Maine? Florida? Both?

Posted Jan. 04, 2009, at 8:04 p.m.

I’ve spent much of the past few months sharing with you what I’ve learned living in the North for the first time in my life. I’ve had encounters with heating systems, black ice and, most chilling of all, my basement. One of the biggest surprises for me, however, has been the number of readers who relate to these stories because they also have lived in both the extreme North and South.

How so many Floridians find their way not to Virginia or Pennsylvania or North Carolina, but to precisely Bangor, Maine, amazes me daily. Even more astounding: how many of those same people live in both places, going back and forth between Maine and Florida as the weather permits (or requires). Here I thought my Florida license plate, with its cheery oranges, was some kind of apology, or at least an excuse, when driving 15 mph on the Maine highway because there is snow on the ground. Then I found out that a good number of passers-by manage to drive just fine in both Maine and Florida.

There couldn’t be many places more dissimilar than Maine and Florida, which apparently most of you already know. But just in case there is someone left in Maine who has not been to Florida (or vice versa), I thought I’d share what I know about living in the Sunshine State.

Because of Florida’s unique position with water on three sides, anywhere you live can be classified as a “beach community.” As the name suggests, beach communities have beaches. This doesn’t, however, mean that you will be at the beach every day. In fact, a good number of Floridians can’t remember the last time they were at the beach. They just like knowing it is there. But living in a beach community does mean that you will have piles of sand on the floor of your car, even if you haven’t been to the beach in six months. It’s one of life’s great mysteries.

Florida’s consistently warm weather makes it a perfect home for bugs, and without a harsh winter to stunt their growth, these bugs can become quite large. You will think you need a shotgun to kill most roaches. For all of my complaining about the mosquitoes, snakes and fire ants (one of the most hateful creatures ever known to humans), I sort of miss my daily battles with them.

There are surprisingly few pests up here in Maine. I feel like the master of my backyard again. I can step outside without looking for ant piles first. But, well, life gets kind of lonely without a good fight. Where’s the pride in having a green lawn and lush plants if you haven’t had to battle the entire bug and rodent kingdom for them?

Heat, of course, defines Florida as much as snow and winter define Maine. Winter in Florida is a two-week phenomenon in December when the thermometer reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I survived 10 winters in Florida with only a handful of sweaters. Mittens and scarves were something fun to give and receive as gifts; they weren’t necessities. But warm weather has its disadvantages, too. Wearing shorts nine months of the year gives you no break from dieting or shaving your legs.

Both Florida and Maine have their share of extreme weather events. But the differences in preparation for these situations can be summed up by the tortoise and the hare. Floridians have to prepare quickly and on short notice when hurricanes sneak into the Gulf of Mexico. Mainers spend their entire year slowly, steadily getting everything from their houses to their automobiles to their wardrobes ready for winter. Florida can go several seasons without seeing a major storm, yet, as far as I can tell, it has never not snowed in Maine.

On a sad note, Florida is nearly bursting at the seams with military facilities and military families, but once Brunswick closes its air base, there will be very little military presence left in Maine, or in most of New England. Which means that my military counterparts are less likely to experience the North and its people, and vice versa. This is a lose-lose situation on all sides.

I feel fortunate that Uncle Sam has afforded my family the opportunity to get to know both Florida and Maine. So much so, in fact, that if we were to get out of the military, I’d be torn about where to live: Maine or Florida. Maybe I’d choose to live in both.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her new book, “I’m Just Saying … ,” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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