From time to time, I succumb to some visceral need to walk across the Vilano Bridge to the mainland and then back again. When that occurs, I park my car in the Publix parking lot some minutes before sunrise—good lighting and only joggers up and about‑‑walk across A1a, and head westward along the pedestrian lane on the north side of the bridge. Once I reach the mainland, I re-cross A1a and walk east along the south side of the bridge back to the island. Depending on how fast I walk, how many times I pause and for how long, the trip takes between 45 minutes and one hour.
My goal is always to consider the early morning comings and goings along this stretch of the Tolomato River and to record those things that interest me visually: a visiting sailboat newly moored, dredging operations, fishermen in waist-deep water casting for sea trout, and so on. Accordingly, I carry my best camera with my most powerful telephoto lens strapped around my neck and cradled in my arm both, as it is a heavy combination.
From the north side of the bridge, I can see the Camachee Cove Marina ahead of me on the mainland and a few visible houses and docks at water’s edge to my rear, but my eyes tend to fix on the river itself and the vastness of the untouched marshland along its western bank and the canopy of live oaks stretching north to its east. Looking through my camera’s viewfinder, I enjoy seeking out in turn the three creeks I have fished, just to see if anyone is there now: Robinson’s Creek, the southernmost and across from where I used to live in a beachside condo on Ocean Hollow Road, then Poncho Creek, and finally Indian Creek, which is right across the water from my house on Third Street, where the island’s width narrows to less than half a mile. Unlike Robinson’s, Poncho and Indian Creeks are shallow, allowing only kayaks and light boats like my own to navigate them, which makes for more peaceful exploring, fishing, and observing. Because I find more comfort in the quiet of rowing and sailing in my current state than in the dependable power of my small but noisy outboard motor, I invariably head toward the more easily reached Indian Creek these days.
Returning along the south side of the bridge, I can make out the Castillo de San Marcos, the Bridge of Lions, and the lighthouse on Salt Run across Matanzas Bay. Closer at hand on the mainland side stands the Great Cross commemorating the spot where Pedro Menéndez first landed in 1565. Up ahead, of course, lies Vilano Beach and my car. As I near the bridge’s summit, my gaze is drawn to the line of houses along the river’s bank. They stretch south from the marina and the fishing pier to the small sand beach at Porpoise Point and the St. Augustine Inlet. From these houses, long wooden docks stretch deep into the river toward the edge of the north-south channel. At this time of day, a handful of boats power by in both directions, all heading to some favorite fishing location most likely. When I’m very lucky, I see one of the boats of our town’s fishing fleet—there are four, I believe‑‑coming home through the inlet after an all-nighter off the coast, its nets held up just above of the water and spread along the length of long spars that reach out from both port and starboard sides like wings extended for flight and swarming like gnats above them, an escort of gleaning seagulls and pelicans.
By the time I reach my car, the combination of all of these things: the river and its creeks, the houses and their docks, the boats, and the long history of this place all work together like ingredients of a therapeutic brew, making my mind a little less battered by troubling matters regarding my own sojourn on earth than it had been before the walk.
From my car, I gather my shopping bags and head toward the Publix doors. My step is light, and I am aware that will be short-lived, but I cherish it none the less.
Get your southern pea seeds here in summer
And onion sets later in fall
You’ll need white seed potatoes in winter
And come before nine to get nothing at all
Having lost their way as they wandered the winding streets of Arles during the early morning, they regained their bearings when the buildings ahead on Rue Portagnel brightened, as if freshly painted by the rising sun.
Une vieille clé ouvre une vieille porte ;
Des nouveaux jeans sont en promotion à l’intérieur –
Un nouveau jour s’est levé sur une vieille place.
An old key opens an old door;
New jeans are on sale inside –
A new day begins in an old square.
Gently comes my God some days
Gently wakens me
Gentle breath upon my soul
Fills me with serenity
It was wonderful to see you this morning! And, I could see in your eyes that you recognized me as well. How many years has it been? Twenty? Oh, my goodness, no! Forty, maybe! What a surprise!
You look good! You didn’t have a shirt on, so I’m sure you weren’t teaching. Is it the weekend, maybe? Are you waiting for Rick and Mary to arrive from Song Khlaa? Are the four of you heading over to Laam Sing? You know, I can’t even remember how you get there. I remember one time Mary hitched us a ride back to the college on a big old flatbed rig, but that was only that once. How do you go? Rot Song Thao? Duk duk? No, it’s too far for duk duk.
You know, the timing couldn’t have been better! I had planned on doing some surf fishing at the Boynton Beach Inlet this morning, but I didn’t feel good about things. Uneasy, I guess. I wasn’t going to go. But, after I saw you, I felt better! I went, and I’m glad I did because I had a pretty good time! It’s not as good as Laam Sing, and it doesn’t have a stream there emptying into the ocean – Jesus, I loved that! – but, it was good to look at the sun rising between and behind the clouds, and the waves felt good breaking against my thighs; healing like.
It’s funny how these things happen. There I was, stretching my mouth to get up closer to my mustache with my electric shaver. The mustache shifts a little and lifts up – I’ve been thinking it’s probably too long! – and I think I recognize your mouth. I look up and refocus, and there are your eyes, staring straight into mine, like you’re looking into my soul, like I’m held there, frozen, like I couldn’t stop you if I had wanted to.
Boy! Everything was so fast! I turned off the razor and looked back, but you were already gone! That fast! I looked again a little later as I buttoned my shirt and straightened my belt buckle, but I didn’t see hide nor hair of you, like you had never even been there.
So, how does this work? Did you seek me out to see how things would turn out? Or, were you whisked away here by some supernatural force, or, maybe you were daydreaming…. Who knows; and you’re not going to tell me, because you’re long gone.
So, anyway, I’m alive and kicking, as you could see. And, look, I’ll be here for maybe another twenty years, if I’m lucky. So, look me up if you can and you have the time. I’d love to see you again. Maybe spend some time. Send my regards to Elaine, and to Rick and Mary if you see them this weekend. Tell them all I’ve been thinking of them.
And you, you take care. You won’t always, I happen to know, but you’ll get through those rough spots. That’s what I would have gotten around to telling you, had we the time. Maybe you could have sidestepped those problems even. I wonder if you’d have listened to me. Or, maybe you saw more than I think you did. That would be great!