“You know Neil, in Florida we put salt on our margaritas, not our sidewalks.”
So said my friend Sayre Kulp, former resident of Reading and now a 200 per cent Floridian. Sayre moved south a few years ago and he’s never been happier. And being happy, he’s wanted to share his new state with his friend the formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors.
Despite my friendship with Sayre, I balked at visiting Florida. It wasn’t just my dread of travel, although there was that too. I, like many people, dismissed the Sunshine State as a collection of theme parks, snow birds, retirees, and hapless individuals who populate oddball news stories starting with the phrase “A Florida man….” I’m not into theme parks so paying homage to the Holy Rodent Empire doesn’t appeal. I don’t ‘club’ so night life as many people interpret the term isn’t for me. I kept coming up with excuses.
But excuses were unfair to my friend, and to Florida. Also, I happen to run a website about getting out and participating in the outdoors. What did it say about me that I wouldn’t push my comfort level a little, and leave my own region of the country to explore a different culture and ecosystem? The final decider was the cold snap in January. The morning I left Pennsylvania the daytime temperature was 14 degrees F. It’s time, I thought.
I landed in Daytona Beach late afternoon. I’m uncertain when my carry on arrived in Florida, and USless Airways forced me to check it and then misplaced it. Fortunately the rest of the trip went better. And the bag did arrive later at Sayre’s home.
Sunday morning my hosts – Sayre, his wife, and a five year old girl who thinks she runs the state – took me to Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse. I’ve climbed up observation towers in Reading and Delaware, but never a lighthouse. And Ponce de Leon Inlet is one of the tallest in the United States, standing 175 feet tall. Its also famous for another reason; in 1897 the ship Commodore foundered offshore, and a passenger on that vessel, novelist and journalist Stephen Crane, helped steer the lifeboat to the light from the beacon. The sinking became the short story, “The Open Boat.”
My climb of the lighthouse was slow but not exceptionally difficult. I did have to stop and catch my breath, and I did hold onto the guardrails, but I made it to the top. I’d post photos of the view, except that the weather for my trip was very unlike what I expected of Florida; gray skies, clouds, and rain were my companion through my stay.
In addition to the lighthouse, the grounds of the surrounding park contains outbuildings with education displays, an exhibition building showing lighthouse lenses, and a short nature trail. And the five year old would hasten to add it has a playground.
And so began my education into Florida. I’m wearing shorts and a t shirt in the middle of January, and I’m in the outdoors. The land is green instead of brown or white. And I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in a long time. Changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes. Welcome to Florida.