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Driving through the Fabulous Fun Capital of the World at Orlando, I was struck by the thought that Florida should probably add to the list a planetary title for human perversity. There is something wondrously upside-down about a state to which people flock, purportedly for its climate and natural loveliness, but where most of that loveliness has been drained and covered in Rooms to Go’s and Scratch and Dent Worlds, and where most residents feel about air-conditioning the way astronauts feel about spaceships.

If you are one of those people who has given up on Florida, I encourage you to venture about an hour and a half north of the Magic Kingdom, into Marion and Alachua Counties, where Orlando’s ravening grid falters and the landscape stops looking like something loaded off a truck. A green edema of hills rises from the coastal flatness. Tire dealerships give way to boiled-peanut stands. Artesian springs the color of glacial ice spill from the earth.

Horses that are not on theme-park salaries stalk rolling acreage beside the highway. South of Gainesville on Route 441, my friend and I passed McIntosh and Evinston, unassuming whistle-stops where Victorian clapboard houses sit alongside trailer parks under such dense canopies of Spanish moss that it looks like someone dragged a squeegee down the view while it was still wet.

As dusk ripened, we stopped in Micanopy, a one-boulevard town of aged brick and log buildings, a place so steeped in old-style charm it’s hard to stand on the main drag without a faint anxiety that at any minute movie studio security guards are going to roust you off the set. And while Micanopy surely has one of the highest number of antique shops per capita in the nation, the town is sufficiently rust streaked and mold spangled that the place somehow pulls off the feat of not seeming too commercial.

“This is Florida like it used to be,” said Monica Beth Fowler, the owner and operator of Delectable Collectibles, a shop specializing in rare cameos. “It’s one of the few places in the state that hasn’t been ruined yet.” Past Micanopy’s antiques strip sits the Herlong Mansion, a bed and breakfast of commanding elegance – Corinthian columns the size of grain silos, verandas exploding with ferns. But at my friend’s suggestion we’d made plans to stay the night 20 minutes to the east, in the settlement of Cross Creek.

My friend is an editor who lives in North Carolina but who proudly descends from Florida “cracker” stock. In north Florida, “cracker,” a reverent sobriquet for the area’s swamp-dwelling pioneers, is far from an epithet. Cross Creek

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