Diagonally across the state of Florida is a small town called Fort Pierce. There, in the late 50’s, a group of African American artists taught themselves how to paint landscapes.
Those landscapes would become famous representations of a part of Florida unique only to its southern, coastal geography well below the city I grew up in.
By the 90’s, the creators were praised together as a historic art movement.
They were coined The Florida Highwaymen.
Using inexpensive frames, their finished pieces of wildly technicolor art were often sold on the side of US-1 where tourists indulged, buying selections as a bargain souvenir.
The pieces, estimated at some 200,000 total, created a life-like reminder of Florida:
of our bright green, jungle-like foliage,
those afternoon thunderstorms transcending every hue in the color spectrum,
and the Royal Poinciana (Aka ‘The Flamboyant tree’), a heavily reoccuring Highwaymen motif, often cited as having one of the most beautiful blooms.
A couple weeks ago, while driving over a bridge spanning the Hillsborough River (just a couple blocks from my house), I noticed a pop of orange.
A Royal Poinciana I wondered?
I pedaled to the river. From a distance, I saw the tree reaching into the sky, vibrant. But on getting closer, I couldn’t find a clearing on the shore to snap a picture. Cutting through a large park, I stumbled on a homeless camp. Four men sat near the river, drinking 40’s, tending to a grill tucked near the bushes. Smoke rose heavily from a pile of broken palm branches: fodder, as the men roasted a makeshift lunch. Together, they spied me as I crept up with my camera. Breaking their comfort zone, I must have caught them off guard when I asked, simply, their permission at a better vantage point to the tree.
With heads nodding in tandem, I was given access.
Over the past decade, we’ve been experiencing more oppressive heat, more brutal storms, shorter winters, and a much earlier Spring. Regardless of the argument–the laundry list of global warming precipitates–this odd Poinciana bloom (by a tree that should not be flourishing in my neighborhood) gives us something to admire within a potentially tragic shift of climatic extremes.