A Very Florida Thanksgiving

If I haven’t blogged in awhile, it’s generally because I’ve been busy. Busy with school, of course, but also busy with life stuff. Greg and I were able to take a break over Thanksgiving and jet off to Florida for the holiday. Although I’ve never been crazy about Florida – it’s a strange state, even though I was born there – it was nice to get away, and the best part was visiting my grandfather. He’s 86 this year, and although he’s in relatively good health, I know he won’t be around too much longer. Only recently have I realized that he has led a fascinating life. He grew up in Georgia during the Depression, met FDR as a boy, was in Atlanta for the 1939 premiere of Gone With the Wind, joined the Air Force, worked in strategic command, traveled all over the place. He’s a master fisherman and has caught marlin and tarpon. I always love to talk to him about his life, and on the last night we were there, I dug through his old slides. Greg rigged up the projector and we went through three carousels of slides from the 50s through the 70s. It was really cool to hear the stories that went with the pictures.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first part of the trip, we spent in Fort Lauderdale, visiting with my aunt and uncle, my cousins, and some extended family. They have a suuuuuper nice house with a pool.

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We also got to spend some time with my 3 year old cousin Brennen. I am a lot younger than most of my cousins so I was never very close to them growing up; it’s really special to me that I’ve been able to see so much of my second cousin Brennen in the last few years. He is a whirlwind of energy, exhausting and adorable. Greg and I spent some time playing with him outside.

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Later he showed me his toys (he has…many, many, many toys) and sang to me about “Old McFarmer.” Apparently Old McFarmer not only has cows, horses, and pigs, but also sharks, alligators, and dinosaurs. Quite a farm.

We spent most of our time relaxing, though. On the drive back from Ft. Lauderdale we stopped at Lake Okeechobee, where my grandfather used to camp every winter for the fishing. I was hoping we would see an alligator, but no such luck.

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My grandfather lives in Sebring, which is a smallish town south of Orlando. There’s not a whole lot to do in Sebring, but the one thing it does have going for it is Highlands Hammock State Park. One day at sunset Greg and I went for a walk through the cypress swamp there. We were totally alone, and it was eerie and beautiful. On the drive up we saw deer and wild pigs. Spanish moss hung from all the trees, and the only sound was the cackling of waterbirds. The swamp felt primordial.Image

The tea-colored water was absolutely still. The trees were perfectly reflected below us.

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Just as we reached the widest and deepest part of the swamp, I noticed something moving in the water. I nearly shrieked with joy – it was an alligator! And then I realized that it was a HUGE alligator. At least six feet long and probably closer to eight.

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It swam directly up to where we were standing on the bridge. Greg and I held our breaths. It was magnificent, ancient, otherworldly, and silent. I could have reached down and touched it.  It was so big I wondered if we should be afraid. But it passed on, directly beneath us, and came out the other side of the bridge.

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I couldn’t believe it. What were the odds that we would see such a big alligator, that it would be swimming, that it would come so close to us? I had never seen an alligator in the wild, had always wanted to. I was over the moon about it, almost giddy. I guess that makes me odd, but it really was an incredible sight. I will never forget the way its eyes passed over us, the way it swam so silently.

As if that weren’t enough, when we finished the loop and returned to the parking lot, we came across another wild pig rooting around in the brush. This one was bigger. Ours was the only car in the lot. I was a little worried – I’ve heard that wild pigs can be dangerous. We gave it a wide berth as we slowly approached the car, and it didn’t seem very interested in us.

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It was a wonderful trip, better even than I expected it to be. Now we are home and back to the grind of school and work. My semester is nearly finished, but I have quite a bit of work to do – two papers to write between now and next Friday. I wish the break could have been longer, but nothing made me happier than coming back to this face:

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