Entries Tagged 'Florida' ↓
We are only guests here.
A few years back, I happened to put a few roots down some miles from the Gulf. I had no presumptions about what magic we would find here either. But within days, we found it. Drawn by some inner pull towards the shore and our general curiosity to see what all the fuss was about, we arrived at the Gulf’s coastline.
And we fell in love.
The Gulf stands clear and calm, mild and magnificent. Unlike the rough, tumbling waters we already knew off the shores of New England, these waters relented. They allowed us to wade in easily and settle quietly. They greeted us with fish darting around our toes and did not knock our baby on his butt. The Gulf was a warm welcome party, lulling us to stay awhile and sink our feet deep into its powder fine sand.
The Gulf is unlike any other body of water I’ve known before.
And since we have arrived, I’ve brought my family back again and again. I have walked on its shores with a new baby inside, calmed and safe. I have puttered out on boats and tossed myself blindly into it. So have my children. I have swum away from it’s shores and dived deep. I have been surrounded and filled with its aqua green, up around and over all of me.
The Gulf drops you to your knees and insists that you bathe in it, to roll around in it, to soak it up and slosh unheeded with its ebb and flow.
The Gulf surprises you with its true inhabitants. A dolphin slips by – a finger tip’s length away. A large gray shape lumbers past (not a mermaid but a manatee). Rays skate on its bottom. Fish of every size dash and jump and race through its quiet movement. Birds dive and swoop and come up with full beaks. Crabs scurry past your feet. Sand dollars are dug up with your toes. Star fish bend on your hand.
Life is everywhere.
And I am only a visitor. A guest. A passerby who barges through it’s open front door and settles her family on it’s shores. But there’s always a place for us – and a few intended hours predictably turn into an entire day. My children are endlessly entertained and utterly exhausted. I am rocked, repaired and relaxed. We stay and stay and stay.
The Gulf feeds and cleanses. The sand our bread, the water our wine.
We are renewed.
And then the Gulf bids the sun in and signals the inevitable end of our day. We pull our salted bodies up, gather our things and plod away. No matter how long we have overstayed our welcome, we are never entirely sated. We always come back. We always want more.
The Gulf feels like home.
But we are only guests here.
Over the past month, I have awoken to updates about the oil spill on the Gulf. While clearing my cobwebs over a bowl of Cheerios and some quick news, without fail I see the same thing: footage of gallons and gallons of oil bubbling up from the bottom of the sea.
This oil will ooze and spread and affect hundreds of thousands of lives – animal and person alike. It will have an enormous potentially unprecedented economic and environmental impact. Although, we have no idea to what extent yet. We have no idea how many eco-systems will be interrupted, or how many fishing businesses will go under, or how many beaches will be unswimmable making Florida not quite the vacation spot it used to be. But the oil keeps coming and those living in the Gulf’s coastal communities have no choice but to wait and see how all of this will unfold over the months and years to come.
It has filled me with such anger, fear and sadness.
But most of all? I am left feeling horribly helpless.
What can I do??
Well, I can write the hell out of this. And so can you.
The utterly fabulous Deb on the Rocks had an idea the other day. And my dear friend Maria and I jumped right on in. We would like to host a Love the Gulf Blog Carnival. And anyone else feeling as helpless as we are is welcome to come join the party.
Here’s the deal.
1. Write. Write how much you love the Gulf. Or about your memories of splashing on its shores as a child. Or maybe you need a place to vent your anger about what could happen. Or maybe you know a family whose livelihood is being deeply affected by this. Or maybe you have some breath-taking and beautiful pictures of the Gulf that must be shared. Bring it here, link it up, let’s collect our mutual love for the Gulf and make lots and lots of noise about it.
3. Pick up a Love the Gulf badge to put in your post or on your blog.
4. Spread the word. Share the Gulf love. Tell folks to come join this carnival on twitter (we’re using #lovethegulf over there), facebook or in the coffee line at Dunkin Donuts. Whatever. Just tell people to come and write. All are welcome.
And finally, thank you. Thanks for directing your attention towards the Gulf. And thanks for recognizing the collective power of words.
I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: we get a lot of animals out back. And if you follow my twitpics, you’ll see that I post a picture of some variety of backyard beast whenever there is one. Which is all the time. Anyway.
Today my six year old called me out onto the screen porch.
“Mom, a frog!”
Sure enough behind a box of blocks was a good sized frog, panicked and leaping about. We captured him gently and released him into the yard. But before he leaped away, I was lucky enough to catch a quick shot. I adore even the little beasts. Just look at him. Isn’t he cute?
And then, after hearding my stampede of boys indoors for dinner, the backyard quieted. The sun got lower, the air cooled, the water was still – it was a beautiful night. They finished dinner and started in on their homework. With my six year old working on his writing, I happened to glance up. And that’s when I saw this beast hauling himself onto the grassy median between our two back ponds. He too happens to be in the reptile family. But he certainly upstaged his distant cousin above.
I snuck outside and caught this picture before he darted back into the water. And please give some credit to my zoom for doing a decent job here because I swear he is only about 3-4 ft. long. Not big enough to make a run at us (but I think our cat might want to keep her title as an “indoor” kitty for now). But as my friends have asked me – where is it’s mother then? I told you all I need to stay on my toes out there.
And I promise. If he decides to make this grass bank his new home, we’ll call the gator hot-line.
Until then, wow. Florida. This place continues to amaze me.
When I woke up yesterday morning with no particular plan for my family, I sat down with my cereal at the computer and happened to read this article. The headline read:
“Oil Spill: DEP says it will hit Florida’s beaches mid-week”
I immediately felt ill. Ever since hearing the news about this spill, I have felt desperately ill. It has seeped into my conscious and I can’t seem to shake it. Last week, when I read the Governor’s reaction upon seeing the spill from the air, my stomach lurched once again.
“Until you actually see it, I don’t know how you can comprehend and appreciate the sheer magnitude of that thing.”
And it’s still spilling out. It’s not capped. Just erupting into the Gulf ceaselessly and oozing its way across the Gulf’s expanse. And now, it will hit our shores this week.
I want to spit.
I’m heartbroken, I’m powerless, I’m really really angry.
So without thinking twice, I announced to my family that a trip to the beach was in order. We better go enjoy it. We better spend a whole day appreciating what a fantastic slice of the natural world we have 45 minutes away from our front door.
And of course I packed my camera.
I want to share with you what we have here – what one small section of beach in Florida looks like.
This beach is in Tarpon Springs, a small town north of Tampa. This beach is in a park actually and we pay nothing to be there. The water is shifting, rolling glass – clear, blue and breathtaking. The wildlife rivals any aquarium. Locals fish on the beaches edge and pull up striped, gulping species that I certainly can’t name. And it is nothing new to find dolphins swimming around the periphery hoping to snag a fish escaping a line. I got so close to a dolphin once I could have reached out and pet it. There are stingrays and birds and starfish and sand dollars and hermit crabs and horseshoe crabs and regular crabs. There are these small sand colored fish that nibble at your toes in the surf. There are beautiful tiny white shells lining the shore. And powder fine sand, like nothing I’ve seen, that you sink your feet into and then swear you’ll give up your job and your life in suburbia so that you never ever have to leave.
And it’s all up and down this entire coast. A resource like nothing else. A resource we take for granted.
So what can I do? As if some super sentimental post about my favorite beach will do anything at all. The oil is coming and we are all sitting aside, waiting and watching. Powerless.
Obama calls this “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.
I don’t even know what to say to that.
I hate oil. I hate that we need it for our cars. I hate that we haven’t worked harder to harness other fuel resources. I hate that this kind of crap gets tied up in politics and partisanship and money and power and who has whose back. Our coasts and livelihoods and amazing wildlife care nothing about all that. But they will certainly pay dearly for it.
So why don’t we leave this post on a humorous note, shall we?? Because I think we could all use a good laugh right about now. And whose better at inspiring a giggle or two than our good buddy Sarah Palin? Here’s what she had to say to Biden about drilling during the Vice Presidential debate over a year ago (via The Huffington Post):
“You even called drilling — safe, environmentally-friendly drilling offshore — as raping the outer continental shelf. There — with new technology, with tiny footprints even on land, it is safe to drill and we need to do more of that.”
I don’t claim to be much of a gardener. But by no means should that imply that I don’t love to garden. I’m not sure how it happened actually. I fought it for years, but it’s joy lay deep below, patient and waiting.
As a child, my mother had a garden plot a few blocks from our home. She piled my brother, myself and her garden tools into her station wagon and hauled us all over there. We didn’t particularly like going. We were bored. I would wander down the mulched paths in between stringed off gardens boasting lovely heads of lettuce, squash and snap peas lost in whichever fantasy I had currently replaying in my mind. My mother would call me back, and could I bring the wheel barrow over while I’m at it.
I remember the year she had grown so many tomatoes. Heaps and heaps of them. She was given a book about “Too Many Tomatoes” and set to canning. I remember the smell of vine ripened tomatoes and then stewing tomatoes. I didn’t even like tomatoes. There were just so many of them which she found very amusing and clucked on about daily. *Shrug* I was six. What did all of those tomatoes really matter.
When I finally moved into my first apartment with a little bit of land, I never expected to consider gardening. But as the cold months finally passed and green buds piqued the trees, something unfurled within. As if some gene which I had no control over had finally matured itself and pushed through. Maybe I should go pick up a few bulbs? Maybe a trowel. Maybe some better soil.
But I am missing the skill portion of this gardening gene. And so my first garden was a catastrophe. Bulbs had been placed too close together, enormous plants grew on too small a plot of land and then one flower took over like a weed and spread everywhere. Things were leaning, nothing matched, hopeful flowers were strangled and started dying. I forgot to water. What’s the difference between and annual and a perennial, I had no idea.
Years have passed and I have my own home now. Usually I tend to my small garden of children so I spend less time heeding my temptation to grow much outside. But I try every few months to make an effort with my garden. It is a Florida garden however with extreme heat and humidity and then occasional damaging freezes. We have horrid sandy topsoil which is regularly overturned and dug through by a local armadillo. And then there are hoards of fire ants ready to strike any flip-flopped foot that happens to misstep. I don’t know the names of what grows here so growing any of it is some version of garden Russian roulette. But I dig a hole, plant one in there and certainly try. Sure, only about 50% of what I have put in has had lived on with much success, but I try.
Today I put in sod. Last year our backyard was bulldozed suffered at the hand of a wild boar and five of her babies. The weeds whooped and hollered as they crowded in and took over. But today my husband and I trucked in slab after slab of sod and threw together a patch work of grass which we hope will make its mark and regain the upper hand. As we stood there coated in dirt and sweat, watering and stomping at the ground, I felt good. The dirt felt good. The soil and water and all of it combined in a muddy green grassy mass smelled divine. I am growing something.
A few weeks ago, I tentatively planted a tomato plant in a pot on my back porch. Because, you guessed it, I like tomatoes now. I adore them. I wish I could ask my mother how she did it but I would bet the care and the organic mulch and the specific zone she lived in had everything to do with it. Nevertheless, I am trying it. And so now I go out onto my porch everyday and stare at my plant. Would you believe one of those lovely papery tomato flowers bestowed a small gift the other day? Yes, a small green tomato has shown itself. I hardly have too many tomatoes – but I have one. One and maybe another as I tentatively water it’s soil and will the next papery flower to produce a friend.
There is a magic in growing. A small, dry seed can become something real and green, stalked and hardy. Soil and all of it’s rich substance anchors the potential of food and beauty and shade. Water. Have you ever seen what a good soaking rain will do to a garden? It all stretches to the sky and reaches and reaches. It greens and buds and flowers and creates fruit and color and hope.
Clearly, there is also therapy in gardening and growing. We lose ourselves, find our thoughts and enjoy this quiet peace while tending and tending and tending until it exhausts us. We place our attention on something which doesn’t take anything away. We find creativity in growth and life while reigning in and respecting all the possibilities of the natural world.
It is certainly no coincidence. I have snuck back into my garden because it offers a careful promise of life and hope. A promise I tend to, hoping my love of gardening which was passed on to me might actually heal me.
Its a phenomenon to be sure.
And again, it’s not one I claim to have much of a handle on. Don’t expect bright swaying trellises of bougainvillea and enormous bushels of Birds of Paradise or hearty fruit trees weighed down with orange treasures or even a lawn that grows one type of grass (as much as I lust for all of this). But you might expect a small tray of sunflowers poking their way up on the sunny side of the house. Or one clump of Bird of Paradise make a respectable run for it in the front yard. And a fairly successful patch of petunias keeping my mailbox company.
Oh yes and one small green tomato, which smells exactly like my mother’s garden plot. You’ll find me next to it, staring it down and finding pride in it’s possibility. I’m here remembering my mother and hoping to find all the same amusement and joy she plucked out of her own garden. And also, like my mother from 30 years prior overwhelmed by her harvest, I am here clucking on about my one dear tomato daily. Because this first tomato does matter.
Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.
– The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
It’s April Fools Day everyday around here. And that’s usually the case for anyone with a home positioned near bodies of fresh water in Florida. We see… things… in the water. All the time. Usually its just something like this.
And at first you think
“Oh crap. A gator. How big is it? Do we need to call the Gator hotline?”
Because yes there is such a thing. But then you realize, no. It’s just driftwood. Yep. Just another piece of wood floating by that sure does a good job camouflaging itself as as a gator. Ha ha. Very funny. The joke is on us. Again.
But you always have to check. You have to keep the kids and the small pets back. Just in case. Because it could always be this. And this isn’t driftwood.
Full disclosure: this wasn’t taken in my backyard, it was taken at the Florida Aquarium. Not that I haven’t seen gators in the ponds out back. Or ambling through my yard. They are just really hard to sneak up on and are more often than not (thankfully) more scared of us. They usually disappear very quickly before I could ever get this close.
(Unless its a very big one and it wants me this close but then I don’t think I’d have time to grab my camera anyway.)
They just want to go about their business, finding and becoming their inner driftwood, submerging themselves silently if we come anywhere near.
But still. You have to check.
April Fools. Just another piece of wood.
“It’s very far away.”
“Far away” translated in my child’s mind as far as anyone could go, maybe even as far as China. And so for years I thought Sesame Street was in China.
My inner five year old was thrilled to learn that Sesame Street has arrived here in Tampa Bay. Elmo, Big Bird, Burt, Ernie, Grover, Cookie Monster… they’re all part of the new Safari of Fun at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.
This past Thursday, I loaded my youngest into the car and drove down to Busch Gardens for a special media event kicking off the opening of Safari of Fun. After being under construction for some time, I have been dying to see the new updates so we were there and ready to go at 8:30am that morning.
As part of media day, all of those attending were assigned a personal escort for the day. We were lucky enough to meet Rick, a wonderful guide and patient host as my son ran here and there around the grounds of the newly updated Safari of Fun.
So what’s it like?
Safari of Fun is an upgraded make over of the old “Land of the Dragons” area – but with more to offer. The entire area has been adapted to a “Sesame Street” theme for which I give a thunderous round of applause. The age of children visiting this area adore Sesame Street – pairing the two makes a lot of sense. All of the old rides are there still, plus a few more. They have added a new kiddie sized swing ride, an echoing exploration area, a spacious new splash park and the brand new Air Grover – a junior coaster perfect for brave preschoolers and young elementary school aged kids.
There is also a new theater show starring the Sesame Street characters which is presented several times a day, there is a new space for daily Sesame Street character breakfasts, and across the park in Timbuktu there is a new 4D Sesame Street movie now being shown.
But what did my kid really think of it all?
Well, I took video so that you can see his reaction for yourself. He even gave me a little wrap up interview the following day. But in a nutshell, he adored it. Sure he was a little nervous around the characters but he could not get enough of the rides and climbing areas which are perfect for his age. He was too scared to try out Air Grover but my friend Maria was kind enough to share her video experience with her three year old. We can not wait to get back and bring my six year old (who is itching to try out Air Grover). Next time we’ll bring our bathing suits too and try out the new splash park.
I also have to point out how professional the staff there are. Rick was a great help and each staff member assisting children on and off the rides could not have been kinder or more patient. They explained they have a “no cry policy” and will stop the ride in an instant if any child is upset. Thanks to all of the staff for making my child’s experience so much fun.
The only slight disappointment was the 4D movie. While funny and well done, the extra “effects” were a little much for the preschoolers in our group. There are quite a few surprising direct sprays of water which caught the kids off guard. We were fairly soaked by the end of the show and one kid was in tears (mine had his hands over his face asking if it was over yet). Older children might love these surprises, I know my six year old would crack up at them. However, Sesame Street is more appropriate for younger kids so I’m just hoping they tone down the scary water sprays but crank the fun, more gentle effects like bubbles, etc. My three year old doesn’t want to try that again but we’ll be taking my six year old for sure.
Finally, check out the video I made of our day at the Sesame Street Safari of Fun. We truly had a blast and we can’t wait to get back there in a couple weeks.
Here is Maria Melee from Your Mama Reviews riding Air Grover with her three year old son. (By the way, how cool is this set up? Many props to the Busch Gardens folks to bring this video option to all of us on Media Day.)
Oh and don’t forget! Children 5 and under can register here for a free Busch Gardens Tampa Bay pass for the rest of 2010. Please note that your child does need to be a Florida resident to register.
Sometimes Groundhog Day offers you a surprise. Not that we are strangers to surprises in our yard. But still. I am beginning to wonder if I harp on the routine around here too much. And maybe I don’t always see the amazing and the unique when it passes me by. Maybe it takes a wild animal to clue me in. Maybe.
I was doing what I always do around 6:00pm – feeding my kids in the kitchen. Chicken, pasta, apple.
And I was saying the usual too.
“Sit in your seat, be sure to eat some apple too, I said SIT DOWN, would you like more milk… HOLY CRAP YOU GUYS THERE’S A BOBCAT!!!”
The next thing I said was…
“DUCK!” And we all ducked under the window.
I know how skittish these animals are. I’ve seen them before and have seen them bolt at any sign of human life (thank goodness considering… you know… my kids play back there everyday).
But I wanted a picture.
So I crawled over to my dining room table, snatched the camera out of my bag and peeked up out the window into my backyard. The bobcat was moving slowly up towards my house and would be passing the kitchen window in seconds. So we all scrambled back into the kitchen, giggling and anticipating. I froze with camera poised, the kids waited – and there it was. It froze too. Gave us this exact stare. And then scurried away.
Surprises. There’s nothing better. And maybe if I paid more attention to whats happening around me, I’d see more of them now and then. The little stuff and the big stuff can make a day more unique if you allow it to. Nothing like an afternoon bobcat to snap you out of it. Message received.
February 16th, 2010 — Florida
The winter of ’95-’96 changed my perception of winter forever. I was a junior at Mount Holyoke College. And the snow kept coming. Mother Nature had programmed a pattern of massive two foot snow blizzards every Thursday afternoon. I remember the blizzards seemed at their worst while stuck in the dredges of February. As the heater would steam and clank and whistle in my room and as the science lab work piled up – I’d stare out at the silent white storm snow globing flakes up, down and across my window. And I had all sorts of crazy “I’m going to lose my ever loving mind” Shining-esque thoughts. I had finally found hate for winter.
That May – yes, it took three more long months – I stepped outside one morning. There was sun. And not only that, it warmed my face. WARMED MY FACE. I stopped, I closed my eyes, I tipped my face up. And I started to cry a little bit. Warmth, light, sun made that much of a difference. I will never forget what real, outside warm air felt like that morning as I took off down the hill sporting rumpled shorts worn a very distant 9 months prior.
Five years ago, my husband and I moved to Florida. It seemed almost a joke at the time. I mean come on. We found a job for him in Florida? Near my brother and offering a much cheaper cost of living (after spending two winters stuffed into crappy faculty housing with one bedroom and an 18 month old baby). We considered it an adventure. Sure we’ll go.
The years have gone by, we bought a home, we had another child, we are Floridians it seems. And it blows our minds that we are raising children with no concept of snow or real, freeze your eyelashes and bust your pipes kind of cold. (It doesn’t count if they can’t remember seeing snow, right?) Palm trees lining the streets have lost their novelty. I hardly look twice at the resident alligator sunning himself on the bank of a small lake I jog past regularly. Caribbean style beaches lined with tiki huts are an hour’s drive and Disney is less than two hours.
But it’s February, and I know. I read tweets, facebook updates, emails and hear from my loved ones. February is fricking miserable most other places in the U.S. Spring seems forever off. The snow keeps piling up and the sun won’t warm jack.
And you know what? I feel guilty.
I have somehow adopted a crazy kind of guilt complex regarding Florida weather. I LONGED for the everyday here when I lived north. Dreamt of it, wished for it, and drove to it over spring break. So now that we get it, all the time, oh my God. I just feel bad. I want to share it. I want everyone to come on down. I want to plunk every family member and wonderful friend in my backyard lounge chair and let the sun warm their faces. I want to heal their winter misery. I want to give what I get to them.
Snort. If I was reading this from my frozen dorm all those years ago, I kind of might want to kill me right now. Really. Isn’t that generous of little ol’ Floridian me? Oh how nice of me to even THINK of us northerners while we wish for power back in our homes, dole hundreds of dollars out the window for heating oil and try not to die on our icy commutes to work everyday.
And I think I’d be wishing that resident alligator might take a sudden liking to Floridian me as I ran past. Chomp chomp, palm tree bee-atch.
But then there are people who do come down for vacations and I breath a sigh of relief. Hurray! Ok! See? You can feel some warmth! Step right up. But then? When the weather is cold and rainy and the sun doesn’t warm jack, even in FLORIDA – I feel bad again. What the hell is this? People deserve to feel warm when they come down here. Come ON. If we get good weather most of the time, visitors should have a guaranteed pass! I find myself apologizing for 40 degree temps while pointing at my browned palms, insisting this isn’t natural, and to come back soon and see for yourself!
Because what warmth I feel on my face belongs to every suffering, wintered soul, sharpening their axes on the weather reports promising more snow, thinking how they will hack their way through their front doors, determined to find Spring while screaming “Here’s Johnny!!!” I so get it.
Uh-huh. Shut it, Caroline. Go back to your flip flops and boring palm trees. We don’t care how bad you feel for us.
Not that Florida is all that and a bag of key lime chips with a Corona chaser. Not that we don’t long for gorgeous fall days with crispy leaves or crackling fireplaces on Christmas Eve. Not that Florida’s sun makes up for the culture and family and roots we’ve left behind far far north of here.
And as my friend who recently moved from Florida to Chicago said to me only yesterday, “When spring comes, it will be wonderful and appreciated and I will never take good weather for granted again”. Because, we do here. And that’s not OK either.
Still we get sun and my loved ones don’t right now. So, still with the guilt.
I am probably somewhat certifiable to personally take responsibility for all the winter hate flaring within frozen hearts across our nation. Only I would need to apologize for the temperate norms which are predictable and expected for this little spot on the globe.
But I will never forget what winter means elsewhere.
And just wait. After a winter as hellish as this one (which has resulted in snow on the ground in 49 states), we’ll get ours with a whopper of hurricane which will rip out our electricity and make our roads impossible to drive on. Weather karma maybe?
Again with the guilt.
But how about I offer my lounge chair. To anyone. Anytime. I’m embarrassed to admit that I am rarely out there (the irony, I know – snow or sun, life is busy and doesn’t offer too many moments in a lounge chair) but you are more than welcome to stretch out and feel that sun we seem to have so much of.
Wishing February will pass quickly and there will be early spring warmth in all 49 states soon.
Post script: This one was close to being deleted. I swear my intentions are good, but no matter how much guilt I feel for sunshine in February, I can’t help but feel like this post comes across a tad… well… smug. Clearly, my guilty suffering is no match for any February up north. So just know that I know that. But I will leave it. Because I keep it real. And because after all that writing I hate to toss anything (which I really do need to learn how to do more often… that and fix the filter between my head and my mouth/writing).