To Catch A Falling Star
I did, many months after the events described in The Rainbow, undertake my single handed journey from Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout the journey, the beauty I found during times I was alone was by far the most important reward. Consider, for instance, near New Smyrna Beach. It was twilight time, my favorite time of day. Aquarius was anchored in a cut just above the town. The current is swift, for tides are heavy here. Although Aquarius swings close to the eastern shore, I am confident the anchor will hold. By now I have learned that I need not worry about a sailboat riding on the shore in heavy current because the contour of the keel will hold it off. An old salt along the way told me this and it does seem to work even though I have gone quite close to shore on slack tide when the boat is turning.
I have had a heavy day, making 35 miles through heavy currents with strong crossing ones at the inlet just above. I even crossed it under sail for the wind was right, and now I am glad to be at rest under a solid hook.
I have poured my last cup of coffee from the thermos, and have some cheese and crackers at hand to ease the hunger pangs, and am sitting in the cockpit watching the wild life around me as creatures simmer down with the sunset.
I am alone but not alone. A man sits on the shore, too far away to see what he is like, but close enough to see he is at ease. He is watching a fishing pole in the water, but not worrying it. He is sitting on an old chair which he probably leaves behind when he goes.
Trawlers are coming in from the sea. Their berth is across the river from the island which forms one side of the cut. With the island between us, I can enjoy their majesty without preparing to pitch and roll. They are large shrimp boats with huge arms that reach skyward as they travel. The arms are draped with yards of colorful nets used for dredging shrimp. The skippers are generally inconsiderate of pleasure boats on the waterway, taking the middle of the channel at full speed. But they are beautiful at this distance.
Not that I am without wake. Waterman with small power boats used for oystering, crabbing, and clamming in shallows are coming through the cut. They are in a hurry to get home and also have little concern for pleasure craft. They are too small, however, to create a major problem and I cheerfully wave if they look my way. My focus, however, is not on the people around me. It is on the wild life.
On the east side of the cut the shores are white sand. Growth starts, however, close to the water's edge. It is dense mango trees which look like tall bushes with shiny leaves. Behind them are palmettoes and palms, creating another landscape masterpiece designed by the greatest Artist of them all. I see a new type of tall, willowy pine which I cannot identify.
The moving life is occupying most of my attention. Dolphins jump out in the river which I left to enter the cut. Occasionally I spot one coming by to say, "hello". Their peripheral activity seems right for eventide. They are at ease in their natural environment and so am I.
An egret stands on a nearby shore patiently waiting for a bedtime snack. I have the feeling she is well fed but would like to catch another fish if one comes by. She seems more like she is posing rather than fishing, stretching her beautiful long neck skyward, the whole whiteness of her a startling contrast against the deep green mangrove behind.
There are, of course, cormorants around. They seem to be everywhere on the water in the South. Some swim so low in the water that only their long, black necks stick out like black snakes dancing for a Hindu swami. One is standing on the tip of the island facing the wind with his wings spread wide, letting the wind blow through. For some reason, that pose always seems sexy to me.
The sheer drama of the scene is the pelican show. Before my journey, I thought pelicans were awkward creatures, Probably because their name rhymes with "belly can". This is far from true.
Pelicans are magnificent creatures, larger than Canada geese, even larger than turkey buzzards. They are strong flyers, flapping their wings forcefully at times to gain speed, then soaring for long periods of time.
They have splendid vision, soaring high over the water until they spot a fish, then diving straight down in a vertical dive to capture it under the water. They surface swiftly, then sit for awhile, fluffing their tail feathers lackadaisically while the water drains from the porous pouches under their bills. When the water is gone, they lift their bills straight skyward to let the fish slide through their long necks to their gullets. I often wonder if the fish tickles as it wiggles while the water drains.
This evening, though, the pelicans are not fishing. They, also, are enjoying the sunset in preparation for the coming night. This is the first time on my journey that I have seen a large number of them together,
As I watch, twenty or thirty of them are soaring in formation around Aquarius. They swoop over the water, then climb high in the sky in complete harmony with one another without flapping a single wing. Though they are silent birds they are, indeed, presenting me with a sunset symphony of motion.
As the sun sinks below the horizon, the pinks and golds intensify and spread across the sky. The light begins to fade, and everything around me sharpens in focus to enable me to touch the world. I feel new dimension to my being and I am as alive as all this life around me. This is the essence of my journey.