All of a sudden I am in Florida. That’s the way it feels- that’s the way it is. That feeling is the biggest reason I don’t like flying- that whole time warp thing where you are sitting in this cramped, metal tube for what seems like an eternity and then you are somewhere thousands of miles away in what, paradoxically, seems like a blink of an eye. There is also the guilt of hypocrisy thing- the luxury of flight versus the destruction of the planet kind of choice one sort of has to make in this regard. There is of course the train option for getting where you want to go in these United States, continentally speaking, but that would increase travel times by a number of factors and that is not always an option at all. There is also the issue of cost (beyond the cost to the planet). One could ponder all day as to why the ancient technology of train travel costs way more than the space age advancements of modern air travel, but then one would be revealing one’s own ignorance of the profit motives and greed of the airline industry which make pondering and ruminating about any of this a rather pointless exercise.
One might ask at this point why I have subjected myself to all these self-inquiries as well as the hassles (yes I did refuse to be full body scanned and was mostly full body patted down) of airline time travel in order to be here in sunny southern Florida. It is not so that I can be smiling smirkily at the meteorological machinations characteristic (or as what seems more likely- uncharacteristic) of this time of year in northern climes. Instead, it is to be here in order to help my sister get our parents’ house ready to sell. Here resides another layer of guilt not of my making, as this place has sat unoccupied for over two years since my mother’s passing, spinning a number of meters- both actual and metaphorical- that register numbers which need to be paid for while powering and maintaining a space devoid of residential activity. In these two years, my dad has slowly come around to the realization that with advancing Parkinsons and an aversion to cooking for himself that he was never really going to be able to be here again on his own.
And so we are here, my sister and myself, with the appointed task of preparing a house for sale in a somewhat deflated market. We are here to sort things, to remove things and to fix things. This involves pawing through drawers and poking and probing through closets and deciding what is an heirloom and what is a Goodwill donation, as well as crawling under sinks, replacing clock batteries, drilling holes and spraying WD-40 everywhere. There is a cumulative residue factor of nearly twenty five years of stuff here- there is also an element of decay, not the least of which is a refrigerator that gave up the proverbial ghost not long before our arrival and is now needing to be replaced.
There is also the tropical garden, which although it is supposedly being "tended" by a garden service, we find that it is need of more than just a little bit of care. It seems that there is a game that is played by gardeners and pool guys with employers who are absent for a part of the year. This involves doing as little as possible of what would otherwise be weekly work while sending north regular billings, and then bursting forth with a flurry of activity just before the return of the "snowbirds" so everything looks just as it should. Since the lots in this neighborhood association are all walled, the relative neglect is not readily apparent to the rest of the small community. We did not find a wasteland when we walked through the gate, but for the first few days I was pruning out dead wood and making a variety of things that shouldn’t have been there go away.
I had anticipated part of this duty by bringing along my trusty Felcos for general pruning, but for the specialized task of removing dead palm fronds I had to improvise with a six dollar hand saw attached to the pool skimmer pole with packing tape. When the gardener did arrive a day into my chopping spree he informed me that he had intended, today, to do a bunch of pruning, which he did. My sister said she had never seen him work so hard- especially in removing all the piles of debris I had left in my wake. I also had a conversation with Mario, the gardener, about the white fly infestation of the small banana grove just off the back corner of the patio. Apparently there was to be a neighborhood meeting about what was to be done about the white winged blight that had spread through the collective yards and, in our case, turned undergrowth and patio bricks black with their drippings of inky soot. I pointed to the spray bottle of insecticidal soap I had used in the twilight of the evening before to avoid the suns burning rays. Mario shook his head and said he had a spray that would really take care of them- either that or a systemic that would be poured onto the ground and taken up through the roots to poison the white flies’ sap supply- this would also render the bananas that were just ripening inedible. I told him that would be a bad idea and I would continue my spray assault, which seemed to be working, although it was a bit more labor intensive than Mario would have liked, with its spraying on and washing off method of doing battle with the bug enemy.
We did not go to the white fly meeting- we did not have time with all the stuff we had to take care of. I imagined that the more organic, personal responsibility approach would not go over too well here. It was, after all, on the second morning we were here when the spray truck with its large tank and walking attendant, who was tethered off the back with a long hose and spray wand, passed by dousing the grassy ground and exotic shrubberies with some unnamed agent of control. After they had gone through, small white placards atop black plastic stakes appeared in the grass strips on either side of the meandering drive through the cul-de-sac which informed all who chose to read the small print that walking on the grass for the time being might not be the best of ideas. This was the price of maintaining the illusion of paradise, and I’m sure most of the residents were willing to pay it, in spite of what it might be doing to everything else.
On one of our trips out with boxes of books intended for a resale shop that supported a local hospice, I noticed an interesting small tree in the parking lot in front of the shop with dark leaves and what appeared to be glowing, silvery undersides. I removed my sunglasses and went in for a closer look only to find that the dark tops were actually a mottled discoloration, most likely being caused by the massive, solid colonies of white flies hanging on underneath. It seemed that it was not just the Bay Villas neighborhood who were battling these invaders, it was a more of a widespread event. In my experience, large infestations generally mean some sort of imbalance has been wrought upon the system. It was easy to see why things were the way that they were here, and that "doing something about it" in the neighborhood would more than likely be an ongoing battle, as it seemed that the flies would keep coming from elsewhere no matter what they did to control them at home. As it was, I chopped off the worst of the banana leaves and did the same with the worst affected shrubs and flowers underneath. I kept up the spray and rinse regimen while we were there, and pressure washed the black soot stain off the bricks beneath. We ate the small but delicious fruit as they ripened in waves. All I can say is that at least I tried, but given what I saw down there, that seemed to be not nearly enough in the bigger picture of things.