Tuesday, January 24, 2006

On Scrub Jay Trail

We had the day off, since the rocket launch had been scrubbed. So we spent the afternoon outside.

There were no manatees to be seen from the observation deck along the canal. Perhaps it was because the sun was getting low and the manatees had sought out warmer places. Perhaps it was the murkiness of the water. Perhaps it was the rising tide that made the canal flow backwards. Whatever it was, the manatees weren't there, so we didn't stay long either.

Just off Route 3 and then down Bio Lab road, we turned left down a two-rut road, two long lines of white coastal sand that ran thru the scattered Palm and Scrub Oaks and the scattered stands of Pine. At the end of the road there was a gravel parking lot and a trail head. This was Scrub Jay Trail.

We got out of the car and started down the path, walking single file. There was a sweet smell in the air that made us breathe deeply and smile. Periodically there was unseen scurrying in the underbrush. And as the sun sunk lower, its golden light dazzled from between the trunks of distant trees.

The path wound around, gradually looping left toward the open water of Mosquito Lagoon. Here and there we encountered yet narrower paths leading down to the water, paths where you would have to duck your head, paths where you could not quite see where your next footsteps would take you.

Shall we take this path? I asked.

It was a chilly day, and with the sun barely shining thru the undergrowth, the warmth of the day was gone. Certainly no alligators would be about now, with the sun so low and the air so cold. What harm could there be in going down to the water's edge? I took two steps down the path and then stopped and thought about it a little more. Then I turned back, leaving it to whatever intrepid souls had forged that path in the first place.

Across the lagoon, last light illuminated the tops of the tallest palms and pines. Their brown trunks and olive green fronds and needles were capped with a golden glow. As we walked further and the sun sunk lower, the glow diminished until at last it was gone and the day began to fade to dusk.

There was silence all around us, except for the sound of Ben lagging behind us humming a tune and whacking at the marsh grass with a stick he had taken a liking to -- a stick he would later pack with loving care into the bottom of his suitcase for the flight back to Texas. He would lag farther and farther behind until we were just about to disappear around a turn, and then he'd jog to catch up with us, thumping loudly in his hiking shoes, bringing the racket of his grass-whacking with him. Yes, there was silence all around us.

With the setting of the sun and the passing of its lingering light, it was time to leave. Before long, the path led us back to where we started. We stomped our feet to get rid of the sand from our shoes, and we drove back down that two-rut road, back out to civilization, and back to our motel in Cocoa Beach, where we would walk some more on the beach and then collapse into bed, hoping that the rocket would launch successfully tomorrow.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

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