I have long said that I want to go “everywhere.” I know how I made this decision. Part of it was because of my parents’ National Geographic subscription. Every month for as long as I can remember we would get a new issue with beautiful full-color photographs of the world and, once I got old enough to read, fascinating descriptions of the places and the people who lived there.
The other part was my parents’ landlords. When they were first married, and prior to having had me, my parents rented an upstairs apartment in a couple’s house. We would visit them every New Year’s Day and every year they would have photographs of the places that they had traveled. Far from being bored, though, I loved it. The wife was a musician and she would buy a small hand-held instrument at most of their destinations. They were on windowsills and bookcases and on top of the television. And every year I would think, “I’m going to go there someday.”
Unfortunately it took me until I was 11 to actually start checking places off of that list. This is because for most of my childhood, travel meant driving from Chicago to Florida to visit my mom’s family. We would stop at some destinations on the way, but most of the time was spent at my cousins’ house doing basically the same things I did at home, only with cousins. We’d go to the supermarket and cook dinner at home, and visit my mom’s old high school friends, and sit around and watch television.
One thing that was differentiated home from the cousins’, though, was that my cousins’ house was just a block away from the Intracoastal Waterway. My cousin’s son is only a year younger than I am and we would go down and watch the fiddler crabs and the boats. This was in the 1970s, which was when the manatees were really in decline; my mom would tell me about seeing them when she was in high school and lived in that area, though. The area of the Intracoastal Waterway that my cousins lived near had lots of mangrove plants when I was little. I didn’t even realize that people lived on the other side of the mangroves until I was much older.
My last visit to the Waterway was after my mom’s funeral. My dad and son and I walked down there. The mangroves were long gone and much of the land where my cousin and I used to watch the crabs had been paved over. It was so different from how it had looked in my childhood and yet it still felt a bit like “home.” Suddenly, my son, who was a kindergartener, said, “What’s that?” and pointed out into the water. It took my dad and me a while to see what he was seeing. It was a small pod of dolphins. Probably there were two or three of them, it was hard to see at that distance. And, of course, this was before everyone had a camera on their person at all times, so no one got a chance to photograph them. Even if we had tried, it is likely that they would have been just a little blip on the surface of the water, since they were about 600 feet (just shy of 200 meters) away by my calculations. I’ll never forget it, though.
(originally posted April 25, 2015)