The “Human Heirs” of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

[This essay received the First Place Award in the 2001 Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Essay Contest. This award came one month after I left teaching to pursue writing full time. I saw it as a sign that I had made the right decision.]

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

My new world frightened me. I didn’t see the beauty of the live oak trees draped in moss or understand the lure of frogs singing on a summer night. The wildlife of northern Florida held threats to my safety and left me wondering why we had moved here from Michigan.

I saw danger lurking in the surrounding wilderness. One morning I looked in the mirror and saw a tick, fat with my blood, attached to the center of my forehead. The first time I saw a broadhead skink, I threatened to leave my new home and head back to a land of lizard-less landscapes.

After hearing that I wanted to leave, a neighbor suggested I read Cross Creek. I had never heard of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings even though The Yearling sounded familiar.

Not only was Ms. Rawlings a writer, something I aspired to be, but she had conquered her fears of a Florida wilderness and wrote with affection about an area much more rural than anything I had experienced. For the first time, I began to understand the rhythms of life in this land that was beginning to own me.

When I heard the call of my first “chuck will’s widow” heralding spring, I welcomed the songbird with pride because, thanks to Ms. Rawlings, I knew it was a  cousin of the whip-poor-will. Now I listen for it every year.

I read about her trip to the Everglades with Ross Allen to hunt rattlesnakes. This woman became my hero as I fought to overcome my fear of snakes. When I welcomed a Black Racer into my garden last year, my appreciation for the nature of north Florida became complete. I had not made a mistake by moving here.

I devoured her novels. Jody Baxter’s struggles chronicled a rite of passage much purer than anything I’d read before. And South Moon Under allowed a glimpse into the people I had begun to call neighbors.

The picture of Ms. Rawlings, on her porch with the typewriter in front of her, remained a constant in my mind as I struggled to find the writer in me. That picture became reality when I began to put aside the distractions of my life as a teacher and started my own journey as a writer.

Recently one of my students struggled to find an American author to read. I suggested South Moon Under. When he finished, he said, “I never thought I’d like this book, but I want to thank you for suggesting it. It is the most interesting book I’ve ever read.”

No longer afraid of the world around me, I returned what had been given to me when my neighbor suggested I read Cross Creek. Ms. Rawlings lives on in those “human heirs” who sojourn here for only a short time while the creatures and landscapes around us continue their cycle of life and death and rebirth, completing the essential rhythms of a world filled with wonder.

5 thoughts on “The “Human Heirs” of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

  1. I was born in a town but had an interest in the countryside and the wilder world beyond my immediate surroundings from an early age. Later, Africa was my real training ground, with all it’s unpredictability and astonishing beauty. I have never lost the wonder of wildlife and nature and from my terrace at this very moment I can see two baby storks in their nest. They are almost ready to take their first flight and flexing their wings as mother calls from a nearby post to encourage them.
    Lovely essay, Patricia, it says such a lot. Love your ‘new look’ too!

    Like

    • How lovely, Wendy. I’ve only been to Morocco on the African continent (which is more Western and Middle Eastern than Africa). I long to visit there. When I do, you’ll be the first one I consult! Happy to hear from you as always.

      Like

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