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.

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.

From brassy writers to fussy publishers, Florida journalism had it all

My final column with the Tampa Bay Times. October 2014

The Orange Shop is a sweet spot amid sprawl in North Florida.

By Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer 
Friday, January 28, 2011 

CITRA — They arrive in the rain to buy oranges, bags of them, and maybe a quart of juice, fresh-squeezed. At North Florida’s last honest-to-God citrus stand, they drive up in cars bearing license plates from Delaware, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other Yankee states where orange-laden trees are only a winter’s dream.

At the Orange Shop, established 75 years ago in Marion County, time has tried to stand still. Once there were dozens of similar mom-and-pop citrus shops and packinghouses standing like dominoes up and down the county’s major road, U.S. 301. There were citrus trees by the thousands and grizzled men on wooden ladders plucking oranges. There were freezes, too, but when the ice thawed the farmers always replanted.

Red-faced with the Coppertone Girl

By JEFF KLINKENBERG Published September 5, 2004

OCALA — When I was a boy, growing up in Miami, we often drove across MacArthur Causeway on our way to the beach. Near Biscayne Boulevard, on the side of a downtown building, was the biggest billboard I had ever seen. On the billboard, a dog was pulling down the bathing trunks of a little girl in pigtails.

Eisenhower was still president, and everybody was repressed except maybe those finger-snapping, reefer-smoking, free-sex beatniks in Greenwich Village, so it was shocking to be able to look out the window of our Nash Rambler and see an innocent little girl’s butt cheeks being exposed by a rude dog for all the world to see.

“Don’t be a pale face,” said the letters on the sign. “Use Coppertone.”

Couple marry in swamp where love bloomed like rare orchid

By Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer, 
Wednesday, June 5, 2013 11:49am

The bride wore a long white dress and muddy boots. She yelled “HOOTEEHOO!”

Waiting for her in the distance, the groom hollered “HOOTEEHOO!” back. She homed in on his shout and sloshed toward him through the cathedral of cypress trees and cypress knees, ferns and royal palms that grew in the black water.

Michael Scott Owen and Donna Ann Glann-Smyth were going to exchange vows in the holiest place they know, a primeval Florida swamp where alligators and cottonmouths go with the territory.

Gnomeman’s land

By JEFF KLINKENBERG, Published February 19, 2006

Solomon’s Castle, sometimes called Florida’s real Magic Kingdom, rises from a swamp in the middle of Hardee County nowhere. In the castle are many gnomes. They are pointy-headed gnomes carved out of wood. A man’s gnome is in his castle.

You ought to hear Howard Solomon talk about his gnomes. He goes on about them like a Borscht Belt comedian.

“I have made so many gnomes that I’ve learned their language. It’s called gnomenclature. If you give them a feather it’s a gnome de plume. If you put them on the stove it’s a gnome on the range. If you put them on a piano it’s a metrognome.”

‘The Lion’s Paw’ by Robb White holds its grip on old Florida.

Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer, 
Friday, November 7, 2008

Rube Allyn’s Dictionary of Fishes was the first book with which I fell head over heels in love.

I discovered it at the same time I discovered a passion for fishing in 1956. As a curious first-grader, I was determined to learn the names of all the pan-sized fish I caught a few blocks away from home in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Allyn’s humble paperback, despite the crude drawings and fanciful text, became at least one barefoot Florida boy’s Bible.

In 2004, I wrote a column about my favorite Florida books. Dictionary of Fishes was the guilty pleasure on a list with a dozen serious offerings that included Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

Eventually I took my book list on the road and lectured in Florida cities south and north. At virtually every stop someone with graying hair would stand, stare me balefully in the eye and ask, “So where’s The Lion’s Paw?”

“Never heard of it.”