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Just Barely On Sunset Beach

Thursday, January 18, 2007

You know what it's like, taking a trip. You think you have it all figured out, and this time you're going to get to the airport on time...and something always happens. It's always somethin'.

The last detail worked out, I finally collapsed at 11:30 PM. Tuesday. We live two hours from Columbus, and my flight was at 10:30 AM. So I set the alarm for 5:30, hoping to get on the road by 6:30, and slept fitfully, as I always do when I have an alarm set. It took 1/3 of a bottle of Pinot Noir and a Benedryl to finally tame the pacing lion that is my brain and grab four hours of sleep. I was really sawing it off at 5:30 AM, but I sat straight up in bed and stared at the clock. 5:30 on the button. And my alarm hadn't gone off. Because I had set it for 5:30 PM.
I had to flop back in amazement at the simultaneous weakness and sheer power of my poor brain, setting the fricking alarm wrong, then silently counting the minutes anyway until it knew it was time to wake up. If we only trusted that power, who would need alarm clocks? Think about it. I'll bet if you pinned me down, I could tell you exactly what time it was any hour of the day or night. I'll bet you could, too.

Dear B. got up, too, and saw me off, shrugging on a parka to load my suitcase, giving me bleary good-bye kisses. I was at the airport by 8:45. The Delta counterperson apologetically broke the news: my flight had just been canceled. I looked over my shoulder. The sky was blue, I was on time, for seemed a pilot had called in sick. How unfortunate. She said it happens maybe once or twice a year.

ZICK!! WHATEVER YOU DO: Don't get mad at her! It's not her fault! You think your morning is would you like to tell 50 people their flight is canceled, then try to re-route them all? Suck it up and change your plans. Smile. She doesn't need to hear how you feel about this. She knows. She's been hearing it from everybody else all morning. The good angel sat on my shoulder, kicking her little pink feet.

So I bit my tongue and silently overhauled my plans, and prepared to trudge back to long-term parking, collect my car, and find something to do for four hours in Columbus. "Well, girlfriend, I'm going to Easton for the day," I said with an attempt at a smile. I was clickity-clacking away, suitcase in tow, when the attendant called after me. "Ma'am? We could fly you to Fort Lauderdale, and you could rent a car and drive to Fort Myers. It's about a two-hour drive."

I considered the offer for a few seconds, and gladly accepted. At least I'd be in Florida during the daytime. I could bird my way across the peninsula. Cool. Little matter it that it turned out to be closer to a four-hour drive. I got to see the northern part of the Everglades, and drive through Big Cypress, with its ghostly winter-gray trees and Spanish moss. There were gobs of waders--white ibis, like these juveniles; wood stork, tri-colored, great blue and green herons; great, snowy and cattle egrets; anhingas and double-crested cormorants; common gallinules and American coots, all ID'ed at 70 mph, cars right on my tailgate, me unable to pull over or raise binoculars or camera. I spotted a gator hauled out on the bank that had to be 10' long if it was an inch, but I was so far past it by the time I realized what I'd seen, I couldn't stop without causing a 30-car pileup. I guess that's why they call it Alligator Alley. I settled for a long Indian whoop. I whooped again at this endless bank of bougainvillea, magenta, better than sex for the winter-weary eye.

Why would anyone need a sign along I-75 that says, "Sanibel/Captiva?" Everybody here knows where it is, right? So the highway is innocent of any indication that Sanibel even exists. And the rental car map must have been drawn by Avis' CEO's 7-year-old son. I shot past the well-hidden exit (turns out to be Colonial Boulevard--yeah, that sounds like a beach road) that would have taken me to my much-desired destination. By the time I saw signs for Cape Coral I knew I'd blown it. Too far north by 15 miles. I pulled a U-turn through an Official Use Only crossover, called BOTB on my cell and he fired up my 'puter at home and talked me into the Sanibel Island causeway. Cellphones. Hate 'em, love 'em. Husband. Just love him.

By this time, I had been traveling for 12 hours, and I had a neurotic desire to watch the sunset with my feet in the sand. My eyes were rolling back in my head, but that simple vision was all that kept me going. I fought bumper-to-bumper traffic half the length of the island, helplessly watching the sun plummet down to the sea. The warm, moist breeze played over my arms and ruffled my hair. I tuned out the exhaust and the exhaustion, and tried to block thoughts like: Why do I do this? There are too damn many people in Florida! I could walk faster than this! I miss my babies! Has anyone fed Baketon?
Stopped at a grocery, nabbed a small container of seafood salad and some Terra chips and a bottle of Shiraz (with a screw-on top because I'm sick and tired of buying $6.00 corkscrews every time I go on a trip). Only $29! for a $15 value! Special Island prices! But there were cute parrots and macaws in the courtyard.

Dashed to the hotel lobby, glugged some wine into a Pepsi cup, draped myself in camera and binoculars, and planted myself in the sand just in time to see the last rays of light bathe a snowy egret in pastel. I take back every nasty thing I said about my Digital Rebel in a previous post. It was Kremey Delight in the twilight conditions, focusing on the bird like I asked it to, gathering color from the waves. Look, just look, at the afterimage of the bird's head turning in this shot. Oh. Oh. Oh.
And this one, an Impressionist painting. I haven't the faintest idea what's happening here. I just push the button a lot. My God!!!

A couple walked down the beach toward me, and I noted a Buckeyes logo on the lapel of the gentleman's shirt. "Go Buckeyes!" I muttered, and he chuckled and said, "You still rooting for them?"
"Well, not really." We chatted for awhile, and just as they were leaving, I asked, "Where in Ohio are you from?"
"Marietta." I could tell he was expecting me not to know where that was.
"Me too! My name's Julie Zickefoose."
"Oh! The bird girl! I'm Dr. Spindler." Well, dip me in corn batter and fry me up.
The veterinarian who refers the most busted birds to me. His office is about 9 miles from my house. His vet tech lives three houses down, on our road. I'm not even going to think about the odds here. It was kismet. As was the perfection of this snowy egret and the gentle waves. Alllll bettterrrr.

See how the light gives her wings? See how the light gives me wings? Beauty: the best, the only medicine that really works.


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