December 03, 2013

Trip of Logs, Log of Trips

Land ahoy skipper we've hit sea! Ah 'twas bliss to be in the land of half-sleep on the plane, thinking about achieving Florida, the land of my dream.

On de plane, de plane, enjoyed coffee while reading the memoirs of U.S. Grant, a sort of salve for the too much of-the-moment news I've been recently deluged in (i.e. the Obamacare Obomination and Wreckovation Act).

I was ruffled by want of a cigar, and the golden turd stud like a sentry on the coffee table of our new digs at Island Inn, a quaint l
ittle series of cottages. The lanai is expansive. Plenty of room for a touch football game if one so desired, but of course I won't.

After checking in we got our bikes right at the place then we headed, ravenous, to the nearest food joint. We took a short-me-cut, an unpaved road (“Island road” creatively called) and it was fabulously uncrowded to the point of it being our private road with no through traffic. It adjoined a small nature preserve  and there were many signs warning of “alligator habitation”, which was music to my ears. Must run there, ride there.

Suddenly it was 5 and the sun was threatening to set so my brother & sister-in-law headed out on their bikes back to their place while Steph and I touched beach for a precious 45 minutes (20 of it I spent running, or what passes for 'running' these days).

Now at 6:20, it's completely dark, way too early. We plan on going to dinner with D & P at the joint here. Live music at 7.

So a full and pleasant day. Check in at 2pm, lunch al fresco, then shopping, then a brotherly visit and capped by a run on the beach. Nice work if you can get it.

Heard my brother talk about his kids and am tickled by how Allison loves words, especially unfamiliar words. (He, who tore the pages from books in high school as he read the hated pages.) She likes to write and read; I tend to think once that hook of reading literature has ensnared you, you are hooked for good.

SUNDAY

Oh the glories of morning sun. Sitting in the lania, the sun shafts rays upon the edge of it, lighting up the translucently green leaves of tropical-looking plantings. A rich harvest of sun in this state, no wonder it's called “The Sunshine State”. They know how to market, witness the popularity. The morning drew me irrepressibly to the beach so we walked along it while Steph looked for shells and I admired the calming sound of waves gathering and falling and the scalloped shore. Heard the pleasing rattle of waves jingling her sea jewels, the shells that lay at shoreline.

Very simple continental breakfast here but at least there's hard-boiled eggs (if no milk or cereal). Pleasingly large buffet room with plenty of windows. Nearby there's a little library even more filled with south-facing windows and I dreamed of how great it would be to call that oasis my study room. Sat for awhile on the guest chairs out on the property, the sand at our feet. I read some of Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and a non-fiction book about risk and modernity's approach to it.

*

A full, fun day. First church, inspiring and soul-restoring. Long, but not burdensomely so. Four and five verses sung of all the songs, these retirees have a lot of time on their hands.

Mass was preceded by speeches by a group supporting education among poor black youth. Opening song was about 10:42am, just in time for D & P to make it (they'd gotten lost on the way there again.) Huge crucified Christ above the altar, and it spoke to me of intercessory prayer, of Christ's intercessory prayer on our behalf to the Father.  There's no better way to “ground oneself” than to look skyward.

After Mass brother Doug & P. headed back to our place to plan the day. P wanted to spend some time reading and lazing around the beach or pool, of which I could relate, so we decided to do a quick lunch at the famous Bubble Room in Captiva followed by a kayak ride. Get home around 3pm was the plan, plenty of time for P to unwind in the sun, but needless to say that didn't happen till dusk.

In the meantime, Doug & P. had to bike back to their place, then come back and pick us up on the way to the Bubble Room. It was fun to show off that one-of-a-kind restaurant to newbies Steph & P. It does kind of take your breath away the first time you're in there, if less so the second. Not a calorically friendly meal but then we would be kayaking -- if the kayak rental lady would stop talking. It was almost comical how garrulous she was, how any stray comment by us could be expounded upon at surprisingly discursive length. It made you want to holster your comments lest she get started, but gosh you have to love how dedicated she was and how indifferent to her own situation because she had somewhere to tonight which was dependent on us getting back promptly at 4, but given the length of her commentary we were lucky to even start the trip at all before 4. (We ended up getting back around 4:15, which was pretty good all things considered.)

It was a pleasure to show Steph and P. the wilds of tunneled swampish land where big black crabs like spiders lurk. Very atmospheric to the point of spooky. We saw the snout of a big manatee above the water in the marina area and then had the pleasure of a “welcoming committee”, as the kayak lady described it, of a corcorman begging for treats, right next to the boat. Later, a graceful dolphin.
After the trip we headed back and out directly to the beach where sand fleas predominated, driving me to the pool and eventually driving me to the safety of the lanai. Those guys can itch you! Now a grand sunset and that bright Polaris (?) star hold forth. Palms and a species of evergreen I can't identify stand in silent witness to the scene. Absent “no see ums”, thank you.

Listened to music in particular, the song Near You - a duet by George Jones and Tammy Wynette - which continues to enthrall me. I'm not sure why but the song has legs for me. Heard Patty Loveless sing That Kind of Girl via the magic of YouTube. I recall that song, sung on a country awards show, as the final “straw” as far as converting me to country music back in the '90s. Her hairstyle in the video was off-puttingly unfashionable and yet no doubt at the time (not so long ago!) it was so fetching. Fashions change but I didn't think I was caught up in them so much. I thought that if you were young during the '80s you wouldn't ever think the '80s hairstyle outdated, much as you might always appreciate '80s music despite subsequent musical evolutions. But for whatever reason those hairstyles seem dated and unattractive even though at the time they were seen as fantastic. This doesn't seem to always happen though, since in the old movies of the '40s, doesn't Lauren Bacall's hair look fantastic? Or Grace Kelly's? I guess there's a classic look that never changes.


MONDAY:

Boy but the “no see 'ums” last night were fierce! This morning Steph has scores of bites along both legs and back despite being out by the pool for just a matter of minutes. Seems to have continued to itch her at night, while my bites didn't and haven't seemed to have raised any welts. We put on some insect repellant but apparently too late. It does make me realize how important insect repellant can be even on a beach trip. It's certainly the first time I'd been chased off a beach by insects.

Last day for Doug & P, and they invited us over to their place to grill out hamburgers and hotdogs tonight. The huge downer is that Steph got eaten alive by the “no see ums” on Sunday and is itching like crazy. For some reason she's more allergic than I was. Apparently it takes a loooong time (3-4 days) to get over the itching so we're looking at maybe Thursday for relief for her.  (Later in the week her skin would look as though she had leprosy given the thousand bites-on-bites.)

We had breakfast at the impressive Over Easy Cafe. Despite a very large breakfast crowd we got very fast service. And it's a very short bike ride of a half a mile away. After breakfast Steph was in her heaven at a dog-themed shop, buying a t-shirt there. I looked around and then sat on a rocker outside.  Oh glories of glory the morning Floridian sun!  It is a sheer unparalleled blessedness! It blows away such trinkets as diamonds and jewels. Too often it's overlooked because it's free, or at least sometimes is.

*

Doug told us the wild story of his long-time friend once spread-eagled naked on a four-lane road in Iowa, and how he spent the night in jail. The judge gave him credit for time served if he agreed never to come back to Iowa. So his friend is banned from Iowa!  If you're going to be banned from a state that's not the worst one I suppose.

*

After breakfast we headed out for a bike ride on a spectacularly gorgeous day. Pure-spun weather with the gilded leaves of tropical plants and flowers flanking the bike path along the West Gulf. P. set a 1:30 nails appointment for her and Steph and so they went to that while Doug & I rented kayaks. We headed straight out, towards Havana, Cuba, but only made it one mile before turning around. Still it was pretty neat to be a mile off the beach under our own power. Doug got out of the kayak just so he could say he swam a mile from the beach. We saw a dolphin pretty close by. A fishing boat came towards us but seemed to have saw us and thus, thankfully, not run us over.

After kayaking we went to play tennis. But wow am I not in shape for tennis or what? Fun and intense but it made my legs into jelly and I couldn't imagine riding bike back to their place that night so we ended up wimping out and getting a cab for $10.

TUESDAY

Finally le' Beach! 11am on Tuesday and it's the first full beach time. Crazy. To mark the occasion there are a couple of dolphins swimming in tandem in front of me. Ahhh….this is a life.
This morning another lovely breakfast at Over Easy Cafe followed by a bike ride around the paths near Island Inn. Impressive number of trails. And we're so close to not one but three book stores! And much closer to Ding Darling than before. Nice part of the island for sure even if a (slightly) longer cab drive from the airport.

Watching the birds on the shoreline.... In the latest NR, a columnist argues that “Far from presenting any threat to human dignity, animals and their moral claims upon us [not to be cruel] are a constant hindrance to human presumption. What is the mark of that special status of ours, anyway, if not precisely the ability to be just instead of merely dominant, to be the creature of conscience and bring mercy into the world?”

Also reading today the novel Goldfinch and some of Charles Krauthammer's latest book of columns. He's the new George Will. Krauthammer can be funny!  Who knew?  And, of course, very smart. Also read a bit of Ann Coulter's latest, “Never Trust a Liberal Under 3”. Unfortunately her style is often childish (such as that title!) that it sort of plays into the trope that conservatives are stupid. Which is ironic because in her book she rails against Tea Party stupidity, not in policies but in political strategy (i.e. talk about rape, rarely a good idea). Not sure reading political books is the best use of vacation time though.

WEDNESDAY

After a good night's sleep started off with Mass at St. Isabella's. It's an easy bike ride, about 1.6 miles away, and the starting time is a gentle 8:30. Not too early, not too late. The gospel was from Luke about the parable of the use of talents and how one fellow thought that the king was a hard man, reaping where he did not sow and “taking up what he did not lay down”. The ultimate refutation of the notion of God as a “hard man” was that Christ did "lay down" (his life), which is where He was heading at the time he gave that parable: to Jerusalem and his death.

Back at the Inn, we made breakfast. Keen idea, especially since there is nothing better than scrambled eggs with diced ham along with a side of bacon. Yum, yum.

Then what to do with this “summer” day? We decided to ride bikes to Ding Darling park, a capital idea. On yet another sunny day, we hit the path and ended up doing about 13 miles, four of it inside Ding Darling. We saw plenty of kinds of birds: a flying pink one (flamingo maybe, though it looked smaller) and my favorite, the white ibis with their handy exaggerated beaks made for sand-pecking with minimal effort. How convenient.

We caught up with the tram tour group and the guide gave a garrulous account of the evolution of Sanibel, the future (“will eventually be washed out to see by rising sea levels”), the genesis of mangroves, how baby mangrove trees are born and raised (not via seed), speculations on why fish were joyously leaping high up out of the water (they did so often as fireflies at night), and the rarity and endangerment of the sawtooth sharks we saw in the water.

No gators were sighted despite a big sign that said, more or less, “Caution: You Are About to Enter the Gator Zone”.

Anyway the bikes were a great way to see Ding Darling - made you feel a part of the surroundings, under your own power at your own pace and with the rhythm biking provides.

Then we headed out of the park to Bowman's Beach, which supposedly has good shelling. While Steph did her thing I rested and read Ben Wiker's book via Kindle. The shelling wasn't spectacular and Steph came back after about 20 minutes. Gathered up my things and helped an old lady over a sand dune and then to the parking lot when I realized: no Kindle! I ran back and found it totally submerged under a wave! Never a good sight, to see an electronic device in sea water.

Fortunately it's still working, though I haven't charged it yet and don't know about the longer term effects of the salt corrosion.

We rode back to the inn and fried up some delicious ham & cheese sandwiches before heading to the beach. Very late start today - around 3:30! Read some of Ben Wiker's book and then the Every Day is Saturday the home-made book by a Sanibel fisherman.

Nature-wise, a fine variety to the day: from the fecund tropical leaves and flowers jungle-like flanking the bike path to the “desert” image of just ocean and sky, the clean line of horizon meeting sea. Biking and sunbathing complement one another.

Then, precisely at 4:40pm, the little munchers (“flying teeth” as the natives put it) came out, the dreaded “no-see-ums”. They didn't seem particularly repelled by the insect repellant I'd applied, so we headed back to the relative safety of the screened-in lanai where I smoked a cigar as additional insurance. Then some Ballast Point Big Eye IPA, appropriately appointed with a big ol' fish in this land of seafood.  Only a single star visible in the south sky, night after night, and it's gaudily bright. I learned from Doug it's not a star but a planet: Venus.

We had a delicious if ridiculously expensive “to go” dinner from Traditions, the restaurant on the property. Had the three course early bird special for $70 (gratuity auto-added for takeout!). But the food was good: steak in a wonderful sauce; sautéed potatoes, mixed veggies, a salad, awesomely good bread and key lime pie for dessert.

The grounds here are physically quite attractive, especially the old, gnarled trees that almost make you feel like you're on a southern plantation. There's a nice history to the place, having become established by the Matthews family in the 1890s and eventually becoming financially strapped in the late 1950s. They sold it for $12,000 to a group of loyal guests, and those guests or heirs to this day own it.

Weather-wise, you can't go wrong with south Florida in November. It's only in January & February  it gets dicey.

THURSDAY

Tis a blast to start the day “crisp”, to hit the lanai running and via the magic of YouTube listen to sentimental oldies like Today, While the Blossums, Lord of the Dance (with the understated lyric concerning the Crucifixion, “it's hard to dance with the devil on your back”), Andrew Gold's Thank You for Being a Friend, and Sinatra singing Younger than Springtime.

Now at 8:30 the sun is crisp as well, with plants and trees casting crisp shadows and the hue of blue ocean sharpened. I thought about walking the beach in the 6:45-ish era but sat down instead even though it is special to see the sea at various times of day and in manifold conditions.

Thursday afternoon alas. There's never enough time unless you're serving it. Every droplet of literary goodness from the Kindle feels unexpectedly nourishing. Charles Krauthammer's new book reads like gold when overlooking the spectacularly civilized white buildings and finely landscaped acreage. I sit in the splendor of “old Florida”, sipping a Two-Hearted ale and admiring the fantastically shaped trees. It's a windswept, manicured oasis and deserving of a little “sit out” time, even if it's stealing time from the eternal beach.

We hit the beach early today, 10am, because it was supposed to be cloudy and rainy all afternoon. As seemingly always happens on beaches (as opposed to Cloudumbus), it was sunny and mild all day. A few clouds, textured like pachyderm skin. I trotted out an obligatory run on the beach, my legs feeling thud-heavy, and ran by a huge whelk (still living) and a decent-sized live fish, flapping away. Sighted a dolphin, or maybe a shark. I later even swam for a bit, in waters a tad chilly. Then we headed off on bikes down that treasured Island Inn road, a wide private bike path, past the alligator habitation signs We went down one of the alleys but no gators were found and I thought about photoshopping myself with one as a joke for grandson Sam's sake. Then I headed to the local bookstore and checked out the treasures, feeding my desire to read (and also incurring pangs of nostalgia for newly printed books) while Steph headed to the local shell store. The shell she was looking for, has been looking for for ages, was there but $100. She said she doesn't want to buy the shell but would almost pay $100 to find one, and I'm sorely tempted on romantic impulse to buy it tomorrow for her and plant it on the beach near our chairs. It's the sort of extravagant un-conservative gesture I'm so not known for and thus ought do. I would have to tell her, of course, it was store-bought - which might take the whole thrill of finding one away from her - but who knows if she'll ever find one? Is there joy in looking apart from finding?

Being indoors, even in a bookstore, when earth and sea are becomingly beautiful seems wasteful but I've decided if you wait for rain in the Sunshine State to hit a bookstore, you'll never hit one.

We also stopped for yogurt-ice cream, or ice-cream yogurt, some sort of newfangled shop that serves something that bends boundaries and we had some of that fine product. Then back to the Inn for a hotdog lunch, courtesy my brother's leftovers.

And now already at 4:25, the flies are biting and the light is aged on the day before the day before we leave.

FRIDAY

Fiftieth anniversary of JFK's death. Astonishing how much coverage it's been receiving this month. Six days of coverage in local paper and scores of television programs, books, etc…

According to some authors, JFK was maturing spiritually in the last months of his life, getting closer to Jackie. But that contradicts recent sordid revelations of him with a teenager in late '63. It's puzzling to think of St. Padre Pio's assertion that JFK went immediately to Heaven.  I googled for "Padre Pio" and "John F. Kennedy" and there was an article conjecturing about the possibility of Kennedy, who was actually a pretty devout Catholic despite his flaws, might've gone to Confession the morning of the 22nd.

*

I used to think vacations were wasteful, too evanescent. What have you to show for them? You buy a television or a gemstone and you have something tangible forever, or what passes for "forever" in human terms. But a vacation is over in a week, maybe two. But what a wrongheaded materialistic view! What of experiences for their own sake? If we think of ourselves as machines, we deny ourselves rest. There is a humble creatureliness in recognizing the need for something seemingly so extraneous and “wasteful' as a vacation.

Found a hidden-away bike path that runs parallel to Rabbit road, so was able to avoid the latter. Lots of alligator habitation signs subtitled in various languages (“Achtung!” started one) but no alligators. I came to a bridge with an overlook at a lady said that you might see a snapping turtle but that all the alligators have been killed. Too near homes I would guess. Explains why the reptiles have been so elusive this trip.

*

So another fine-spun day. 'Round about noon we headed out (after a short solo trip to le beach by me, reading Wiker's book) to Bailey's General Store for a shell net. While Steph was in there I made an excuse to go to Macintosh bookstore when instead I hit She Sells Seashells. A rude balding guy who gave me the cold shoulder, ignoring me until I said I was interested in a hundred dollar shell.

Unfortunately I didn't know the name of the shell Steph wanted (I think I called it a “Nutella” after the child's dessert). He had no idea but eventually said something that was like “pneumonia” which I think was it, though I didn't take the risk and buy one. Later I found out the shell name started with a “j”. Lord almighty, would it kill them to name shells “Smith” or “Jones”?

So I headed back to Bailey's and then we headed on the loooooong bike ride to Captiva. Only about 8-9 miles one way but it was hot. We eventually landed on that blissful Blind Pass beach. The Gulf waters were amazingly clear here and Steph spent a couple hours shelling while I waded, listened to jazz on the radio and read a bit of Krauthammer. Mellow, relaxing time though the clear waters made me wish I'd brought snorkel equip this trip.

We ate at a restaurant called Flamingo near the Captiva/ Sanibel (undefended) border. Fried grouper, yum. Also a Florida Ave IPA. Michigan fan was the owner though. A humble one though given MI's recent football woes. No such humility on our part, given 23 straight OSU wins.

Then the miles back to the place, much cooler, with the slanting sun to our right.

SATURDAY

Couldn't really zone out on this last day due to the ping-ping-ping rapid-fire schedule. The golden moment was out on the surf one last brief, shining time. Just 45 minutes of kayaking and it felt like 10, which tells me that I do underestimate how much I get out of it, especially since this was my third time kayaking in a week! I rode along the beach although at about a football field's length or more. Later I went farther out and came across a swimmer! She was wearing one of those latex head coverings for swimming and I thought how it would be cool to have one of those to keep water from getting in my ears. Can't really swim with any sort of enjoyment or abandon when you're worried about water in the ears creating a month of clogged ears, as happened some years back. Or worse, a severe earache like my nephew experienced.

The swimmer, surprisingly, stopped to talk. She said the fish were nibbling at her toes!
I continued on my trek and then came across a very welcome sight: three of four dolphins playing (or fighting?) dead ahead! For about five or ten minutes I watched them, only about the length of a large room away from me. I was taken aback by how loud their snorts of water from their blowholes, and also the sleek, shine of their skin. I tried to paddle closer, using the oars as quietly as possible. I thought about just trying to go real fast towards them for that glimpse of them very near but obviously they can out-speed me and swim away. It was a special moment though, and a nice cap to the trip.

*

On the cab ride to the airport, the cabbie was none too impressed with the insurance industry. He seemed to think it an easy way to make money, which no doubt it is compared to making physical things, and pointed out how ridiculous it seemed to have insurance companies re-insuring some of their stuff. He said he was waiting for reinsurance of reinsurance companies. I tend to do a poor job of defending my religion or my company, and thought today about it further, namely that I should have said that of course it makes sense to have reinsurance since the whole job of an insurance company is to minimize risk and remain solvent.  Presumably AIG didn't reinsure and look what happened to them? The bigger the risk pool, the lower the risk, so insurance companies can do well to spread some of the risk.

Was nice to have had a long time at the airport, to decompress as it were and let the memories settle. RSW is as fine an airport as they come. Saw a young German couple.  It's funny that I'm so eager to surprise Germans with a “guten abend” when saying hello to a fellow American feels so prosaic.

EPILOGUE... Sunday

Watched about 90 mins of JFK assassination coverage from 1963 on C-Span. Sad.  People are complicated, and no one more than JFK.  If people are in fact complicated, then why do we reduce them to simply agents seeking money?

Back to O-h-i-o. Cold 14 degrees this morning!  70 degree drop!

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