A word about water — two kinds. The Gulf, that big body of blue and great greens that gratefully, I’d been gazing on from our rental cottage in northwest Florida — and water as in RAIN, which for days had been falling like precious pellets from heaven.
I had almost forgotten what rain sounded like, what it smelled like. How it feels. So refreshing it brought a Mockingbird to song. I understood.
Getting caught on the beach during a gully-washer felt as freeing as being born.
There’s only one portion of this walk that I don’t enjoy. I call it resort city. It’s an area where a row of umbrellas (about a quarter of a mile long) are staked into the sand touching tip to tip, providing shade to a sea of humanity who seemingly don’t give a shit about ecology.
After five days of a good soaking rain, the sun came out like Popeye. I reached for my sea bean bucket and struck out for a long stroll on the beach.
There’s only one portion of this walk that I don’t enjoy. I call it resort city. It’s an area where a row of umbrellas (about a quarter of a mile long) are staked into the sand touching tip to tip, providing shade to a sea of humanity who seemingly don’t give a shit about ecology. There are as many people sitting on the shoreline digging holes to China and scattered out in the water looking like a mass of jacks thrown across a floor.
However, just on the other side of resort city lays a prize — a dune preservation. It’s a peaceful place where shore birds and sea turtles nest. Not people (therefore, zero litter). The sand covers the dunes like a blanket of white velvet spread over a camel’s back.
But getting to this peaceful place (from our cottage) you gotta go through resort city. Usually, I jog through, running behind the umbrellas as fast as I can without stepping on plastic toys or something worse. But for some reason on this day (after all the rain) I just took a deep breath and upped my stride to a brisk walk.
Once in, I quickly realized that resort city looked different. People had gotten up out of their chairs and were looking out to sea. Between the first and second sand bar, I saw a raft holding a yellow flag and two boys standing upright on surfboards with oars, paddling toward it like hell. Must be a relay race, I thought, but by the time I reached smack center of resort city, I saw faces of grave concern.
No relay race here, this is a shark attack, but, I was wrong again.
A teenager told me that a man, while snorkeling, had a heart attack. The scene turned to something out of the movie Jaws. As the raft, now carrying the snorkeler moved toward shore, people stood, pointing and yelling, others just silently. A few were carrying children away from the beach. A man holding hands with a little boy tried to explain.
“Someone’s sick is all,” he said, “now they’re going to make him better.” A woman with her eyes bulging and moving through the crowd as though leaning into hurricane winds kept screaming over and over again, “Everyone get back! Move BACK!” Few budged — including me.
Minutes later, the raft rushed ashore. A medic moved on top of the man and pushed on his chest in a steady rhythm. I then spotted a woman walking slowly in my direction — looking down and holding her hands tightly together. Maybe she was the man’s wife or maybe she wasn’t but either way — I took her lead.
I suddenly felt ashamed for watching. I turned towards the peaceful place and started walking again — this time, a lot slower and holding my hands together too.
On my return walk home, I stopped in resort city to inquire about the snorkeler. The lifeguard looked down and shook his head. “I don’t know, it’s a long shot,” he said.
Still wearing my bathing suit, I went to the water too, holding a glass of champagne. From a respectable distance, I settled in the sand and watched. The ceremony was lovely.
Sadly, I was to learn, the man was pronounced dead at a local hospital but according to some folks I talked with later — “the man died in the water.”
Interestingly, this day would end hopeful. At sunset, several cottages west — people dressed in white tuxedos had gathered on the beach. They came to the water for a wedding.
Still wearing my bathing suit, I went to the water too, holding a glass of champagne. From a respectable distance, I settled in the sand and watched. The ceremony was lovely. It reminded me that life (like the planet) does move in full rotation.
Closing this day, a full moon appeared. That soft, one-eyed jack looked down on big blue, like a mother to her child. I thought of how water moves sand, causing loss one minute, gain the next. There’s a high tide and a low tide and a lot of stuff that happens in between. It is all pretty precious.
I no longer felt sad for the man who died while snorkeling. He left this world just as he came into it — in water. Borne to another life.