The first time I visited Florida was about 40 years ago. I had an aunt and uncle who wintered in an obscure town in central Florida, about 50 miles from where I currently live. We visited the big-ticket attractions like Disney, Kennedy Space Center, and Daytona Beach. In those days, Disney World was only two parks- Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Universal Studios did not even exist in Orlando yet. Much has changed in tourism in central Florida theme parks over the past 40 years. However, on that first visit, we also went to less glitzy destinations. We visited Cypress Gardens, which is now Legoland. We went to Blue Springs to see the manatees. We took a glass bottom boat ride at Silver Springs. We took a boat ride through a wild section of Florida wetland. We visited many local native Florida venues. I certainly had the opportunity to appreciate the wild, primitive, naturalistic tangle of environment that is Florida.
Many people would look at the central Florida where I live today and marvel at how it has changed in the last 40 years. The citrus industry that gave birth to most of the area’s inhabitation is long gone. Glitzy theme parks multiply like rabbits around Orlando. The Villages, a monolithic luxury retirement community centered about 20 miles north of me expands ever southward. The number of banks, hospitals, and Walmarts per square inch is alarming. One might say that the old Florida I saw 40 years ago is a thing of the past.
On the other hand, maybe not that much has changed after all.
When my brother visited us before my mother’s stroke, his main comment was that “Florida looks like it needs a haircut.” I thought it was an incredibly poetic… and apt… way of describing the geography. You do not have to go far off the beaten track to find a little of the messy, raggedy, feral old Florida.
Awhile back, I took a boat ride through the Lake Dora canal system. It is amazing that, in no time, you can reach sections of natural waterways that pass areas you would swear no one has touched in centuries. On the same ride, you pass through multiple mobile home parks that have probably been there for at least 40 or 50 years. Many of the mobile homes there appear also to have been there for 40 or 50 years. We noticed a small island in the canal next to one of these parks. The island was populated by hundreds of gnome statues and accoutrements for their gnomey existence.
Just a short hop down Highway 48 from my house, you will find a yellow building with a sign almost as large as the entire front of the edifice. The sign announces that the building houses Southern Wildlife Taxidermy. I swear I can hear banjo music playing every time I pass by the location. When you shoot something… or run it over with a car… in Florida, you apparently have two choices. Eat it or stuff it. I have to say that I lived over 55 years of my life without seeing a single taxidermy shop. Now I have one as a backyard neighbor. I guess I know exactly where to take my pet possum for preservation when it croaks. Not that I have a pet possum, but you never know. I’ve lived in Florida for over eight years now.
The other day, I went to Silver Springs with a friend of mine. I had a vague memory of the glass bottom boat trip from 40 years ago. It was only about 35 miles away so I figured why not take a little day trip and see what had changed since my last visit.
What had changed? Absolutely nothing. It was delightful, but nothing had changed. The old school sign at the entryway was exactly the same as it was 40 years ago. The water was still stunningly clear. The boat ride and narration were still campy. I still did not see the monkeys that supposedly inhabit an island in the springs. The statues installed in one of the deep areas for an episode of Sea Hunt in 1959 were still there.
It is interesting to note that I was born in 1959. The statues have probably withstood the test of time better than my body has. Come to think of it, old Florida has weathered the changes of the last 40 years better than I have since the first time I visited!
Have you ever revisited a place many years after seeing it for the first time? What did you notice? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
Have a primitive day!