What a mistake. When I write that “Something’s wrong with this picture,” it’s that I stopped to take it at all. I thought the manatees would hang around for a good while, but they didn’t. I lost most of that precious moment to taking a picture so I could show other people what happened to me. But, it didn’t happen to me fully — and that was my fault.
Just another reminder how most of us lose the wonder of the moment because we usually focus on something else. Instead of thinking of what is going on right here and right now, we’re thinking of the future or the past. About things that might not happen or things we can’t change. We forget that the moment we are living is spectacular and fleeting.
It’s hard to remember that when you are facing some of the hardships that exist today, but seriously, you don’t get a do-over with any of your time. If you are living and breathing, it is up to you to make sure you are finding joy in the experience.
The manatees didn’t come back, but I didn’t miss another gift of that gorgeous day. We paddled the first mile into the national wildlife refuge and were continually annoyed by the antics of two airboaters who seemed intent on polluting everyone’s solitude with noise. My friend Vicki spotted a creek that veered to the left and we headed that way in hopes of finding some solitude. Did we ever. We paddled up what we would later learn is called “Butt Crack Creek,” a silent wilderness that was both stunning and intimidating. I’m game for just about anything, but this was a narrow creek where we could see the matted down areas on the banks where alligaters had been a few hours (or minutes?) earlier. At one point, the creek narrowed and the water’s surface clouded with an unfamiliar, foamy substance. It looked like we were going straight into the angriest part of the Everglades, where we’d be consumed by hungry alligators or bit by poisonous snakes. The others wanted to turn back, but I kept paddling, certain that weirdness in the water would open up into something really good, which it did about five minutes later.
As I kept paddling further into the wilderness, one of my cohorts kept insisting it was time we turn around. I ignored her, certain we were heading somewhere, where we’d find something that made it all worthwhile. Finally, the creek ended at a lush, tropical spring with deep, crystal-clear water. Our reward for braving the uncertain twists and turns of that creek was a secret piece of paradise where we could frolic like kids.
Afterwards, we paddled out to the main river and the airboat jerks were gone. It was peaceful and pristine and we headed to another spring where we free-dove to a limestone tunnel eight feet below the surface. We went down one side, swam through the tunnel, then out the other side. My first fear was that I’d get stuck in the tunnel and drown, but once I broke the surface on the other side, I felt exhilarated. The summer sun hit my face, and I was alive. What a great moment to breathe in.