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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where does your heart live?

So, I am a literature fangirl, we know this much is true. Something that I find many of the books I love to have in common is a marvelous establishment of place--this is true of L.M. Montgomery's many books, Susan Cooper's YA series(es), Marion Zimmer Bradley's book The Firebrand, Ian McEwan's books Saturday and The Cement Garden, Kazuo Ishiguro's conception of Britain in The Remains of the Day, A.S. Byatt's masterpiece Possession, and many more.

And so, something I have always wanted to do: go on a literary tour. You know, a physical tour of a geographical location based on how that location is written. I assume Big Cities do this a lot; I think there's a Dickens tour of London, for instance. And while I think you could tour London via LOTS of books (as Anna Quindlen's lovely Imagined London does), I am more interested in smaller and broader spaces. I want to tour Avonlea through the real town of Cavendish and wander about in Kingsport in the footsteps of Anne; I want to hike Cader Idris and walk by Tal y Llyn after Bran and Will, and trail down the Cornish beach with the Drews; I want to climb Glastobury Tor in search of Avalon.

The only time to date that I have really been able to indulge in my literary-place fantasies is with The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. It helps that I live in Florida and am relatively close to her historic ranch property at Cross Creek. It also helps that my mother is both a Yearling fanatic (as am I) and loves the natural cold springs which thickly coat much of Ocala National Forest and surrounding area; our summer trips when I was a young thing were most often to the springs and campgrounds throughout the region. Rawlings wrote what is basically a guidebook to the central Florida scrub in The Yearling, including name-dropping Juniper, Silver Glen, and Salt Springs as well as towns such as Volusia and Fort Gates, all of which are real visitable places. And--best of all--there is an actual Yearling Trail precisely across the road from Silver Glen Springs which has a long hiking trail with information about Rawlings, the book, Florida wildlife, and what this area of Florida was like in her time, as well as some historic sites from the Long farm (the family and land on which The Yearling was based). It is not at all difficult to imagine Jody and Flag frolicking down the sandy road toward the springs when hiking this area due to the beautiful specificity of Rawlings' writing.

"He reached the thick-bedded sand of the Silver Glen road. The tar-flower was in bloom, and fetter-bush and sparkleberry. He slowed to a walk, so that he might pass the changing vegetation tree by tree, bush by bush, each one unique and familiar. He reached the magnolia tree where he had carved the wildcat's face. The growth was a sign that there was water nearby. It seemed a strange thing to him, when earth was earth and rain was rain, that scrawny pines should grow in the scrub, while by every branch and lake and river there grew magnolias...The east bank of the road shelved suddenly. It dropped below him twenty feet to a spring. The bank was dense with magnolia and loblolly bay, sweet gum and gray-barked ash. He went down to the spring in the cool darkness of their shadows. A sharp pleasure came over him. This was a secret and a lovely place.

A spring as clear as well water bubbled up from nowhere in the sand. It was as though the banks cupped green leafy hands to hold it. There was a whirlpool where the water rose from the earth. Grains of sand boiled in it. Beyond the bank, the parent spring bubbled up at a higher level, cut itself a channel through white limestone and began to run rapidly downhill to make a creek. The creek joined Lake George, Lake George was a part of the St John's River, the great river flowed northward and into the sea. It excited Jody to watch the beginning of the ocean. There were other beginnings, true, but this one was his own."
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