Monday, March 9, 2015

The Garden of Rejuvenation: We're all Snowbirds Under the Skin




            We just spent four days in Florida, make that south Florida -- make that sunny Florida -- and were in no hurry to leave.
            Taking our departure on Sunday afternoon -- strong steady breeze off the ocean, alternating periods of clouds and sun, seventies along the coast, eighty inland -- while the regulars in the 'compound' (condo, retirement home, time-share? which is the right term?) sat or lounged in the shade, near the pool, in or out of the sun, finding their own right dose of the day's pleasing warmth, our little party of emigres felt like the wicked angels being driven out of paradise. No one of course was driving us away (except Saul, who kindly chauffered his parents to the airport), but the facts of life were calling us back north.
            Just an hour earlier I had been diving through the surf at Delray Beach and still retained the inner glow that comes from remembered something your body liked to do a long time ago (and much more often) and probably missed. It makes you think the sign outside of the compound's office  -- "The ocean solves everything" -- might be onto something.
            Some absurdly provincial notions about the quality of life available in Florida had deterred me from actually experiencing what life in south Florida was all about, especially in early March. Early March in Delray Beach felt like early July in New England. But the ocean -- that larger-than-(human) life healer of quotidian disturbances  (such as, just for discussion's sake, inflammation of the shoveling muscles) -- is never in New England what it is in warmer climates. In a word, warm. Warm to the touch of human flesh.
            The wind was blowing hard off the ocean Sunday morning, hard enough to dissuade us from devoting the day to a boat cruise along the coast. Later, when the sun came partially out, and we walked through town, and along the intracoastal waterway, and then paid our farewell visit to the beach, the gray wind off the water and hard rush of the surf told me I would never get into that ocean. Five minutes later, however, when my feet got used to its calming touch, I was beginning to change my mind.
            We walked the surf line for a while, past fishermen, past the place of the frolicking dogs, past the surf boarders, past the strong young man mastering the para-sail balance and slicing through the surf, until we finally put down our towels, sat in the sand, and faced our moment of truth. Truth was (or contained in part) these little glassine plastic-looking pockets of blue-veined transparency that my Florida water-literate son told me were jellyfish. Actually, Portuguese man-of-war. Small creatures when they wound up drying out on the wrack line. But all tentaclely if encountered amid the waves.
            I decided I couldn't see them in the green, surf-charged water and gathered myself for what cannot really be described as "my swim." It's more a matter of jumping sideways through the waves until I get fully wet and then diving under them, or over them, or across them; occasionally launching a few furious strokes in one direction or another, though for no purpose but the feel of it. Whenever I come across an ocean with waves I try to body surf. At Delray Beach the waves are quick and choppy rather than steep; they don't have that long stately build-up that calls out to surfers of all sorts. This ocean had a different pulse; its own. I caught a few waves for short rides, but my 'swim' consisted mostly of the thoroughly childish pleasure of playing with the waves.
            I think the sign outside the 'office' might be right. The ocean just solved my winter.