A View from the Top
Cape San Blas
I haven’t been here in more than 30 years. Memories fade, but not these. They are of starry nights and blistering hot days. Of long runs and walks on deserted pristine beaches, of coastal pines and palms and swamps and alligators too. Of the unbelievable Milky Way on clear nights, and they are always clear here.
Shifting sandy barrier islands. Florida’s Forgotten Coast.
The gate to the state park, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, is closed and locked, but no impediment to me. No more impediment than the darkness which greets me this morning. So quiet, just my breathing. I duck under the gate and continue to run free.
A little doe stands by the side of the road, illuminated in the beam of my headlamp. She has big eyes and huge ears, and stands nearly as tall as I. She starts to run away, but senses (I hope), no threat and no fear. “Good morning to you,” I say. And she looks away and then back at me as I lope by, hesitates momentarily and then breaks into a trot at my side. We run along the road together, a rather odd couple, for about 100 feet, then she breaks off back into the palmetto scrub.
I continue on my way, next encountering the big sign warning of alligators inhabiting this tiny spit of land. But fortunately no alligators. They are not to be trifled with. Serious stuff.
Several miles pass in complete silence and I am now bathed in the first rays of this Florida summer sunrise. The boardwalk appears on my left, as I hoped it would and I follow it down to the beach. Looking south as far as I can see, and looking north as well, I see…absolutely no one, not a soul.
A Great White egret flies silently overhead, his neck a graceful “S” shape, headed for ports unknown. Aren’t we all?
The waves roll in and out, there is little wind this morning. Shoes and socks are an afterthought, and thrown aside, and I run barefoot in the shallow water where the sand is harder packed and mostly level. The sun rises over the distant horizon, the water and sky the exact shade of blue, so blue and so exact that you can hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. That will change soon enough as the sun heats the water and the land differentially, and fluffy white cumulus clouds will rise up and dot the sky, turning to deep, dark threatening thunderheads later in the afternoon.
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh, I would still be on my feet
– Joni Mitchell, A Case of You.
Pelicans fly by on their silent vigils, riding the wind currents so gracefully, barely moving a feathered wing. A family pod of porpoise work their way along the shoreline, riding the water currents in equal grace. Dorsal fins break the surface of the water every now and then, signalling their silent sojourn. A Great Blue Heron stands so quietly on the beach, studying a tidal pool for bleached white sand crabs or whatever else may have been left behind by the outgoing tide. He stands so still, I run right past him before I even notice. The water sparkles as the sun rises, the surface broken occasionally by schools of leaping bait fish being chased by larger demons unknown.
Eventually, the sun rises high enough to remind me that I have brought neither sunscreen nor a hat, nor even a water bottle. The Florida sun is not to be trifled with, so I turn back around. At least I will have a sunburn equally on my face and back, left and right sides.
No watch, no land marks, I wonder where I threw those shoes and socks and whether I will be able to locate them. I check all of the boardwalks leading to the beach and I am in luck, but miles to go before reaching home and as sweaty and thirsty as can be. And more luck as I run down the park road, to where there is a tiny closed store and a still deserted marina, a wood table for fishermen to clean their catch and a bright green hose connected to a spigot. Apparently no one has washed off this table in years, much to the delight of the local raccoons, who probably dine well each night. The water feels good on my head, down my shoulders and back, and though lukewarm, maybe the best water I have ever tasted.
The run home to the beach cottage is over all too soon. Cars and RVs are making their way into the park now. But the sun is rising and believe it or not, air conditioning was invented no more than 15 miles away from here by Dr. John Gorrie, in tiny Apalachicola, in 1851.
Tomorrow morning beckons me. I will not disappoint.
The sea below me
The sky above me
It makes me feel small
It makes me feel free