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After Work: Look Carefully To Find Spring In South Florida

...On the southern part of Palm Beach Island, many of the mansions are already shut for the summer. With their shuttered windows, they are blind to the beauties of the sea. There seems to be some weird kind of inverse correlation between the size of the house and the time the owner spends in it...

Now is the time for folk to leave Florida, heading northwards to places where the season still happen. And Dona Gibbs will soon be joining the exodus.

“I miss the change of seasons.” That’s the lament of year-round residents of South Florida. Truth is, a lot of them head for the mountains of North Carolina for the summer months, seeking nights cooled by nature rather than Florida Power and Light.

They also sneak in a weekend here and there during the fall leave season.

There is a change of seasons in South Florida, but it’s subtle. The orchids planted outdoors burst into glorious bloom around the end of February. They are still going strong, thanks to nature’s work and no particular horticultural talent on my part. Certain species of palms send up antenna-like spikes and beam in spring. The birds twitter in a spring-like way and squirrels, well, behave squirrelly.

It rains almost every day now. Ominous clouds boil up on the horizon and then they let loose. The warning horns on the golf course wail, “Take shelter.”

The jacaranda trees greet spring with purple flowers; the Royal Poinciana trees are alight in red.

There are more obvious signs that the seasons are changing. “Hurricane season is rapidly approaching, “ one commercial blares. “Time to get those top-heavy trees pruned.”

“Order your sliding storm shutters early,” another bellows. “Avoid storm damage. Install wind-resistant windows and doors,” yet another warns.

There are other signs. Huge horse vans are on the highways barreling north, taking prized show horses to the next venue on the circuit. The auto transport people are busy hauling cars northward too. Many people prefer to ship their cars, rather than making the three-day drive back to northern cities. It’s turned into a big business. Pampered horses. Pampered cars. Pampered people. All making their way northward.

Easter fell early this year, effectively ending Palm Beach’s social season. So people are already clearing out. Worth Avenue, the town’s famed posh shopping street already has that sleepy, time-for-a-nap feel to it.

A visiting friend and I walked into one store after another. The sales people could barely muster a glance in our direction. No ear-to-ear, may-I-help-you-smiles greeted us. They were exhausted from the demands of shoppers popping in and out all season-long. Their feet hurt. They were bored. And most of all, they were tired in a way that other people tire you, sucking up all the oxygen and asking questions that are no more compelling than, “Does this come in other colors.”

There was another sign the season had changed. We walked into a popular restaurant without reservations—and wonder of wonders -- were seated right away in a prime people-watching location. Not that there were that many people to watch.

These days I can wheel into the supermarket parking lot right into a space near the entrance. Once inside, the store is practically empty of customers and I can push my cart through the wide aisles not meeting up with another shopper. The checkers, normally facing a line of four or five customers, stand at the end of their counters.

“Right this way,” one says cheerily. “I’m free.”

Try finding that the first week of February around here.

Here and there I see there’s an end of season sale, but the merchandise seems a trifle tired too. The best sales I’ve been told, best as defined as “stuff you’d actually like to have,” happen in July. Kind of a service to the year-round residents, I suppose, or a reward for toughing out day after day of heat and punishing humidity.

On trash pick-up days, the piles have grown larger in our little community. People are tossing out a season’s worth of boxes. Yep, seems that big flat screen television works and the carton it came in can safely be thrown away. Our neighbors got the hot pink trike together just in time for four-year-old Annabelle’s visit so they can put the box out. And oh yeah, we can toss out a season’s worth of newspapers. The seasonal residents’ trash reveals all. Maybe that’s not considered a sign of spring in some areas but it’s as reliable as daffodils in ours.

On the southern part of Palm Beach Island, many of the mansions are already shut for the summer. With their shuttered windows, they are blind to the beauties of the sea. There seems to be some weird kind of inverse correlation between the size of the house and the time the owner spends in it.

Ever-Enthusiastic Husband drags his feet at the thought of setting a departure date. For him it’s a kind of paradise here. As an only child he was lonely. Now he has discovered the delights of playmates and golf dates.

As for me, I’m looking forward to returning north. There I’ll be seeing spring, real spring, with flowering bulbs, blooming cherry trees, the grass changing from crunchy brown to tender green. And there’s nothing subtle about it.

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