Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer Settings

As a writer, I love getting out of my normal, day-to-day environment to experience new sights, sounds, sensations, or smells, and hopefully translate it all in my writing. Summer getaways are a perfect opportunity to recharge the creative mind. This summer my family and I went to Florida with a stop-over in New Orleans, giving me an opportunity to visit some old haunts and spend time with my family in Orlando.

Escaping the Phoenix summer heat is what many Phoenicians try to do. Granted, surviving the four or so months of excruciating heat is often worth the blissful weather we get the rest of the year, but I don’t buy the argument that dry heat is somehow better than the humidity. I guess it’s what you’re used to, but I find the urban heat in Phoenix rather monotonous, a heavy weight dragging me down. I once went to see Pearl Jam play an outdoor concert in the summer and Eddie Vedder compared singing in the heat to someone sticking a hairdryer down your throat. Only the rain brings a sweet relief, when it chooses to bless the desert.

Our first stop, New Orleans is certainly the warm, wet blanket draped over you, but for whatever reason, unlike other humid places, that blanket is sultry. It hugs you, caresses you, lulls you to sleep with a sweet lullaby. Maybe it’s the smells wafting off the Mississippi, the Magnolias draping over rooftops, the Southern charm blended with old European sophistication, or maybe I just watched The Big Easy with Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid too many times. Whatever that indefinable quality that is New Orleans, I bathe in it every time I visit. And every time I visit, I stop by the Lafayette cemetery to wrap myself in the mystery and spooky charm brought to life in Anne Rice’s Lestat books. Maybe I’m just hoping to glimpse something crawling out of a masoleum J Here’s a picture we took while navigating the narrow, overgrown paths between the bodies laid to rest.
Lafayette Cemetery

However, it was our final destination of Florida and it’s coastlines that had my anticipation running amuck. I love my Florida: its beaches, with fine, bleached sand, perfect ocean water temperatures; her back wood rivers stained tea-brown by the over-flowing Cypress trees; clouds so thick and bulbous, and green, green, lushness all around. I grew up in Florida and I forget after living in the desert just how much of a swamp the Sunshine State really is. When you’re there, the atmosphere, the greenery practically grabs you in its velvet embrace (especially the bugs, but I don’t mind it so much). It is like living in a greenhouse, but the evenings are sweet and cool, especially after a fast, hard afternoon shower. It feels so alive to me. The sounds of cicadas, the crunch of the thick green grass under your bare feet, even the textures, like this picture of barnacles on a sea tree branch.
Banana River in Florida

Not to say I don’t appreciate the quiet subtlety of the desert flora and fauna, almost respectful in its cohabitation. I love nature in all its shapes and sizes, which seems so alive in the summer, so vibrant, but I have a bias. I am a child of the salt water, the currents, and the wet sand flowing through my fingers. I grew up digging for clams, dipping for shrimp, undulating with the ocean currents. These are the sights, sounds, and sensations I love the most. Speaking of sounds—with meaning, one day we took off for a small island in one of the channel rivers on the coast on my brother’s boat. The moment we arrived, we heard thrashing in one of the small trees, finding a black bird stuck in the fronds, its foot caught on a fishing line. Fishing runs in the soul blood of all Floridians and some fisher people are more responsible than others. I like to think that my family is one of the responsible ones. We never tossed used fishing line in the environment and proof positive of our care was in finding the poor trapped bird that day. It was a joy, maybe serendipitous, that we happened upon the bird that day. The boys rigged a knife on a long branch and cut the line, freeing the bird. A great start to a perfect summer day.

Mimi Sebastian

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