I was told that one buttons would summon a boat while the other one would bring a helicopter. The small orange device fit into my hand and was small enough to stuff into a pocket.
There was a cost. A charge to my credit card of $300 in the event they had to come get me in their boat. The other button sent a message to the United States Coast Guard. That was a more costly measure of last resort coming in at about $3000. I promised I wouldn’t use either but I was warned that I could get lost or have to fight against the tide and wind out or back or both. Some assembled folks of traditional retirement age talked to me as if I were soon to be found in the local paper under the headline, asshole goes out in kayak in 10,000 islands and is never seen again.
Indeed it was gutsy I guess. But I had my GPS emergency button. I had my iThingmajigy. I had a personal floatation device and plenty of beer. Having been on the great Hudson River in a very old and battered canoe, I had some experience battling wind, tides, and strange fish that blew into my boat and thundered about. I know that nature is nothing to trifle with. This was ocean currents mitigated by a complex of mangrove …. Clusters? Forests? That exist to protect us from sea swells or give us medicine or just exist since not everything in this green earth has to be there for our pleasure.
Still, the warnings given by the rental agent and the concerned looks of the assembled elders did have me question my choices for this morning and my approach to life in general … at least back to age 27 and that time I came home and had to revive my roommate who had turned blue sprawled out on the floor from a mixture of pain killers and “bergen and water.”
The Kayak rental was in what is considered by Florida standards a historical building. It even had a plaque outside, which makes it official official. It looked like one of those old run down gas stations one sees in the Northeast Kingdom or the Blueberry Barrens of Maine. The outfitter as well as my motel were down the road was the historic Smallwoods General Store, a provisioner from back in the day that the Great Land yet remained wild and villages were yet tied into the modern world. The natives traded with the new comers and this continued for decades until after the Great Patriotic War when the United States set about building roads, draining swamps, and changing the face of the earth forever. The road first connected Everglade City to the outside world, then it crept ever ever on to then grab Okeechobee island. This connectivity brought more settlers and those who could afford provisions in Naples or Miami. And so while the area remains wild as of a sort. There are plenty of Snow Birds, Flatlanders, Upstaters, and Northerners all roasting and turning various shades of pink in the crusty steaming hot sun. The local community withered somewhat and Smallwoods closed for decades to be renovated by a historical society that today keeps this small reminder to how much can change in just a few decades and what we have lost along the way in order to gain this new graded road system.
Bethatasitmay, here I was standing with my paddle and radio beacon tucked in my pocket having created a fairly large carbon footprint to get here, and ready to see the “wilds.” Such as they are today, but a sideshow to our ongoing civilization’s expansion.
Bidding the worrying elders G_d Be With Ye, I walked down the lane to the dock where the rental kayaks were kept. Golf carts and ATVs competed with huge pick up trucks for space on the small road that connected to a network of RV camp spots and small houses that reminded me of the Levittownesque suburb I had been brought home to from hospital after I was born. Across the water from this plethora of pleasure craft, BBQs, and gear piles, was the wilderness.
In my craft I took stock of the tide, wind, and layout of the islands. There was a network of these islands however, there were major channels running roughly southwest to southeast. The sun was at a low angle since it was winter, but it would be on my left shoulder on the way out and left shoulder on the return. Simple enough.
I also had my iThingy in a plastic bag and locked into my position using The Googles Maps.
I then set out to get to the open ocean, having charted a rough course of travel. The current was strong enough that it pulled my craft down the smaller channels with ease, however, breakwater was neigh, and I knew soon the tide would not favour me. Tucking in hard (or whatever the Kayak term is for paddling… perhaps it’s paddling but I cannot know this since I am writing this in an airplane about 30,000 feet up and too cheep to pay for internet service), I was making good time to the open ocean where I would meander a bit and then ride the tide in taking advantage of the layout in order to scoot up and down the narrow bits and perhaps see some wildlife.
I was immediately rewarded by seeing some wild animals. A brothel of raccoons (I’m sure that’s the word) was by the shore doing raccoon stuff. They looked thin and worn out, nothing at all like our Northern Trash-Fed critters we know. Go North! I shouted to them. They just looked at me with eyes full of rabies and retreated into the thicket of mangroves in order to continue doing raccoon things, but hidden now. At low tide the shellfish were making all those creepy popping sounds and the waters were bubbling. There was that low tide smell too.
Suddenly I saw the dorsal fin of a dolphin. Then the thing jumped out of the water ahead of me as some private show but I assumed it was indifferent to me in my little yellow kayak. I followed this creature watching him or her fish or play or masturbate or whatever dolphins do on a Saturday morning until I realized that I was heading closer to the mainland and I did not feel that tug of the tide heading out to the open ocean. Also, the wind was picking up as the sun reached up a little higher.
As the wind picked up it did take a little extra effort to get to the ocean and when I reached a suitable location I unpacked my picnic which consisted of leftovers from a meal I had at the roadhouse where the local bruiser said my jacket was stupid and I considered for a moment all those stories of Florida Man and had I just schemed up to the bar next to Him, that Florida Man who just ate his mother’s face or smoked a bag of drugs and had [heterosexual] sex with a manatee.
My styrofoam contained and industrially cut fries looked so strange in this context. Mangroves take an eternity to grow. A “tall” tree may have taken a hundred years to get to that height and those small sprigs on the edge of the mound, the little ones just moving out to colonize more ocean perhaps are yet older than I. And it is a formidable ecosystem out here with tropical storms and hard salt air. My pants as they dried showed the stains of so much salt and I had only been piddling about for a few hours by this point. The “ground” crunched under my feet. Thousands of years of shells and muck made the little “beach” I had pushed my boat against in order to stand up and let the blood return to my legs. I made sure not to step on living clusters of shellfish, but I have to admit, it is hard to tell what is the quick and which are the dead since I mostly see shellfish next to a pint of beer on the dark rich wooden counter of the Oyster Bar. I peeped into the depths of the mangrove tangles just in case a few pints were hiding there or at the very least some fisherman’s cooler had exploded and left me some gifts – which has happened on a number of occasions when I am canoeing Upstate.
After the repast it was back in the kayak and another attempt to get lost. While I was able to find a few dead zones, for the most part Googles was able to locate me on a map. I will admit, when the wind picked up and the chop became a little stronger, I opted for knowing where I was rather than being truly lost in exploration. All this way and I may as well have been on a teacup ride at the now measles-infested Disneylandworlduniverse. Yes I was pushing against the wind, minding the currents, paddling hard on my own, but I had more electronic power in my pockets than what it took to land a man on the moon, and have him and his friends return safely to earth. One button if by boat, the other if by helicopter. I felt ashamed to have pretended this was a dangerous journey. There was no way to brag to friends at home. When the dolphin was jumping about, I was texting, “hey I’m looking at a dolphin lololololol!” to which the reply was an emoticon of a dolphin.
Even out there in the thousand year old tangle of salt marsh and sudden weather, I was stitched into the network of the New World Order and connected in a way that those early traders sitting on their rocking chairs on the desk of the Smallwoods store could not even imagine. And I today, am starting to forget what it was like to be alone, to be wandering this green earth having to be aware of landmarks, shadows, moss, and knowing how to spot the right path among the network of deer trails in the Lost Kingdom and the Middle Hudson Valley. I cannot know what it is to be sitting on that porch and not have a road to the mainland or an information highway to the world.
Having come back to return my gear and GPS the proprietor exclaimed that he was amazed to see I had made it to the open ocean. “I thought that was you out there, you really traveled!” I made mention of my way of avoiding the wind and making use of the current. I then retreated to a cafe in ordered a burger and onion rings and to update my status on The Book of Face.
Stardate Everglades. Nature, conquered. EOM.