Monday, February 9, 2009

Few days of chill a small price to pay for this sun-kissed paradise

Simply Living

(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel February 9, 2009)

If my favorite color were tan, I would be ecstatic when I look out my window. The recent cold snap has leached most of the green out of the garden, leaving behind an ecru landscape. Hibiscus, pentas, gingers and impatiens withered up when the temperature dropped. The plump leaves of ground covers such as wedelia, wandering Jew and spider plant turned to mush, their bright colors faded to dull blackish-browns. I expected the bananas to succumb to the cold - most winters they do - but during this freeze, unexpected trees were also affected.

Tropical fruiters such as the carambola tree, papaya, mango and pineapple were badly hit, but so were normally hardy plants such as Surinam cherries and mulberry trees. Even emerging fruit on our loquats and our neighbor's grapefruits were damaged when the thermometer dipped to the mid- to low 20s.

It really got cold.

In past years, such an extensive kill-back would have brought me to my knees. I would have bemoaned our fate.

"What are we going to do?" I would have wondered. "Everything looks terrible!"
I don't do that anymore.

Despite the recent cold snap, I am taking it in stride. I've lived in Florida long enough to know how quickly the weather will warm up, how soon new leaves will appear and how pretty the landscape will look again. The beauty of it all is that none of these changes will take long to happen.

Florida is a state of immediate gratification. Instead of lasting for months, winter lasts for days - sometimes only for hours.

Plants that look dead often spring back to life once the sun has been shining on them for a couple of weeks.

When I moved here 21 years ago from gray Cape Cod, I was awe-struck by all the sunshiny days. I hadn't realized it until I moved away, but Cape Cod was a rather dreary place to be. Winters were long, chilly and raw. Springtime was exciting but it was also muddy. Even during summer, when the weather finally warmed to the 70s and 80s, we rarely experienced more than two days in a row without overcast skies.
By contrast, the sun hardly ever disappears from Floridian skies. Even now as I look out upon the cold-decimated landscape, I can imagine how vibrant everything will look a couple months from now.

The suddenly tan landscape acts as a reminder of things I like best about Florida - the quick turnaround of seasons, the rapid resurgence of all things botanical, the inevitable warmth that's never far off.

For the moment, the only thing I'm doing about the cold damage is waiting it out. There will be time enough in March to trim back dead branches and rake up fallen leaves. Right now is the time to appreciate how good we have it.

Unlike family and friends in other parts of the country, we're not blanketed by snowdrifts, driving over ice-slicked roads or withering under a shroud of gray skies and nose-numbing winds.

We're merely experiencing a sliver of the shivers most Americans deal with daily. A few days of chill and the loss of some greenery is a small price to pay for the nearly semitropical climate Central Floridians enjoy most of the year.

That is not to say we should resist complaining when the thermometer dips. Bemoaning the weather - whether it is too cold or too hot - is human nature. The important thing is to keep it in perspective.

Even in the midst of one of the coldest snaps on record, Florida weather is a wondrous thing. Accept the present, anticipate the future and appreciate how lucky we are. Warm days are ahead. That's a given.

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