I have not lived in Florida for eleven years.
I left in 2011 for school in upstate New York. Gone was the cicada squeal of eternal heat, the mosquito whine of blistering pavement and untouchable sand. No more afternoon thunderstorms the size of small countries, no more cars thundering overhead as we motored the boat beneath the bridge. I loved Florida. And I hated it, as one must.
The north presented a new way of being in relation to the outside world. I spent most of my childhood hiding from the sun and heat; suddenly I was walking out of doors for entire days at a time, just reveling in the coolness of the air. My relationship to air temperature and humidity, formed at the edge of the Tropic of Cancer, was nigh combative in my formative years. The Finger Lakes were a paradise of glacier-cut valleys and breezy hilltops.
And I learned to really feel and see and hear the change of seasons. Broad summer days yielded to bright autumn mornings faded to the days of long nights. And spring a revelation, an awe-striking regeneration from the grip of entombment.
In Florida, spring was a non event. Perhaps one could characterize it as a return to high haze after the brief respite of “winter”–five days of 60 degree weather during which and only which we would open our windows. But–and who would have thought?–spring in Virginia now reminds me of home. Something about the rising heat makes me homesick. For the fresh fish, the radio stations (Mia 92.1*), even the drippiness of the air that I used to find so oppressive.
And I miss the plants.
We never grew plants for sale in Florida, but we had a lot of them. Our yard was xeriscaped, a practice of planting that emphasizes water conservation and native varieties that can handle Florida’s weather extremes. We had no spectacular space in which to grow, just the average suburban yard. But it was abundant. A papaya tree that showed up one day in the backyard seemingly over night, tiny juicy pineapples in the front (a favorite of Gus, the Gopher Tortoise). Palmettos, poinciana, hibiscus, lantana bushes the size of cars. Bird of paradise, crown of thorns, bougainvillea climbing the wall like ivy. And the fish tail palm that started as a houseplant and grew to twenty five feet. We tell everyone–throw something out in your yard in Florida, and it will simply grow. We secretly hope that, one day, the baobab we planted will swallow the house and the neighborhood. Slowly, of course, so that everyone can move out of its way.
The plant life in Florida seems so different from what I've come to know here in Virginia and in more northern climates. Flowers are tropical bright, leaves waxy and hard. Palms and pines dominate the skyline, bending easily in the hurricane winds in a way a sycamore never would. The soil is sandy to loamy, nurturing an entirely different sort of root than we see here. There is overlap, but what thrives in Florida is often diminutive in scale here in the north, and our delicate, cool-loving blooms would keel over by April back home.
But the flora is not so radically different, really. The crown of thorns we grew in pots next to the pool is a variety of Euphorbia, just like the cultivar 'Snow on the Mountain' that we grow here. The bougainvillea is prized for its colorful calyx, not its proper flowers, just like a hellebore. And purslane cares not at all whether it's in Virginia or Florida–it will be everywhere.
As the air warms and the sun hangs higher and longer in the sky, something in me longs for home. I have still, over the course of my life, lived more years in Florida than anywhere else. And while I would not, I think, ever move back (some things are best enjoyed infrequently), I do miss it at times like this.
It’s the time of year that I crave, in my bones, to be sitting near some mangroves, eating a blackened fish taco with mango jalapeño salsa and plantains. I want to stick my toes in sand–not just any sand, but that of a very particular patch of beach–where I know the sea grapes are growing at my back, the turtle grass beneath the ocean waves.
*Now, evidently, Mia 94.3. That’s what a decade will do.