FEBRUARY 5, 2022: Our merlin is back. She’s been appearing every so often for a couple months now, her muscular, falcon physique silhouetted dark against the blue skies. Over the last five winters she’s marked the seasons, here by late autumn from somewhere in the Canadian latitudes, gone by the early months of spring. It’s always a thrill to see her again, always a melancholy that goes with her leaving. Yet this time it’s different. This time is probably the last time that we’ll ever meet.
These are the last few days in our nomadic family’s adventure here in southwest Florida. We’ll be leaving these flat and steamy subtropics for the snowcapped horizons and desert air of Nevada. From sea level to mile high, from five feet of yearly rain to six inches. Trading cypress swamps for sagebrush, alligators for wild horses. We’re excited by the new horizons, yet already suffering the early onset of homesickness. For these things we’ll miss:
- The flocks of white ibis probing the lawns like so many long-billed chickens.
- The monstrous pair of lovebirds better known as bald eagles, perched above the back porch.
- The dress code: t-shirt, shorts, and sandals, 360 days of the year.
- The resident river otters, playing peek-a-boo beneath the water as they pace us along the canal.
- The late afternoon thunderstorms of summer, and the evening chorus of frogs and toads that come out to celebrate.
- The weekend trips to the beach, for the pups to frolic in the surf.
- The dolphins, surfing the boat wake through the shallows of Pine Island Sound.
- The homegrown mangos, from saplings to sprawling shade trees in just three years, raining sweetness by the bushel.
- The screech owl perched in the doorway of our dead palm, a masterful imitation of tree bark.
- The long-legged elegance of the wading birds—the herons and egrets, the storks and spoonbills, everywhere gracing the shores and shallows in this watery landscape.
- The coyote family wailing in the dark, the musical call of the wild.
- The curious gator who glides our way from the far end of the pond.
- The good friends we meet as family on our daily dogwalks.
- The tropical horizons of palms, their fountainhead canopies silhouetted against the rosy sunsets.
- The snowbird merlin, our fleeting emissary from the North, conveying the oneness of the world one priceless moment at a time.
But our nostalgia comes shadowed by its ugly stepcousin. A few things we will not miss upon leaving this odd corner of the country:
- The steamy, six-month summer of oppressive heat and daily bastings in sweat.
- The cult of the evergreen lawn, feeding its toxic industry of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers by the truckload, with its blaring mowers and weed whackers and leaf blowers, its grids of sprinklers draining the aquifers and watering the pavement.
- The red tide—that microbial scourge infecting the coastal waters with alarming frequency, burning the lungs, carpeting the beaches in rotting sealife, and corresponding suspiciously with those truckloads of crap we flush into the water. (See “The cult of the evergreen lawn.”)
- The mindless mania of growth, bent on clearing every last greenspace for more buildings, more pavement, more sameness and dullness and death of the wild.
- The drivers, a frightening lot of whom consider red lights to be optional.
- The Florida panthers, slaughtered by the dozens each year by such drivers in their self-important hurries.
- The deer flies, the relentless dagger-toothed deer flies, stabbing and sucking the pleasures out of my summer rambles.
- The manatees, gentle giants, starving in droves, their seagrass dying from dirty water. (See “The cult of the evergreen lawn.”)
- The false patriots who idolize con men and parade the American flag as their middle finger.
- The bougainvillea, that ubiquitous, perfectly awful shrub with the perennial flowers and foot-piercing thorns.
Both lists are long and rich, one in beauty, one in ugliness. But of course it’s the beauty we’ll remember best. Just the other evening, walking the pups at dusk, we happened to see our merlin once again, perched atop one of her favorite spires. She flew as we approached, jetting straight away in typical merlin fashion, scattering a flock of crows like windblown leaves as she blew past. Chances are that was our last sighting ever. A moment of sadness we’ll soon forget, but a moment of awe we’ll savor a lifetime.
Farewell to Merlin: Just a few of the Florida moments that touched us