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Of sinkholes and sandhills: Just another day in Florida paradise

So you're driving to the dentist with a root canal in your future, and how much fun is that, when mid-afternoon traffic slams to a dead stop.

Ahead at the clogged Tampa intersection of Nebraska and Fletcher, you see a half-dozen sheriff's deputies milling about, along with road workers in reflective vests, barricades and flashing lights.

And so you are stuck, not that you are all that excited to get where you are going. The AC chugs against the heat that shimmers off the blacktop, even if it is allegedly autumn. Flipping the radio between Rush rants and sports ruminations, you find local news to tell you what's going on in front of you: that the earth opened up, even if it is the middle of a busy intersection, 6 feet wide and 8 feet deep, a sinkhole big enough to swallow a couple of those good-sized deputies.

And you think: Jeez.


Around here, we know sinkholes. We know them so well that Citizens Property Insurance Corp. wanted a 447 percent average rate increase for sinkhole coverage, a number thankfully reigned in to a saner 32.8 percent by our insurance commissioner. And if only I were making those numbers up.

Sinkholes are a Florida thing you come to accept, like Tallahassee politicians with Southern twangs or that giant jar of graphically pickled pigs feet on the convenience store counter when you pay for gas. Also, the Portuguese man-of-war.

When Diana Nyad, the marathon swimmer determined to get from Cuba to our Keys, was waylaid by a man-of-war stings, no one who has dipped toe in the water here was especially surprised. Ditto the recent news of that guy chomped on the thigh by a shark off Anna Maria Island. Happens. It's their world, we just swim in it.

We know about water scooter crashes and parasailing accidents. We know a certain number of unlucky chihuahuas will go missing near neighborhood lakes where gators have grown bold being fed leftover KFC by well-meaning humans (read: transplanted Yankees.)

Not that it's all bad — or as bad as the possums and armadillos on your commute who met their Maker on the highway in the night, one of many sights around here to make you believe there are too many of us and too few of them.

Sometimes it's crossing a causeway and looking up to see a fierce-looking fish hawk (osprey, for the Yankees) clutching its still-wriggling, fresh-caught breakfast.

I remember someone new from Up North freaked out by big white birds outside her new house, leggy, prehistoric looking things, and shouldn't someone in authority be notified? It took time for her to get used to the cattle egrets that were maybe common as cardinals back home.

You think about this later as you leave the dentist, numb-jawed, and see the world has been washed clean by our special brand of afternoon "showers," known elsewhere as torrential rains. The roads are shiny and lightning streaks in the distant sky. Back at that intersection, workers pat down a covered hole as you drive by, until next time.

Along a more rural stretch of road — yes, we still have those — you see them, tall as teenagers moving gracefully through the puddled grass, two sandhill cranes, enough to make you forget a sore tooth and traffic.

Doesn't happen every day, but there's something you get living here, too.

Of sinkholes and sandhills: Just another day in Florida paradise 09/30/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 11:02pm]
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