I finally learned today that each trip is its own entity. Today’s trip cannot be a reincarnation of yesterday’s trip, or even a continuation of it, because this trip has its own place in time. The feelings will be different, and so will the experiences, and they’ll be what they are, and not what I want them to be. I can plan, loosely, because seasons are real, but each day is its own. And the sooner I stop trying to guide the trip and start letting the trip guide me, the sooner the festivities can start.
I had planned to get off the plane yesterday and head straight for the beach to photograph shorebirds in the late afternoon light, but it was gloomy and drizzly when I stepped out of the airport. Every nature photographer knows that feeling; there’s a sense of being restrained, of being bottled up like a shaken soda when you’re ready to shoot, ready to be taken away by the moment, but nature isn’t cooperating. Conditions were the same when I woke up this morning, so I tried to put away the bottled-up feeling and chatted over coffee with my cousin. By mid-morning, I couldn’t stand it, and I decided to head to the beach and wait for even a flash of good light to show up.
The wind was fierce when I reached the coast. Flags were horizontal, and the Atlantic was frothy and agitated. The tide was in, leaving a tiny strip of sand, and there was not a shorebird in sight. The sky was implacably gray. The bottled-up, stymied feeling rose up again. I checked the car thermometer. The temperature was just over sixty degrees, the threshold when tropical butterflies begin flying, so I wandered over to the Washington Oaks Garden on the shore side of A1A. I shouldered the pack and headed for a trail lined with squiggly, Dr. Suess-shaped oaks dripping Spanish moss. No one was about on this chilly, windy day, and I stepped onto the gray sand trail. The only sounds were intermittent gusts of wind and the mournful creaking of tree trunks, but those were loud against the silence.
After a few steps, I had the powerful feeling that someone had just – I don’t know, shown up. Three people came instantly to mind, all at once – both my grandfathers and my great-uncle Ray, all of whom spent most of their lives in Florida. So, I thought. The dead guys are here. I felt instantly guilty for calling these men I had loved “the dead guys,” until I realized they would all find it funny. The trunks moaned again. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of my grandmother, who had also spent much of her life here. That seemed unfair. Didn’t the medium tell me last year that Grandma was guiding my creative pursuits? Are you here, too, then? I asked. On cue, a gust of wind swooped through the woods.
I’m a rationalist, and not inclined to believe that the dead are following me through the woods. What I do believe is that being alone in a forest is a kind of switch that turns on all kinds of feelings and experiences in my head. The faucet had been opened, and out flowed the spirits and memories of the people who guided and shaped my childhood. It was an eerie feeling though, on an eerie day. There was none of the warm, streaming joy of photographing shorebirds in honey light that I felt the year before. No, this day had its own way, and its own character.
Right at the moment I started to become mired in the mournful feelings, I noticed a flicker of movement across the trail. My eyes have been alert for any sign of a butterfly since I stepped off the plane, and I followed the movement until I stepped out of the oak forest, and onto a garden path. Once out from the cover of the dark woods, I saw the sun had emerged a bit, and the garden path felt much warmer.
And as abruptly as they arrived, the dead guys left.