The ocean is a brutal lover
Living by the ocean is a pretty awesome way to begin life. It’s also a fairly dangerous way to begin life. The ocean is like any other wilderness: it tries to kill you with its awesomeness. Look anywhere, and that pretty something-or-another will cut you, sting you, bite you, bruise you, or starve you of life–all the while looking as awesome as ever.
I managed to maim or nearly drown myself a few times while appreciating that awesomeness as a child. Some of my most vivid memories are of near-death experiences in or around the ocean. The number of times my parents rushed me to an emergency room while I bled out of a nasty laceration is testimony enough to the ocean’s brutality.
I need not mention having been stranded at sea in a storm… or having been tangled in the trappings of an underwater reef with only a breath-hold of air. I need not mention having been carried away in a tide too swift to swim against… or having felt the static of an imminent lightning strike while bailing the ankle-deep water of a sinking boat. And all of this… I suffered on top of the ails of puberty!
Just as Eric and I spend our final days in Florida, the careful balance of beauty and brutality become very evident. Mother Nature’s ferocity shows on everything that lives here. Structures look weathered and worn out. The salt air and burning sun deteriorate everything from the waterline to the sky! Unused boats turn chalky white in decay. Many of the buildings and places I remember from my childhood are different today. Either they look new from being constantly maintained, or they look deserted, overtaken by slow decomposition. Once beautiful homes have grown green with algae and black with mold; their vibrant paints are pale and their metal roofs pitted with rust.
This place is just not nice to people or things.
And still, the years of emotional and physical torture by the ocean have not turned me away as you might think. No, I am bonded in a relationship I cannot shake. Whenever I leave, my attachment grows stronger! I yearn for the taste of salt on my lips and the burn of the tropical sun against my skin. I miss breathing fully the sourness of low tide and sleeping soundly through the noise of hungry gulls. I miss the ocean’s movement and smile fondly of its memory!
These are my last days in Florida for awhile. Eric and I enjoy them even with the rain. We take Dad out to a local Italian Market for hot chocolate. We drive downtown St. Petersburg and show Eric the new and the old of Tampa Bay. For lunch, we reminisce over Texas barbecue at Somkin’ J’s, and then we head to O’Maddy’s for live music and beer. The bar offers a great view of Boca Ciega Bay which looks just as stunning painted in the radiant pinks of sunset as it does tonight in the blurry grays of a downpour.
Saturday is our last full day in Florida. The day starts with a heavy fog as Eric and I walk John’s Pass bridge and the boardwalk. The few people we see look just as hopeful for a beautiful day as we do. By lunch, the sun grants us our wish and burns a hole in our depression. We take to the beach along with everyone else!
After a particularly fun beach walk, I spend the afternoon helping Dad with a few boat chores. One chore takes me to the top of the mast to fix nothing else than a part worn out by the rigors of the ocean. Dad does the same at deck level on an oxidized running light. Boat work is and always will be a battle against the elements.
As the sun sets on what turned out to be the most beautiful day of our visit, we meet up with marina neighbors Brett and Gina for dinner and a night on the town. Our choice this evening is craft beer and live music at none other than The Ale and the Witch.
Sunday is the day we say “until next time.” I pack over coffee and talk to Dad about when we’ll see each other again. No one knows when that will be. This is not goodbye to Florida, the beach, the ocean, or to Dad. I may be away for awhile, but I shall return! And Eric promises that his bout with seasickness hasn’t deterred him from another sailing trip. He wants to see more of the Gulf Coast and might even be willing to get sick trying. I think the ocean has captured another lover!
Dad kindly delivers us to the airport and sends us on our way. We will both miss his company and generous hospitality. He deserves a very special thank you for making our visit such a success.