The economy. Jobs. I’m going to Florida because I’m living in a shelter here. My mom lives down there.
Do you get along?
Yeah, as long as I can find a job down there —
[Her sons are looking through the RI organism cards.]
Boy 1: I don’t like that one.
[I hand him the woodchuck.] (Is this one good?)
Yeah. What is this? Can I have this pencil?
[He goes to take the pencil and/or a dollar out of the donation jar.]
No, I need that.
Boy 2: Do you have any good ones? Can I look at these? Do you have any sharks?
How do you feel about a spider?
Yeah, a spider.
Boy 1: Do you have any other spiders?
The following week, H and TT moved with their mom to their abuela’s house outside of Naples, not too far from the state forest. “Fakahatchee!” the boys giggled and then turned shy. But as their mom and their abuela slowly learned to live together again, smoking Black and Milds on the steps of the house and flicking palmetto bugs away from their feet, the boys started to explore.
It was summer, almost too hot to move, and the woods were buggy but cool. From older kids in the neighborhood, they learned about paths and places to avoid, and how to sit still if you saw an alligator, or if you wanted to watch a lizard or hear a bird, and to never throw any sugar away there and always apologize if you broke off a branch or the spirits would get you.
But what spirits? It was their abuela who told them about the Calusa people who used to live there. “You know what’s funny,” she said, lighting another Black and Mild, “after white people came in here, some of the Calusa people went to Cuba, and you know that’s where my family and your abuelo’s family come from. And my tias used to always say that we were part Calusa and part negra and part Spanish. Up here, white people tore up all the things they built, and they still always wanna be digging them up, but the Calusa were fierce. Like you, fierce men like you,” but they could never tell if she was teasing or not.
If they could keep out of alligators’ ways and recognize cottonmouths, if they could avoid slipping on slick moss in the swampy parts and pick ticks off them after playing in the grassy parts, if they remembered to keep on good terms with the spirits, they would be all right. From other people, they were safe. But if they got careless, if they didn’t use their senses and their knowledge, if they didn’t learn fast, they might die fast, medium or slow; of a broken neck, of drowning, of snakebite, of insect-borne virus. Or they might crush a plant that was last of its kind, muddy a stream that needed to run clear, insult an ancestor who’d had enough to put up with. They could hasten the effects of seeping salt and creeping heat, or they could bring themselves into line with with woods and water and centipedes and spiders, leopard frogs and gray foxes and green anoles and algae, so they might all live in it and live through it, for a while.