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Andrew Furman catches feelings for Florida

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Andrew Furman’s “Bitten” follows his adventures in learning to love Florida – without a single trip to the beach.
Amanda Hagood

Earth Day is approaching. But so does the Florida summer – that sweltering, sweat-soaked, sunny season when just getting outside, let alone surviving until October, requires no small reserve of personal courage. Of course, we’ll all love Florida on April 22. But how many of us can truly say that we’ll stay true to our state when things get…wet?

One such brave soul is author Andrew Furman, whose memoir Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair With Florida (2014, University Press of Florida) lovingly and lyrically recounts his process of becoming at least one little Floridian after moving with his family to Boca Raton — “a place,” he notes, “scorned in equal measure by my friends living in town and in the country.”

From this “hopelessly in-between” beginning, Furman embarks on sweet adventures in Florida, whether it’s a small city park where he embarks on a snook hunt with a mysterious new fishing buddy; or the edge of a growing college campus, where a burrowing owl resists encroaching development; or on a birding tour around Lake Okeechobee that reveals both an array of amazing birdlife and the deep mark the sugar industry has left on the Everglades.

Some of Furman’s brightest ideas, however, flourish just steps from his own front door in the “Florida-friendly” garden (read: native plants, attracting wildlife, inevitable-conflict-with-neighbors-producing ) that he and his family planted. One memorable episode sees Furman roll his eyes at neighbors who suggest that squirrels jumped the fence from Furman’s bird buffet to steal tomatoes from their meticulously tended garden – a place, he notes, where “control, overall, seemed to be the court’s main motive.

Then Furman’s painfully introverted young son asks for help in cultivating a perfect vegetable garden. Desperate not to disappoint him, but also beset by a host of subtropical garden pests, the author soon discovers that Florida’s “zone 10 realities” may involve the occasional use of pesticides or attaching a Twirl-a-Squirrel device to your bird feeder. In the end, each family gets a few tomatoes, and even the squirrels get a cup of seeds (carefully strewn away from neighbors’ property). These are Furman’s lessons on “suburban citizenship.”

This chapter deals directly with what makes Bitten such a fascinating read for any Floridian, but especially for newcomers: falling in love with Florida Is sometimes more like to be bitten than hit. Furman’s book is a charming love letter to a flowery, fierce and fragile beauty. And to the tantalizing possibility that we can learn to live in true harmony with it.

Pascua Florida Porch Party, with Andrew Furman Furman will talk about his forays into gardening in Florida. Gulfport History Museum, 5301 28th Ave. S., Gulfport. April 22, 7 p.m. (6:30 p.m. doors). Free; books available for purchase. 727-201-8687; www.gulfporthistoricalsociety.org

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