Last night the marine weather forecasted another day like yesterday – windy in the morning and lightening up in the afternoon. And so we are going to try a new strategy for us. We are going to spend the morning and early afternoon in camp and then launch when the winds are calming.
In the Pacific Northwest, where most of our paddling has occurred (John and his friend Bruce were the first to thru-paddle the Inside Passage from Skagway, Alaska to Olympia, Washington in the early 1980s, we met sea kayaking on Barkley Sound on Vancouver Island a couple of years later, he paddled the Olympic National Park’s Washington coastline and circumnavigated Vancouver Island in 1990, etc), it’s typically the afternoon heat that brings the winds. We are used to that pattern. And so we always paddle early and plan to be off the water in the afternoons to relax and enjoy camp before nightfall. We are not used to this one of winds at night and in the morning, and dead calm in the afternoon. So. We watch. We wait. We learn.
Last night, sure enough, the winds picked up before sunset, and with it the temperature dropped, bringing cool relief from, what had turned into, a surprisingly muggy, windless late afternoon. We enjoyed the coolness and got a great night’s sleep.
This morning, the stiff wind means it’s cold in the shade but perfect in the sun, wearing wool socks, stretch pants, fleece shirt, down jacket and cap. Or tucked in behind the tent and out of the wind, drinking coffee.
The wind-swept waves lap at the grasses, tumbling rafts of wind-formed bubbles upon the shore. Four dolphins cruise the recently covered oyster bars, surfacing, diving, moving back and forth until something, unseen by me, catches their attention and they jump and splash and circle. Flocks of birds lift and careen across the sky. Orange butterflies try to keep a straight butterfly line of flight and give up. And yesterday’s rambunctious bumble bees attempt to take up their buzzing drone but are pushed by the wind back into the bushes.
I am happy here, in my patch of sunlight, watching this life all around me. I see the horizon and distant islands.
Behind me, out of sight and earshot, is the small, remote town of Horseshoe Beach where we stopped yesterday for water. When we paddled from there to here, we passed two islands, each with a house, and a long string of electrical lines swaying from skinny post to skinny post from the mainland to first one island and then the next. Installing those lines must’ve cost a pretty penny, and I wonder how many storms have caused them to be restrung.
But this island, Butler Island, we have to ourselves, and the sun is what’s powering our solar charger, while the town’s cell tower receives and sends our data.
Because Florida is so flat, we surprisingly have had reception at all but just a few camps over the past 43 days.
It’s been nice to stay connected. To be able to answer our phone when our son calls with questions about buying his house or, like last night, with five questions about filling out his tax return. Our 25-year-old son, now recently graduated and with a benefitted, good-paying engineering job, no longer needs us for money or even his phone plan, but apparently still needs us for knowledge and information and, heaven forbid, advice. A monumental shift has occurred while John and I have been camped out along remote marshes and oyster bars, with dolphins, birds and crabs, waiting out the wind.
It is now 3 pm in the afternoon. The wind has died and the sea is calm. But John and I are equally relaxed, and loathe to pack up camp and move. Our new strategy thus has this major flaw: 3 pm is when we always set up camp, not break it down. And if camp’s already set up, then it’s invariably nap time, before dinner. With this realization, it’s hard to imagine we’ll ever be leaving this island if the winds persist in the morning and die in the afternoon.
But would you even want to leave?
Shortly after I set down my writing this morning, in front of us, terns were diving for fish and yet another huge flock of white pelicans danced across the sky. The dolphins returned, splashing in circles. And then, dear reader, a manatee nosed up to the grasses at our feet. I caught this poorly-executed photo of its snout coming up for air as it swam away, proof of its visit, and of the poor quality camera that I use – the one on my phone.
I told John then that I wouldn’t mind NOT leaving this camp this afternoon. That I would love to take a layover day out of love for a place, for once, instead of out of need due to wind or resupply or exhaustion or illness.
Of course wind played a big part, since we would’ve been gone first thing this morning had the wind not been so strong. And after yesterday’s paddle, exhaustion might’ve also been able to be claimed, although surprisingly we both feel fine today and not overly tired.
But as the morning wore on, I fell in love with this spot and exclaimed “John, let’s just stay, and enjoy watching the tides change.”
Day 44 and we finally claim a geographical space, and for no reason but love, we stay. For the first time on this trip. With no regret or embarrassment over not moving on.
Has it taken me 44 days to slow down enough to truly enjoy where we are?
Is it the relief at making it to the halfway mark for this particular year’s trip (next winter we’ll paddle the stretch to Georgia) that I feel like I’ve earned a day of slothful joy? Or only after yesterday’s great effort?
I bask in the dappled shade and sun and breathe deep.
Or could it be nothing more than the magnificent pod of dolphins surfacing and blowing in front of me now, that brings me such joy? And that a manatee nudged its nose at us as it passed by? The gods are apologizing for yesterday, and trying to make amends, no doubt. How can I not forgive?
Besides, John and I are both reading really good books.
The terns dive. Fish are taking huge flying leaps. The bumblebees have been freed from the bushes and they drone and dart about in bumblebee ecstasy. And the mature, old cedars that flank our view, stand as sentinels and sigh, accepting all that has ever been.
For this one day, I too am bathed in happiness and inclined to do the same. But oh how hard that is for us mere mortals to do on even one such perfect day when the gods are trying to say they’re sorry!
On the other hand, maybe what I’m saying about the trees is all a crock and they too are always bitching in voices only ants hear: too much wind, too little water, and itchy lichen all over their bark!
Maybe even the dolphins sometimes bitch about the sea. Complaints, all. Complaints, as harmless and fleeting and noisy as bees.
For good or for bad, this too shall pass: Wind. Calm. Days by the sea.
We are alive.
We are healthy.
We are adventurers.