By Laurie Sheldon
|Jeff Klinkenberg, delivering the first Keynote Address|
at the 2012 FNPS Conference in Plant City.
Today there are about 19 million Floridians. Perhaps the fact that we have the unique opportunity to die from an alligator attack makes us brethren, in a sense, while it differentiates us from New Yorkers. Beyond our potential-death-by-reptile commonality, however, our own narratives about Florida are as distinct as our fingerprints (some of which, incidentally, may be found in the bellies of alligators).
As Floridians, our sense of place is derived from both the places we are exposed to and what we become attuned to while we are there. In Klinkenberg’s case, it all began in the Keys, where his father introduced him to fishing and fish identification. Road trips were spent alongside his younger brother Marty with “The Dictionary of Fishes” (a reference written by member Jan Allyn’s grandfather) in hand, from which the boys would spend hours quizzing each other. His parents, originally from Chicago, moved to Miami for the opportunities it presented to musicians looking for work. His dad, a piano player, held fast to the message of “Moon Over Miami” and quickly embraced all that Florida had to offer. Although Jeff claims that his mother was not a “nature girl,” her keen insight into human nature was fodder for a great number of stories. She could walk down the block and come home with something to say about all of their neighbors. As such, Jeff entered adolescence outfitted with a sensitivity and appreciation for both the “real wild Florida” and the characters that inhabit it, himself among that merry lot.
|The Monroe Station|
|Airboat ride! Ervin Rouse with fiddle (left); son of the |
Gator Lodge owner, Jack Knight Jr., driving (right).
|Lucky Cole, shutterbug and historian|
Fast forward 35 years, more or less, to the first time Jeff went to meet with Lucky Cole. I think he said he was shot at, although maybe that’s me just having a bout of creative remembering. Regardless, Jeff’s description of Lucky as a ”giant of a man whose everglades home had a Dr. Seuss quality” allowed more of a whimsical impression than a bloodcurdling one. Lucky eventually invited Jeff onto his porch, which was furnished with a dentist’s chair, a barber’s chair, and an enormous photo of a scantily clad middle aged woman. Naturally, Jeff could not help looking at this image. Jeff probed a bit further and discovered that the woman in the photo was Lucky’s wife, whereafter he was challenged to keep the conversation - and his eyes - appropriately focused. As it turns out, Lucky is an amateur photographer. I’m tempted to call him a “boudoir” photographer, only his photos aren’t likely to be taken in a bedroom; an above-ground pool, a disconnected outdoor tub and the lawn in front of a motorhome are some of his more popular milieus. His website is easy to find if you want to see for yourself. Why was Jeff there to begin with? To have his own Everglades "Glamour Shots" taken? No. Actually, he was doing research. Lucky is one of only a few remaining inhabitants of the Loop Road area, which once was home to over 200, and is the de facto area historian.
|Written in response to Thomas Barbour's "That|
Vanishing Eden," this text by Archie Carr put a
positive spin onFlorida and its existing resources.
Some may claim that Florida’s uniqueness is long gone. Sure, we tried to dry the swamps by tossing Melaleuca seeds from a helicopter over the Everglades, dealt with excess rainfall and low elevation by digging canals, and bulldozed countless untouched acres to create gated communities. The sad truth is that we didn’t fully understand the impact of our actions back then. Published in 1944, “That vanishing Eden: A Naturalist's Florida,” Thomas Barbour‘s contribution to Florida-centric literature, explores the natural world of a remote, undeveloped state. In response, Archie Carr penned “A Naturalist in Florida: A Celebration of Eden”- one of Klinkenberg’s favorite tomes - which expresses our need to focus on the half full part of the glass, to relish in what is left, and not to give up on Florida. Then there’s the narrative of bizarre Florida/Floridians that Carl Hiaasen is so adept in describing, with characters like Skink whose honesty and efforts as governor to protect the state’s natural resources and prevent rampant land development are met with such hostility that he resigns to become a hermit. Although Jeff did not mention them, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ autobiographical novel, "Cross Creek," (1942) and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ “The Everglades: River of Grass” (1947) are two of the most influential bodies of literature to come out of this state (go ladies!).
Now, sixty years later, the voices of this state’s narrative may be different, but their songs are one and the same: Wild Florida still exists! We can’t denude our environment and plead ignorance anymore. The Statute of Limitations on that one went away with parachute pants and the advent of the internet.
Jeff Klinkenberg is a Miami boy, UF Gator, and adjunct journalism professor who writes about Florida’s cultural phenotypic variances. He left South Florida to join the St. Pete Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) 35 years ago, and his work has allowed him to travel and “eat great food from Pensacola to the Keys”. In addition to his journalistic publications, Jeff is the author of two best-selling anthologies and a collection of essays, entitled “Seasons of Real Florida”, “Land of Flowers”, and “Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators” respectively. He is currently working on two writing projects: a profile of Patrick Smith, the award-winning author of “A Land Remembered”, and a history of Cedar Key’s “Taxi Judy,” a woman who knew to pick up passengers from the airport because of the incredibly low altitude and proximity to rooftops at which they arrived. When asked about his own style of narrative, Klinkenberg responded, “I do my best to keep it natural.”
- Monroe station: http://a2.ec-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/82/47183d52d82a460ca649946680c945f9/l.jpg
- Rouse, Knight Jr.: http://a4.ec-images.myspacecdn.com/images02/128/17cbd934165544b8ae027bd376b1df28/l.jpg
- Lucky Cole: http://ww4.hdnux.com/photos/11/44/60/2509871/3/628x471.jpg
- A Celebration of Eden: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_jY1hzrPc4DA/TRDkIzpCH1I/AAAAAAAAAKo/OvtZnxt4YJ0/s1600/Archie+Carr+book+cover.jpg
- Fishing: http://img4.realsimple.com/images/tips/kid-dad-fishing_300.jpg