Saturday, January 17, 2009

Swamps and Snakes and Alligators, Oh My

I will never forget the first time we stepped out of the cool, air-conditioned airport and into that heady and muggy summer noonday: Miami, Florida.

It seems like a lifetime ago. Even the lens here gets a bit thick.

I'd never experienced a sauna, and it was not until later in life that I was able to grasp and wrap my mind around this most perfect analogy: stepping out of the airport and into Miami for the first time was like literally walking into a sauna. Of course, at the time, my 9-year old body had never experienced such an assault. Accustomed to the dry, desiccating heat and alpine altitudes of the rockies and Northwest, it just didn't know what to make of this sudden sea-level elevation and humidity. My body did the only thing it knew how to do: attach an extremely vivid association to the moment.

When first learning that we were moving to Florida, I remember thinking that I didn't know what to think. I pictured a literal jungle: a thick, dense jungle of overgrown vines and tall trees. . . swamps and snakes everywhere. Alligators in waiting. I pictured living all camped out, next to a riverbed, hammocks swinging in the breeze. . . I thought for all practical purposes, that my siblings and I might actually be attending school in an open-aired straw hut.

Stepping out of the airport building and into that noonday, Miami was heavy. It was nothing like I'd expected, my soon-to-be fourth grade eyes were wide with wonder. This was a city. It was a giant, living and breathing city.

The summer that followed was whirlwind: once over sky, then over trains and automobiles, my family and I became very well acquainted with the Sunshine State.

After stepping out of the airport into that Miami noonday, I remember noticing the sky. The palm trees. The birds. The scent of salt and sky. The giant, sweating city of Miami. And everything was so green.

We stayed in a motel that was fairly near the airport for a couple of days. There was a swimming pool, which my siblings and I enjoyed. Since we carried almost no baggage, travel was easy, and later that week, after taking a variety of transportation methods (the most memorable of them being a train), we ended up in Homosassa Springs.

Although I am not certain, I'm pretty sure we visited this wildlife preserve. It was the first time I'd ever laid eyes on a manatee. Being the curious child that I was, I had many questions. What did it eat? Why did it have whiskers, like a cat? Why was it so fat?

After a couple of weeks, my parents bought a van. Room for six. This was a van with curtains and nice seats, one where I wasn't practically sitting on my siblings' laps during transportation. It was a nice change.

As the summer neared an end, we somehow ended up in Jensen Beach, where we finally settled into a small white stucco house. This house was on a hill, and I remember thinking that if there were ever a hurricane with floodwaters that my house would be a good place to be.


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