Life offers amazing moments. Like when the most wonderful in-laws in the world invite you to a week-long vacation at Miramar Beach. And it happens to be right after the longest work marathon of the year. Perfect timing.
So a sunny hot Saturday finds James and me cruising south to the Panhandle to join mama and papa DaSilva. We stock the kitchen with our favorite foods, sleep in, read books, explore the seaside shops, and spend every day soaking up the sun on the lovely sugar-sand beach, playing a bit of soccer, goggling at schools of fish, swimming in the ocean and pretending like we’re in Jaws till we can’t take it anymore. It doesn’t help when James finds the Jaws soundtrack on Beats. Of course, I make sure I am coated with SPF 60 and shaded under an umbrella, so that the only impact the blazing star has upon me are some Irish freckles.
Then in the middle of the week James and I decide that we want to experience the Wilderness.
The parking lot of the Florida Natural Reserve simmers in the sun. We get out of the car in our shorts and tank tops, already sweating. We bring along our beach bag full of books, journals, sunglasses, sunscreen, swimsuits, swim covers, flip flops, etc. etc. Because we are idealists and really think we’re going to need all of it. James, of course, shoulders the load. Poor guy.
We trudge along down the road. The sun beats down. My skin starts to burn. Sweat breaks on our foreheads. James picks up a long stick and balances our beach bag on it. He looks like a wayfarer.
The forest has nice paved roads through the jungle, but that’s too tame for me. I turn onto the first unpaved path I see.
“Camille, I don’t think this is an official trail.”
“I know. That’s the point. It’s an adventure!”
I observe my surroundings. This is no forest. This is a swamp. I feel like I’m in a Graham Greene novel. Or maybe this is the forest from the Heart of Darkness. It rises up on both sides of the path, steamy, melting together into one green mass. I imagine snakes slithering in the leaves. An alligator in that tuft of grass. A scorpion falling from that tree branch. What animals grow in a Florida jungle?
“Honey, I don’t think this is safe. I think we need to go back.”
“I want to experience nature!”
We walk on a few more steps. The ground is sandy beneath us, seeping into my nice, comfortable leather sandals with extra high arches. My skin is baking. I look at my arm. The freckles are coated in a rich pink color.
“Hand me the sunscreen! Quick! I’m burning!”
We fish in the beach bag for the sunscreen. I spray it on myself and rub it in. “You want any?” I ask James.
“Nah, I don’t get sunburned that bad.”
Lucky Mr. Brazilian. Here I am, fair Irish maid, getting scorched alive.
I walk faster. It is so hot. Is this trail ever going to end? Are we heading closer to the beach? or just deeper into the forest? I look down at the trail.
The sand is pitted with fire ant holes! I step gingerly to avoid them, watching the ground. Ahh, for the cool shaded paths of Tennessee woodlands!
I am covered. Head to toe. Gummy in my hair, on my arms, my fingers sticky together.
“JAMES!! JAMES!! There’s a spider web!!!”
Visions of the webs in my parents’ back yard flash through my mind. The white web with the gluttonous evil spider crouching there, waiting for the Kill.
“IS THERE A SPIDER ON ME?!!!”
James brushes me off. “You’re fine honey. It wasn’t that big. There isn’t a spider.”
“Let’s go back to the main road. You know what? I don’t like natural forests where sand is the foundation. I like dirt.”
James laughs at me. He thinks I’m cute. “You experienced enough of nature, huh? Here, I’ll walk in front.”
We start back. I use James as a human shield.
“You know what?” I say.
“I am a city girl.”