Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October Beach Days

Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
I am so enchanted by the sparkling emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its white quartz sand beaches.  I must have been a mermaid in a previous life, living in the aqua blue crystal clear waters.

Even though I am not the best of swimmers, going into the ocean has been a fascinating dance between excitement, apprehension, velvety sand, and elation driven by charmed curiosity.  I am lured by the crashing waves, the marine life swimming about, and that exquisite sea shell in which a tiny creature finds its temporary home. Sometimes the strong undercurrents try to pull me further out to sea.

The ocean is glassy and fluid – I can see clearly to the bottom floor. Tiny white sand sharks swim slowly around my feet, while an occasional flash of silver streaks fast in front of me, chased by pelicans and sea gulls, eager to dive around me in hopes of catching a tasty meal.

The days are perfect. The sun shines with few white clouds on the horizon. The days are balmy 80s, the water is warm, and the waves are too small for the impatient surfers and occasionally even placid like a stagnant lake.  The undercurrents can be seen in the wavy sandy bottom that resembles little sugary dunes.

Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
I trudge my chair, towel, and water cooler to the water’s edge to relax in the ocean surf sounds and the salty aroma of the spraying mist.  The sea gulls appear suddenly when I open the cooler top to get a bottle of water. They’ve learned quite fast that those marvelous little boxes contain food. I brought chips in hopes that an injured sea gull I spotted the day before would show up again. He was dragging one foot behind but was still able to fly. I wondered if he could still hunt for fish to survive.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Not even a painful encounter with a small nesting stingray dampened my desire to enjoy the most beautiful beach in the U.S. I stepped on the creature in thigh-deep ocean. I was treading water instead of shuffling through the bottom like the locals have told me to do. Normally shy creatures, the vibrations cause the stingrays to swim away from humans.

Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
Surprised, the stingray shot its tail with barbs into my right heel. The toxin caused instant excruciating pain and bleeding. The ER doc told me later that I was lucky – it missed my Achilles tendon and the X-rays showed no barbs left inside.

Every so many seconds, toxin-driven pain shot through my entire leg in spite of pain meds and soaking in very hot water.  I did not fuss much – I treaded in their world and disturbed their tranquility. Stingrays bury in the sand 3-10 feet from the water’s edge and usually nest from April to October.

I cannot complain, after 36 years of going to the Gulf’s beaches, this is the first time I was stung. Mims was joking that next time, I might encounter Jaws. Considering all the sandbars so close to the shore, it was a distinct possibility.

Siesta Key
Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
The edge of the beach was protected habitat where turtles nest and native flowers, bushes, and weeds grow wild and undisturbed. When dark falls, it is really hard to see anything. Ambient light is very low, street lighting is banned, and most homes have no outdoor lights on.

Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
Not to be outdone by the atheist crowd that plasters religious COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars, environmentalists have come up with a Coexist t-shirt that sports an endangered animal marine species for each letter. Under a shady grove of palm trees and other tropical plants, a sign sponsored by atheists and secular humanists urged beach goers to protect their environment by adopting a park. Politics is ever present even at the beach.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Many stores are shuttered for the winter season. The local hangouts are busy and the dimly lit Walmart is open 24 hours. We loved it so much, we went four times. It was fantastic to hear nothing but English spoken in every store and to see American waiters, store clerks, and medical personnel trained in the United States.

The bookstore chain did not disappoint with its liberal staff. An elderly employee, with a Brooklyn accent, asked for my “teacherdom I.D.” when I purchased a book on Florida’s history. I had asked him about Donald Trump’s and Michael Savage’s books due out any day. He shrugged his shoulder as if I spoke a foreign language and, with a dumb grin, directed me to a helpful and more professional person.

Even though the beaches and water are perfect for a late October, the town is semi-deserted of tourists, save for small groups from France and Germany.  I could hear their animated conversations around me.

A few string-bikini clad young American women were strutting at the water’s edge, proud of their impropriety. The notoriously nudist European women were surprisingly subdued. But some of their men were letting it all hang out in string-bikini speedos, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Photo: Ileana Johnson Oct. 2015
What a great place to walk on the beach, watch sunrises and sunsets, admire pelicans and seagulls dive for fish, read a book, or fall asleep under an umbrella, lulled by the constant roar of waves crashing against the sugary-white sandy beaches.

Leaving this Floridian paradise, going through two beautiful airports in Tampa and Miami, where TSA agents were actually nicer to us in their freedom-robbing attempt to keep us “safe” from invisible terrorists, and returning home to cold weather and crowding in northern Virginia and to the dingy, smelly, and dilapidated Reagan National Airport, I cannot help but think, what a metaphor this is for all that is corrupt and dirty in Washington, D.C.


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