Thursday, April 9, 2015

a florida weekend



When I got off the plane in Florida it was like walking outside after a matinee movie. Bright and startling, an altered universe from the cold and snow I left behind. One day I want to find what's left of the Florida wilderness, go to the Everglades, the Keys, some little islands that will show me what it was before it was paved over, something swampy and scary with wild orchids and alligators. Alligators are around--on golf courses for example, but I'd like to see one in its native habitat. I don't even know if those places still exist outside of books and movies.

You probably know by now how much I form my images of the world by reading. The last time I went to Florida, two years ago, I wrote a post about that, sort of. (here) In that post I also wrote about my brother in law's bit of Florida wilderness.


Since then, he's added goats and a donkey to his menagerie.



Anyway, this trip was about family. You know my father in law recently died, and we went to spend time with my mother in law. I grew up in a small, quiet family, and now I have almost no family, but the one I married into is big and noisy. And it turns out that big and noisy can be good for mourning.  There was more laughter than tears mixed in with the memories, the presence of the absent.


I saw herons and lizards and lots of pink flowers

 and ate some really good fried chicken,
outside, at a picnic table.

"It can look brand-new and man-made, but as soon as you see a place like the Everglades or the Big Cypress Swamp or the Loxahatchee you realize that Florida is also the last of the American frontier. The wild part of Florida is really wild, the tame part is really tame…fifty acres of Everglades dry up every day, new houses sprout on sand dunes, every year a welt of new highways rises. Nothing seems hard or permanent; everything is always changing or washing away. Transitions and mutation meld into  each other, a fusion of wetness and dryness, unruliness and orderliness, nature and artifice."

--Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief

30 comments:

  1. Hello Jen, I know what you mean about getting impressions of the world through reading. I can understand all the land around Cleveland being in its third or fourth incarnation, but places like the Everglades or the Dismal Swamp, through everything I have read, seem like the pristine last frontier that Susan Orleans mentions, making it is especially dismaying to see such places destroyed and developed.
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, Sometimes it seems ridiculous to me how much my impressions are formed by reading, but mostly I am grateful that it allows me to enter, or at least glimpse, so many other worlds. You make a great point about multiple incarnations of other landscapes. I guess there is something primeval about swamp Florida that has captured my imagination.

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  2. Trying again. Jen, I sympathize fully with your thoughts about Florida and what has been done to wreck it. I won't say much more, here, as don't want to offend. I'll send you some not-yet-ruined suggestions via e-mail but one to share is Myakka State Psrk and Preserve, a bit inland on the Gulf Coast south of Sarasota. If you read Carl Hiassen, you'll understand where I'm coming from. Glad to got to see your husband's family and mourn/celebrate your father-in-law with a rowdy bunch. Good on us! And blessings from afar,
    Diane in Denver

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    1. Diane, I've read and thoroughly enjoyed most of Hiassen's books, including two he wrote for young people. He does a great job of conveying weird Florida.

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  3. Make those "park" and "glad you got to see," and sorry.

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  4. And another fix, meant to write Good on ya, an old Navy saying, not good on us. That Auto-correct can be so annoying.
    Swampily yours ����
    Diane

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    1. Don't worry about that stuff. I'm grateful that people take the time to comment!

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  5. We used to go to the Everglades every Easter when I was young and I loved everything about the wild parts. When my grandparents moved to a condo in the city, it just wasn't the same.

    I'm so sorry about your father in law. Laughing together as a family is the best way to mourn, I've found. xo

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    1. Everglades Easter must have been so cool! Did you read the book Swamplandia? I loved it. Also as a child The Pink Motel gave me early impressions of (imaginary) Florida. I want to reread it now.

      A laughing family was/is a wonder to me, mine was so serious.

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  6. Hi Jen, I'm sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

    I am not attracted to swamps or the Everglades or really even Florida. When we were in the Keys it was like being in another world for me. Same with New Orleans. I much prefer the desert or the mountains but that's probably because they're familiar to me. It sounds like all is well you. I like to see your posts pop up here and there; you're one of the few blogs I read anymore. :)

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    1. Rubye, my friend I miss you and hope you are doing well. I just want to see that landscape once! I need the openness of deserts, mountains (and oceans) too. I'm longing to return to New Mexico--I fell hard for that place, which has both deserts and mountains, and great enchiladas in gas stations.

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  7. What sweet looking goats. Donkey, too. Hope you feel refreshed, despite the grieving.

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    1. It was good to be with family. My three boys and my daughter in law were there, and we had some fun together.

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  8. I think i need to marry into a loud and noisy family too. sorry to hear about the loss of your father in law.

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    1. It was a big adjustment Petra, a shock really. My family would read or garden in our own individual spaces. They were always together, playing games or arguing or laughing or watching tv. I had to retreat often. Now, though I appreciate it.

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  9. Hello Jen,

    It is a very strange feeling when parents die and one finds oneself 'orphaned' in the world. The sense of loss is great and, also, the sense of responsibility as the oldest [although not necessarily wisest] adult in the family. Suddenly one becomes aware that one can no longer even pretend to oneself that one is a child.......except at heart!

    The only things we know about Florida are from reading and it does seem like a very strange place to us. What a contrast it must have been as you suddenly found yourself going from Winter to Summer in a flight! It does give a great sense of adventure, we found when on our South American adventure.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Jane and Lance. It is marvelous to fly for only 2-1/2 hours and have the temperature 40 degrees F. warmer, and more importantly to go from snow covered ground, to flowers in abundance.

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  10. Now I want a Honeybell from the rural fringe.

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    1. Ha, you picked three marvelous words. Honeybell and "rural fringe". Sound like the start of a novel.

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  11. Hello Jen
    Sorry for the loss of your father in law. Glad you were able to get away and visit. We have a home in Florida and agree that the rural areas and the Everglades are absolutely spectacular. There is still vast wilderness in central Florida and cattle rearing. My art partner, Mary Rose Holmes is a 7th generation Floridian and it has been great seeing Florida through her eyes and to hear the history. A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith is a great read. Clyde Butcher's photography depicts the Everglades and I have had the pleasure of hearing him speak. You are right, too, when you say there is too much development with poor architecture and disregard for the environment.

    Hope you have a glorious weekend

    Helen xx

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    1. I've always enjoyed your Florida pictures, Helen. 7th generation Floridian! She must have amazing stories to tell--I can't imagine the changes that she and her family have seen. Thanks for the recommendations--I will check them out.

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  12. As you know I grew up in Miami and have a strange love hate relationship with Florida. I love the flaura and fauna, when I go there I am always in awe of the bouganvillea and Royal Poicianas, because I can't have them here I suppose. The Keys are not what they used to be, a lot of build out-up, whatever, but the Everglades are still icky swampland, and I mean that in the most endearing way possible (I hate Disney World and Orlando with all it's theme parks, it used to be the land of orange groves), when I was a kid everything was rugged and sprawling and native. You can still see alligators in Parrot Jungle, the closest habitat without danger. :) Progress I guess.

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    1. Miami has it's own distinctive personality. I've only been once, and would love to return. I'm sure I missed the boat on seeing the Keys (and so many other things)at their best. Sometimes I think it's better to imagine things, rather than actually see them.

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    2. Miami is a foreign country. I always say you need a passport to get in there.

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    3. For me, that's what is so wonderful about Miami! You would never mistake it for another city.

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    4. Amelia and Jen,
      Two other foreign nation cities in the U.S.: New Orleans et Santa Fe, Nuevo
      Mexico.
      Cheers,
      Diane in mostly
      American, Denver CO

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  13. I have only been to Florida twice, but my good friend from NYC has just sold his fab condo (sob) and will be buying one in South Beach.

    So I imagine, come winter, I'll get to know the state a lot better.

    But I love Latin food, music and dancing so win-win for me.

    I'm glad you got to celebrate your father in laws life with a large loving family.

    And I'm glad you shared this story with your on line large loving family.

    xo J

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    1. I think you will love South Beach!

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  14. Hi Jen,
    I have been to the US, but never been to Florida. I would like to visit, never know.
    Having seen many crocodiles close up in S.A on the river banks.. i dont think i would like to encounter an aligator. There are many on the golf courses and even live under the wood houses on stilts near the rivers edge.. i watched a documentary about them a few weeks ago.
    The glades must be amazing.
    I am glad that you had a chance to experience some of the original Florida.. Where once the indigenous people lived..
    enjoyable post.
    happy week..
    I am catching up.
    Val xx

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  15. So sorry to hear about your father in law Jen. Such a sad event to go to Florida for. I am glad you were able to enjoy each others company too and share happy memories.

    Madelief x

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