Florida: Do You Dare?
We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity, in which we highlight the 50 states of America and give people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Florida.
State capital: Tallahassee. State bird: northern mockingbird. State tree: sabal palm.
Author and journalist Carl Hiaasen says Florida is crazy. But as a lifelong Floridian, he cares deeply about his state. He’s made his career writing about it. He says if you hear a news story that seems unbelievable, it probably happened in Florida.
The Florida in my novels is not as seedy as the real Florida. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve. Every time I write a scene that I think is the sickest thing I have ever dreamed up, it is surpassed by something that happens in real life.” – Carl Hiaasen
You know, a sick scene like iguanas falling from trees onto unsuspecting humans.
The iguanas do not fall year-round. It’s a phenomenon associated with winter, when temperatures drop below 40 degrees. When such a meteorological tragedy occurs, the iguanas that rest in suburban trees can become stunned by the cold and tumble onto the ground.
But whether you find these scaly lizards cute or sickening, do not touch a fallen iguana. They may bite or cause other bodily harm. And there are more of them than of you.
The iguanas of Florida are mostly green iguanas, but there are other varieties, like the Mexican spinytail iguana and the black spinytail. Females lay up to 76 eggs at a time, protecting them with a network of tunnels, around 80 feet in length. And then they hatch into Florida — which is basically Iguana Heaven — a land filled with everything these reptiles need enjoy to live long and happy lives, including lovely trees for lounging, and canals the humans decided to dig.
Many of the canals are part of Florida’s water management system, connecting a series of lakes in the state’s interior. The system allows authorities to regulate the water level and control flooding when faced with a hurricane. And hurricanes come every year, from June through November, with August and September being the most active months for Floridians.
Right now Florida is enjoying spring. The iguana alerts have ceased, and the hurricane alerts haven’t started. It’s the perfect time to check out the other animals that call the state home, including dolphins, manatees, gopher tortoises, and, of course, alligators. (If you read a news story about an alligator, it is likely set in Florida.) Also, down south, crocodiles. And 70% of the nation’s sea turtles nest on Florida beaches. The state even has special highway underpasses so endangered animals — like panthers, those cuddly cats — can cross safely.
But the critters of the land and sea have nothing on the birds of the air. More than 500 species have been identified. It’s a birder’s paradise.
Because Florida is usually sunshiny and warm, it’s where most of the nation’s oranges and orange juice comes from, as well as grapefruit, tomatoes, and watermelon. The state has 9.7 million acres dedicated to farms and ranches. Your beef may come from Florida, along with your bell peppers, sweet corn, and squash.
If you’re planning a trip to Florida, you’re not alone — 125 million people a year visit to enjoy freshwater, saltwater, hiking and biking trails, and Walt Disney World, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. The Kennedy Space Center is headquartered in Merritt Island and welcomes tours.
Or you could become one of the thousands of people moving to Florida. It’s relatively affordable and income-tax free. Do you like big cities? Try Miami. Want a Southern feel? Try the Panhandle, aka North Florida. Can’t get enough of theme parks? Try Orlando. Prefer beaches? Gulfside or Atlantic or America’s Caribbean (the Keys)? Golf? Florida has more courses per capita than any other state.
If you decide to make the Sunshine State your home, you need to become accustomed to the unusual. Alligators may take a dip in your swimming pool. Pythons may venture into your backyard. Sinkholes may eat your car. And Florida is the lightning capital of the country, so your chances of being struck by a bolt from the sky go way up. As Carl Hiaasen says, the truth is stranger than anything he can write in fiction.
Tweetspeak’s own poetry barista Sandra Heska King is a Florida resident who had her own encounter with a falling iguana and lived to tell the tale.
The Night the Iguana Broke My Foot
On the day after Christmas in the first year of Covid
the temperature started to dip.
And high in a ficus, a zombie’d iguana
gradually loosened its grip.
Cold-stunned it plunged to the concrete below
where it sprawled in a coma-like state.
It lay there in wait with its demonic grin
for a victim to stumble by fate.
The streetlights were broken when late we walked
but a scaly figure I spied.
I pulled out my phone and leaned in to capture
the reptile that had not really died.
Then we hustled toward home, enveloped in darkness,
noses nipped in icy air.
But I couldn’t refrain from peeking at photos
and paid dearly for that foolish dare.
I heard something crack when I slipped off the edge
of the sidewalk and slumped to the ground.
This can’t be good, I said to myself
when I heard that ominous sound.
Then my red Jeep arrived, and off we raced
for help through the wintery mud.
Where the doctor said, “Ma’am, your foot’s broken. I’m sorry.”
Poetry Prompt: Florida Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Florida (research more, if you dare!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Florida: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Dave Barry, humor columnist and author
Judy Blume, author, multiple prize-winner, bookshop owner, and Florida resident
Everglades National Park
Canaveral National Seashore
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, represents 450 years of international trade and cultural intersections
Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize-winner and former Florida resident
Zora Neale Hurston, anthropologist. Her iconic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in Florida
Donald Justice, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who has his own poetry prize
Shel Silverstein, poet and playwright, former Florida resident
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro