Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Catar Pulgas Num Leão"

I stand in the water on feet of clay. Walking alone across Alligator Alley one night, I was listening for alligators, hissing, dragging, maybe that deep rumbling roar. I didn`t expect to meet anyone.

Hell I can`t see my feet. The same cars lighting my way are also blinding me and hiding all the small sounds. With bare feet and empty pockets, I keep walking, not because I have a destination, I`m just scared to stop. The grass is almost to my knees. So it`s a good thing I have no luggage. Unless I get a ride I`ll be walking all night. The cars are going by fast and way too often for me to walk on the road. I`m walking as fast as I dare, so nothing will crawl up my leg. I`ve walked in the swamp before, it sucks (yer shoes off) and that`s in the daylight. I see someone coming the other way, featureless black, back-lit again and again by the cars, and now from one behind me, I can almost see a face.

We sat in the grass facing each other close enough to hear, far enough away to watch behind each other carefully. "I`ve walked this way before," he said. "It wasn`t far from here that I heard the water. I followed a mostly overgrown dirt road to pool of water with an oil well Christmas-tree out in the middle of it." It looked impossibly old. Water poured from the numerous large cracks. Unlike the somewhat fragrant swamp water, the water flowing from the pool was fresh, clean looking. He claimed the surrounding vegetation was smallish but healthy looking. On a whim he took off his glasses and washed his face in the pool. He said it felt so good he decided to have a drink.

As I sat there in the tall grass talking to a shadow, I thought, "Enjoy it, this is probably the only rest you`ll get tonight." Despite my many questions, I listened quietly as he continued,"I went down in the Keys and got a job cleaning fish at a bait store and began work on a sail boat built with no numbers." Yeah, I let that slide too, interesting yarn is way better than no yarn at all, and at least he wasn`t smelly (today). He told me the job wasn`t great but he enjoyed fooling around with the boat. He said after a while he wasn`t needing his glasses as much, and was generally feeling better than he had in years.

Even with someone watching my back, I was uneasy sitting in tall grass in the dark this close to the swamp. We`d lucked out some though. The breeze was strong enough to keep the skeeters from clouding around us. He mentioned Ponce DeLeon, and how cold and clean the water had been. He said, "During the Ice Age all of North America was covered with ice thousands of feet deep. The moving ice generated pressure and heat enough to keep some of the water at the surface liquid, and under enough pressure to drive that same water deep into the ground. Some of this water had been frozen for millions of years, its biological clock slowed or stopped, and then sequestered deep in the earth till geologic forces or in this case oil exploration brought it back to the surface."

Cool, we`d been sitting there quite for a while when he pointed at the silhouette of the cement plant not too far back the way he`d come."There`s a bucket with some canned food and an opener next to a post about hundred feet out a dirt road just this side-o the main entrance and you`re welcome to it," he said. I wasn`t really hungry, but I thanked him anyway. I was craving my own company so I got up to head on. "Yeah," he said, "I`m done with tha Keys; you stop by the bait store an tell 'em I sent ya. It ain't much of a boat but you`re welcome to it too," he added, and we went our separate ways.

It was a good ways to the cement plant, and, I gotta say I was pretty curious to see if the food was really there. Twenty minutes walking up and down the dirt roads on either side of the plant revealed no cans or bucket. Not too surprising, still it was a good story and the night`s walk was stretching out pretty long ahead of me. What tha hey, I struck out, watching the grass and listening for falling water (among other things). I walked all night, but I never saw a gator nor did I hear any falling water. It was a couple of days before I got down to the Keys. Nobody at the bait store he mentioned seemed to have heard of him.