Leaving The City

We were all sad to leave Atlantis.  Our now like family member Mr. Damarius graciously took this photo of us as he wheeled our smitten little girl out along with our luggage.  I realized I would miss this man, so much younger than my own father but SO very much like him.  I noticed the way our little one loved him and it was hard not to lament the loss of my Daddy never getting to know his only granddaughter in this life.  Mr. Damarius, much like my father Marcus, was one of a kind.  He was upbeat, joking, and always positive.  I missed my Daddy so very much in that moment.  He worked with joy, just as my father always did and I found myself hugging him as we left.  With Atlantis behind us I saw reality and my childhood blending together in a flash.  Poverty.  Despair.  Hope.  Struggle.  I vowed never to forget my roots and I told my husband and child about them on the way to the airport.  It is so important never to forget.  Never to forget the hardship.  Never to forget the pain.  It wrapped itself around me like an old worn blanket.  And I tried, perhaps futilely, to explain it to my family.  Life for me had always been rather harsh, and I did not want my two beloveds getting soft.  I wanted them to understand the plight of most people, and how very privileged we were to have gotten to take this trip.  Because he put no expectations or pressure on us, I really missed my father-in-law when he left.  It became doubly hurtful when I realized how very much I still needed and missed my own father.  I knew we needed to stand alone, but it did not lessen the sting.  It was time; we needed to be leaving the city.

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Beauty, Strength, And Greatness

Unlike I suppose how most people feel, other than Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, whom I had always fervently hoped to meet, I love our apex predators.  We NEED them.  They have all been demonized for millennia and some are only now just beginning to be appreciated for the vital roles they play within our ecosystems.  If you have ever read one of my blogs you will know we live with wolf hybrids.  Blue sharks inhabit the deep waters of the world’s temperate and tropical oceans and have been referred to as the “wolves of the sea” because of their tendency to roam the Atlantic in groups.  I saw several different species of sharks thriving at Atlantis but I am not sure if they had blue sharks.  What I did see was a double-sided supercool “Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon.”  Down below visitors can walk right up and see them up-close and a Japanese photographer was so taken with the images of our tiny child juxtaposed with the enormous sharks he asked if he could take pictures of her with them and then send them to us.  He was so kind that we agreed.  You could see our four-year-old reaching up to the creatures as they swam languidly over and around her.  It was both a mighty and a humbling experience.  Paul Watson, a Canadian marine wildlife conservation and environmental activist, said:

“The shark is the apex predator in the sea.  Sharks have molded evolution for 450 million years.  All fish species that are prey to the sharks have had their behavior, their speed, their camouflage, their defense mechanisms molded by the shark.”

It was a real thrill to come so close to the wolf of the seas’ beauty, strength, and greatness.

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Echoes Of Its Spirit

There is something so enticing about the green-blue waters of the Caribbean.  I love a vibrant, vivid green and deep, rich blue.  When the two mix it is a beautiful display of light and dark — at once the revealed and the unknown.  I had never been past the Gulf side of the United States before.  The beautiful mix of the islanders’ skin was intriguing, as well as their names.  Our favorite guy was Damarius.  I had never heard that name before and I love it.  He always had a great attitude every time we saw him.  Then I noticed how the women of Atlantis all wore eyeshadow that matched their uniforms.  So each time we went down to our breakfast buffet we were greated by these beautiful woman wearing green suits and dark green, glitter eyeshadow.  In another part of the resort they wore a vivid blue in both dress as well as around their eyes.  I found green and blue continued throughout, from the people to the water.  The effect was both mesmerizing and mystical.  Speaking of which, they had a bar over the shark area and I discovered this delight you see pictured here.  I had no idea what it was even called — I just saw a man with one and said, “I’ll have what he’s having!”  It tasted even better than it looked.  Enjoying this drink in the shade as the sunlight glinted off the green-blue water was tranquil and transporting.  The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”  Looking all around me I was surrounded by countless amazing living creatures — both inside and out — as well as water pouring and contained both inside and out.  Relaxing and inviting; wondrous and mysterious:  these were the thoughts I took away from this reimagined resort of the mythical city of Atlantis.  I would say it definitely magnified echoes of its spirit.

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Rum-Runner

The next day we traveled off the island and ventured into Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.  Walking down the dock from Paradise Island to get to the ferry there were women offering to braid my hair.  I’d always wanted to have lots of tiny cornrows for the beach, complete with beads rattling.  But then something else I had wanted even more caught my eye.  There was a large native woman with kind eyes and a sweet face standing near the water deftly brandishing a giant cleaver knife.  As a vegetarian, this would normally have sent me running.  And then I saw it — she was holding a pineapple and proceeded to expertly pour all sorts of rum and heaven only knows what in it along with some ice.  Above the fresh-cut fruit the frozen concoction was garnished with a straw placed jauntily at an angle.  My eyes pretty much popped out of my head.  “Bahama Mama take care of you,” she said with a smile and a knowing wink.  Fortified with my rum we rode the ocean waves a short distance to shore.  With thoughts of rum (as well as actual rum) swirling in my head, we all decided to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum.  Of course this was a more lively museum than a stodgy one, with jocular actors scattered about dressed in character to draw people in.  First we stepped into a re-creation of a typical period ship where everyone passed through in close quarters.  All along the walls were interesting facts about piracy.  They also debunked various myths about pirates including “‘X’ marks the spot” and walking the plank.  The Pirates’ Code of Honor was extremely harsh.  I learned about marooning, the acceptable practice of putting a crew member who had broken the code ashore on one of the many uninhabited islands.  The ship would never return.  There was definitely a type of honor in the Code, though; among them was that a pirate was never to hurt a woman.  The American author Robert Kurson said:

“Piracy was risky business, and injuries were commonplace; a single lost limb or gouged-out eye could end a pirate’s career.  To encourage pirates not to hesitate in battle – and out of a sense of fairness – many pirate crews compensated wounded crewmen in predetermined amounts.”

They had an interesting flag room, complete with the Jolly Roger, the infamous skull and bones.  I was also surprised to learn there were women pirates, too.  During Prohibition in the U.S. rum-runners in the Caribbean went from smuggling rum to Florida, to Canadian Whiskey, French champagne, and English gin to major cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago.  It was said that some ships carried as much as $200,000 in contraband in a single run.  Coming to the end of our tour our little one was now on the lookout for pirates.  And, with dramatic flair, we met up with one!  He gently swooped her up and pointed his sword at the rest of us, asking if we “be friend or foe.”  Rather than being scared she emitted a tiny giggle; her golden curls bouncing in the afternoon sun.  Our matey put her down after I’d gotten this picture and we had lunch in this adjacent tavern.  In keeping with our theme, I had a Rum-Runner.

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Mythical Creatures

When you first enter Atlantis one cannot help but look up in awe at the magnificent fountains, the giant pillars, the imagined murals and tapestries depicting former Atlantean life, and — most of all — the enormous circular tank full of sea creatures that swim all around you, fed by the ocean’s natural currents.  I do not normally condone animals in captivity ever.  Sadly, some places like zoos and wildlife preserves have now become our last bastions for trying to save and/or revive entire animal species.  With overhunting, overfishing, overpopulation, pollution, and flagrant disregard for land conservation and water protection, some of these “parks” ironically have become our final hope in many ways.  Wildlife needs wilderness; wild spaces and wild places for them to not merely survive but to thrive.  The legendary French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau said:

We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters.  That is what civilization is all about – farming replacing hunting.

That is exactly how Atlantis felt to me … like a great farming “civilization” rather than a hunting one.  I was thrilled to discover Atlantis protects their wildlife and has even pioneered breeding programs for some of the ocean’s native sea creatures there.  As someone who will never support places like Sea World, I felt Atlantis seemed to be for the perpetuation of species, and their breeding programs put sea animals back out into the ocean where they belong.  The next morning we walked down to breakfast through a winding trail of beautiful native foliage.  Dotted along the way were whimsical, mystical ocean touches, and even an open shallow pool for live conchs.  Right outside our window we watched the stingrays having their breakfast while we had ours.  I would like to believe such a civilization can exist … where mankind and animals live together in harmony and prosperity.  Like the the critically endangered red wolves, the rare black panthers, and the vulnerable white rhinos, I do not want to see our precious, priceless wildlife reduced for future generations into nothing more than mythical creatures.

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Atlantis

It is the fictional island mentioned within an allegory on the hubris of nations in two of Plato’s works, with Atlantis eventually becoming swallowed by the sea.  The history lover in me wishes Atlantis did in fact exist.  I have always found it to be an intrigue.  After all, Pompeii was a lost civilization a volcano allowed us to see completely frozen in time.  Could the ocean not hold a preserved one as well?  Man has not solved all history’s mysteries (for instance, Noah’s Ark) and there are more waiting to be found.  During spring break last year, my father-in-law took the three of us on our first paternal family vacation to Atlantis the resort.  My husband is his eldest child and our daughter of course is his granddaughter.  I would say he has spent a lot of his life in the Bahamas but he had never been to this resort.  Frankly I do not think we could have ever afforded to go without him.  But more importantly, we were truly sorry to see him leave three days later while he graciously allowed us to stay two more.  Some may pooh-pooh large, all-inclusive resorts but I quickly learned their merit.  The American poet Charles Olson, who described himself not so much as a poet but as “an archeologist of morning” once wrote, “Atlantis will rise again.”  I have repeatedly teased my husband, who enjoys myths such as Bigfoot and theories about aliens and I felt guilty that when it was something in which I would like to believe I found it quite fascinating.  Ever since I was a kid and watched Aquaman on Saturday morning cartoons I have fallen in love with the idea of Atlantis.  Aquaman could breathe unassisted underwater and, even cooler, he could telepathically communicate with the all of the sea’s creatures.  Of course his character is fictional.  The Greeks, however were divided as to whether or not Plato’s story of the powerful and advanced kingdom which sank into the ocean in a night and a day was history or metaphor.  More recent times have suggested possible historical locations, most commonly the Greek Island of Santorini, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption around 1,600 B.C.  For those of you who have not been, allow me to take you into a world where “archaeology,” “history,” and myth mingle with “artifacts,” “pictographs” and living sea creatures surrounded by great pillars, magnificent fountains, and majestic looking towers all soaring impressively above the blue green sea … Atlantis.

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Pieces Of The Past

I have written often that my husband and I love museums of all kinds.  We have been fortunate enough to visit places from the Louvre in Paris to a tiny little museum in Skagway, Alaska.  We did a little research and discovered a gem of a museum in Naples, Florida that is part of four Collier County Museums.  We could not believe it was free and the five acres was full of interesting Floridian relics, both inside and out.  As someone with a strong American Indian heritage, I often have a difficult time seeing archives of the “development” of places, as it certainly meant destruction for those Native peoples.  This museum did a nice job though of showing what Native American life was like and the various ways they implemented shells:  from their currency to regalia to shoring up their living quarters to protect it from water.  They even went as far back as prehistoric times and we were all able to marvel at some fascinating remains of indigenous animals who once roamed the area.  Exhibit A is this picture of a Saber-toothed cat.  I never mind studying animals when I know they died a natural death; it’s the hunted ones that sicken me.  We were stunned to discover there was once a giant beaver during the last Ice Age that grew to eight feet!  Roaming about freely, we were able to learn about all sorts of things at our leisure.  The American author Melody Beattie said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”  It was a lovely way to spend our last day in Florida and we were grateful.  We delighted in the present, looked forward to returning, and took time to learn a little about pieces of the past.

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Rich

Not having gotten to go to a beach until I was an adult (and even then it was because I was in the Miss Texas U.S.A. pageant, so I was really there to work) there are tons of things about which I still do not know — like sandbars.  I was astounded that way out past where my feet could no longer touch there were people who were clearly standing.  I will never forget the first time we took the baby in and my husband, who had been fortunate enough to have spent his early childhood in the Caribbean, casually said, “Just watch out for the undertow.”  I was already petrified of stinging jellyfish, pinching crabs, and whatever other sort of creatures inhabited the waters.  Once in a lake at church camp when I was in high school I freaked out because some type of long fish brushed against my leg.  I didn’t scream; I was just silently, completely, and thoroughly unnerved.  I love animals — all of them; but unless the water is very clear one does not really know what to expect.  I decided this would be the year I conquered my secret fear and I swam confidently out to the sandbar that stretched its way parallel to the shoreline, dividing the water from a lighter greenish color to a deep, dark, mysterious blue.  I could see the line of white sand, which proved to be far wider than I had first thought, and at last I was able to touch down.  Immediately I felt a dreaded strange something underneath my feet.  Trying not to recoil, I just wanted to make sure I had not hurt whatever it was.  My husband was with me and he dove down to try and uncover it.  In the meantime, I felt another one of the strange somethings and I bravely decided to scoop it up with my feet by going underneath it in the sand and putting it on the top of my foot.  At the same time, my husband and I emerged triumphantly with sand dollars!  They were scratchy and brown and I had only ever seen them smooth, somewhat brittle, and white.  I quickly realized they would die without the sea and I was not going to be among those horrible people who allowed them to suffer a tortuous death just so they could bring them home as souvenirs.  Luckily, I had my shelling bag with me and we carefully placed them inside to swim back in closer with our little girl so I could capture this sweet picture.  Of course after that we promptly swam back out and gently placed them where we’d found them.  We all noticed then that our fingers and palms had turned yellow after holding them.  It turns out they produce a harmless substance called echinochrome.  I was so relieved they were back where they belonged!  One of the women whom I admire the most is the American oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who said:

“On a sea floor that looks like a sandy mud bottom, that at first glance might appear to be sand and mud, when you look closely and sit there as I do for a while and just wait, all sorts of creatures show themselves, with little heads popping out of the sand.  It is a metropolis.”

For just a few moments, we got to connect with a part of the ocean’s ecosystem.  Briefly holding all those sand dollars definitely made us feel rich.

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The Cure For Anything

This day would prove to be an interesting one.  My child of the sea did NOT want to leave the beach!  Finally, I saw the guys taking up all the umbrellas and the chairs early and asked why.  They explained it was because it was sea turtle nesting season and they did not want to disturb them.  My little darling pitched a fit, still clutching furiously to her alligator raft from the waves, when I said we had to go.  “I DON’T WANT TO!” she wailed.  Finally I hollered, “THE BEACH IS CLOSED!!!” and pointed to all the cabana boys who were taking everything up.  “Why?!” my little one demanded as she drug Mr. Chompers to shore.  When I explained to her it was because the mama turtles needed to come and lay their eggs and that we shared the ocean with them she willingly left.  “I do not want to hurt the ‘tuttles’ Mama,” she proclaimed in her still baby voice.  What’s funny is that all the other moms used me as the bad guy, pointing as I hollered to my little one that the beach was closed.  Once we took the tram through the mangroves back to our hotel we discovered that all the power was out.  And we had 17 floors to climb.  Abruptly, our then three year old proclaimed she could not possibly walk.  God bless this young man, who — in his full hotel uniform — offered to give our little one a piggy back ride.  “Yea!” she squealed as I shook my head furiously.  “It’s OK,” the young man said.  I got this picture of them that I think captures my little one’s unbridled glee and this poor guy’s exhaustion.  God bless him.  The Danish Baroness Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke, who often wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, said, “The cure for anything is salt water:  sweat, tears or the sea.”  I can truthfully say we had all three that day:  salt from the sea, tears for having to leave it, and sweat from this darling man who was kind enough to schlepp a little girl up 17 flights of steps.  By all accounts we had it covered:  the cure for anything.

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My Heart

It was our first full day of our third trip to Naples and we were ready to hit the beach.  Swimsuits:  check.  Sunscreen:  check.  Cover ups:  check.  Sun hats: check.  Sunglasses:  check.  Basically anything that can block out the beautiful, golden rays of the sun:  check.  Arm floaties:  check.  Mr. Chompers, our alligator, raft:  check.  Cold bottled water:  check.  By the time we were prepared to go, the sun was starting to rise higher and I wanted to get out early.  My husband complained about the sunscreen.  My little one complained about the sunscreen.  My husband proclaimed it greasy; my little girl proclaimed it too cold.  As someone who was once incredibly tanned for the Miss Texas U.S.A. pageant, I have since had several pre-cancer surgeries.  I did not want them to have a back that was carved up like mine.  My little one and I love to find rocks that are heat-shaped and we began leaving them at the foot of our big St. Francis statue who presides over our koi pond.  I hope that we will always share our hearts.  I believe in this picture my little one had discovered what she thought to be a heat-shaped shell.  The American author H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said, “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”  Maybe this shell wasn’t precisely a heart, but she painted one for me upon our return that does resembles one.  I keep it on our coffee table in the den as a reminder of our family time on the beach.  She is my greatest love, and I know for certain that she will always have my heart.

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