Something magical happens as soon as you get to Florida City. The United States of America ceases to exist. It is where, at the first gas station, it is a common ritual to crack a beer and head towards the Overseas Highway with a Keys state of mind. You are now entering the Conch Republic. Mind you, I don’t condone drinking and driving. But this is different. This is a rite of passage.
If ever there was a place to let the world slip away it is the Keys. You only need a few bathing suits, some shorts and tees and maybe a little sundress or wrap. In fact clothing is optional all together in many places. Where I just spent three days, it was.
The “Rugby” camp is located on the ocean. In the Keys you have two options, be on the ocean or be on the gulf of Mexico. Since I had never been to the “camp”, I assumed we were staying on the ocean side. I was surprised to find that the camp is literally on the ocean with the deck hanging over and into the ocean. We are abutted directly against a small sea wall. It’s the closest thing to being on a boat while still being on dry land. Waking every morning on the ocean is intoxicating. Watching the sun crack through the horizon is a sanctifying experience. A comforting solitude. A great heron greets me and my coffee. Water is all around you from every angle except for a small point of land stretching out a few hundred yards. It’s more of a jetty than anything else and just slightly breaches the vast turquoise briny sea all around you.
There is no one at the camp now. The entire place is deserted and so we had the whole place to ourselves. It’s a great place to come to get centered with who you are and to let your mind wander free. My cohort on this excursion is an ex pro Rugby player from New Zealand and I recently found out a pretty darn good photographer. Although he wasn’t interested in taking photos of the natural surroundings like I was, he prefered to do a partially nude photo shoot of me with the ocean and coral scree as a backdrop. I must say they are the best and most aesthetically pleasing shots I’ve done to date. I’d place them here on my blog because they really are so beautiful and so artistically done but I think it may come as a shock to many of my readers. He captured something in me I haven’t seen in quite some time. Au naturelle in Islamorada. He wants to submit them to Conde’ Nast. I’ll have to think about that. For now, they’re safely tucked away on my hard drive.
For three days we lived on cracked conch, fresh fish and “dark and stormies“. We visited some museums but I was most impressed by a full sized model of Ernest Hemingway’s boat, Pilar. I could visualize him, motoring in the back bay catching snook or mangrove snapper, or to and from Cuba smoking his pipe and plotting his next great novel. I felt the wood, the decking and all along the transom. It seemed to vibrate back to me the words and images so that for a second or two, maybe I could tap into it; tap into Papa directly. Even though the real Pilar is in Cuba, I still picked up his essence and imagined even more vividly his adventurous and colorful life. I strive to live life just as he did. There’s always an adventure waiting.
Islands in the Stream was part of a trilogy, the last being The Old Man and the Sea, and was published post-humously. In the novel there were to be three parts, “The sea when young“, “The sea when absent” and the “the sea in being“. Somehow they are indicative of me as I’ve grown through the many changes in my own life. I feel now I am the sea in being. A knowing, a constant flowing. Vast and fertile. To place my dreams within this vessel and to know that they teem with life.