The Prayer of Horses: A True Story

 

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A BIRD perched that day within the thick green canopy of the great old trees draped in Spanish moss, peering downward, might have witnessed an unusual gathering far below. All of the horses were there, as usual, but today they were silent and still, and even, quite extraordinarily, appeared to be united in a common focus. They stood casually circling a tall blonde woman wearing blue jeans and a button-down long-sleeve shirt, untucked and cuffs folded up. Her name was Debra, though that word was of small significance to the animals because they knew well her soul.

Debra, listening.

In the stillness, she stepped easily from one horse to the next, at her own pace, rubbing their sides, tousling their manes, looking into their eyes.

Any such hypothetical bird might have taken wing hearing only silence below, but a “meeting” of sorts was transpiring. It might have been the notable heat that day, or the woman’s admittedly fragile state of mind, but that afternoon they communicated as easily as if by thought, and nothing about the experience seemed remarkable to her, at all. Robert Frost wrote in a poem “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” and in that very sense she was now home, standing there barefoot on the green grass with no roof overhead. She was home because she was surrounded by the only ones who had been able to really reach her, in her hour of greatest need. They had not only reached but held her here, as a matter of faith placing themselves between her and the gaping oblivion she saw awaiting, in their devotion and tender vigilance exclaiming “Not on our watch!”

clip_image004All paintings by Marc Chagall

Besides: if she imagined that the horses, as much or more than she, needed in that moment to thus be given voice and be heard, she would have been entirely correct. And who was she to get in the way?

“WE love you as one of our own,” they said to the woman named Debra. Her eyes watered with tears as she reflexively crossed her forearms, placing both hands gently upon her chest as she turned to slowly drink it all in. She loved them right back, almost as much as the children she lived for, yet quite naturally in a completely different way. A few years before, she had been trapped for too long within the carefully spun web of an utterly toxic relationship, helpless and frozen. Precisely as per the spider’s plan, she’d become poisoned to the extent that she could not care if she lived or died, nor for that matter even ascertain with complete certainty whether she was still among the living. “I must be,” she recalled thinking to herself in one of the long, dark spells that might have been day or night, or some awful gray sequence of both, “otherwise it couldn’t possibly hurt so much.”

YET against all odds she had been guided back to the horses that had once meant so much to her, and in that most critical hour they had held her fast and saved her. Today, independently and joined in council, they affirmed her place within their hearts. Horses can be trusted well, for they have never learned to lie, and in any event find great difficulty in even grasping the concept.

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And it may be just as well that they communicate in a language more sublime by far than any cobbled together of gross, clumsy words, for few humans indeed are gifted with the depth of heart to comprehend their message. They speak a subtle and various tongue partaking of the physical, the clear whinny or snort given voice only the smallest part of it, and know subtle nuances of the warmth or hostility of touch. Theirs is an ancient kinetic wisdom that we can only imagine. They know all too well what it is to be wholly misunderstood, even invisible, and with none to hear their cry.

They all dream of running free, when at last given a chance to close their weary eyes and sleep. Their experience has taught them struggle, patience, and immeasurable compassion. When Debra had first come back to them, utterly broken of heart and spirit and hanging by only thinnest thread, it seemed to her as if they had somehow known she was coming that day, and stood gathered and waiting. They had come right to her. Horses “know what they know,” and understood immediately that their friend’s heart was indeed close to shattering completely. Far too close. It can be a truly terrible thing to see, sometimes, for they feel much. And they loved her.

 

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Though in that moment it seemed that their hearts might burst for sorrow, they would not turn away. Surrounding her as if in embrace, as horses will sometimes do, they quietly opened wide in spirit to receive her into the fold of their ancient communion. That was all they had to offer, and also their very best, and it was given freely and without hesitation. They knew not exactly how to proceed or where to “go,” for that was not particularly how they thought, anyway, and she stood among them very nearly beyond even their empathic reach. Yet they loved her, and knew that sometimes caring and being there is the best gift that can be offered.

The reasons or facts of the situation do not matter. What Debra needed above all else was hope. Yet what she most needed eluded her, and in the light of cold reason she found only dead ends, cold and hard. In time, even the fading notion of that imagined refuge itself mocked her without mercy. She had given up. Almost! Yet she had somehow known to come back to the horses…

 

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Maybe she sensed it and maybe not, but these fine animals had made a solemn promise to That Most Sacred to love and to protect her, always. (Because they are honorable without fail, and absolutely resolute once a promise has been made, they are frequently misunderstood as aloof and unreachable, or even uncaring and disinclined to promise, at all. Yet here the horses are being badly misunderstood: they are in truth exercising their “horse wisdom,” and giving due respect to the inviolable weight and honor of a commitment once made.)

In time Debra came to understand that she had most certainly been blessed, even in that very darkest hour in which salvation had been least expected, for something in her heart assured her that their promise was good, and forever.

And so it was. Though past has surely folded gently into the now, the starting point of all becoming and the birthing place of creation and all potential, still yet the promise remains. (The notion of time itself seems in the horses’ manner of thinking both abstract and completely useless, for they remain attuned to and remain grounded in only that which is real.) Even now they await the promised coming of her great new day, as they have always, and will so abide for as long as it might take. Happily, and with pride immeasurable.

 

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WHAT Debra failed to see almost completely, then or now, was the gift she had been to them. Because of her: the constancy and depth of her shimmering soul, the gentleness of her touch and whisper, the purity of her heartbreak, they knew they were not alone, and greatly comforted. They knew that she longed for freedom at last, always (as did they), and that she had “done her time” in the dark valley of the utterly solitary, and had stumbled along its twisting turns as best she could for what seemed a woeful eternity, accompanied only by despair.

They had themselves trodden before her the sere terrain of that bleak place with no horizons to be seen in any direction, and knew it all too well. Her arrival at last thus bespoke valediction, and even hope! All shadows suddenly fled for them, though Debra in her brokenness could not then even begin to understand this. It seemed that the brilliant Light that she carried within, earned so dearly, lay behind her, and thus outside her field of vision. Though a hunger for that grand elusive light filled her very being, despite her best efforts all she could make out before her were shadows, long, deep, and grim. She could not know that the very darkness of the convincing shadows bespoke a hidden promise, of the great and brilliant Light that followed wherever she went, and that was their source.

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BECAUSE of Debra, everything was different. They saw no fences. Only the clouds floating idly past in the ever-open sky above, the good green grass under hoof, and a world transformed because someone in it understood them. They have intoned always ancient horse prayers on her behalf, their hearts full and lifted upward by the very idea of her.

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“Keep your dreams alive,” they offered in encouragement, for they had not forgotten the ancient wisdom that any true miracle of healing is never just once. How could it be, indeed, when wounds could be so very layered, and slow to heal? Just as they knew that after every stumbling fall they would rise again from the ground, for as long as they could, no matter what, they understood the attending of the healing spirit as “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes. And then some.”

“Remember what it is to ride free,” they asked of her. “To race through the air together, joined as one, upon a world itself always in motion, and thus find our place! To first gallop and finally soar into full flight, awake and in motion and truly alive!”

 

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A chestnut-colored mare and her foal joined in nudging her gently, as if to emphasize the point. It might seem only a moment,” they continued, “but it is something more. Don’t you see? That moment offers an opening!” A chill passed through Debra as she pondered the idea. “It’s true,” she suddenly thought to herself. Though she couldn’t voice the realization, exactly, she thought “If I know music in my life at all; if ever I have tasted true poetry in the passing hours of a lifetime, it is exactly in the rhythm and motion of just such moments.” And she remembered that she did know music, and poetry, and realized that the sweetest and most enduring gifts tend to arrive quite gently, and are often missed upon first arrival (and sometimes long thereafter) simply because they come so completely unexpected.

 

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Though she could not know it, Debra had in truth had been carrying the horses even as they’d thundered forward carrying her. That knowledge had been quite obvious to the horses, however, and lent a particular sweetness to the experience. To their keen ears, the steady beat of each galloping hoof celebrated glorious destiny itself, and sounded the fulfillment of some great ancient promise. The percussive moment was blessed and complete, and the gold of its memory helped sustain them in the long dark nights that inevitably fell, unannounced, and throughout the meaner seasons.

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They had waited long for her return, in a spirit of patience far beyond our ability to even understand, and here she now was! Their attention remained wholly fixed upon her. “Please remember,” they repeated. You must! For if it has ever been true, even for a moment, then so it is always.”

“We all forget,” they reassured her. “There is no shame in it. Just be easy with yourself, and remember what you have known. There is naught else you need do, to see you through the hard times.”
“We will run free again, together,” they promised, and Debra’s very heart was gladdened with a joy beyond reason. In time, she observed that the dark shadows of teeming despair, as aggressive, determined, and finally smothering as green kudzu, could take no real hold where the Great Promise still lived.
Oh, that moment!” they softly whispered, almost as if to themselves. “Just remember the glory of it!

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“Never fear,” they promised, “we shall await you. And not just once. Always. Until the end of time, if necessary, for such is our pleasure.”

“You are ours,” they breathed in gratitude before turning away to graze in some golden grassy field no man has ever seen (and yet closer than one’s heart). “And so we are blessed. We love you, because you first loved us.”

“You are now and always have been, a gift.”

 

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                                                       For Debra          With Love      Oct. 5 2011

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The Latest, As of this Moment.


ONE sitting down  to paint should have an idea of what he is going to do, but only a vague idea.

                                                                                —Pablo Picasso

By a Bay Now Called “Biscayne”  ___P. Crockett

IT feels like I do some of my paintings, as one might normally expect. You know: conceive an idea, somehow get there (the path, winding or direct, being the heart of the reason for the experience, in the first place), and be done with it.  And on to the next.

Certain others, however,  would seem to mock any such proprietary notions of artistic creativity, choosing instead to suddenly drag me along upon on a journey hell-bent for I know not where.  It can be quite frustrating, as the experience tends to  cause no small discomfort to my inner “control queen.”  (I can just hear Alan’s saying, “What do you mean, inner?!”  As in “you got one inside, also?”)  Yep.  It can be a jungle around here!

This canvas is one of those wild, those untamed ones.   At the moment I’m down one aboriginal Tequesta hunter, who might have been thirsty and heading for the cool sweet water of the “punch bowl” spring.  In all fairness, though, he might have simply snuck out of the painting, or deeper into the bush, with the same primal stealth with which he entered in the first place.

Whatever the case, I’ve good reason to expect his imminent re-appearance, possibly captured in a moment of ancient natural drama.   But then again, what in the Hell do I know?  I’m only the artist, here.

Paintings are rarely linear in either conception or execution.  This one is taking the cake!

I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks!

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Special Neighbors, Honored Guests.

Mission ART

FOR the last several weeks we’ve enjoyed hosting a truly fine family in our rental property next door here in the Shenandoah neighborhood, which we call “the Mission.” (Web log: http://welcometothemission.net/)  The family consists of two Mommies, Maria and Joni (pronounced JAH-nee) and their 16 month-old twins, Cosmo Gianni (the elder by a minute) and Vivian Fay.  They call L.A. home, but Maria is working on a movie being made here.

As far back as either can remember, long before the auspicious occasion of their meeting, both  Maria and Joni had  known deep within their hearts that one day they would become  mothers.  They shared that ancient, most intimate, and sacred longing, individually and then together, until that blessed day finally came.  Until it was time.

CRW_6716Maria ( L) and Joni, about an hour after the babies’ arrival.

And they believe that a family should be together, for any number of good and fun reasons, so here they are.  The Mission has truly become their “home away from home,” and in that we take some pride and pleasure.

Cosmo’s name is inspired by the “Cosmo’s Moon” scene in the great film Moonstruck.  Vivian’s is quite a propos, as it was our friend and neighbor Vivian from whom we bought the house what now seems light-years ago.  For the longest time, we called it “Vivian’s house.”

I wanted to share these photos taken by Joni (with a little of Paul’s Photoshop fun thrown in just for fun).  These kids are something special.

Here’s  Cosmo  having an experience out in the backyard.

And Vivian, solving some secret puzzle:


Last but not least, this pic of the babies in the back seat seemed to call for nothing less than full cinematic treatment:

(Click for close-up view, back arrow to return.)

Just wanted to share a gift.  Thank you.

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In Commemoration of an Excellent Cat, and Friend.



WHEN I recently learned that my friend Michael had been forced to “put down” his feline companion of many years, LB, my heart was struck.  Cats have a most excellent way of knowing when either space/ privacy or comfort is needed, and are much more attentive to their Humans than they tend to be given credit for.

Michael is a truly one-of-a-kind individual.  He is very much from and of Morristown, New Jersey; I’ve always called him my “Jersey Boy.”  We serve as witnesses to one another’s lives.  He or I will call, and say “Hey, I need you to witness what’s going on.”  More often, we just chat.  Over the years, we have developed an understanding.

There have been times in my life when, but for him, I would have felt truly alone.

Visiting Miami, 2007

Michael is on a true spiritual journey, which is never an easy thing.  I speak of that most sacred when I tell you that he has offered himself up to God and to Christ,  that he might be of service. His life has seemed a remarkable series of transitions, some subtle, others of the sort that forever cleave one’s experience into “before”/”after,” and many in between. It is not always easy; far from it.

He is no prophet, nor does he purport to be.  He is a healer.  His “work” thus calls him at times to confront directly the woundedness of others, to step in to their brokenness, that they might be touched at last.  It is the highest of callings, but also one that tends to take a  toll that is not easy to measure. 

And yet he has always known, wherever his path led him and through whatever strangeness, that upon his return home his loyal, faithful, and purring friend would be warmly awaiting.

Sometimes the hardest and most terrible thing, I believe, is coming back to a dark and empty home.  One’s heart breaks a little further, when he or she might not have believed that possible.

LB was the only companion that demanded nothing of Michael, yet was always happy to be there for him, and to give.  LB was his most constant, uncomplicated, and reliable pal. I can only  imagine the LB-shaped void in Michael’s life right now, and it pains me.  When he last spoke with Alan, he said he’d probably wait a while, and then maybe look for another cat.  The words of the heartbroken.

And so: because I love the man, I had to do something, to at least try and somehow reach out.  Here is what came to me, and I started in upon it like a madman and didn’t stop the first session until I was too spent to continue.   This was all that I could do.

 

Please say a prayer for my brother Michael, because his heartbreak is not much different from your own.  Say a prayer for those you carry in your heart, even if they seem fine

And, because many have lost pets most dear, and held close to their hearts, and because they might benefit from acknowledgment, or consolation, I figured Michael wouldn’t mind if I shared.  Its message and promise are now for you, as well.

LB, sweet boy, run free at last and rest in kitty peace.  You did good.

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A Work in Progress Unfolds.

 

By a Bay Now Called “Biscayne”   P. Crockett

   AND speaking of works in progress, here is a shot of my current studio, as configured by Alan in his infinitely creative restless spirit:

Finally, I wanted to thank Meredith Colliflower Fisher for her extraordinary gift of a treasure trove of books about Miami history.  One of them ( Forgotten Frontier: Florida through the lens of Ralph Middleton Munroe by Arva Moore Parks) lays open on the floor above, just to the left of my little red stool.

Thanks to you all.

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One Man’s Extraordinary Quest to Find "the Devil’s Punch Bowl," or Maybe a Piece of his Heart: Part 1

Or “Postcards Sent Along the Way, of a Journey of the Heart.”

Punch Bowl Ralph Munroe POST

Grove Pioneer “Commodore” Ralph Munroe, most often behind the camera, here slakes his thirst with the cool, clean spring-fed waters of the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” A widely-accomplished man of many talents much beloved of his community, he is still widely celebrated as the builder of his family home on the Bay in Cocoanut Grove, “the Barnacle,” now the heart of a popular public park, and the oldest-surviving home in the County remaining in its original location. 

 

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

                         — Matsuo Basho

 

Beautiful Biscayne Bay, in which we spent a fair portion of our free hours growing up. Beyond the awesome thrill of true exploration, just being on the Bay was relaxing, and always refreshing.

 

 The Devil’s Punch Bowl, Biscayne Bay (First Sitting) P. Crockett

 ABOUT a year or so ago, I suddenly realized that had to find the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” of Miami’s historic legend, if it still existed, or might be recognizable. The realization itself was unusual. It was different than “an idea,” like “Hey, let’s go catch this-or-that movie,” or even “let’s go and see Barcelona.” Any reasons for such a venture weren’t exactly known to me, yet in any case seemed beside the point, in light of the clarity and force with which the knowledge had suddenly and quietly come. As sure as I am, it had come from some “other place,” higher or deeper, and that was all I needed know.

Explaining such experiences can suggest (misleadingly) “a big deal,” and it was not. It was simple, yet extraordinary. In retrospect, the feeling was as if the plan had been waiting for me “outside of time,” full and complete. Once the moment had arrived when the next breath, or step, would offer the “click” leading me at last into readiness, the awareness dawned upon me with no more effort than either the breath, or the step. It was time.

 GROWING up in Miami, it seemed as if I had always heard tales told of, and read about the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” As described by Howard Kleinberg in his wonderful picture book of the area’s history, Miami: The Way We Were :

Situated about two miles south of the Miami River, along the shore of the bay, is one of perhaps Miami’s most mysterious and romantic historic sites– the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Located on what now is private property just south of Wainwright Park and immediately north of Vizcaya– In the 3000 block of Brickell– the Punch Bowl was a fresh water spring close to the shore.

Historians, while agreeing that not enough research has been done on the Punch Bowl, also say that its water has quenched the thirsts of Indians, explorers, pirates and pioneers through the centuries.

Kleinberg mentions a 1923 article in the Miami Herald featuring the punch bowl, reporting that early Grove pioneer “Commodore Ralph Munroe said the Punch Bowl was a watering hole as long as his memory reaches.” It also mentioned that “[i]n the memory of Mrs. Mary Brickell. the present owner of the site, the punch-bowl has always been in existence, antedating their possession of the land.”

 

“Steps leading to Plantation Punch Bowl Springs”, ca. 1890’s.

Although a beautiful photograph, and certainly evocative, it and others like it didn’t really help, at all. Where in all of this mess, exactly, might the spring be? Maybe if one knew that, he or she could make out the “steps” described.

The “plantation” referred to had been built by a Charles Baron in 1830 with slave labor, both he and the Africans extremely early (non-native) arrivals to the the area. It remained productive for over 30 years, its crops mainly a variety of citrus, and cotton, until its abandonment at the onset of the Civil War. Within only a few years the dense subtropical Florida jungle/ forest (or “hammock,” based upon the Miccossukee word for “dry land”) had reclaimed the land, and the remnants of the home had become “all but indistinguishable” in the overgrowth. As early as 1877, observation is made that the site was popular not only for the delicious waters of the spring, but also the limes and other fruit produced by the venerable citrus trees still holding their own in the primeval forest.

 

Florida Hammock art

The punch bowl had long since become the stuff of legend when this children’s book was published in 1893:

The Young Wrecker

(The above image, and many others used in this posting, have been “borrowed” with sincere gratitude from the splendid Everglades Digital Library, an online resource demonstrating the clear benefit resulting when different institutions– “libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and others”—pool together and make available their individual holdings in service of a common cause.
To all involved, I offer my thanks.  Please check out their site:
The Everglades Digital Library)

AS we continue reading from the bottom of the last page on the right, above, we find described the following encounter with the punch bowl:

…of the other. After rowing about seven miles, we landed on the shore of the main-land, at а place called the Punch-Bowl, not far south of [the] Miami River. This was the place from which we were accustomed to procure water for the schooner’s casks and water-tank. It required four boat-loads of casks to fill the tank, and after it was filled, the casks were usually re­plenished. A full supply of water used to last from three to four weeks, as, excepting for the purpose of drinking, in which the men were not restricted, a very small amount of fresh water was allowed.

 The Punch-Bowl is worthy of description. On the straight and wooded shore of the main­land is a little bluff which has been described as the remains of an ancient line of Кeуs which were once an ancient line of Reef. In the face of this bluff, which is separated from the water by a beach not exceeding two yards in width, is an excavation like a little cave, and in this excavation is a deep hole, called the Punch Bowl. It is filled with pure water that filters through the ground from the Everglades, which lie a few miles to the westward. It in an exhaustless spring, so close to the ocean that a high tide washes into its basin.

 We ran the bows of the boats close to the Punch-Bowl, and, taking the bungs out of the casks, stationed two men with buckets at the spring. Each man dipped his bucket and passed it along a file of men reaching to his boat. In this way, the buckets constantly going to and fro, in the course of an hour the casks were filled. We started off immediately with our deeply-laden boats, and put up sail to aid our progress, as the casks so obstructed the thwarts that the men could not pull all the oars.

End cover

Now, the simple task awaiting was to pin down this Miami legend to a map, and, wherever it might be found, to go there.  Simple, hunting down a legend, especially in Miami?  Right?  Hah!  You try it, sometime!

To:Part II

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Part 2: Gathering Clues in Pursuit of a Legend.

Punch Bowl, 1942

ALL RIGHT, so everybody and his brother had once known where the damn thing was. So why didn’t we?

Beyond the “clues” to be found within these intriguing photos, there was even a map:

No matter what the clues held in hand, I somehow knew that once I’d set sail on this kind of journey, there was no telling exactly what I might come across. That hunch turned out to be “right on the money,” as shall be explained.

Kayak Biscayne Time Warp POST

WAS it pure foolishness to set out looking for this watering hole beloved of pirates, Indians, and pioneers? Maybe. It might be something in the Florida air down this way, but stories of every kind, nuance, texture and purpose seem to flourish unreasonably here, as if nourished in the very atmosphere like air plants. In most “normal” places, people appear to tell stories about others’ lives and deeds. “Real life” is not “story;” it is understood. Here, there is no such nice distinction to be made, and stories quite often tell people’s lives and deeds. Otherwise put, some tales carry a “gravitational pull” revealed simply in the telling, sufficient to pull effortlessly within their orbit listeners who happen to hear them, should completion or development of the story call for a larger cast of characters. What in the H–, you say? Utterly preposterous! Why, that idea doesn’t even make sense?

FloridaYou may be exactly right, logic-wise, but it doesn’t matter. I’m telling you: right now and at this very moment, there are forces at play larger by far than our ability to comprehend, and more ancient than anything we might even dream of. So it always has been. And we are part of this “whatever it is” not isolated and apart, as seems so convincingly the case, but in absolute unity, and without exception. Fact is, it is essential to the Human heart to belong to a story, to have some anchor save us from drifting. We call its lack, meaninglessness, and it will kill a body nearly as fast as starvation.

So: if we’re going to be woven into a story, and will in fact run as fast as we possibly can to jump in to the right one, should we see it passing by, it seems to me the wiser move to stop the philosophical chatter, open our eyes, and pay attention to the actual story we are helping bring into being day by day, one moment at a time, through our choices– our actions and deeds and decisions, or (in equal force) our silences, omissions, and states of indecision.

All I knew at one certain moment, for example, was that I had to find the Devil’s Punch Bowl. There were no two ways about it. And so I did.  Floridians have grown accustomed to living in an atmosphere saturated so completely by the dreams, visions, and occasional nightmares of one or the other great visionary, that before long we have thoroughly confused the hype and anticipated sequel with whatever nugget of truth the tale might have once held. To the extent story and meaning have become interchangeable, it’s no medium wonder we are always left thirsting, like curious children, for more.

Once upon a time, a man named George Merrick dreamed an outlandish dream of a special, new kind of “planned community” to be built (of all places!) upon the land where his father’s rambling citrus groves lay. He named his vision Coral Gables, after an architectural flourish atop his family’s Miami home.  People showed up.

MerrickAug. 23, 1925

 Label it what you will, that unique sense of Florida: lurid. Surreal. OutRAGEOUS! “Over the top.” Ridiculous. Two descriptions that cannot be omitted: Necessary, and Perpetual.

And once the stories have been told (and that, you can always safely assume!), just turn your back for but a moment, and you’ll find that any number of stories have already somehow reproduced, and boom! More stories! There are stories for every occasion, and then some. There are even stories of stories.

A wonderful contribution of my own German-born paternal great-grandparents to the ever-unfolding “Florida Dream.” They envisioned and created a citrus grove/ tropical plant nursery/ tourist attraction they called “Bonita Groves,” in the Redlands area, near Homestead. Consider how many stories and diverging themes are interwoven in this fanciful tableau!

Plenty of ’em, in fact. Some are like sparks kept alive and passed on, from one generation to the next, reborn countless times with each eager anticipation of a re-telling. Something within both teller and listener knows that, in a simple sharing of story, we are experiencing a direct link with those who’ve come before, and (hopefully) those yet to come. It is now, as it always has been, that any or all of us can hope to live on forever, only through story. As long as there’s one person still breathing to tell and another to listen, a really good story will never die.

In Florida, why ask why? Home is where the orange is.

TALES of every sort are plentiful here, and always have been. Put together a manatee and a sailor who’s clearly been out at sea for way too long, and what do you have? That’s right, a mermaid! One hell of a great story, the Hell with its lack of foundation! By God, there should be mermaids, at least as much as unicorns, if the Earth in all of its mysterious dimensions is to somehow seem complete.

Ditto “The Fountain of Youth,” a timeless favorite with a “punch” of a concept that still knocks out a crowd! The myth is essentially re-created for a modern and more urbane (but no less hungry) audience, in the Cocoon films.

And my God! What child’s imagination can possibly resist the allure of Indians and explorers, or pioneers and pirates, especially when combined all together into one factual (if vaguely mystical) place, actually somewhere on a map?

Orchid Hunters Eugene Savage

Early Cocoanut Grove pioneers pictured taking their leisure in a wild fig tree, in a vast and virginal subtropical wilderness we can only try and imagine, today. And we really can’t.

AND then there are the pirates, so persistent in our collective memory because their romantic criminal legend somehow bespeaks freedom and partakes of the sea, and the combination is irresistible. (The eternal promise of their buried treasure, on land or left behind in broken ships, long settled to the sea’s floor, doesn’t hurt either):

Above and below: from the Captain Blood series, by the magnificent illustrator Dean Cornwell.

IT is easy to imagine maybe getting a little carried away in pursuit of a legend, especially when it is so local, and its promised end is literally an ancient, welcoming “drinking fountain,” that for millennia offered up by the salted Bay an unending flow of refreshing, sweet water. And maybe, still does even today.

 THE legend of the perfectly round well is made whole by its exquisite and primeval setting: sheltered under a cavernous stone ledge that is part of a fantastically textured, narrow ribbon of ancient stone rising up just by the bay’s tide. The rock “bluff” snaked along the bay’s shore as an impressive ribbon of ivory, unifying on the one hand the vast field of green hues of both subtropical jungle forest and ancient and open Everglade to the East, and the equally sensational deep blue and aqua tones of an expansive and impossibly clear bay stretching far as the eye could see, glinting golden in the sun, on the other.

 

Dreaming

When Magic Gets Personal.

THE allure of such adventure is undeniable, generally. But when the bay in question is named “Biscayne,” and the very area of the site has always, from earliest childhood, been an inseparable part of one’s personal history, an element of the personal is added to the pull of the siren’s song by which it is rendered wholly irresistible. I was a “goner.” Consider Kleinberg’s description of the site as below (1) Wainwright Park, and just above (2) Vizcaya (as numbered on the map, below), together with the relation of each to the place marked by the red dot (but actually a stab at a (3)): my one and only childhood home. We thought of and felt about the entire area figuratively, if not literally, as our “backyard.” If “home is where the heart is,” here is where at least part of ours most certainly was.

Wainwright Park. Vizcaya. If you tried, you could not name two places held more dear, more deeply personal, nor more part of the young lives of my siblings and myself, than either “bookend,” or for that matter the Bay shore connecting them. My earliest memory of the Park: a family picnic in the mid 60’s, when it was much more a magical wood and less a sanitized “City park.” I can still picture exactly in my mind’s eye the bay that day, as we sat upon a blanket by the seawall. Usually at least a little choppy, the surface that afternoon was so preternaturally smooth that the whole of it looked like a vast field of the most beautiful blue glass you can imagine.

Later, through all the phases and stages of my life, my connection with the Park remained deeply heartfelt. The very first place I went, when I dared (shakily) venture out unaccompanied into a world with Scott no longer alive in it, was here. I was moving purely on instinct. My heart needed to hear everything the forests and the bay waited in infinite patience  to remind me.

Wainwright

I have returned there to paint, many many times over the years:

Wainwright Park, III (Calm After the Storm). Done in the summer of 1992, in the week or so after Hurricane Andrew had made its visit.

Return to Wainwright, a happy painting captured on a couple of especially beautiful afternoons.

As to the other “endpoint” on this enchanted span, my entire family also shared a special connection with the magnificent Villa Vizcaya.

Vizcaya, Entry

Over the years, we enjoyed and appreciated the place together, and independently.

Sunday Afternoon, Vizcaya

FOR several years, my brothers and our friends and I enjoyed the occupancy of a most excellent tree-house immediately on the Bay, along the furthest bend of the mangrove wood lining the Southern edge of the property visible from the house. My brother Greg started calling it “the kingdom that nobody else wanted.”

I can show you very nearly its exact location, though the tree-house itself seems to have disappeared exactly  as mysteriously as it showed up in the first place. Below is The Bathers, a watercolor sketch done by the famed John Singer Sargent during his 1917 visit to the great home. From my time spent there, and the placement and perspective of the medium bridge in the distance, I know that the sketch was done on the very outer tip of the mangrove peninsula and that the swimmers are facing open bay. We swam in this very place, often.

 

Sargent Bathers POST

 See the first “indentation” in the tree line to the Left, just about middle of painting? Just there lay the medium white sandy shore that we called our private “beach,” with the tree-house just above. It was a blessed and most wondrous place, and an excellent time to be free.

Farm Courtyard, Villa Vizcaya

I only very recently learned of another family “connection” to the punch bowl site. A couple of days ago, as I’d finally begun to try and hammer into prose the chaos of words and images before me, I called my Dad and asked him whether he’d ever heard his father speak of the Devil’s Punch Bowl, down along the Bay between Vizcaya and Wainwright Park. He paused for a moment, and then said “Oh, you mean the Pirate’s Punch Bowl! Yeah, Daddy once told me that he and your grandmother used to visit the place for romantic trysts, back when they were young, in the 1920’s.”

Gr & Gr - Newlyweds

Howard Bruce and Annelise Petersen Crockett, newlyweds, 1920’s. They are remembered, and well-loved. May they rest in peace.

“It was apparently quite popular for that use, back then,” he told me.  “You know, a romantic kind of place.” “Wow!,” I said, “I can easily imagine,” picturing the sharing of an epic sunset over open Bay, or the magic of moon quietly ascending. “So, they never called it ‘the Devil’s Punch Bowl?,’” I asked.

“Naw,” he recalled, “Never.”  “Didn’t the homeowner mind all the comings and goings?” He laughed. “Paul, this was the early ‘20’s,” he said. “There weren’t any houses there. Just Vizcaya, and then there would’ve been Villa Serena, I guess. You know, the William Jennings Bryan place. Aside from that, it was pretty much jungle.”

“Ideal!,” I exclaimed. “Those would have been the days, all right.” “Hell,” he said, “even when I was a boy (which would have been in the late 30’s, early ‘40’s) there was an open sea wall or path that you could just walk along, I mean with no kind of obstacles or obstruction, all the way down to Vizcaya. And there, there were these guards. Well, they weren’t really guards, back in those days. Two guys, more like caretakers. They’d generally just sit there. Course, they looked tough enough to us, being just kids,” he said. “And if they saw us walking around, they’d make a commotion and loud hubbub, and threaten us with jail, and so forth.”

“Some things never change,” I observed.

To: Part 3

 

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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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We Love Our Mothers…

My Mom

Because they choose the hardest and most blessed of paths
They choose us

 

Because they give up so very much, in so many ways, to set upon that path,
Yet see our births much more as sunrises than any kind of sunsets
And continue to do so,
In bold defiance of all reason

Because many have struggled with the great questions of
“Who am I to be somebody’s Mom,”

or
“Is it mine?”

and yet forever lay those huge battles to rest
upon first holding warm human flesh to their breasts
that is of their blood,
crying out with hunger

And, the diapers need changing


Because they love our fathers
And none need it more

Or at least give it their very best shot
And no more can be asked


Because they are the most gentle
yet by far the strongest people from whom we learn



Because they keep the hounds at bay
During those God-awful days when we first bring back home
our band instruments
From junior high school,
Sometimes bigger than ourselves

And they hear the promise of sweet music
when others can hear only blaring assault
an unimaginable instrumental “raspberry”

They hear the promise of music most noble,
And we imagine them saying,

“Just you wait…,”


not stopping to give a damn
(at least as far as we can see)

how the deaf clanging world
sated with its own cacophony
might presume to pass judgment
on our future potential



Because the lessons they teach us are without number
And from the heart

(I think I shall always remember the tenderness
of being tucked in at bedtime
and saying my prayers:

Thank you for the world so sweet,
And thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,

And Thank you, God,
For everything
)

Because they teach us that Earth is our home,
And one another our people,
Yet remind us in their being of something much Greater
And more celestial

Because long, long before anyone else
even seems to have a clue,
They see that it is our differences
Our quirks
That make us special
And so we cannot lose.


Because it is part of their mission
To show us poetry in motion
Real life in its unfolding


Because love opens all doors,
And only those who have stepped through that portal
Can meaningfully invite us to step on through

 

 



Because they hurt when we hurt,
And are there whenever humanly possible to dry our tears

 

Because they are doing the very best they can
Day to night and night to day
Working quiet miracles

Because quite possibly more than anyone else, ever,
They want to see us succeed
And will be the last ones
(Almost always)
To sell us short
In a world that seems Hell bent on doing just that


Because we see ourselves reflected in their eyes
And sometimes must stop and feel “Wow”!
For there we see, and are reminded, that
we are all of us brought into this world
As somebody’s greatest dream

 



Because they die a million deaths in fear for our foolishnesses,
While we are infants in our cribs and teenagers and commuters
and sometimes parents ourselves


And pray with all their hearts
That it not be given them to see the sun set upon our lives
While they still cast shadows upon the ground

 


Because not only would our lives not be without them,
We cannot imagine really living without them

Because they love us
as the sun gives light
Without reason, condition, or limit

 


Because they listen to even the silly, stupid things with an open heart,
The things that are maybe most ours,
And never laugh or turn cold

 

Because it is often not easy for them to pull it all off,
Day after day.

It cannot be

But in their hearts we become their reason
And we are all of us blessed


Because they can drive us crazy sometimes
In ways that we somehow know

We will miss terribly some day

 

 

Because they are each and every one,
One of a kind,
And absolutely 100% irreplaceable
In the heart of our hearts

 


And we wouldn’t
Couldn’t
Have it any other way

And yet deep in our hearts

(though we cannot bear the idea)
cannot
must not forget
that will have them with us only yet
for a while

 


Because they have taught us that Love Never Dies
And no union so close to the quickening very heart of being
So much of God made, so uniquely and especially blessed
Can ever be severed
(What has always been, can never end, you know)


Because we know that they will be among the first to greet us
Upon crossing Heaven’s threshold of light most golden
At last
And so, OK, Heaven must be all right,
It couldn’t really be Heaven without them


Because the greatest miracle of all
Is knowing in your heart
That you are somebody’s greatest miracle



For all these reasons and so very many more
Though in truth we need no reason at all
We love our mothers.

And so I say, from the heart,
Thank you!,
To all the mothers in my life
So precious to me

And

I love you, Mom

More than words could ever hold

I feel that my heart, from here to eternity,
And throughout whatever seasons may then come
may cry out always first “Mommy!”

With gladness
And with gratitude

Because you have given me,
Given unto all of us,

The greatest and by far most fine
Gift of all
(Really, the only one that matters):

Yourself.

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My Latest Work-in-Progress

 

HERE is the explosion of color that seems to have burst forth as of my first sitting, which was the evening of April 18:

I’m not the type that generally categorizes my life with reference to dates on a calendar (simple translation: I’m too dizzy to know what friggin’ day it is!), but this one I definitely recall.  It happened to be the Monday on which the IRS’s orgiastic national celebration of maximum stress, otherwise known as “tax time,” fell this year. I suppose that was part of the reason I needed to paint.

I just looked up this useful word in Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, ca·thar·sis noun \kə-ˈthär-səs\ , and found these definitions:

a: purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art

b : a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension

Works for me.

I, along with generations of others who have had the good fortune to come to know the more beautiful aspects of this particular slice of Earth, have a major “thing” going on with Bear Cut. I feel deeply rooted here because I love the land and sea, and a large part of that devotion has to do with the few remaining traces of its glorious natural beauty.

It’s not like a conscious process; far from it.  Then again, it is rarely given us to know why we love the things that we do.  But as I break it down, it occurs to me that one’s relationship to home, or more generally place, is not unlike that to a lover.  We are all of us flawed, often grievously so.  Yet that is only part of the story, and I suspect (for that matter) the smaller part.  Have we not all dearly earned whatever scars we might bear, gained in the course of fighting our personal battles?  Without them, who would we be?  And how could we possibly then know what it means to be Human?

Just as no kindness shown in an hour of need is ever forgotten, no matter how small, the portals of our perception of another can be flung wide open, and forever changed, when he or she becomes real to us.

Once we have caught even the most passing glimpse of the true majesty and resilience of another heart, and been thus transformed, or felt (even as we stumbled blindly in the dark) the soothing reassurance of a guiding touch we would never have dared even pray for, yet needed so much, we cannot quite ever really forget.  Come what may, we have seen the other’s “sweet side,” and nothing thereafter can really be exactly the same.

 

It is my nature to probe, to try and understand. Yet when it comes to the grand mystery of Love, I am certain that it is sufficient simply to know that we do. That inquiry is not always clear, or simple, but may nevertheless remain the only one ever really always worth pursuing.  To whom and to what am I giving my love? is the kind of rare question that even in the asking opens every door, and offers the promise of a foundation for all else to come.

And it is a living question, in the sense that it cannot be fully answered just once. We must keep paying attention to what we are loving, remembering that actions speak louder than words, and that the hours add up to days, and the ways we spend our time in the end becomes our life.

My first painting done on site.  Bear Cut, Storm Approaching. 1990

And an inquiry indeed it is, for our souls follow no rules of custom, tradition, or convenience.  We long for peace, yet nothing lasts, and impermanence seems the only guiding principle we can bank upon.  (A singular certainty, perhaps, yet it’s difficult to imagine one offering less comfort.) The whole situation can seem enough to drive one crazy, I know.  But only by keeping honest tabs on our own hearts might we begin to glean even the faintest idea of the direction in which our life’s path might be leading us, in the longer view and in every single passing moment.  Because it is more in the moments than in the “broad strokes” that our personal maps are being charted out, revised, and re-envisioned.

And there is never any going back, not really.  Not ever.  To me, that simplifies matters.  This wave laps against the shore this way, and the next another, but they all head toward the shore.  It’s not like we need leave anything behind that we have loved or dearly treasured; we just cannot stay there. To even try is to undertake dwelling in fragile illusion, which feels good only until the walls come crashing down, and the howling winds come.

 

(Image borrowed with thanks from the University of Miami Digital Archives, Special Collections, http://merrick.library.miami.edu/specialCollections/asm0410/

“Bear Cut, between Keys Biscayne and Virginia” reads the caption on the photo above, circa 1880’s, written in the hand of pioneer and photographer Kirk Munroe.  The view, at least on the Bear Cut side, remains largely unchanged. In Miami, that is a truly rare and special thing.

Who really knows why, but when I close my eyes for a second, take a quick moment and think of the word “Miami,” the first images that flash through my mind are blues and greens, nearly infinite in hue: of Villa Vizcaya and its surrounding forests, the island kingdom of Key Biscayne, the grand sweeping bay, the palms and gumbo limbo. That’s my story, I suppose, and I’m sticking to it. Bear Cut and its environs are very near the center of my heart.

Bear Cut

I’d like to share with you a simple moment of video taken there, as the swelling tide rushed in at the end of the day I’d begun Bear Cut Breeze, below.  I was on a roll and had put in probably an hour more than I should have.  I stopped to put the brushes away only when I noticed some of my tubes of paint floating here and there on the suddenly churning surface.

(You might want to adjust the volume a bit; I’m not sure.  It seemed loud on my computer, but I gave up trying to edit after putting in another couple of hours trying to figure that one out.)

The occasional inconvenient high tide aside, the place is of a most welcoming spirit and has always been there for me, spectacularly so, in good times and worse. There’s no setting like it for the forging of friendships, or relationships yet tender. (On our first day spent together Scott called me “Nature Boy” after I swam him out to one of the beautiful outpost mangroves in the Bay, where we sat and talked and laughed. Years later I explored the great blue realm with Alan, and first saw the qualities of innocence and sweetness shyly emerge there, from their careful hiding place within his heart.)


Alan Bear Cut POST

And neither has the ancient spirit of the place ever deserted me during the rough seasons. Without fail she has extended her graceful embrace, even at times when I’d lost sight of what grace might even look like. During the most trying times, when the very ground beneath my feet has threatened to melt into nothingness, robbing me of my balance and leaving me queasy, she has whispered, simply and without hesitation, “Just you come here, Honey, and stand upon me.” She knew, when I’d forgotten, that the sun would once again finally shine, and that until that fine day and beyond, I remained worthy of that place in the sun.

She has been so very, very kind to me, yet never once ever asked for anything in return.

approaching-storm2

At its heart, Bear Cut is an inherently magical place; a spirit of mystery abides there. The magic seems to gather at first here and there: in the tangled roots below and on up to the delicate framework of branches supporting the verdant canopy of emerald and living jade above. It then clusters and multiplies, until quite shortly it is everywhere.

The way the magic comes, is like the darkness as each passing span of glorious light yields at last to lengthening shadow, and finally full night, with the consolation of starlight, or silvered moon above. When you’re there, you can’t help but feel it.

Bear Cut BreezeBear Cut Breeze ___P. Crockett

Now, it may indeed be true that the fabled realms of Oz and Asgard lie just on the far side of the nearest great rainbow, but I prefer Bear Cut because it sits just on the other side of the third bridge to Key Biscayne. I know where that is, can place it on a Google map, and take others there with me, to discover with and enjoy together. Besides, I have no reason to believe that I’d love the other realms as well as I do the site of my own greatest fables.

Every time I go and get my toes in the sand and surf there, I start to feel better right away. Life seems different, suddenly, and a completely different perspective is gently birthed. It’s as if a great window’s suddenly opened, wide.


Time seems to pass slowly there, quite indifferent to the clock, and with a sweetness that will break your heart and fix it right back up again. It is impossible to describe; perhaps even the idea of the open waters and the ancient happy mangroves leaves me a little giddy.

And I do tend to go on…but since the annotations never have been the real point of this whole exercise, anyway, I will at last draw my ramblings to a close, for now.

Wishing you and yours all blessings, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining my safari quest into the Great Unknown!

Bear Cut Study ____ P. Crockett

See you later–

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