Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Somewhere Far Away, and Beautiful

I grew up in a suburb of Orlando, called Windermere. Now home to Shaq and Tiger Woods, when I was growing up it was a little place surrounded by orange groves, with the only grocery stores being a Goodings (20 minutes away) or a Piggly Wiggly (also 20 minutes away, but in the opposite direction). Windermere is surrounded by lakes (its town motto is "among the lakes" because it is situated on the Butler chain of lakes), and for the large part it's best vistas look like this:

It is lovely and sweet. Although just minutes away from the back door of Disney, it feels secluded. A 30 mph speed limit the whole way makes it feel even more like just a quiet small town, and nothing at all like the concrete jungle one encounters on I-Drive or similar tourist areas, just minutes away. Growing up, my favorite thing to do was just stand in my front drive way at twilight, smelling the orange blossoms and feeling the evening breeze - maybe catch a glimpse of the herons flying back home to the lakes, or hear the owls in our pine trees. I was never far from beauty. 

I cannot forget the "queer ache" (Anne Shirley) that always arose in my heart whenever I beheld a scene too beautiful for my heart to hold. It was all so glorious and I wanted to enter it more fully, live in it somehow more completely, be a total part of it. I wanted it to never leave me, to never again look upon anything base or ugly, busy or concrete. Only this - this ethereal glory that was all around me but evading me entirely. On family vacation in Tennessee, on the Ocoee river, I thought for sure I would never leave. I would stay there, become a water nymph and live in the swirling tides of the river, forever. 

The cabin we stayed in, Welcome Valley Village, in Tennessee

I was young then, but it hasn't ever really left me - left to a life of too much reading, and plenty of time to wander across hill and dale, I have often felt most myself in those places wild and beautiful, far away from any city. I do not know how to reconcile this now, living in a city that once was jungle but is now given over entirely to those seeking the early bird special and a quick view of the sunset before getting home and turning in for the night. It is not big enough to have a skyline or old enough to have charming squares, and so avoids any urban appeal, but it is not small enough to have the benefit of mostly local places to shop or congregate, and so avoids any small town charm. I often feel sad for it, and its lack of beauty. 

At times I feel like the sprite in Disney's Fantasia 2000, in the first part of the Firebird Suite scene: beset upon and downtrodden by forces out of my control, that destroy so much of what I love. I am a native Floridian, and grew up in areas that were mostly orange groves or swamps. Even Disney, for all everyone harangues it, has actually left thousands of acres of its land to be wetlands. On Disney back property, the large majority of it is green space.  But what is there here? Chain restaurants and strip malls? How can I raise a child here - where will they learn of beauty, where will they spend those golden hours of sunrise and the blue of twilight? 

A fairy tent, in the nature preserve by our house 

And in all this sorrow and frustration, I glimpse my role in creation. I realize why I am doing my meagre pallet garden, why I have planted azaleas by my front porch, and why I am fighting the grasshoppers that threaten to chomp my mint to nothing. I have long wanted to join myself to the beauty of the world and now I can try, little by little, to do so by improving my own little plot of land. It's such a small offering, but I can make it. There is beauty here, even if we have to seek it out more than I had imagined. Even if I can't live somewhere far away, in a sweet country town or a charming big city, I can find beauty here - or else, create it. 


  1. Such a sweet post! It makes my heart ache for someplace without strip malls too.

    I don't think I'd ever even visited someplace like this. It was quite a shock! As we passed tan strip mall after tan strip mall for miles and miles I was slightly disturbed. It has so much potential... but it's hard to imagine it changing!

    And your home is the only place in this town that I've been that I liked and thought actually felt like a home! So what you're doing is definitely working!

  2. Wow, I can totally relate to this post. The strip mall after strip mall view is totally depressing. Not to mention the total lack of wild places, and those that there are totally depressing..brown and flat. I miss green hills and mountains and walking through the forest. Before we moved to Fl, we used to live 10 minutes from a nature preserve. That was our little fairy forest in the middle of suburbia. We loved that place. There is just something totally magical and wonderful about being in a forest away from all civilization.


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