I have always admired those special individuals in my life who have a connection with nature unlike any other. Some are able to decipher nature’s subtle hints and almost predict what I’m about to experience. Others, like a new friend I just recently met, simply have a spiritual connection with nature whose words speak softly of its gentleness, beauty, and wonder. Inspired by recent conversations with my friends, I set out to return to my kayaking adventures; something I had not done since my change in profession.
It is mid afternoon when I begin my journey. My travels lead me to a small lagoon not far from home; a place I had visited once before the hurricanes of 2005 ripped through Palm Beach. A year later and most of it appears the same as I had left it. As I sit on my kayak and begin to paddle, an old feeling inside of me resurfaces. I had forgotten how therapeutic it felt to have the sea hold me in her arms and glide me, as if on a magic carpet ride, to locations unknown. Nature’s welcoming delegate, a bright silver mullet, breaks the surface of the water in a mighty splash just a couple feet in front of my kayak. Nature always knows how to bring a smile to my face.
The tide had reached the end of her ebb flow, and was beginning to refill the lagoon I was exploring. Some areas were still too shallow for even my kayak to travel upon, so I set afoot in ankle deep water to continue my journey. Creatures that had earlier fled the drying tide pools by burying themselves were resurfacing once again. A Caribbean Vase, with its armory spiked shell in shades of white and brown, is a feast for the eyes to see. Surely this beautiful shell would be a treasured piece in any shell collectors hands, but with the animal still living inside I had no intention of destroying such an amazing creation for my own greed.
Here was a subject who would pose very little challenge to my photographic skills as it slowly crawled along the sand, and so with much deliberation I took pleasure in photographing its beauty and that of its surroundings. All the while I could hear the explosive sounds of water boiling with the activity of mullets busily preying on smaller bait, or themselves being preyed upon.
A solitary red mangrove stands in the center of this shallow lagoon braced by its stilt-like roots. Upon my approach, tiny fish flee in all direction from what might appear to them as the pounding steps of a giant. I can feel the powdery sand as it sifts between my toes; the feeling tickling the ends of my feet. Above me water birds soar. My attention is captured by the sparkling brilliance of a jewel-like object in the water. I reach down to retrieve it and find it to be half of an oyster shell. Glimmering in a silvery pearl on one side and as rough as the weathered cliff side of a mountain on the other, I sit staring at it. Its surface reads like a book. Fighting the ebb and flow of the tides and the sun, its coloration wears on the outside. Minuscule, canyon-like gouges tell the story of numerous failed attacks by predators. And now lifeless, but still splendid in color, it is home to juvenile barnacles. No space in nature is ever wasted.
As I make my way back to the kayak, anchored at the edge of the shallows, some movement catches my attention. The density of the water slows my every hurried step as though I am dragging a ball and chain. With my camera in hand, I am dazzled by what my eyes feast upon. A pair of Horseshoe Crabs travel in formation; the smaller one hitching a ride on the back of the larger. But this is no game of follow the leader. These prehistoric creatures are continuing the gene pool; they are mating.
I watch them for a few minutes, contemplating their next move. I set my exposure and dip my camera in front of them in order to capture the moment. Unconcerned with my presence they march in my direction as I move out of their way. My last visit to this wondrous lagoon was the sight of numerous tiny horseshoe crabs plowing through the sandy bottom like miniature bulldozers. It goes without doubt that this scene is likely to reproduce itself in the days to come. I kneel before them in jubilation observing their every move, and admiring the photo I had just captured.
From a distance I could see children playing in the tide pools. Their laughter carried by the wind; a welcoming addition to the sounds of nature. As the water deepens, I once again sit atop of my kayak and paddle around the lagoon. Below me the light-colored soft sand gives way to masses of marine algae seasoned with the vibrant, neon green color of green feather alga and the resplendent orange fluorescence of fire sponges. A loud snapping sound, similar to that of a child singing Pop goes the weasel, replays over and over again within the hidden confines of the strangling mangrove roots. As I search for its source, the brilliant crimson red coloration of a crab’s claws and feet catch my eye within this intertwined maze. The source of the sound remains unknown. This sound is likely to be the influx of water on the muddy sediment trapped within the red mangrove’s roots, but this is uncertain.
Below me the turtle grass sways in the direction of the rushing tide like trees giving way to the forces of a hurricane. Unlike most of the mangrove roots in Miami, where I used to kayak, I notice that the ones here are encrusted with oysters and barnacles instead of sponges and tunicates. At a distance I notice a subtle difference in the pattern of the ocean surface. Without a doubt I know what I’ll find below, and upon reaching the destination I am rewarded with confirmation – a school of mullet! I smile in wonder as to whether I might be inheriting some of those special powers to foretell the future like my friends.
My journey continues along the edge of the mangrove forest. I notice a dark-colored mangrove crab circling around the backside of a mangrove root, like a child hiding behind a tree, as my kayak slowly glides beside it. The sun’s light show reflects on the lushes green canvas of the mangrove’s leaves. The stillness of this secret world is gently rocked, like a mother’s arms, by a light easterly wind. All around the sun’s energy gives life to this glorious place as though it has nothing else to do. Paddle too fast and you miss it.
Nature has granted us the greatest gift of all – an enlightened look at the magic of life.
As I turn the corner I am greeted by a cool misty ocean breeze. My sun beaten skin delighted by its invigorating gift. Above me a Kingfisher’s wings embraces the sky as it makes its way across the lagoon. Captured in the moment I seize to paddle, and simply allow the current to carry me away across this peaceful and magical place. When suddenly, just four feet in front of me, an image slowly reveals itself. My eyes crinkle as my smile grows. My heart races, my senses heighten, and my vision locks on this creature just below the ocean surface. Dressed in a dark gray suit with symmetrical white spots, an Eagle Ray, no larger than a newborn child, soars like a bird in flight across the shallow sandy bottom. The graceful movement of its wing tips teasing the edge of the ocean surface. I sit in awe engulfed in this special moment. Few sights are as beautiful and graceful as that of an Eagle Ray in ocean flight.
Quietly I follow it in hopes that it will allow me to capture its image. Like a merry-go-round, we circle over and over again; never close enough for a photograph before finally heading to deeper water. With one final beat of its wings it glides momentarily across the glazed surface of the lagoon before once again descending into the deep dark secrets of the sea.
As I slowly paddle back to shore I find myself caught in the moment. The wondrous energy of this natural place superseding any other thought in my mind. I smile remembering how wonderful it feels to be out here. Upon those last few strokes of the paddle I am reminded of my friends and how, like me, nature has granted us the greatest gift of all — an enlightened look at the magic of life.