Nature's Folk

Among the neon lights and shimmery surfaces of the Magic City, it's often easy to lose sight of the past, but the folks at Miami-Dade County's Fruit and Spice Park remember a time when the world did not speed along the digital pathways of the Internet. Some even recall the era before television, radio, and electric sockets. Since 1976 that period has been celebrated during the Redland Natural Arts Festival, a gentle reminder of the days when life was if not simpler, a lot less likely to end by electrocution.

At this outdoor festival, the only spark will be felt by attendees, who are happily getting closer to nature. "We're really a botanical garden, covering 35 acres, with over 500 different varieties of tropical fruits and spices," explains Chris Rollins, park director. The lush grounds tranquilize the crowds, says Rollins, because "the whole thing is out on the lawn, not on blazing asphalt. It's an old-timey festival."

Park attendant Sue Barnwell, who coordinated activities for this year's event, promises items not found at the strip mall: "We do not sell Beenie Babies!" Instead goods designed to add a natural touch to homes will be offered. "We have plant vendors who not only sell you plants for your yard, but they give advice on how to make them grow," Barnwell says. "We have the Woodturners Guild, who can take any fallen tree and turn it into a bowl. And we have the Little Acorns -- the people who teach children how to make and fly kites."

To this world the Gold Coast Re-enactors bring what they call living history. Barnwell describes how the Gold Coasters "come out here in Civil War regalia. They tell you little stories and occasionally fire a gun, which can be quite a surprise." Re-enactor Mel Zaretsky doesn't guarantee any firepower this year, but he does plan to re-create the details of everyday life from 1861 to1865 in the United States. "Some of the displays show needlework and toys and games that children played at that time," he remarks. "We may even have a washwoman there who washes clothes for five cents." Admitting his skits embellish old Florida a bit, Zaretsky, prone to a hint of exaggeration himself, notes the characters will be more comfortable than people who were living here during that era. "In those days you had farmers or runaway slaves, Native Americans, and a few soldiers who deserted from the army," he claims. "There was very little down here in 1861 other than alligators and mosquitoes. No one has decided yet which one was bigger!"