For five decades I lived firmly entrenched in the Midwest, timing my life to the farming seasons - planting, cultivating, harvesting, and hibernating. I worked and played to the 4/4 beat of stoic sparrow work songs and mourning dove dirges. But all of that has changed. I now live in a land where folks plant flowers in December and hibernate in August. It is a land where birds walk on stilts, belting out their heavy-metal music at the top of their nails-on-chalkboard voices.
I love it.
My husband, our four cats, and I relocated to Florida. On Dec. 2, all six of us stood within the safe confines of our own screened-in porch for the first time. Snug beneath the new roof, which replaced the one Hurricane Charley had torn off, we watched a long-legged, long-necked crane chase a stray cat into the tall grass not far from our fence. We're not sure what to make of a pecking order in which the birds prey on the cats.
As I write this, a thunderstorm booms and rain rushes down so fast that it could drive spikes into the sand. I've moved to a state that claims the record for the most lightning strikes. Each drop falls straight down. No dilly-dallying, no gentle musical interlude, it's Wagner with cymbals crashing and Valkyries calling. It's a winter storm. What must a hurricane sound like?
The heat here can actually fry eggs on the sidewalk. The humidity soaks right through me. When the air stops moving, I gasp and understand why Southern antebellum ladies held fans in their photographs. I stand in shorts and a sleeveless top in January and thank the fashion gurus for doing away with stays and corsets.
Family and friends tell me of their weather woes: snow, ice, zero-degree temperatures. Ah, yes, I know it well. My husband mowed the lawn a few days ago - the first time he'd mowed in January. We didn't mention that to our families shivering in the Midwest.
We don't know what to think of central Florida's tendency to open great sinkholes without warning. Birds chase cats, and the ground swallows houses. Yet I feel so in tune with this place that's so like a Dr. Seuss world.
My son, now an adult and newly on his own, visited during the holidays and felt the same comfortable rhythms that have lulled me. He voiced my own question, "Why did we live in the Midwest all these years?" Yet it had been with trepidation that we accepted the news from my husband's employer: "We're relocating you to Orlando."
The city is a theme-park capital, with hordes of tourists and traffic. Before we moved, four hurricanes hit.
We took a house-hunting trip here in August. We blew into Sanford airport a day after Hurricane Charley hit. Our realtor said, "No problem, everything will be back to normal by Sunday." My sister-in-law, who'd lived in North Fort Meyers for 10 years, told us, "Don't worry about the humidity, there's air conditioning everywhere. You just go from air-conditioned house, to car to stores. You'll never notice the heat."
They were both wrong.
That Saturday in August, we stepped off the plane into a dimly lit, sweltering airport. The hurricane had knocked out the power and the airport limped along on back-up generators. No air conditioning.
We learned that electrical outages also meant no rental cars. Taxi drivers stood like auctioneers as people bid for their services. After five hours we hopped in a taxi van and set out, dodging downed trees and power lines on roads without stoplights. Night descended, and we stood before an unlit hotel. The manager ran to the van and quickly explained, "We have no electricity, no back-up generator, and no service. You cannot stay here."
After a few harried minutes, we thought of a colleague who had relocated to the area a few years ago. He answered our call and came to our rescue, whisking us off to his dark home. They cooked their quickly defrosting food on the grill and presented us with a feast. Replete and thankful for the kindness, the food, and every whiff of breeze, we sat back in the humid night, lit only by tea lights and stars.
The love of Florida began to grow in me that night. I listened to the frogs sing while the humidity wrapped me in its hug. The darting anoles, little green lizards with detachable tails, demonstrated how life goes on, even amid disaster. The starry night displayed familiar constellations. The sense of survival and comfort of new friends welcomed me to an alien land.
Now. on this day, the rain has slowed to a lullaby. A pair of white egrets land in the lagoon behind our house, where we've lived for five weeks. The cats line up along the window sill and stare at birds twice their size. They are adjusting to the pecking order of their new world.
A red-winged blackbird balances on a cattail and looks as comfortable as he would be on an Ohio fence post.
I feel a kinship with him. Is he a transplant like me or is Florida his home? Maybe Ohio was just a rest stop on his migration pattern. Maybe the Midwest was just a place where I rested and grew strong. I feel my life shifting, falling into place.