The Peace River flood plain stretches across the horizon of my dashboard signaling my arrival in South Polk County. In the wet season, when we have a wet season, cattle stand hoof deep in swampy grass, clipping and grinding soggy straw and scrub, oblivious to the heat, the damp, the bugs, the birds that follow to feed off the bugs. Driving across bottom land in a state that has the lowest high point in the country at 345 feet above sea level, one wonders when the sea will seep over the edge of the bowl sheltered by the Lake Wales Ridge.
I recently discovered in my swagger to brag on my new Polk County citizenship that we are not the home of the state’s highest point. Britton Hill in Walton County owns that claim, not Iron Mountain, the jewel of the citrus town of Lake Wales at 295 feet above sea level. A marker sits atop Britton Hill in Lakewood Park just two miles southeast of Florala, Alabama (who knew Florida had a cross-named city to rival Texarkana?). If you wonder why few of us know about Britton Hill and its humble granite marker, perhaps this headline from a 1982 edition of the Anchorage Daily News will edify: “Florida’s Highest Peak Leaves Tourists Breathless—with Laughter.” Walton County’s high point distinguishes itself by being lower than the lowest point of sixteen other states.
Lake Wales, home to Iron Mountain, the second highest point in the state, presents its image as a citrus town by offering a free tasting room for the company Florida’s Natural upon its northern entrance to town on US 27. The water tower with the company logo recently underwent a new primer coat of paint, now sporting gun metal gray instead of the colorful juice box. Don’t let the color or lack of it deceive you. Depending on the time of day and cloud filtering light, gray is often the color of Bok Tower which stands 205 feet tall on the peak of Iron Mountain. This rugged, medieval style edifice of stone may not seem like a jewel atop a jewel when viewed from the surrounding flood plain. Rather, it brings to mind Saruman’s castle in Tolkien’s ring trilogy. But once upon the grounds of Bok Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower, the naturalized gardens, often visited during carillon bell concerts, offer jewel-like glens of emerald grass, gardens walled by banks of camellias, and arbors of gnarly twisted oaks, their threatening forms softened by curtains of moss. Jazz weekends in the spring and summer, scary story nights shared under dark trees at Halloween, art camp for old and young, a themed Christmas display at Pinewood Mansion from the beginning of advent to past Boxing Day, Bok Tower Gardens (the name shortened by locals) owns cultural bragging rights for southern Polk County. I don’t recall any literary events held there, but surely the surroundings are perfect for a writer’s retreat or poetry reading and seminar?
Something worthwhile to explore, in any case. I wonder how others will be inspired as they trundle down US 27, slowed by citrus trucks and snowbirds who change lanes without warning? Will they dodge illegally uncovered semis spilling citrus across the highway and laugh at the kitsch of the orange taffy candy signs? Or will they be sparked by puffy cloud formations floating close to ground, reflecting the dying light at sunset, stirring poetic metaphor?
Winter visitors and seasonal residents might arrive from the north, perhaps from a large metropolis or a sophisticated artist enclave where rents are spiraling, and consider our mostly rural county “cracker.” Yes, 97 Country is the most popular radio station around, not to mention the recipient of a Country Music Award last year for best morning show personalities in the nation. And certainly, The Anchorage Daily News could easily scoff at our calling a not-so-high-hill Iron Mountain. However, my short residency in Frostproof (the town name is a story for another day) finds me quickly adopting and defending our new place in the world. I know I will never want for creative inspiration where the cattle graze on water-shed plains, the sun rises over misty lakes, and the local send-off is never “Have a good day,” but always, “Have a blessed day.”
Well blessed and glad of it.