I have spent the past couple of weekends enjoying the real Florida.
I dipped into the salty world off the coast of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge to scoop up scallops and snorkel through sponge and coral beds and banks of sea grass where tiny starfish lay snuggled like delicate five-armed jewels in deep green boxes.
I shocked the heat out of my skin in the clear, cold water of Wakulla Springs, gasping and shivering and loving how the coolness seeped slowly into my skin, into my bones.
I rolled down the back roads of my youth in Jackson County, past green fields, red dirt roads, horses, burros, goats, cows and chickens - fields where enormous live oaks offered shelter under their patriarchal branches. And I washed off the heat once again in a spring - this time it was Blue Springs, where I spent many sweltering summer afternoons as a teenager, splayed on a blanket, coated in baby oil and iodine and listening to Tommy James & the Shondells on the jukebox play "Crystal Blue Persuasion" over and over again.
The natural bounty of Florida in all its amazing diversity and splendor is what natives like myself consider the real Florida, but folks who aren't from around here often have a different idea when they think of the Sunshine State. They are dazzled by the flash of South Beach or the overwhelming - and artificial - allure of Orlando and its multitude of attractions.
That's why I'm glad there are artists like Clyde Butcher chronicling the state's little-seen and disappearing landscapes. A photographer who's been called "the Ansel Adams of Florida," Butcher's large-format black-and-white photographs are currently on view in an exhibit called "Florida Landscapes: Two Perspectives" at the Museum of Florida History. Balancing his breathtaking images are canvases from the Highwaymen, a loose collective of mostly black artists who captured coastal and rural landscapes on vivid, colorful paintings that they sold out of the trunks of their cars.
It makes for a good pairing - the pristine photographs freezing moments in time and place with grandeur and grace, and the brightly colored paintings distilling the essence of landscapes and infusing them with life and movement and energy.
Even if you are intimately acquainted with the real Florida, it's always nice to have a reminder of what's out there - while it's still out there. The exhibit will be on display through Aug. 7. The museum, which is a gem, is located in the R.A. Gray Building, 500 S. Bronough St. The hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission - brace yourself - is free.
Call 245-6400 or visit www.museumoffloridahistory.com for more information.