Roi-Ann Bettez of Georgetown, Ky., recently read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling and found her descriptions of rural Florida evocative of Pud’s descriptions of rural Kentucky Both were keen observers of the natural world during a time when we still valued its beauty. If you would like to share your thoughts on Clearing the Fog, contact us here.
In search of books set in Florida during a recent trip there, I discovered Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ novel The Yearling and her autobiographical stories, Cross Creek. Many people have probably read these, but I had missed them.
The plots and characters delighted me, but what I loved most were the settings. Central Florida, still a wild and rural place in the 1930s when Rawlings wrote, comes alive in her hands. She writes—about the animals, the plants, the weather, the crops, the hunting, the freedom, and the toil—with such emotion and detailed description that the place itself becomes a character. For example:
“March came in with a cool and sunny splendor. The yellow jessamine bloomed late and covered the fences and filled the clearing with its sweetness. The peach trees blossomed, and the wild plums. The red-birds sang all day, and when they had done with their song in the evening, the mocking-birds continued. The ground doves nested and cooed one to another and walked about the sand of the clearing like shadows bobbing.”
As I imagined that place in Florida, I found myself thinking about The Last Resort. Pud Goodlett’s journal is full of lists and descriptions of the birds, the fish, and the plants around the cabin where he and his friends camped. He also says that he read there, and I had longed for him to include a list of what he read. In my imagination I saw him reading one of Rawlings’ books by firelight or kerosene lantern while the rain pattered on the roof above him.
Then I thought: maybe he did. It’s possible. Rawlings’ The Yearling was published in 1938, when Pud was 16. A best seller, the book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1939. Kentucky’s Anderson County Public Library (built and furnished with a grant from Andrew Carnegie) had been dedicated in 1909 and was well established by that time, and would certainly have carried the book. Pud’s home on the outskirts of Lawrenceburg was within an easy walk of the downtown library, especially for a young man who readily hiked several miles out to his Salt River camp. It’s also possible he could have read her books later. If he ever did read her writing, I have no doubt he would have been fascinated with her detailed descriptions of rural, central Florida.
But whether or not Pud Goodlett read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, it’s evident that the two would have found a kinship in each other’s world view. They delighted in the places they loved. They were keen observers of the abundance and variety and beauty—and sometimes violence—of the plants and animals on their patch of this place we call Earth. I think Pud would have liked the ending to Cross Creek:
“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.”
This thought pattern stayed with me. While there on Florida’s east coast, I decided to look at the world through the eyes of Goodlett and Rawlings. I got up early to see the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. I became so aware of the bounty of the world that the next time I went to the beach, I saw things I had not noticed before. When the ocean retreated, it left bits of foam on shore that glowed all the colors of the rainbow for just a few seconds before disappearing into the sand. A tiny crab peeked out from his clawed hole, then dipped quickly back inside. Pelicans decided to roost for their afternoon nap atop a nearby tiki hut. The world was awake and alive all around me.
Try it. No matter what kind of day it is, go outside. Look around carefully. Take a deep breath. Think about how Pud or Marjorie would see your place. Look closely. See it through their eyes. I bet you’ll see something differently.