In February 2007, I made a 4-day visit to my father in Lorida, Florida just after he received an advanced cancer diagnosis. It was both a first farewell and a heartening reunion. My aunt (Dad’s sister) and my uncle (her husband) also visited while I was there. My aunt and dad, each other’s only sibling, died within a month of the other in Jan-Feb. 2010, and my uncle left us almost four years later in Dec. 2014, a few weeks after my mother’s death. So in some ways, for me, that visit in 2007 visit marked the beginning of the end of that generation in my family, and I felt the first low rumblings of the coming storm while I was there.
The central Florida landscape, especially for one arriving there in winter from snowy Maine, is exotic enough to be dreamscape in itself — oranges growing on trees like pinecones!, moorhens, canals with slow moving pontoon boats, warm winter temps, balmy swamps, sea grape shrubs (Coccoloba uvifera), paperbark tea trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia), sandhill cranes, Spanish moss, sandy trails, elephant’s ears, woodstorks — but in this case there was a dreamy overlay of complicated emotions, evolving relationships, family history, uncertainty, hope and dread, all imbuing our ordinary time — sightseeing, short hikes, meeting Dad’s friends, seeing his Florida home, library, & church for the first time, eating out at 5 p.m with the other old people — with an edgy gravitas.
At the same time, my sister 940 miles away was having a pacemaker installed at age 40. I was trying to support her by phone but the only location with any cell coverage at all was on a point of land controlled by a mob of black vultures. When I see the many photos I took of those vultures, I hear again my sister’s long piercing scream down the phone line as the medics tried to reinflate her iatrogenically deflated lung.
All this to say, there was both a nightmarish and a dreamy almost-trancelike quality at times to those four days, and the landscape mirrored and supported my experience.
Featured image: canal by dad’s house with reflection, 21 Feb. 2007