The trip from Southwest Virginia to the beautiful area on the Gulf Coast of Florida known as Madeira Beach seemed to take forever, but, as with all great things, the time is passing rapidly and, all too soon, it will be time to return to the mountains with nothing but a tan and some wonderful memories. While vacations are meant to be taken at a slow pace with sleeping late, lazy brunches, lounging around and doing a whole lot of nothing, those things have been elusive. Before the sun shows its face, I’ve been out on the beach looking for shells in the moonlight, listening to the song of the ocean and watching the fishing boats going in and out of John’s Pass, a Channel which was named, allegedly, after a peasant turned pirate called John Lavique. Spanning the Channel is a magnificent drawbridge, waiting patiently for the tall masts of the sailboats to signal their arrival or departure, then slowly lifts to allow them passage. Although I’ve seen drawbridges before, I continue to be fascinated by the mechanism and the whole idea of breaking the road in half, raising it up to a near ninety degree angle and then putting it back in place again.
Even though it is quiet in the wee morning hours, before the beachcombers and kids start pouring onto the sand and into the surf, there is no way to get up too early for the fishermen. With their tackles, nets and
waders, they come out early to try to catch the big one out of the sea. For many fishermen, my dad included, it doesn’t really matter if they catch anything or not, although it is always cause for excited celebration when they feel that familiar tug on the line. Just the act of having a line in the water is enough for them and outwitting a fish is just a bonus. One of the birds that hangs out near the outcropping of concrete and rocks that bellies up to the Gulf has befriended my dad, or rather has learned that he is quite adept at outsmarting the fish. He’s also learned that if he hangs around, there’s a good chance he’s going to get a saltwater snack and is ever so willing to wait. While he doesn’t mind that other birds come near where he waits, when the fish comes in, he starts moving closer. At first, he would only come within ten feet or so of where Dad would stand, but this evening, when I went down to photograph the sunset, the bird was just a couple of feet away. He has obviously learned that the hand that feeds him is a safe place be near. Although I can’t prove that it is the same bird, I am fairly sure, just from the markings, that it is. Why mess with success has likely become his new motto. I’ve seen pelicans dive into the water and these large cranes skimming the surface, but until this past Sunday, I had not witnessed one of them actually eat a fish. Usually, squeamish would describe me best in such situations, but in this case, I couldn’t take my eyes off the bird as it maneuvered the fish into a position where it could just gulp it down. That long skinny neck doesn’t look like it could swallow a fish, but as with many things of nature, looks can be deceiving. Before long, the throngs of people will flock, pardon the pun, to the water and the sand, bringing with them their chairs, towels, toys, sunscreen (hopefully), drinks and children. The kids will splash, the adults will toast and the sounds of summer fun and helpless laughter will fill the muggy, tropical air of this little slice of perfection that we have been allowed to enjoy. The sky is a blue that is often seen in October, the water a lovely shade of light aqua blending, churning and merging into a deeper, darker shade of the same beautiful tones. The Channel is alive with activity including wave runners, parasail boats with their smiley face parachutes, motorboats, yachts and of course, the ever-present fishing trawlers. I can’t say I have a favorite as I like to watch them all, but hope that I never have to be out in the ocean on something that lets my legs hang in the water. Irregardless of the beauty in front of me, if my feet are in the water, the image of Jaws is always in the back of my mind. So for now, I will continue to feast my eyes on the beauty and activity around me, watch my nieces play and splash in the surf and be content that I get to be a part of what the locals would consider just another day in paradise.