Posted by: floridanature | August 19, 2008

Tropical Storm Coming: Another ‘Noir’ Day in Paradise

Yep, it’s hurricane season here in La Florida, folks, that special time when the big blows rise up out of the Antilles and visit the Torrid Zone. My point? Bad guy Edgar G. Robinson made it in the vintage Film Noir flick “Key Largo.” When told a hurricane was coming his way, he was amazed to learn that storms like that had hammered the Keys in the past. “You mean to tell me,” growled Robinson, “that there was a hurricane here before—and people still live here ???”

I knew something was up late yesterday when I came home. I went in the back door, via the long screened porch there, and as I did I noticed two very still and strange objects on the top of the cypress fence. I stopped in my tracks and saw it was two red shouldered hawks, positioned about three feet from each other. They were wonderfully intent on studying the fish pond just below them, so much so that they almost completely ignored me.

I went into the house, grabbed a digital camera and came back, shooting as much as I could at a distance, and then slowly moving towards them. I got to the other edge of the pond away before they even noticed me. At that point, there was only about seven or eight feet between us.

I happily clicked away and they happily ignored me. There are a couple large comet goldfish in the pond, fish I had bought as inch-long culls from the aquarium store, and let loose. With the sunshine and dandy dissolved oxygen, they grew up fast, and were now almost ten inches long, and plump from grazing on the hydrilla and algae in the pond. (The hydrilla is here courtesy of Sri Lanka). There were also countless tadpoles from a bullfrog and some Southern leopard frogs, and a smattering of tiny gambusia spawned by some mamas I brought back from the St. Johns just a couple months ago.

While I’d seen the hawks around before, and often heard them calling from the thick canopy of live oaks overhead, it was strange for them to be so close, and not reacting to my presence. Then I realized what was happening: The barometer was plummeting like the GPA of a FSU lineman. I didn’t even have to turn on the conspicuously melodramatic Fox news to know a tropical disturbance of some sort was on its way.

But I did turn on Fox, and it was as expected, the usual scare-the-bejesus-out- of-the-audience sort of performance weather people in Florida love to indulge in, a journalistic train wreck. The screen was full of charts and maps and pretty, green and yellow splotches that were spinning about, headed towards the Keys and South Florida. A route was already predicted, and the tropical storm known as Fay was cheerily moving along it, churning its way up into central Florida. I saw clips of manic consumers eagerly buying everything manic merchants would sell them, stuff having to do with batteries, bottled water, plywood, and a bunch of canned goods.

I resisted the urge to go back out and buy more stuff, since I pretty much was set, between routine shopping and all the camping gear and stoves I have on hand. I wondered if the hawks had been watching Fox news, and knowing their prey would be lying low over the next few days, were out doing their own version of hurricane hoarding, courtesy of my fat comets.

Back in the house, I checked out the aquarium where I keep a bunch of snails (goldenhorn marissa), some plants, and two bluegill. The bluegill, who don’t get along all that well under normal conditions, react oddly when the barometer falls and the pressure changes. Since they’re wild fish and not reared in a tank from birth, they respond as they’d likely respond in the river: They get back in a bottom corner and position themselves, one looking one way, and one the other, as if to cover their butts—or in this case, their caudal fins— from what unnatural disaster might come their way, hunkering down behind the hydrilla.

On the following day, the morning was cheery and bright, but by late afternoon, a thick band of rain washed over my ‘hood, so pervasive it made everything outside look white. The rain continued into the night, and the wind picked up good with gusts up to 40 mph. A large dead limb from my neighbor’s wild cherry tree fell onto my fence, and by morning, the yard was full of smaller branches and moss. I tried to drive downtown, but even the main highway, 17-92 was

flooded. Lake Monroe, a quiet and domestic looking mega-pond on most days, was raging like a little sea, waves heaving themselves up with the wind and moving north. Boats anchored outside the marina’s breakwater were thrashing around, and one houseboat had sunk. At least no water in the house, like over in Brevard county on the coast. I felt bad for the homeless folks, though, and wondered how the wildlife would fare if we had much more of this. Developers don’t create tropical storms, of course, but they distort the landscape so fully that water ends up in places where nature didn’t intend for it to be.

I thought about the Film Noir thing some more, and although it had mostly to do with the American gangster flicks of the forties and fifties, it’s also relevant to Florida today, with or without hurricanes. We have morally conflicted protagonists, lots of femme fatales (beautiful but treacherous women), crimes of passion or money, ill-fated relationships, paranoia, corruption—all portrayed in a subtropical landscape of high contrast lighting and distorted shadows. Florida, at once the plywood state and a tropical wonderland, is Film Noir, alive and well.

It sounds a bit like another day in paradise, where hawks hunt comets and native gambusia hunker behind exotic Pacific vegetation and real estate developers distort reality so that it all sounds just so darn romantic you have to resist the urge to go out and do something corrupt, just to fit in.

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