Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday—revolving as it does around food and family (and football and beer). It helps that it can be celebrated in any climate or country—unlike the 4th of July or Christmas. I've enjoyed many a Thanksgiving in New England, buried under red and gold leaves, roasting chestnuts, and drinking hot buttered rum before a flickering fire. I've also (more recently) spent Thanksgiving in sunny Florida.
I have come to cherish Florida—its colors, its sounds, its people, its extraordinary history, its varied geography. But today, for Thanksgiving, I'd like to focus on the sounds of Florida and why they make it so special.
Most of Florida's sounds come from nature, but not all. My island, a flat barrier key twelve miles long, is a mecca for cyclists. Every morning long lines of them race along the single highway. I can hear them coming behind me—a few shouts as they encourage each other, a thrumming of pedals revolving, and then the whoosh as the fleet passes, speeding on.
Offering its share of sounds, the Gulf of Mexico lies steps from my home. My favorite is the snap, crackle, pop seashells at low tide make when the waves flood over them. Then, if you listen closely as the wave recedes, you can hear the thrip thrip of dozens of coquinas as they bury themselves in the sand. Chasing after them, bills pistoning in and out, are the sanderlings and plovers, their high-pitched chittering filling the air. Above them comes the euphoric shriek when a tern snags a silvery minnow for his lady love.
Some days the din of bird cries can be deafening—the crank of the great blue heron flying low across the sand to land with a fluffing of feathers, the squawk of laughing gulls, and the chip chip of an osprey, his call resembling more that of a toddler searching for his mother than a merciless raptor.
In the bayous of the island you can hear the booming rap-a-tap-tap of the pileated woodpecker long before you see him, and the raucous squeals of a black-headed parrot troupe infesting a sabal palm. A soft whuffing from a canal tells you a manatee has risen from his feast of turtle grass for a breath of air. Then there's the splash of mullet leaping high out of the water for no one knows what reason—followed by the splat as they strike the surface.
Here in Florida even the plants talk. We have many palms—sabal, coconut, Chinese thatch, silver, Royal, Queen. Their fronds continuously die and slough off—making a walk in a palm forest a symphony of cracks and rustles, as the brown fronds slide down the trunks to make way for the new leaves. As they fall, they send thousands of brown and green anoles skittering into the underbrush.
Behind my house is a mangrove swamp, which teems with muggy sound—whistling tree frogs, scrabbling mangrove crabs, the slurp of fiddler crabs as they are sucked back into the mud. The eeriest music comes from the mangroves themselves as they bend and scrape each other when the tide comes in. In the quiet you can sometimes hear the tap tap of an ibis or a yellow-crowned night heron stepping delicately among the red mangrove roots to catch tiny fish.
The sounds of Florida are both exotic and comforting. They remind me of the crazy diversity of life on this planet, and the joy that all God's creatures have in the gift of that life. For these, as for my own life and family, I am thankful.