Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Gulf

 I have stood in calm seas and let the water and its tam, tam, tam, rhythm lull me into a relaxed state. The sound of the sea is quiet too when the surface of the great Gulf is serene.  An orchestra could not quite do it the same. There is that quality in the surf that reminds one of the quiet classical sounds.  Those who are blessed with the talent to write such music evoke a mental scene of emerald blue waters, sugar white sand and the timing of waves entering the shoreline and exiting, all in their own timeless manner.

     The Gulf was here before any Native American or Spanish sailor walked on the sea oats that anchor the dunes to the shore.  Once great turtles came ashore and left their eggs.  Time, the sand, and the warmth of the sun held the turtles in an earthen womb, and released them back to the waters of the Gulf.  Off shore, even as they do today, dolphins plied the sand shelves for smaller fish. Great gray backs breaking the water envelope would shine in the sunlight. Or, if at night when sounds are hushed by the hand of evening, the mammals are heard surfacing, clearing their lungs and sliding back into the dark shallow waters along the beaches.

     The Gulf is capable of great destruction if it works hand in hand with the winds of summer.  Sometimes, thousands of miles away off the coast of Africa, great thunderstorms rush into the warming Atlantic and begin a revolving, spinning dance across the great gray Atlantic.  Wind nourished by the sun and seas absorbed with the energy the sun provides begin a complex building of clouds.  The clouds rush upward and around the column of air the sea and the sun have conspired to produce.  If all works right, if jealous winds from the west, or south or sometimes the north, do not dampen the whirling canopy of clouds, it becomes a strong fierce southern giant.

    Sometimes these giants, these hurricanes, find their way into the Gulf and then they look about its shoreline for the weakest area.  Hurricanes look for warmth and moisture and shy away from coolness and dry air.  They hover and twirl higher and higher into the atmosphere, plunging their clouds down through themselves and up again in a rolling building wall of wind and rain.  Some say they aren't afraid of the hurricane. Some say hurricanes do not send them away.  Each to his own, I’ve heard it said.  Some have not faced the right hurricane.  Those that have, they look on the one who talks so much, with the memory of how it was to sit and wait for the walls to fold.  It’s all right behind the eye.  They would give it to them, but it would do no good. Each to his own, I have heard it said.

    After a hurricane leaves, the sky is a deeper blue, scrubbed clean with wind, rain, and more wind and more rain.  Behind the hurricane sometimes are the camp followers.  These thunderstorms follow the path cut in the sky by the hurricane. They can first be seen far off flashing in the sky.  As they come closer and closer they become audible, first as a low rumble and as they approach a loud crashing flashing series of storms.  They evoke the memory of the hurricane, but they only pluck the nerves made raw by the hours of rushing wind and falling limbs, crashing light, and walls of white out rain.  They come and go swiftly and the night is still again, dark, much darker and warm, so warm, made so by the air rushing in behind the storm.

    Back at the Gulf, the waters are cross-purpose, trying to shake the last of the churning disease that had infected the seas with rage. The tides try and bring order back to the Gulf. Then as it was before, tides arrive as they have for as long as the Gulf has breathed. The water rolls in an out and the sea oats wave in the breeze, where all is well.  All is as it was and will be for time beyond time.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

East of here.

East of here, there are places that one can immerse themselves in and find a peace, or a calm that is elusive these days. There are places that are timeless as the sands and trees that make those places what they are. Near a little village called Grayton Beach, Florida's government wisely preserved a bit of Florida that was here before native Americans ever set foot on the soil, tens of thousands of years ago. The ancient inland dune areas where long leaf and slash pines grow were great hills snug to the sea before Spaniards like Don Tristan De Luna y Arellano first set foot on Santa Rosa island and attempted to settle Ochuse or Penzacola. A roll call of explorers followed De Luna, whose settlement was carried away along with some of his ships and people with a hurricane.

 The land lay quiet in the sleepy arms of great oaks, and yellow pines whose girths would rival young sequoias. The Chatots fished the Chipola and lived along the bluffs of the Apalachicola. The Penzacola stood on the hills overlooking Pensacola bay and perhaps wondered and puzzled over the strange boats with great white billows as they entered the pass into the bay. They would soon find out how the Spanish would view their world. 

 Over the next three centuries, the red bluffs of Pensacola lay quiet, the bays rich with oysters supplied food for natives, and later settlers along the eastern shore of Escambia Bay. Beautiful lilies and acres on acres of pitcher plants emerged near streams and floodplains. Great black swarms of mullet broke the surface reflecting sliver from beneath their fins. 

Here, dunes rise and fall, covered in sand live oak. To see a dune green with sand live oak, a rolling canopy of dwarf  trees is amazing. Beneath the oaks, they form just as oaks do.  Above,  dead twigs point to the sky, tortured and killed by the salt spray. In between the swales, where the sand holds, yellow tops and Indian Blanket anchor in the quartz sand, millions on millions of grains, swept there by ancient rivers, eons ago. 

Amazing as the dunes are the lakes found among these dunes are the rarest of rare natural gems. Dune lakes lie behind dunes, where sunken areas filled with fresh water and with salt water infiltration during storms, or because of proximity to the gulf. They are priceless, so unusual that they are only found in a few other places in the world. Topping a dune after a trek between swales and seeing a dune lake is mystical.  With a little luck, a great blue heron may be standing near the shore, patiently waiting for a minnow to come too close.

It is a place that has only been found in the last twenty years or so. A place where a road snakes and ambles over old growth dunes, between lakes and pine forests. It is a place that may not be the Florida that most people think of. It is the Florida I know.