Carrying On at “The Creek”
By Kate Barnes
Those of us who’ve lived here a while just call it “The Creek,” but to a much wider world, it’s known as Cross Creek, Florida. When fledgling writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings wandered across our narrow bridge in the late 1920s, she “knew it at once as home,” and a decade later, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her stories of the place and its people, including The Yearling, Cross Creek, and Cross Creek Cookery.
Visiting Cross Creek today, it isn’t hard to imagine our old neighbor “Marge” on her verandah, the clacking of her typewriter blending with the sounds of her working orange grove. At the M. K. Rawlings State Historic Park, rangers and volunteers in 1930s dress, “carrying on” her legacy, give visitors a glimpse of Rawlings’ life in depression-era Florida and tell the story of a determined woman who eloquently celebrated North Florida’s backwoods beauty and colorfully ornery inhabitants.
Considering how much change Florida has been through since Rawlings’ time, it seems a minor miracle that anything is left of the life she experienced. For one thing, Cross Creek is no longer isolated and there are a lot more of us living here than the few families she knew. But in fact, with years of community involvement and, yes, “carrying on” about land use, we’ve been able to hang on to most of the elements that make the place so special.
Today, it’s the residents who are “carrying on” the sense of community and the Cross Creek tradition of standing by our neighbors in times of trouble and leaving them the heck alone the rest of the time. We relish having at least as many “characters” here as Rawlings ever knew, and we still seem to nurture the creative spirit and sense of place that inspired her and many others to wander and find peace here—to write, paint, fish, hunt, or just live a life far from crowds and modern pressures.
So the good things endure. At every conceivable opportunity, we still gather to cook and share meals and have festivals in support of our volunteer fire department. Nature still rules here, including the human variety, and we grumble together through heat and drought and mosquitoes, and are rapturous when the sandhill cranes arrive for the winter or a bald eagle flies through the backyard. Though our waters run shallow today, the dawns over Lake Lochloosa and the sunsets over Orange Lake are still unfailingly beautiful and the stars still shine as brightly on a clear night as they did when Paleo-Indians gazed into the night sky.
Kate Barnes is an artist and writer who has lived in the 1890 Cross Creek Grove House since 1971. Barnes designed and illustrated Sally Morrison’s 1983 Cross Creek Kitchens, recently republished by the University Press of Florida.