Read more about this project here.
Day 21 (July 30)
We met my crazy Aunt Penny (as she calls herself) and my sweet Uncle Art for lunch. They braved the rain from the north and we braved it from the south and met in the middle at a Cracker Barrel. It was so good to see their faces. Penny is one of my greatest encouragers, and Art’s smile is one of the warmest I’ve seen. They brought us beach reads and bought us lunch, and we sat out in rocking chairs looking at old school pictures of my mother, saved for 40+ years. Then we headed out in the rain. I was so grateful they made the trip, but I forgot to take pictures.
Later we went to the Green Turtle, which confidently calls itself “A Tropical Department Store.” Nothing about the store indicates it has anything like “departments,” but it does have a wooden pirate at the door. When I was a kid, the store seemed cavernous, unending, filled with magical sea shells and highly luxurious beach gifts. You can never go home again, they say, and now the Green Turtle seems small, a bit dingy, full of junk and the same postcards they were selling a decade ago (and probably a decade before that). I’ll go back and spent $10 on worthless totchkes, all for the sake of the memories. I remembered to take a picture, but just one.
As we were about to head to the car, the skies opened up, with huge raindrops falling fast, hitting the ground so hard they sent up a spray. A group of teenage boys sprinted through the parking lot, already irreparably drenched. A summer rain. I forgot to take a picture.
I don’t know what beloved family members and a tropical department store and a summer storm have in common, except they all happened today. I could try to construct a throughline, make a cohesive narrative, create a link, but sometimes there isn’t one. Sometimes things just happen: good, bad, beautiful, terrible, just fine. Sometimes days are truly lovely and yet there is no throughline other than, here I am. In this place. Watching the rain, outside a shop filled with childhood magic, thinking about the blessing of seeing people after a long time apart.
That was my day. And here’s the one picture.
Day 22 (July 31)
Waking up in terror doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to. I was an anxious child who used to write lists of things she was worried about before bed, in hopes that putting them to paper would mean eventual sleep. It rarely worked. I would hear a pounding in my ears as I tried to drift off, and I knew a nightmare was waiting for me. My worst dreams were ones where my father died. I would wake up, fear gripping my heart, and creep downstairs, skipping the squeaky step, just to peek in my parents’ room. Just to make sure.
The nightmares of this morning were fully adult and fully terrifying, and I woke with that same fear of my father’s death. I tried to convince myself of its folly, but still I crept out into the living room of my beach house like a child and looked through the slightly ajar door behind which my parents slept soundly. They were fine, of course. I still didn’t sleep well, and I woke tired but relieved to find my father quietly sitting, watching the tropical storm.
Tropical storm Emily came through this morning, bringing wind that whistled around corners, lightning that cracked into the ocean, rain that splattered against windows. And nightmares. We watched her rage against palm trees and the surf, turning our beautiful beach into a wild no man’s land.
When Emily finally calmed, Dad and I walked the beach with other restless souls. The waves still crashed mightily, and the wind whipped my hair, but the rain was light. Emily threatened to again gather over the ocean, but lost her steam, and we kept walking.
I know some folks who are living through their Emilys right now, with no protection from her terrifying elements. They are out there in it, feeling every lightning strike, every bone-rattling thunderclap. They are living their nightmares. I know an umbrella won’t help, and I can’t shout her down, this tropical storm. But I can watch the horizon with them and wait for the lightening of the grey that leads to softer rain, calmer breezes, and maybe someday, eventually, the tiniest glimpse of blue.
For tonight, I’m hoping Emily takes my nightmares with her as she heads out to sea.
Day 23 (August 1)
I love everything about them. I love that they’re shaped like grey torpedoes, but like slow ones. I love that their tails are giant but their front flippers are small. I love their cute round snout and their little beady eyes. I love that they just hover in the water, taking up so much space.
I love that even though they look like the dolphin’s chubby cousin, they are likely to blame for some sailors’ tales of merpeople. I love that that they look infinitely squeezable and absolutely dim. I love that they’re also known as “sea cows.”
I feel a kinship with the manatee for the following reasons: I’m not great at swimming, but I love the water. I’m super into floating and not at all toned. I love the color grey. And while I am not dolphin-level attractive, some find me huggable.
So, as you may have guessed, we went to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium today, and spoiler alert: I was giddy the whole time. My intellectual feelings about animals in captivity are complicated, but my childlike spirit just LIVES for any zoos, aquariums, or nature reserves. If I can see animals in a controlled environment, I am INTO IT.
We went to Mote Marine when I was a kid, but I remember nothing. I assume that is where my admiration of the adorable grey blob began. I do vaguely remember the sting ray touch tank, which I spent a ridiculous amount of time next to today. Again, complicated brain thoughts, but exquisitely happy heart feelings. The feeling of a sting ray’s exterior is like velvet.
But my heart will always belong to this big grey guy, who kept smooshing his nose up against the glass. I laughed every single time. His name is Buffett (yes, like Jimmy). Buffett turned 30 recently, and I hope to carry the years as gracefully as he does.
At aquariums, I’m always astounded by the colors of the fish, who sport the brightest, most iridescent and neon colors. But leave it to me to fall for the plain round grey dude with a doleful look.
Love is inexplicable. You just know when you find it. Me, I’m already planning on moving down here in 50 years, so I can volunteer at Mote Marine.
The siren song of the manatees compels me.
Day 24 (August 2)
Only being interested in stories and people means I also watch a lot of tv and movies, listen to a lot of podcasts, and spend exorbitant amounts of time on the internet, particularly social media sites and YouTube. I used to be embarrassed by this, thinking it wasn’t what smart folk do. I’ve stopped being embarrassed.
I can mark eras of my life by stories. I watched MASH in high school with my friend Gabri. I read the final Harry Potter book enroute from Portland to Calgary. I watched Doctor Who the summer my best friends got married. I watched Star Trek: TNG while writing my master’s thesis. Sara and I watch The Way Way Back to officially usher in every summer.
This summer has been all about podcast. I’ve written about this already, but summer 2017 is truly sponsored by the McElroys and the Adventure Zone (and Blue Apron and Squarespace (podcast joke)).
TAZ, as I’ve written before, is kinda a Dungeons and Dragons podcast by three brothers and their dad that started as a goof but–largely thanks to Griffin, our dungeon master and best friend– has turned into something intricate and special.
The podcast is an example of collaborative storytelling, that combination of people and story that I live for. The complexity of TAZ has deepened along with the maturity of the players. I listened to the penultimate chapter of the story today, feeling all of the mixed emotions you feel when a thing you love is about to end.
I have a wise friend who says pop culture needs to supplement reality/relationships, not substitute for them. I resonate with that, because my love for stories is so deep, personal, and often undertaken alone.
And yet. My brother and I are talking regularly again because of TAZ. My pal moved away and regular podcast check-ins keep us connected. I’ve found new friends and new sides to old friends due to podcasts.
So, I’ll keep bringing people into my stories and bringing the stories I love to my people. I think that’s a good use of my short time here.
Day 25 (August 3)
Apparently, Siesta Beach has been named the best beach in America. Dr. Beach apparently puts out a list every year, based on 50-some criteria, and it is quite the honor. The town celebrated by putting up some small brown signs that are noticeable, but not showy.
To me, it’s simply the beach of my childhood. My grandparents owned a villa in a resort right on the beach, so every year after school got out in mid-May, my family would road trip down to Siesta Key, a straight-through 31 hour marathon. We’d arrive in time to unpack, go grocery shopping, and watch the sun set over the water.
I didn’t realize how lucky we were. I thought all beaches were this lovely, all ocean water this clear and warm, all sand this soft. I was never afraid of the ocean, even when a rare giant wave knocked off my glasses (that were found again by some miracle). For three weeks, we sat on plastic noodles in the middle of the ocean each morning, and practiced diving in the pool each afternoon. We would visit so early in the season that we got used to having our run of the place, and would glare at anyone who dared encroach on our private pool.
As a kid, I took for granted the beach walks, the shell collection, the sand, the sunsets. I don’t anymore.
This photo was taken a few days ago, when I went on a overzealous morning run. The waves were still high from the tropical storm, but normally the water is calm and placid, warm like a bathtub, clean and clear.
Visiting in August is a little different than in May. Warmer, for one. Busier. More sea turtle nests. But the beach feels the same between my toes. It smells the same: damp, salty, beachy.
This place is part of who I am, the weirdness that makes up me. I am a girl who grew up in the Dakotas, who still calls Oregon home, who has found her way to Texas, and who has warm salty white sandy beaches hidden in her spirit.