Monday, November 12, 2012

Awesome Autumn

A sign of autumn in Florida: A pair of wild turkeys meandering through the woods on a cool November morning

Simply Living
November 12, 2012

Autumn has come to Central Florida.  Windows sealed shut for months are finally open to the breeze.  It’s extra-blankets-at-night, long-sleeve-shirts-during-daytime weather.  After a long, hot summer, there’s a welcome crispness to the air. 

Autumn is my favorite season.  When I lived in Pennsylvania and later in Massachusetts, the transition from summer to fall was always dramatic.  Bright red, orange and yellow leaves dazzled the eye, vying for attention.  Puffs of smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves filled the air with clouds and even a few minutes of outdoor time caused noses and cheeks to take on a ruddy hue.

Florida autumns are far more subtle and not nearly as chilly.  Not only do they begin when northern autumns are winding down, they do so in such a muted fashion they’re easy to miss unless you’re paying attention. 

Instead of brilliant colored leaves, amber and umber tones predominate with a scattering of deep scarlet and mottled greens.  Florida autumn is the sunny yellow of cassia blooms and Mexican sunflowers growing alongside the coral-colored pods of golden rain trees.   

When I walk outside, my ungloved fingers don’t go numb like they would if I were back on Cape Cod.  I can still be barefoot and even take a quick dip in the lake, although at 68-degrees, the water is no longer easy to get into.

Autumn in Florida is the season when native grasses go to seed.  As I look out across the lake, I see the shimmery glow of broom sedge, wiregrass and dog fennel.  Nearby, groundsel bushes boast fluffy white blooms while the plumes of goldenrod sway in the breeze.

Subtle colors of a Floridian autumn

I like to be outdoors in November.  It’s the perfect weather for taking long walks, working in the garden or going for a row.  Throughout the summer, my aluminum rowboat sat on the shore but as soon as the weather cooled down, I found myself eager to be on the water.  These days, as I stroke along from one end of the lake to the other, I absorb the view as if it were food and in a way, it is…the ultimate soul food.

Speaking of food, autumn is harvest time.  In our garden sweet red peppers, leafy kale and green beans are ready to pick and we look forward to the day (soon!) when the broccoli and tomatoes will be ready to eat. We season many of our meals with fresh-cut parsley, chives, basil and hot peppers.  In the fruit department, we’ve been enjoying an autumn flush of figs and the oranges from our son’s Minneola tangelo tree.  One hand of bananas is hanging in the pantry with a few more still on the trees.  

Unfortunately, our carambola and papaya trees are late in fruiting.  Since it’s doubtful they’ll make it through winter, I spent time seeking out other sources.  In older parts of town, I discovered a couple trees covered with fruit that no one seemed to be picking.  After receiving permission, Ralph and I returned to pick starfruit and papayas.  It was almost as good as growing our own. 

Other fruits are also in season but rather than attract people, the ripening elderberries, fox grapes, holly berries and sumac seeds fulfill the needs of wildlife.  Flocks of American goldfinch have made their annual autumnal appearance as have the wild turkeys that meander by on most days.  A pair of grebes has adopted our lake.  Like the turkeys, the little grebes waited until the temperatures cooled down to show up.  I didn’t see them all summer but since the beginning of November, they’ve become a regular freshwater fixture.

A solitary grebe was soon joined by a partner

Autumn has come to Central Florida.  I don’t care if it is two months later than most northern autumns and I don’t mind if it puts on an entirely different kind of show than the traditional northern fall.  I love autumn and I always will.  Fall in Florida is every bit as welcome and appreciated as any autumn of my youth.  It might even be more so because its many differences make it special.  

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