Not on Vacation
In need of a short-term escape from single parenthood, I planned a drive from the Space Coast past the Treasure Coast, around Lake Okeechobee and on to the Lee Island Coast. In between the beaches, the non-coastal land contains the inside of Florida, the economic and historic heart and spine of the state. The space and theme-park industries transformed Florida expanding and exploding into the twenty-first century, but the true tourism of Florida predates themed roller coasters, and the soaking sunshine does more for Florida than simply grace its coastline.
Traveling down the Atlantic shore, vacationers at the beginning of the twentieth century benefitted from the work of Henry Flagler and his railroad into the land of palm trees and resorts. However, the swampy, mosquito-heavy interior areas didn’t hold the glamour of the beach-front property, so those tracks skipped the portion of the state that worked rather than vacationed. Even today, Florida bumper stickers read, “Not all of us are on vacation.”
Ft. Pierce to Ft. Myers
But somewhere near Sebastian Inlet, almost literally on the other side of the tracks, lies the eastern edge of Florida’s citrus industry. Rows of orange and grapefruit trees grow from Indian River County westward, and the history of Florida’s famous crop and its current agricultural economic resources weave through the green groves. During the blossoming seasons, the fragrant blooms on the trees sweeten the air; and if heaven has a smell, it is orange blossoms – so special!
Cattle ranches behind simple post fences with parallel lines of barbed wire define the simple views of the state’s beef industry. No longhorns or ten-gallon caricatures here. As the keepers of the Sunshine State’s livestock livelihood, Florida Crackers identify themselves as historic ranch hands and associate themselves with its inland industry. Originally known for sound their whips made while corralling their herds, more often the term identifies someone truly born and raised in the Florida culture, like “buckeyes” of Ohio and the “hoosiers” of Indiana. In the native-Floridian sense, Son #1 and Son #2 both qualify as Crackers.
Continuing south of Florida’s central lake, the ranches change to swamps. Below Okeechobee, the tall grasses benefit from the gradual trickle of water that sloughs its way to the Florida Keys, dragging through the sugar cane fields. The densely-packed, pancake-flat cane fields offer no distant views, unless driving along one of south Florida’s lengthy canals. These irrigation waterways, where the true lengths of the sugar fields are visible, parallel the straight roads just outside the busy beach-front cities. After crossing Alligator Alley and the Tamiami Trail, the water continues to inch its way to the Florida Straits, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean having nourished the industries up the peninsula. The tourists splashing in the ocean’s waves don’t think of the fields, the ranches, or the groves upstream feeding the waves; we Crackers keep that beauty to ourselves.