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It was another day in Paradise. My daughter and her boyfriend, my grandson Lee, my better half and I were enjoying a fine sunny time on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
Better Half and I were dressed for dinner – bermuda shorts, polo shirts and Sperry Docksiders. Our attire was nearly identical, after all, we go steady. We were plopped in beach chairs, marveling over the indescribable grandeur of the Gulf of Mexico. Behind us, about one hundred yards of sparkling quartz sand spanned the distance between the water’s edge and the beach house, where Daughter and Boyfriend were transitioning from soggy sandy beachwear to Tommy Bahama tropical wear.
Four-year old grandson, Lee, was unwilling to call it a day and pleaded with his mother to allow him a little longer to roll in the soft cool sand and play with his boogie board in the gentle breakers of the Gulf. Better Half and I were assigned to be on the qui vive, since we werealready on the beach enjoying the golden hour views.
Our dear friend Weepy, a long time beach-front resident of the Gulf coast, knows weather and her forecasts have been proven to be correct many, many times. She often says, “When you are on the Gulf and you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it will change.”
I was reminded of Weepy’s weather wisdom when I noticed the golden hour had changed to a rather overcast hour. I looked in the direction where Lee was playing along the shoreline.
Startled, I saw the small lad was a bit too far out in the water. The waves had gained some energy and Lee was bobbing in the swell like a sea gull. I yelled and waved at him to come back. Lee kept bobbing. Not wanting to be an alarmist (I have been accused of being excessively overprotective), I asked Better Half, “Does it look like Lee is drifting further out in the water?”
Her one word reply – yes – was scarcely spoken before I kicked off my shoes and headed for the surf. By this time Lee was drifting farther east and south of where we were sitting. Wild and frantic, I plunged into the water, trying to reach him. I knew the only thing keeping him above water was the little boogie board attached by rope to his wrist – a ridiculous substitute for a proper personal flotation device.
Unable to swim because I skipped swim lessons as a kid, I hopped and dog-paddled toward the diminishing sight of Lee. Fully clothed, out of breath, crying and chest pounding, I began to doubt if I could complete the rescue. Since that scenario was unthinkable, I stayed the course, hampered by my clothes now heavy with water and by the notion that I was most likely having a heart attack right there in the good ole Gulf of Mexico.
Fixed on Lee’s ever distant position, I was startled when I heard a deep voice behind me, “Joy, what’s going on?”
It was Boyfriend! Tall, young, strong, and able to swim, he quickly reached Lee and carried him back to solid ground, reaching landfall before I did. Everyone was gathered around Lee – Daughter, Boyfriend, Better Half and finally yours truly, soaking wet head to toe and looking worse than bedraggled. Better Half handed me my eyeglasses, which apparently I had let fly along with my shoes eons ago.
Everyone was smiling and two of us were crying a little too. After Lee coughed up all the salt water he swallowed during the ordeal, he wanted to know if he could go and play in the surf again. “Maybe tomorrow,” his mother answered.
The remainder of our vacation was as pleasant as it always is on the Gulf Coast – despite weather changes and near drownings. We enjoyed late breakfasts, good books and card games during rainy periods. When the sun graced us with her bright light, warmth and harmful UV rays, we made our way to the beach, loaded down with coolers, chairs, snacks, towels, binoculars, shell, fish and bird field guides, fishing gear and bait, hats, a radio and and a few toys for Lee too.
We never took our eyes off of Lee – sporting his new life vest – as he played in the water near the shore. One afternoon, Lee and I were building the umpteenth sand castle of the week. I couldn’t forget the sight of him tossing about in the tide and after the rescue being so dispassionate about the event.
My profound curiosity about Lee’s experience of being alone in choppy seas led me to ask a question. “Lee. What where you thinking about when you drifted out so far into the water and couldn’t get back to shore?”
So young, confident and trusting was he that little boy replied, “I was thinking: I wonder when somebody is going to come and save me.”
I believe most women who are old enough to have grandchildren can look back at their lives as well as contemplate the present and realize just how many lives they have tried to save, to bail out or liberate.
I have done my share of attempted rescues. I have come to the aid of family and friends to free them from poor grades and poor choices, from health issues and economic woes, from drug and other addictions, from loneliness, fearfulness and defeat. My family and friends have done the same for me – sometimes successfully, but often not. Heaven knows I’ve needed to be rescued on more than a few occasions.
Even now I would dive into the deep to save Lee’s life. Be that as it may, it’s much more likely that the now tall, strong, fifteen-year-old Lee would play the role of life guard and I the role of grandmama who never learned to swim.
We are given opportunities to help others along our path and we do. But can we truly take responsibility for someone else’s life? Do we have the capacity to deliver others from challenges they face? If our efforts to save others become overwhelming, then what?
Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize winner and one of my favorite poets wrote “The Journey”, a poem that offers her wisdom to the would-be saviors and those waiting to be saved.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Another poem… this one inspired by my return to the office after a week-long vacation…
And all the while as I speed
toward the city and find a spot
to park and cross the busy street
and watch for cars turning left and right
(the drivers not watching for me)
and as I enter the building
muttering hellos and rushing
to catch the elevator
then navigating a network
of corridors toward an office
where voice mail and email await
replies and meetings
are scheduled and grants
are due and letters need writing
and funds must be raised and
all the while –– somewhere else ––
royal blue skies
billow with clouds massaging
the crests of grateful
mountains that shelter
secret streams that eddy
and pool and hold
a rainbow of trout.
This year I think I’ll just skip over Christmas and move directly to the New Year holiday. The reason? I honestly need a new year. Or rather, I need a reason to put my new year’s resolutions into effect. So beginning now, I plan to simplify my existence. Downsize. Discard. Clarify, cleanse and refine my environment.
The other day I decided to clean out my garage. This is a task I take on about twice a year and put off doing for as long as possible. My car is never garaged there, rather it is the headquarters for tools, a golf cart, bicycle and moped, holiday light sculptures (from lighted boat parades past), fishing tackle, camping gear, paint (both house and artist), filing cabinets, a wine cork collection, a huge assortment of hardware (Home Depot: don’t hate) and bits and pieces of bric-a-brac and found objects that I might use to “make art” one day.
To tell the truth, I haven’t actually cleaned the garage, but I have decided to do so and I will. Soon. And not only the garage, but also my closets, drawers, book cases, laundry room, kitchen pantry and cabinets, et cetera will be purged of all nonessential items. Which raises the question: what is essential?
In accordance with prevailing trends in charitable giving, essential equals food, clothing and shelter. Makes sense. But for those of us who are blessed with an adequate or even surfeit supply of these essentials another question can be asked. How much is enough, or too much?
In the movie, “The Jerk”, Steve Martin declares, “I don’t need any of this. I don’t need anything except just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one –– I need this. The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. And this. And that’s all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair…”
In Steven Kings’s 1991 horror novel, Needful Things, anyone who enters a curio store in the fictional town of Castle Rock finds the object of her lifelong dreams and desires. According to King, the curio shop was symbolic of the 1980’s when, “everything had come with a price tag… The final items up on the block had been honor, integrity, self-respect, and innocence.”
Thankfully, the 1980’s are bygone days. We are now entering the second decade of the 21st century and what matters now is hopefully much different from those times.
And so, I will begin to downsize by clearing my home of non-essential items. I’m not ready (yet) for that tiny house or to go car-less, but one day I hope to achieve those goals. In the meantime, I’ll do what I can to reverse a lifetime of inherited tendencies to accumulate “things.”
I admit it has taken me six decades to realize that less really is more and that simple, although difficult to achieve, is determining what is important and discarding the rest. What matters now?
- My family is my number one asset
- My job provides what I need to survive with some left over to help others.
- My talents are blessings from God, to be shared with others
- My friends are my joy
- My boat remains a necessity. Smile.
By the way, I’ve changed my mind about skipping Christmas. I wouldn’t want to miss the magical times spent with my family during this special season. On the eve of 2010, what matters to you? Please share your comments. Happy New Year!
Yes indeed, it’s always something. And then there is the next thing and the next. Maybe that is why it has taken me over a month to post part two of the revitalization of Pyxis, my Rosborough RF246 boat. Since my last posting, I have been south only once and that was when I was passing through the Florida panhandle on my way to St. George Island to attend a writer’s retreat.
During this trip, it was my privilege to stay overnight at the home of dear friends, Jim and Jayne, who live on top of a tall dune in Beacon Hill – just a few miles from the city of Port St. Joe. After a pleasurable evening and a good sleep in charming guest quarters, I headed east early the next morning. First stop: Port St. Joe Marina to check on my lovely little Pyxis.
The marina was all but deserted as I walked the docks toward slip N21. It was a splendid morning on the coast – the type of day when the sky is as blue and soft as well worn jeans. Inside the boat harbor a slow incoming tide kissed the seawalls and gulls competed for the tallest perch.
As usual, when walking toward Pyxis’ berth, the first thing I spotted was her tall, flared plumb bow, which allows her to slice the water efficiently and maximizes her (rather short) waterline length. The architecture and design of the Rosborough RF246 is what initially attracted me to this brand built for heavy seas by a family-owned business in Nova Scotia. As Rosborough claims, “…she’s quiet, smooth riding, not flashy, economical to operate and has some working boat heritage. A boat that makes you smile.” I agree.
I hopped gingerly stepped aboard. It is such a great pleasure to once again board Pyxis. After a long summer without the vessel, this quick trip felt like coming home again. Although the writer’s retreat was to begin in less than two hours, I lingered on the boat as she rolled gently in her slip. I went inside the pilot house and was satisfied that everything was as it should be. Galley goods were securely stored, fishing and safety equipment put up overhead and in lockers, hats and other items stowed in handmade gear hammocks swinging over the two front berths and clothes and shoes neatly organized in the hanging locker. Even the head was clean and tidy – a proper little yacht, indeed!
Reluctantly, I locked the boat and returned to my truck for the drive to St. George Island. Yes, it was a beautiful day and I had places to go and people to meet – not to mention my new Globe bike (hitched to the back of the truck) to ride. Boats and bikes and books and friends old and new – life is good.
During a recent visit to Mexico Beach – a tiny gem situated alongside some of the most beautiful and benign waters in the Gulf of Mexico – a friend showed up brandishing a shiny new metal detector. One of my many secret desires is to own a metal detector, so I pushed myself leapt out of the Adirondack chair in which I had faithfully lounged for the past hour or so. “What’s that?” I inquired, wide-eyed and sidling up close to the object of desire.
My friend, a serene and gracious person, was unperturbed by my eagerness. With a beautiful smile, she explained it was her new metal detector and unselfishly handed over the device. With wide sweeps and satisfying beeps I quickly detected 3 bottle caps, a wine bottle foil, and a nail buried in the sand. Quickly bored contented with my findings, I handed the detector back to my friend, who strolled along the beach in search of fresh treasures.
Later that evening, after my friend departed for higher-yielding territories, our friend and hostess Weepy joined my partner and me on the deck for cocktails. Weepy had a story to tell. It seems that earlier that day she observed a tourist cutting sea oats on the beach. “He must have been semi-gay – carefully cutting each plume and arranging then admiring the bouquet held in his fist,” said Weepy. (Note, the semi-gay comment was not meant to disparage, but merely describe the plunderer’s methodology.)
Weepy was incensed. Having lived beachfront for many years and survived plenty of storms, she knows just how important the berms of sea oats are to her property and her community. My mind wandered as she continued to rant about the miscreant who dared defy Florida state law and risk a $500 fine for a vase full of sea oats.
I began to imagine Weepy as a super hero – defender of dunes, sister to sea oats, avenger of blight – racing down the beach in tall white boots stenciled with sea oats and a bright green cape billowing in her wake! As I created this vision, I began to realize that the lovely sea oats that grace the beach are indeed treasures worthy of our protection. Moreover, people like Weepy, who care enough to defy interlopers and defend the ecological balance, are also treasures to be commended and emulated.
As I idled through the next few days, I discovered many other treasures on the Forgotten Coast. Among them are an Osprey flying close by clutching a fish in her talons, early morning deer tracks in the sand, the soft Gulf waters warming me as I cast my fly rod into the swell, thousands of frolicking mullet fish that have never taken my fly, millions of sea shells, and some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets the planet offers.
If you are interesting in visiting this area, I recommend Weepy’s Gull Haven. For more information, please leave a comment.
Being a hat collector, I cannot explain why I waited so long to purchase a Tilley hat. My hat collection includes a red fez, a jester’s hat complete with little bells, a black bowler, a Stetson and other cowboy hats, straw hats, Filson hats, a squirrel fur hat, a really weird hat made from human hair (no, not a wig), watch caps, a Greek fisherman’s hat, a white “dixie cup” sailor’s cap, hats with ear-warming flaps (these are particularly unflattering), wool, cotton and velvet berets, fedoras, and straw hats.
Also on my shelves are a Salvation Army hat, a German trenker hat with feather, numerous caps suitable for speeding along a country lane in a sports car, Confederate Infantry officer’s hat, a hat for one of Santa’s elves and one for Santa himself, Peter Pan’s hat with a long pheasant feather, two Sombreros, an official Boy Scouts campaign hat, a WWII women’s Garrison cap, rain hats with floppy brims, a Musketeer hat with a fluffy white feather, a tall white chef’s hat, and countless ball caps – some with logos, some without. Oh yes, and now a Tilley hat.
About two weeks before I bought the Tilley, I was shopping in a trendy consignment shop and spotted a saucy little straw Fedora with a blue straw hat band woven right into the crown. The hat had no label, in fact nothing inside except sweat stains. I picked it up and tried it on and lo and behold, it fit. Finding hats – especially vintage hats – in my size, which is six and seven-eighths or sometimes seven, is rare. Let’s just say that one size does NOT fit all. I paid the clerk eight bucks, put the hat on my head and sashayed out the door.
I had convinced myself that the straw hat I purchased would be my last. After all, my collection was not as important to me as it once was. I had moved on and hats were, well, passe. Then on Saturday, as I was shopping for .410 shotgun shells at Mark’s Outdoors (having used the last one on the big copperhead in the front yard), I saw it: the Tilley hat collection. Being a hat pundit, I was already familiar with the brand. I knew these hats were built to last a lifetime. I also had a vague sense that Tilleys were somewhat nerdish and being somewhat nerdish myself, I was drawn to the display.
I selected a Tilley hat from the rack. It was light creme color with a not-too-wide brim, which I hoped would not rest mid-ear. Before placing the hat on my head, I looked inside the hat to determine front and back. A large label sewn into the hat’s crown described the hat.
THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD
INSURED AGAINST LOSS, GUARANTEED FOR LIFE
(REPLACED FREE IF IT EVER WEARS OUT)
The label went on to describe other virtues of this seemingly miraculous hat – features like UV protection, water repellent, wind cord, et cetera. Then I saw a small brochure tucked under the label. It was the hat’s Owner’s Manual and included the warning to remove before fitting hat. The four-page manual was tremendously informative, providing important details such as “which is the front” and revealing the secret of the secret pocket where one might stow emergency cash or a fishing license. As if this altogether was not enough to convince me to buy, a small sticker on the hat indicated it was a size seven!
I located a mirror in a deserted part of the store and tried on the Tilley. “Not bad, rather handsome,” I lied to myself. (Although I love hats I do not love how they look on my head.) Then, I turned up both sides of the brim using the brass snaps, which “develop a sought-after permanent patina when exposed to salt air”, and swore I would never wear the hat in that fashion unless I was touring overseas.
I cannot recall the exact price I paid for my Tilley. It was several times more than the $8 purchase price of the pre-owned straw Fedora and appreciably less than the Panama hats I recently came across online, which go for up to $25,000. I know. $25,000! So, I paid the clerk a reasonable sum, put the hat on my head and sauntered out the door.
After the shopping trek, I arrived home along the beautiful shore of the Black Warrior River and did what any self-respecting nerd would do: with indelible ink, I wrote my name, telephone number and date on the label inside my new Tilley hat. I tucked my fishing license into the secret pocket, put the hat on my head, adjusted the wind cord, grabbed my fly rod and went fishing.
Now, here’s the part where I explain how my Tilley hat became holy. That day, wearing my new hat and fishing from my kayak, I caught so many bream I stopped counting AND two large-mouth bass, each in the two-to-three-pound range. Yes, that’s right, two bass in one outing – a feat never before accomplished by this bush league yet unapologetic fly fisher.
Inasmuch as I believe that God and spirits dwell in rivers, I also believe in my Tilley hat to be the finest fishing hat I’ve ever owned. And though I may never become a master fly fisher, I will always have a deep appreciation for the magic that lives in the art of the fly and just below the surface of water. Oh yes, and also in my new fishing hat.
If there’s only one attribute to ascribe to the Great Blue Heron, perhaps it is perseverance. I’ve watched solitary herons stand in shallow water for long stretches of time as if turned to stone – waiting, watching for the next small vertebrate to flow within reach. Then, the strike! In a heartbeat a fish is caught and gulped down the heron’s long sinewy throat. The process is repeated many times until the sated heron folds her neck into an S, spreads her wings, lifts her feet from the river’s edge and with an emphatic squawk and extended legs trailing, sets sail for her roost in the highest boughs of a longleaf pine.
The heron is an accomplished fisher and hunter. When small fry and other aquatic life are not at hand, the heron stalks mice, insects, snakes and other terrestrials for its sustenance. During breeding season, this is especially beneficial as both heron parents must consume up to four times as much food as normal when building nests, mating and feeding their young chicks. In fact, in all things, the heron excels. And why shouldn’t she? With ancestry dating back to dinosaurs, herons have had plenty of time to hone their skills.
I admire the dogged heron’s stick-to-it-iveness. She has learned the best methods for nest building, mating (herons are monogamous), rearing her young and of course, fishing. The heron doesn’t lay around in the nest and thus be late for choice fishing time. She does not need to decide which type tackle she’ll use on any particular excursion… fly rod or spinning reel, light weight or heavy, live bait or plastics? The fact of the matter is that the heron has no use for thousands of dollars worth of boats, rods, tackle, bait, etc. She knows ONE WAY to catch fish, she’s done it THAT WAY for a lifetime and it’s KISS.
Ah, the simple heron – paragon of determination. Had I followed her example of single-mindedness, I might have actually excelled at doing one thing very well. As a business woman, I could have been blue-chip. I could have stood out as a prize-winning writer, an exemplary parent, an exceptional artist, a blue-ribbon gardener, a fantastic lover, a television chef, and without a doubt a splendiferous bass master.
With extraordinary conceit, I have considered myself a Renaissance woman. I am an idle poet. I’ve written three unfinished novels; owned, operated and abandoned two successful businesses; embarked upon innumerable careers including used car sales, cabinet-maker, artist, insurance clerk, special events maven, and charity fund-raiser. I am a half-fast boat skipper, have single-parented one adultescent, lost and gained hundreds of pounds, and of course, own all the fishing tackle Bass World has to sell.
My latest project, which has recently been supplanted by the writing of this blog, is hand-painting renderings of fishing fly patterns. I am beginning to believe if not for my unending impatience (aka Adult ADHD) to move on to the next big thing, by now I could have reached the apogee of achievement. Or at least been able to retire with my sweetie and a comfortable little nest egg.
As my mother (G-d rest her soul) admonished: be happy with what you have. The heron is. And today, I am too.