I was wrong about Florida

January in Alaska is hard on me. Yes, I chose to live here; yes I’ve now spent over ten years of my life here. Winter is extraordinarily beautiful. It is also dark, in a way that seeps into my skin, brain, eyes, and heart. By this time of year, I can’t tell the difference between my external environment and myself. It just feels like the world is this way: fragile and cold, with a dash of hopelessness and clawing for something different.

I told you it’s dark. Hello, seasonal affective disorder-lite. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I can see the symptoms for what they are when I zoom out. 

My husband and I took an opportunity last week to jetset to Florida, where my dad has a condo and graciously offered us a place to stay. It wasn’t a vacation per se. We both worked from home, which is a little rough with the four hour time difference. But we indulged in a heavy dose of Vitamin D. We ran and rode bikes out to the beach. I took many work calls while walking aimlessly outside, in 90% fewer clothes than would be required this time of year in Alaska.

Running at Lover’s Key, a State Park in Naples. Gorgeous walking, biking, and running trails.

As part of agreeing to accept my dad’s generous offer, I told him I’d paint a Florida scene for his condo. One afternoon, nearing the end of our trip, I parked myself and my easel at his kitchen table. I started painting a photo I’d captured of a Naples sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, a view I know he and his wife love.

A bit of context here: my relationship with Florida has been, ah, fraught. To say the least. Last time I visited it was when my dad had first bought the condo. I was a teenager, and had just discovered my own love of Alaska. Read: my identity was now tied to mountains, extremes, and variable weather. Florida was the antithesis of that. Like any good teenager, I saw the world in binaries: one where my parents were embarrassingly defective in their falling in love with a place that had mild weather, zero hills, and condominium views for miles. I, of course, was right. 

I behaved very poorly during that trip, grouchy and snippy the whole way through. It was mutually agreed that my parents and I were fine with me not visiting Florida again.

So, this trip was a bit of a re-visiting and, ultimately, revising my opinion. Naples, Florida is still extremely subdivided and built up. It’s still flat. But I caught glimpses underneath all that to the the Florida that draws people in.

There were incredible and charismatic birds. From pelicans patrolling the beach, occasionally dive-bombing for food; to sanderlings darting bravely toward the shoreline and pecking eagerly at the ground, then skittering back out with the tide at their heels, I gawked at all the wildlife. We visited a wildlife refuge with a beautiful, vibrant array of plantlife rising in explosive greens and gnarled shapes from serene swampland and standing water. 

And, of course, my dad’s beloved sunset over the water. It was truly spectacular.

Sunset near Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, FL.

You know what else was spectacular? Seeing all the people on the beach turn to face sunset when it happened, collectively taking in this natural phenomenon together. You know me. I’m a sucker for what connects me and all of us to ourselves, one another, and the natural world. Witnessing the warm, final throes of orange light glow-up the faces of everyone on that beach was almost as special to me as seeing sunset itself.

So, an old idea is now sinking in for me anew. If I can connect with the beauty in Florida, this place that I once shunned, I can find it in other places too. I’m so looking forward to this year of the Mobile Art Studio, taking the show on the road, visiting new places, and finding and painting the extraordinary everyday beauty there, too. I hope to meet many people along the way generous enough to share with me what they love.

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