It is now Christmas Day in Australia, and Christmas Eve here in the US. Tomorrow I fly back to Australia to celebrate a late Christmas with my family. However, I’m nearly two weeks behind in my travel chronicles! Next up, I’m taking you back to my time in Orlando, Florida.
Orlando is a city of 240,000 people in central Florida (although the greater metropolital area is home to 2 million people). There is a LOT of water and, as with Minneapolis, the vast expanses of water amazed me. There are laws about water retention ponds, with so much volume of pond required for so much built up development. The water retention ponds can be very big, and look like pretty little lakes to me! But they serve an important function – to make sure that the land is drained and remains stable. Most of the area is wetlands, and the water combined with porous bedrock makes it susceptible to sinkholes. It is a humid place, even during their winter – easily the warmest place I visited on my trip – with a sub-tropical climate. The warm weather was a welcome change, although I didn’t have a lot of summer clothes with me so that was a great excuse to do a little shopping!
One result of the humid weather is the Spanish Moss hanging about EVERYWHERE. I found it beautiful, even a bit eerie, giving the areas around the lakes a very distinctive appearance. As a plant, it is quite interesting. It is actually a flowering plant, of a type called “epiphytes” which absorb nutrients from the air, not the soil. So it literally hangs about anywhere! All over trees, and even on powerlines. It particularly likes Great Southern Oak trees – huge spreading trees that amaze me with their size.
The wetland nature of the area means Orlando is home to a wide variety of birdlife. I spent a lot of time looking out at the water retention pond behind my friends’ house because of all the birds. I saw sandhill cranes, snowy egrets, great egrets, great blue herons, little blue herons, night herons, anhingas, cormorants, ibis, osprey, kites, vultures, buzzards, mallards, muscovy ducks, wild turkeys and much more. I really enjoyed watching them! Egrets and anhingas and cormorants fished in the pond while herons waded along the shore, vultures scared all the ducks, and sandhill cranes wandered median strips of main roads caring not at all about the cars. I mostly saw turkeys in groups of either all male or all female – a large group of females feeding beside a main road, a small group of males with their “beards” and irridescent brown feathers strolling along a small road. I also saw deer and alligators (more about that when I write about the Kennedy Space Centre) so it was quite a wildlife-filled time.
A good month before leaving Australia for my US trip I was dreaming of Orlando. Not because of the place – I’d only been once before, nearly 20 years ago, and I had no touristy plans there. I was so looking forward to my time in Florida because of the people who would be there. I deliberately planned to spend longer there than anywhere else. I knew that this place would be the rest my soul desperately needed – and my hopes were not disappointed in the slightest.
I spent a week of unhurried days with people who were key figures of my daily life in Beijing – the people I worked and ministered with, the people who were my day-to-day family. These were the people who knew me best, the people who let me into their lives, the people I did life with. On my first night in Orlando there was a casual dinner in the home where I stayed – and half the staff team from my last job were gathered in one room. On the other side of the world. It was crazy and wonderful and made me want to cry with joy and relief.
I have made really lovely friends in my first year in Australia, and it’s wonderful to spend time with family, and I’ve enjoyed ALL the reunions I’m having across the US. But there is something different, on a deep level, about being around the people I lived so much of life with for so long. For that week I felt more at home than I have at almost any time since leaving China. I don’t say that to slight my life in Australia – my country, my college, my friends, my family – but it’s not the same. Most of the people I spend time with in Australia have known me a matter of months, not years, and it’s been a long time since I did daily life with family members. My friends in Orlando – friends, coworkers, family – have laughed and cried and argued and ministered with me in good times and bad times for years. They know me in ways few others on the planet do. I have missed them dearly (them, and the life we lived together) and being with them was more special than these few words can convey. We have all moved on to new and different things, and I don’t regret those choices (mine or theirs) but it was still lovely to simply BE with them for a week.
My time in Florida was more “being” than “doing” but I did do a few things – Downtown Disney with a friend and her gorgeous daughter, who drove six hours return to spend time with me; a trip to the Kennedy Space Center (complete with alligators) which I’ll write about later; and a great conversation with someone who works with TCKs (yay for shop talk!). But mostly I hung out with people with whom I have deep history, and relaxed. It was wonderful. I slept well, had lovely conversations, and sat around reading books. It restored the energy sapped by weeks of busyness, and got me ready for the last crazy leg of my US tour. Next stop: Seattle!