Monday, May 12, 2008

Florida Flambe

I'm a native Floridian. Not one of those "natives" who claims to be a local because I moved here when I was a child. My family has been born and raised in Florida for generations. This is one of the things I am most proud of. Not that it's really an accomplishment. You can't exactly do anything about where you were born after all.

But I love my home state. As the name of my blog suggests.

I've seen a lot of changes in the last 30 or so years in Florida. And I'm not talking about urban sprawl or the proliferation of high-rise condominiums, strip malls and the disappearance of native species. No, this is a change that's more on a "global crisis" scale.

It used to be said that Florida had two seasons. Summer and winter. If you can call temperatures dropping to a low of 35 degrees a few times in a month "winter." Instead of living by the change of seasons, native Floridians lived by a different calendar. There's Hurricane Season, Love Bug Season, Winter and Summer.

It seems to me we can now count a new season in Florida. It comes along after winter but before summer. It's Wildfire season.

In 1998, thousands of acres in Florida burned for weeks and weeks. Everything you owned smelled like smoke - your car, your clothes, your home, your workplace, heck even the dog. You traveled along roads with fire burning on either side. Grandmothers baked casseroles, cakes and pies and delivered them to fire stations. Kids gathered bottled water and their dads drove them to the closest fire crew to deliver the water to to weary firefighters. There was the constant buzz of helicopters hovering overhead weighted down by giant "water balloons." They dumped water snatched from nearby ponds and lakes onto hot spots. Everyday conversation was peppered with terms like "55 percent contained," "hot spots," and "fire breaks." It was normal to have all your family photos, files with legal paperwork and overnight bags packed inside laundry baskets and boxes stationed by the front door, ready for evacuation at a moments notice.

Right now, a fire has been burning more than 400 acres for several days now. It is about 5 miles from my home. When the wind shifts the right way you can smell the burning timber. I have friends who have evacuated their home, while the rest of choke a sigh of relief that it's not our neighborhood . . . yet.

I guess between hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, the odd tornado and 100% humidity for 5 months a year, you might wonder why I live here?

Natives adapt. Non-natives move.

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