July, 2002, page 1
It's late evening here in Summer Haven, FL, a short stretch of beach between Crescent Beach and Flagler Beach on Old A1A, one of the few remaining beachfronts that hasn't changed much in the last 50 yrs. The old Marineland a mile down the beach, although recently reopened after many yrs in and out of bankruptcy following the opening of Disney World, attracts only a handful of visitors each day. About 60 miles south is Cape Kennedy, though Floridians continue to call it Canaveral, and nothing beyond but ocean, so traffic through here consists mainly of residents, not tourists.
During the day, the beach, even mid-summer, is deserted except for a few students from the Whitney Marine Biology Lab gathering specimens from around the rock bank below Marineland. At low tide, the sanderlings and plovers skitter toward and away from the waves, pecking out sand insects. At regular intervals all day, a long line of pelicans, sometimes as many as fifteen, as beautiful and strange as teradactyls, patrol the coastline. Every morning, I wake to the cooing of a mourning dove sitting on the deck rail outside my window. I think I've seen her untidy nest above a deck eave near the corner of my bedroom. Mourning doves have no nest-building skills; when you see a loose pile of twigs, you know it's a mourning dove nest. But they have other endearing traits that outweigh this minor deficiency; besides their melancholy song and calm demeanor, they mate for life. When one dies, the other grieves and will rarely accept a new mate. I sometimes wonder if they were attracted to this house because they know they're my favorite bird, that I wake to their coos from the crepe myrtles outside my townhouse in Knoxville, that I am one of only two residents in my 14-unit complex there who defend the right of doves to nest above the entrance lights over the front doors. Well, it's possible, and more probable than a god who watches over you.
Lying in bed at night here with the window open, except for moonlight on the water and the tiny occasional light of a fishing boat far out, the night is black--no steet lights, no commerical establishments. The stars seem incredibly close and brilliant, the measured slap and slide of surf the only sound. When I'm here, I think often of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who divided her last years between Cross Creek in north central FL and a small cottage she bought not far from here after her first husband, Charles Rawlings, left her after 14 year of marriage. It was where she wrote her last novel, The Sojourner , published in 1953. I think of how Florida, so flat and alien to me, was her paradise, the source of her creative energy. She wrote, "I do not know how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to turn to."
I think of how we lose more and more of our small enchanted places every day, out of ignorance, greed, or complacency. Perhaps my little shrine on the kitchen windowsill, an arrangment of tiny seashells, sand-drilled pebbles, feathers, and bits of colored beach glass, is nothing more than an offering to the gods, proof that attention is being given even though the crime continues, and I am complicit. Or maybe it's an unconscious act, the instinct to memorialize the thing that is slowly disappearing.
I imagine Rawlings had her own little penitential shrines. But I don't think she was as happy here as her writing leads us to believe. She was an alcoholic and chain-smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes, she struggled with "black spells." In 1955 at age 57, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in her cottage here and was taken to Flagler Hospital in nearby St. Augustine where she died the next day.
Outside, the sea sounds like wind, a constant, ceaseless hum as if a conch shell were under my pillow, and clouds have blacked out the moon. Two tiny fishing boat lights twinkle far out on the black sea. Below my window, I imagine the dove making little nuggling sounds to the eggs beneath her. Somewhere in the intracoastal marsh trees and mangrove swamps, the pelicans sleep.