Pale crest of moon begins to inch above the living waters. The drawbridge bell warbles in the distance, where the cold, white Lion keeps his post. Head erect with curling mane and face crinkled, exposing those long fangs, with eyes sharp and bold, guarding his old vitative city, the coy and romantic St. Augustine.
A wash of bleary cloud swathes the horizon, a crimson sun smoldering through as it slowly succumbs to blue twilight. I amble along, creep down the steps, listening to the murmur of children, the chime of the water, the din of the incandescent city looming behind us. Castillo de San Marcos gleams flecked-granite grey in the sluice of sapphire night, the light of sodium vapour casting reddish beams onto those decrepit walls.
Poised with the camera directed at the steps cut into the corner of a weathered wall, little girl delicately gambols into the frame. Divine moment-
“Suzan!” bawls a woman, eyes contorted into a perennial frown as she rushes by, intent on the wee one.
Child, a startled, coy fawn, looks to her mother, eyes wondering.
“Don’t do that! It’s rude! Can’t you see that lady was taking photos?! You are supposed to wait!” the woman booms at the child.
I wince audibly at the odious moniker, “that lady,” but grin to the child, who manages a fast look in my direction. Corrected and crushed, she turns away, directed by her mother, and the two decant swiftly into the darkness…
Can a child be not allowed to flit free for a few moments?
“What blasted rubbish!” I cry.
Lad in striped t-shirt tosses a startled glance my way, pondering why photographer is yammering away to herself. Photographer takes no notice.
“Who ever came up with such a horrendously officious rule?” I wonder in dejection.
I should think any happy-go-lucky photographer, like this old driftwood-faced one, might actually want a child to bolt into the photo. This is my own confession- it is always my hope a stray figure may meander into a scene I am shooting. How I curse and spit- blast you oh fiendish fate!– when a dashed subject tottles right around me, donning the clever smirk, avoiding capture, or stops and stands with a bloody polite smile planted on the visage, “Look, I’m waiting for you! Go ahead, I have all the time in the world to stand here and wait for you to shoot that sunset that would be so invigorated by a stunning silhouette of my German Shepherd and I walking right into those glorious aurific beams!”
Why do individuals seem so oblivious to the fact that they are ambulating pieces of artwork? Photographer shakes head, does not understand…
A couple of teens scamper above as I meander down into the moat. Remarks are made, but not deciphered.
“I don’t care if she hears!” however is clearly audible, and a rejoinder, “Ah, she doesn’t notice, she’s taking photos.” Laughter.
“Look!” comes the singing voice of a child, “Can I go down there too Daddy?!”
“No way, it’s dirty down there!” comes the father’s rapid reply.
Oh bother…let the wee ones come down into the moat…come, come! If they got a bit of mud on their shoes, just take them off when they get into the car, and if their clothes get sullied a bit, just wash them later. Not every day a child gets to gambol in a real moat of a rugged, old fort, pocked with musket holes, glowering over the waters, protecting the oldest city in the States. Excellent bragging rights on the playground I should think.
Another reverie ensues as I snap away.
I imagine those three students, I mean children, crowding around the old sage, I mean photographer, joining her for a wee jaunt in the not really so muddy moat.
“Yes, now, I’m sure your dad has been filling you in on all the history here, but I bet he doesn’t know about the swifts that live here!”
“Swifts?” asks the little girl.
“Yes, they are eerie bat-like birds that live high up in that dreary tower there. See, it looks like a giant rook from a chess-board. Inside there they make nests of their own spittle, and cling to the walls with long, snaggled claws for feet!”
“Sweet!” cries a lad.
“Look up there! See that flash by! Not a bat, that’s a bird. They look like little boomerangs swiveling through the night sky. Hear that strange chittering, sonorous cry? That is the sound of the swift. They are hunting the mosquitoes!”
“Whoa cool!” chime my perfect pupils. I mean children companions.
“I wanna pet one,” the little girl smiles at me.
“Ask your parents to volunteer at a wildlife hospital one day, and you may be able to pet a baby swift!” I respond.
We walk along, avoiding gooey patches of mud in the middle of the moat.
“Come, feel this brilliant moss!”
“Feels like velvet,” little boy cries.
“Aye it does! Imagine this plant here thriving on the moisture, clinging to this wall that is slowly returning to the earth, eroded by the kiss of salt, by the roots of these little plants, by the thrust of wind, and the endless slap of rain. And somehow these tiny plants grow, right out of the rock!”
“Yes! Look! That plant looks like a little tree! The moss looks like little flowers!” cries the smallest child, the one that had asked to come into the moat with the nutty photographer.
“Aye, and come over here, quiet, very still, slowly, we are lions stalking our prey. Slowly we approach this ancient wall.”
“What are we looking for?” the girl asks in a whisper.
“Crustaceans! They’re everywhere!”
Astounded, they behold the wee crabs scuttling along the wall.
“Crabs!” they chime with joy.
“Look where they make their homes! In old musket-ball holes that tore through and marred this 340-year-old wall of coquina! Coquina literally means crushed shells. Imagine being that little crab, living in a bullet-hole, living in a material made of the crushed shells of his old friends, the mollusks, or perhaps more commonly known as clams! It is so incredible how connected to nature Castillo de San Marcos Fort really is! And just think maties-Florida itself is made of animals! The waves of the sea ground along and layered the bodies of clams and other ancient seacreatures, and then the sea-level dropped, and this limestone, coquina was formed. Terrestrial, or land-loving life, sprang from that and made Florida what it is today.”
“Wow!” they cry.
“Yeah! There are animals all around, and the fort is actually made from animals!” they all exclaim, animated, looking for more crabs, as the creatures scuttle into the darkness of crevices and holes.
“Poor clams” the little girl says dolefully.
“Ah they are very long dead, lassie,” I smile to her.
“Oh look at that!” she cries.
“A gastropod!” I bawl happily.
The lads romp over.
“It’s a snail!” the older lad whispers, petting the shiny spiral shell.
“Listen, do you hear that?” I ask my little clan.
“Frogs!” they understand.
We begin stalking frogs when the father above yodels, “Right kids, time to go! Say goodbye (not to the nice lady, but) to the old, barnacled briny lass that you let prattle away senselessly at you for a little while as you humoured her with your grinning faces and your jubilant exclamations, running about hooting with her in the muck of this old dirty moat!”
Now that would have been true politeness!
“We saw bat-birds and gassy-pods Papa,” the smallest one cries as their voices fade into the darkness.
Cheers from the moat,
-The Abominably Incessant Rambler