Monday, October 13, 2008

It's subtle, but Florida offers fall sensations -- no need to wander

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel October 13, 2008)

My daughter Jenny, who lives in western Massachusetts, says New England's autumn foliage is about to peak. Scarlet-colored leaves cover the limbs of trees lining the street in the quaint town in which she lives.

She has been riding her bike a lot, which is a perfect way to appreciate the crisp air and bright autumn colors. I've been tempted to visit -- to book a flight and spend a weekend surrounded by pumpkins, apple cider and a palette of leafy color. But I know I won't do it.

As much as I'd like to see my daughter and spend a few days re-experiencing a Northern autumn, I'm as anchored to home as the bamboo in our nursery is rooted to the ground.

I've become stodgy in recent years. Home draws me in and holds me secure. The surprising thing is, I'm totally content with that. I have my patterns, my routines and everything in its place the way I like it to be. It's a comfort zone so familiar and cozy that few places can tempt me to leave it behind.

Books have been written about all the places you should see and things you should do before you die. Those aren't books I'm drawn to read.

Sure, travel has its benefits, and there are, without doubt, some amazing places in the world that would be fascinating to visit. I've seen a few -- not many, but a few -- and enjoyed those trips immensely.

But I'm at a point in my life where most of the things I want are right here where I am. The way I see it, counting the sources of your contentment is at least as important as compiling a collection of must-dos.

Autumn in Florida may not be the same as it is in New England, but a seasonal transition still can be experienced. Daytime temperatures have taken a dive, and accordingly, diving into the lake takes more courage.

When I go for my daily swim, I no longer walk fluidly into the water. By the time October's cooler weather has arrived, I have to either be very hot from a hard workout or brace myself to get wet above the waist.

Lakes are not alone in reflecting lower temperatures. The plant world projects a vivid response. Although more subtle than the blatant hues of a Massachusetts October, the foliage around our property also changes color.

In recent days, I've noticed yellow plumes of goldenrod swaying in the breeze alongside the purple flowers of Southern fleabane and white blooms of climbing hempweed (Mikania cordifolia).

Beautyberry bushes are suddenly loaded with clusters of dark-violet fruit, and a two-toned cloak of coral and yellow tops golden rain trees. Not to be outdone, the once-green leaves of woodbine, better known as Virginia creeper, now appear on the trunks of whatever trees they are climbing like angry red fingers clutching tightly.

While Jenny is enjoying bike rides around town, I'm going for rows, picking bouquets of cosmos and firespike, taking walks around the lake or sitting on the porch admiring the view. No matter where you live, October weather commands appreciation.

This is the time of year to take a lawn chair outside and park yourself in it. Look up at the clouds. Follow the butterflies. Enjoy the antics of squirrels gathering acorns, the cooing of doves. Watch brown and green anoles climb onto plant leaves while a breeze tickles your face.

Bold colors make it obvious that autumn has arrived, but there are seasonal stories to be found in more subtle signs as well. You don't have to live in Northern climes to enjoy autumn. You don't have to travel to live a full life.

If I were writing a book of things to do before I die, I'd focus on seeing -- really seeing and appreciating -- all the wonders and beauty that surround us each day. That alone would be momentous. That alone says it all.

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