Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

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The Shark Trackers

It was one of the first times I had wandered out past my waist, the non-swimmer that I am, and into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Jacksonville Beach. My entire family was on the shore and plenty of others, all perfect strangers, were in the water with me, or so I thought. I suddenly noticed people heading back to shore and the people who were already on shore were pointing at the water, where I was still standing in water higher than my waist.

Then it hit me: I wasn’t alone out there. While nobody was pointing at me or in my general direction, it hit me. No, this time it really hit me, whatever it was. I got bumped, smacked, clubbed from behind, whatever you want to call it, by some ocean animal large enough to knock me off balance. Naturally, I panicked and hauled ass back to land.

After I slogged my way through the water with the help of the surf and made it back to shore, which can be achieved rather quickly when a girl believes a shark has tripped her up 30 yards out, I stood next to my mother who had no idea what was happening. My father was no help, either. Finally, I looked out and saw dolphins swimming in a circle, discernible only by their fins. I have heard stories of dolphins protecting potential prey and preventing them from becoming shark victims. So, was it a shark or dolphin that made contact with my legs? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but wouldn’t this story be ridiculously awesome if I actually knew it was a shark?

You’d better believe I’d be telling everyone I knew that I survived a shark attack! Instead, I’m relegated to repeating I got bumped by something in the ocean, possibly a tarpon.

See? There’s no oomph to that.

Anyway, over the next few years, I always paid attention to reports of shark attacks around Jacksonville’s beaches. Usually a lemon shark or a bull shark was to blame for nipping at some poor surfer’s calf or, in one instance, taking off an unsuspecting beachgoer’s foot while he stood in only three feet of water. True story, I swear. The victim was an active-duty Navy guy just out for a stroll at the beach. The absurdity of it is why I remember it so well. Three feet of water, people!

What all this rambling really leads up to is this: Ocearch!

 

Imagine my surprise when I learned that great white sharks actually frequent the shoreline near Jacksonville! I think this is the most exciting project happening today – unprecedented shark research, tagging, tracking. We will learn so much! Sharks are some of the most misunderstood and reviled creatures on the planet, and I cannot understand why. As it happens, I have a greater chance of being killed in a tornado this spring here in Oklahoma than by a shark when I head back home to my Florida waters this summer. Also, back in 1987 there were more people attacked by squirrels and wild rats in New York City than were attacked by sharks in the entire world.

I’m so proud that Jacksonville is the beginning site and home base of the first-ever great white shark expedition in Florida. As I write this, Lydia, who happens to be a fourteen-foot long great white tagged only two days ago off the North Florida coast, is hanging out a few hundreds yards off of Mayport, just south of the jetties where that Navy guy lost his foot a few years ago.

This is news you can use, people.

Seasonal Changes

There are two cold fronts pushing through this week. One is supposed to hit within the next few hours and keep the temps in the low 70s (actually, I can handle that kind of cold front), but leave tomorrow’s temperatures struggling to get into the low 60s. It is Saturday that I’m really worried about. The predicted second-push cold front means it won’t get warmer than 48 degrees and, as if that weren’t miserable enough, there is a 20% chance of rain.

Considering I’ll be outside photographing my husband and daughter dressed as zombies and chasing 5K runners through the streets of Guthrie (I’ll explain more another time), I’m really not looking forward to this change in the weather. Sure, it’s feeling all cozy and autumn-ish, and I really do love this season, but you have to consider where it is I come from.

Here is what Elle and I did one late September day in Florida:

doing what she loves

Here is what Elle and I did one January day in Florida:

bodyboarding!

Here is what Elle and I did one February day in Florida:

Untitled

Last night, for the first time in years, I wore fuzzy socks to bed. However, I am still refusing to switch to flannel sheets, simply because…well, I’m stubborn? I think it would be fair to give the seasonal changes another month or so to transition into an everyday chilliness, but for now I am content to slide my icy feet under my husband’s legs (I am convinced his body heat is freakishly unnatural) until I fall asleep. Or I could just wear fuzzy socks to bed.

Coastal Oklahoma

Temperatures have been hovering in the triple digits all across Oklahoma this week. Yes, it is a different kind of heat from the humid, steamy boil of a Florida summer that I’m so used to, but this dry heat is sometimes unbearable even for me. Back home, this is the sort of weather that sends the kiddo and me to the beach to splash around in the salt water and get knocked over by waves. But as Dorothy said, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” (And this, folks, is a good thing because the Kansas town of Hill City topped off at 115 degrees this week.)

Elle and I were in need of an adventure outside the confines of any store on May Avenue, so I searched for directions to Arcadia Lake. A few months ago, I learned Arcadia Lake is the only lake in the OKC metro area that has a designated beach and I was really looking forward to the right time and opportunity to head out there.  With forecasts warning of possible record-breaking temperatures on Wednesday, the two of us packed our beach bags, suited up, and headed north to the city of Edmond.

There were no records broken that day, by the way. It only reached 101 degrees.

Arcadia Lake

Before this day, I hadn’t been swimming in a lake in over two decades but I at least knew what to expect. Elle, on the other hand, is a born and bred Florida girl, raised near the ocean and taught to stay clear of lakes and their shores for fear of alligators and venomous water snakes. Even in the ocean, one must always be aware of her surroundings. It’s not uncommon to be bumped by a shark or suddenly enveloped by a floating armada of jellyfish.

Arcadia Lake

It was quite understandable that Elle was a tad nervous about taking her first steps into the lake and she asked me to hold her hand.

I linked her fingers with mine but instead of calmly wading in, I convinced her to run down the beach with me and into the lake until we both collapsed into the water. We ended up playing in Arcadia Lake for over an hour. The water was cool and refreshing for a day that had gotten so hot, so early. Elle and I were reluctant to leave but even the lake temperature was becoming uncomfortably warm as the morning wore on. It was time to pack up and go home.

Arcadia Lake

Once she got in, I couldn’t get her out. She’s half-fish, by the way.

Homesickness has been a slight problem for me this week and knowing the ocean isn’t nearby to soothe my soul when I become overwhelmed, which is how I have been feeling quite often this entire week, has made me find other ways to comfort myself.

Arcadia Lake did a damn fine job of that.

Arcadia Lake

Coastal living, Oklahoma-style

Pre-Transition

This past weekend I spent a few nights at my brother’s apartment.  He’s in London, being adventurous. I decided to hang out at his place for a couple of days and swim in his pool. Unfortunately, the first day we were there the weather was oddly chilly and overcast so I ended up folding the laundry he’d left in is dryer while Elle and her friend played Red Dead Redemption repeatedly on Xbox. The second day was full of sunshine and nearly perfect, right down to discovering the nearest Starbucks is just around the corner from his place.

I pretty much filled my time by watching endless episodes of The United States of Tara on Netflix, trying to get his lights and ceiling fans in sync with one another, and listening to the elephant that lives upstairs move furniture around at 2AM. Actually, that neighbor isn’t really an elephant; she’s a single woman with a chihuahua. And it’s only a one-bedroom apartment so…really, how much furniture could there possibly be?

There are some really nice neighbors that live next door to him, though, who were willing to hand over their corkscrew to me, a complete stranger. First, they invited me in and I met their overly crotch-friendly German shepherd. There was a tiny dog, too, but I hate tiny dogs so I didn’t pay him any attention. Jack is the exception to my hatred toward tiny dogs, but I still don’t trust him completely.

Anyway, it was our last weekend in Jacksonville for a month or so. Saturday we all leave for Oklahoma City. I’m gearing up for a week full of serious tasks – cleaning, organizing, packing, and a last minute dental appointment. At some point this week, I will partake in beach therapy. And as soon as I get to OKC, I will have to find my way to Arcadia Lake, the only lake in the metro area I’m aware of that allows swimming and has what is called “a beach”.

It’ll be nice to stand in a quiet body of water and not worry about getting chased by alligators or bumped into by sharks, all of which have happened to me since moving to Florida. When it comes to lakes in this state, they are full of critters, including venomous snakes, so it’s usually best to just sit back and enjoy the view – which is something else I did at Nick’s apartment.

  lakeview

Let’s Go Camping!

sunset over the tent

Our campsite was surrounded by water on nearly all sides (the St. Johns River, Fort George Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean). We (my brother Nick, Elle, her friend Taylor, Matt, and me) were situated on the north bank of the St. Johns River in Huguenot Memorial Park, directly across from Naval Station Mayport and along the route that all ships take from downtown Jacksonville or from the port to get out to the Atlantic Ocean. We’re talking sailboats, shrimp boats, speedboats, fishing vessels, yachts, casino boats, and container ships.

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a constant sight…very cool!

For dinner, Matt cooked our hamburger patties perfectly, leaving one additional patty since there were only five of us.  That we had an extra hamburger could not have worked in Elle’s favor any better than had she and her friend Taylor been attacked by seagulls causing Elle’s dinner plate to go flying through the air and sending both girls screaming back to camp, dinnerless and afraid. Oh, wait…that is what happened!

Luckily, Taylor’s dinner had been left carefully on a fold-out camping chair, undiscovered by seagulls and completely (thankfully) untouched. Good thing we had that extra hamburger so Elle could actually eat a dinner.  And it’s also a good thing I had packed extra clothes to wear because promptly following the attack on the kids and the subsequent hamburgling by the gang of seagulls, one of them totally did a fly-by and shit on my cute, flowing summer skirt.

right before Elle lost her dinner to seagulls

the assault begins…

seagulls attacking Taylor

that cute smile left her face as soon as she realized she was hamburgerless

hovering shitters

And that is how our camping trip began. Not on a bad note, just a funny one. I think everyone’s cheeks were sore from laughing so hard. I know mine were…even while I changed my clothes. Bastard birds.

Matt, scaring children

Hey, no splashing around in international shipping lanes!

site 60! It's a good place to camp, if you like wind.

It was terribly windy, too, which felt good while the sun was beating down on us during the day and early evening, but when the temperatures dropped that night into the high 50s and low 60s, it was downright chilly.  The fire was nice for a little bit, but man…the wind!

Sending two little girls with sharp objects topped with marshmallows towards a blazing, wind-whipped fire might not have been the best idea, but making s’mores is a kid’s job! The grown-ups eventually took over s’more making and the smoke blinded us all, so much so that we often had to stand in the middle of the park road to help our eyeballs find clean air again. However, we all agreed that s’mores are still the most delicious damn things on the planet when you’re camping.

After we’d decided to go to bed, the wind kept us all awake for the majority of the night. As did the tow truck that trolled the campsites looking for curfew violators and the massive container ship that decided to blow his horn (not once, but twice!) as he passed the campground.

I think it is important to note that a tow truck moving just a few feet from your head sounds like a helicopter preparing to crash onto your tent and that scrambling inside your sleeping bag to prepare for such impending doom and death just makes you annoyingly noisy to other tent mates. Also, inconsiderate captains of gigantic container ships who blow the ship’s foghorn twice in the middle of the night should be warned of Matt’s sudden blast of curse words, which he will startlingly yell skyward to nobody in particular because, well…we were actually asleep at that one single moment.

Did I mention it was windy? We may never have really fallen asleep but we did stare up at the moon and stars and listen to the crashing waves nearby. Not a bad way to end a day, though sleeping would have been nice. That’s why we’ll try again another time…in the woods.

36 before 36 – item #31: Go Camping. CHECK.

westward, towards Jacksonville

sunset over the St. Johns river

our camping float-by

seeing as all but one container ship was eerily quiet when passing by, this not the offending hornblower

night sky camping

At the Beach

A few years ago, I discovered how healing and calming the beach really is. At least, this is how it is for me. I know plenty of people who balk at the idea of lugging beach chairs and towels to the shore or of getting sand in places sand should never be.  This is not something that bothers me.

I’m fairly unfussy when it comes to beach gear. I have a little car with a good-sized trunk. In it goes a beach chair and, if the kid and her friends accompany me, a few bodyboards get thrown in, as well. But this time, I was alone. So a beach chair, a towel, and a book were the only items that needed to be packed.

My destination: the last remaining beach in the city that still allows cars to drive along the shore line.  It is sea turtle nesting season, after all, so there is much care taken by park officials in roping off any discovered nests. Again, these people do a fantastic job so this is also not something that bothers me.

After pulling into a space reasonably distanced from other beachgoers, I unpacked my beach chair, threw on my big, floppy sun hat, and enjoyed the sounds of the waves and the tingle of the sun on my skin.

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curious gull

the curious seagull

baby sand dollar!

it’s a baby!

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“Are you feeling, feeling, feeling like I’m, feeling
Like I’m floating, floating, up above that big blue ocean
Sand beneath our feet, big blue sky above our heads,
No need to keep stressing from our everyday life on our minds
We have got to leave all that behind”

-At the beach, The Avett brothers