I haven’t been here in Florida long enough to know the vagaries of the weather, but March is clicking along with a lingering overtone that this is probably the last time I will be able to use the words “lovely” and “sunny” to refer to the same morning. In a couple of months it’ll just be that muggy, humid heat that makes the outdoors unbearable. And with spring break drawing to a close it is certain to be a while before I can walk down to Lake Alice again and plonk myself by the water for no reason.
There’s something very odd about the first time you visit Lake Alice. The turtles seem too large and the ‘gators too small, the trees seem to grow right out of the water and there’s this creepy tingling feeling that something’s going to crawl out of the water and sneak right up on you. But soon you get used to it. And on a spring day it’s a beautiful place to visit. All nice and quiet with the cool wind blowing; it’s quite a large lake with a few islands sprinkled around. And you can see the turtles swimming aimlessly about, getting right up to the bank before swerving away at the last minute. And there’s always an alligator or two floating aimlessly about with fish swimming around it and ibises pottering around the shore like some obsessive gardener in a weedy flowerbed. In places the water and the shore blend seamlessly under the reeds and willows of the swamp, at others they stand starkly apart, tense and abrupt. Of course the customary egrets and cormorants and herons hang around, never in any real hurry. And butterflies and nondescript brown thinglets flit around in the foliage. I’m not sure if there are too many flowers around but the forest seems real enough, and dense too. It’s pristine, and beautiful; you could imagine sitting there forever.
Yet I cannot bring myself to do it. I cannot bring myself to love the place. For all its beauty, it seems unreal, like a face without a name, cold and distant, more tolerant than welcoming, foreboding perhaps, and even uncaring. It’s beautiful, but completely foreign, familiar enough to recognize, yet not friendly. It’s like some vague acquaintance, who greets you with alacrity but at once turns taciturn. Someone you approach with a smile and hang awkwardly around before that vague sullen disgust of an overstayed welcome settles on you and you leave. Maybe next time I’ll just nod curtly and be on my way.