Until two years ago, I had never been without green. Greenery never fades in Florida. Oak trees lose leaves but never all. The fall change is marked only by rain trees, their green sprouting bright yellow flowers, the flowers slipping away, carpeting the ground to make room for large pink seed pods. As a child I pinched the folds of the pods between my fingers and pulled the petals apart to see the glossy, pale green seeds inside. Sometimes I would find a bug hiding in the pod and toss it away; the bug as invader, contaminant, the tiny seed home no longer safe.
I did not know to miss the green until two decades later when I finally left Florida, and the beech tree outside my Missouri apartment shed all its leaves by November—the storms came, the leaves were pounded to the ground by raindrops. I missed the green not only for its color but because without it there, draping the beech tree and the oak, stranger neighbors across the street could now see into my high window and so I could not leave the blinds open when I changed clothes, for fear someone would look at me. Looking was all there was when the snow came, and before I got out of bed I lost thirty minutes staring at it spinning through the air, mesmerized. Winter and all its trappings were so new, so foreign, a world remade in white, a place in which I stood on one foot for several minutes to gaze at the print of my boot in the glinting snow.
The rain trees of Florida are also invaders, native to Thailand, and they are profligate in their seeding. The shoots come up all over in spring, light green rough-feeling leaves unspooling two inches from the earth, and when I was a child my father asked me to watch for them peeking above the grass in the yard. He showed me how to pinch them by their thread-thick trunks, pluck the entire body of the baby tree from the ground with its one long baby root. They slide from the earth so easily, the seedlings, which if left alone for three or four years would be taller and thicker and stronger than me. And who is to say that a particular shoot wasn’t once a seed from the very pod I myself opened and discarded in the yard, one which months earlier I helped to find a place in the world? I piled the uprooted shoots on the concrete of the driveway and left them to shrivel.
Green became home when I looked from the window of the plane in December and saw the oaks bunched like unshorn sheep, full of green. The sky of Florida in winter is blue and clear and sunny, and the people run their sprinklers to keep their grass from drying from lack of precipitation. It is a version of summer for the snowbirds coming from the north, people who then sat on either side of my shoulders. I could not look away from the greenness, even if I wanted to, and I did not want to look away. But here and there the pinks and purples of azaleas in full bloom marred the green. The azaleas were not due until February. It was too soon, it was too hot. The seasonal change in my homeland has always been so subtle, that these visitors used to the drama of white don’t see as I do: a home too green now for its own good.