onWe wake before dawn. It’s okay because I’ve gotten used to it now with work. I drink coffee and cook oatmeal while you ready the gear. We sit together at our West Elm mid-century modern dining table in the half-light. You, crunching rye toast. Me, spooning mounds of oatmeal flavored with olive oil, pink salt and black pepper.
We load your kayak and my paddle board on the roof of the truck and I try to be patient while you carefully strap everything down for the drive.
“I think this morning might be uncomfortable for me…look how the sun is already so hot and the humidity is so high. It’s only 6:30!”
You look over at me with a sympathetic frown, but your eyes are soft as you drive us north to Jupiter Island. We find the perfect spot, just steps from the little beach from which to launch. Hide tide and the water is clear and cool, fed by a constant flow from the intracoastal waterway. There is a breeze to go with the heat of the morning sun.
I drag my board right in after strapping the leash to my ankle and I wait for you to get set up. The sun is rising high, and I’m already starting to feel the heat on the left side of my face, my shoulder as I start to paddle out from the shallows.
“You lead today…”
“You lead today. I’ve never been here before!” I smile, relaxing into the freedom of no obligations. No job to do today. Just drift.
“Okay. Let’s paddle straight across. There’s this place I’ve been wanting to check out.”
We navigate the narrow, shallow channel into the mangrove preservation area. The water is still and only about three feet deep all the way through. It’s so quiet. We paddle slowly and silently along the brownish water that is so incredibly clear we can see everything on the bottom. There are so many puffer fish. And all these flat-looking shapes that look like fat, dirty snowflakes all over the pond bottom. And there are so many of them!
“What are these? Some kind of algae?”
“They’re jellyfish!” You call out from down the way, snapping images of the flora and fauna.
“No way. I’ve never seen anything like this. Oh, my god, this one is moving! It’s breathing! I see it’s mouth moving!”
I would like to take pictures but it’s just too much to manage. And besides I want to be present. A photo can never do the experience justice.
“They do sting, too.”
“Oh, shit…what if I put my foot down there or if I fell in??? Oh, my god there are so many of them!!”
I start to feel nervous in this private little alcove where no humans are meant to be. Who knows what lurks beyond the thick muddy branches covered with crusty little pods and oysters. The spider webs that seem to show up out of nowhere directly in my field of vision. I try to duck without losing my balance.
We navigate back out of the lagoon and into the main waterway. The big weekend pleasure boats are already passing through the channel, creating a wake. We bob and paddle as the current carries us southward along the shoreline. There are so many fish…all kinds. They flap and fly up in glittering silver strips out of the water in a huge school, many of them slapping and fluttering on the shore. Only to be greeted by the hungry cranes waiting for breakfast.
The water here is deeper but still so clear. I feel like I’m in a saltwater swimming pool. I want to swim!! We pull up on a little beach and I unzip my PFD. Release my ponytail. The water is transparent to about three feet from the shore. I tentatively edge in, up to my knees. Just about a foot in front of me a see a dark mass of something pass through the water. I back up, frozen for a moment. Not sure what I have just seen.
“Man! Did you see that? It must have been a turtle. Huge!!” You see it from the shore as you are preparing to join me in the water.
“I saw something…” Now I am a little nervous. But I want so much to submerge in the cool, salty bath.
“You would save me, right??” I smile at you as I plunge out into the water. No more pussy-footing around. I’m in.
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
I feel weightless and free. I float on my back gazing at the blue sky, feet gently kicking, arms gliding through the cool water like wings. With my ears completely submerged I hear nothing but silence and my own breathing for those glorious few seconds. Just peace. Just me and the water and my version of God. I flip over, and doggy-paddle out further. I glance back at you.
“Don’t go out too far. The current is strong…”
“So, what you’re saying is…” I am laughing now, triumphant in my courage. I swim closer toward you, realizing how far from the shore I have drifted.
“You will save me as long as I don’t go out too far?”
To be continued…