Silence in the Spaces Between

A guest blog entry by Brian Baxter (student, writer, world citizen)

My grandfather had a porch, a deep, screened-door affair with rocking chairs and planters made from antique, cast-iron sewing machines. The floor paint lay softened by the heat and humidity of each Florida afternoon it endured. This porch was part of old Florida. Something from before the condos which replaced the orange groves and before the canals would seem as if they’d always been there. He built many of the canals, working the dredges which drove away so many of the water moccasins and cotton mouths. An American St Patrick, pushing back nature or opening her up.

I sat and listened to that slow southern drawl slip from his lips and watched the fading blue of his eyes through his coke-bottle lenses light the toothless grin behind those lips. Every moment, every word, caught in the spaces of my childhood. Stories about a Florida which is no more and soon no more will remember that there ever was such a Florida.

Yet it exists, beneath the parking lots, condos, and golf courses— the old Florida still exists.

Given a few years of human absence, the water would leech through most of the foundations and sink holes which would swallow the busy work of Florida’s fire ants: homes, roads, and yards. Eventually the land could recover some of its former self, but the reality is that we would never let that happen.

My grandfather spent his life in a generation driven by subduing the earth and reaping a benefit from it. He lived on the land, lived from the land, and helped shape the land to fit the needs of his world. There is something to be said for having the fortitude to wade through water populated by alligators and poisonous snakes. My grandfather’s been gone for nearly twenty years, but the mostly empty canals are still there.

Mostly closed now.

The lake two blocks from his home, where my grandfather and I would wade through grass and cane taller than a man to get to the marshy edges, is neatly mown and exposed fully to each sunny Florida afternoon, steaming away slowly the fewer and fewer fish living in waters gators can no longer abide. The sound of birds resides mostly in my memory. The sweltering humidity even seems to have abandoned the sandy soil and the wet-earth smell of Florida is as noticeably absent as is the Spanish moss which used to cover every surface to which it could cling, aging even the newest structures in a silent battle to allow old Florida to express itself.

Even the Florida he created is passing away in silence.

Quite often, I think about my grandfather. He was a storyteller of the old school. He told tales, and tall or short, they always led to more tales. He had stories which spanned the reach of seventy years and knitted the present with a time and place forgotten before he was my age. He could reach out and make strangers laugh, he could be as hard and unbending as the Florida sun on a snow bird’s back, and he could read his listener far better than he could read a newspaper. When I was a child I didn’t understand the use of whitespace, a pause or a gap, a place where the stream widens out. The crafty old bastard used that tool over and over telling the same tales and noting the changes in his audience each time with observation skills he honed in the woods, in the water, and in the open sun every day of his working life.

I’m not old Florida myself, but I can still hear and feel her in the sights and sounds ingrained into the spaces of my childhood, worn smooth and comfortable by the passing of sun-warmed memories and the sun-bleached days which have turned into unaffordable housing developments. The winds in the cypress do tell a story of sorts, though I am sure few of us listen to the remaining storytellers anymore.

Maybe that’s the lesson though.

With the tale told so many times, it’s the absence of a reaction which tells us the next tale. I still love to sit on a Florida lake, low though it is, and fish for the largemouth bass which evaded me on those long-past fishing trips with my grandfather, but I steer clear of the fire ants which are strictly new Florida.

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23 thoughts on “Silence in the Spaces Between

  1. A very strong message… It seems as if every year we grow more and more accustomed to the modern way of life and forget about the peaceful old ways. We replace forests with shopping malls, open fields with housing, and we even replace the homes of wildlife with streets and other modern marvels. Yet I too find myself feeling the cool breeze on a warm summer day and think about the older days, when the air always smelled of flowers and not like the exhaust of so many cars. But who knows what the future holds, after all it was just this morning that I walked outside and caught a breeze that smelled of roses.

    1. I agree with Mitch. He is right when he says every year we grow more accustomed tot he modern way of life. I live in Naperville. 5 years ago naperville had lots of land were deers and such animals would live in peace. Now we still have protected forest preserves but not like we used too. At least once ever 2 or 3 weeks I will see a dead deer on the side of the road because we are pushing them out of land that was once and is rightfully theirs. I like to see our wildlife grow. I enjoy seeing animals, now I dont see the animals like I used to, the eagles like I used to. They are being forced to move out of there natural habitat and I promise you this is just the beginning, we have only seen a little bit of what’s to come. Look at the rain forest being cut down and the animals becoming extinct, susch as rhinos, lions, and apes. Not that we are living with them, but I think we are becoming cruel to them and not enjoying the whole world for what it really is.

  2. The United States is a country that aims for progress and advancement. This is what some Americans like to here, but at what cost is this advancement coming as? The relation of your grandfather’s life to the life of Florida, is a perfect setup for this example. A life of hard-work and working for what you really need; the essentials, is really all that is necessary. Of course, nowadays, American society is so high-paced and we have become greedy in this nature of wanting more with no problems. A step back into the natural world to admire the true beauty of the earth, is what is needed; but to my dismay, it’s a rarity.

    1. At least we are going in a more positive direction now with all of the ‘going green’ campaigns. I think that it is just human nature to seek advancement; we always seek to better understand how everything works and sometimes we get so caught up in everything that we are doing that we just forget about the important things from our past. But I think with the desire to create a ‘green’ economy, we will begin to notice a change in the future.

      1. I see what you are saying and the campaigns are taking their effect, but our consumption doesn’t seem to stop. In the Village of Roselle, where I live, they just took out a good chunk of land to build a massive company. Completely correct for their business proposition, but what about the nature that was there before? With business and profit in the mind of an American, the environment takes second place.

  3. By my house in Woodridge there used to be a wooded area on either side of a street called Walnut. There was so much wildlife there, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, and even sometimes deer. Now it is all cut down and there are half million dollar houses there. It was a terrible sight to see them cutting down the place were so many animals used to live. The U.S. keeps filling up our nice natural places with buildings, stores, and restaurants. Don’t we have enough of that already? There is a fricken McDonalds like every five minutes from each other. We really don’t need that many of the same restaurant, if people want it bad enough then they can drive for it. We are wasting our good land for places that we don’t even need.

  4. Yes, I agree that most people have complete disregard for the environment when given opportunity for advancement. However, there are companies that are on the other side as well. For example, there is a lumber or paper company… I don’t know the name off hand. But for every tree that they harvest, they plant two more somewhere else in a protected area.

  5. I think there are more wants than needs in this day and age. I myself am one that cares about the wants just as much as the needs. Everyone wants the best, nicest, fastest car and some people even go overboard with this kind of situation. The truth is some people can afford this and enjoy the huge malls being built and the high class stores that are out there today. I think that with all these nice new buildings and technology, it increases everyday people to think there wants are more important and to go out and spend money on there wants rather than needs. This gives them good reasons to keep building because peoples wants always get stronger. Going along with the environment side of things I agree people take it for granted. Even when the gas prices were almost 5 dollars a gallon, you still saw a ton of cars on the road. Cars of course help create pollution in the air and with gas going up most people did not care about price or pollution. They only cared about driving where they had to go. This is a perfect example of people being careless to the environment. Something along the lines of what Daisy and Mitch were saying.

  6. This article really makes you think about how much has changed from time to time. I completely agree with what Mitch L. said, most people have complete disregard for the environment. It seems like more and more people are changing things to fit their personal desires. People don’t look at the meaning or significance of things anymore, they just change it so that it can cater to their needs. All this change reminds me of the saying “Out with old and in with new.” Over the last couple of years I have seen a lot of teardowns in my own town. People are knocking down beautiful historical homes that tell a story of what this town used to look like to build huge mansions that no one can afford. With the way the economy is suffering today, I think people should think about the kinds of things they are tearing down and choosing to build. Are builders building things like shopping malls and townhouses really bettering our communities, or are they just trying to make more money for themselves?

  7. First, I would like to begin by saying that was a beautiful article. Second, I would like to say I completely agree with the comments being made on this article. Every day we are becoming more and more accustomed to life the way we know it. Many people can’t imagine life without a cell phone or television. It makes me curious sometimes what people used to consider as items they couldn’t live without. Material items aside, the environment is most obviously taking a beating for our societies’ advances. I would like to make a reference to the Oprah’s Earth Day episode. It’s incredible to think that the once beautiful “old America” is turning into a polluted “new America”. Although the push towards bettering the environment does create hope; however, has American society and culture been so altered that people can’t seem to give up their everyday “necessities” and simplicities to improve our current situation?

  8. I don’t necessarily think that people can’t give up the necessities, I think it is just that noone has really tried. Like Ashley said, we can’t live without television or cell phones but the truth is noone has really ever tried. When they came out, they made people’s lives easier and now thats all people no. I think if we were all to try to go back to a simpler life, we could change some things, but people have to be willing to try and be up for new challenges. I do not think the world is ready for that yet.

    1. I agree with Rachie and Ashley, people are used to the fast life. I notice nowadays every thing is moving fast. We have gotten away from cooking homemade food, every thing is processed or microwaved. Everybody is on the move, we never sit down to enjoy life the beauty of nature. We are so dependable on cell phones but there was a time when we didn’t have cell phones. If your car gave out on you. you would walk and try to find a telephone booth on the corner or in a store. So we lived without cell phones. Now everyone has a cellphone. I think every one should slow down and enjoy life, the little things, the birds, the trees, butterflies, and take one day at a time.

      1. But I still believe that some of the older ways still exist today. Many families still go shopping and eat at one table. Many people find time to lay down and just listen to the breeze… Sure the environment of such things has changed, but they still exist. It seems that each time technology advances, so does our way of life. What I mean is, every advancement we have in our society… leaves us to find a new way to relax, to travel, to sleep, to eat… to live. I mean, in older times, many people simply relaxed on their porches in a rocking chair and enjoyed the nice weather… but I bet that if they had our technology today, they would go elsewhere for their “vacation”, just as we do today traveling to Hawaii and California and Europe and all those nice places.

  9. Although I do agree with Mitch L, that some people still do old fashion traditional things like sitting at the table as a family to eat, but today I was at the gym (another place that’s a leisure for people) and noticed that everyone was either on a cell phone, using bluetooth, or had on an ipod. The truth is our society is changing due to technology. My question is… why is our society changing yet Japan’s technology is much more advanced than ours and they still all seem to be keeping to their customs and traditions? Why can’t Americans do the same?

  10. Another quick point to add to Mitch’s statement that I do not agree with so much is the fact that yes so much new technology is coming out, but I do not agree that it is showing us new ways to relax. If anything, it seems to be making everyone’s life more hectic. I agree with Deborah that a cell phone has not always been around and that people use to walk to the closest store or gas station to get help. With a cell phone we no longer have to take that walk. So yes that is a way that we have changed and adapted to something new, but it has been taken overboard. Instead of using the new things like Mitch said as a new way to relax, sleep, eat, or live, it just seems to be giving people the easy way out. I feel like people should only need a cell phone in an emergency, yet I know myself, I overuse my cell phone all the time and take the Internet to my advantage. In my opinion, life would be easier if I never knew what it was like to have to always carry something with me or worry about if I lost that one thing that costs over $300 to replace. In a way, I wish it would all go back to the simple life.

    1. Well I understand your points and do agree with many of them. Perhaps the reason that life is so hectic is because we don’t even have time to adapt to technology anymore. I remember when I was a kid and computers weren’t that popular yet, and now… we have many just in my house. That was only about 10-12 years ago. In my opinion, things are just changing so fast that people don’t even have a chance to adapt. I mean, laptops have only been popular for like 5 or 6 years and they are already coming out with touch screens and small handheld PCs. People just get used to one form of technology and then are confronted with another, forcing them to adapt and keep our fast pace of life.

  11. Yea I am kind of scared for what is next. We already have so many machines that do the work for us. Perfect example is in factories many of them now have robots and machinery that make and put together parts. I think this is one leading cause to the downfall of the economy. I just hope that in the future there will still be some kind of peace and harmony. All the points that everyone has brought up were extremely important and we are the changing generation, we have to help remind people of what we use to have and be like. So that it will hopefully never be forgotten and/or taken away by technology or pollution.

  12. First off I love this article because I too have seen first hand what man has done to the land. I live in unincorporated Lombard Illinois and have lived here for my entire life. When I was a baby we had a horse in our backyard and across the road there was a farm with chickens and Honey Bees. Now, however, there is a church just beyond my backyard and a nuns’ house. Then across the road where the farm was there are townhouses. It seems everything is so fast paced and changing to accommodate people for what they “need”. But the question is when will it be enough, when will we actually fight to protect what’s left of our wildlife. Or will we wait till the day that they “wild” animals are caged completely and open areas like forests and farms are replaced with apartment complexes.

  13. I can also remember If I go to a certain spot where I was as a child. I remember the good times I had with all the memories going through my mind. Even the bad times I had at those places made it so worth it, because maybe I wouldn’t be what I am now If it wasn’t for something I did back then. You can also look and see hoe things have changed and evolved with our growing society and technology blowing up.

  14. I totally understand where you are coming from with this article. There are times when I like look back and remember how my hometown used to be, the landmarks that are now gone, and the plaza that is so forever changing. In my case, it was all for the better; to fit the communities needs. Unfortunately, I was not able to get as close to the “land” as you were, so there is no significant meaning to me from what is now gone. I grew up where everything was in a miles reach, I never had to skip town to go to a certain store or church. However, I lived in Iowa for 11months and it was far more different, they do not have all the stores, condos, malls and things that Illinois have so I was a little lost being away from home. Somehow residing there seemed to make life simple and less complicated. It is funny because I never thought about that before.

  15. I definitely get where you are coming from. Places, people, culture change over time and we can’t help, only tell stories to our younger generations of “the good ol’ times.” And I’m sure we have all had our share of those stories. A house now torn down and a new grocery store stands or a parking lot now where used to be a field where you learned to drive. I have heard stories from my parents and grandparents and how this place has changed, but eventually, and sadly, no one will know how great this place was before all the change.

  16. Our greed as Americans have caused us to expand at exponential rates. We take down forests, dry up marshes, absolutely obliterate wildlife in our pursuit to advance technology and house our growing population. WalMart and other large corporations do not care about the wildlife that they destroy or the quiet, humble towns that they invade. They will take down entire forests to clear out an area to build parking lots. My grandfather, grandmother, and father grew up on a farm in a small town in Iowa. Over the years many changes have come to this small town including the construction of a WalMart which completely destroyed all the local businesses and much of the wildlife in that area. WalMart shopping bags are seen everywhere along the highway that cuts through the town. It is a sad tale to tell and there does not seem to be much that can be done to stop the growth of our greed as Americans.

  17. I agree completely with what people are saying. Everything is changing from cultures, people, places. Things grow over time and I believe that although some people don’t like change, change is a good thing. People are more greedy now, then back in the day. As I’m noticing from learning about history and everything people make more money now but they’re more greedy with what they have now as well. Greed is a good thing to a certain extent. Some people work hard for their money but in other cases it is completely unacceptable.

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