Say what you want about the wall-to-wall but Aunt Mollie’s floor-to-ceiling glass is the best thing in Florida since Cabeza de Vaca walked butt naked to Mexico from this state five hundred years ago.

The fifty-foot wrap of glass dazzles the eyes and creates shadow worlds in the farthest recesses of the house.  Hide’n’seeking, we squeeze into the most Narnian corners of the wardrobes, where bits of the regal old lady’s spirit linger.  Aunt Mollie’s been gone a twelve-month and more.

For me Aunt Mollie’s that chick in An Officer and a Gentleman, a title that sounds gay and like all military stuff probably is, but features certain definitively hetero moments.  Like when the chick is picked up off the shop floor by Richard Gere at the end of the movie and carried off to be an officer flyboy’s wife at whatever AFB worldwide goes with the territory and the stint.  I guess it’s Debra Winger playing Aunt Mollie.  And I guess Aunt Mollie finally came to roost here in Atlantis with the waterbirds and the Cessnas.  Roost in peace.

April hide’n’seek in Atlantis, we’re in thermal equilibrium.  No AC, no heat.  In the lustre of mid-day, no lights.  The breeze comes in four miles from the Gulf Stream, touches the blue of the pond just past one of twenty-seven golf holes, and stirs a nearly sad memory at the back of the house amongst some roosting coat hangers.  “Bare ruined choirs,” I say to Liam, who’s nine but according to certain tests supposedly has the intelligence of someone twice his age.  What does that even mean?  Liam ignores me—how bright can he be?

We’re temporarily off-grid in Atlantis, contributing nothing to the deterioration of ice caps or to the sinking of Pacific island nations.  When darkness comes, Liam will use his surfeit of intelligence to tinker with the notion of deploying the short stiff arms of the wall switches to lever distant Pacific coral archipelagos fractionally lower.

The solar premise of an offgrid Atlantis, not far from West Palm Beach, can hardly fail to stir the hearts of nowtopians.  Amidst the worst housing crisis since Cabeza de Vaca’s galleon sank, Floridean inessentials like roads, airports, and consolation gimcracks for the kids are kept artificially functional with outsider money.  But all the weedkiller in Atlantis couldn’t suppress the essential life force of the ecosystem here.  The irony is of a housing crisis on a peninsula that hardly needs houses at all.  I’ve lived outdoors in all seasons in Princeton, New Jersey in only a bivy sack, and in most other northern states with the luxury of a tent, so it seems to me there’s something heuristic about a Florida housing crisis.

It doesn’t take much to survive in this ecosystem.  Aunt Mollie’s house is a dromedary’s hump, a big hip-roof in the local way, shadowing the smaller living quarters.  The attic is crosshatched internally with cheap factory trusses so that its space is wasted in every way except the important one—thermally.  The shakes are concrete cleverly trompe l’oeil’d  to look like cedar.  The wide eaves block mid-day and summer sun and allow the rays to angle in when they are most needed.  A rain barrel at each corner of the roof would take care of most water needs, even in this decades-long drought.

Like its nation-state, Atlantis is a gated community, though no less friendly for all that.  A host of by-laws apparently prohibits folks from arranging things in their own interests: no vegetable gardening, significant composting, or eccentric behavior, unless you count rumors of my too-generous father-in-law’s no-holds-barred duck-wrestling matches.

But the really wonderful thing about Atlantis is that it’s got 99% of nowtopia already laid out.  Wherever folks have kept the big pre-AC windows to allow ocean breezes (especially the roll-out louvered kind), wherever there’s lots of glass brimmed to block hi-angled sun and to catch low-angled sun, nowtopia’s rough-framed and ready to be relaxed into.  Just roll a few PT Cruisers upside down at the business end of each intersection to block automobile traffic, and get planting.  Stuff grows here.

Aunt Mollie’s formerly mid-to-upper-class house is sinking in price so quickly it is practically out of sight and will soon disappear Atlantis-like into someone’s need for liquidity, or by the strange alchemy of real estate, will sink so low it will become oddly real again: rooted in the ground of being, the estate of the real.

Atlantis is a nowtopia so close you can practically, as the composter said, touch it.  I can think of no better tribute to old Aunt Mollie than to make the world anew, beginning right here.

DAVID Ker THOMSON has wandered Florida in various states of undress for decades.  dave.thomson@utoronto.ca



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