not much different from the water level issues in Keystone Heights.

“I think it’s like most north Florida lakes that it’s tied in to the Floridan aquifer which is overpumped and underfed right now because we’re not getting the rains we used to,” says Crider, “and it’s overpumped from all sources from municipal to agriculture to you name it.  It seems like there’s such a capacity for this water to be soaked up and disappear through sinkholes and underground terrain.  You know there’s not this capacity to fill up the aquifer so that it bubbles above the surface anymore.”

Cypress tree water line
Water line on a cypress tree on the shore of Newnans Lake shows how much the water level has dropped in just a couple of weeks

Crider pointed to a tree where the water level line was three weeks ago which showed how far it had decreased in a short time. He says it demonstrates the lakes still aren’t healthy

“There’s still this suction kind of thing and I don’t think this flood that we’ve had made that big of an impression for that long that it would have filled up the aquifer to where we can go back to using water normally.  I don’t think we’ll ever reach that point where what we used to call normal use of water for watering our lawn or just filling our swimming pool more frequently or whatever we do with it, I think those days are past.”

Something Crider and Palmeter both agree on is that county officials and water regulators will need to do a better job of overseeing Florida’s water resources.

Remembering Berney Lee Bass From Cross Creek

Berney Lee Bass Memorial Program 1
The late Berney Lee Bass

Lifelong resident of Cross Creek, 79 year old Berney Lee Bass died on January 23rd at his home after a long illness.  He was the son of the late Charles Berney and Theresa Bass of Cross Creek.

Berney Lee worked as an electrician, working for many years for All Florida Electric, before his semi-retirement in 2004.  He was preceded in death by his wife of 50 years, Geraldine Bass, who died in 2004.  He is survived by one daugher, Lee Ann (Rickey)Benton of Cross Creek; two sons, Robert (Marlene) Bass of Lochloosa and Michael (Alisha) of Cross Creek; one sister, Bernice (Billy) Dyson of Hawthorne; and one brother, Roy (Wanda) Bass of Waldo, seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Bass was an active member of the New Cross Creek Baptist Church and was a member of the Hawthorne Masonic Lodge, #103.  Bass was an avid duck hunter and fisherman.   Cross Creek area fishermen say the bass in Orange and Lochloosa Lakes are breathing a little easier now.  The video below is a special tribute to Berney Lee.

 

 

Burnt Island Wildfire continues to spread causing smokey conditions in Southeast Alachua County (12/22/2011)

Aired on WUFT on December 22nd, 2011

Gusty winds are pushing the growing wildfire in Southeast Alachua County a little closer to Cross Creek. Forestry officials say a variety of agencies are fighting the fire from the air and on the ground. The wildfire has grown to about 1,300 acres as of Thursday afternoon. Heavy smoke and flare-ups caused a shutdown of U.S. Highway 301 near County Road 325 last night. The highway is currently open for traffic today. Meanwhile, Alachua County and Union County officials have issued a burn ban because of current fire conditions. Residents are not allowed to have any type of outdoor burning for the next two weeks given the extremely dry conditions. Marion County has just issued a voluntary burn ban.

 

Catfishing, a Dying Culture in Florida (Fall, 1996)

(originally aired on WUFT in the Fall of 1996)

Lochloosa Lake in Alachua County

When most Floridians get in the mood to eat a little catfish more than likely what they’ll find at the market will be farm-raised channel cats.  Florida has about 30 catfish farmers.  But a few decades ago most catfishing took place on Florida’s freshwater lakes and provided a living for many local fishermen.  Donna Green-Townsend reports that at least one Cross Creek fisherman is helping to keep the old ways alive.

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shorelineFull Script

(SOUNDS OF A BOAT HEADING OUT ON A LAKE)

“MAMMA WANTED ME TO BE A DOCTOR OR A LAWYER WHEN I GOT OUT OF HIGHSCHOOL.  MY HEART WASN’T IN THAT.  IT WAS IN FISHING SO I WENT RIGHT AWAY IN THE FISHIN’ BUSINESS WHEN I GOT OUT OF HIGHSCHOOL.  BEEN IN IT EVER SINCE, 40 YEARS OF IT.”

FOUR TO FIVE DAYS A WEEK RIGHT ABOUT DUSK, 57 YEAR OLD DON BAUKNIGHT OF CROSS CREEK MANEUVERS HIS 18 FOOT HOME-MADE WOODEN BOAT ACROSS ORANGE LAKE IN SOUTHEAST ALACHUA COUNTY.  HE HOLDS HAND-CARVED WOODEN CAT-LINE BOXES HOLDING 15-HUNDRED HOOKS ON A TROT-LINE, A VARIETY OF ANCHORS AND CYPRESS KNEE FLOATS.  LIKE HIS FATHER AND UNCLES BEFORE HIM, BAUKNIGHT’S CARRIES ON A CATFISHING TRADITION….ALMOST A LOST CULTURE TODAY.

“BACK THEN WHEN I WAS ABOUT SIX YEARS OLD I REMEMBER I HAD SEVERAL UNCLES FISHING OUT HERE ON THE LAKE.  THEY HAD TO MAKE TWO TRIPS A DAY TO HAUL THE FISH IN TO KEEP FROM SINKING THEIR BOAT THEY CAUGHT SO MANY FISH,” SAID BAUKNIGHT.

(SOUND OF SKINNING CATFISH)  STANDING UNDER A CHINABERRY TREE, BAUKNIGHT DRESSES OUT THE MORNING’S CATCH….50 POUNDS OF CATFISH CAUGHT ON 15-HUNDRED HOOKS….BAUKNIGHT SAYS IT’S STILL A FAMILY BUSINESS.

“WELL MY UNCLE HE HELPS ME A LITTLE BIT.  HE TAKES THE KNIFE AND WRINGS THE HEADS, CUTS THE SKINS WHERE I CAN GET A HOLD OF IT, PULL THE HIDE OFF.  MY BROTHER HE HELPS ME SOME, GUTS ‘EM AND EVERYTHING.  IT’S KIND OF A FAMILY JOB.”

(SOUND UP FULL OF SKINNING OR FISH DROPPING IN A BUCKET)

“DOWN THROUGH THE YEARS, 30, 40 YEARS AGO, 20 YEARS AGO THERE WERE PROBABLY A SOLID DOZEN COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN MAKING A FAIRLY GOOD LIVING AT IT AT TIMES.”

NOW DON BAUKNIGHT REMAINS THE SOLE CROSS CREEK FISHERMAN WHO CONTINUES TO MAKE HIS ENTIRE LIVING FROM CATFISHING…A WAY OF LIFE REQUIRING LONG DAYS TO GATHER BAIT FOR THE HOOKS, RACKING THE LINES ON THE WOODEN CATLINE BOXES, BAITING THE HOOKS, PUTTIN’ IN THE LINES, TAKING THEM IN AND CLEANING THE FISH.

“IT TAKES ABOUT 18 HOURS OF WORK TO GET THE JOB DONE.  ONE DAYS WORK TAKES ABOUT 18 HOURS.”

ALONG WITH THE LONG HOURS, BAUKNIGHT ENDURES WHAT MOTHER NATURE DISHES OUT…WIND, THUNDERSTORMS, GATORS TANGLING THE LINES IN THE SUMMER MONTHS NOT TO MENTION THE DANGERS OF PUTTING OUT THE TROT LINE ITSELF WITH THE THOUSANDS OF HOOKS.

“THAT WOULD BE THE DANGEROUS PART, PUTTING THE LINES OUT.  A FREAK ACCIDENT.  YOU GET A HOOK STUCK IN YOUR HAND IT COULD PULL YOU INTO THE WATER, INTO THE LINES…PULL YOU UP INTO THE PROP YOU COULD BE INTO IT TOO AND ALL CUT UP AND KILL YOU INSTANTLY.  I HAD KNOWN A COUPLE OF FRIENDS, FISHERMAN THAT GOT KILLED THAT WAY…DOWN AROUND LAKE APOPKA.”

(BOAT SOUNDS)  CYPRESS ISLAND, GRASSY POINT,  SEVENTEEN SISTERS, LITTLE HAMMOCK, BURNT ISLAND, TWENTY BROTHERS AND SAMPSON POINT…..ALL WELL-KNOWN FISH TERRITORIES IN ORANGE AND LOCHLOOSA LAKES.  AUTHOR OF “THE CREEK,” J.T. GLISSON FROM EVINSTON, RECALLS THE CATFISHING HEYDAYS IN CROSS CREEK IN THE 1930S AND 40S…A PERIOD OF TIME WHEN GLISSON’S FATHER TOM COORDINATED THE SALES OF TRUCKLOAD AFTER TRUCKLOAD OF BUTTERCATS, SPOTTED, BLUE AND CHANNEL CATFISH UP TO GEORGIA AND ALABAMA MARKETS FROM THE DOZEN OR SO CATFISHING FAMILIES FROM CROSS CREEK:

“THERE WAS ABOUT A THOUSAND TO 12-HUNDRED POUNDS OF CATFISH CAME OUT OF ORANGE LAKE ON AN AVERAGE PER WEEK FOR A LONG, LONG TIME.  I MEAN FOR YEARS AND YEARS.”

WHETHER THE FISHERMAN USED BEEF HEART OR CHICKEN GUTS, FRESHWATER SHRIMP OR SOAP FOR BAIT, GLISSON REMEMBERS HOW –WHAT THE FISH WERE BITIN’ DIDN’T SAY A SECRET FOR LONG.

“THERE WAS A THING THAT NO ONE WOULD BE SO GREEDY AS IF THEY FOUND SOMETHING THE FISH WOULD BITE, THEY WOULD IMMEDIATELY SHARE IT WITH EVERYONE SO THAT THERE WAS ALWAYS THIS ATTITUDE THAT THERE WAS PLENTY OF FISH OUT THERE FOR EVERYONE.  IT WAS JUST A CASE OF KNOWING HOW TO CATCH THEM AND HOW TO DO IT.”

AND ALWAYS SAYS GLISSON, THERE EXISTED AN ETERNAL OPTIMISM ABOUT THE TASK.

“CATFISH CAN BE THE MOST CANTANKEROUS THING IN THE WORLD ABOUT WHAT THEY WOULD BITE AND WHEN THEY WOULD BITE.  IT WAS ALWAYS AN ASSUMPTION THAT IF I CAN FIND THE RIGHT BAIT THAT THERE WILL THEN BE A FISH ON EVERY HOOK AND PROPERITY WILL REIGN ON US ALL.”

ANY DISPUTES SAYS GLISSON FISHERMAN TOOK CARE ON THE OLD CROSS CREEK BRIDGE…ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.  ALTHOUGH SOME FISHERMAN CONTINUED CATFISHING THROUGH THE 1960S, THE HEYDAYS ENDED WHEN GLISSON’S FATHER TOM DIED IN 1950.   BUT GLISSON SAYS HE’LL ALWAYS CHERISH HIS MEMORIES OF THE COLORFUL CONVERSATIONS AROUND HIS DAD’S SKINNING BENCHES IN THE HAND-BUILT PALMETTO LOG FISH HOUSE IN CROSS CREEK…AND SAYS HE’S GLAD AT LEAST ONE CATFISHERMAN KEEPS THE CULTURE ALIVE.  DON BAUKNIGHT,

“I AIN’T TIRED OF IT.  I LOVE TO DO IT.  I’M CONTENT WITH IT.  I’M BUSY WITH IT.  TIME GO BY FAST WITH IT.  I’M HAPPY WITH IT.  IF I HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, I’LL DO IT.  I HAD TWO WIVES TRY TO GET ME AWAY FROM IT BUT THEY FAILED.  THEY WENT ON.  I STAYED.”

FOR MID-FLORIDA PUBLIC RADIO, I’M DONNA GREEN-TOWNSEND.