One of the most obvious differences between life in Orlando and Northern Alabama is the wildlife. It’s not that Orlando was an asphalt wasteland devoid of life that wasn’t in a Mickey costume. I saw lots of wildlife. I saw it dead on the highway all the time, a menagerie of squished armadillos, various cranes that had taken a wrong turn at Tampa, and assorted flattened groundhogs. It was somewhat troubling that I’d never seen any of these creatures alive, but if you’ve ever driven in Florida for any length of time, you know that the odds of survival are against you as soon as you put a toe on the interstate.
My neighborhood in Alabama is brimming with creatures – and few of them are dead! We have the typical kamikaze squirrels, but we also have possums, raccoons, coyotes, deer, rabbits, and foxes. Our house is pressed tight against the woods, and the contents of the wild often spill out onto our property. The tall, green trees look nothing like the stunted palms of Central Florida. When I close my eyes and breathe, I smell sap, honeysuckle, and undergrowth – not the exhaust, dust, and waffle cones of the Magic Kingdom parking lot.
One other note about animals in Alabama? There are no leash laws.
This seems a minor point at first. If you’ve never lived in a place without leash laws, you just assume that everyone keeps their dogs and cats or whatever in a fenced yard. This is optimistic, but it’s not the least bit truthful. Dogs roam in packs over my neighborhood, and while they’re (currently) all friendly, it can be a little overwhelming if you’re not expecting to have five other canine joggers with you as you do your evening run. When I was little, a less-kind dog pack roamed, and selling raffle tickets to the neighbors became something of a life-or-death situation as I torpedoed from the safe zone of a front porch to another, hoping to avoid the snap of canine jaws. It’s something to think about before you let Chester the Cat outside. And don’t get me started on the exotic birds.
Exotic birds? you ask. In Alabama? Well, yes. One of my neighbors collected them. Peacocks, emus, and guinea fowl. When he died, they roamed around the neighborhood for years; it wasn’t unusual to look out the window and see a peacock staring back at you, willing you to throw a piece of bread outside. When I learned to drive, emus chased the Volkswagen, pecking at the tires and flapping their useless wings. And guinea fowl? Are the stupidest creatures alive. They run straight into the car every time (I may or may not be lingering under the guilt of having hit a few in my earlier days).
There was also a beautiful parrot who was sometimes allowed to fly around the neighborhood. His owners assured us that he was totally fine and always flew home. He had the uncomfortable habit of looking in and squawking “touchdown!” whenever an actress on television took off her top.
So no, I didn’t have any of that in Orlando. I kind of missed it.