Photo Essay: This is Crystal River


The more I move around, the harder it is to answer the question, “Where are you from?” Since 1998, my standard answer has been “New York City,” but, of course, that elicits the further question: “Which neighborhood did you grow up in?” Okay, you got me – I didn’t grow up evading crackheads and riding the subway. Like most New Yorkers, I’m a transplant. How to explain that New York City felt like “home” before I ever set foot on its streets, that my heart beats along with traffic honks, that I’m still not sure what tourists mean when they complain about the city’s “coldness”? When my ESL students asked me about America, my eyes grew misty talking about the Met and Gray’s Papaya, the West Village and the fountain at Washington Square Park. If home is where the heart is, then New York is home. Period. Even if I don’t live here anymore.

But if you want to get technical, Crystal River, FL is my hometown – even if I haven’t lived there in 12 years, even if I will never live there again, even if I can’t fit in. The “slow pace” tourists and locals love sends me into a foaming rage, similar to the way I feel when I watch old men practicing Tai Chi in the park (Pick it up!! Move!!! What’s wrong with you?!?!) However, a curious thing has happened with the passage of time; I can view Crystal River with distance, look upon it as a tourist might and see beauty in things that were once so familiar as to get taken for granted. This is both pleasing to me – growth is good – and slightly scary at the same time. But not as scary as this:

This here is the essence of Crystal River in a nutshell. Crystal River is home of the manatee, and the gentle sea creatures are revered like the Hindus revere cows. Wonder if cow-shaped mailboxes are popular in India.

Attention. Attention. You are nearing Crystal River City limits.

I brought Gia with me to Crystal River several years ago. A real deal native city girl, she was amazed by the sight of “real, live trailers with people in them?” Yep.

Ah. “Real” America.

Highway side diner; the scene of many sneaky breakfasts during 1st period Pre-Calc. Sorry, Mom.

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Nothing about Crystal River has ever felt like home – even less so since my parents moved to Tampa and I became a serial expat. But I’ll tell you what – I’ve seen sunsets in 21 countries and they don’t get much prettier than this.

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Nick says:

    Nice to be able to picture Bumblefork now! That first photo is pure genius! Love dugongs… are they the same as Manatees?

  2. ieatmypigeon says:

    Thanks for the support as always, Nick! Dugongs are in the same order as manatees (sirenia) but are different. I’m telling you, that manatee mailbox is just one of hundreds in Bumblefork. I’ve seen manatee venetian blinds, manatee door screens, and when I worked at a jewelry shop, a whole section devoted to manatee jewelry. Are Dugong mailboxes popular in Egypt?

  3. Nick says:

    Ha ha, not as common as I wish they were. I think I read somewhere that the Red Sea and Gulf of Arabia have the largest numbers of Dugong in the world outside of Australia.

  4. Kao says:

    Looks like home 🙂 I tried to explain to a friend [native of West Virginia] that the thing I would miss most when I moved to SC were the sunsets. She said “But we have sunsets!” So not the same. Ever.

    1. ieatmypigeon says:

      They’re really lovely in North Central Florida, aren’t they? Especially going down over the city’s new Sonic.

      1. Kao says:

        Sonic! That’s pretty big city now 😀 There’s this one spot, down highway 50 [west, by weeki wachee] that has the absolute best. ^_^

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