Hugging the Earth

Florida! This big, beautiful state is home to some of the world’s finest beaches (all on its Atlantic Seaboard, mind you) and most breathtaking landscapes, not to mention unique flora and fauna. It’s also home to more than 20 million people, nearly all of whom value this natural splendor. We Floridians have learned from past mistakes (drain the Everglades?), and made a consensus issue of responsible environmental stewardship. We don’t agree on much else, it’s true, but whatever our political affiliation, we are all tree-huggers. We have to be; we’ve seen what happens when you pave paradise.

So when a corporation moves to develop delicate conservation land, everyone comes together to make sure it doesn’t happen. In this week’s Folio Feature, our Lindsey Nolen covers the fight to save the Outpost, a parcel of privately owned St. Johns County land whose conservation designation has been respected by its corporate stewards—until now.

This week, too, the Stetson Kennedy Foundation announces its Earth Kinship essay contest for high schoolers. Conservation was one of Stetson Kennedy’s many passions. The mid-20th-century author, born in Jacksonville in 1916, also championed social justice and folk art. Indeed, the experience of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl prompted a generation of thoughtful Americans to turn to homespun progressivism as an antidote to unsustainable Big Business up north and barbarous Jim Crow down south. In Kennedy’s scheme, conservation was part and parcel of responsible citizenship. His writings, activism and personal example helped cement that consensus.

Stetson Kennedy died in 2011, but his eponymous foundation maintains his rustic Fruit Cove homestead, Beluthahatchee, the “Florida Shangri-La” where Kennedy entertained Zora Neale Hurston and Woody Guthrie. The four-acre site has become a St. Johns County park and nationally recognized literary landmark. If you haven’t visited, do so forthwith. SKF also hosts a songwriter-residency program and monthly roots-music concerts.

Now, in the run-up to what would have been Kennedy’s 103rd birthday, SKF invites Northeast Florida high school students to reflect on Earth kinship, that feeling of connection between us humans and our natural environment. Kinship can be felt as jaw-dropping awe—when we behold a sweeping, seemingly infinite landscape—or heart-melting tenderness—when we witness the first faltering movements of a newborn creature. As Phil Collins warbles on the 1977 Genesis album, Wind & Wuthering, “you, you have your own special way”—of feeling Earth kinship.

The essay contest is open to high schoolers across Folio Weekly’s circulation footprint: Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties. Essays should be between 700 and 1,000 words, and can be submitted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 18 through the SKF website: Complete rules and regs can be found there.

Essays will be reviewed by a panel of three judges: AyoLane Halusky (St. Johns County Naturalist), Susan D. Brandenburg (SKF board member) and yours truly. The prize-winning submission will be published in Folio Weekly Magazine’s Oct. 2 print edition, and its author will be recognized at Stetson Kennedy’s birthday party, 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at Beluthahatchee.

So bang a gong—the Stetson Kennedy Foundation Earth kinship essay contest is on!