January 31, 2012
Come Out Ye Manatees! (Four days in Florida)
The thrill of athletic competition, the constant variety of sport - that was Thursday, which began with a giddy two mile romp down the beach in the near record temps. I ran alongside the wind, thrilled to be in this place of sunshine and warmth, running down those lane-less sand strips. Afterward a short bike ride followed by a brutal tennis match. So lots of exercise this first day of vacation which is good because who could sit still in such weather? What restlessness it imbues!
The drumbeat of nostalgia sounded sudden, soddened as I was by the sight of the sign, "Sweet Melissa's Cafe". It instantly launched me into the Manilow tune: "Sweet Melissa / Angel of my lifetime...". I sang as I rode a bike on that earthly paradise, Sanibel Island.
I walk now down the shoreline, escorted by hosts of funny-looking birds, arrayed by absurd stripes of orange across their big beaks. They walk a bit and then stand like statues until upon some silent cue they all wing up, the black "v's" arching in an artistically-arranged formation.
When I was a kid at the beach birds were not a figure of interest: only the inanimate objects of shell and wave held my interest. Now the waves look uncapturable, somehow ungraspable, while the birds are like colorful pieces of walking, squawking art. I can imagine touching their sleek, feathered bodies. The waves? They are too many and too cold.
To savor this: this morning, reading in bed the freewill offerings of various and sundry bloggers. Follow that with morning prayer. Follow that with a cigar, a stolen pleasure, out on the lanai, that fancy-Florida word for screened-in porch. Then a breakfast omelette and the consolations of hot coffee on a pleghm-y, half-sore, throat.
Tis bliss itself to wear oneself out on day one of a vacation, to jam-pack it with activity, to engage in brainlessness to the near point of exhaustion, and then to sleep in and lazily begin the next day appreciative of reading, writing, and the natural world.
Read I did too of Heather King's plaintive post about her faraway mother, far away both physically and mentally. It was grievously affecting. We all fear dying alone, which we all must, even the married and otherwise in community. "We must walk this lonesome valley..." goes a lonesome hymn, though surely there is a note of hope in HK's post?
A blur of stars last night, I remember my brother holding his iPad to the sky and it pointing us towards the brightest star, Sirius, and the even brighter Jupiter. We stumbled around in the dark, the moon just a sliver of a nearly eaten pie, the winds chilly and bracing.
And now today, Friday afternoon, and I want to never end this time of music, playing the typing fool, with the promise of ale in the foreground. Time, ever a river, passes by too quickly on vacation. I long to swim in the print of a novel, the tome-ish, tumescent "11/22/63", Stephen King's latest, beckons at the little bookshop down the way. There familiar novels gathered like justices at the State of the Union. I think back to the kindly children's author who signed a book for my niece and who sported an authentic New Hampshire accent as I watch the birds fly. I could watch them all day. I slip into a virtual slipcase of sand, sitting in a low-slung beach chair, grateful for the grand setting.
And then the birds all stand at attention, as if they were listening to a music all their own, the national anthem of Birdlandia. The ocean sings it's tune, accompanied by pouched pelicans dive-bombing the invisible (to us) fish of the brine furrows. Now the previously standing-at-attention birds have come nearer, right in front of me, as they silently say their prayers or pledges.
Precious little time: it's 2:45 and novels and brews are calling to me. I want to delay the pleasure, extend the anticipation, and wait for the sloshing, joshing of print & beer and let them both run all over my head and face. I think I'm the only one sitting out on this beach. Everyone else is walking it, but I see no reason not to don a sweatshirt and make this place my campsite, this exquisite real estate.
From the RSS feeder I learn things, occasionally about drinking. Like Wheel of Fortune hosts Vanna White and Pat Sajak used to go out for 3-4 margaritas in between show tapings. It seems like a decent fit, talk show host and drinking. And I also learned that the shortest lifespans are of those who drink nothing, second-shortest is of heavy drinkers, and longest is of moderate drinkers. I'll drink to that, although truth be told I'd drink to it even if it were the reverse. Didn't Chesterton say that drinking for your health is the worse reason to drink?
Energy and ecstasy go together in perfect harmony, side-by-side like my 'iano keyboards oh Lord....Sprint run down the beach because I still can, because at my age I still can, and because the weather is so nice and the sand so soft and because I still can! Rejoice I do in whatever remnant of athleticism still remains and the funny thing is, even though I'm a step or five slower, it still feels the same, still I receive that adrenal burst, still my lungs fill and ache from the good, hard, honest, clean effort, still my legs pump and swiftly I dance on the white sands before the beach, as if David before the Ark. Yes, I feel the goodness of being made, of the pleasures of existence, of the rich unfolding of this wondrous thing called life. Now to share it and to "run for His pleasure" as much as mine. Because He's not indifferent to our pleasures and happiness. To the extent I think He's indifferent to our happiness then surely I will think I can be indifferent to my neighbor's happiness!
Read, yesterday, of "A Million Miles" by a story-lover, and "overcomer" who found out belatedly that it's the goad of challenge that exercises our character and it's the character refinement - not the search itself! - that is meaningful. i felt guilt for so often wanting what I want without the effort, while not understanding that it's the effort that obtains, not the result. Cart before the horse indeed.
After breakfast off to Captiva where we did a 90-minute kayak ride through the manatee'd bay (we saw a dolphin instead) and then through a tunnel-like riverine snaking its way through swampish quarters. Then back to the full bay, a resurrection of sorts, the sun giddy and free with herself while we tooled up the open waters. Beforehand we had a lady train us on proper kayak use, something she evidently saw as a calling, so serious and dedicated was she. Then afterwards we had lunch at the Bubble Restaurant, a place with innumerable small rooms decorated with all sorts of memorabilia. I splurged on chocolate cake because I could, having just rowed for 90 minutes.
So an excellently physical, brainless day that went wickedly fast. The beach keeps strict hours and by 5 she's toast. The chill and darkness come early here in the dead of "winter". But now I'm in my second skin, here at the beach with my writing instrument and my iPod and beer. I'm wholly chagrined at how this is the last full day, and how mordant that feels. Set whine off.
Sunday, and I feel the lack of sun for having Friday's all-day, all-cloud miasma. Suddenly it's 12:45pm and I have an hour left of purblind sun, just an hour to install this grade A light into my skin membranes in order to hold me throughout the rest of the cold, dark winter. I would I had another day, he wrote.
I drink because I can, because I'm on the vacationeer's plenary indulgence plan that allows for 12:45pm drinking. Oh yew days, you dew days, were too full and keenly I missed the beach yesterday. I'd have given up the kayaking, seeing how it commandeered a terrible lot of day, from, what, 10 am to 3 pm? How does that happenstance happen? Via long, an overrude obsequiousness to the rite of dining, an extraneous lunch. Wasteful recriminations, fair to say these was too little beach time, too much squanderization.
Keen feel I the lack in advance, oh zephyrs of vanishing sea winds! Shore friends unite! Overthrow the tyrant work and let me spend another day or thousand with you dulcetly twittering birds. All you beach denizens hear me! Throw off my yoke and let me skip along with you, here by the flashing sea! Bright you in the Florida sun, having to fear only alligators and hurricanes, a fair trade for the environs of cloudy Ohio. Sing oh muse of the dolphins! Come all ye manatees who loped beside the tranquil kayak there in Brainyard Bay!
And me, drink now for tomorrow you will die (to self) and resume the goadstone and loadstone of daily living! Farewell sweet sea and fair pool youth! Farewell fine smokes and drumming nostalgia! Goodbye sweet movement on the Wimbledon greens and companionable happy hours on the lanai. Chug now ye IPA man, chug ye ale at the ringside of seaside and sun tide! Now the sky is wide ope and free with sunshine and I play Roger Miller's "King of the Road". One last kingly walk along the sun-blown beach, where I feel remarkably proprietorial towards the seabirds. I practically think of them as pets and come close enough to touch them.
Now I recline in evanescent splendor, overlooking the pool and path-laden green. The hours have passed so swiftly. I listen to the Irish chunes on my iPod and I note that in the Irish temperament there is something suited to the mood of this last day. Farewell songs play, and it feels like a long time before I'll see this again, as the lyrics of "Leaving of Liverpool" go. The pool people talk loudly and with banality, utterly indifferent to a sense of the scarcity of the moment, how short lived this time down here is, at least for me anyway. It all ended too soon, a beer short, a dollar short, a day short, but then I'd have said that regardless of the length of time I was here.
At 2:30pm we were on the road to the airport to drop my brother off at the airport and then had some time to kill before my 8:44pm flight. So we caught the movie "War Horse" and the refrain from the book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Days" by Donald Miller kept leaping to mind, that is our need for stories and how stories are defined by someone wanting something badly and overcoming obstacles to get it. If that's the definition, then "War Horse" was that in spades. A boy wanted his horse and had to go through Hell to get it back. In fact, is it a surprise that humans are so compelled by war? That it's engaged in so frequently? For someone wants something badly - land, wealth or even peace - and there are great obstacles to overcome, namely an enemy.