ALONG the way of one of our recent garage sale excursions, I had the pleasure of meeting noted Coconut Grove artist Carol Garvin at her wonderful home there. (Her work can be seen at http://www.carolgarvin.com/ ) She had decided to let go of a number of treasures, including a number of old books once part of the library of the Munroe family (one of whom built the still-standing Barnacle homestead on the shores of the Bay), and a more recent, wonderful document:
SITTING down with it and turning its pages was wonderful, and strange.
Having participated in the thriving Grove community for at least part of that era, it struck me that the vibrant, eccentric, and proud “village” so vividly brought back to life through the mosaic of stories, photos, and advertisements in that large brown magazine is now gone. Almost every bit of it: the defining sense of quirkiness, and celebration (rather than mere tolerance) of colorful individuality. That palpable (if quiet) sense of pride in really belonging to a community seen as worthy of such connection, with no trace of cynicism, or irony. And beneath it all, very close to the surface, an unabashed shared need to live and feel and experience “larger than life.” Within these yellowed pages (actually pinkish) the Old Grove still lived on. And quite obviously always would.
So much was conveyed with pellucid clarity in what was said, and what was not. The pictures and words spoke of an era that now seems nearly as unreachable and distant as that of the once open streets of cobbled Pompeii, before the molten rivers and mountains of hot ash spewed by Mount Vesuvius swallowed it all up within its shadow.
A bad day for nearby Pompeii. Darkness before noon on the morning of Aug. 24 in the year 79 A.D., according to latest practices in scientific dating.
AS I thumbed through page after over-sized page of articles and exuberant advertisement for every manner of innovative and unique craftsmanship and creative expression: theater, cuisine and fashion, jewelry and floral arrangement, and so on, I could not help but be struck by the thought, with no small wonder, “My God. My God. It would be a full 10 years until the sickness came.” These young people, captured in their bold and brave and (generally) good spirit, quickening in the very prime of their art, were never going to sicken and die. And neither were their friends one after another, like bowling pins racked up badly out of order.
Ruins, Pompeii Image from Google Earth
The horizon had been as bright, bold, and inviting as that of the blue bay itself, at its most lyrical. The Florida sky above has always seemed somehow extraordinarily big, offering by day and by star-scattered night a great, never-ending and always-changing show. Up, down, all around; the whole of it seemed to fairly sparkle with an infinite range of possibilities.
In so many ways, it was such an innocent time.
Yet innocence, I suppose, is a relative term given meaning only in strict relationship to the lessons of its contrapuntal “shadow,” experience. And we, all of us, adult and child alike, are becoming experienced. Like it or not. It’s as if a process has begun with no clear starting date, nor a knowable end in sight. And it all seems to be somehow accelerating. As expressed by poet Billy Collins, “there are speed lines on everything.”
(By itself, the inevitable seque into the future is not necessarily a bad thing. Not at all. But in our case, the extent of the unknown and its importance seem to offer an opportunity– or maybe invitation, possibly even an urgent demand– to seek new and more useful answers to some of the great o’er-looming questions now hitting us all so hard right in the face: where do we now stand in relation to one another? What exactly is happening here, and what are we to do with it all? Where are we to go from here, and what, if any, are our real choices in the matter? Oh yeah, and how?
One “master key” available, I feel, is a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ancient rhythms that once sustained and guided us. They were so much part of us and so very near that they could be easy to miss, like the air that we breathe. There’s no real going back, I realize, but it may nevertheless be critical to celebrate, or grieve the loss of, the ways of being well-known to our ancestors before us.
What has been lost?
THE questions are both daunting and without number, and plausible answers both elusive and difficult to fathom. Yet for some reason I cannot know, but have learned to trust absolutely, I have hope.
Coconut Grove 1970
(Click to view larger; return by back-arrow.)
PERHAPS I should clarify that I did not sit down to write another elegaic piece about AIDS and its long shadow. Been there, done that, am living it, and grateful to be alive.
I write more of a universal human experience confronted by anyone who sticks around long enough, and in South Florida it needn’t be that long, at all: the fading into history of yet another golden era, leaving its survivors stranded upon a middling sandbar of time, with no solid footing in either direction.
As so poetically expressed by Robert Frost, Nothing Golden Can Stay.
We all know that there’s no real going back, that we can’t go home again. Not really. Say a prayer, or better still lend a helping hand if you can, to those souls who see no way of moving forward, who cannot even begin to imagine their place in this jarring and chaotic parade of endless “progress.”
Welcome to the Peacock Inn P. Crockett The story of the moment in time captured by this painting is told elsewhere in this web log:
I cannot help but see that the Grove of that era was a “moment,” but still: one so exquisitely vibrant and alive that it did not seem so. How can any such time and place so rare, so radiant and full in its native glory, be subject to the ordinary tidal pulls, the dreary and inevitable ebb and flow of statistical historical precedent? Where do dreams go to die?
Perhaps that is why, for all of its canned “festiveness,” the Cocowalk mega-complex always touches me with a light but definite sense of sadness. I think, “I don’t want to be here!” Yet even if I stamp both feet in futile resistance and rail with all the righteous indignation I can muster against this sickly tide of the inevitable, it makes no difference at all. Here we still are.
This monolith consecrated to Mammon holds itself out as a bastion of “the new Grove,” in fact something of a presumptuous organizing principle: a more relevant and up-to-date version of the old-time community markets in which people bought, sold, and traded with people. Sure enough, when I go to Cocowalk I always see people. Usually a lot of them. Yet I feel part of no community. The neighbors who once greeted neighbors have all gone elsewhere, or died off. No oddballs are permitted. You find a parking space easily, if you’re lucky, and then you stroll. Meanwhile, you know those damn cameras are everywhere, programmed to film with insatiable lust, as if data were treasure, and filming were seeing. The sprawling facility is seamless and relentlessly efficient, no doubt. But who cares?
Every time I go there it leaves me flat, after all of these years.
IT strikes me: this is often how we learn that we have really loved. One day we find ourselves mourning, to greater or lesser degree, and looking back. I believe there might be a better way.
Miami River, and Egret
I write of one era, and yet: I’ve heard from the old timers how the real peak of the Grove was in the ’50′s. (Oh, Paul, my God! You should’ve been there! The boat outings that went on all weekend, the unforgettable dinner parties, the whole scene… It really was something to see.”) The “beat poets” had come and taken up residence, mixing harmoniously with the artists already local– a whole rainbow of them– yet still more came, of all kinds. Like some willful shimmering mirage insistent upon its own becoming, a thriving, cultured, and tolerant (real) community somehow willed itself into being there, within a suitably unlikely slice of tangled subtropical forest along the shores of Biscayne Bay.
Cocoanut Grove Trail, 1880’s,
And looking back further still, I have heard tales told by the even “older timers,” some of whom were young when the Seminole Indians still came in from the Everglades by cypress canoe to trade, and who remember drawing fresh water from “boils” out in the salty bay, replenishing their precious supplies of sweet water without need of heading back to shore. They were here before all this damned pavement, when the water was unimaginably clear and alive with every conceivable manner of sea life, and the Earth still breathed fresh and deep.
And once upon a time, I am told, it had not yet become too crowded to foreclose the sharing of the ample forest and rocky pine highlands with roaming panther, fox, black bear, and any number of other creatures that had arrived here well before any man. Since the dawn of time, after all, none of these species had known of (or been even able to imagine) any other that would have the motivation and means to lay claim to all of it, land and sea and sky above, all for itself. The very notion would have made no sense, at all.
“First Fox Caught in South Florida, 1884“. A truly pitiful sight. In a sense, the sad closing, forever, of a grand and ancient chapter of natural life, beauty, and freedom in a most extraordinary part of the Earth. The swift and clever fox was natural enemy to the dunder-headed possum. (To this day, the scent of fox urine remains the most effective means of sending unwanted possums packing.) I hate to think what it says of the world that only the latter now survives.
For the creatures knew not greed, nor malice. They, God bless them, were innocent.
Tenochtitlan, seat of the Aztec Empire (current site of Mexico City), November 1519, a thriving city in many respects absolutely unequaled in contemporary Europe. Cortez and his men would arrive on the 22nd day of the following month.
Strange, the way this line of contemplation hits me. There’s no quality of the morbid to it; we are already grieving, yet might not understand exactly why. Yet perhaps we should. Every challenge I have yet encountered, no matter its seriousness or magnitude, is easier and most usefully faced in the light. Also, we cannot help but realize that the transience of our experience here is at once the most unimaginable burden we carry, and the very well-spring of the abiding sweetness that gets us through it.
AND if the cities will come and go, perhaps we might set our sights on leaving behind, at the least, the finest and most golden treasure we possibly can. And quite possibly that treasure has nothing at all to do with gold of the cold metal kind.
Carpe diem. If you’ve got love in your heart, it is your greatest gift. Share it, all you can. Just because.
And I will aim to do the same.