A Stroll On Estero: Encountering Sand Sculptures One Grain At A Time

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We decided that we would give Sanibel Island a rest for a day.  Besides, we’d save $6.00 for not taking the Causeway Bridge.  No, it was time we crossed another bridge (free) from Fort Myers to Fort Myers Beach.  When we did, we found ourselves in another world.  This wasn’t Wal-Mart country.  This was the Gulf Coast version of Wildwood, New Jersey.  The young and the restless were here–strolling along the boulevard and taking up a blanket size spot on a very large beach.  We drove slowly.  We had to because of the frequent pedestrian crossings and road construction barriers.

If I wanted a burger of any kind or price, this was the place.  If I wanted a Marguerita, this was ground zero.  I was amazed at the number of open-air bars and vacation rentals.

I noticed that the Periwinkle Motel had hourly rates.  I wondered why someone would want to do that.  Aren’t motels for sleeping and resting from the rigors of long road trips?  I’m still thinking about this…

Slowly I drove, inch by inch, yard by yard.  This place was the stuff of my beach dreams that I forged in life.  Then we saw the sign: Sand Sculpture Competition,  we simply had to check this out.  It didn’t come as a total surprise to me that this event was happening.  I had seen a brief article about it in the local newspaper, the one I read while I enjoy my iced coffee at the Java Cafe in the Outlet Mall.

When I was a child, we used to go family camping in the Adirondacks of New York State.  Some summers we would spend a week or two at Golden Beach State Campground on Raquette Lake.  Now, I’m no stranger to building sand castles.  I did it all the time.  What kind of competition could this be, here in Florida?  How hard can it be?  All I ever needed was a Tupperware container, a little bucket and a Dixie cup.  I could build Camelot, Buckingham Palace or the Kremlin with those simple childs tools.

After no small amount of difficulty, we found a parking place.  It was at the Wyndham Hotel.  They sponsored the contest and it was their sand that was going to be used in making the little castles.  (It would require us to patronize the hotel bar after the beach, but we could manage that.)

As we approached the entry gate, a woman who was heading to the parking lot slipped Mariam a paper-like bracelet and said: “Here, save yourself $5.00.”  We accepted the freebie from her.  I decided I would struggle with the ethics and morality of this later.  I tried to calculate the number of years in Purgatory I would get for stiffing the Competition for five bucks.  Mariam doesn’t believe in Purgatory, so this whole thing would fall on me.

Later, I thought.  I’ll deal with this later.  I paid $5.00 for my bracelet and entered through the little tent-like entrance.

It had rained heavily during the night and there were large wet patches and pools in the sand.  I was a little put off by this.  I didn’t come to the beach to get my feet wet!  Then, I looked around me.  Wait a minute.  These weren’t sand castles at all.  This was the stuff of high art and imaginative skill that made my head spin.  I worried about the warnings I was getting on my iPhone about the approaching limit to my storage.  I wanted to take a hundred pictures.  Not that there were a hundred sculptures here, but I wanted to capture the objects on all sides.

And, here is where my brain began to overload.  I’ve taken a few art classes when I lived in New York City, but it was all 2-D, like water colors and chalk sketching.  This stuff was all 3-D and it was astounding.

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I didn’t know what to photograph.  I was split between worrying about my iPhone storage and how they got the sand to stay put.  Everything I built on beaches as a child always collapsed.  Yet, these figures defied gravity.

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Walking through this display was both amazing and enjoyable.  At the same time, I thought about when the day would come when rain or wind or people would cause these pieces of art to crumble–and turn into a beach again.  What is the lifetime of a sand figure?  I didn’t know, but I did know it was finite.

Someday, I might walk along the beach behind the Wyndham Hotel and find no trace of the dragon or the faces.

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I stood looking at one that depicted a man being drawn into a gear wheel.  He seemed to be clutching a mound of something that was labelled SAND.

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For some reason, I felt connected to him.  I think I understand what the artist was trying to say.  That’s more than I can do with a canvas by Picasso.

We drove back along Estero Boulevard.  We passed the bars and burger shacks.  There were a few tattoo parlors.  I made a mental note about the location of one.  I think I’ll come back here and get a Henna tat.  After all, it washes away in a few weeks.

It’s not like it’s permanent or anything.

[Photo credits are mine. Also, the Periwinkle Motel does not have hourly rates.  I don’t want that on my conscience too.]

The Albatross And The Vulture

Albatross

What’s it like to float upon misty air?

Way up there upon winds of turbulence,

where your wings tame them, 

as a cowboy does the wild Stallion.

–Dara Reidyr from “On Flying

Four hours ago, I was finishing my iced coffee at the Java Cafe in the Outlet Mall.  Even with the AC, the plastic cup was dripping on the article in the local Fort Myers newspaper.  I was totally absorbed in a breaking story about an 18-year old guy who was arrested for roughing up his girl friend because she refused to go out and buy him some “clean” urine.  He was on probation and he apparently needed to pass a random drug test.  The water drops from my coffee obliterated some of the story, but not the part where he pushed her head and then threw bananas and a metal comb at her.  More wet newsprint.  Then the story ended with his breaking down in the kitchen, crying, and grabbing a carving knife, threatened to kill himself.  It seems that a friend captured the whole thing on a cell phone.

It’s good to have friends.

Now, I was in the pool at the RV Resort where we are staying.  I was leaning back with my head against the rim.  I was intent on getting some exercise one way or another, and since its way too hot to go bicycling, the decision to go to the pool wasn’t hard.  I was doing a peddling motion with my legs and practicing the scissors kick.  Nearby, at the shallow end, there were a dozen seniors doing water exercises.  A woman’s voice was telling them what to do.

“Now, turn around and lift your left leg–that’s right, just like that.”

“Okay, now run in place–do the best you can.”

I looked at each person in the group trying to identify the speaker with the tiny headset microphone.  I couldn’t find her.  She seemed to be joking with someone in the group.  I looked again and still couldn’t find her.  Then I spotted a cable from an outlet.  It led to a small boom-box that was placed on a pool chair.  Everyone was listening to a tape.  But, how could she banter with the group?

I was puzzling over this when I looked directly across the water and noticed that a man was staring at me.  He had on sunglasses, so I couldn’t be sure it was me he was watching.  He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC.  Same hat.  Same white goatee.  I would have bet my last fiver that it was the Colonel himself.  I didn’t place any bet– there was no one to place it with and besides I remember that Colonel Harland D. Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.

The clouds were slowly thickening.  The forecast called for late afternoon showers.

I looked up.  There, in the pale blue of the sky was a soaring bird.  I looked at its wings.  It wasn’t an eagle–it was a turkey vulture.   Both are built for soaring.  Both are symbols–metaphors to us.  So is the Albatross.TurkeyVulture

I looked over at the seniors who were busy treading water and then back to the turkey vulture, making slow circles above my head.

You do not want to know what goes through my head at times like these.

I’ve always found the Albatross very interesting and enigmatic.  I’ve never seen one in the wild but from photos, they have an outstanding appearance.  But, the poor bird is cursed by being a symbol of  “a burden”.

“Oh, he has to carry that Albatross around his neck–too bad for him”.

We have Samuel Taylor Coleridge to thank for that.  One of my favorite poems is “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.  In case you don’t remember your 10th grade English class, a sailor shoots an arrow into the sky and kills an Albatross.  This brings really bad luck to him and his crew.  He is condemned to carrying the dead bird around his neck while the voyage of his ship wanders the seas.

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He is the ancient mariner who stoppeth one of three…

Sometimes, I feel like I am like the pitiful sailor–condemned forever to carry the wrongs and sins of my youth around my neck.  It can depress a recovered good Catholic altar boy like me.

AncientMariner

However, there are many times in my life that I’ve felt more like the Albatross and not the archer/sailor who killed without thinking.  These great birds (some with a wing span of twelve feet) are designed to soar–to ride the thermals–for unbelievable lengths of time.  Some say that these birds can go weeks (or longer) without landing.  They eat by swooping and catching the unfortunate fish who came too close to the surface.  They don’t need much food because they don’t expend much energy.  Their wings are engineered by nature to lock in place.  When you watch a skein of migrating geese, they flap their way from horizon to horizon.  The Albatross hardly ever uses its wings, except to stay aloft.

It has also been said that they only land to rest briefly, on a calm portion of ocean.  And, more importantly, they need to alight on a solid surface to find a mate and procreate.  The Albatross generally mates for life.

But, to soar above it all–only coming to the ground when necessary–seems like an amazing way to spend a life.  I feel the need to wander, sometimes far from home (like Florida), but I’m held by gravity to the surface of the earth.  Yes, I can take American Airlines to Puerto Rico, if I choose, but you get my point.

To soar above the aches and pains and heartbreak of life–to dream with your eyes open–of faraway lands and people who fill this world.  To soar and day-dream about the minute life below me and the sky, so blue and intense, above me, is enviable.  I would make an extra circle high above that red-haired woman who is crying on the empty beach.  I would make two extra circles around the Eiffel Tower and hear the cries of the Parisians.  I would soar above the lonely man, broken by war, meandering a boardwalk and thinking of ending his life.

But, I would make sure that I soared low enough so that the dim eyes of an old person could see me.  I would soar slow enough so the children, playing in the fields, would stop and point at me.

All this I would do, If I had the wings of an Albatross.  I wonder if that is what death is like–we can soar around the heads of the loved ones left behind?

All this I would do, even knowing that I would never be totally unencumbered and without the dreams that live in the living.

Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?

–Bob Dylan

[Images: Google search]

Don’t Cry For Me, Puerto Rico: My Final Postcard

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If you want to use Google Earth to find me, just enter 18.44 N and 66.01 W.  That’s me, sitting at the beach bar waiting for an order of nachos.

I’ve licked my last stamp and stuck it to the corner of this postcard.  I won’t be writing to you anymore–from this place.  This is my last day.

So, I’ve spent seven days at Condado Beach.  I admit that I’ve done nothing that several million other tourists, before and after me, haven’t already done.  I didn’t find an undiscovered gem.  I didn’t walk a virgin path.  In fact, I’ve done less than most people who come here given our limited budget.  I’ll be washing the sand off my feet soon and in the morning we’ll take a taxi to the airport.

I only purchased one tee-shirt and eight postcards.  That’s really good for me.  Oh, I almost forgot, there is a new refrigerator magnet in our luggage.

I’ll be honest.  I really don’t want to go home just yet.  I found this island fascinating, fun and full of potential as the salve I need right now.

I’ve shared what I’ve done, but what about the places unseen and people I never talked to?  Those are left for the next time.

I can only think of those brief moments, scenes, people and impressions that I chanced to experience in this too brief a time:

A pretty teenage girl stood in a small park.  I asked if I could photograph her.  She was wary.  In five seconds, her family appeared.  I talked fast.  I snapped quick.  I walked on.

SanJuanGirl

Inside a church, there was a small wedding.  maybe nine people witnessed besides the videographer and the priest–and me.  The bride wore scarlet.

The cobblestone streets of the Old City were said to come here as ballast in the ships that sailed centuries ago.  The ballast for the return trip to Europe?  Gold.

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The buildings of Old San Juan were pink and mint green and yellow and pastel hues I couldn’t name.

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There were homeless men on the streets, each one had a dog or two to assuage their loneliness.

I passed a small baseball park where Roberto Clemente played his first professional games.  There was a man on the beach with the entire (?) 23rd Psalm tattooed on his stomach.  There was room for all the text.

There was a young woman on the same beach in a slight bikini.  Her perfect shape and beautiful dark skin would have stopped a bus-load of Baptist ministers.

The graffiti on the walls reminded me of New York City in the 1970’s.  The tree frogs along Ashford Avenue sounded too perfect to be real–but they were.

***

My last thoughts?  They are like the last thoughts of these islanders.  My final memory is of a place where memories live, tears fall and dead rest.

Out on a large wind-swept lawn, with a historical site and light house, is a cemetery.  The San Juan Cemetery sits inside a 16-foot stone wall (the wall that protected the Old City for centuries).  The plots gleam white in the sun.  White and bright enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Beyond the thick wall, the sea waves crash against the rocks.  You look at the white cemetery, the white breaking waves and your eyes moves to the horizon.  There the sea makes a perfect line as it meets the sky.  Surely, the spirits of those who rest here must sit on their stones and admire the view of the moon-lit ocean.  As I stand on the high ground above, on the lawn where kite fliers run and laugh, I’m sure the spirits are down there in the daylight and watching the sea..watching the horizon..looking for the Final Boat that will take them away to whatever heaven they believe in.

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I’m thinking these things but I’m finding my words are inadequate in describing this wondrous place.

I don’t think anyone down in the cemetery, watching their kites or watching the sea needs my tears.

They don’t have to cry for me, either.