Part of my education process as a northern gardener living in southern Florida is trying to understand the subtle changes of the seasons. In a subtropical world, where seasons are marked as warm and hot, wet and dry, that is no easy task. Seasonal changes are much — MUCH — more subtle.
In the months that have passed, I have witnessed trees blooming in late winter and briefly deciduous trees dropping their leaves in spring and a forecast that has gone from all sun and no rain to all sun and daily rain. Even at this autumnal time of year, I’m watching a neighbor’s tree in full springtime bloom — although it’s flowers are falling into the canal and drifting away.
This past week, though, I’ve witnessed another subtle seasonal change as the rainy season of summer slides into the calmer weather of autumn: the pure and absolute giddiness of the weather forecasters as they announced the arrival of the season’s first cold front for South Florida.
To use the word “cold” and “Florida” in the same sentence is a bit odd — never mind that some of my winter visits to zone 10 have seen frost on the windshield, even if said frost melted as soon as the sun peeked over the horizon.
This approaching cold front, though, was a special one, the first of the season, the first break in humidity, the first breeze of refreshing northern air. Could this be the change that my inner climate clock has been craving? The calendar, after all, says October and my body thinks it should be wearing a sweater. My arms feel as if they should be raking. These were my thoughts as Joe and I, in an attempt to get a sense of autumn, walked around a local Oktoberfest.
Evening temperatures, however, had another holiday in mind. The thermometer was more Sousa than Oompah, more hot dog than bratwurst, more bathing suit than Lederhosen.
Still, there was a breeze — an electricity and excitement in the air, and not just from children running from carnival ride to carnival ride. Perhaps I wasn’t the only person longing for a break, albeit a brief one. There were others out there just as eager for our long, hot summer to come to an end, if even for a few days.
So when I went to bed that night, it was with incredible anticipation. “Please,” I thought to myself in the same voice I used on Christmas Eve to beg Santa Claus to not forget my house, “please, let the forecasters be right.”
In the morning, it was true. The humidity was gone and the morning temperature was 70 degrees — and a high predicted to reach 84. It was the most perfect spring day in autumn.
It occurred to me as I filled my lungs with air, that this feeling was the same as that which comes with any seasonal first. The first smell of autumn leaves. The first snow falling on barren branches. The first spring day to work in the garden and inhale the soil’s freshness. I was, it seems, as giddy as a Florida forecaster in October.
Our first taste of autumn lasted a full day and most of a second. Then that front slid north again, bringing with it the heat and humidity of the Caribbean.
Nevertheless, I’ve noticed other subtle changes. At a time when northern nurseries are stocked with mums or closing down for a long winter’s nap, nurseries here are adding more and more plants and color.
There’s also the steady building of traffic and the opening of shuttered homes and condos. The snowbirds are returning, as random and as plentiful as the crocus in my northern garden — a reminder that a spring-like autumn is on its way.