Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jack goes alone....

*I am choosing to repost this blog today because this story so succinctly encapsulates Jack's latest journey and his fearless approach to moving forward, even when it means going alone.  There is supplemental material at the end of this post.

My grandfather-in-law is 87 years-old.  If you count only the years of lucid cognition and possible recall, he has, at minimum, 77 years worth of stories, anecdotes and ponderances to share.  And, in his twilight years, he is still happy to have a captive audience...a room full of friends and family works just fine.  His heartfelt recollections always enthrall.  I'm not sure I know a single individual who has seen or done more in his or her lifetime, so now and again, I hope to bring you a snippet from his verbal history.  His name is Jack, and that is what my husband has always called him.  It has recently been revealed that this was at Jack's own request.  He was not Grandpa, Papa or Pops.  Just Jack - as unique in his choice of patriarchal title as in his very identity.  A true blessing of a man. 

This is how Jack enlisted in the Navy, as best I can recount it.

There was only one high school in Shelby County, Alabama, and it was aptly named Shelby County High School.  It was war time, World War II to be exact, and military recruiters were common visitors to high school campuses.  At Shelby County High School, the most frequent guest was a U.S. Navy recruiter.  He stopped in fairly often to take a van full of eager future soldiers out for ice cream.  He'd buy them a cone and tell them about the pride and joy found in serving one's country.  They would listen intently and spend the ride home discussing which branch of the military they thought they might like best. 

The youngest of those boys was a fellow named Jack.  A high school graduate at just 17, Jack was enthused about signing up to serve his country.  On one of the trips to town with the Navy recruiter, Jack and his friends made a plan.  They would all meet the recruiter at City Hall a few days later to make the short trip with him to Birmingham...the city where they would have their physical check-ups, sign on the dotted line, and get their marching orders.  There was safety in numbers.  As long as they were together, there was no need to fear. 

When the day came to join the Navy recruiter at City Hall, Jack was prompt and prepared.  The recruiter shook his hand and welcomed him to the brotherhood.  Then, they waited.  They waited, and they waited, and the waited some more.  The Navy recruiter looked at his watch.  If they were going to make the trip, they would need to get going.  They were Birmingham bound, and it appeared, Jack would be the only passenger. 

Doubtless, the Navy recruiter expected Jack to turn tail and head back home.  But spry then as he is today, Jack's simple response was, "well...let's go then."

At the recruitment station in Birmingham, the boys were ordered to "fall in" alphabetically as best they could.  They were each issued a basic, hurried physical check-up, then handed their orders.  Jack had befriended the young man whose last name came just before his, so despite his abandonment back in Shelby County, he would not be headed for Corpus Christi, Texas alone.  No quicker than he could think, blink or wink, Jack was on a southbound train, en route to the Lonestar State, on the verge of the greatest adventure he had ever known.  And, he could already account for one lifelong friend.

Jack eventually found himself in the South Pacific...a member of an elite group of night fliers called the "Black Cats".  He keeps in close contact with many of his Navy buddies, though they are scattered across the United States.  Some of them have already passed on, but they are well-remembered by those who survive them.  Jack and his lovely, red-headed wife Eleanor made frequent trips to Naval reunions over the years...keeping the memories and friendships alive that were born in the midst of so much turmoil.  Jack has been lucky.  His "family" stretches from coast to coast....from sea to shining sea.     

Whether Jack's Shelby County buddies ever found their way to a recruitment center or not, I do not know.  But, I do know that Jack would not begrudge them their decisions one way or another.  When Jack arrived at City Hall that warm, late spring day he had already made up his mind to go, independent of his friends.  To use his exact words: "They weren't ready yet.  I was ready." 

May we all, at one time or another, be so self-assured and fearless in the face of a tremendous challenge as that.  Jack faces many challenges nowadays as well, but his approach is still the same:  set a course and sail it.  There are simply no two ways about it.

*Jack embarked on one of his greatest journeys this morning, when he left this world behind for good...though his memory and spirit will remain here with those of us who knew and loved him, even for a short time.  Always fearless, Jack has known for quite some time that this date was approaching.  Somewhere deep within his soul, he circled that day on his calendar and confirmed directly with God his travel plans and itinerary.  God approved, but this time, He informed Jack, that while he may be plotting a solo course, he would not be alone at his send off.  He would be surrounded by the family that loved and respected him so much.

Such was the case this morning.  Today, this world lost a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and hero.  Whatever your idea of Heaven may be, Jack is there - with a freshly packed pipe, a fifth of Jack Daniels and accompanied by his beloved four-legged gal pal, Katie, who went before him.  He will reunite with many of the fellows he served his country alongside, and they will undoubtedly share stories...laughing until their eyes fill with happy tears.  He'll hug his momma and daddy again.  He can cast aside that three-footed cane he never liked much.  His back won't hurt anymore.  There will be no more surgeries.  No more physical therapy.

Jack, because I know you can see, hear and feel what we here below are sending up your way, know that you touched not only my life with your kindness, wit and generosity but the lives of everyone I brought in contact with you.  My dad wants you to know you were one of his great heroes.  He has said as much to me at least a dozen times.  And, I promise - Matt and I will pick your grapefruit faithfully, even the ones on the highest branches.  Or, maybe you could toss 'em down to us.  If you're not too busy. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sand Dancers

Since recently relocating to the beach, I have taken on some new habits.  I've scaled back my vaccuming, begun downloading classical music and changed my diet to no longer include seafood.  I also drink more.  Alcohol - not water.  The beach culture seems to demand it. 

I've also taken to running on the beach every morning, which was quite a task to start.  After two weeks of groaning every time my alarm went of at 6 a.m., sitting up and promptly resetting it for forty minutes later, I finally dragged myself from my cool, comfy t-shirt sheets and donned my running shoes.  (after brushing my teeth, of course!)  5 days in, I was hooked.

The beach looks so much different in the morning than it does at any other time of day.  The light is soft, making the grooves in the powdery sand difficult to navigate.  The hard, packed sand is littered with tiny, sparkling shells, and the birds govern the shallows, unafraid, in the absence of children building sand castles and middle-aged men and women sipping wine coolers, toes dug into the sand, lounging under colorful umbrellas.  Even when the ocean seems excited, and the waves crash loudly, heralding a pending thunder storm, the tone is serene.  It's just me, the herons, the saltwater and a couple of men in cut-off t-shirts fishing.

Except for Tuesday.  On Tuesday, there was a strange crisp quality to the air, unusual for mid-July in Florida.  The temperature might not have been cooler than the day before, but there was a starchy energy hanging in the early morning breeze, and it invigorated my steps.  I hit the sand with gusto, my eyes fixed on the northern horizon.  I ran steadily, propelled forward by brisk cello concertos performed by Yo-Yo Ma.  I was making excellent time, so I took on an extra half-mile, just for the giggle of it, turning around only when I thought my lungs might give out. 

I allowed myself a quarter-mile walk to give my heart a chance to slow and my mind a moment to wander.  Running on the beach is a bit of a conundrum.  On the one hand, I am surrounded by beauty everywhere I look.  On the other, I dare not look around too much, or I will fall in a hole left by an eager child construction worker or slip on a slimey piece of seaweed left to thwart me by the tide.  I spend more time looking at the ground than I would like which is why my walk breaks have come to mean so much.  During those quarter-miles, I spot dolphins.  I see love messages drawn in the sand by starry-eyed teenagers.  I watch pelicans plunge into the water in pursuit of breakfast, and one time, I am sure I identified a shark.  I often look up at the moon, still shining brightly as the sun's low light slowly begins to take over.  Those quarter-miles are magical, but never more so than Tuesday.

Thanks to my extra half mile, I found myself walking past a public beach access area I had only encountered a couple of times before.  A man and woman were walking through the powdery sand toward the water from the parking lot.  They appeared to be in their mid-fifties, both adorned in casual beach attire - a t-shirt and khaki shorts for him...a sun-dress for her.  They held hands and looked at each other dreamily now and again as they walked.  I slowed my pace to better observe them and to keep from running them over.  They seemed so involved with each other, they would never have seen me coming.

In my mind, I promptly named them and began composing their love story.  His name was Marshall.  He had been in a doomed relationship in his mid-twenties and had sworn off love forever thereafter.  He became a truck driver, and found his fulfillment in the many acquaintances he made on his travels, rather than in the arms of a committed mate.  Her name was Shirley.  She was a server and bartender at one of the many beach establishments close-by.  She had spent her whole life searching for the "one" until the day that Marshall stopped into her bar after dropping a truckload of beer at the tiny, beachside supermarket down the road.  It wasn't love at first sight, but they became friends and email buddies.  Marshall would stop by the bar each time he made his beer deliveries, a route he found he was beginning to request more and more frequently.  Shirley would eagerly anticipate his visits, even investing in her first eyelash curler which she had the woman at the make-up counter show her how to use. 

One hot, muggy Monday, Marshall realized that his visit to the beach would be followed by a couple of days off.  His supervisor offered him a complimentary night's stay at a beach hotel, a reward for his prompt deliveries and well-reviewed service to customers.  With a strange sort of intuitive certainty, Marshall refused.  He made his normal delivery to the tiny, beachside supermarket that day, but he did not go directly to visit Shirley.  Instead, he found a barbershop and invested in a professional shave.  He proceeded to a nearby florist where he ordered eleven pink carnations and one red rose.  He purchased a pack of gum, a bottle of red wine recommended to him by a clerk at Publix, and a can of Axe Body Spray which he used liberally, both on his body and in the cab of his truck.

At precisely 4 p.m., Marshall arrived at Shirley's bar, flowers in hand, a sheepish grin plastered across his face.  Shirley looked up from the drink she was pouring, and beamed at him, her lovely curled lashes rapidly beating back tears. 

Shirley's manager ended her shift early that day.  The details that follow belong only to the storied couple, but, perhaps needless to say, their evening's escapades never led to sleep.  They sat on Shirley's porch in the wee hours of the morning, enjoying black coffee and a gentle rainstorm that led to a cooler, dryer morning than Shirley could remember in mid-July.  They decided to walk to the beach and take in the colors of the sunrise, and the serenity of the quiet, constant ocean. 

As they walked toward the water, they saw no one....noticed nothing...and felt everything. 

As I watched, Marshall stopped at the place where the soft sand becomes damp and packed.  He turned to Shirley, took her other hand in his, and swept her into a waltz.  They danced there before me, Yo-Yo Ma providing their soundtrack, though they could hear only the music in their heads.  I suddenly felt ashamed for intruding upon their tender moment.  I turned my gaze back to the ground that lay ahead of me, and quickened my pace. 

I turned to look over my shoulder once when I had put roughly a half mile between us.  They were no longer dancing, but they stood holding each other, staring out at the water, oblivious to the world around them.

I took a moment to thank the universe for reminding me to escape once in a while.  Being constantly alert and attentive to one's surroundings may be the avenue to great successes, but it seems to me, letting it all just slip away now and again, whether in a lover's embrace or simply alone, enveloped in nature's unmatched beauty, may, in fact, be the avenue to enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Begin, be bold, and by god, don't drop the camera....

"Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise." ~Horace

I received this quote in an email from a friend today.  She wanted to know what I thought it meant.  I happen to prize my ability to analyze cryptic, antiquated phrases of wisdom, so I took a stab at it and sent it back to her.

By my interpretation, Horace, who served in the Roman army before becoming well known for his lyric poetry, probably uttered this phrase in reference to battle.  One might reconsider the idea of running at another man, full throttle, spear in hand, shield at the ready, if one took a moment to mull it over first.  But, without soldiers who are willing to act bravely without regard for the potential consequences, advances in military strategy would never be made, and larger, stronger armies would be guaranteed the win time after time.  That is not to say that one should act with little or no consideration for consequences in every situation, and I am pretty sure that is not what Horace was saying.  The idea is more or less that when one is unsure about taking an action, the better move is not to shy away, but to move forward boldly and reap the benefits of greater wisdom, for better or for worse, on the other side. 

And by that token, I took a high definition video camera (which does not belong to me) up a ropes course. 

On my television show, we like to feature the unusual and really get a kick out of putting ourselves in awkward and some times mildly dangerous situations.  In the past, I have been a mermaid, gone swimming with manatees, helped to build a house out of a shipping crate and flown a tiny, single-engine airplane on a windy afternoon.  (The wisdom I gleaned from that experience had more to do with Dramamine than anything else...)  For this particular adventure, my co-host and I would be climbing a thirty-six foot ropes course recently erected at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. 

The course itself was only a little bit daunting.  Plus, we were wearing harnesses, so should a rope give way, we need only hope the harness wouldn't do the same.  We scaled the structure and proceeded to dangle high above the concrete slab below with considerable ease.  Aside from the sweat dribbling down my forehead and into my eyes, the conditions were acceptable.  Hot but dry.  Jerome's only complaint was rope burns. 

We descended and our producer presented me with a request - since I was already dressed for the occassion, wearing closed-toed shoes and perspiring profusely, would I mind being the one to take the camera back up for some close-ups? 

Consideration might have stalled me.  Boldness compelled me forward.  The course attendant wound my harness through the camera strap, and I was back on my way up the structure, clutching my mechanical ward as if my life depended on it.  And it did.  Because if I dropped it,  my life insurance policy would be required to cover the cost.  

I followed Jerome through the maze of ropes and platforms like a running back en route to score.  I dodged enthusiastic children, the camera tucked under my arm as securely as I could make it, sweating anew, not from heat but from fear.  I directed him where to step and when...where to cross and how many times...when to climb and when to stand...all the while endeavoring to adjust my harness, control the camera and not fall 36 feet to my inevitable broken collarbone or worse, broken lens.   

When my feet finally touched the ground again and I was able to relinquish my charge to Lisa, I had an epiphany.  While I was suspended in the air with the camera, I could think of nothing but the task at hand.  I was not considering what I would eat for dinner.  I was not thinking about shoes or coffee or my latest personal dramas.  I was thinking about shooting good video and not tumbling off a rope or riser.  My focus was laser-sharp, and my mind was fully committed.  I was as much a machine as the camera in my arms.

After some lengthy follow-up consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my experience exemplifies Horace's aforementioned principle.  I acted out of duty, bold in the face of possible disaster, and what I took away was a greater understanding of my own capacity to succeed under pressure.  Several past examples of this same conclusion have risen to memory since my time on the ropes concluded.  My history contains many a super-hero moment in the face of intense stress, and I am thankful to find my impulsive response to fear is valor and unilateral commitment to a task.  My greater wisdom is that of my character - and a better appreciation for what I'm made of.

Now, this conclusion is not compelling me to jump out of an airplane, swim with Great White Sharks or take off all my clothes in a public place, but it does make me feel much better about my chances against a burgular or a rabid raccoon. 

And, if my interpretation of Horace's immortal words is off base and all of this analysis turns out to be a waste of valuable brain space and energy, by golley, at least I didn't drop that camera.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The clear, blue sea, a tiny eagle, and me....

It seems, June is the perfect time of year to visit the Turks and Caicos.  Located near the islands of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos are a British-controlled island chain nestled in the sublimely aqua hued waters of the Atlantic (not the Caribbean, as many believe).  On the whole, "TCI", as the "belongers" call it, is famous for conch.  At almost every eating establishment on the most developed island of the bunch, Providenciales, conch can be purchased in whatever preparation the diner most desires.  Fritters, ceviche...flat out raw...you name it.  If you can think of it, the kitchen can make it a reality.  And, the excess of conch preparation leaves a variety of abandoned conch homes - the beautiful white, tubular shells that litter the white, sugary beaches.  They are up for grabs, and finding a perfect one to take home as a souvenir is part of what compelled my husband and I to make a potentially fatal journey along the southern Provo coast one hot, sunny (thankfully!) afternoon.

Having been advised by a couple of fellow tourists to visit the watering hole "Horse Eye Jack's" on the opposite end of the island from our resort, Matt and I summoned a cab which transported us roughly seven miles, and charged us $30 U.S. for the one-way trip.  Appalled, we settled in for some reasonably priced, especially well-muddled mojitoes prepared by the bar manager/lone server, Glen, who informed us that he had quit over two weeks earlier, but continued to find his name on the work schedule.  And, so he continued to manage, and serve and muddle daily.  Glen also brought me a t-shirt which I purchased for my father, along with some delightful fried plantains.  Our surroundings were lovely.  There were palm trees, blue sky, a rich spearamint colored ocean, and hammocks. 

Perhaps it was the second mojito or maybe the euphoria of the panorama which compelled us to make the decision, but one way or another, we agreed that paying another $30 for a taxi was ridiculous.  Being able-bodied individuals, we saw no reason why we couldn't walk the seven mile stretch back to our resort.  After all, we had checked the map issued to us by our concierge, and the journey would simply consist of mile after mile of soft, white sand.  No problem.  We had no dinner reservations.  We had no appointments scheduled.  It just made perfect sense.  (after 2 mojitoes....)

We set out on our trek by walking down a little flight of wooden stairs at the back of the bar, and heading what I am pretty sure was West toward a little band of local children playing in the water.  They splashed and called out greetings to us as we passed.  We waved.  About 50 yards on, we encountered our first obstacle.  On the ground, there rested hundreds of potential gifts for happy travelers - it was an empty conch shell graveyard, and had come to plunder it.  However, the crime would come at a high cost, for in the air, there swarmed no less than 40 million large, angry flies.  We crouched low to try to avoid them, but near the uninhabited shells, they buzzed in greater multitude.  Matt found a shell that was a passable souvenir, and we tightened our lips and muscled through the winged mob. 

When the last fly had been left in our wake, we breathed a great sigh of relief.  All would be well from here.  We strolled onward.  We even held hands. 

But, the serenity was pierced again when our beach tapered off into a long rock jetty, quite clearly constructed by human hands out of enormous black, prickly stones.  We stood silent for a moment, looking at our obstacle and considering the possibilities.  My first thought was to turn around.  Matt mentioned the flies.  I grimaced.  Matt climbed to the top of the jetty and looked over.  On the other side, there was a lagoon, he told me, and it appeared to belong to the gigantic house which overlooked it. 

I climbed up to where Matt stood surveying the challenging terrain.  As we mulled over the idea of swimming through someone's backyard, our attention was drawn to a noise which sounded from high in the tallest tower of the enormous house.  (we later decided the house most likely belonged to Bruce Willis.)  There was a figure watching us, and apparently, also moving furniture.  We froze, as if our absence of movement would render us invisible.  (remember those 2 mojitoes?)  The figure scraped another piece of furniture across the floor.  We conceded that if we were going to be reported, it might be better to cross quickly than to continue standing, waiting for the police to arrive.  And, who knows what goes on in a TCI jail cell?  I don't.  Neither does Matt.  Thank goodness.

And, so, we swam.  Matt went first, holding my cherry print tote I had made just for the trip over his head, gliding across the water using just one arm.  The contents of the tote were as follows:  one IPhone, one relatively base model piece of junk phone which does virtually nothing and I like it that way, some cash, a credit card, a camera rendered useless by my having dropped it in the water after kayaking the day prior, the shirt I had purchased for my dad and our prized conch shell.  Had it fallen in the water, I would have lived.  But, Matt would not have - his IPhone has a name.  It is his mistress, and we call her Penelope.

Standing on the lowest tier of the second rock jetty which enclosed the small, private lagoon, we congratulated ourselves.  Flies and an unexpected swim might have dampened our clothes, but not our spirits!  We waved at the figure in the tower and shouted something about not being paparazzi and to tell Bruce we meant him no harm.  We proceeded over the second jetty and stood aghast.

There was a beach, but it was so far away, it was barely visible to the naked eye.  What stood between was a continuous jagged cliff that extended downward into roughly 3 feet of water, intermittently peppered with cement docks.  Houses, or at the very least, their backyards, stretched to the edges of the cliffs above which were labeled at various intervals with signs reading "Keep Out" or "No Trespassing".  I turned to look behind us.  We had two choices and neither was particularily appealling.  We could take on the lagoon and the flies once again only to pay $30 for the cab ride we thought we wouldn't have to take....or, we could traverse the unknown shallows below the cliffs and hope for the best.  We chose the shallows.

We moved forward carefully at first, finding that it was much easier to walk with our flip-flops in our hands rather than on our feet.  Matt held my cherry tote above the water, quite obviously petrified of losing Penelope somewhere along the journey.  We moved at a steady pace, together, chatting as if we weren't walking on reefs, in the ocean,with giant rocks above our heads.  It wasn't really all that bad until we encountered a dock too high for us to easily climb over, and too long to go around.  There was a steep drop off about ten feet out into the ocean, and Matt was not keen on our swimming through it to circumvent the structure.  I didn't know why then.  I do now.  More on that shortly. 

The only option with the dock was to try to climb over it, so we found the lowest point along the slope and made a plan.  Matt would hoist himself up on top, then help to pull me up.  Even at the lowest point, the top of the dock was at eye level for me, and there was no way my meager arm strength was going to be enough to lift me over.  We figured this was just another minor blip in our nautical passage until the tiny eagle that sat atop the nearest waterfront house began his descent. 

First, he called out, seeminly in warning.  To whom, we did not know, but the hot mid-day sun had taken its toll on our mental clarity (the mojitoes has TOTALLY worn off), and we were both pretty sure he was beckoning to his rich, eccentric owner who was going to come running out of the house dressed in overalls, weilding a shotgun and cursing at us in another language like a witch doctor.  It should also be noted that I am not sure the bird was a tiny eagle.  Again, that was all my brain could come up with in the moment - I'm sure he was a hawk or perhaps a falcon.  Or, hell, a tiny eagle.  Who knows what he was, but he was angry.  He swooped down toward Matt's head.  My poor husband was a sitting duck on top of that concrete dock, crouching down and covering his head with my cherry tote.  I too ducked, although my feet were still in the water, and I posed less of a threat to whomever the tiny eagle was protecting.  Looking back, it was probably a nest, not a looney old man. 

Still ducking, Matt reached out his arm for me to grab.  I took hold with all my might, pressing into the top of the dock with the other arm and flailing my legs to find a foot-hold along the side of the structure.  The bird swooped again, and my grip on Matt's arm slipped.  I fell toward the water, slicing my big toe open in the process, and scratching my shin into tiny ribbons of flesh.  I began bleeding profusely and loudly uttered a few choice curse words as I once again endeavored to scale the dock.  This time, I was successful, and Matt and I managed to jump off the other side without breaking our necks or ankles.    The bird took its leave, content that we were going away and no longer threatening its old wizard master.

Matt took a moment to survey the damage to my toe and shin.  The toe was submerged, so the salt water immediately began to impart its healing powers, but the shin wound was extolling multiple tiny rivulets of blood into the Atlantic.  But, no matter what, there was no turning back.  Neither of us could think of anything worse than battling the dock and the tiny eagle again, so we proceeded forward, quieter and much less optimistic.

Frustrated, I put a bit of distance between myself and my husband.  Upon arriving on the other side of the dock, I decided that I would not allow this afternoon to be a waste.  I would move as quickly as my legs would carry me, and at the very least, get a decent glute workout for my trouble.  About 50 yards ahead of Matt and three-quarters of a mile from the much longed-for beach, I made a new friend.  Stopping for a moment to catch my breath, I look over my shoulder at Matt then down at the water to find that I was being followed by something long, brownish-grey, and adorned with a familiar, menacing fin.  It swam parallel to me about five feet away, itself measuring roughly four feet nose to tail.  I took a deep breath and farmed the recesses of my brain for some stored away safety information.

What to do when one encounters a shark in the water.  Punch it in the nose.  Poke its eyes.  Get the "f%&k" out of the water.  The last of these was not an option, and I was not willing to get close enough to the beast to punch or poke it.  Instead, I started yelling to Matt and beating my flip-flops in the water. 

Still roughly 30 yards away, Matt was unsure that I had, in fact, encountered a shark.  He questioned why a shark would be interested me in the first place, to which I quite calmly replied that I had been bleeding for about twenty minutes, and sharks can smell blood from a mile away.  He remained unconvinced until the distance between us was nearly 10 yards, and he could see the signature fin himself.  He arrived at my side and invited me to put one foot in his hands so that he could toss me onto the lowest overhanging rock.  I did this, and successfully latched on to the cliff, leaving Matt alone in the water with our new adversary. 

The shark seemed uninterested in Matt.  We waited about ten minutes until it appeared the shark had made a permanent retreat, then Matt lifted me back into the water.  If I had been moving fast before, my pace somehow doubled for the remainder of the walk, the only exception being the moments when I stopped to survey the surface of the water and bang my flip-flops a couple of times, just for good measure.

When we reached the beach, we had only moments to celebrate before we were once again presented with a problem.  About half a mile up, there were two dogs chasing each other across the sand, seemingly playing.  However, given the direction the day had taken, we were unwilling to accept the scenario at face value.  Plus, we had been warned that the island was home to many a wild dog, and they were known to be vicious on occassion.  We stopped, gathered handfuls of rocks, and silently proceeded.  The mood had become somber.  I think we were both questioning all of our decisions...not just from the day, but throughout our lives in general.  It was like staring down death if death was a playful black laborador.

We were still travelling behind houses, but we no longer cared whether we were trespassing.  However, the vegetation beyond the beach was thick and brambly, so we decided that it was safer to approach the dogs than to potentially take on a snake or poisonous shrub.  The dogs never approached us, and it become clear from still a reasonable distance that they belonged to humans who were swimming next to a very familiar looking rock jetty.  The rock formation no longer frightened me.  Like a wounded solider facing down gunfire, I was less afraid, having overcome a similar obstacle already.  As compared to a shark, a sharp cement wall and an angry, tiny alert eagle, a rock jetty was nothing.  It was nothing, until we stood atop it. 

We were not standing on a makeshift fence marking a millionaire's property.  We had reached the marina, and this was the wall of a boat channel.

Having remained calm all day, even when facing down the curious shark, I felt I was due for a bit of panic.  I began repeating over and over at high volumes that I was not going to swim the channel.  No way.  No how.  No thank you.  Have a nice day.  But, I was not in charge of that decision.  Unwilling to try to cut a path through the bramble or ask nicely whether a kindly gardener would allow us to pass through someone's backyard, Matt plowed forward into the water, cherry tote above his head, and me seething, ankle deep in my greatest challenge yet.  My pulse began to quicken.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Do you know what lives in boat channels?  I do.  Sharks.  Bigger ones than what I had already encountered.  They feed off of the chum tossed overboard by fisherman arriving back home from a day on the job.  And, I am a weak swimmer at best.
I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all thoughts (except those of death by shark attack) and plunged forward.  I paddled feverishly, gasping and splashing like an injured animal, until I fainlty heard Matt's voice above the cacaphony of my own terror.  Put your feet down, he urged me.  I tried, but my knees touched bottom first.  I had made it across.

The story become much less exciting from here.  We located a road a short distance from the West side of the marina channel and walked about a mile to a little coffee shop where the kind and compassionate owner called us a cab.  (yup...after all that....)  However, we had made it half way, so our cab ride was half the price, and our driver thoroughly enjoyed our story which we stepped on each other continually to tell in exact, exhausting detail. 

After informing us that our greatest danger was actually the dogs ("if dey be wild, man, dey rip you up!") our driver, who called himself "Sir Charles", chuckled to himself and smiled at us in the rearview mirror.  He shook his head sympathetically.  When we arrived at our resort tired, hungry and in desperate need of alcohol, he took our payment, shook our hands and said only this.

"Welcome to TCI, my friends.  Welcome to TCI."