Alligator Pie

No alligators were harmed in the making of this pie.

As have so many people, cooking and baking is part of my quarantine routine. Perhaps not so much like many people, I’ve been sifting through my grandma’s recipes. These are recipes I saved in my 20s, before she died but after she was able to talk to me about them. One by one I’ve made them and decided whether or not to keep them, alter them, or get rid of them.

Some of the recipes weren’t hers, per se, but ones she’d trimmed from one of her many magazines. Alligator Pie is one such recipe, although that’s the name I gave it. No, Grandma Rae saved the not-as-creatively named Ricotta Spinach Pie recipe. After I made the crust, I had some pastry left over, so I improvised with an alligator cookie cutter (hey, spinach is green, so it kind of hangs together!)

Below, find the recipe with my modifications.

2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chopped shallot
1 package (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 container (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
4 eggs
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 c. finely chopped prosciutto
Dash teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 c. sherry
Pastry for 9-inch double-crust pie (I made a gluten-free one but you shouldn’t if you don’t have to)

Preheat oven to 425º

In medium skillet melt butter. Add shallots and saute until translucent; cool slightly. Add spinach and sherry ; cook until all butter is absorbed and the sherry has cooked down. In separate bowl combine ricotta, spinach and prosciutto. Add eggs, Parmesan, prosciutto, salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix well.

Roll out half the pastry and line a 9-inch pie plate. Bake 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and add filling.

Roll out remaining pastry and place over filling; seal edges. Cut several slits in top. I used an alligator cookie cutter to fashion the remaining pastry into alligators. With oven rack on lowest position, bake 20 min-
utes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake 20 more minutes. Serve warm.

Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach featured in Mary Kay Andrews double murder mystery

This Tampa Bay cozy mystery lets us visit all our beloved St. Petersburg haunts.

Mary Kay Andrews has real Tampa Bay ties. She set one of her earliest books — Lickety Split — in St. Petersburg, and if you go to her beach house in Georgia, you’ll find Munch’s ketchup squeeze bottles on the table.

I loved her books even before I knew any of those things, and I love her more now for it. Whenever review copies of her books show up at work, I can’t wait to get home and read them.

Sunset Beach was no different. Except that, instead of being set in any of the other amazing Southern places, Andrews set it in Sunset Beach, in Treasure Island. Of course, she threw in a one night stand, murder, and another murder.

And Sunset Beach is a pretty cool little beach. It’s the new McMansions mixed with old beach cottages, and Andrews captures the vibe of the two worlds perfectly. 

Sunset Beach brings Andrews back to Tampa Bay, to the area of Treasure Island known as Sunset Beach. And while I’d love to give you all the plot, well, no. You’re gonna have to read it.

And read it you should, because Sunset Beach is Andrews in high form.

I will say this: You can revisit the Sandman Motel, the St. Petersburg Police Department, beach bars and a prominent St. Petersburg law firm if you read the book.

And, uh, it’s up to you to decide what’s real. But even if it’s totally fake — or even if it’s all real — it’s a fantastic read, and hey, who doesn’t love a beach read?

Even if there are dead bodies on the beach.

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing

Jimmy Buffett in Tampa: five reasons it could’ve sucked, and five ways we were totally wrong

I dreaded this trip to Margaritaville. I was totally wrong.

After my last Jimmy Buffett concert a few years ago, I swore never again. 

Yes, I’ll go see him play when he campaigns — from the media stands — but an honest-to-god parrothead concert? Um, no, thank you. But reviewing his show? For free? Not in the goddamn lawn section? I can handle that. As much as I love his music and his message, I still sort of dreaded Saturday night’s show at the Mid-Florida whatever we call it these days. Here’s why, and why I was wrong.

5. I don’t love the fans.It’s not that I don’t love his songwriting and his message (the real message, not the “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?” one, but because I had reached my lifetime limit of dealing with ex-frat boys with paunches, pasty white chests and depressing day jobs trying to pretend they “got it” while wearing coconut shell bras and getting way too chummy after a few too many trips to Margaritaville. Now, before every chapter of Parrotheads everywhere burns my effigy, you’re totally entitled to worship at the altar of the salt shaker however you want and yes, I know a lot of the chapters do a lot of good, but the way you party at the concerts is not how I choose to enjoy Jimmy Buffett. When you all get together, I honest to god cannot stand you.

4. Especially the goddamn lawn.Because I hate the lawn section. Aside from the fact that you don’t have a seat (I mean, you can bring one but you’re not going to see a thing because everyone’s standing) and it sells out first so it’s always crowded, the last time I saw JB from the lawn I spent more time trying to keep my spot than appreciating the show. 

I mean, I spent a good 45 minutes of a two-hour show with elbows out and a fight stance so I could breathe. At another show, I couldn’t see JB because the super-tall dude in front of me made himself even taller with a huge straw hat, to which he strapped two naked barbies going at it. And flashing lights. And yes, he was in a grass skirt and had that red shiny drunk glow. Which is totally the message Jimmy wanted to get out there when he wrote “Color of the Sun.”

3. I also don’t need to see your tits, bro.Here’s a pro-tip for all the dudes who, at age 70, still think it’s a swell idea to get trashed and wear coconut shell bras: Yes, I know he wrote a song about you. But go to about :33 in and multiply by about 200-500 people, then remember that was you 11 years ago and while you might think margaritas are magic, they haven’t helped you sweat less. 

2. People don’t get him.In reality, though, the reason I don’t love the drunks and the guys in coconut shell bras is because they really don’t get what his music means. And I know you love Margaritaville — believe me, you’ve made it crystal clear — but that’s not who he is. Heartbreaking, I know, but he is Jimmy motherfucking Buffett, and while I would die happy if I never, ever heard “Margaritaville” even again, the man is a master. Stay with me. I know lots of you wish we’d reserve our corner of the web for bands like Gwar, the Ramones and the Weeknd. You’re suffering from hearing “Fins” one too many times (so, uh, twice, then). He’s actually a brilliant, gifted songwriter — but at his concert, fans don’t want to hear “Death of an Unpopular Poet” or “The Christian.”

1. Jimmy Buffett feeds the machine I hate.Look, this Parrothead culture isn’t an accident; Buffett’s fed the machine. Brands he’s created that feed it include Landshark beer, Margaritaville footwear, Caribbean Soul shirts, Margaritaville shrimp, Margaritaville hotels, Margaritaville bars, Margaritaville blenders… you get the idea. But I’m pretty sure that’s a mean to an end; every account I’ve ever read of his private life indicates the drunk party life is all show. Remember MySpace? ‘Round ’bout 2005, I downloaded a bootleg of Buffett playing “The Wino and I Know” in some bar somewhere, and he makes a remark about how great it is to play in a venue like that without “a bunch of drunks” clamoring for “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” — and it’s pretty clear from his tone he’s making fun of those people. I downloaded it, and when I sent a friend to the link to download it a few weeks later, it was gone. Probably because it’s not great press if his fan base ever realized how much they can annoy him.

Maybe I’ve stayed away too long, but if Saturday night’s concert at the Shed is any indication, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jimmy Buffett is running out of fucks to give about whether or not the depressed CPA wearing a grass skirt and drinking way too much Landshark wants him to play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.” And here are five reasons why I believe that, based on his most recent show in Tampa Bay. 

5. He’s moving away from the songs the drunk white collar fans come to hear him play.Granted, most of what he played was the popular stuff, but there were some treasures in there we wouldn’t have heard 10 years ago. If you look at the set list, aside from the covers (and no, I don’t count the ones Mac McAnally wrote as covers), he evenly divided the “songs you know by heart” with the infinitely-better B-sides. There was also a change from past videos playing in the background — while Buffett still showed video of the crowd and past examples of Parrothead debauchery, he also incorporated spectacular photography and videography in the background, making the concert a pleasure to watch as well as hear.

4. The bluegrass version of “Gypsies in the Palace.” On the 1985 Last Mango in Paris, the late Glenn Frey makes an appearance on “Gypsies in the Palace.” Last night Buffett played a bluegrass rendition of the song, transitioning into “Take It Easy.” When the crowd went wild, I had to wonder how many of them know Buffett called opening for The Eagles on their Hotel California tour “the rocket ship we rode” to fame.

3. More Mac.Over the years, songwriter Mac McAnally has had increasingly more front-and-center time, and with good reason: He’s written (or co-written with Buffett) some of the Coral Reefer Band’s best B-sides, the stuff people like me go to the concerts to hear. To wit, “It’s My Job,” “Coast of Carolina,” “She’s Going Out of My Mind,” “The City” and “Semi-True Story.” This Muscle Shoals musician has also written songs for the Lyle Lovett, Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown. Songs he did not write include “Margaritaville,” “Fins” and “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw.”

2. “Little Martha”. An acoustic song, played not by Buffett but the wildly gifted Mac McAnally. Despite the cheers for the Allman Brothers, a goodly number of the concertgoers headed for the beer stands when it became apparent Buffett wasn’t about to launch into a song about la vida playa. Which is a shame; those of us who stayed were rewarded with a tender acoustic tribute to, as McAnnally said, the band who “made it cool to be Southern in music.”

1. “Defying Gravity.”The final song of the evening came from 1976’s Havaña Daydreaming, but Buffett never released it as a single. He preceded “Defying Gravity” with a not-so-veiled barb at Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord (he’d already ad-libbed “don’t wanna land in Mar-a-Lago” when he sang “Volcano”): After calling Earth a beautiful planet, he said some people cared more than others, than closed by saying “I want to live on islands; I don’t want to be treading water.”Listen to a playlist featuring every song Buffett played at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre by clicking here.


Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

The Tiki Bar Is Open (John Hiatt)

The Great Filling Station Holdup

(mentioned Gregg Allman in the “Midnight Rider” snippet)

Knees of My Heart

Grapefruit—Juicy Fruit

Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season

Son of a Son of a Sailor

Come Monday

Weather With You (Crowded House)

Jamaica Mistaica

It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (Alan Jackson)

Knee Deep (Zac Brown Band)



Little Martha (The Allman Brothers Band — Mac McAnally solo acoustic)

That’s What Living Is to Me

Gypsies in the Palace

Take It Easy (Eagles)

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Last Mango in Paris

A Pirate Looks at Forty

Back Where I Come From (Mac McAnally)

Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash)


Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)

One Particular Harbour

Love and Luck

Defying Gravity (Jesse Winchester)

This article appeared originally in Creative Loafing Tampa.

The book has landed (almost!)

Backroads of Paradise
This is my book, Backroads of Paradise. Well, it’s the cover. OK, technically, it’s a photo of the cover. Stop harassing me!

You guys.

You can pre-order my book.

Part of me wants to play this cool and be all, “Yeah, it’s cool, you can pre-order my book” and the rest of me — the real me — has an almost-insurmountable compulsion to run around the house screaming “My book! MY BOOK!

So severely conflicted on this am I that it took me 19 full days to write this post, which has to be some sort of record for something, even if it’s a record for how batshit crazy things get inside my head.

Forget all that. The post has arrived, as has the book. It feels as though I’ve lived a lifetime since I first had the idea, which I suppose happens to many writers, unless, of course, you happen to be James Patterson, because that man is a machine. And if you are James Patterson, hi. Buy my book, OK?

Technically, the book has not arrived: You can pre-order it now on Amazon (or from the University Press of Florida) and they’ll ship it to you on October 4, the actual release date. Also, if you want it as an ebook, you have to wait — I mean, not much longer, but apparently the something about metadata or other things I don’t understand and don’t you dare pretend you do, either. The takeaway? You will have the chance to buy the ebook and no, I don’t know when but soon.

When UPF offered me a book contract, my editor told me in no uncertain terms to never promise people a publication date (well, until the Press itself released one) so I would make jokes when people asked me. My favorite one?

“Well, I’m not certain but I’m hoping sometime before we elect a new president.”

I made it with a whole month to spare.

Why’d It Have to be Ducks? (Hard Candy Redux)

Last year, I joked that I was the official poultry reporter for the Gabber Newspaper. When the paper and I parted ways last month, I felt a twinge that my livestock days were over. But then the Universe grabbed me by the ear, twisted, and said, “Not so fast, girlie.”

This is not my duck. Honest. But I have a stake in its future.

So here’s what happened: I want chickens. Oh, I don’t want to own them. While I find poultry in general just delicious, the chicken component of that category disgusts me. They’re mean and they don’t taste that good, unless they’re fried in buttermilk. Their eggs, however, taste delicious. I love eggs in all forms: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, egg salad… You get the idea.

Now, as much as I don’t like chickens, I hate the idea of factory farming eggs or chickens, so when I buy eggs, I buy free-range eggs, which costs about $4 a dozen. For someone who loves eggs, that can get expensive, so I thought, hey, if I could get eggs from some of my chicken-rearing neighbors, I could save some money. The easiest way to make this happen was to buy two chickens myself and bribe my neighbor Leigh to raise them for me. I’ll buy her chicken food as she needs it, and in return, I get the eggs.

Why is her purse peeping?
Why is her purse peeping?

So last week I went with Leigh to get the chicks, because really, that’s the least I can do for my chicken surrogate, right? Before I leave my house to pick up Leigh, her husband Mike – who was in the midst of removing a load-bearing wall from our kitchen area – begged me, “Please don’t let her bring home a duck” and I thought what the hell? because ducks are illegal as pets in Gulfport and Leigh has always seemed sane. Well, sane for Gulfport. It’s a sliding scale. Also, we were getting chickens. I assume Mike is confused, and I assure him I can keep his sweet little wife from buying a duck. I tell him he has nothing to fear and encourage him to resume focusing all his energy in making absolutely certain my roof won’t collapse when we remove the wall separating the kitchen and living room.

When will I learn?

Leigh and I walk into Animal House, and she shows me the chicks and explains which ones give which colored eggs. She’s kind of an egg color expert. And then she shows me this duckling, and I feel a vague sense of alarm. I imagine it’s how men feel when the woman they love walks into a room and asks, “Notice anything different?”

The lone duckling, I note, seems to be fairly listless, and also the object of much pecking. His feet are bloody. He’s missing down from his neck, where instead I see itty-bitty, duckling-sized scabs. He tries to stand move away from the chicks, who think he tastes just delicious, thank you, but every time he stands, the chicks see the blood on his feet and go crazy pecking. I remembers one of the reasons I don’t like factory-farmed chickens is the practice of clipping their beaks, and all of a sudden I also remember why they clip the beaks. My throat gets thick, memories of this book wash over me, and I tell Leigh I’m going to look at the adoptable puppies, because I am about 45 seconds from having to explain to El Cap why I bought a duck, and right now we’re in the middle of remodeling a kitchen and I honestly don’t think he can handle livestock, too.

When I stroll back over, Leigh is passionately arguing with the 15-year-old clerk about the state of the duckling’s health. He tells her the duckling is “just fine” and that it’s “normal” for it to be bloody and pecked at by chickens. Meanwhile, Leigh is texting a coworker who grew up on a farm, asking him to please save the duckling, and he texts her back “I have chickens. Chickens and ducks don’t get along.” Leigh reads this message, shows me, looks at the duckling trying to hide his open, bloody wounds from about 20 pecking chicks, and I sigh. I feel the steel jaws of the trap close.

“Who do we know who can take this duckling, because I can’t, Leigh. I have two hound dogs and two cats,” I tell her, thinking to myself: And El Cap. Calypso will kill the duck, El Cap will kill me, and the cats will feast on my remains.

And so a plan is born. Leigh is going to get the duck and find a home for it. I buy my chickens, Leigh buys the duck, and we head back to her house. And then I head home, poultry-free, where Mike pauses from shoring up my roof to give me a long, hard look.

“Do I own a duck?” he asks me, quietly and (I think) a little too calmly. I am suddenly aware of the preponderance of power tools – including a pneumatic nail gun – easily within Mike’s reach.

“It’s temporary,” I say, backing away slowly.

“The bird was temporary,” he says, and mutters a few other things I choose to interpret as love for his bride.

What Leigh didn’t tell me until later was that the scrawny, indifferent young store clerk also told her that if the chicks didn’t kill the duck by the next morning they’d likely have to do it themselves. And then she promised me she would never go to Animal House again, and I decided I wouldn’t, either, because really, the small animals they sell really shouldn’t be sold, not as pets. The best thing I can do is not give them my business, and the best thing Leigh can do for her marriage is stop going places where there are mistreated animals she feels compelled to “rescue.”

Leigh and Mike are keeping the duck, even though it’s illegal, because Mike (for all his big bad talk about not wanting it) named it, and everyone knows once you name something, you have to keep it. Which is why I never suggest baby names to my friends. And, apparently, no one’s going to arrest Leigh for the illegal duck, because that is kind of a dick thing to do, and if no one’s arresting the people who own the illegal pig (true story) or the goats (also a true story), who’s sending a duck rescuer to jail?

So, you know, everyone wins, except George, because that’s not a great name for a duck. I wanted to call him Lowell, but apparently I don’t get a vote. Which is fine. And, hey, I’ll have fresh eggs from Yasmin and Foghorn P. in just a few months.

Yasmin and Foghorn
Meet Yasmin and Foghorn. That’s not blur; that’s all fuzz, people.

Margaritas, Sour Oranges, and Downtown St. Pete

Making sour orange margaritas
Me, muddling brown sugar, Tupelo honey, and key limes for my class. I’m kind of an awesome teacher.


I love Gulfport, but I also love living near downtown St. Pete. I wouldn’t want to live near downtown at all, but I do love that I can be there in less than 10 minutes (finding parking may take slightly longer.) The waterfront – which is public access, every bit – is, as the mayor said recently, a jewel. When I was in college, St. Petersburg’s downtown was a place one did not go alone, or, really, at all. Things have changed, and I am thrilled.

One of the things I do – and I really enjoy – is speak to people about my work re-tracing the tours from the WPA’s Guide to the Southernmost State. I’ve lectured and taught at OLLI at Eckerd College for just over a year now, and I love it. There’s something incredibly rewarding about having a group of students who attend your lecture – and pay to do so – when they don’t get college credit for doing so. They just attend because they love learning and find the subject interesting.

Sour oranges
A sour orange, soon to be a margarita for my students at the OLLI program at Westminster Palms.

This year, OLLI expanded its reach to include satellite campuses at the Westminster retirement communities, and last night the downtown St. Petersburg Westminster crowd (Westminster Palms), instead of heading to the Vinoy Verandah for drinks or walking a few blocks to get dinner, chose to hear me speak about eating your way across the Florida panhandle. I was incredibly flattered, so as a thank you, I made the class sour orange margaritas. Now, the sour oranges didn’t technically come from the panhandle, but they did come from Florida and who hasn’t sat through a class where the lecturer droned on and on in a monotone and you couldn’t wait to leave? Think of my lectures as your reward for those times.

You’re welcome.

Anyone Missing a Pig?

This is an actual conversation I just had with a dispatcher for the Gulfport Police Department:

<Insert joke here>

Dispatcher Nancy: “This is Nancy. This is a recorded line…”

Me: “Hi, My name is Cathy. I’m in Gulfport. Can you have the Gulfport patrol sergeant call me?”

Dispatcher Nancy: “Certainly. And what is this about?”

Me: “About a pig one of the officers lassoed this morning.”

Dispatcher Nancy: “OK, what’s your number?”

Me: “Yeah, because that’s a totally normal request.”

I gave her my number, but the point is here, Florida – and of course, by extension, Gulfport – has to be pretty high up there on “regular everyday weirdness” if that request didn’t even make her break stride.

If you’re just stopping in this blog from somewhere else, like New York or Chicago, please know that we are in no way an agricultural community, unless you count the chickens.

Also, if you think I’m making any of this up for effect, I’m not. I don’t have to. I live in Gulfport. Don’t believe me? Read the full story here.

Destination Clearwater: A Stroll Through the Garden

•Originally published for the Clearwater Patch on December 1, 2012•

Sometimes the garden’s brightest colors are at night

Just outside Clearwater, the Florida Botanical Gardens lights up like a Christmas tree every December. Not just one Christmas tree, though – all of them.

It’s one of those rare Florida nights when it actually feels like winter feels in most of the country. I’m not complaining; I love that I can wear shorts on Christmas. But when we do get a cold burst, I feel brilliantly alive out in the elements, wrapped in a scarf and breathing the cold air.

That’s what I’m doing tonight, and I’m doing it at the Florida Botanical Gardens. There’s no snow, but it’s a Florida wonderland all its own over here.

Everywhere I look, lights sparkle against the rich backdrop of green fringe and brilliant blossoms. I walk across a long bridge to reach the sparkly, shiny brilliance and am not disappointed: everything glitters here, even the stars high above me tonight.

I make my way through the throngs of people and towards the popcorn tree. I’m pretty sure it has a scientific name, but to me, it’s the popcorn tree. That’s because it smells like buttered popcorn, and when I stand directly under its perfectly round balls of blossoms, I feel like I’m awash in a vat of movie theatre popcorn.

As much buttery delight as I take in the tree, I realize I can’t stay under it forever. The Gardens, always enchanting to me, offer up one festive treasure after another. I rub my eyes, afraid I cannot possibly hope to take it all in tonight. A breeze ripples down my sweater-clad spine; this is Florida winter, and I want to suck it all in and breathe out frosty, steamy breath. I wrap my arms around myself and, alone, I am content to wander the garden.

George Eliot said, “It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees” and as I stroll through the gardens, I sense the truth in these words. I feel it when I rub my thumb over the slick palm leaves; I smell its heady honesty under my beloved popcorn tree. When I sit by the pool and watch people stroll by, I feel the chill in the air as the breeze blows through. I hear the wind over the foliage, and if I close my eyes and try only to listen, I can hear the air singing over each leaf, every petal, and individual blossoms. My senses understand, somehow, a symphony of the gardens, and I am reluctant to leave.

Plenty of people have joined me tonight – after 12 years, it is a tradition to come out to the garden to see the lit sprays of palm trees, the two-dimensional lit birds, the walkways illuminated with a thousand tiny bulbs – and I have again the sense of being alone in a crowd. Unlike so many other times, though, I am alone in the crowd but feel a thread pulling us all together. It’s not the Christmas spirit, no exactly, but it is something greater than all of us.

It’s the spirit of the garden itself.

Vacation Chronicles: The Florida Bookshelf

So we have these awesome bookshelves in our living room. They stretch almost to the ceiling from about mid-thigh height. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with the place.

If you read my earlier post about my mom, look closely.
You can see wood shavings in this photo.

The problem for book lovers is that if you give us bookshelves like these, we try and fill them. Actually, there is no “try” – filling them with beloved manuscripts happens organically. For me, that means that, 17 months after signing the lease on the bookshelves, they’re overflowing with books about Florida. When you factor in the past year spent pulling books off to find the (seemingly) random fact to add in to the spicy goodness that was (I hoped) my master’s thesis, then pushing them back on the shelf again in no particular order, you have a mess. Or, at least, I did.

So yesterday, I decided I would put things right. Part of it was to blot out the 9-11 coverage on Fox “News” but mostly, I couldn’t take the dust and disorganization anymore. Also, I’m looking for my underwater camera (that’s another post) and I’d arrived at the quirky part of the search that we all come to when we’re desperately looking for something we simply cannot find, where bizarre ideas seem possible. I thought perhaps the camera was behind a book.

No, the Emmys aren’t mine. I wish they were.
It was not, but I did get quite a few books in my pile for trade at Small Adventures, clear out a spare litter of kittens worth of fur, and reorganized my books. Here are my Florida book categories:
  • Early History through Explorative Narratives (also called “Lies told to the crown about Florida and one cool Bartram book”)
  • Essential Florida (The WPA Guide to the Southernmost State, Florida Poems, Cross Creek, Everglades: River of Grass, and Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams)
  • Everglades and Keys Fact and Fiction
  • Tour and travel guides
  • Hiaasen, MacDonald, and Randy Wayne White
  • Books about Florida for which I don’t have enough to make a category
  • Jimmy Buffett’s fiction and not-really-about-Florida-but-still-written-by-him books

There, uh, isn’t a point, really, except that the bookshelf rearrangement thing made me happy enough that I had to brag about it.

Also, I’m wondering if anyone’s seen my camera….

Tour Six, Part Two – Fanning Springs

This is the second leg of this tour. To read the first leg, click here.

Our tour crosses the Suwannee River at Fanning Springs, close to the river’s communion with the Gulf of Mexico at Cedar Key (See Tour Three). One does not come to this area of the state for beaches, though; one comes for the springs. Every hole and dip in Florida’s limestone floor glitters with teal and sapphire sparks of water, and Fanning Springs burns its radiance as brightly as any.

 Florida springs burble and prattle along their way, their blues and greens coalescing to the moonless midnight as they traipse through pine flatwoods, swamps, and hardwood hammocks. At the spring heads, though, the halcyon water shimmers in shades of teal sunshine, an aqueous rainbow revealing infinite depths. Fanning Springs State Park fronts the route, offering primitive camping for hikers, bikers and paddlers. Car and camper travelers can opt for a cabin (no pets permitted) or, as we did, head to nearby Manatee Springs State Park (See Tour 3) for RV camping or tent camping. Either spring offers a glimpse into Florida’s depths, and both feed the Suwannee. I do not trust my ability to outswim a gator quite enough to relax in Florida’s blackwater rivers, but I snorkel, swim and  dive the springs with abandon. Manatee and Fanning Springs alike allow and encourage these things, their crystalline waters the perfect invitation.
I learned to SCUBA dive after my first trip to the Florida Keys. I wanted to get closer to the rainbow of life on the reefs. My first SCUBA dive, though, took place in a murky, frigid sinkhole south of these springs: Hudson Hole. I had no intention then to dive freshwater, and that morning at the sinkhole cemented that decision.
It was my first for-real dive. It was January. It was not fun. Our dive instructors, clad in snuggly warm dry suits, laughed at us as they dumped hot water down the backs of our wet suits. Their breath made little steam clouds as they smirked and suggested we pee as soon as we hit the water. We entered the sinkhole and snorkeled a circle around the lake, then dropped to a platform 20 feet beneath the dismal, dusky surface. We ran through drills – clearing our mask, recovering our regulators, and clearing them – but the entire time I wasn’t thinking about drowning. No, I was too busy worrying about hypothermia and alligators. At least, I thought to myself at one point, if a gator bites me, I’ll be too numb from the cold to feel it.
Hudson Hole did nothing to entice me out of the saltwater and into the fresh. However, Florida’s first magnitude springs – springs that push over 100 million gallons per day out from the state’s spongy limestone center – have little in common with that dank, creepy place best used to train rescue divers. Manatee Springs is a glorious, serene, and – this is crucial – warm, first magnitude spring. Fanning Springs “only” pumps out 65 million gallons of inner earth water daily, which ranks it a second magnitude spring. Those are just words, though, and don’t truly convey the force of the water out of the earth. It gushes over limestone and out into the sun, tumbling over itself in its rush for the surface. You can’t, in all practicality, dive to the source – the pulse of the water will push you back to the outer edge of the planet. You can, however, often find tiny fissures where infinitesimal jets of water stream upwards, a small but unique delight in a wild aquarium.
Back on dry land, we head south.
At Otter Creek, the route passes State Road 24, the one way in and out of Cedar Key (see Tour 3).
As the road approaches Yankeetown (south of the more populous Chiefland), it turns towards the coast and traces its contours closely for the remaining 137 miles.
In 1962, Elvis came to Yankeetown to make Follow That Dream, a movie about a family that moves to Florida when their car runs out of gas on a deserted stretch of road. The family starts what becomes a thriving fishing business, outsmarts the mob, and befuddles bureaucrats, emerging triumphant at the film’s end. The short story on which it was based, Pioneer Go Home!, sets the stage in New Jersey rather than Florida.
In tribute to the film – and Elvis – the town renamed State Road 40 “Follow That Dream Parkway.” The sign still hangs between the traffic lights as the tour crosses the “Parkway.”