Thursday, June 14, 2012

Very Long Shoes in Florida

We were on a flight to Jacksonville a couple of weeks ago when the pilot told us mid-flight "not to worry" because "we would arrive hours before Tropical Storm Beryl".  What?  How had I failed to check the weather?  The trip had been on the books for a while, so even if I had checked, little could be done about it.  We had planned a week of diving and relaxing with swimming and snorkeling lessons for the youngest of our group.    I had also hoped to spear a few fish in the Atlantic, and I had ordered and sent a pair of spearfishing/freediving fins ahead of me.  When I arrived, I tore open the box and found only one fin.

One fin, and a lot of good it would do me.  Idiots.  Luckily, I had a reserve pair.  The tropical storm hit that evening, and the ocean boiled over, the skies valved open, and the wind sent Spanish Moss, live oak, and palmtree parts everywhere.  The best we could hope for was the pool for the rest of the week.

YWP and Jr. explore the spring's waters

When cabin-fever burned a bit and Childrens/Science Museums were exhausted, we drove over towards Gainsville to the Ichetucknee River and springs where I had often gone as a child.  At the Blue Hole, the water slowly bubbles out of the ground at 72 degrees year round, and the visibility is over 100 feet.  It's only 5 or 7 feet to the swaying eel grass and loggerhead turtles below.  On a very big breath, you can swim down to the rocky entrance to the cave and another 30 or 40 or so feet down after the cave opens up to the white sands at the bottom of the blue hole itself (not my video, but a decent one).

We used to carry canoes or rafts into the interior of central Florida to explore the rivers.  The rental spot would tie them to the roof, and we'd drive to the trailhead and shoulder them in to the crystal clear cold spring rivers, sometimes for miles.  If I complained, my father would remind me that I was not being required to roll in the sand before beginning a three mile boat carry.  Old habits die hard, he said.

Young men sitting at the bottom of the pool in weights, trying to clear our masks in the dark and having your airline taken and tied, your head kicked, and trying to trace your line gives you a unique relationship with oxygen.  Even underwater, they could still somehow yell insults about your performance.  The next week would be open water, and the most cocky was an enlisted eighteen year old with no diving experience. 

White pants and blue blazer for dinner with Mrs. along the St. Johns River, where the club's waterfront bar had recently banned indoor smoking, giving the interior a staleness that was strangely appealing.  The olfactory patina immediately transported me to childhood evenings long ago where the children sprinted around underfoot, staged sword fights with saber-shaped olive spikes scavenged from drinks, and stained the nice evening clothing we were forced to wear.  Father's laugh, uncle's scorn, Auntie's disapproval, cousins' mischief, and several sympathetic servers who made sure that we were well-fed with desserts.  The winter holiday parties of the Riverside/Avondale winter colony  were most often beginning just as I was going to bed.  Everyone would fly in for a week or two, run hot, and then retreat back to normal life just before or just after New Years Eve.

A young Spader captures it 

Plead as I did, bedtime was firm, and the best I could hope for was to listen to the garbled echoes from the stairs.  Occasionally, I would wake the next morning and find that some benevolent older relative had left me a small cocktail plate or napkin with a dessert on the night stand.  Probably Maggie.  My older cousins were on winter break from college and they all held their drinks like experts, enjoying their maturity, bragging about school, probably lying about grades, and coyly concealing relationships.  I would always think to myself that someday it would be me down there doing just the same.  I was right.  What I had not anticipated was that as I aged, so would everyone else.  Auntie would go deaf within two decades, and one Grandmother would die before I could take my place as a young man at those parties.  The uniformed officers from NAS Jacksonville would all retire, and society began to shift how it felt about alcohol and cigarettes enough to change the tenor of the gatherings.

Students home from college no longer wore blazers or ties (though I did), and parties less frequently went deep into the night with booze-fueled singing and fresh air trysts of all consequence.  Moments of an era, of a specific aesthetic that will never return.  Just as I have mine, every generation before has theirs.  If I do things right, my son will have nostalgia about these early years of colorful city parties, and maybe decades from now he'll think back fondly about them when his parents are long gone.


  1. A damn beautiful grasp of reality and dreams.

  2. All those breath-holding exercises finally paying off...good times

  3. The timing was unfortunate, but at least Beryl brought some much needed rain. Sounds like you all made the most of it. Was it the MOSH that you made it to? Not a bad place to wile way a rainy day. I was a voluteer docent there for a while. As for Ichetucknee, good lord you get around. While it's pretty popular, it's not exactly on the map for visitors to Disney World. Another good place is Wakulla Springs (and you can stay in Jesse Ball's old hunting lodge). If you all had dinner at FYC, another nice place.

    1. Dave T,
      It was the MOSH. I've been going to the springs of Central Florida for most of my life. Father owned some ranches and swamps down there for some reason, so I've been swimming, camping, hiking, canoeing, and visiting those spots since I can remember. They were an odd mix of jungle, swamp, pine forest, and crystal-clear water.

  4. The last paragraph of the post is a real keeper. Well said.

  5. I can imagine it would have been a VERY long hike to the springs portaging a canoe... the inner tubes we used when I was in college at Florida would have been easier (if less reminiscent of your father's military experiences....)

    - Regine

  6. Sorry to hear that Beryl ruined your spearfishing. It did, however, send some nice longish period swell to Long Island and I got a day of good surfing in.


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