Jessie sent out an APB text this morning asking if anyone wanted to go to the Jr.
The Jr. is what we call the Tallahassee Museum because it used to be called The Jr. and change is hard. I've written about this place many times because I've been there many times. I used to go with my own kids and with their classes, too, as a chaperone. I have no idea how many times I've been there. And yet, it never fails to make me happy to go.
I was the only one available to meet with Jessie and so it was just the four of us but that was okay although it would have been a lot of fun to have Maggie and Lily there too. And well, Hank and Rachel and May and Michael but you work with what you have.
I took the interstate to get there and I have to say that the interstate is the way to go if you're looking for speed. The Jr. is way, way on the west side of town and Lloyd is to the east of Tallahassee and if you don't get on the interstate you're going to have to drive straight through FSU and all that crap unless you go another back way which despite my tens of millions of years living here I'm never quite sure about. I have absolutely no sense of direction and navigate almost entirely by landmarks and the landmarks on this other back way have changed so much over the years that I'll be driving along, wondering if I've somehow shifted universes and WHERE THE HELL AM I?
But the interstate is fine if you don't get anxiety driving on it which I sometimes do and actually did today, a little bit, but not too bad. And like I said, it was fast.
I met Jessie and the boys at the old caboose and August was so excited to drive me and his mother to St. Augustine which is where I said I'd like to go when he asked. I think the caboose may be almost every kid's favorite part of the museum and I can totally understand why.
After the train ride we meandered over to the snakes and our timing was good because we got to listen to an educational talk about them. One of the employees or volunteers, I'm not sure which, brought out a lovely oak snake and she told us things I'd never known about snakes, one of which is that they have no breast bone. This makes sense, especially knowing that a snake a quarter of the width of an egg can swallow the egg. I knew about the jaw-dislocating abilities but not that they don't have a breast bone. That allows their ribs to expand.
August had several questions, mostly about how they climb. They were good questions, too.
After the talk everyone who wanted to could touch the snake and August and I did. We had to use only two fingers and stroke it in the correct direction, very gently, so as not to harm it.
After the snakes we went on to see the animals who live in enclosures which are quite large and a part of the natural landscape of the museum while the humans are separated with fences, sometimes on wooden walkways that rise above the ground and sometimes dirt paths. This mostly depends on the animals. It's one thing to walk on the same level as the rehabilitating birds of prey, but it would be another to walk right next to the bears.
This guy (or gal) had his own bed and was actually surrounded by trees and shallow parts of the lake which the museum borders. They make sure that all of the animals have plenty of places to hide from the humans if they are not in the mood to be observed. The bears don't seem to care. Jessie and I agreed that we would love to snuggle with that bear if his claws just weren't quite as daunting.
Every time I'm at The Jr. I think so much of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' The Yearling because so much of what she writes about in that book can be found there. From the bears and panthers to the old farm with its pig and cow and chickens and cabins and out-buildings. I look at those claws and think about the bear in her book that came onto the property at night and killed their milk cow. This was one particular bear who was old and wise in the way of humans and knew how to break into pens and shelters and who had terrorized the settlers for years, depriving them of the meat they so desperately needed and had so diligently raised. Yes, this is fiction but it represented the real lives of real people who for some insane reason thought it would be a good idea to try and live and raise families in the scrubs of Florida with little more than the sweat of their brow. They spent their lives trying just to keep the grits and grease on their tables with maybe a little pork and venison and chicken here and there, some sweet potatoes, cane to boil down and make syrup of, corn for the beasts and themselves, maybe some fish now and then. The nearest settlements might be a day's wagon-ride away, at least, and that is where they would buy what they could not raise or butcher, the coffee if times were good, the sugar if times were really good, cloth for their clothing, the hardware that they had to have to hold their cabins and plows and wagons together.
So being at The Jr. makes all of that so real to me. It's sweet to see the pretty foxes, the shy deer, the silly white squirrels as they run and chase each other through the trees but the reality of the size of a panther's paws, the bear's claws, the wolf's slow, steady stare as he walks soundlessly across his enclosure, the triangular head of the rattler, of the cotton-mouthed moccasin, are true proof of how scrappy and strong and probably desperate the early settlers of Florida were and when I say "early settlers" I include the original people who lived here, the different tribes of indigenous people who knew the forests and waterways and plants and animals and seasons and storms like we know the names of fast food restaurants and the dates of when the fair comes to town.
I respect all of those people.
But besides all of that, it's just a joy to be there with children. There are rituals that must be observed such as measuring themselves against the sizes of the wolves and coyotes.
There was this.
And then there was this.
August came up with the idea of measuring himself on all fours and Levon joined in.
After we looked at all of the animals we went to the playground and then we had some lunch in their little cafe which was blessedly air-conditioned. It wasn't quite as hot today but it was hot enough. And humid, too.
And then we walked to the little farm which is probably, for reasons stated above, my very favorite part. There's a blacksmith set-up and a place where they grind cane for the juice and then boil it down to make the syrup which was the pioneers' most reliable form of sweetening. There are barns and pens and then, there are the cabins that have been moved to the museum and which stand as displays. They sort of represent my dream house.
I know that sounds crazy but there is something just so pure about such a basic dwelling. There's another cabin that houses the kitchen and I am sure that cooking in there over an open fire in the summer was a sort of hell that I could never do. The funny thing is is that these buildings are not as old as my own house is but my house was obviously built by rich folks and these were not. And yet- we have a little detached kitchen here too. That was very common because of the heat and the risk of fire. We do not use it as a kitchen, but it is there.
Here are my boys, hanging out on the porch.
When Hank was a baby, my then-husband and I lived in an old cabin that did have very basic and funky electricity but no running water. There was an iron pump in the backyard and that's where we got our water. We had an outhouse. And so in a small way, I have lived that life and I am so very grateful that I do not have to live that way out of necessity now. I am also so very grateful that I have done it and know what it's like and I will never take running water or air conditioning for granted in my life.
And of course we could still get in our car and drive to Publix. I may have pumped my water but I didn't have to grow and grind my corn.
Well, all of this is probably part of the reason I do love this old house I live in so much. Even if it's a rich-folks' house, it holds the history of times before when wood was used for heating and cooking, when the hallway was the source of a life-saving breeze, when going to the bathroom in the middle of the night (without a flashlight!) was not actually going to a bathroom but trekking across a yard to a stinky little shack with a wooden seat with a hole in it and hopefully, no snakes.
And probably the reason I keep chickens, too. I am not and never will be a true Florida pioneer woman but I know the value of a flock.
And if I WERE an old Florida pioneer woman, those two young roosters in the back would be on the menu and I wouldn't think twice about it. Meat for the pot and feathers for the pillows.
It was a good day at The Jr.
It always is.
Now I have a need to measure myself against a coyote a wolf and a bigger wolf on all fours.ReplyDelete
Right? I thought that was incredibly brilliant. Let's level this playing field!Delete
Every state has its own history of native people and of pioneers, and I wish every child could be as excited about his/her state's history as you (and I) were.ReplyDelete
Joanne- I thought the same thing. How many of the kids or even adults who visit the museum have any idea of the true history of what it represents? It's like, "Oh yeah. Here's a little cabin with beds and a cradle in it." Do they even wonder about what that quilting frame is? But one of the good things about the museum is that they have an annual "Farm Days" celebration where there are people working in the blacksmith shop, grinding and boiling corn, weaving baskets and cooking demonstrations. So that's pretty cool.Delete
This sounds like a place I would visit if I could. So much of Florida's history has been lost...I hate that it is known as a vacation spot or where old retirees come to die. I hope those boys will have treasured memories of the Jr.ReplyDelete
And the thing is- Florida is a state with some of the oldest histories of any state. The indigenous people's history goes way, way, WAY back. Far longer than anyone thought. But yeah- let's talk about Disney World.Delete
I completely agree with you but most of the people here are from somewhere else and don't care...Delete
This is a very interesting post. Thanks for taking us along. August in his beads!ReplyDelete
The photo showing the interior of the cabin could have been taken inside my cabin. Mine was built as a small barn/dwelling in 1862. 660 sq ft. My bed is an early rope bed from the early 1800's, converted to accommodate a twin mattress. My fire comes from a modern gas "woodstove" replica. All the ambience, no worries. Lots of cabins still in use here, and bears and wolves the size of year old calves.
That's great! Do you live in that cabin full-time?Delete
My house was built in 1859 but it is far more than a cabin. Still, like I said, many of the elements of a simpler time are still here.
We too still have bears. No wolves that I know of.
We have something similar here, Fort Edmonton, which Katie and I love visiting. She especially loves it because there are horses and wagon rides. No wild animals though, except the feral cats.ReplyDelete
Glad you all had a good day.
And we don't have wagon rides! But I am so glad these places exist.Delete
Texas Tech University in Lubbock has a 'park' which shows the history of ranching and settlement in Texas via the dwellings we humans built and used starting with a Spanish mission and a dugout and ending with a big fancy ranch house. it is really fascinating. all the homes are authentic, bought, dismantled, and reassembled on the site with the history and story of who built it and lived there. one of the homes, a two room shack with no running water or electricity, was the home of my aunt's best friend when she was growing up and she spent a lot of time in that house.ReplyDelete
Ellen, I am enchanted at the thought of a park with original dwellings in it! They have a few other buildings of historical interest at the Jr. An old church, an old school house, the house of a woman who was a relative of George Washington's who married a Frenchman whom I think was a relative of Napoleon's. But if I'm ever in Lubbock, I'm going to go visit that place. And how fascinating that your aunt's best friend lived in that old shack.Delete
It really is amazing to think of all that the pioneers in Florida endured. My great-grandparents moved to Avon Park in the early 1900s, and I imagine it was pretty desolate down there then. Certainly there was no air conditioning and they were familiar with all the wild creatures surrounding the town. As you say -- respect!ReplyDelete
I wouldn't want to live in one of those cabins but I know what you mean about the simplicity having a certain appeal. Our lives in the modern world really are ridiculous.
That bear looks so cuddly, lying there like that! LOL
The panthers looked just like giant house cats and their paws were enormous! So sleek and one can just imagine cuddling with one of them. I'm afraid, however, that this would end in disaster. Maurice times a thousand.Delete
I think back on the little cabin (because it was) that my grandparents retired to in Roseland. It was so basic. It did have funning water and electricity but they didn't get an AC until much later after they'd moved there and it was only in the living room and they hardly ever used it. There were maybe two restaurants easily drivable to (and my grandmother hated cooking) and the closest grocery store was not very good. This was in the late '50's and early '60's. There was still plenty of wildlife too. And the bugs! They were hardy people and I imagine that your great-grandparent were even hardier.
I really wish you and Jessie and those adorable littles had actually driven that caboose to St. Augustine ~ I would’ve met you and we could’ve all gone to the Alligator Farm!!! Love all these pics and Levon’s high-top Converses.ReplyDelete
I love the Alligator Farm! I wish August could have driven us over there. Of course, the caboose isn't of much use when it comes to actual travel. I haven't told August that yet. Aren't Levon's little high-tops darling?Delete
August is a scientist. He knew the true equivalent measure was on all fours. The boys seem to enjoy playing together. What a lovely time.ReplyDelete