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Monday, February 25, 2013

Alachua Autumn

by Carla Charleston


My North Florida world is about to change.  Dark billowing clouds suspend above the earth—a cold front is on the way.  Hurriedly, I move pots of anthurium from the pool deck to the living room for a warm transition into spring.  In Alachua, “Latchuway” according to locals, tropicals don’t survive outdoor winters.  

A gust of wind rattles the trees and spills handfuls of confetti-colored leaves.  Flame red crepe myrtles, magenta dogwoods, and golden oaks.  Alachua autumns inspire a Miami girl who grew up thinking such color transformations only happened “up North,” in colder climes.

A leaf in salmon shades floats down onto the birdbath.  Yellow butterflies circle purple lantana and sip nectar from wine-colored periwinkles.  Satsuma branches hang like willows, heavy with mottled orangish fruit awaiting winter’s alchemy for transformation into golden oranges.  A squirrel darts under a Margarita daisy bush to scavenge long-buried hickory nuts.  Fresh sand mounds appear around the armadillo’s burrow in a far corner of the yard.  Will anyone mind if she remains?  Or if during summer drought, the deer munch the daylilies down to their roots?

Ginger leaves, so lush in summer, rustle like brown wrapping paper.  I pull up dried stocks of daisies, zinnias, and cockscomb, break off the seed heads, and shake them over upturned soil—the beginnings of next spring’s garden. 

My friend Wanda will arrive any minute.  She can use the seeds, too.  I jam desiccated plants and stacks of plastic seedlings pots into a yard bag to await her arrival.  I add other garden treasures for Wanda’s collection.  Amaryllis, epiphyte orchids in baskets and terrestrials in soil pots, a small Meyer lemon, and three knock-out roses.

In the distance I imagine golfers, a ruckus of laughter, curses, and whizzing balls.  No fairway chatter today.  No games.  Course closed.  For sale.  A sign of the times.

Don’t forget Wanda’s frangipanis, beautiful flowers in Hawaiian leis.  We’ve had “Whitie,” our oldest, for twenty years.  Her branches almost fill one side of the pool deck.  Last summer, a smaller frangi swelled with multiple shades of pink flowers.  In Alachua, whites grow more easily than pinks.  This year Whitie won’t have her blanket and electric light bulb by the pool.  Instead, we’ll pull her in close, under the roof, and wind her branches with sparkling Christmas lights for warmth and color.  Will she stay warm?

I set two young frangipanis by the lemon.  Overhead, a gaggle of Sandhill cranes stream south in v-formation.  Like colorful leaves, Sandhills are part of North Florida autumn.  The pomegranate, another long-term survivor, beckons me.  Now a collection of caramel-colored sticks with yellow leaf-fringes, in spring he’ll sprout orange tissue-paper blossoms.  

Wanda’s white pick-up truck pulls in the drive.  Quickly we load the plants and garden tools from my garage, and then say good-bye.  No more annuals or perennials for me.  I have no need for tools.  I’m moving to a new condo in Jacksonville.  Like pomegranate and Sandhill cranes, I must transition.  But will I survive there?

Carla Charleston is a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Florida.  Dr. Charleston was a professor and scientist in the field of communication sciences and disorders.   She has published six books and over fifty refereed articles in her field.  She is currently marketing her novel, Finding Faustena, the story of Americans rebuilding Naples after World War II.
Photos courtesy of Carla Charleston

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