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Summer Solstice Eve

I have been standing in the Indian River for an hour now. Maybe longer. Maybe less. But, as I have stood here, the sun has disappeared behind me and darkness risen before me. This impossibly hot, long day has slipped into hot night.

A wood stork, never more than six feet from me, has been my companion since first I entered the water. We have both been listening. Just listening. Waves come gently in and out. Manatees nudge me in the knee-deep water. Fish jump, splash me. The bird and my self, silent and still.

There is no moon in the sky, only stars, numerous and bright. No light reflects in the lapping waves. They are felt, heard but invisible. The river, unseen. The water, silky, thick, warm. The air, dense, warmer, still.

After some time, I am moved to move, to travel to the sea and so I leave the river and make my way the half mile over it to the ocean, to the Atlantic.

Coconut Point. Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. My car is the only one there. I leave my shirt in the car. Sandals in the car. Wallet and keys and phone in the car. The boardwalk through the mangrove, over the dunes, is long, winding, impossible to see in the new moon and I feel my way along. The waves resonate thunder through the boards, reflect off the waxy leaves. The thunder is everywhere. The waves are everything. Everything drums and crashes, washes in and out.

The boardwalk turns and declines and becomes sand. The waves quiet on the wide beach. I walk. I feel no other human footprints on the dark sand but, from time to time tracks, shaped like those which might be left by a small earthmover, a backhoe. Follow them to the waves and they disappear. Follow them to the dunes, a sea turtle may be found digging her nest, laying her eggs. Some tracks lead from the water, to the dunes and back – a turtle having entered the air and exited again, leaving her eggs behind.

Still, there are no signs of people. No light, no print, no sound. I remove my shorts and walk. Walk. The world is naked to me and I to it, with no thing between me and nature that is not of nature’s making. Feeling the air about me, over me, covered in night and salt and dark and warmth, I am engulfed by the moist air and the sound of waves, each inch of me.

More sea turtle tracks. More and more. Some come halfway to the dunes, circle and return to the sea. Once a turtle is laying her eggs, she will not cease. Nothing will end it until she is done. Before she has begun, she may be followed behind, but cross in front and she will turn around to try another night, undisturbed.

Here and there I see a darker spot on the dark sand. They are patches of plant or stone, driftwood or the shadow of a depression in the beach. One walks carefully in the new moon. Slowly, they move. Turtles, the size of wheelbarrows, walk to the ocean, and I, from a distance, watch. Turtles, the size of kitchen tables, moving beachward against the oscillating surf. Do I see it? Do I see it? Yes, moving, moving, leaving the water for the land. I keep my distance, wait, watch, cross far behind.

I walk. Walk. There are small luminous, glowing spots in the sand. Shells, insects, glow worms, radium. I don’t know. I don’t want to know, I don’t want a description, I don’t want a name, I don’t want them named. I want only for them to shine blue and green and be the only lights on the beach. They are a mystery and I want them to stay that way. I leave them, undisturbed, like the turtles. Like the dunes, like the beach. When I have left, it will be as though I were never here. Already it is so.

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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in Nature

 

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Night Garden

It was around eleven pm and I started feeling hungry. I’m not sure if this is my stomach or my brain. I had a cup of black rice with about a cup of cooked vegetables for dinner around seven. Yet, since ten, I wanted more.

I opted for a bowl of organic Cheerios-esque cereal with almond milk. Not long after – not even after, halfway through the bowl, actually – I regretted every spoonful. So I continued, more and more loathing building with each mouthful until I finished the bowl, now empty of cereal but brimming with contempt.

Having eaten, it being about a quarter after eleven, I have to take a walk. While I know this does not undo what has been done, there is a part of my brain that tells me that is precisely what it does. A part of my brain exists that says this one action, talking a walk, will undo the cereal. A crazy part, no doubt. This is not something of which I am unaware. But had this part spoken up before the cereal, I’d be in bed now.

So I put on my socks and sneakers, collar and leash the suddenly ecstatic dog and out we go.

Today it stormed. This evening it stormed. I could hear the frogs and various un-named creatures through the windows. So, while I would normally take my MP3 player with me, this time I leave it at home. While normally I’d listen to lectures on physics, or religion, or recorded books, tonight I will listen to the sounds of the natural world, all wet and happy, awake and loud.

We leave through the back door, quietly, as my wife is sleeping, grabbing the bamboo short staff. There have been, as of late, stray, large, unfriendly dogs following us on our walks. Dogs in pairs and triplets, one at the heels, one on each side, each pushing me into the other. Growling and showing teeth. I tell them to leave and they do, then return a minute or so following closely, more closely, at my heels and side once again. I tell them there will be one fewer if I find a stick. When I do, they leave me before I can pick it up. Since I have carried this thirty inch long, one inch thick bamboo, they have not approached.

Through the yard and out the gate to the sidewalk. I attach the free end of the leash to my belt loop and my dingo trots along my left side, leash loose, looped, swaying as we walk.

I don’t see her, of course, walking next to me. One side is the blind side and the other side is the one with very little peripheral vision, so I need to trust her. And I do. I know what she is up to. I can tell where she is by the pull on the leash. When she gets a sandbur, and we have some versions of cenchrus here that appear to have been developed as devises of torture by the SuperDevil, I can tell immediately by the change in her gate, the different rhythm in the paws on pavement, the change in the sway of the leash.

A short walk. Two and a tenth miles. I walk this in the morning in thirty-five minutes which is a shade under four miles per hour and quite good for a fellow with my leg-length. Far too fast for an extended conversation which makes the dog a perfect partner. Tonight, though, we’d take our time and walk for the air and the sound.

The rains have left the night cool. Wet. It feels like home. Not a specific home, not a specific place, but home, a home faintly, distantly recognized, comfortable, familiar, inviting and kind. The wind is easy and the frogs are singing. Insects are buzzing. As we walk, Dusty’s nails clack on the sidewalk, insects tick in the taller grasses. There are croaks and calls and buzzes.

I place the staff, lengthwise, on my right shoulder, a foot and a half or so behind me, a foot and a half or so before me. It balances easily, seesawing from time to time, swaying in and out now and then, like a compass needle. This will keep my posture in mind as we walk.

I wonder what sings in the grass. Not names, not labels, just what is. So many creatures and so few found. So few named. Many people think we know all of life on the Earth, but here, right next to me, could be life unknown. There very likely is.

Very few have any interest in this. You could gather all the taxonomists in the world into one small hotel. Experts on fungus? The world’s mycologists could meet at a Day’s Inn conference room.

In The Diversity of Life, Edward O. Wilson describes the work of one botanist who spent a few days in Borneo and discovered over one thousand new flowering plant species. More discovered in half a week than the total of what is known in North America since we have been keeping records. A pair of Norwegian scientists, as a lark, picked up two samples, only one gram each, of soil from a beech forest near their lab. Carefully analyzed, they found between four and five thousand separate bacterial species in each sample. More than is recorded in the best known record of things microbial, Bergy’s Manual of Bacteriology. Over nine thousand species in two pinches of soil taken from no place special. In Kenya, four new species of millipedes and a new tree, a big tree, is found.

Such is the myth of naming. Such is the idea that we explore, thirst to discover, to mark, to label, divide, organize. We don’t care, most of us.

I don’t care for names. But I listen as we walk, wonder what might be singing I have never heard singing before. Maybe something is thrumming with life, just beneath my feet, no one has ever seen. Maybe.

Bamboo leaves rustle. Jasmine glows under the three-quarter moon. Angel trumpets hang, moonflowers open as we pass. A rabbit is sitting by an in-ground pool behind a house no one has lived in for over a year. Owls call. Bats dart. Dusty, from time to time, walks out slightly ahead, looks this way and that. When I follow her gaze, I see cats.
Lives in the trees as we approach silence as we walk under them and resume as we pass.

I bend forward and the staff slips off my shoulder and down into my right hand. I twirl it forward, back, round and round, behind me, under my arm. I flip it over my hand and into my left to do the same. My dog never notices. I place it on the left shoulder, grab the front with my left hand and the back of the staff with my right, pulling down, bringing my shoulder lower, digging into the muscle, ironing it with the broad bamboo. Over the back and onto the right shoulder for the same. A large toad crosses the sidewalk in front of me.

I leave the staff to balance once again. Blue lights of TVs brighten and fade, one person argues with another, cicadas call, moaning gains intensity, breathing quickens rhythmically, gains volume, slackens, softens, intensifies again, a dog barks, a baby cries, there is buzzing in the grass, someone says they are not coming back. A car starts.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2009 in Food, Nature, philosophy

 

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On My Walk this Morning, about Forty Minutes

First half of my walk, away from my home.

“I haven’t seen him in days. I just hear the dogs.”

“We need a unit on Bianca.”

“Danny, it was great.”

“It was just like the bar. Miss that place. Most of them are dead now. Nut’in but friendly faces.”

“You ain’t said you loved me. You ain’t never said you loved me.”

“A child of god. I am a man, what else am I supposed to do? We have the owner of Suntrust kneeling every Sunday in front of that altar.”

Back home again.

Wind.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2007 in Culture, Nature, philosophy

 

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Now is the Autumn of my Discontent

I am outside with a spray nozzle in my hand, watering the bulbs, the sun mimosa, bananas, ly chi and carambola trees. The sun has just gone below the Indian River, just below the spit of land past it; into the Atlantic Ocean. It is dark except for the moon, full yesterday but now with a small missing crescent, reflecting the distant daylight brightly in the moist air and grass. In the dark everything glows.

The sprinklers blow the wellwater misted across the small bit of the world in my full care and the air is atomized night-jasmine and sulfur perfume. The entire world smells like it is drinking water from a garden hose.

The temperature is in the sixties. In just two days the temperature has dropped. In just two days my world has gone from hot and wet to cool and dry, from shut tight and air conditioned to a fan in the open windows and the uninhibited sound of the train in the distance.

In just two days my energy has risen and I think of moving to Alaska. My brother-in-law tells me all about it now that they live there. I think of it seriously. Whenever the temperature drops I think of the joy of living in The North. Whenever the temperature rises again, I think of the joy of moving to The North.

Living in Florida, The North is not far. Those not living in Florida might think The North is actually quite removed from the land of flowers, as far spacially as psychologically, but it doesn’t take long to get there. One needn’t go far to find cooler temperatures for more of the year, coloured leaves, even snow. In a car, it takes only ten hours for the temperature to drop twenty or more degrees in the Autumn, in the Winter, in the Spring.

Last Winter, in the time between Christmas and New Years, early in the near dawn, we left Ft. Lauderdale in a Saturn Ion, my wife and I, dressed in dungarees and t-shirts. We drove North through Florida five hours to Jacksonville and changed into a long-sleeved shirt. Three hours later, in South Carolina we broke out the jackets. Two hours, in Virginia, we needed them. An hour and a half later, in Maryland, as we exited the car at a service plaza, we shivered and put the jackets away and out came the leather coats. An hour later, in Delaware I wondered where my long johns had been packed, I found my hat and it was more than a casual Winter. In the gray sky white flakes began to drift. It was the evening of the same day.

In one half a day, from warm weather to a woolen sweater. Amazing. And it left me wanting more as the grip of this new Autumn’s surrounding chill wakes me, moves me and leaves me perpetually wanting to embrace Winter.

Often, when the sky is gray with clouds spanning westerly over the coast, I look up and expect it to be cold. Regardless the time of year I expect the air to be cold, the wind to chill, the ground to be cooling and I am always surprised. I am astonished to walk outside and find the air warm. It is wrong. It feels wrong inside me and the outside world does not match what I know, in my heart, in my muscles, it should be.

This last Summer, early June, I find myself in Milwaukee. At night the air is dipping into the forties. During the day it is dry and warms slowly only to drop again, soon, with the dipping sun. The air is filled with lilac and, well before ever seeing one, I recognize the scent. It is the smell of childhood: lilac, lily of the valley and apple blossoms. It is of flowers in the cool morning air, in the cooling evening.

Becca has just called. They have been in Kentucky for three days now. Bowling Green. Upon their arrival she, Kayla and Richard immediately took off their shoes and walked into the first patch of lawn. Real grass, Becca tells us. Not like in Florida. It is soft, a pliant cushion under the feet. Sometimes the grass tilts up and sometimes it tilts down. Hills. Actual hills. She had nearly forgotten. It is evening as I say my goodby and the temperature is dropping into the forties.

Ohio. June. Outside Gallipolis. I am camping. In the daytime it is reaching the eighties and the people around me, not from Florida, are complaining of the heat. It is nothing. At night the temperature drops into the forties. It is splendid. Truly wonderful and truly comfortable.

Redlick, Kentucky. June again. My friend Lisa and I stumble upon a sign in the road pointing toward a bluegrass festival. It is the late afternoon and, after a glorious attempt to score moonshine from a potter in a hollow like thousands of others among these mud-bucket-pie mountains, we drive the one-lane county track eastward into the forest in search of music.

Lisa and I lay side by side on our blanket, beneath the sky and in front of the stage. Beneath us the grass moistens and around us the air is quickly cooling in the creeping eventide. Three hours later we are soaked with dew. It all feels right. It all feels normal.

North Carolina. Saxapahaw. Winter and an outdoor hot tub with the great-grandson of James Joyce, named James Joyce. He lives in Yadkin County and teaches English at the community college there. I remember him so clearly because he is so much better read than I. His accent is very different than his great-grandfather’s. Also there is Starr, who went with me to get my TB test when my wife could not, who understood the terror of an unfounded fear is greater than that of one built on a real foundation. Allison, of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans from the Triad CUUPs of Greensboro UU, Paul and assorted people from a group called The Lunatic Fringe. The steam rises from the fog veil hovering between the water and the air, around our too many bodies and not a bathing suit in sight. The difference in temperature is vivid, palpable, glorious.

Earlier that night, on a rise above the Haw River, we celebrated a full moon. Walking into the group a tall, gangly man named Bill, distinctive enough I could recognize him anywhere. I knew him in Gainesville and how could he be here? His daughter lives in Durham and he is friends of the ladies in this group. We shared some very unpleasant experiences in Gainesville have an understanding of what it means to belong. We embrace out of surprise as much a friendship. It is February, it is cold and it is a very small world. Just as it should be.

It is January. I am driving through Philadelphia to attend Sunday services at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in the Mt. Airy area of this city. Philadelphia is built like a berry with a common center but mostly composed of multiple small, individual small-town feeling areas, different sizes and shapes, all together which make up the great city. Driving on Roosevelt Parkway, we found ourselves on a cut-though section between forty-foot rising rockwalls rife with frozen-in-motion spits of water stopped in mid-cascade, beneath the elegance of gigantic skeletal trees making an over-arching finger-bone tunnel. In the middle of a city, we were in the ninety-two thousand acre Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world and an area which comprises ten percent of the total land of Philadelphia.

That afternoon, in the Byrn Mawr section, gloved, scarved and capped, I went for a three hour walk in the sub-freezing air, careful on the ice, past delis and art museums, past my own breath coalescing in the air before me, trailing past me. I am alive and quick. My face feels red and I am smiling. I am smiling.

Three days have passed since I wrote the first words here. It is mid October. Today the temperature is eighty-eight degrees. The world is not right. This is wrong. This is just wrong.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2006 in Nature, Uncategorized

 

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Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach.

Playing at Playalinda: Mindful Self-indulgence at the Beach

We planned another day at the beach, Evanne and I. The last day at Playalinda was enjoyed so much that another day was planned on the way back from the first. It certainly lived up to its name: beautiful beach. Evanne pulled out her planner: a notebook with self-drawn calendar inside. Evanne’s keeping of a calendar has been the best thing for my social life. That is what I told her in the car. I misspoke. Social, yes, but artistic more-so, as every time we are together feels like an artistic expedition. It is not that I use Evanne’s scheduler. I need no calendar on paper and keep it, instead, in my head. But others do not and it has always been a difficulty. They must check their calendars, look at their schedules, get back to me later. Evanne knows now with the flip of a page. So, yes, I misspoke. With Evanne’s do-it-yourself dayplanner, we can work in tandem. With a date picked, Beth was called to make sure it was a day she could make it, or arrange to, and it was done. Thus, our day was set.

A trip for five was in our thoughts. We had just heard about a shipwreck and wanted to investigate; knowing Evanne’s husband Jack would be as interested as we. I looked forward to the mile or so walk up the most unspoiled seashore in Florida to the derelict, supposedly on the shore. My wife, Lee, may or may not go for the walk but was definitely up for an afternoon of laying out on the sand, wading in the water, enjoying her Atlantic Ocean. A trip for five and, as today, not a single bathing suit would be packed.

And for two weeks this was looked forward to. We would leave at ten to keep Beth out of the afternoon sun.

During the next two weeks, times changed; later, earlier, who can go, who might be working and but week was left.

We spent the week painting my son’s room. This had been planned for over the last two months and the time was here. By ‘we’ I mean Evanne and Alek from a design by Alek. I was tapemeister. I can be trusted with masking tape. Paint is another story.

Black squares, red squares, black and white checkerboard walls, graffiti ceiling, a black wall full of Mindless Self Indulgence. That is to say, the wall is covered from top left to bottom right with lyrics written in silver Sharpie. It was amazing, the process of taping, painting and moving a room from stark to startling in three days. What was more amazing was to watch the process of Evanne writing on the wall, word by word, letter by letter. Just as startling, no six inch square section of the lyric wall does not contain a curse-word, an expletive, a derisive term. I measured.

Pictures were taken, digital, emailed to his friends. They think it is cool and can hardly believe his parents, us, allowed the room painted in such a way. My son thinks it would be more cool if we thought it was less so. He’ll have to deal with that. My wife thinks it’s cool. I think it’s cool too but I don’t get the lyrics. I understand the parodic nature of the band. I get it as anti-pop. But I also don’t see the artistry, why anyone would want to look at it day after day after day. The world from which that music would come is not the world I’d want to live in.

I too have started writing on my walls. In silver Sharpie. Our back room, that which use to be a shed, is painted in dark swirls blue as new denim, dense as cirrus clouds. It is the conservatory of our manor home and it contains two drum-sets, a dulcimer, a base guitar, an amp, four full floor to ceiling bookcases, an old sofabed, a fifty-year-old Castro Convertible table. It is ten by nine and slowly, the walls become home to a hypergraphic storm of poetry and prose.

It was two weeks ago I had said, in an off comment, if I lived alone, I’d write on my walls. I said this again, later, to Evanne, Evanne said this to my wife. Surprised, Lee thought this was splendid. Why not?

Soon, we’ll start on our bedroom: denim, patched walls. Rivets and seams. Lee has already picked up a denim comforter. On the walls will be the signs for the directions. Painted around the room, emerging from the fictionalized aging of the denim, within the discoloration over time, a part of the creases from wear, the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism. What do we constantly face? What do we take in through the eyes, in what do we immerse ourselves? What do we make ourselves and what do we become?

Lee is talking about a wall of hieroglyphs.

She is also saying she can’t go to the beach. She has taken patients for that day originally scheduled for a day she had to drive to South Florida. We are four.

Friday comes, Jack is called to work. Ultimately, this is a good thing for him. Construction, remodeling, building and rebuilding is decreased here. This is recent. It is hurricane season. So now we are three and it is time to leave. Driving together, in Beth’s car, we are lost, end up on US1, much like old Florida, roadside attractions, rustic shops, antique malls, flea markets. Scrub and river. Forty-five minutes and we find our way. We drive to the last lot as Beth, a biologist by training, cannot believe there is so much unspoiled, conserved land. We must come back to hike. We must return to the sanctuary. We will, but on to the beach.

As usual, the parking lot for the clothing optional section, the last section, is the most crowded. It is next to one of the many small domed observatories dotting this coast, used to track launches. A white two story bubble with a mohawk crest, surrounded by a fence. We see them everywhere here.

We look to use the restrooms before unloading the car: three chairs, a small plantable umbrella, and a cloth bag stuffed with two horseblankets, some towels, extra clothing and our water. The bathrooms are composed of a room the size of two port-a-potties with a slanted toilet embedded into the stainless steel wall. Next to it is a lever coming out from the floor, extending upward about three feet and slightly off ninety degrees; long enough to reach my waist. The ladies bathroom, and I have this on authority only, contains a spider large enough to require a personal name, wide enough to play frisbee with. As a result, I guard the men’s room door while it was occupied Evanne. It has two locks. I guard it anyway. There are few honours left men these days.

We have taken sneakers with us and small bags to hold our clothes. We grab those and the umbrella, take out the blankets, put back the chairs. Off we go, walking past the observatory, giving it a wide berth. NASA is close by, fences everywhere, guardposts. Our boys in the government, here to help. A wide berth.

The beach is crowded, especially considering the distance one must travel to get to this beach, to the end of this beach, to the last lot at the end of this beach. We walk toward the water and the cooler sand, north, out of the crowd and, at a place Beth and Evanne decide is a great spot for a blanket, settle. Down the blankets are lain, out comes the umbrella, Evanne opens it and I grab the handle quickly as she is jerked suddenly northward. I take the umbrella to make exactly the same error in case anyone did not see it the first time. Shall we open it into the wind, she suggests. Absolutely. Into the ground, no hammer, rocks gathered, sand piled around the base and, when all is done, we have earned an oblong patch of shadow large enough to keep the one o’clock sun off a toy dog.

And, by the time I have the sand piled around the umbrella pole, the clothes are off and the ladies sit, looking out to the ocean. How easily one can get use to a new way. No trepidation. I’ve nothing to do but join them.

I pull the sunscreen from my bag and make sure it is available, visible. I am reminded we should watch each other to make sure no-one burns. I don’t forget the spots I missed last time. You are parental just when you need to be, I am told. A compliment. Appreciated.

Into the water. It feels cold to start and warms slowly. I know the temperature of the water has not changed but only how I feel it, perceive it. We become accustomed to a thing. Our perceptions change. Our senses adjust. Plain becomes beautiful, cool becomes warm and the change has been us, not the thing itself. But, in the end, who can tell. With no external witness, it is the location of two points in an otherwise empty space. Which one has moved and in what relation to the other cannot be told. Reality is plastic.

Beth walks out. At an inch shy of six feet, thin and long, the waves wash around her, take no notice. Evanne and I get knocked over again and again, washed in, washed out. We are buffeted and I turn to the side, grab Evanne’s hand to keep her from falling back as she is hit by another wave. Beth stands tall in the distance; we are getting buried on the sand. Still, the hot air, warm water, cooling breeze, open to the world, even with feet covered, sand over my ankles, I am in bliss and, then I am on my backside and washed over by a wave.

So we walk. We think of getting our sneakers, putting them in our bags with some clothes so, if the shipwreck is found, we can climb, clamber, explore. Instead, we opt to leave them behind taking only one small bag and a camera, choosing the freedom to walk unfettered, unburdened. And walk we do. A mile, two, three. No shipwreck. Then, darkness at the surf’s edge. Rolling rippled darkness visible through the sand. Tar? Stone? Stone is unlikely here on this central Florida shore. I reach down and feel for the texture. It is not stone but gives gently, dense and spongy. A fingernail comes up with softness under it. Softness and moistness like soil, compost. This is wood; sea-soaked, decomposing wood. We have found our shipwreck and there is nothing here to explore. We walk it and it is visible over a hundred feet long, look out and it is wide by at least forty, disappearing into the waves. We walk on.

And walk. We pass all people, everything. There is nothing in sight made by a human. Nothing to hear but waves, birds and our own laughter. We are alone on the beach from which we are separated by nothing. Evanne says something I do not remember but it results in a hug, my arm around her waist for a moment as we walk.

And walk – the three of us, all light, bright, reflective. Ohio, Nebraska and Massachusetts have given three bodies to the South and we look it. We are white and pink, not tan, beige, bronze. And we are walking together in the July sun.

The sandpipers are running up to the receding surf, away from the incoming waves. Along the shoreline as it moves in and out. Evanne does the same, yelling she is a sandpiper, a sandpiper, a sandpiper, running up to the foam as it leaves, away from the surf as it arrives, in and out, up and down following the shore. It is a perfect imitation as she jogs and bobs with them, her little body in perfect mimic of the tiny birds.

They are redubbed Evannebirds.

It may be too much for Beth, the heat or the distance or the incline of the shore and we turn back, passing a couple kissing by the surf. In the distance, the observatory, small like a newly popped mushroom. The closer we get the more people we pass, then chairs, towels and, at last, our blankets, umbrella and Beth heads to the water to cool. Then back, wet, to the blanket to lie, looking up at the sky, blue and clear.

As she rests quietly, Evanne and I talk. Who is offended? Why should so few beaches be open to this? We are comfortable without wet cloth, we are not cold. Not covered in dry cloth, we are not hot. I frame it as a health issue. Evanne frames it as a freedom issue. Why not at least half the beaches? If there are people who are really offended, why not set aside a beach for them. At the end of the road. The last lot. Past the last lot. But those who wish the least constraints are nearly always put upon to travel the furthest. It is the way, it seems, and seems to have always been so.

And now it is time to return to constraints. The clouds are coming in: dark and rumbling in the not-so distance. I do not mind getting wet, walking in the rain, but I would like to put away the umbrella and blankets before they are sodden. Once this is done, we make a mistake by looking at a watch hanging on a bag. It is past four o’clock. We have taken our time, took no notice of tomorrow, no thought of yesterday. Just now, now and the sound of the waves. In the moment. Mindless.

We do, indeed, go.

Clothes are put on with great reticence. We have eaten saltines, apples, oat-bars. Real food is called for. Where to go is asked by Beth, who is driving today, as we pack. They know I am careful but I do not try to put my diet on them. They know I will not keep them from going where they want but know I should eat as well and want to know where we can go. Anywhere with vegetables is what I tell her as we drive the long road out of Canaveral. Down US1 or to 95? Truly, I do not know. We choose 95, driving through Titusville and find a sub place. This will do and we park as Lee calls. Dinner? But the girls are hungry and we are forty minutes away from Lee.

Vietnamese is what she wants. I’d love it myself. Beth and Evanne have not had and, Beth, considerate as she always is, suggests putting dinner off a bit and joining Lee. I am glad of this. Since Lee still has an errand or two, the timing works. Beth drives and Evanne holds my phone out between them as they sing her a song, one they created about a “pokey woman” and dedicated to their favorite physician; my Lee. She laughs and laughs over the cell.

We meet at the Vietnamese restaurant. One of us is short and the meal is covered. It’s no big thing. It is no thing at all.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2006 in Culture, Nature, philosophy, Social

 

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Day of the Manatees

US1 through southern and central Brevard County is an easy drive of sparse architecture and brilliant liquid beauty along the Indian River. The Indian River is wide and shallow, averaging three feet deep and often navigable by foot from the quarter mile to eight miles between bank to bank. Not a river at all, really, but a rod-straight saltwater sound, it is barely separated from the Atlantic by more than a spit of land.

Along the river are salt-marshes, inlets and coves and it was past one of those many coves I drove Saturday morning on my way from Palm Bay, five miles north, to pick up Evanne. That day we were making a kiln of coiled newspaper at my home, breaking into a bag of terracotta clay with about a dozen people to make runes, Tellstones, whatnots small in size. People were due at noon.

As I drove, the shoulder, commonly narrow enough only for an emergency stop, widened into a grass-filled clearing level with the lapping river. Only about forty feet deep and perhaps one hundred feet long, normally empty and affording a view of the wide river and the narrow division of land which broke the ocean and created the sound, today it was bordered, as the trees cleared, by an upright half-sheet of plywood asking, in large caution-orange paint, that we take home one of the many pit-bull puppies available. Behind it were parked what were certainly to be too many cars to be explained by free puppies. Against the shore were clumps of people – adults, children – with cameras, binoculars, pointing fingers off the bank at a space some thirty feet distant.

At fifty miles per hour I can’t see much. Cars, people, cameras and a boiling of water where they point. In the river’s tumult were dark shapes, significant in size, one breaking the surface of the water. While I cannot see what they are, by the time the tableau has taken its place behind me, as the car curves past the Honda dealership, I have figured out what they were; manatees.

I have been here a year. I have not seen a manatee though I hear about them and their friendly nature, their bad breath, the texture of their skin.

I speed up. I am but five minutes from Evanne’s and reach for my phone to call her, to ask her to be ready so, in the truck, we can go back, park, walk to the bank and, I hope, see my first manatees. The phone rings.

“Are we on for today? I figured we were because you said we were, but Jack said I should check.”

I was due to pick her up at eleven that morning. It was ten ‘till.

“I’m four minutes away. Can you be ready? I’ll explain when I get there but I don’t want to talk while I’m driving.”

I drive too fast. She is ready and gets into the truck.

“I think I passed a group of manatees right off the road. I think. I want to stop and see. We have about an hour. If people have to wait a bit for us, for this, they’ll have to wait.”

“Really? I’d love to see them.”

People rush so much. Everything, it seems, is on a time frame. For picking up Evanne on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, I chance not seeing the manatees. I drove by them. I think briefly of passing them by again; people are due at my house. I drive back quickly. Too quickly. Time again. This time I stop, pulling over the double-yellow line into the clearing and between two cars.

There is a whirlpool deep with dark silhouettes of bodies long and broad. I can see this through the windshield and open the glove-box to take out the binoculars, the monocular and we get out.

Approaching the water, I hand the binoculars to Evanne. “I asked for a discount on the binoculars, since I can use only one lens, but they just laughed. I don’t see why I should pay for something I can’t use. You turn this to focus.” She takes them out of the case, I twist the wheel between the lenses as she holds them. I take the monocular out of its case and stuff the vinyl into my back pocket. I put it to my right eye and point it out to the roil in the river.

We are two among a constantly renewing eight or ten people watching the spectacle in the water. Three manatees, it appears, one female and two male: mating season. We watch, one then the other, the one again. Breaching, tails slapping the surface, mist blowing from nostrils, grey backs above the water. At once it appears there is a jostling, it appears one has attacked another. We watch. We listen.

Perhaps the female has told one of the males she has had enough. Perhaps has had all she wants. Or one male has challenged, is ready to fight, been rebuked by the female. Then all is calm and they are taking turns again.

The sound skips over the water and mixes with, spurs on the chatter around us .

“It’s a manatee orgy.”

“Manatee gangbang.”

“She’s tired of them and wants a ciggy.”

Snickering, laughing. Rude comments.

I think to myself, talk to myself, I wonder at the anthropomorphizing. Why put them into a human frame? Have we done such a good job of it? After all, they’re the ones making love in the water, having sex in the river, taking turns, out in the open, no worries, no cares, procreating, playing (perhaps), not thinking of tomorrow, not yesterday, just now, in action and moment, life lived as present-tense verbs.

What’s our problem? We want to live, be healthy, or, at least, be comfortable while we live long. We want to live and live and live. Quantity over quality and tomorrow over the moment. We want to have things, more things, one more thing, then something else, another. More and more. We want shelter because we will be more comfortable, live longer if we are out of the cold, out of the heat, out of the sun. Longer, more, tomorrow, worry, next year, better place. Then, we look at the manatees in the river and give them our thoughts, our desires and our reactions when it is we who wish to feel like them, give up the home, live in the water, have sex on the shore, think of nothing and have only now. But for the fear, we would. But for fear of the end, we would. And so, we pretend they are like us as imagining we are them simply begs dissonance, wonder, confusion.

It is quarter ‘till twelve. Evanne reminds me we have people who will be waiting for us. I respond by going to my truck and getting my polarized sunshields – big enough to fit over my glasses. With these, I can cut out the reflection of the water, see through the surface. They are one more thing. I bring them back and hand them to Evanne. We pass them back and forth. Finally, binoculars, monocular are put away. I’m reminded it’s time to go and, back to the truck, we do just that.

We drive way from the water, out to US1, and, as we recross the double-yellow I can still see the swirling of the water in my mirror.

The afternoon comes, the company does as well. Stones are made, a kiln is built. I make a dinner of salmon and steak, both on the grill for hours now, lowly, slowly and vegetables cooked fast in a large, flame-surrounded wok.

Over dinner, Craig tells us about the park nearby, Goode Park, and the manatees. He lays on the dock, the one that floats. His hands lay in the water, waving gently and the manatees come to him and to have their bellies rubbed. Bellies rubbed? I have never heard of that. Manatees again.

I am to do a workshop that evening: a singing workshop. Old Aramaic chants. It is at Goode Park. I picked it because it was close by; six blocks away and I plan to walk there. Goode Park is on Turkey Creek, which connects to the Indian River.

Walk there we do. It is seven in the evening and the workshop starts at seven-thirty. It starts when I get there but I would not start late. I will start on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, and, if there are any, I chance not seeing the manatees.

I walk with Evanne and Valerie to the dock and, as we step, it moves beneath us. I see nothing but lay down on my belly, as do the ladies. I put my hands in the water and wave them in and out just under the surface. In and out. Nearly instantly, surprisingly, a nose, four inches across, breaks the surface, closed nostrils open, hot air expelled and it smells of old vegetables., eyes are wide, focused on my face. Eyes like mahogany shooters surrounded by grey flesh. A short-nose elephant in the water.

I reach over and pat the head. It is smooth, warm, comfortable. Round, firm, comforting. Another comes up, sleekly, quietly, graceful in way I have seldom seen and I am thinking how something so impossibly shaped, so ungainly on land could be the utter animation of grace and flow and while I am thinking this another sneaks up, unseen, unheard. So large and so quiet.

I pat it with both hands, rubbing either side of its head. As I do, it snuffles at my palms, left then right, opens its mouth, licks my fingers and moves forward placing its head once more between my hands.

It turns over, deftly, silently as I rub and my hands are on it’s belly: soft, muscular, warm and I rub it as long as it will have until it moves back and my hands are on it’s chest, its flippers are thick, nails large and tough and I can’t help but feel them and I hold its hand. Hand, so much like my hand, five nails, fingers joined by skin and cartilage but five fingers, five nails. A moment passes and the hand I’m holding places, easily moves, mine back onto its chest, making its desire well and clear; it wants its chest and neck rubbed.

It is raised from the water, belly and a portion of its side above the surface, visible. On the grey skin, in the flesh, are four yellow scars, at regular distances, at the same angle, nearly and inch wide and each about a foot long. I would see this again and again as the manatees would come up, each in turn, scars and scars.

And so, our bellies to the ground, theirs to the air, we rubbed them, as long as they would have, into the warm night.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2006 in Culture, Nature, Social

 

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A Day at the Beach

I headed out of the house at 9:30 to pick up my friend for a day at the beach. I am light and burn. Evanne is transparent and will, if given the opportunity and circumstances, frizz away faster than a vampire in special-effects sunlight. So, of course, we headed to the beach where no suit’s needed.

I picked her up about ten. Evanne is not her real name, of course. I changed it to protect her identity. Her real name is Evan. Her father had expected a boy, it seemed, or had the name picked out already and why let a little thing like the gender of a child change an already well laid plan?

My son had a name before he was born. Benjamin. When he arrived, I caught him. I looked at him, handed him to my wife as my daughter, age five, readied to cut the cord. He lifted himself up on my wife’s chest and looked her straight in the eye. She then voiced what I had thought: This is not Benjamin.

We named him Alek. Four years later he was playing with a friend neither I nor my wife could see. We asked him, “Who are you playing with?”

“Benjamin.”

“Who is Benjamin?” We knew the answer. We didn’t expect the answer.

“My brother. We switched,” he stated with a broad, wry smile.

Well laid plans.

Evanne wanted to go to this beach for a while now but had no-one who wanted to go with her. For me this was an easy decision. A day with Evanne is not exactly a kick in the head. For those of you with no sense of sarcasm, remember sarcasm is the statement, as foil (a sharp contrast to point out clear differences), of the opposite of what is well understood as truth. So, I restate: a day with Evanne is definitely an event to look forward to. And looking forward to this I had been; listening, talking, walking with my friend.

Her husband is delighted. He doesn’t want her to go alone, has not been there, has no intention of going there. And, happily, he trusts me. I’m safe. At least, that’s how my wife explains it.

I’m good with that. Being safe has gotten me into some rather interesting situations.

“Help me try this on.” “Does too much of me show in this?” “Is this too see-through?” “How does this thong fit?” Can you help me put this chain-mail bikini on?” “Would you watch my nubile young daughter for me?”

All which, of course, have nothing to do with this. But it was great or making the guys I worked with, went to school with, shake their heads in disbelief.

We were headed to the nude beach.

I love being safe.

“Whoowhoo!! Nude Beach!” That’s Evanne. That’s quite a bit of sound from my four-ten friend.

She is nervous. Has brought clothes just in case. Has looked forward to this and brought clothes just in case. It is deeply ingrained, this feeling that taking clothes off is wrong. I know. I feel it each and every time I go there. I tell her not to worry but, if she wants to leave at any point, just to let me know.

On the way we talk of writing and she asks if I’ll be writing about this. Of course.

In truth, no. I will write in a cursory fashion. I’ll write of the generality, the universality. Most of what we say will never make it here. I won’t let it. It is no value to those who read it but it is priceless to me. And why should my friend think everything we say and do will be for the world? I’m too selfish for that.

Do you want me to change your name?

I would. If she wanted I’d change her name. She tells me no. No need to change her name but, if I want, I can give her a nickname instead. She’d love to see what kind of nickname I’d come up with for her.

I tell her it would take me longer to come up with a good nickname than it would to write the entire piece. Nicknaming is not a direction my brain goes in. I can’t think of a better name for her.

For some people, their names are just wrong. I take a moment to think of their names. Hesitate before calling them. Wondering if I have the name right. Not so with Evanne.

So we headed to the end of Playalinda Beach, the end of road at Canaveral National Seashore. Past lot 13. Perhaps they thought having a lot 13 would scare folk away. It was the busiest of the lots, had the most people. Of course they were happy: No wet suits.

We parked. Took the bags, the two folding cloth chairs, the water and lemonade and walked from the lot to the dune-crossover. Above our heads, the American flag and, directly under it, waving from the same pole, a yellow flag with a bright orange sun sporting dark sunglasses. The sun protected from itself.

She had been covered with Coppertone sunscreen before we left. It was the kind that has the large pink bottle and the small blue bottles that attaches to it. I must assume one solution is the girl sunscreen and the blue is the boy sunscreen. I imagine they are mixed together like epoxy, bind and make an impenetrable shield of reflection. I imagined looking at her and being fried, instantly, by the exponentially magnified ultraviolet.

I told her mine was SPF 2,316.

“Really?’

“No.” What can I say? To nearly anyone else I’d have let that go. To Evanne I tell the truth. “But it is waterproof and I won’t slide off the seat.”

I waited until we were out on the beach and made sure she had any extra she needed. I worried about missing some spots. I always worry and always do. They become evident later.

The sun has heated the sand. We’ve gotten there by eleven to avoid the most direct heat of the day. Neither on of us needs that much sun. Yet, the sand is still too hot to for me as we walk toward the surf.

We move to where the sand has been wet and the temperature is lower. The chairs are set out as we remove shoes. Two towels out of the bag. Shirts. Hesitation. Hesitation. Pants. Sunscreen. I miss some spots. I know it.

I am now comfortable. I am amazed. Not long ago, heavier, paunchier, I’d have worried. Who was looking, how did I look? There was some vanity involved, self-consciousness, and if I admit it, which I shall not, self-loathing as well. But now, lighter, thinner, I know no-one is looking, no-one cares. I am comfortable with myself. Comfortable in this chair. Not perfect, but comfortable and I delight in knowing it was my hard work and persistence which is paying off, now, in my comfort and joy, out in the sun, today, with my friend.

I know Evanne does not care. We would have come out anyway, enjoyed the day, the company, conversation. I admit it’s all me and I am out and delighted with myself. A new experience for me. I could get use to this.

We work on fleshing out my RPG character. I’m not quite geeky enough. Not yet. I need to play a Role Playing Game. That will help.

We talk of a video game that I remember as Catman Domine. That’s not the name. It involves funky Japanese music and a sticky ball that picks up cats and batteries so the King’s only begotten son can bring light back to the world. A Japanese electro-analogue of Kabalistic Christianity.

I have never played a video game. Not since Centipede. I don’t think this is the one to start with.

The sun is hot. The dunes behind us real, seagrassed, tall. Before us the waves are high, wide, long.

We talk of Russian history, the Tsars, movements to freedom stopped by well-meaning anarchists unknowlingly putting an end to that for which they fought, assassinated with constitutions in their pockets, on their way to dissolving themselves.

It’s time for a walk. We head North on the waterline. The tide is headed in and the chairs disappear in the distance behind us. People are walking. Adults, children, teens. Some by themselves. Some as groups, couples. Some comfortable with each other, some stand at distances, apart, unsure. Mixed couples. Female couples. Male couples. Laughing, holding hands, trading glances between themselves and the incoming waves. Families, lovers, friends.

“Look at that. It’s so sweet. Everyone gets along. No worries about clothing or gender or who’s who. What if it were like that everywhere?”

“Well, then we’d actually take care of things that mattered, like who had no place to live, who had no medical care, instead of who’s living with who and who says they’re married. Imagine that.”

We turn around. How long has it been? As we walk, we move toward the water. The waves are aggressive, they push and pull as the large-grained sand buries our feet, pulls out with each receding wave, grates our ankles. The water is colder than we expect. There is gasping, squealing.

Once back at the chairs we sit. Not in them but far out in front of them, in the place where the waves reach out to the shore. We sit ourselves down upon the sand, legs out, feet meeting the water, inviting, letting the water wash over us, behind up, taking the sand from beneath us. More squealing. The waves hit hard. The tide comes in. We let it move over us, over time.

We stand, move into the water to wash off the sand.

I have been careful to make sure I notice if Evanne starts to turn red, burn, become flush. I know there is no real need to take care of her, but that doesn’t stop me. We all take care of each other. I see some pink in her face, looking rosy. It’s time to go.

Moving toward the chairs, I pick up her shirt, hand it to her.

Sand off the feet, clothes on, chairs away.

We are approached by a fellow who says hello. Asks where we’re from. Have we been here before?

How far up does this section go?

Miles.

We walk to the truck as it begins to rain.

Later that day, I read he headlines. NY and Georgia both dealt with same sex marriage, anything that passed as marriage, anything that gave the semblance of marriage and some, even, making domestic partner insurance illegal; Georgia’s Supreme Court overturning a lower court ruling that said that state’s 2004 voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the New York Court of Appeals upholding a state law banning same-sex marriages. The court ruled it was up to the legislature to decide, not us. They ducked.

While we walked in the sun at Playalinda.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2006 in Culture, Social, Travel

 

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