My relationship with Florida has evolved much like a good marriage. It began courting me when I was younger, using my grandparents as bait. I would fly from Washington DC to St. Petersburg by myself when I was about 8. The lovely stewardesses (that’s what they were called back then) would take good care of me and I always walked off the plane with a set of wings.
The temperature during the summer wasn’t much different from home, but there were palm trees and giant birds and beaches within walking distance. And water underneath me to rock me to sleep.
My grandparents lived on a boat. A 40 foot wooden sail boat called The Black Swan. It was awesome and not at all weird to me. I had sailed nearly the entire length of Florida with them, to deliver the boat from Annapolis to Miami, where they stayed for just a short time. They would eventually move to St. Petersburg where they would stay.
Living on the boat suited me. I would shower in a community bathroom at the entrance to the pier. Like everyone else. I would fall asleep and wake up to the sound of the sail’s ropes clanging against the hollow masts. I ate my cereal on the Princess Deck behind the shiny wooden helm. I leapt from dock to boat like a heron and adjusted from sea legs to land legs as if there was no difference.
About 10 years later after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother, unable to keep up with the maintenance of a wooden boat, rented a house on the canal. In winters I would visit. February, when there was less than 10 hours of daylight, most of which I spent inside and office building, and the temperature dipped to “you’ll die out there” lows, I would escape to the warmth of the peninsula. Sunning myself with a paperback on a creaky lawn chair in the middle of the backyard covered with pebbles instead of grass. It was probably only 70 degrees, but to me it was heaven.
Not far from my grandmother were her brothers. My great uncles were spread within a 30 mile radius or so from my great-grandparents house – their parents. They all lived on or near water. I had two great uncles who lived on lakes and canals with alligators, but we swam in them anyway.
Then my brother moved to Florida. Then my mother moved to Florida because healing from a divorce is just easier in paradise. Meanwhile I lived my life in Virginia, then North Carolina and finally Georgia.
I never intended to actually live here, but when circumstances created a shift for me I moved in with my mother for a month in beautiful Delray Beach. I did not know then, that it would be the beginning of my residency here.
From there I made my way back to the west coast, crossed the state again all the way to Daytona Beach and like a pendulum coming to rest, settled in the Orlando area. I have always thought that if I could pick anywhere to live, it wouldn’t be here, but the truth is, I did choose to live here. And I have chosen to stay here for nearly 20 years.
I don’t know that I’ll stay here forever, I try not to predict the future or become overly consumed with what ifs and maybes, but we have settled into a companionable existence, this beautiful state and I.
I admire the tenacity of her landscape, the range of terrains and temperatures. I respect the heat generated by her close relationship to the sun and I am lifted by her breezes. I am left intoxicated by the power and strength of the hurricanes and her resilience in the face of them. I know of no other place where I could walk past an alligator, a cow, a palm tree, a pine tree and a few giant beautiful birds all within the span of a quarter-mile.
I do miss fireflies. I miss the long stretch of spring into summer. But I am content without the grayness of winter and the death of fall.
I thought I was meant more for the sophistication of New York City or the faux laid-back rarefied air of California, but it turns out I can have the best of all worlds, traveling to points north and west and even half way around the globe. It is here that I have chosen to return after those travels, closer to sea level, grounded in my chosen home.
For now this is my home and I explore it as if no one has come before me, marveling at the critters, the colorful bugs, the plethora of dragonflies and the ongoing dialogue between crickets and frogs. They have quite a lot to share. I look for beauty and I find it. Everywhere. There is no where that beauty is not.
Home is where you make it and for now, I have made mine in Florida.
[Click on each circle for the full photo.]