Thursday, June 09, 2011

OF FLORIDA and elsewhere

Much of my younger life was spent in South Florida. Not the South Florida that probably pops into your mind, the beaches of Miami, the art deco hotels, the hot latinas (though I did know that world later). No, I was over on the Gulf Coast, where the Everglades meets the mangrove.

It's a different world, more akin to Tampa than Miami yet with a vibe all of its own. Of course, as with most of peninsular Florida, the influx of Northerners has had an homogenizing effect. A golf course is a golf course is a golf course.

Be that as it may. South-west Florida may have been where I did much of my growing-up but my roots are in the hill country of South-west Ohio. Culturally, that area has more in common with West Virginia and Kentucky than it does with the rest of the state.

Maybe that makes me a bit of hillbilly, eh? At any rate, I'm not particularly close to being a Florida Cracker. Oh sure, there's some of that -- couldn't grow up where I did without a little of it rubbing off on me. I knew a lot of old-time Crackers and their offspring.

But I was basically a water person. The beaches and bays were my life, not the interests of my more red-necky acquaintances. When I think of the rural life, my mind goes back to Ohio, to the Hocking Hills.

There, apple orchards stood below sandstone cliffs, where the vultures nested and launched themselves into a deep summer sky. There, one could explore caves and search for traces of Indian camps. There was swimming in the cold creeks, frogs and newts to catch by the springs, whip-poor-wills to sing you to sleep.

It's not a world I'll ever recapture, just as I can not walk the beaches and surf the waves I once knew. Panhandle Florida will never be the Hocking Hills nor will Panama Beach quite measure up to the Naples of old. But for that matter, the Naples of now won't measure up either and I'm sure the Hills would seem very different to me.

I do not particularly think of myself as a Florida artist or Florida musician. I've never been one to be loyal to a place. It's just a place and one place is pretty much as good as another. It's living with myself that's the hard part! I've written songs about Florida because, well, it's stuff I know.

Every change, every new place, every new relationship, is like a page in a book. You turn the page and go on reading. Does one regret that he can't stay on the same page forever? You'd never find out how the story ends.

I'm okay with where I'm living now. I'd kind of had my eye on Alabama when I decided to move -- particularly the Cullman area -- but here on Peanut Road turned out to be a good compromise. And, after all, the other stuff in my life would happen no matter where I was.

SB June 2011

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