I’ve spent more time in cities than gated communities, mountains than beaches, deserts than swamps. This is not by accident. Until last week, I wasn’t even 100% sure there was such thing as Florida. I just knew about the humidity and mosquitos and Trump supporters, so it all seemed like one of those stories grownups make up to frighten children.
As it turns out, if you go in February there are no mosquitoes. There’s plenty of the other two things, but they also have the most amazing trees. And birds, and the occasional reptile.
But it’s the trees that really grabbed me. I’ve learned that the Spanish moss lending them so much pomp and mystery is, in fact, an invasive species that does the forest no favors. But the same can be said about us humans, so I’m happy to enjoy this wispy, creeping fellow-invader, at least until it develops a taste for flesh.
Here are pictures from a very slow boat on the St. John’s River. Serendipitously, I had a long lens that I’m using for the Signal & Noise project. It allowed me to fill the frame with horizonless treescapes, flattening space and almost abstracting the wild shapes. I’ve never before used such a telescope-like thing out in the world. The magnification and narrow viewing angle were also helpful for alligator portraits.
Since you asked, yes, that’s a manatee in the last picture. Yes, he’s on his back, napping. No, you’re not allowed to pet his belly—there’s a $2500 fine if you do. Yes, this is entrapment.
I also took some pictures on the beaches; they look like every other picture of every other beach. And then there was the flea market. This didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before:
Other curious facts: there are cattle ranches rimmed with palm trees. The palms themselves are an invasive species, at least in central Florida. They don’t make coconuts and the birds don’t like them. The young ones are covered with a strange latticework of bark and fluff that makes the whole tree resemble a grade school craft project held together with hot glue.
There’s a community near Daytona Beach where all the houses have attached airplane hangars. The main roads are also taxiways, with signs saying “yield to aircraft.” Residents spend summers elsewhere and fly themselves in and out in their own planes, which range from small ones they built themselves from kits, to beautifully restored World War One fighters, to multimillion dollar business jets.
My girlfriend and I stayed here, with her parents at their winter house. They sold the family plane a few years back, and now use the hangar to foster a friend’s 1978 Cessna, nestled alongside their own golf cart and 30 year-old Mercedes.
There’s a private cemetery a short walk away where many tombstones bear engraved images of biplanes and propellers. This is not to suggest death by aviation disaster, but rather—my interpretation—that something central to the deceased’s identity can be better expressed through airplane iconography than words.
Likewise, in the geographically close but economically distant neighborhood of the flea market, identities are expressed through images of skulls, guns, rebel flags, and Harley Davidsons.