Pennsylvania is almost three states in one, and I found the same thing was true in Florida when I moved from South Florida to Central Florida.
To me, the first big change was winter. Central Florida really has one. I’ve only been here a few years, but the winters of the last two years reminded me of some of the milder winters up north. I just couldn’t get warm enough. I have a 25-year-old condo in Lake Mary that’s cute as a button, but I guess wood-frame buildings may not be the best places to live during winter. The walls and floors feel as cold to the touch as the windows. I do have a fireplace, but sleeping in front of it gets old fast. Reverse heat pumps in air conditioners just can’t pump out enough warm air for those of us with arthritis, and since the air vents are close to the ceiling, I think it was only my upstairs neighbor who benefited from it.
I never expected to have to scrape ice from my car’s windshield in Florida, and it wasn’t something that happened when I lived in the southern part of the state. But it was a daily occurrence in Pennsylvania– along with having to use matches to warm up my keys to get them into the lock so I could open the car door. That was a trick I used up North a lot.
Spring and summer are different, too. I got used to the idea that the hottest time of the day in South Florida was between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. My working hours kept me in an air-conditioned office most of each day, so if I had to go ‘out in the field’ to look at something, I waited until after work. It’s still a big shock to me to find out that it’s hotter after work in Sanford or Lake Mary than it is during a lunch break.
Florida always meant palm trees to me, and we do have some on the grounds of Seminole County’s Central Services Building in Sanford. But the only palm tree at our condo is a tiny dwarf planted by one of my landscape-loving neighbors – and the poor thing is not doing well at all. From what I’ve read, palm trees aren’t really native to Central Florida, although a lot of people have done well with them. Since the two bitter winters we’ve had, most of the tiny trees and shrubs right next to my condo have died. Nothing much has been done, so I’m thinking of sneaking a little fan palm in to replace the stunted ghost standing next to one of my windows. I hope it survives the condo manager’s wrath, the forthcoming hurricanes and next winter.
Critters in Central Florida sure seem different from those I saw in Delray Beach and Fort Lauderdale. I keep hearing that there are a lot of gators here, but – fortunately for me – I haven’t encountered any since I’ve moved here. And I know there are supposed to be bears here (they’d be fun to watch, but I couldn’t outrun any with my cane), but I have yet to actually see one. I feel a bit like I did when I went looking for the ‘Key Deer’ down south: beginning to think that there are only one or two, and they just move around a lot.
I’ve encountered more snakes here than I ever found near my home down south, but the animal I was most surprised to see here was the squirrel. I got very used to squirrels up north. They loved the types of trees that survived the Pittsburgh winters. Some of the trees produced nuts, but most were just leafy playgrounds for squirrels in summer, and were full of hiding places for nuts in winter.
I was amazed to see so many squirrels when I moved to my condo in Lake Mary. I thought the summer heat would be too much for the furry little guys, but they seem right at home. Those trees that did survive our winters are big and old, and must seem like a nice forest to the squirrels. They just go one about their business, ignoring us completely, as they race around after each other. My neighbor’s dogs don't seem to faze them a bit, either. And even on cold winter days, when I’m wearing my heavy coat from up North, the squirrels get by with their usual raiment. Maybe it’s those tails.
I know I never saw a squirrel at all the entire 20-plus years I lived in South Florida. Mice, yes. But they were in the house, and that’s another story altogether.
When it rains, we are visited by ducks attracted to the sudden pond that materializes in the drainage area in back of our building. (It’s actually labeled as a dog-walk area, but it’s got drainage lines that connect it to one of the nearby larger retention areas, so I’m not fooled.) It does fool the ducks, though. After a few nights of feasting on the sudden crop of bugs and tadpoles, the ducks scold the setting sun for hours after the water disappears.
We had occasional duck tribes visiting us in Delray Beach, but there was a gator in every water body. The ducks were smart enough to figure that out, so they didn’t stay long.
I have yet to live in the Panhandle of Florida, but I understand the winters are even colder there. (I spent a few years working in north central Pennsylvania, and I still shiver when I think about the shoulder-high snowdrifts.) I used to have cousins in Gainesville who were enthusiastic about the snow. That’s too much like returning to Pennsylvania in the winter. I guess my travels through Florida won’t take me any further, for now.