Ages ago, when I was wee, however, I fancied myself a micro David Attenborough and would wax on about all things Nature- to any poor sap that would listen. Happily, I quelled that odious impulse as a craggy old adult.
But I was rattled, recently. A rambunctious lad, the nephew of a friend, challenged my stance of stolid silence. Oh, he did all he could to crack through my laconic exterior. And now, since then, things have not been quite the same…
It had been another blazing day in the furnace, I mean Florida, when we picked up my chum and her nephew (an unexpected addition) for a jaunt down to the nearest freshwater spring for a swim in the scintillating, gemmy waters amongst the gars and the manatees.
The Lad, a boy of nine years, was quite a force to be reckoned with, and was also armed with a gargantuan bag of sweets…a child-shaped tornado, thus, swirled around in the backseat all the way to the spring.
Right away, I saw the child was bent on destruction and found imitating a demolition truck to be his favourite hobby. When released from the car, he immediately set out to ravage the local plant-life and spurt apple-piece projectiles at squirrels. Then the child became distracted by something shiny and sharp and moved on to that.
Well, I had to divert his attention, somehow. His auntie (my chum) was hopeless. And Sir was terrified of the child. Sir, wide-eyed and staring, quivered there like a soldier just returned from the trenches. Up to me.
The human-shaped tempest then plucked up a massive palm frond and began poking at people, plants and now insects. A palm frond is very stiff and sharp, I will have you know. It is a joy to be prodded by one.
“Right, time to go gator-hunting,” I said mildly, handing the lad my pack with two giant lemon-and-black flippers poking out.
“Wear this, it will make you look like a pro-snorkeler and very cool,” I said.
He put on the pack and applied the goggles I had handed to him and we trotted toward the aqueous solution up ahead.
He agreed and we lapsed into the refreshingly cool depths.
Of course, he picked up another, later…
After I inspected the fish-life darting about the shallow spring bed, I showed the lad how to get within a few inches of a massive, half-blind, leopard-banded gar fish. Then I showed him where gators had made depressions for sleeping and where a snapping turtle was most-likely to be found.
Then we swam to the spring-head, where the gurgling waters splashed the deep, crumbling sides of the blonde limestone surrounding us. I took him into a misty alcove where the walls of the limestone were black and especially dank and murky- and where the spiders loomed.
There is no greater joy than scaring innocent children.
I rambled on and on, by that point, about the flora and fauna of the spring, not realising that I had not blathered that.much with another human being in years.
It was in that moment that I noticed something was different- the tempest child was no more. He had been replaced by a polite, soft-voiced micro-scientist. He was transfixed by my babbling nature lecture and was not only respectful and courteous, but absolutely fascinated with the wonders surrounding us.
In that moment of realization, I was reminded of a quote from David Attenborough-
“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.”
– David Attenborough
My chum and Sir were long abandoned by this point, unable to keep up with the two science-heads conducting their research up and down the spring, as it bled into the tea-stained river at one end, and gurgled up, fresh and clear, from the inner depths at the other.
We chattered incessantly, analysing and absorbing every detail of our surroundings, until a coy mist swathed the now chilly waters. The solemn light slipped away and we were forced to clamber up out of the watery wonderland before a canoeing ranger could pummel us.
As we dripped back toward the exit, the young scientist suddenly stopped and turned to look up at me and said something quite disturbing.
I stood agog.
“What, not even your teachers?”
“No, they hardly teach anything about it, and no one thinks it’s cool. But I think science and math are awesome!”
And that is what left me rattled.
My thoughts recently turned back to those words when I was reading the blog of a blogging chum, Rebecca Budd, and I came across a tribute she wrote to a pioneer of animal rights- Humanity Dick & The Donkey
I found the article affecting and enthralling and wrote a comment to Rebecca, to which she left me this grand reply-
“What I found most interesting was that Richard Martin’s determination to fight for animal rights had its genesis in his childhood. His mother’s love of animals ignited the spark of compassion in a small boy. It is a reminder that one generation transfers ideas, values, dreams to the next. Our actions and conversations DO make a difference now and in the future yet to be formed.”
“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced”
– David Attenborough
I loomed beneath a dark feathering of sea-oats, pointed tips glazed with recent rain. I listened to the subdued murmur of little waves. The fetid and russet beds of sea-wrack had been washed away, leaving the sand barren and strange. A forlorn gull loitered at the swash line, analyzing the crinkling water as it fizzed in and out.
Distant lightning lazily branched from the moody-blue squall-lines and spidered across a sullen sea of herbal green. Coy ghost crabs emerged, removing dark masses of dripping sand from drowned burrows. They built little, lumpy mounds around the entrances to their small, black holes.
The storm was leaving me. How I longed for it to stay.
I was tortured the other night, seized with the memory of my little Siamese cat squeezing her eyes tightly shut for the last time. How swiftly she was gone, her soft, cinnamon cheek resting upon a colorful, flowing blanket that masked the metal slab beneath. I had never seen an animal euthanized, before. I understood, logically, that it ended the physical misery of her little, bony body.
Yet, how troubled I am by that last image of peace…of life tenderly released.
My mum died of a similar ravenous kind of disease. I remember that final image. Her face waxen and unreal, her mouth a small, black hole. She did not tightly close her eyes. She was not escorted quietly, through a warm wash of sleep, into the darkness beyond. Yet, I was not so disturbed by her image in death. And how vividly there lacked any look of peace…
But I wish the storm would never leave. I want, forever, to hear its screams over this cold and fleeting sea of herbal green. How I wish there were no end to rain. Just as there seems to be no end to Grief.
“Darkness settles on the ground
Leaves the day stumbling blind,
Coming to a quiet close
And maybe just in time”
– From the song God Only Knows by Joe Henry
“He opens his eyes and stares directly into the morning sun which wallows up from the misty sea like some bloated, dying fish. The sky is gray and immobile, a dome of lead. A cloud hangs mute and dark over the western horizon. High up, barely visible, a seagull floats on motionless wings. Its cry is weird and restless.”
– Ingmar Bergman, The Seventh Seal
“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
“I was a man who thrived on solitude… I took no pride in my solitude; but I was dependent on it. The darkness of the room was like sunlight to me.”
– Charles Bukowski, Factotum
“If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.”
– Leonard Cohen
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”
– Søren Kierkegaard
(Some feeble footage above of some hunting bull-shark chums of mine as they spilled up into the shallow swash as the tide began to recede. Is there anything better than having a shark swim up into one’s lap? I think not!)
ALS, Black and White, Cancer, Commentary, Death, Disease, Event, Florida, Hope, Ice Bucket Challenge, Inspirational, Life, Loss, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Motivational, Nature, Ocean, Pete Frates, Photography, Sea, Stephen Hawking, Steve Gleason, Story, Sunrise, Video
In general, I live a life fairly indifferent to social media. Indeed it has many lovely advantages, but I just end up spending a lot more time in Nature…being bullied by mobs of roguish manatees attempting to overturn my craggy old kayak as it wheezes through the silky water; or swamping about through black plumes of swooping bats and amorous mosquitoes, with logs of alligators leering up at me through the glorious green murk with smiling eyes the colour of tea; or being pinched by wee crabbies in the ocean and dragged along in the frothy white wake of a rambunctious torrent of sharks and tarpon.
Sometimes, too, I just snail along a pale, sandy trail that snivels through the verdant sylvan shadows, looking for the perfect place to nest and paw through an old dog-eared book for a little while.
Through all this, me dear ol’ camera abides with me as my constant companion. Matters of social media rarely invade this photo-snatching wilderness-lifestyle (with occasional bouts of city-noir-grit).
I am not completely, immune, however. The Ice-Bucket Challenge somehow managed to creep into my hushed little tent of a life. And somehow, I found myself capitulating, as my friend, Kayla, of the northern end of the county, splashed me with details.
She had messaged me, and then suddenly a video was shimmering before me, and there was my chum, blathering away at the camera. She challenged two people, her sister and someone other victim, and then, after a pause, she suddenly blurted out, “and BABS!”
“Who on earth is Babs?” muttered the filmmaker, her mum, just before the roar of a gelid waterfall cascaded onto Kayla’s head, rendering her a corpse; and a snickering man quickly bolted from the scene of the crime.
“Er…I am that ‘Babs’ I fear,” I said to the video bleeping on the screen.
“You have 24 hours!” Kayla then bassooned at me, unfurling like a resurrection fern, as she began to recover from the glacial onslaught.
Usually, the fads that scurry across the net are resisted by me. I shun them. If I happen to hear about them. I was going to happily shun this one, too. But then I probed, like a long-billed ibis probing the soft earth for grubs on a soggy morn, and I discovered what was behind it all.
“I have lived over two-thirds of my life with the threat of death hanging over me. Because every new day could be my last, I have developed a desire to make the most of each and every minute.”
– Dr. Stephen Hawking (from the documentary “Hawking”)
This was different. To me, this was an event revealing the best in human beings- their sense of love, compassion and community, and their endless capacity for Hope and Triumph.
“Concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.”
-Dr. Stephen Hawking
How could I not participate? I decided to accept the challenge.
Naturally, this act of frigid, muscle-paralyzing sluicing had to take place at the Sea. An old brine-faced block of barnacled driftwood like me could have it no other way.
So, this past Sunday, only having known about this challenge for less than a day, I dragged some camera equipment, a bucket with some ice, Sir and another poor victim, Thome, to the beach at dawn.
Time to be sluiced in some icy brine.
Sprinkled with quotes from some amazing individuals having been diagnosed with ALS, here is the video I shot at the beach, documenting the cold and salty event.
Other related links:
– To learn more about ALS or to donate- http://www.alsa.org/
– More about Peter Frates, creator of the “Ice Bucket Challenge”- http://petefrates.com/
– More about Steve Gleason, of Team Gleason- http://teamgleason.org/
– Short ALS “Health Matters” educational video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1X4Af…
– Beautiful documentary “Hawking” 2013 (also on PBS in HD)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shbs13XM3k0
– Doleful short film, “Broken: ALS and How it Hits Home”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8inVFUAqe1c
Thanks for sluicing by.
She swallows the
Evening’s clear cries
of dark-dipping gulls
flung across the sunken wound
her cloudy dress of Pastel Sadness
dragging carelessly behind.