R&R: Fear and Loathing with Wild Encounters

‘CAUTION: Alligators and rattle snakes may be on trail”. MS is quietly waiting for us to return from a jungle adventure. No guide except our good luck charm.
Deserted trail through the thick bush of Big Pine Key. Soft soil, no trace of any human footsteps. Unknown sounds around us. The hard leaves of the short palms hitting each other in the humid and hot easterly winds. Pine trees re-growing after a recent bush fire. Swamps, water on both sides of the trail, mangrove here and there, assorted trees and bushes on dry grounds, which means about one foot above the swamp. All sounds are ominous because cognitively unaccounted for. The winding path requires carefully evading Poison Wood – tree-size threats comparable to Poison Ivy. (For European readers: these are plants nonexistent in Europe which upon touching cause severe irritation which may well require medical treatment.) The Blue Hole shows the alligator danger is real: like an almost submerged submarine, it floats with back, ears and eyes just over the water surface. Can come ashore anywhere. The path is turning and turning, every turn: watch what is ahead before continuing, prepare to back up. An alligator is not to be surprised lest its reaction….. Apprehensiveness, unavoidable tenseness. The swamp comes right up to the trail. Safely we get out again, no rattle snake as far as we can tell with our limited perceptual capabilities in the wilderness.
Key deer is what we are after, too. Small, endangered, German shepherd size. Evening is approaching. At a dead end, way into the unknown, there it is. 1, 2, 3, seemingly not too afraid, a comfort zone smaller than what we have seen with their bigger kind in Colorado.
Darkness brings kayaking in the mangroves in the back country. Miners’ headlights for vision above and under water. Eerie small channels through the thick mangrove roots, kayaks barely go through. Tunnels, the thick foliage blocks the clouds and stars. Under water encounters. Lobster not yet caught for nearby restaurants. Very slimy sea slugs, hard to wash the slime off in water that must be around 80 degrees F in this micro climate. Jelly fish swimming upside down. Dangerous sting ray with its long spine causing serious wounds when trampled on. Sea cucumber, a touch never felt before. The shiny eyes of shrimp reflecting the light of our lamps. The fire fly like reaction of plankton-like life to moving paddles. Above water, the many no-see-ums. Despite the repellant, we-feel-um more than we care for. They feast on us right through our clothes.
Human encounters are no less surprising. Small world

* Bloomington, Indiana:

-Outside Sloppy Joe’s (Papa Hemingway’s favorite watering hole), girl hanging around. ‘Hey you from Indiana University?’ prompted by Clary’s IU golf cap with logo. ‘I went to school there, so did my sisters’.

-’No kidding, I was born there in the sixties’ explodes the artist in the gallery where Clary bought a necklace the lady had made. ‘Next year my husband and I are bringing our motorbikes to Europe on a cruise ship – what is your address? And on and on.

* Friesland, The Netherlands (the northern Dutch province I was born)

- Girl in Kayak: ‘my mother is from Holland, from Friesland, name is Roorda’; yes Frisian it is

- retired English language professor now earning a few quarters taking in tickets in the Hemingway House. ‘I went there because it is the origin of the English language” – follows an exchange on the language continuum from England via Friesland, Northern Germany into Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The nightlife on Duval Street is pathetic. Bars blast live music onto the passers-by. Most is pretty bad, especially the Elvis Impersonator. I thought I knew the difference between men and women; well, maybe not after passing the (s)he’s trying to lure us into their deafening dungeons. The ‘70 ties vibes around the dockside applauding the sunset which we do so well remember, have been replaced by a commercial (street artist) rackets where you don’t want to go anymore; forget Mallory Square.
The painter-artist at the Southern-Most Point of the Continental USA (where you have to stand in line to shoot a picture) seems to be floating just above the ground. Lazy, spacey talk and eyes. Thirties. ‘Frans Hals is my favorite painter’. Studied Art, took him 15 years I guess for his BA. Father wants him to take on a real job. Waits for his parents to die and cash the substantial inheritance. He is finishing the small painting of a deck chair on the beach we just bought. Not bad, I confess. ‘A nice souvenir from Key West’, Clary says. ‘No, not a souvenir’, he replies with an undertone of indignation, ‘A piece of Fine Art.’ We pay our $30.
==> Tomorrow: back on the road. Dixie Highway Eastern section.

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