Many years ago, my father's grandparents lived in
Florida surrounded by acres of orange trees. I've
heard stories of that wild land, the various people who
worked in the orchard, and a brave neighbor who swam in the
river with the alligators. There was the time that my grandfather
shot a hole in the bottom of the boat because a very large, very
poisonous water moccasin jumped aboard. He killed the snake,
but also scared his passenger half to death as he hadn't seen the
snake come aboard.
I remember stories of the orchard hands teaching my father to fish
and tying bacon to his ankles to protect him from chiggers. My
ancestors hauled water, and lived with the fragrance of
orange blossoms in the night air.
Though these stories are a part of my family history, they never
seemed to take root inside me as something that bound me to my
great grandparents. I have always lived in the north, comfortable
and happy away from heat and humidity.
Last November, my parents moved to the West coast of
Florida. It surprised me, as I always considered them
connected to the northlands here. As a family, we spent a
considerable bit of time in Puerto Rico when I was child,
as my father had a factory there, so who knows why
it seemed so surprising that they should feel drawn
to the tropics once again.
I flew down to visit them last weekend, in the land of sun and
alligators. My first sighting of an alligator was at the creek by
their house. At first I thought a tire was floating in the water,
until the fish started jumping and the alligators tail - with
remarkably good tread - sank and re-appeared near the bank.
If you look closely, you can see the nose sticking
out of the water to the right.
We went hiking on a boardwalk through a swamp.
Gray, Spanish Moss hung from the oak branches,
and the palm leaves created linear light
patterns that enchanted me.
I recognized many forest species, surprised to see
them in such a tropical climate. The old man's beard
below is a familiar forest lichen.
I leaned in close, marveling in vine lines and leaf textures.
Eventually, the swamp opened up to a river plateau,
and we watched vultures soar on the thermals overhead
and egrets forage in the marsh.
We were gifted by a sundog - a rainbow
encircling the sun.
Gnarled live oaks draped in moss
held court in the clearings, and shadows
danced on palm leaves. In a moment of midnight
magic, I wonder if this palm leaf might turn
into a peacock?
One day we visited the Myakka River State Park, the
largest state park in Florida. We took an airboat tour
and saw herons, egrets, cormorants and many, many
We climbed high into the canopy on this tower,
walked across a small suspension bridge through the
foliage, and up higher for the view.
In the town of Venice, I met remarkable trees, and
would have spent hours with them, though we were
just passing through. Below is one of several
Banyan trees in the center of the boulevard.
The oaks lining the street also captivated me, wearing
their Spanish Moss finery and shading the sidewalks.
All of a sudden, when I viewed the scene below, a
memory of a painting that hung in my grandparents' house
came to me. Palm trees, and a man, or men, leaning on a trunk.
A thread of memory, something familiar though distant, began
stitching me to this place. These visual stories have been
with me since I was a small child, though only called up again
now, as I hear the whispering of the palms in the warm,
afternoon breeze and smell the grapefruit blossoms
and jasmine in my parents' garden. My father has come
full-circle, choosing to return to the land of his youth, and I,
on a pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors,
feel connected to stories rooted here that
I didn't know I had lost.