“ Jeez. I feel like you could write a novel about that.”
My parent’s farm, to the extent you can call it that, was a strange place. That was the reaction my description of it got as I talked about growing up in Florida.
It was a magical realist place, all extremes and portents. It moaned in the wind. It shone with moonlight, even in summer.
It never seemed very Floridian, to be honest. It was baked by sun and infested with vermin of various stripes, but that was about it.
Florida is a small place. I don’t mean geographically. But the biggest hill is a modest lump of orangish dirt. It towers above the landscape like a city on a hill, but compared even to the hills within the city limits of this town, it is a modest sight.
For most of us, Florida was a succession of subdivisions, most of which had modest bungalos less than 30 years old. It was mediocrity and bahia grass. St. Augustine grass if you had certain airs of class.
What made that house so anomalous was not just the one-legged crane calling in the window, or the black widows that filled every conceivable outdoor object. The land around it was Big. It was an uninterrupted stretch of grass and the low bonsais of cow-pasture oaks that was entirely too big to comfortably sit in Florida. The house sat alone on the plain, like a house in a Morricone western. It felt isolated in a way I have never felt in a home. It felt like it belonged to nature and that our gray stucco house was an irritant, a bit of debris that would be wiped out at any moment.
Big open spaces are not rare in Florida. Anyone who has taken 75 down from Gainesville has seen Big Florida. At one point, I would imagine, Big Florida just was Florida, full of cows and small towns with little white houses.
Big Florida is beautiful. When I was in high school I moved the Davis’ pasture. It was green grass that grew with absurd fecundity. There was a great big oak on the modest rise behind the creek, and stands of cypress trees sat in the low depressions like paisley printed across the landscape. In the summer, cool, wet wind would announce the coming rain. On a warm winter day, the wind would ripple the grass, and as night fell you could build a fire and see the stars.
This Big Florida was harsh enough, but it was beautiful. With a director’s eye it could even be made dramatic.
I don’t know why Big Florida curdled around our house.
Still, when I hear the sigh of wind, I think about it.