Not stopping to smell the orange blossoms

Achoo! Achoo! …ACHOO! Sniff, sniff!
My forehead wasn’t hot. My lungs weren’t full of gunk. Why on earth could I not breathe and my head felt like it was about to explode?
Those symptoms sounded familiar to me, but why? I thought, you know, they sound like what my sister and dad go through every spring as soon as things start blooming. Their eyes would become red-rimmed along with a shining bulb of a nose like Rudolph. You could tell where they had been by the amount of crumpled tissues left behind, and the sound of sneezing blasted throughout the house. I had always sat back and grinned to myself since I never experienced anything like it.
Allergies. For all of my life, it was a term meant to describe the worst nightmare of other people, people who dreaded spring and raised their fist in anger at blooming flowers and pollen wafting through the air. Meanwhile, I’d be pulling out my favorite dresses for the warm weather and frolicking through fields of daises, breathing in deep the reproductive responses of plants waking up after winter.
Then, I moved to Florida.
A few weeks ago, I went to bed with the feeling that something wasn’t going to be right with my body by the time I awoke from slumber. I told my boyfriend over the phone that something was off and I couldn’t breathe through my nose. Sure enough, when I got up the next morning, I had to check my reflection in the mirror because it felt like my head had expanded like what’s-her-name from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” who turns into a blueberry. My nose was a pointless appendage on my swollen face, my eyes itched like I’d rubbed pepper in them, and I couldn’t stop sneezing. Could it be allergies? I called out of work and spent the day asleep or reading in bed.
Why would I suddenly be allergic to pollen in the air? I asked my friend Lynn, who runs Lions, Tigers and Bears, Inc. wildlife sanctuary. Like Luke Wilson, Lynn usually has the answers to all of life’s problems.
“There must be something blooming here that doesn’t bloom in North Carolina,” I complained. “What’s blooming right now?”
“Oak trees,” Lynn said.
“No, we have those in North Carolina.”
She paused and looked at me. “Orange trees,” she said.
I could have smacked myself on the forehead. Of course! Orange trees!
North Carolina is too cold and damp for citrus. And in the foothills of the Appalachians were I lived for a few years, the climate is actually considered a temperate rain forest. Think of the non-stop downpour the Amazon rain forest in Brazil experiences but with some snow every now and again during the winter. It’s seriously a climate perfect for the Cullen family Lexcolumn033017.jpgbut not so much for oranges. Only in southwest North Carolina can you possibly work an orange grove, according to a newspaper based in Wilmington, N.C.
In Florida, the state flower is actually the orange blossom, and according to Chinese symbology, an orange represents luck and wealth. According to a florist’s website, the flower is a symbol of good fortune and is used often in wedding bouquets. Well, it’s not good fortune for my nose, and I’ll be sure to keep it far away from my bouquet when I walk down the aisle unless my future husband is attracted to a woman imitating one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs in a white dress.
I can’t believe allergies have finally caught up with me. After years of laughing at my family members’ pain, I now understand the horror of those terrible allergies. For me, the orange blossom has turned my luck for the worst.

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Discovering more creepy crawlies

While pumping gas in Arcadia late one night, I noticed something brown and leggy hop underneath my car. Trying to figure out what it was, I began glancing around me with the feeling that tiny legs were crawling over my skin.
There were more scattered across the top of the gas pump. The guts of one were smeared underneath the heel of my stiletto. And, more flattened specimens were littered around the gas station’s parking lot.
It looked like a grasshopper, but there was something mutated about its body. I immediately went searching for answers, and the best place to go for answers in this town is Luke Wilson.
Wilson, our paper’s columnist and cartoonist, is a man with a wealth of fast facts, historical tales and do-it-yourself anecdotes that could fill a few encyclopedias. I asked him what I’d seen the other night, describing it as “a very bizarre form of grasshopper” and his answer, without any type of hesitation, was “the lubber grasshopper.”
There are two types of lubber grasshoppers in Florida, according to the website for Insect Identification, a place to find out what the heck that six-legged thing is on the wall “for the casual observer,” it says.
The horse lubber grasshopper is a large specimen that will create “a noxious frothy substance” and “drop to the ground and ‘hiss’ when disturbed” in order to deter predators.
The eastern lubber grasshopper causes economic destruction throughout Florida as it consumes citrus and vegetable crops, according to the Entomology (study of insects) and Nematology (study of nematode worms) Department at University of Florida/Institute Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Both of these grasshoppers are black when they reach maturity (and while currently looking at their photos, I am brushing at my skin because it feels like something is crawling over me). However, the eastern lubber grasshopper goes through a “light color phase” where it appears an orange-brown color. They can also change into a yellow-golden color. This boy is absolutely huge in grasshopper standards with tall pointy hind legs and a very crunchy-looking body. It looks about like what I remember seeing at the gas station. Ugly in appearance by my standards, this guy also has a nasty habit of destroying crops. It makes a huge impact here in Florida.

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Eastern lubber grasshopper from Google Images

According to UF/IFAS, lubber grasshoppers “can completely strip foliage from plants. More commonly, however, they will eat irregular holes in vegetation and then move on to another leaf or plant.” And because Florida is typically always warm, we may have to battle several generations at a time because there was no cold weather to kill off the older breeding adults, according to Insect Identification.
I must say Florida has some bizarre insect life. From the horror of the Palmetto bugs, now I’m faced with something that can jump through the air and appears to be the stallion of the grasshopper family. And then, it does the hissing thing like its cousin. If I ever hear a grasshopper hiss at me, that’s the day I never step out of my house again. Amazon Prime Pantry, here I come.
I had finally come to terms with the Palmetto bug that I can kill one without screaming. Now, there’s this thing. Also, while working on this column, I saw photos of the Carolina locust, the spotted camel cricket, the northern mole cricket and the tawny mole cricket, whom all live in Florida with us. I cannot even begin to describe the horrors. I think I’m just going to stay indoors after dark for awhile until I can face my fears.

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Photo from NC State University

 

Crackin’ into the origins of ‘cracker’

When I told friends I was moving to Florida, a few of them began lecturing me on the meaning of “cracker.”
Wait, what?
Where I’m from, to call someone a “cracker” would be derogatory and cringe-worthy for several reasons or interpretations. According to an article from NPR, the slur was used in the 18th century to refer to “poor whites” then changed to refer to a white person who was “of lower caste or criminal disposition.” According to an article by CNN, the term also recognized a working class who drove livestock with whips and did not own their own land. It also meant white people who owned slaves. It can also mean “bigot.”
However, in Florida, it is a term that is reserved for people who herded cattle with cow whips that were made for the loud cracking noise.
I’m glad someone warned me. During my first assignment for The Arcadian former Sheriff Will Wise’s wife, Kay, came up to me, introduced herself and proudly told me she was a cracker. If I hadn’t been prepared, I probably would have keeled over.
While those in the West may be cowboys, Floridians are crackers, working the cattle industry longer than any state in the country. Florida Backroads Travel states what makes a cracker: “He or she is from a family that was here long before the huge population explosions in Florida after World War II. He or she is almost always Caucasian. They and their ancestors lived in Florida . . . usually have a rural upbringing, either on a farm or in a small town with plenty of woods and water for hunting and fishing and land planting. That’s because a Florida cracker is self sufficient.” Based on that definition, Arcadia seems like the heart of where to find legitimate Florida crackers.
Florida Backroads Travel added that crackers even have their own lingo. You might be a cracker if you know what the following words mean: corn pone, chitlins, Croker Sack, litard knot floater, perloo and Pineywoods Rooter.

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Photo by Priscilla McDaniel

The terminology is also used for businesses, associations and to define objects. For instance, the Florida Cracker Cafe operates in St. Augustine, Florida Cracker Airboat Rides and Guide Service is located in Vero Beach, and Florida Cracker Ranch allows visitors to camp in historic-looking cabins in Bunnell. The “Florida Cracker” is a breed of cattle, recognized as a breed since the 1500s, according to The Livestock Conservancy. There’s also a breed of horse by the same name, which was designated as Florida’s official heritage horse in 2008. The Florida Cracker Trail Association works hard to preserve “the Old Florida Cracker Pioneer ways of agriculture, animal husbandry and the respect for the land,” according to their website. And, I live in a “cracker house” in the heart of Arcadia.
I had no idea I was moving into a home with such history, and even a name, but I must say I love the style. According to Old House Web, cracker farmhouses were popular from 1840 to 1920 but are starting to make a comeback, known as “Cracker Chic.” A cracker house must have: Native materials, simple symmetrical shape, a crawl space beneath the home, a steep roof because of the rain and a deep-shade porch. There are actually a few types of cracker homes — a single pen, which had one room and one door; a double pen or “saddlebag,” which was two single pens put together with two front doors, and the Dog-Trot House, which had “two pens” with an outdoor breezeway between them as well as additional porches and large windows.
My house has been added onto some many times that I don’t believe it falls in any of the three categories. However, it does have one of the greatest porches I’ve ever encountered. My cats regularly sunbathe or chase anole lizards on the screened-in porch, which wraps around the front and side of the house. My cattle dog regularly runs back and forth across the wooden planks chasing people who dare peddle a bicycle down our street. And, I love sitting out there watching the thunderstorms roll in or catching up on the latest book I’ve got my nose in.
While I’m not a cracker, I do love the way they built their homes. And, I love how they fiercely they preserve their history and traditions. Mark your calendars for Saturday, March 18! I, for one, am going to be first in line to get a helping of some cracker history at Pioneer Day at DeSoto Veterans Memorial Park.