Thursday, September 15, 2016

TRAVELING SOUTH AGAIN

A journey through south/middle Georgia and northeast/central Florida proved to be a relaxing and, at the same time, a not-so-relaxing break from a writing routine this past week. Our destination was Frostproof, Florida, orange grove territory. The highlight of the trip through middle Georgia was an agricultural experience with a stop just off I-75 to visit Lane Southern Orchards, a farm that includes 3,000 acres of peach orchards, 3,000 acres of pecan orchards, and a 6-acre patch of strawberries. The roadside market offered peaches and pecans ‘a plenty, and we bought both in a huge marketplace that has been open since 1908.

The pecan trees in Georgia can live up to 200 years, but they only produce every other year. Even so, the State remains the largest producer of pecans in the United States, and Albany, Georgia has the distinction of being the pecan capital of the U.S. Lane Orchard’s brochure touted that pecans are heart-healthy and contain antioxidants, including 19 vitamins and minerals, healthy fat and fiber. And for trivial pursuers, the Lane merchants told us that there’re 78 pecans in a pecan pie (one of their specialties). Driving through the farm heartland, we thought about the old question Cajuns ask when they encounter a stranger: “Who’s your mama? And can you make a roux?” except that the question in south/middle Georgia is: “Who’s your farmer? And can you make a cobbler (blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, and the premier one, peach cobbler)?”

The day after our farm tour, we veered off course to coastal Florida and came to an abrupt stop at Amelia Island, not far from Jacksonville. The Island is a barrier island in northern Florida -- a place touting itself as the “southernmost jewel in the Sea Island chain.” Amelia Island has 13 miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beaches and is the size and shape of Manhattan. Eight different flags have flown over it, and it’s home to Civil War Era Fort Clinch and American Beach, which was a refuge for those who sought freedom from segregation. We had planned to stay at an inn on this island, but when we entered the lobby, we found cats and dogs occupying choice places on the sofas. As I’m allergic to animal dander, we cancelled the room and went on to Fernandina Beach, the northern part of Amelia Island that is referred to as “tropical Mayberry.” 

Two docents in an art gallery of the 50-block Historic District in Fernandina Beach gave us a rundown on the artsy life of the town where culture is alive and doing well, including poetry readings and an event that particularly interested me, the Amelia Island Book Festival, which is 15 years old and offers a free Reader’s Festival. The famed John Grisham has a home in the area and visits often, and international crowds are drawn to theatre, dance, and open air art walks. We experienced a strong pull to stay awhile, particularly when we dined under the canopy of giant oaks trailing Spanish moss that reminded us of our home in south Louisiana.

But we meandered on to lake country Florida near Lake Wales to visit with my friend Vickie’s relatives and spent four days on Silver Lake, watching the bird life and sunsets that outclass any in locales to which I’ve traveled, beginning with the memories of our family trip West to “Diddy Wah Diddy” (California) back in the 40’s.

We’d been so taken with Fernandina Beach that we scheduled a stop there on our return trip to Sewanee, Tennessee and were disappointed to read reports of rainy weather at Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach. Rain began to fall after we ate dinner in the historic district of Fernandina Beach, and by the time we returned to the motel, the wind had begun to pick up. A few hours later, we heard gusts roaring outside as rain pelted against the windows. I didn’t watch the weather report until the following morning and was glad I had avoided the news when I learned that we had been in a tropical storm and a hurricane watch during the night! We had driven into the heart of a dangerous storm and slept through the worst of it. I can remember surviving Hurricane Andrew in the same manner when it hovered over south Louisiana.

However, by 8:30 a.m., we were traveling the highway inland toward Tifton, Georgia and didn’t abandon the road until 4 p.m. when we reached The Mountain and familiar territory sans stormy weather.
                                                                                                           
Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan




Post a Comment