You know how things jump out at you, when you first land in a new destination? Terrain looks different, water tastes different, sounds are new, stores, smells, roads, cuisine, all scream: “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore“? Considering this is our fourth winter in Winter Garden, I’m past that stage now.
I’m reminded of this leap from “Wow, check that out!” to “Oh, yup, that’s a gator alright…” when we have visitors. We’re fortunate to be in a neighborhood which has two significant-sized nature preserves nextdoor. And with that, comes some exciting critters. Guests allow me to see Florida with fresh eyes.
My intent for this week’s newsletter is to share the marvelous colors and creatures that are central Florida. Things that are likely quite different than what you’re used to.
It probably goes without saying, but the weather is what most folks take note of first. I’m sure in the summer you’d be hit in the face with this detail, but I have not been in Florida during the summer, so neither have our guests. November to early spring are pleasant, and it’s noticeable.
2. Little Things
Once in our neighborhood, most of our guests slightly jump at the most prolific, entertaining creatures: the lizards. These mini dragons scatter as you approach, come in a variety of colors, can change colors, are excellent insect hunters, and, as I have witnessed, can be cannibals!
The bird life is abundant and exotic compared to other parts of our country. Birdwatching – which started out as a sort of joke to us – is now a hobby.
Certain bird families are like our neighbors: we get concerned when we don’t see them, or empathize when they have to rebuild. The Sandhill Crane family strolls across streets, causing me to cringe with worry. (Florida drivers are the worst – our insurance rates “prove” it.)
The Eagle family had to move their home back to a tree, once hurricane Irma took apart their preferred home on top of a power line structure. The move may have been a good one though, this is the first year we’ve seen a baby. He/she must have a 5 foot wingspan in only 3 months.
4. Plant Life
Both spooky and romantic, drapes of breezy Spanish moss cloak the trees of central Florida. Funny story I just learned, Native Americans called the plant itla-okla, which translates to “tree hair.” The French agreed it looked like hajr, but more like the Spanish conquistadors’ long beard hair, so they called it Barbe Espagnol, or “Spanish Beard.” Somehow it evolved into “Spanish Moss” – even though it isn’t a moss at all.
The pine trees are another story. I was a little surprised to see the varieties of pine trees in Florida. And, when I saw a pine lose it’s needles, I expressed my concern to the landscape manager. That’s when I learned that not all pines are evergreens, some are deciduous!
Essentially plants which are treated as annuals in other regions, can be perennial here. And, another “wonder” for Central Florida: the smell of citrus blooms in the January evening air, is absolutely mesmerizing.
And, now, the educational segment of today’s newsletter. Here is a photo of an epiphytic bromeliad.
An epiphyte is a plant that grows harmoniously upon another plant. It doesn’t harm its host, it acquires all it needs from the air, rain, or other floating debris. Spanish moss is an epiphyte. I’m always amused to land upon one, they seem awkward and out of place.
5. The Creature Feature is Insane
OK, Number 5 is the inspiration of this post. And it is more Woody’s story than it is mine. Woody and his pen-pal-buddy, Bob, were out on a walk when Woody was elaborating on the abundance of wildlife found in our little Central Florida corner. Woody says, “...the one thing I haven’t seen is a snake. Well, at least a live one. I’ve seen a couple run over by cars though.“
The walk continues, and the next thing you know Woody points and exclaims, “SNAAaaKE!”. Bob jumps, arms flailing, not sure exactly where Woody’s pointing, but knows it’s probably a good time to jump. And, sho’nuff there’s a big ole black snake lounging in the sun.
The fella is at least 3 feet, but most his body disappears in the landscape. No matter he isn’t cute, our concern for his wellbeing is similar to our feathered friends. When we don’t see our snakey friend, we fear the weed wacker may have found him before we could warn him.
And, of course this “creature feature” would not be complete without a couple photos of our resident alligators:
There you have it: five marvelous things about central Florida that have nothing to do with Disney!
Thank you for following!