Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time

Big Cats, Cypress, and Some Reservations

I’m not a big fanatic when it comes to the Florida panther. Don’t get me wrong. In general, I’m a fairly rabid environmentalist, and I think it’s terrible that their range has been broken up, their habitat destroyed, and their numbers reduced almost to the vanishing point. I’m just not sure, for a variety of reasons, whether or not maintaining a few wild panthers in Florida under nearly artificial conditions is worth the trouble and expense. Nonetheless, the state has created a nice web site on their behalf, and being an aficionado of Floridiana, I present it here.

The weather here is beginning to get pret-ty warm. Temps are up in the 80’s during the daytime, and in the low 70’s at night. This, though, is nothing like it’ll be in July, August, and September: mid-90’s day after day, with mid-80’s at night and humidity above 90% most of the time. It’s enough, however, to remind me why sane people go back north from May until November. Only us natives and folks who have gotten stranded here by the value loss on their condos remain during those months. I guess our brains are fried, or something. We’re weird about retirement, too. My family, for example, tend to retire to a part of Florida that’s even hotter in the summer than here on the coast. Tell me there’s nothing wrong with us, OK? Whatever it is, it’s obviously genetic. I started making plans to move to Seattle in the mid-70’s and now, nearly 30 years later…

Joking aside, though, I love this state. Thanks to Willis Carrier it’s habitable, though torrid, and the snowbirds go home! This means that we natives have our roadways back, our short lines at the supermarket, our chance to go to Disney World. Man, you talk about hot! Orlando was famous for it long before The Mouse arrived. The summer brings higher electrical bills [Hell, no, we don’t do without a/c…we’re not that genetically deprived!] and something of an economic slump, but they always come back…. When I was a kid, we said, “Keep Florida Green — Bring Money.” Now we say, “If it’s ’The Season’, why can’t we shoot them?” They brought the money…lots of it. But they stayed!

The folks who migrated south have put their stamp on the area, f’ shure. In this county, the people from New York alone outnumber the natives, and the average age — no lie — is over 60. People who were here on vacation, or for military training during WW II and Korea, liked the place and made plans to retire here. They told their friends. The friends came on vacation, and they liked it and made plans, too. About 1975 the influx began in earnest, and by the mid-80’s we were swamped.

So were some of them. You should have seen some of the land they bought, before the developers drained it! Native Floridians have a saying: “Never buy a home site with a cypress tree in the yard.” Young cypress only flourish where the water table is at or near the surface. If you’ve got one, you know you’ve got some loooow land. There are places in the western part of the county where they landscape with cypress! When you consider that this part of Florida is only about 15 -20 feet above sea level and flat as a table, you can imagine what happens when there’s a tropical storm or hurricane: the same thing that happens when you spill a glass of milk on a table. It takes a long time to run off, and if there’s the slightest depression in the table, it won’t run off at all. Such is the situation in the “drained” parts of the county. Drained. Hah.

They brought change. When I was in my late teens and early 20’s you could walk down 500 yards from the public beach, dig a hole, build a fire with driftwood, swim out to the reef with a mask and gardener’s glove and catch a bunch of langoustes (Florida lobster to you) and have a feast — all for free. All you needed was a six-pack and a Yankee girl from the public beach (whereat it was my pleasure to be a lifeguard) and you had a par-tay!

There was this Smithie…but I digress.

Nowadays, there’s probably no place on the beach in the lower 150 miles of Florida’s east coast where it would be legal to build a fire, and if you did, I’ll guarantee a dozen condo commandos would swoop down on you before you could get your lobster even warmed up — if you could find any lobster. And skinny-dip? Forget it! “But Officer, if you stand up on the bathtub like this, and lean over, and use these binoculars, you can see they’re nekkid!” On the other hand, we now have a world-class venue for opera, several other sites where concerts are held winter and summer, the best medical care in the world (doctors like Florida too), the fastest-growing university in the world, world-class shopping, and the largest Rolls-Royce dealership on the planet. Yea, verily — the world has come to southeast Florida, looked at it, and found it good (from November to May). But we still have the other six months.

© 2002 William E. Webb

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