It wasn’t our first time to the Sunshine State, and likely it won’t be our last. With family in the damn near most southern point of the mainland, braving the freeways and paying automated license plate tolls is a future we hold with as much certainty as any.
Years ago we flirted with the panhandle, fell in love with Manatee Springs and Siesta Key. One of our children, a summer later, spent the first three months of his womb here. A number of side excursions down I-95 to Hollywood have come and gone over the years.
What has been different this time is our exposure to the non-beach experiences the state has to offer.
Mosquito-laden Everglades where late night bike rides on empty trails, empty roads offered respite from the swarming insects. A morning there with just my three boys and I walking around the harbor watching manatees and crocodiles play hide and seek, some more elusive than others.
A birders paradise, and a golden glow every dusk and dawn as Big Cypress spoke to us on all things preservation. Those swamps gave us a peak at what pristine ecology could be, even as they taught us that their abundance was significantly diluted over time. How US-41, every home and factory, and projects like the Florida canal have all but depleted the water sources necessary for the Everglades to survive.
At the same time, it’s inspiring as all hell. That a state which is so coveted by so many, for retirement or vacation, recreation or immigration, has had the sense to preserve what is essentially all of the southern third of Florida is astoundingly hopeful.
And so I don’t particularly look at Florida as a tragedy. Yes, there is a strip mall that runs nearly unbroken from Miami to Jacksonville. Yeah, the drivers would apparently rather die on the road today than be late for their important engagement with a Target checkout line. And I must say I do believe it’s true, the news is substantially worse here.
What it has is a variation from anywhere in this nation. There are myriad dialects of Spanish abundant, there is flora the likes of palms and Gumbo Limbo, fauna from the rare flamingo to iguanas. You are taught to fear alligators but soon realize they’re never really around foot traffic. You learn that most people in Florida aren’t from Florida, and that while the freeway is a nightmare, the middle of the state and the panhandle offer backroads worth a trip here alone.
I’m over you Florida, but we’re not done. I just need a break. It’s been a long time “back east” and I can once again no longer deny myself the realization that I’m a western kinda fellow. You’re just the last vestige of a dead excursion.
So long, and thanks for all the fronds.