Snakes Don’t Wear Sparkles

So, here I am living in a swamp. I grew up in the northeast where the creatures that roam are very different. Sure, there are snakes and frogs and spiders, but they seem to keep to themselves. They both have bear and deer and raccoons and squirrels and the like. But they seem to behave differently. Here in the swamp called Florida the creatures have no respect for the humans that have taken over their habitat. Imagine that.

Here, the snakes languish, sunning themselves on the warm concrete sidewalks, occasionally biting a curious dog or cat on the nose. Here, the deer eat my rose bushes daily – taking all the beautiful blooms, leaving bare snipped stems that I first believed was a neighbor’s work. I am told that they also eat geraniums but I don’t have any that are accessible for them. The frogs make so much noise during the rainy season that it can keep you wide awake if you can’t accept it as background music. For me this is especially true as I have a wetland next door to my home and the frogs are incessant. It is the summer choir.

Every once in a while a black snake will find its way onto my lanai or front porch. I should say here that my son and I are both snake phobic. I was at work one day when I received a text that said “Mom, I sacrificed the cat.” This seemed improbable to me so I called him immediately. There were two rat snakes in my lanai and my son told me he liked the dog too much to use him to chase them off – wise choice. So he put the cat out to shoo them away. This, of course, did not work. My fat black cat was soundly sleeping next to the snakes. For next time, a broom. As an aside, my best friend found a coral snake in her pool once, eek. And I have learned the behavioral differences between rat snakes and black racers, who look the same. This is knowledge I could easily have done without.

The other night I inadvertently dropped a bookmark with a tail of sparkly beads attached. No, I did not buy it – it was a gift. All of a sudden my daughter in law gave a scream/squeak. Turning, I asked her what was wrong.  “There’s a snake” she said.  I looked down at the bookmark and burst out laughing. Snakes don’t wear sparkles, I said.

The spiders here are the stuff of science fiction. If you are not bitten by a brown recluse and have a chunk of your body cut away, then you will be terrified by the huge wolf and banana spiders that are the size of the back of my hand. I am also spider phobic, sad I know. And they always seem to appear when I am least able to deal, in the bathroom, in bed, etc. And the tiny spiders are everywhere. When I walk out my front door I almost always walk through a thin, unseen line of spider silk.

When I garden, I almost always are bitten by some unseen, unnamed and vicious little insect. I grew tomatoes this spring and while I got a few, the plants were overwhelmed by some mysterious bug/fungus. I recall my father’s constant battle with his tomato plants and now I can empathize.

The lizards are everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. They are underfoot on my front walk, eating my cucumber plants, on my pool screen. Occasionally in the house and sometimes half eaten as a result of the Fat Kitty hunting just a little – he grows lazier by the year. They are often clinging to my windshield when I drive away.

And if you have never lived through the time of lovebugs you really haven’t lived. They are insidious, everywhere. They coat your car, smash by the hundreds on your windshield, fly into your face with no respect at all.

So here we are in the swamp. The tradeoffs – the sun is shining, the beach is close (watch out for sharks), the flowers are abundantly in bloom, there is the occasional onshore breeze, life is a bit slower and snakes don’t wear sparkles.

Stay in touch!

Cookies Like Memory

He cut the grass, and then it rained. And then the sun came out and the blazing heat resumed. It smelled just like my grandmother’s house during our vacations in the 1950’s and 1960’s. My grandmother lived in Miami Beach.  I have lived in Florida for almost 15 years, but it has never smelled like Florida to me until that very moment.

Every summer we would go to sleep-away summer camp in Vermont, as the children of a working divorced mom. After that we always went to our Grandma Jennie’s house in Miami Beach for a week or two.

My grandmother made these amazing cookies, crunchy and not too sweet, that she kept in a hall pantry closet and doled out two at a time to my brother and me. For special occasions she made what our family calls the “cherry cookies”, very labor intensive and very yummy. I make both sometimes, generally as a gift for someone in the family as much as a gift for myself. She always made them in the shape of our initials, T for me and P for my brother. I continue that tradition, it makes them taste more like memory. I have never quite duplicated how they tasted when she made them. Like New York bagels, I think it is the water. Maybe just the taste of her fingers on the dough.

On those gloriously free summer days in the Florida heat we would go out in the afternoon sun showers and dance on the lawn in our white cotton 1950’s underwear. We would walk every day and in the little neighborhood park we would stand at the flagpole where she taught us to pledge allegiance with our grubby  hands over our hearts. We would stop at the crest of a walking bridge over a canal and look for dolphins and rainbows. We would go down to the sea and she would hold us on her lap in the ocean, bouncing with the waves, and she would sing to us “By the Sea”. That melody still comes to me occasionally unbidden.

My grandmother was an amazing woman. She lived to be over 100 years old, retaining her faculties and her home well into her nineties. When her neighborhood became predominantly Cuban, she went to the local senior center and learned Spanish so she could talk to them. When she did not feel safe to drive, she walked about four miles to groceries and back. She was extraordinarily self-sufficient, her husband having died one summer in his sleep when we were little and we were there. I went to Miami Beach once in my free wheeling hippie days with a ridiculously tall boyfriend with ridiculously long hair. It was Christmas time, although I don’t recall that she celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas, and we just turned up at her door. We were welcome, of course, because with Jennie you never ever judged a book by it’s cover.

I have long though of her as the single most influential woman that has been in my life. Not to negate my mother’s influence, of course. And I deeply regret that in my unconscious twenties and thirties and my insanely busy forties I did not find the time or energy to be more in touch with her. Life lessons, learned too late and generally unheeded by the young coming behind me.

It is useless to regret but some regrets are unavoidable, they teach us not to make the same mistakes again. But the lessons, they are to be cherished and taken to heart. This amazing woman had standards of behavior that were clear and important, but she also accepted everyone for exactly who they were regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, appearance or anything else that might make them different.

In that moment when my lawn smelled like Florida at my Grandma’s house so long ago, I hoped that I had become half the woman she was. It is good that the bar is set high.

Stay in touch!