Time in the outdoors makes you appreciate Florida

All those people who move here, or used to back in the good times — how and when do they become Floridians?

At what point do they stop thinking of themselves as New Yorkers or Ohioans and realize that Florida means something more to them than good golfing weather?

Also, why is this important?

As to the last question, because if this is home rather than a vacation spot or a place to idle away a few post-real life years, we'll be willing to put more of ourselves into the community and, wild as this may sound, maybe pay enough taxes to support a fully functioning government.

We might even rebel as our governor and Legislature say yeah, sure, you builders and real estate speculators, go ahead and lay waste to our state.

I won't try to provide the entire list of ideas that call for dismantling agencies and undermining regulations because new, ruinous ones seem to crop up every few days, and because I've escaped for the week to North Carolina (like a true Floridian), so by the time you read this my list surely would be incomplete.

I do know the situation was concisely laid out in a Times editorial on April 3 that included the following line: "In the rush to create jobs and lure businesses, (state leaders) are making Florida less attractive as a place to live and work."

And less likely that residents will think of themselves as Floridians. Because, besides buying a house here, making friends and maybe raising a family, this transformation doesn't really occur until you get a feel for the landscape.

Somewhere along the line, our sentiments about changing seasons up north and rolling fields of corn stubble dusted by snow and rivers big enough to support barges and supply cities with drinking water start to fade. The longer it's been and the less you visit — and the more often you see your old football team get humiliated by one from the South — the more likely you are to remember your old home state as nice, maybe, but not special.

Instead, you start to get all misty-eyed about the view of the Gulf of Mexico and those palm-covered coastal islands off Bayport, about the stands of ancient longleaf pines you pass on Old Crystal River Road, about smaller, swampier rivers with alligators and turtles slipping in and out of whiskey-colored water.

See, I managed to convince my son to take a break from his laptop two Sundays ago for a trip on the Withlacoochee River. Not a long one, mind you. He wouldn't stand for that. Just a couple of hours, paddling south from Nobleton. Once roused, the boy turned out to be a surprisingly strong paddler, strong enough that an old fisherman jokingly asked us to watch our wake.

We passed houses with docks and screened-in decks halfway consumed by mold and rot, and blending in better with the surroundings because of it. We made it into the heart of the Withlacoochee State Forest, where the cypress trees are nothing, I guess, compared to the 1,000-year-old giants that grew here before the loggers came. But they've been here close to a century now, some of them, long enough to form a tunnel with walls of trunks and knees sturdier than any made of brick, and ceilings of brand-new needles that, backlit by the sun, positively glowed.

Sign me up for the rebellion, because I never saw a buckeye that pretty.

Time in the outdoors makes you appreciate Florida 04/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 14, 2011 9:24pm]

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