I spent my last day officially living in Florida – before moving north for college – in a part of town I’d never been to before. It was a short drive from my house, but I probably couldn’t find it again if I tried. I don’t remember what the area is called, and my friend manned the wheel as we barreled along unfamiliar streets toward our unnamed destination. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about this park at the end of an empty road.
But this place is how I remember Florida. It’s what I think of when I think of home. It’s on the water, but not in a whitewashed beachfront way that my hometown is known for. It’s rocky with sticks washing to shore and lodging jaggedly between stones. It’s wooded, but not in the northern forest way I’ve become used to. Rather, it’s more jungle-like, with thick air hanging between the vine-covered trees; sticky like a greenhouse, keeping the damp air trapped within the tree trunks that form walls around the woods.
The day we visited, we brought a picnic of bad fast food and ate in the sparsely grassy fields while the late summer sun of September refused to relent and give way to what should be autumn. But mostly, we just spent time outside. There weren’t any sidewalks, buildings, or manufactured parks in the middle of a metropolis. It was just simple and real in a way that I didn’t know I would someday yearn for.
This mysterious park in my memory, an empty beacon of unrefined southern nature is what I embrace about my home state. Florida may be the place of vacations, retirement homes and stagnation. But when I dream about going home, this is the place where I lived, and where I imagine returning.