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Green Acre #117: The Tropics’ Prehistoric Appeal

Juno Beach, Florida. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

FLORIDA IS a weird place, in case you haven’t noticed. There’s a woman running for political office who claims that as a child she was abducted by aliens. People are frequently gnawed if not eaten by alligators. Fluffy little dogs are wheeled about in strollers. Mug shots are a popular feature in the Palm Beach Post. Toxic Algae.

Doctoring, of all sorts, is an amusement. One fits visits to dermatologists, cardiologists, hypnotists and podiatrists in between hands of mah jongg and the Early Bird Special— which are now known as Happy Hour, I suppose because the Baby Boomers have arrived and they would never be caught dead at an Early Bird Special.

Speaking of which. When people die, as they do with great regularity, they leave fabulous wardrobes to thrift shops. Damn nice china too.

Bermuda shorts are acceptable funeral attire. I know this for a fact.

I’m flipping through the bathing suits at a candy-colored lingerie shop on Fort  Lauderdale’s Las Olas, once an exclusive shopping boulevard, now somewhat tarnished with an assemblage of gaudy boutiques and shopkeepers luring customers in from the sidewalks with packets of fancy hand creams and such.

Holding up a sweetly pink, minute bikini, cunningly ruffled along the décolletage, I waved it at the Prince, who was hovering, one foot in and the other out the doorway.

“Would you like to try it on?” the saleswoman asked.

“I thought this would be adorable on my daughter,” I said to her, aghast, thinking of 30-something Baby and her gym-hard rump and nonexistent tummy.

“Women wear these here,” she sniffed.

Indeedy do they do. The beach offers an outstanding array of bikini bodies, many of them extraordinarily curvaceous with ruffled skin, their cups overflowing and their bottoms billowing. This is not being critical, just honest.

Submerged in the warm turquoise ocean, watching them galumphing down the beach, I consider that beside them I appear most svelte, a condition I haven’t in fact enjoyed in a decade or so. Perhaps, I ask myself . . .

Nah, keep that tankini top on, honey.

Florida does, however, have considerable charms. To approach the point of today’s gardening piece, we’re here to celebrate my older sister’s 86th birthday. (She is considerably older than I am, the product of an earlier litter.)

She and her husband moved to Juno Beach from Manhattan about 30 years ago, flipping their one-bedroom condo on Central Park West for a spacious two-bedroom-plus-den corner unit with two large terraces on the Atlantic. The front terrace juts out so far that if you’re sitting, the pool and beach disappear. All you see is water. Like an ocean-liner balcony.

A few short years after they arrived, her husband passed away. “Lou’s in heaven and I’m in paradise,” she sighed, a remark she disavows, but I swear is true. And close to paradise it is.

The buildings—there are two—are surrounded by lush gardens punctuated by palm trees. There are squat palms, fat palms and coconut palms towering beside the pool. I thought the last were banned, as the nuts (fruits?) tend to fall on heads that no longer move swiftly enough to avoid them. Perhaps the beach boy (who appears to be pushing 70) shinnies up to shake them loose at night. Maybe I’ll ask, if I can summon the energy.

I find I am spending a great deal of time inert, alternately reading* and taking photos of endlessly fascinating cloud formations.

The palms preside over free-form puddles of prehistoric-looking plantings, gnarled and pointed and feathery—unidentifiable to Northern eyes. Even the grass is strange, a vehement emerald that pokes the palms of your feet with scratchy blades; much like Astroturf. The flower colors are ridiculous. Orange blazes beside hot pink, purple, lemony yellow, all arrayed against a background that shifts through a kaleidoscope of greens.

Little lizards scurry about, some mud brown, some poison green. Maybe they change with the backgrounds—I think I know this. They all have curlicued tails that twitch about behind them. Whatever it is they’re doing, they’re very busy at it, scurrying along self-importantly. Sometimes they abruptly stop, as it they suddenly remember they forgot their sunglasses, then continue on with much haste. Perhaps they’re headed for meetings or group functions, since they travel alone.

A vine covered with pink trumpet flowers scrambles across the sand. I don’t know what this is; I don’t know what anything is. I left my phone with the plant app at home on my desk. I can see it sitting there, right beside the Chinese back scratcher (can we still call them that?). Fat lot of good that vision does me.

I visited a friend in Los Angeles many years ago. She had several small straggly-looking garden plots surrounding a patio. Since she didn’t much care, and in fact found even the concept of gardening miraculous, I spent a morning moving this and that around until the composition pleased me. I amended nothing, trimmed nothing, bought nothing; I may have used a dinner fork as a tool. In a week it was all frolicking together, positively flourishing.

This could be a perfect place for me, I’m thinking as I watch the gardeners carelessly brutalize a sword-like thing, thwacking it back from the edges of a garden patch. I really don’t like any of the effort a Northern garden requires, I just enjoy the decorating.  In the tropics and semi-such you can pluck things up and jam them down and they grow.

It seems as easy as changing sheets. Or some such.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” reports on things green from all sorts of places every Thursday.

* If you must know. Alexander McCall Smith, the 44 Scotland Street series. I dare you not to laugh.

2 thoughts on “Green Acre #117: The Tropics’ Prehistoric Appeal

  1. Bette says:

    Wonderfully, wickedly funny.

    I want the names of all those great consignment stores!!

    Keep ’em coming!

  2. Sarah says:

    I think you should have bought the bikini

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