Dexter Filkins writes: If you grow up in Florida, you watch the natural world around you disappear. It’s just a fact you live with. The verdant, miles-long stretch of dune and palm, rustling to the beat of the waves? Paved over. The brackish stream that flows from ocean to intercoastal, giving life to manatees, alligators, and tarpon? Turned into a parking lot. The swath of live oak trees, the Spanish moss clinging to their branches like the mists from a Faulkner novel? It’s an apartment complex called Whispering Pines.
It doesn’t matter when you moved to Florida. Ever since the nineteen-sixties, the stream of people pouring into the state has been relentless: an average of eight hundred newcomers a day. All of them need places to live. Where I grew up, in Cape Canaveral, the destruction of nature happened so fast that it was often disorienting; passing a stretch of woods for perhaps the eight-hundredth time, I would stare at the backhoes and cranes and wonder what had occupied that space only a week before. On a few occasions, my teen-age friends and I got so angry that we scaled the fences of construction sites and moved the survey points that were marking the spot for the next foundation—the next pour of cement. We failed, of course, to stop what the builders were building, or even to slow it down. The joke among us was that every housing development in Florida was named to memorialize the ecosystem it replaced: Crystal Cove, Mahogany Bay, The Bluffs. For about a year, I lived in an apartment complex, paved from end to end, called “In the Pines.”
It’s useful to remember this now, as Hurricane Irma lays waste to much of Florida: the destruction of the state has been unfolding for decades, and, for the most part, it wasn’t done by nature. It was done by us. [Continue reading…]