Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Return of the Native

I have lived in Florida for two years now, which means I have personally experienced about two percent of recorded local history.  I am a Native.

Oh, I know that Florida has been around longer than 100 years, at least  in the James Mitchener sense: the big sand bar left behind as the last Ice Age subsided to Canada (more on that in a minute).  But people who are even more native than I know that real Florida history doesn't go much further back than the early Carl Hiaasen novels. The Historical Society fights to save buildings thrown up in 1955.  The original Clearwater Beach Crabby Bill's has a commemorative plaque.  My own Ulmerton Road has a bronze sign reading:  "At this location on November 16, 2000, the first hanging chad was discovered by roving bands of aboriginal Republicans."  We have historically significant structures made of plywood.

As a Native, I now distinguish myself from the annual influx of snowbirds that is fluxing heavy as I write this.  You see them everywhere.  Men jogging sans shirt?  Must be from New York.  Lying on St. Pete Beach in the 75-degree heat?  Michiganders.  Bobbing in the surf?  Canadians, no doubt. We can tell a Quebecoise from a Newfoundlander by how high they float in the water.  Make no mistake: snowbirds are beloved here.  They bring money, a scarce commodity in this state of sunshine.  But there is a certain rehabituation required each fall. 

Snowbirds struggle with the time scale here.  We Floridians, for instance, don't generally need to be anywhere soon.  The line at the local Publix glaciers along because the cashiers like to chat with the clientele.  Before I became a Native, I chafed at the delay.  But when my turn came, the cashier, who turned out to be a sweet southern belle, chatted with me as well.  She didn't seem to care that I was not yet a Native.  Our New York snowbirds especially find this adjustment challenging.  Folks in New York don't chat.

But I'm not here to talk about history or snowbirds.  Florida Natives know at this time of year that - Bucs aside (Go Bucs!) - there is only one subject worthy of serious scrutiny: how's the oyster crop?  Crassostrea virginicus.  The same Eastern oyster that thrives from Malpeque Bay to Blue Point, Long Island to Chicoteague Island, Virginia, C. virginicus reaches perfection in the waters off Apalachicola on Florida's panhandle.

Apalachicola is back in business.  I popped into Crabby Bill's last week, and the oysters were merely very good.  Earlier tonight, they were better still: fat and sweet, swimming in icy oyster liquor and happy-looking, verging on outstanding.  I was pretty happy-looking myself after two dozen of the little darlings.  On the half-shell.  Nekkid.  (Not me - the oysters.)

But - but - but - THE OIL SPILL!!  Yeah, I know.  There's oil out there somewhere.  Well, there weren't no oil in my dinner tonight.  The news shouters have failed to mention that virtually the entire Florida coastline completely escaped the oil spill.  Including - thank you, God - Apalachicola Bay.

C. virginicus will only get fatter and sweeter as the season proceeds.  Life on the Gulf is good.  Did I mention that a dozen on the half-shell at Bill's cost me the princely sum of $6.99, complete with freshly grated horseradish, which I snubbed.  After all, we Natives do it nekkid. 


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