My husband and I couldn’t manage a vacation together until the end of September, when we drove across the state to New Smyrna Beach to spend eight nights in a beautiful condo overlooking Dunes Park. We had an aerie fifteen stories up where ospreys, turkey buzzards, and bald eagles swooped past the balcony. So high in the sky, leaning against metal railings that particles of corrosive salt assault day and night, I thought about boundaries, and safety, and trust.
On our way to the beach, we paused in an open air pavilion to survey the dune. Ten feet below, a diamondback rattle snake stretched six feet in the afternoon sun. Golden rectangles sparkled against a mottle of tans and browns that made her (it must have been a her, we decided) disappear when she coiled under a clump of sea oats. We saw her coiled, ready, in the same spot for three days. Then, she was gone.We named her Nancy. Perhaps Nancy had baby rattlers inside her, waiting to worm their way into the world. It’s nearly impossible to see her in the close up, but trust me, she’s there. Watching her, and watching for her, made me think about danger. How it’s always lurking. Nearly invisible. A careless step can spell disaster, sometimes. But there was a beauty in this snake, a power that made me tingle. I Googled “rattlesnake” and “Dunes Park” and learned in 2013, a surfer encountered a rattler in the waves. Danger where you least expect it.
We went for a walk when the tide was beyond low and the sun was beginning its descent into the Indian River. Someone had built a Moorish Fantasy sandcastle just down from our condo. “I’ll take a picture on our way back, ” I thought and then second guessed myself. My husband sighed, trying to be patient my new Instagram obsession. An hour later, we saw the castle had been consumed by the rising tide. Nothing lasts, especially castles built on sand. Better to obey the impulse than regret the shot not taken.
Even “ugly” birds are beautiful in flight. Turkey buzzards are masters of gliding. They take every current in a swoop and a swirl. The ospreys, my favorites, beat their wings frantically against the wind. They hover like helicopters above the choppy surf, talons stretched, ready to snatch a fish for the last wild ride of its life. But once they have that fish, the ospreys fly around and around, trying to find a spot for a picnic. Not the turkey buzzards. They take what they find, then land on the beach and dare you to interrupt their carnage.
Driving on the beach is still allowed in New Smyrna. Last time we were there, hubby and I got stuck in soft sand. Kind locals pulled us out. When you’re in a beach chair, the cars can be a hazard. You have to make sure you’re not set up in a traffic lane, or what will be a traffic lane when the tide turns. You have to watch for tourists with a speed fetish, or the rangers with lights and megaphones blaring. But some of the cars are cool. Like vintage VW campers.
But what I think of most, now that I’m home, is the drama of the tides. We were visiting during the full moon and a lunar eclipse. The tides were unusual, the experts warned. Unusual is an understatement: the tides were fierce. The high tide slapped our feet and wet our beach bags. Reasonably low tide is the first view. Hours later, the same vista looked like the second.
Rocks in the sand tumbled end over end with the slightest push of a tide. The leaves never moved. They bent to the currents and stayed put, until, called by some hidden siren, they released themselves for the last final tumble.
Being rigid never works, no matter what, no matter why. Better to be flexible, dammit. Easy to say. Easy to see. Hard to do.