There is so much I did not expect.
I did not anticipate exactly how it would feel to inhabit a heat-hating body in the subtropics. I did not expect it to be *constantly* hot. Basically, it has been hot now for a year and two months. There have been maybe three days in there when it has not been hot. I figured there would at least be cooler days. Maybe once there were. Thanks, climate change.
I did not expect limpkins. They have been a delightful surprise. A limpkin is essentially a perpetually adolescent-looking wading bird that sounds like a small, angry dinosaur and has zero chill.
I did not expect the nature here to be so tamped-down and segregated. I did not expect to suddenly feel orphaned, cut off from the wild to which we all, somewhere deep down, belong.
Most of all, I did not expect myself to fight this place so hard. I know that I need to give myself the chance to settle in here, at least for a while. And yet I feel myself resisting it. I want to be content here, but contentment has never been a gift of mine. I did not expect, over a year into this adventure, to still be longing so desperately for the Shire. I thought I would have eased into this new place by now. I wonder how long it takes. I wonder if my failure to settle here is a marker of some more intrinsic failure on my part at being human in the world. Haven’t we humans always been a diaspora species? Did every migrating Stone Age person remain wildly homesick for their entire life? Am I failing somehow because, as much as I want to believe that I take my home with me in the form of my family, myself, I still don’t feel at home? I would be the worst snail ever.
Maybe there is something inside me that has yet to unlock. As bad as I am at contentment, I am possibly worse at patience. I want something to shift, break, click into place. I want to feel a dam give way, understand in the rush of water what this is all for.
But I am still waiting.
How long does it take to find home in a distant land? Does it ever really happen? Are some of us so rooted to a place that to uproot is to wither and die? Are some of us planted in the wrong places to begin with? I wonder if this is at the heart of what it means to be a settler on stolen land. I look for traces of the Calusa who once stewarded these swamps and shores, but disease, slavery, time, and pavement have done their work with nauseating efficiency.
For years now, my spiritual practice has been rooted in the seasons. Here, do I leave that behind? or do I persist with the energetic denial of the coffee places near my house, where pumpkin spice EVERYTHING is for sale FOR A LIMITED TIME, as if here there was a season for such things? When we first moved here, I shook my head at the folks who put up scarecrows beneath their palm trees on September 1. Now I wonder if they are exiles like me who have already made their choice.
Halloween last year was one of the most depressing holidays I’ve experienced. No kids’ friends to invite over for a massive candy hunt and bonfire. We were new; we didn’t have friends here. The air did not get crisp. To add injury to insult, we had nary a trick-or-treater in our largely retired neighborhood.
I’m beginning to notice that even the Florida born-and-bred people around me seem to have an innate desire to experience autumn. And winter. And spring. Is this because we’re mostly European-extracted? Is it rooted deep within us to expect cold, to prepare for the soft slow death of the year? Nothing seems to die here. It’s eerie. I miss the reminders of mortality–the changing leaves, the departing birds. This place lulls you into a false sense of eternal youth.
Last week, I decided to lean into my autumnal urges. I broke out boots and sweaters–ridiculous in the southwest Florida heat. I told my students that I have just decided that it’s autumn in my soul. It was interesting to see how they responded. Most of them eagerly chimed in to tell me how much they hate summer. Poor kiddos. It’s eternal summer here. They want to decorate the classroom for Halloween. One of them decided that I am The Best Teacher simply because I love fall. I did not expect that I would find so many other autumn-starved people here. Maybe I’m not broken. Maybe those of us who feel like we’re going mad are the only ones in our right minds.
Maybe denial isn’t really denial. Maybe it’s being the seasonal change I wish to see in the world. I think I’ll try this out for a while and see how it feels. I can always go back to summer if my pumpkin spice aspirations don’t pan out.