Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Irony of Florida

Even though I've been a full-time Floridian for a couple of years now, the seasonal irony still baffles my mind. In Illinois at this time of year, I'd be mourning the fact that all too soon we'd be measuring the temperature by wind chill factor. I love autumn, but it descends into winter much too quickly in the north, and then you're stuck in the dry, stale, furnace-spewed air staring out at the dirty-gray snow piles and longing for the distant jewel that is spring.

Here in Florida, it's just the opposite. Instead of dreading winter, I'm ready to welcome it with open arms. Autumn isn't the harbinger of bitter, snowy days to come but of chilly-yet-sunny weather. Even if the night time temperatures dip close to freezing, the palm trees will still be swaying in the place of barren, skeletal Chicago trees and there will never be a need to scrape icy car windows or shovel the sidewalk.

This year, I have another reason to celebration the coming of winter. Figment, my horse, arrived in June, and it's been so beastly hot for riding. In the most oppressive heat, I rode him no more than half an hour at a time. As the temperature and humidity have slowly declined, our ride times have steadily increased. On the nicest days, I've had him out for three-hour trail rides. Instead of just plodding along at a walk, we can trot and canter without giving the poor creature heat stroke.

Our rides are building up to eventually doing the entire Lake Louisa trail system. There is a South Loop that I've never ridden, as it takes over four hours. This winter, we are going to tackle it. I will also be working my way through the various levels of the Appaloosa Horse Club's trail awards program. You earn patches for your riding time at various milestones, such as 100 hours, 300 hours, etc. I finally got around to registering Figment, as you are required to use a papered Appaloosa in the program. It's a shame all my summer riding time won't count, but we should be accepted into the program by the time the coolest weather starts hitting.

I'm not alone in my seasonal anticipation. Whether it be horseback riding or any other outdoor sport, my fellow Floridians are anxiously awaiting relief from the heat so they can indulge in their favorite activities. During the hottest, most beastly part of the summer, Celebration is a ghost town in the afternoons. The only people brave enough (crazy enough) to stir outdoors are the tourists, and that's because they have to in order to get enough value out of their vacation dollars. It's not much fun to hole up in an air-conditioned hotel room...the whole purpose of visiting Orlando is to sweat it out in the theme parks while trying to convince yourself just how much fun you are having. I feel sorry for the poor souls who have no choice but to take their vacations during the hottest part of the year. Hubby and I always visited in the fall and winter, so we never had much exposure to the famous Florida heat that so many people warned us about.

Actually, I've noticed an interesting phenomenon: I am now much more tolerant of high temperatures. Many people in Illinois warned, "You're going to hate living in Florida in the summertime. You'll be wishing you were back in Chicago." I feared the worst, as humidity used to make it difficult for me to breath and high temperatures wrung out my energy like a ragged dishcloth.

But that quickly passed once we moved to Celebration. Now, even some of the natives marvel at my tolerance and activity level at the hottest time of the year. Everyone at the barn was amazed that I managed to put in at least a short ride on Figment almost every day. Yes, it was hot, but I slathered myself in sunscreen and packed enough bottled water to hydrate an army. It was actually quite enjoyable to have the riding trails virtually to myself.

Now it's very apparent that fall is upon us, as the horse trailer lot is usually packed with vehicles on the weekends. Figment and I run into many other horses, and we've started to see a few intrepid hikers too.

I know that my blood has thinned, so I may find myself shivering among the other Floridians in a hat and mittens when the temperatures hit the 50s. I'd like to think I still have a bit of northern hardiness buried somewhere in my constitution, but that's probably wishful thinking.

Ah, I remember the old days, when my husband and I would visit Disney World in that nice little lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas. By then, we'd typically been battered down by at least one good snowfall in Chicago, not to mention the frigid temperatures. How good it felt to step onto the jetway at Orlando International Airport and to be smacked in the face by a wave of humidity! For Floridians, it was probably chilly, but to us it felt downright balmy. How wonderful to enjoy that every day without having to return to the Chicago tundra.

Soon I'll get to see falling leaves, or at least what passes for that here in Celebration. Next weekend the paper leaves will be released downtown on Market Street. The pumpkin patch is already set up on the lawn of Community Presbyterian Church, along with a very cool-looking inflatable "haunted house." Halloween decorations are cropping up in yards throughout town, and when the wind is right I hear the late-night fireworks display at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

Perhaps all these signs of fall are stirring something deep inside. The other day, as I was gazing out the window at the reserve area across the street, I had the oddest feeling. I remember what it was like to be in my warm and toasty Chicago condo staring out at a blanket of white. I could feel what it was like to hustle through the brisk and bitter wind outside, bundled like an Eskimo, snow crunching beneath my boots and cold nipping any small patches of exposed skin. In a way, it felt invigorating...energizing. Then, when you finally made it inside, it felt so good to be embraced by the warmth.

I know that my memory was idolizing the experience. The reality was taking half an hour to chip a layer of ice from the windshield and air so cold it stung your lungs. The sky was typically gray and gloomy, and ice patches hidden beneath the innocent mantle of snow made walking an Olympic sport.

I may wax nostalgic about winter in Chicago, but you can bet that I won't take action on that feeling...the closest I intend to get this year is the "Ice" exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel and the soapy snowfall in downtown Celebration. That will give me a quick fix, and then it'll be right back to sunshine and greenery and temperatures that stay above the magic freezing mark. Yes, it feels so ironic, but I love the winter!

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1 comment:

BobnMissy said...

The intermidable gray cloudy days... that's what makes winters up here in the Great Semi-white North of Carolina so bad for me. I miss the sunshine that we had in FLA, even when it was cold. I remember laying by the pool over at the Boardwalk on one of our quicky overnight visits for some occasion or another and getting sunburned even though it was in the low 60s. I'd die of some horrible frostbiting condition if I did that here!

Thanks so much for reminders of home - my old villa on Greenlawn is still for sale, the thought to buy buy buy is tempting me every day we get closer and closer to winter.