Thursday, October 14, 2010

8 Days in Florida

Sept 11
It was off season in the land of retirement. The land where tendency and desire roam free and obligation and duty take a back seat. The three hour difference from California to Florida helped me get down to the beach early this morning. There I saw a small commotion taking place at the mouth of Clam Pass. On a spit of sand in the current that was rapidly emptying the water of Clam Lagoon were three figures - a older woman in a beach chair, an older man (apparently her husband) and very large pile of brownish green flesh.
"Your going to hurt your back!" the woman yelled at the man who was toiling at the flesh pile. Harry continued to toil, I decided to investigate.
"Harrrry, leave that alone - the beach people will take care of it." she yelled again as I approached Harry and what I now recognized as a manatee the size off a compact car. It was stuck in the sand just about four feet from the edge of the bar where Clam Pass empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
" I think if I can make a trench in front of her she will slide into the deeper water" Harry said to me as I began to dig.
"Is it dead " I asked.
"Oh no. She just got stuck about thirty minutes ago." said Harry going around and lifting the beast's enormous head out of the water. As it cleared the surface I could see two slits flare open into oval shaped nostrils as the manatee sucked in a huge gulp of air before Harry gently lowered it's head back into the rushing water. We both dug around the edges of the animal and then tried to lift it. No go.
"Harrrrry, Stop that! you're going to hurt yourself." called the woman from the beach chair.
We dug some more and then tried again to lift the animal. I could not believe how passive this thing was. We were busily digging all around it, occasionally trying to budge it toward the open water. Now and then we splashed water on its back and lifted its head out of the water so it could grab some air. And, it just lay there; this enormous "wild", animal, just lay there like huge pile of very dense jello.
"Harrrry. Come back here. I'm calling the police.!" screamed the woman as she tucked a cell phone to her ear under a monstrous beach hat.
The sun climbed in the morning sky and we were getting nowhere. There is something about digging that evaporates my enthusiasm for a project no matter how important it seems to be. This was turning out to be very hard work. I began to think about the delicate state of my own back. The Florida sun was getting hotter and the edge of the bar further away as the tide continued out. I was feeling jet lagged and was hoping the "beach people" or the police might show up soon.
"Harrrrrry. Leave that thing alone. The police will take care of it", the beach chair screeched yet again.
That was it! I shouted over my shoulder, "Give the guy a break - It's the most meaningful thing he'll do all day!" We kept digging. You'll notice I did not include myself in that statement because my "To Do List" for the day read like this:

1. Go to beach.
2. Save manatee.
3. Buy decent coffee.
4. Take nap.
5. Buy decent beer.

We dug and lifted and dug and lifted and got nowhere. But then the " beach people" did show up. They were a couple of under-employed man children in bright red shorts who ordinarily put out the umbrellas and beach chairs. Like union workers who carefully avoid extending the limits of their jobs they stood a safe distance and filled us in on the pithy details of what was happening.
"Yup, it's a manatee. Those things are heavy, and, This has happened before."
Oh, thanks a bunch.
I tried wedging myself under tail end and pushing with my feet so that the current would run under the animal instead of pressing it down. It's what I do when confronted with an impossible task - I theorize. It never works and makes me look ineffective, but at least it keeps me there. Of course, what Harry was doing wasn't working either but, he was still there too and in the end that was what worked.
Eventually a couple came over and the wife took on the job of splashing water on the manatees back and the husband helped us dig. Then there were four of us buzzing around this inert shape. It was still way too heavy but our cause was attracting people from all over the beach. Suddenly, it became "Yes We Can" and four more people joined in and with one mighty lift the beast tipped over the edge of the bar, flipped its tail and cruised out to the gulf.