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The last Martin of Gilchrist County

I’ve been writing Florida stories for a half century now. Everybody wants to know who was the most interesting character. It’s hard to say, really. But Nathan Martin would be near the top. My pal Melissa Lyttle shot the photographs and made the video.

BEST OF JEFF SERIES
By Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer, Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A traveling day. Nathan Martin is going to town. He is going to have a meal with the woman he loves. He usually hates wearing a shirt, but Vida will tsk tsk if he shows up with chest bare. He also needs to decide what to do about footwear. He hates shoes even more than he hates wearing a shirt.

For as long as anyone can remember he has tramped through his North Florida woods in naked feet less human than possum. They’re yellow, padded and bristling with nails more like talons. Those feet fear no stone, stick or snake. But maybe, just a little bit, they fear Vida.

He growls: “I only wear shoes for town or church.” He last bought a Sunday pair two decades ago at Walmart for $25. He rescued a second pair from a dumpster about 10 years ago. Grumbling, he throws them into the back of the truck. If Vida gives him the stink eye for showing up for chicken and dumplings with feet exposed, he’ll put them on.

At 72, Nathan Martin is a throwback to a Florida that is all but gone. He lives without running water in a dilapidated house illuminated by a single light bulb and heated by a wood-burning stove, not because he has to but because he likes it. He has a phone he rarely answers, has never used a computer or owned a television or had a credit card. “I was born too late,” he says. He would have been at home in the 19th century.

When he dies a part of Old Florida will pass away with him. He has a lot of relatives in Gilchrist County, but no children of his own. He’s the last of his kind.

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