Our first night, on the patio where we go for dinner under a clear black sky and a moon positioned like a fulsome smile, a man crosses himself before digging into a burger and fries. He’s wearing a navy blazer and white shirt, open at the neck. He’s maybe 65 years old and has a full head of greying hair.
In the morning, a mallard and his mate [Ethel and Norman] stand at the edge of the pool, wary, concerned perhaps about chlorine levels or the risk of interlopers exuberant with all manner of toys and flotation devices. I share their apprehension. We become fast friends.
The view from our room: mudslide where the ground has shifted from under a gazebo and runs into a man-made stream. At first I think this is a negative, but then Ethel and Norman arrive and spend each day there quacking and paddling and dining among the shallow water of this new ‘sandbar’ and I realize the mud has created the only bit of natural landscape on the entire property.
Not one but two toddlers wearing diapers in the hot tub. [Scratch hot tub from list of things to do today. Maybe also tomorrow.]
On a cobblestone street, a family stop to offer a homeless man a take-out bag of waffles from brunch. Wordlessly the man accepts and only when they’re out of sight does he begin eating.
The Morse Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Tiffany ‘art’, glass, pottery, paintings. Before this I thought Tiffany was a lamp.
Me on the balcony, reading the memoir, Voice of the River, by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, whose River of Grass may be the most important book ever written about Florida. A wood stork lands and then takes off again from a tall pine just the other side of the screen.
From our window at night, the fireworks from Disney World. Which makes me wonder: isn’t Pluto, et al, enough for people? They need fireworks too?? But then it occurs to me that maybe that’s just a polite way of getting rid of everyone, like flicking the lights on after the dance is over.
The light just before sunset. There’s nothing like Florida twilight; not ours in summer, nor anything in the Caribbean.
It’s before that, something fleeting and golden, almost sepia for a second, not transferable to film. And anyway, it’s more than light. There’s something in the air, a scent, an energy, as if for that brief moment before sunset each day, if you pay attention, you’ll glimpse something under the veneer of landscaping, something reminiscent of the land as it once was—a wild, natural beauty with mangroves at the shoreline instead of beaches, when live oaks, pine, cypress and saw grass outnumbered palms; when the birds lived in flocks of hundreds and the panthers and dolphins were real, not logos on a sports jersey. When the Everglades were a healthy beating heart before canals were stupidly built to redirect the water [something that has proven detrimental but can never be fixed].
It’s hard not to love that part of Florida.
Also hard to imagine it.
So each day I make a point of waiting for that flicker of strange golden light, feel privileged for this peek into the past. And then, in a blink, it’s gone again, and the land is left with nothing but its disguise—a once proud and exotic beast, domesticated, made to tap dance and roll over while wearing costumes, silly hats, masks, taffeta and crinolines.