My husband’s job has taken us from living in the Caribbean to Florida where we’ve been since February. As we arrived, his job relocated its HQ to Panama (the country, not the city in Florida!) so we are yet again packing up to go. But I have to confess it’s a bit of a relief to be leaving; the flatness of Florida has been getting to me…
We knew Florida was going to be flat, but we weren’t expecting how the landscape would affect us. With no landmarks, no mountains, no elevation from where to get a better view or a breath of fresh air, it’s easy to get disorientated and feel a bit lost.
We’ve been living in Davie; a sprawling suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Originally an old cowboy town, Davie has it’s own Rodeo which we’ve been to a couple of times.
I loved going to that, even though I know there are elements of cruelty to it, but the horsemanship of the cowboys is just brilliant. I was surprised and a bit chastened by how my six year old genuinely felt awful for the distressed animals; the broncos and bulls bucking like crazy to unseat their riders and the little calves during the calf roping. (In case you didn’t know; at a gallop, a cowboy leaps off his horse onto a fleeing calf and trusses it up in a matter of seconds. “But mummy,” she said to me her eyes brimming with tears, “what do that poor little calf do?”)
And life here feels very safe. Although, still waters run deep. The week we arrived, the schools were commemorating the first dreadful anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting which happened just five miles away from us in Parkland. Trying to explain what had happened to my wide eyed children was pretty horrendous, how they would have to practice hiding silently in the bathrooms and lockers during the school’s numerous ‘code red’ drills.
We choose our house here because of its proximity to a well-rated (and free!) elementary school, Silver Ridge. After living in the Caribbean, it has seemed the most amazing luxury to live so close to the children’s school, it’s actually possible for them to get there in under 5 minutes by scooter or bike! Silver Ridge has been pretty great, with excellent teachers and facilities and the kids have been very happy there.
Our house is in Forest Ridge; a huge housing development with thousands of homes arranged around ‘lakes’ (landscaped swamp drainage) with manicured sidewalks, and a strict home-owners’ association that keeps the houses and gardens all neat and matching.
Covering your house is junk from Walmart and Home Depot for Halloween of Christmas is 100% acceptable (so of course we did – like the skeletons?) but woe betide anyone who attempts to put a nice bench slightly to far out in their front garden or a swing on a tree. Outside the huge gates, wide, palm tree lined boulevards stretch out with three lanes of traffic zooming along at 65 miles in every direction. One missed turn and your miles away in minutes.
It feels exactly like the Truman show. My movements are governed by school drop offs and pick ups and, as I leave my house at 8.05 am every day to drop my smallest child to preschool, I see the exact same people on my route: the guy pushing a kid’s bike home, the man swinging a full poo bag walking his waggy labradoodle, the incredibly fit old lady power-walking her less fit old lap dogs in a buggy. I find the cookie-cutter sameness a bit stifling and I imagine that its a far less welcoming neighbourhood to anyone who chooses to live a bit differently, or who doesn’t fit the mould.
Our house is right by the second highest point in Broward County; Pine Island Ridge, a glorious 29ft about sea level! ‘Pine Island Ridge Natural Area’, with its glorious teeny swell of elevation, has been our sanity, and it’s right behind our house. I run up it, the kids bike up it (and fall off coming down it), we walk up and down, and when my Dad visits he likes to up and down it for a trundle with his walker. Luckily it’s not too steep!
The Ridge has huge Southern oak trees, whose sweeping limbs dip toward the ground before turning back to the sky creating an incredible cris-crossed network of branches all covered in dangling Spanish moss. Just a tiny strip of this beautiful tropical woodland remains between the landscaped housing developments all around. Nature hangs on in the margins.
Due to its slight elevation, these woods were home to the indigenous people of Florida for centuries before the land was colonised and developed. The Tequesta tribe lived here (a bone was recently discovered of a Tequesta woman dating back to 500 AD). More recently, the woods were a refuge for the Seminole during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). This area is part of the ‘Trail of Tears’; the route taken by 100,00 native people forced to relocate from the Southeastern United States, driven out of their lands in the 1800’s to make way for farming and development.
Not much evidence of all that now. There’s towering statue paying homage General Lauderdale astride his horse at the entrance to the Ridge from our estate. A homage to progress and ‘civilization’. South Florida certainly is a miraculous testimony to man’s ability to entirely conquer in inhospitable wetland and turn it into golf courses, malls and real estate.
Tucked away in the woods on the way to Tree Tops Park, there is a smaller bronze statue of Sam Jones, a brave Seminole chief who staunchly resisted the eviction of his people from this area and fought in all three Seminole wars. The statue shows him leading a Seminole woman and child to safety.
As we pack up, it’s these woods I’ll miss the most. Spotting the purple beauty berries, red cardinals and the zebra long wing butterflies. Visiting the turtles and the bizarre looking snapping turtles at the lake. Hot and humid walks round the Ridge and Tree Tops Park in the summer. Cold early morning jogs seeing the mist rise off the ground in the winter, the condensation on the grass looking like ice. Play dates at the areas many playgrounds with the few wonderful families I’ve been lucky enough to find who don’t write me off as being too English, or too odd or to temporary to be worth getting to know!