Something strange happens to Florida as you drive toward the Keys. It begins to break apart.
At some point along US 1, the southern tip of the peninsula becomes a mosaic of land and water until it eventually becomes the Keys, a stretch of islands that geologists say are the visible portions of an ancient coral reef. A handful of these islands are linked together by a single highway — and the road leads to Key West.
It’s been twenty years since Joe and I last visited Key West, so we thought Joe’s birthday was a good reason to see what’s changed. While areas of the island do seem more developed to accommodate cruise ships and the crowds, it remains a place where locals and tourists can “waste away in Margaritaville.”
It’s also a place where things aren’t always what they appear to be — and gardens are no exception.
Take, for example, the Audubon House and Tropical Gardens, a restored mid-19th century residence. Although John James Audubon may have illustrated his share of birds, he never struck me as a parrothead — and so I never realized that he had lived on Key West.
That’s because he never did. Instead, it’s believed that Audubon spent time at this home when he visited Key West to paint 22 local birds for The Birds of America, including the white-crowned pigeon in the branches of a Geiger tree, a Key West native.
In other words, Audubon slept here. Maybe.
Still, that fact does nothing to take away from the tropical garden that surrounds the Audubon House. Although we arrived after the house had closed, we were still able to look over the fence like a couple of nosy neighbors. There, brick paths disappeared into the jungle . . .
. . . and leaves and orchids were illuminated by the setting sun.
This Audubon visit was at sunset — and on Key West, that means it was time to make our way to Mallory Square with the other tourists and street performers and colorful characters to witness the end of the day. Even clouds on the horizon couldn’t dampen the sense of calm and peace.
Who knew that an island this small would result in a two-part post?
Up next, a visit with the Key West Garden Club.