Palm Trees in Paradise
Do palm trees mean Paradise to you? I have a love affair with coconut palm trees that goes back to my earliest memories. I loved to pose leaning back one leg propped up in my Sunday sundress on my favorite palm tree in the front yard of the house I was born into, and it's still there. Their sounds were my first lullabies sending me to dreamland with the soft clacking of the fronds in the gentle trade winds outside my always open screened window. They lowered the temperature as they shaded our island home. Mama made our hats from the fronds and Dad was so good at opening the nuts and giving us their sweet water, the meat was manna from heaven to this little girl.
I missed them so much when the Navy shipped Dad to California in 1962. I wrote a letter to the Key West Chamber of Commerce and they sent me a packet promoting Key West. I pasted all the pictures of Palm trees, islands and boats to cardboard and put it above my head under my sister's bunk bed mattress so I could see it before I went to sleep. Now, they call that making a dream board. I wished on a star every night for 11 years, that I was back in Key West and I'm here to tell you, dreams really do come true!
No sooner was I back in Key West, riding my bike with baby Steven in a backpack, traveling all over the island looking for the trees I loved most. When the wind blew hard, I would go to those trees and collect their fallen coconuts. Placed in a burlap bag under the drips from the air conditioner, they sprouted quickly. Since I was a renter, I had a plan for a movable garden, so into big pots they went until I could give them a home in ground that I owned. In 2004 my then friend, now husband, Art, brought them on a boat trailer all laid down and nestled together under a tarp to this wonderful home where we later got married.
When they finally went in the ground, I put crystals in the holes with the intention set for protection. It took a backhoe with an auger to dig in this super hard calcium carbonate limestone we have here called oolite. We were married in that circle of palms 5 years later and live inside this grove of well-loved and tended coconut palms that have taken care of me since 1973 when I returned home.
It was heartbreaking to lose five of my protectors in Hurricane Irma last year. It was the first time I had ever left for a hurricane...I was born in one and lived through many more, so I know that the island can take it, usually. The palms did their work well, as the house made it with the palms being our first line of defense.
The music of their fronds still
delights me and their coconuts nourish me. Every year before the summer storms we cut down and process all the nuts and put the water and the meat up in the freezer, just like you folks do with your garden bounty. You may not know this, but they are the perfect survival plant as they give you all you need, food, water and shelter.
As I watch them dance gently in the breeze, I know what to expect out on the water for that day. You may have visited the lone sentinel out on the beach at Boca Grande with me. That amazing being was there long before I was born and will still be standing strong long after I am gone. When I stand below a palm and listen I hear Key West Sound! I hear my own heart. I feel comfort and peace.