Part 3: A Most Extraordinary Occurrence, & Journey’s End?


into-the-forbidden-zone3

For the number of you that are undoubtedly perched on the very edge of your seats (or more likely, thinking, “What in the Hell is he writing about, again?”), you need wait no more.

My quest was successful. I found it, at last!

As I’ve mentioned, something had told me from the start that it wasn’t likely to be an ordinary kind of journey. Yet it began simply enough. I tied up my kayak on my adventure-mobile, and parked just over the first bridge to Key Biscayne, to put in.

Loaded Up

So there I am, making good time going nowhere in particular, when an unusual craft glides across my path, utterly silent. I think, “What the-– Isn’t that an old cypress dugout canoe?” And I guess the sun had gotten in my eyes a little. Can’t quite make it out. Whoever it might have been, they seem to be making excellent time.

seminole boat

I kind of look around for a minute, just to make sure that I haven’t wound up in some episode of The Twilight Zone I’d somehow missed, or something. My quick scan of the area reassures me that I am indeed definitely still in the Bay, making headway in my little kayak. The backdrop is the Miami that (for better and for worse) I have always known.

open bay

So I’m cruising along, and pass many a wondrous sight. It surely is a beautiful day to be alive.

Wow! I’d never seen Miami’s silver bluff from this perspective!

Then, all of a sudden, another strange sight captures my eye. I can hear the wind hitting the sails, the rope and metal clanking rhythmically. It glides quiet, but I’m still close enough to hear it cutting water. A good-looking young guy on board waves friendly greeting. I fumble to wave back without losing my paddle. “Hmmm,” I find myself thinking, “Do they still make ships like that any more?” I had thought not, yet here it was.

Biscayne Bay 1880's

I close my eyes and rub them, for just a moment. When next I look, all of three seconds later, it isn’t there at all! No ship, no boy. “Better talk with my doc about those new meds,” I added to my mental list of projects. “Probably priority, that one!”

Just a couple minutes later, I have arrived. My journey is near its end. I spy the Devil’s Punch Bowl at last, exactly as described well over a century ago!

punch bowl

A little strange, I think, because I’ve gone directly past this very place before, even on foot, looking for the punch bowl. Yet I’m too excited to waste any more time thinking about it. I’m here! The experience is documented, in a few photos and video, at these locations:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/61933210@N07/sets/72157626893888773/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYF5qtxRxzk&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL

OR I should say, part of my experience is documented. O.K., here’s where things get a little strange. Call it my imagination, if you will, but it’s exactly what happened. I’m just sitting there silently for a while, to kind of take a minute, and start to feel this presence. I can’t exactly describe it, but it’s there. Most definitely. And it’s old, and its bigger by far than any of us. It’s not unfriendly, or anything like that. I do get the sense that this… whatever… is aware of me, but it’s of a welcoming spirit. It knows I have come for a reason. In guess in that sense, it’s one up on me.

Maybe a better word to throw at it, is presences. I know this sounds crazy, believe me. What am I, nuts? Alan says I’m a fool for even talking about it. And God bless ol’ Alan, he always means well; I mean he’s really looking out for me, in his way. And in this case he’s probably right, because there’s no way I can really put all of this into words, even if I was in top form and not exhausted after hours of writing, and even if I gave it everything I had. I guess I love a good challenge.

Yet, to be clear, it’s not like I’m asking you to believe me, or anything. I almost certainly wouldn’t myself, if the experience had not been 100%, lock, stock, and barrel, ‘mine.’ I’m just sharing what happened, maybe in case some other freak out there “gets” what I’m trying to describe, and can then maybe explain it all back to me.

But I suddenly know that these “presences” have all been flesh and blood once, just like you and me. Some much, much longer ago than others, I knew that much. There were so many different kinds, some I could maybe put a name to, and others– forget about it. But none of that mattered anymore. None of the distinctions that they had gladly fought and died for, back when dying meant something to them—mattered at all. Not in the least.

Sounds completely nuts, I know, but they showed me things. They were like, “We are all one,” but it was so obvious even to me that I felt like saying, “Hey! Give me some credit here, already!” To the heart of the matter: they had all known keen thirst and needed to drink; each had loved, and grieved, they’d held and tickled their grandchildren and taken up weapons to engage in bloody battle at such times as the call had come. They had all enjoyed sweet interludes here, I mean here at the punch bowl by the bay, and to each, in his or her way, the gift of the cool sweet water had felt like a great gift, an answer to the only prayer that had then seemed to matter.

In a sense, this extraordinary spot on the bay had been only a way station, true. Yet at the same time, it had also meant something to them much, much more. They had all at last finally gone on to their rest. That’s right; they were dead. But not really. It hit me that, with only a small handful of exceptions, no one would ever again remember their names.

What difference did it really make, now or ever, what clothes they had worn, or language spoken, or what they’d believed about this or that? The punch bowl was still here (and by the way sure didn’t look to me like it “had gone dry,” as asserted by Kleinberg and otherwise generally assumed). It was here, just as it always had been, and that simple fact alone seemed some kind of sacred promise.

The Spring

Looking directly down into the spring. On the bottom right is what appears to be a step carved elegantly out of the rock, leading downwards.

I suppose I allowed my mind to wander. It had been a little intense; so I get up to stretch a little and just walk for a bit. Then I hear this sound behind me. Nothing all spooky or anything, it was some kind of natural noise one hears out in the woods by the bay. Maybe an unusually playful breeze hitting the forest canopy, or the lurching creak of a huge tree-branch far above. Honestly, I don’t exactly remember. I do remember wondering “Is that smoke, I’m smelling?”

So I just casually turn around, and am stopped suddenly short.

I am not alone!




Hey, I warned you things were going to get a bit…”unusual,” didn’t I? “They look surprised to see me, too,” I thought. Strange. My first thought. “What must I look like to them?” I was not afraid; and I could see that they weren’t, either. I was being extended an invitation, of sorts, and though I could not know much else about it, it had everything to do with Love. Where love is, fear shrinks away as shadow.

And these were family people. I could see that the grandmother, who was most proper, had been having serious conversation with the little girl, and the men had been gently tossing up and down the little ones, to make them laugh. For the moment, they all just kind of took an “out breath,” to assess. I felt like saying “Hey, me too!, and laughing out loud, even if they’d think that I might be a raving lunatic. Because it was looking to me pretty much like I already was, anyway!

Forgive me if I sound flip, but you must realize that I had entered a realm where part of me could not and would not let myself forget that I was walking a path in which the only real danger might arise from my trying to hang on to, or fighting, anything in particular. Any of that would just wear me out, and keep me from some experience that was being offered to me. “Only in Hollywood does the postman always ring twice,” I thought, nonsensically. “A moment comes, and then it’s ‘Goodbye, Charlie.‘ Moment gone.”

“Shut UP, Paul! For Christ’s sake!” I earnestly chided myself as I resolved to walk over and meet these people. The terrain was kind of funky, and the bay’s mucky bottom had claimed one of my flip-flops for good, so I looked down for just a second, I swear, to check my footing before taking my first eager step. My heart pounded with the strangeness and thrill of it all, but I was so excited! I exhaled and strode forward in great anticipation.

Looking back

And this I what I saw.

“Oh, no!” I blurted out. Where had they gone? What had I done wrong? Had I offended them somehow? Think what you will, I have to tell you what happened next, anyway. I all but crumpled to the ground, just about fell right on my ass, weighted down with a sorrow beyond my understanding. I looked, and looked again, and quietly gasped.

I pulled my knees to my chest, hung my head, and wept. I just cried and cried. I couldn’t stop. “They were just here!” I babbled incoherently. “They were.” In that moment I realized that my entire life I had wanted no experience more than to sit down and take a meal with the ancient innocent people. To experience and witness them, and they, me. I had always known that I didn’t really belong here, somehow. Not like everybody else.

Yet they were all gone now, every last one of them. Call it crazy, but I knew in the searing pain of that moment that I was the last of my tribe. I had been somehow left behind. And there was no one left to hear my cry, or ever to sing to me again any of the old songs as lullabies, by the still-warm glow of the dying camp-fire, under the vast open starry sky above.

Although I knew that I have my people, who I love most deeply and am loved by, in return, the specter of ravenous AIDS arose in my awareness, and I realized that the more ancient pain that had knocked the very wind out of me, was not really so very ancient, at all. I remembered the one I had most loved of anyone on Earth, and how he’d one day just slipped through my arms. I’d tried so hard to hold him, to keep him with me, but I had failed. Like sand between my fingers. “And he was just here.” I saw the faces of the many, too many by far, that had been lost to me too soon.

And I saw the faces of my American brothers and sisters armed in military garb in hot desert places, far away. They were lost and confused and scared out of their wits in foreign lands, because it’s a cruel thing to subject a soldier to death or serious injury, without letting them in on what the mission is. They surely loved their country, but had never been given an honest answer to the questions most fundamental to them: “Why are we here?” or “These people that we are killing; what did they do to us, again?”

I saw the faces of young Iraqi people, beautiful and fine, who loved their country as we love ours. Although innocent of any crime, they were being made to pay a truly terrible price. And yet much more than two different “sides,” I saw one people, bonded in inhuman anguish, suffering, and loss.

And there sat the punch bowl. A single white cloud floated serenely by, high above.

“WHEN WILL IT STOP?” I cried out from my gut, as if someone were listening. I finally began to calm down inside, and my labored breathing slowed. I looked out upon a bay so serene, so beautiful and blue, it seemed emblematic of beauty itself, and promising of forever. I shall never forget the moment. And all I could feel was: nothing.

And I wept.

Untitled-Composite-03

At length, I knew that my time at this forgotten, sacred place in a world that had grown far too profane was done. It was only hard rock, on some fat cat’s appropriated “private property,” steamrolled (like everything else) away from the people by sufficient quantities of cash. And this friggin’ hole in the ground? BIG DEAL! I was grateful that my grandparents, at least, had lived in less mean and cynical and proprietary times. I was glad that they had enjoyed one another, and young beauty, and kissed here.

I willed myself to stand, and take the heavy steps back to my kayak, and return to those waiting upon me for dinner. So I embarked, pushed out, and headed back out into the blue. Who really cared?

And for some reason, I allowed myself just one last glance backwards. I could not know why. Here is what I saw.

The boy knew me, though I could not remember him, at all. Even from a distance, I could feel the stillness and focus in his eyes of deep brown. He understood. He actually understood! He certainly knew sorrow, and radiated quiet compassion. He needed no words to tell me: Remember: we meet again. Always.” I could no longer speak his language, so he bravely persevered in mine. Without hesitation.

“Same spirit, always. For all, together. Everybody. Everybody. “Do what you must do, for now. Only for now. Always.”

“Every day, new. Every moon, sacred. Remember!

We see you.”

I laughed out loud, and waved my cap at the little guy with the big soul and the brown eyes. I gave him a big “thumbs up,” and smiled. I felt him receive the smile as a gift, yet his face betrayed no expression. He stood still, finally lifting his arm to wave just a little, as if shy. “Always, my Brother!” I shouted back. I never looked back after that, didn’t have to. A terrible weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

“Always,” I repeated softly to myself as I paddled back, grinning like an idiot. And the Bay had never seemed so sweet.

 

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10 Responses to Part 3: A Most Extraordinary Occurrence, & Journey’s End?

  1. Well Done!

    Now “That” is poetry! 😉

    Wonderful find my good friend. I am honored to have lived it with you through your words and art. I cannot think of a better person to rediscover this very real piece of history and time. Your story was so well said that I could smell and taste it with you.

    Chuck Manetta

  2. MCP says:

    I just learned about this extraordinary geological feature while browsing a book at Coconut Grove’s Library (oldest in Miami) and was so fascinated by the pictures that I decided I had to find if it was still visible or had been destroyed long ago. I was going to embark on my own search; however, a quick search in the internet landed me in your captivating story.

    Thank you so much, I enjoyed reading it and knowing that it is still around to be appreciated. Now I have to go see it by myself while it lasts. I wonder if the owners know and appreciate what a precious natural feature they have in their backyard.

    Thank you,

    • PHC says:

      Thank you for joining me on the way! I got a lift out of your note. It sounds like you were pulled by the same “draw” to the magical site as I was.

      First, let me describe its exact location as approached by water, for reasons you’ll soon understand. Facing towards shore, the site sits behind the second house to the L (or N), of Wainwright Park. (A further landmark: the property is adjacent to the third house from the Park, popularly known as Madonna’s for obvious reasons. Behind that house sits a white dock about center, and a long green lawn. Whatever you do, stay away from that place.)

      Back to the site of the punch bowl: somewhere left of middle of that property, you’ll note a flight of steep stone stairs that seems cut in the rock. At the bottom of those stairs, immediately to the R, you’ll see in the natural wall of the bluff the shallow arched “cavern,” with ledge above protruding slightly, that marks the precise location of the perfectly circular stone well.

      The bad news is that the site now lies on private property, and if the owners are so inclined they could have you arrested for trespassing if you step foot upon the land. The great news is that the entire punch bowl site is easily visible from the water (a literal stone’s throw). This is important because according to State law any lands submerged under tidal waters are sovereign in ownership and belong to the State of Florida and its People, and are not private property. Accordingly, simply being in or upon the Bay is always 100% legal and never itself sufficient for a legitimate charge of criminal trespass, whether in a boat or atop a surfboard or hugging a big beach ball, etc., or swimming, or even standing in the shallows one step from the shore.

      As mentioned, I don’t know the owners, so I can’t address that question specifically, but unfortunately I must suggest that a little paranoia might serve you well here. Remember that the residents of this street (actually Brickell Avenue) tend to be quite wealthy, generally conservative, and are apparently insecure enough to pay out of their own deep pockets an off-duty Police officer to patrol the street, inland, and look ominous.

      Remember too that this small group of citizens effectively closed the open doors of public access to Wainwright Park, a rare public green space on the Bay truly beloved of the People. First, they had installed all around its forested area an iron fence so imposing and grotesque that it seems as if the beautiful trees pose some danger to humanity, or might otherwise escape. Having visited and loved the Park for decades, along with my family and many friends, and in many ways grown up there, I was horrified to see that awful monument inflicted upon the innocent park. “My God,” I thought; “they’ve turned our Park into a concentration camp.” From earliest childhood the Park had always seemed the freest, most beautiful, and mysterious of places. Now, it was incarcerated.

      Second, the homeowners saw to the removal of all but the most minimal parking from the street fronting the park, replacing space after available spaces with railroad ties and a long line of ugly metal “No Parking/Will tow” signs.
      (God only knows how far they would have taken the situation, given free reign; they finally met public resistance only when Sylvester Stallone proposed to have installed a huge wrought-iron gate at the street’s end abutting the causeway that would have literally “closing the door” on the hundreds of Miamians, of all walks of life, who use the street and the causeway on a regular basis to simply relax and enjoy, to stroll, jog, and bike.)

      All of that is background. I am quick to counsel caution in this area, most regretfully, as a result of my own horrific experience during my first day out in search of the spring. It had been the most wonderfully idyllic day, until I found myself suddenly held at gunpoint by the caretaker of the Madonna property. (Remember, I did not yet know where the spring was. All the while, this guy knew the site was just next door.) He would not point the weapon away from me, no matter how calmly and politely I tried to explain my presence. It’s a longer and sordid tale, but it involved an arrest (my first!) on a charge of “trespass after warning, ” a booking and an overnight incarceration at the Miami-Dade County Jail before the judge summarily threw out the charges the next morning. The story will be told another time.

      And, it is a story that I am not yet through with. The new ending remains to be seen. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, I don’t want the same hassle to hit you upside the head.

      Especially when you are seeking out an ancient and sacred place. That is a special kind of hurt, and I would see you avoid the experience, altogether. Innocence should be honored, and the native impulse to explore and discover respected.

      Thanks again for writing.

  3. MCP says:

    I have definitely been pulled by the magic of just the knowledge about the site. Thanks for providing all the historic information around Wainwright Park, for the dangers and warnings awaiting those in pursuit of history, and for explaining State law regarding any lands submerged under tidal waters. It is somehow amazing that the punch bowl property is the only one in the area that has not built a seawall beyond the bluff; therefore, preserving the original coastline, something very rare in the developed Biscayne Bay. My mind keeps revolving around one thought: “This site must be protected and preserved”, it’s part of our heritage. I am convinced that past and current owners have appreciated the treasure they have; however, would future owners protect it? I do not think there is anything that would prevent the owners from building a seawall and destroying the coastline along with the former spring. Another thing that amazed me was your video showing fresh groundwater still seeping into Biscayne Bay; I thought that the natural flow of groundwater had long been a thing of the past along the bay. I have read accounts of natural springs sprouting in the middle of Biscayne Bay in the 1800’s where ships would replenish their fresh water.
    I did not grow up in Miami-Dade, but this has been my home for the last 14 years and I love it, despite all the negativity in the community and all the things that could be better, I focus on the wonderful natural Miami and enjoy what we have left to explore. There are two parks in the Brickell area that have picked my curiosity ever since I discovered them, one of course is Wainwright Park, for the preserved bluffs and views (it’s unfortunate that the forested area has been so grotesquely incarcerated, very common in other natural areas as well), and the other is Simpson Park for its hammock. Two islands in the middle of the concrete jungle that when you venture inside them makes you feel as if you have traveled to the past and when you come out reality hits you back hard. That is why your wonderfully written story makes sense to me, and even though I do not know you personally, I do not think you have lost your mind. The good thing is that when the urge arises we can travel back in time, anytime…as long as these sites are around for us and our families to enjoy!
    Now…, wouldn’t it be nice if the original crystal clear spring fed Miami River and its rapids, destroyed in 1909, around NW 27 AVE where still around?

    Thank you again,

  4. Marci says:

    MCP, if you’ve not visited it already, I would recommend the Miami Rapids Mini Park, which marks the place where the rapids were. It’s near the NW 27th Ave bridge. If you’re feeling brave, you can look behind the park building and to the edge of the trailer park to see the source/mostly underground headwaters of the Miami River. It’s a powerful place. HistoryMiami has a locally produced DVD about the Miami River for sale; you might want to view it to get a better idea of the location. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only nutcase in town who feels very strongly about these sacred places!

    • PHC says:

      HI, Marcy: Thanks for writing, and thanks also for the tip! There seem to be a definite number of us who remain entranced by the fleeting, utterly fascinating history of this unique subtropical land ‘o dreams.

  5. Hi Paul, Yesterday, I discovered your wonderful blog from my google search of “devil’s punch bowl”. My search began from my reading the book “One Hundred Years on Biscayne Bay 1887-1987”. Like you, I wanted to know where the punch bowl was located, so thank you for discovering it and saving me some time !

    Earlier, You wrote about a tree house on the bay. I woild like to share with you my little discoveries on the bay. I had posted some photos of tree houses found in my blog, see the link and in my May list of blogs you will find the one about tree houses. http://floridaphotographyfromacanoe.blogspot.com/

    I am not a native Of Miami, or Florida for that matter, but I share your love of it,. Most especially, as a photographer and canoeist, I spend much time exploring Biscayne Bay’s western shoreline. Thankmyou Paul for sharing so much history and beautiful art. Please continue blogging!
    Connie Mier

  6. Christopher Wetmore says:

    Latecomer here. This more or less summarizes a post I made on Facebook.

    First: My sympathies for the loss of your partner. I lost my wife in 2003…and the grieving never ends…

    Now, for a bit of “I remember”: The Harold (herald) ran a story, sometime in the mid-80’s to early 90’s, about either the Seminole of Mikosukee going every year to perform religious rights at the Punch Bowl. They apparently have an easement, a legal right of access, at least once a year to perform them. Also, as I remember the published story, the rites performed were not Seminole or Mikosukee, but an earlier tribe (the Calusa?).

    This is always something I’ve wondered about…and it seemed from the story that the homeowner at the time, who may be the current homeowner, wasn’t too keen on anyone visiting the property then, either. The article pointedly did NOT give an exact location for The Punch Bowl.

    Throwing this in because this may give you a door into more information abut the spring. If you’re really lucky, the reporter still lives and works for The Herald.

    Other clues: I’m pretty sure it was a weekday edition.

    I can’t remember if the phrase “The Punch Bowl” was used. I’m sorry (I know that would have made searching easier).

    I’m pretty sure that the article mentioned that the rites were performed once a year, at full moon. (The moon phase in tenuous…a search term you might eliminate if it doesn’t lead anywhere at first.)

    Also by the way, if the tribe that celebrates this does have an easement, it would be mentioned on the property deed, I think. Another avenue to explore.

    Thanks VERY much! (I had also never know about the Baron plantation.)

    Be well!

  7. How wonderful of you to have made this trip so I don’t have to. I don’t have water access – only road access, so I would not have been able to see the Punch Bowl. Do you know what breaks my heart? The fact that this land we live in and on was once so wild and beautiful and now is pretty much paved over. Look at the difference between the rock outcropping of the Punch Bowl from the late 1800’s to now. Surrounded by jungle, by nature, by millions of birds and animals. Now? Madonna lives nearby with a guard bearing a gun. Who cares about her – of course the supposition of anyone guarding her place is that anyone in the vicinity is stalking her – how ridiculous and how arrogant.

    I also read the story of your friend and his cat that passed away. It made me cry and I still feel so sad – I have lost pets and family members, and every day I look around me and we are all losing more every day of the beauty that once was here.

    I have made my little back yard a wild area in Pembroke Pines. I have Painted Buntings that visit in the winter and a couple of hummingbirds, as well as butterflies and migrating warblers that pass through. No pesticides are used and I encourage “weeds”. Weeds are often larval plants for butterflies or good for human food. Those who insist on a “pristine” chemical packed lawn that leaks it’s poison into the water table outnumber me by far. They rule unfortunately. As long as I can, though, my little back yard will be a place for critters – whether possums, raccoons, birds, lizards, butterflies – whatever stops by. I only wish I were rich and could buy parcels of land and restore them to what they were – and connect them like a ribbon of life.

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