Essay No. 4

My intention this trip had been primarily to go out into Pine Island Sound, to shoot the mangrove islands. And, maybe back out to the Gulf side of Cayo Costa, where the giant skeleton trees still stand frozen in place from the moment when Hurricane Charley made landfall years ago.  That same storm cut a channel through North Captiva Island.  People here called it New Pass.  But the gentler waves, washing over successive years, have closed that cut, and what were new fishing banks there have risen out of the water, land again, forcing the black-lined snook to choose between the Sound and the Gulf.

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Relentless rain and sand-stinging wind, however, made for miserable boating and image-making conditions.  We get forced to change course.  In sailing you can’t go straight to the place you want to be.  You have to get there by angles.  So, I decided to explore a mangrove tunnel that I knew I could access by foot, hoping it would provide some shelter from the elements.  An inexplicable little wooden platform sits just off the side of the road, and from there you can slide off into the water, sending a ripple across the long-still surface, that makes you feel so loud, like when you were a kid and dropped your hymnal in church, and nobody turned to look at you, which is how you knew that everyone heard it.

I figured I could slowly wade in with a branch; that I’d sound the depth of each step before taking it.  And, that worked beautifully.  For hours, I traversed the tunnel, engorged with rainwater, without a drop ever exceeding the high edge of my waders, bought newly last week for this trip.  The sun came out in the upper world, and whenever the gusty wind shook that dense canopy, a million fireflies of light would sparkle all over the black water, the mangrove roots, and the leaves all around and above me.  It made light swarms, like when you’re seeing stars, but emerald green.  Did any of you have to memorize Caedmon’s Hymn in school?  Hefen to hrofa…heaven is a roof, like a Viking ship turned upside down.  According to people from a thousand years ago, we live in middangeard, the middle yard.  Just…in between stuff, I guess.

I felt like I was inside a kaleidoscope, in the place where that mirror-based illusion of light, color, and shape happens.  And, I was level with the mangrove roots that created pattern, somehow, from chance piling-ups.  And then, within almost the same moment, I had a little misstep.  My weight-holding foot, not holding.  My toe flexing, downwards, trying to stand, trying not to be an idealized form, wanting to be earth-bound, the opposite of ballerinas in pirouette.  Water flooded over, and into, my waders.  What had been a pressure, the water pushing on me from all sides, was suddenly in there with me.  That squeezing became equalized, but immobilizing.  A friend had actually warned me about this problem.  He had suggested waders with a quick release mechanism, but at the store the salesmen denied knowing of such a thing.  Oh well; life should come with a quick release feature.  I scrambled, pseudo-swam, and did get a higher footing.  My day’s worth of exposed film had been on my chest, cradled within the waders.  It hasn’t been developed yet.  Whatever effect that soaking is going to have, has yet to be uncovered.