We’ve lived in Florida for nearly 7 months now. Hard to believe. Anyway, I have some random thoughts about living here.
This one is obvious. It’s beautiful here. I look out my window at the palm trees and the lake and the pristine white boats bobbing in the water, and I have to remind myself that I’m not on vacation. In the evenings, the sun sets over the marina and the palm trees turn to silhouette and the sky glows yellow and orange and pink and red and smoky blue all at the same time. It is art. Created by a perfect Artist.
The other day I was driving home from the dentist, my air conditioner on, 80’s music playing on the radio, the sun blazing through my windows. I looked out at the flat, swampy land stretching out on either side of the highway, the palm trees of various shapes and sizes jutting out of the ground, and then the tall grasses suddenly ended and a wide glistening lake opened up. On the shore, far above the land, stood a red and white lighthouse. And for ten minutes, in the middle of my busy day, I felt like I was enjoying a mini-vacation.
Is it possible to live here and not feel the vacation-magic of palm trees and sunshine and water? Maybe the novelty will wear off eventually. I hope not.
Of course, there are some things about Florida that don’t seem all that magical to me. Did you know Florida is the lightning-strike capital of the US? More people die from lightning strikes in Florida than in all the other states combined. At least, that’s what these Floridians brag about in a sick sort of way.
This may be because it storms every afternoon in the summer. Even if it doesn’t actually rain, wide bolts of lightning jut through the sky. Maybe more people get struck by lightning here because there is more lightning here. Whatever the case, it just seems ironic that so many people come here for vacation — to swim and play putt-putt golf and real grown-up, boring golf and ride metal roller coasters here in this lightning capital of the US. It just seems an odd place to have so many activities that involve water and large metal objects.
Then there are the giant roaches. Well, obviously, we don’t call them roaches. That sounds so dirty and gross. We call them Palmetto bugs. That sounds cleaner and less creepy. And they do need their own name because they aren’t like normal little roaches. These Palmetto bugs put normal little roaches to shame. Palmetto bugs are like roaches on steroids. First of all, they’re huge. Like bigger than a 50 cent piece. (Do we still have those?) And they fly. And they don’t seem especially attracted to food or crumbs or dirty spaces. They are really rather random. I’ve only seen a few since moving here — three crawled in under our door from the hallway, and I squished them soon after their entrance. I won’t get into the gory details, but these über-roaches require a great deal more effort to squish than normal bugs do.
One giant Palmetto bug flew into Griffin’s bed one night and was crawling around on his fingers. He’s two, and he sleeps in our room because I cannot trust his brothers not to hurt him. So he woke up in the middle of the night screaming, “Bug in my bed! Bug in my bed!” And I don’t know that I’ve ever jumped out of bed faster. I jumped out of bed, leapt to his side, swooped him up, brought him into our bed, turned on the lamp, and woke Patrick to check for the bug all in one liquid motion in less than 10 seconds. Griffin’s short memory and attention span of a gnat left him unscathed by the whole roach-in-the-bed incident. I had nightmares for weeks!
And if the larger-than-life roaches don’t freak you out, the lizards certainly will. They’re everywhere. My children love to catch them and play with them. Which could explain why there are so many creeping around with half a tail.
I have almost gotten used to the sound of lizards scampering in the bushes and twigs and leaves as I walk on a sidewalk. Sometimes, when I take our trash to the dumpster, I feel as if there is a miraculous parting of the lizards going on. I walk down the sidewalk, and lizards I did not even realize were there begin scooting off to the left and right, clearing the way for me to get to the giant green dumpster.
We’ve had a couple in our apartment. One scurried behind our stove, where we could not get to it. That creeped me out for days. Another disappeared in the dark one morning as I was leaving to swim. I managed not to freak out and was relieved to see it in the hall later that afternoon. A neighbor girl eventually caught it, and we released it out the fire escape, where I’m sure it joined all its friends on the sidewalk between our building and the green dumpster.
And, of course, there are the alligators. Florida is pretty famous for those too. We have been told that you could see an alligator in pretty much any body of water around here. And we have seen them. Sometimes we see them snapping their giant jaws up out of a lake. Sometimes we only see the ripple as the water parts for one to swim. One day we saw a baby alligator at the zoo by the pond they built for a natural habitat display of animals native to Central Florida. Sort of an if-we-build-it-they-will-come experiment in wildlife. Evidently, the experiment is successful. The little alligator was sunning itself along the bank of the pond. While the children went on and on about how cool it was, I could only think about how the alligator crawled in there using the same walkways we were using to get around the zoo.
There is a lake near here that is famous for its great population of animal life. It’s like the most populated lake in the US or something. A large segment of that population is made up of alligators. You can’t really drive on the bridge over this lake without seeing the big open mouths of alligators snapping out of the water.
So here is what amazes me. People have built large, beautiful, expensive homes around this lake. They have boat docks on the lake and long, wooden sidewalks leading from the docks to their homes. Maybe I just have a dramatic imagination, but to me that is like rolling out the red carpet, dropping out a Hansel and Gretel like path of raw meat and inviting those alligators right into your home. And we wonder why we see those people on the news. You know, that woman in her flowered housedress exclaiming about how she woke up and found an alligator in her kitchen. Well, the alligator is in your kitchen because you built your house in his backyard and then you laid down a sidewalk from his home right into yours.
Flat land. Water. Palm trees. Palmetto bugs. Lizards. Alligators. Lightning. Amazing sunsets. Even beautiful sunrises, which I’ve seen a lot of from the swimming pool.
This is Florida. And I’m beginning to see it as home.