Friday, January 01, 2010

The Nature of Togetherness

water and bird

As we near the end of our holiday travels, I think about my favorite parts of our long vacation. We first visited my family in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (where my parents grew up). We then drove down to visit David’s family in Florida.

In both places, we got to visit our parents, our brothers, and our cousins and retell stories of years past. Our 10yo son had a wonderful time seeing his uncles and grandparents. He is the only grandchild on both sides, and that seems relatively likely to remain true.

All three of us enjoyed eating foods traditional to our families and the places we grew up. For me, that was roasted oysters, soft-shelled crab, and boiled shrimp my uncle caught himself. For David, it is bagels and chocolate babka , as well as the salmon croquettes my MIL always makes. (David’s family is not made up of observant Jews, but even so, the treif feast we eat on the coast of SC always feels like a funny precursor to our visit to the southeastern part of Florida--the New York of the South.)

Two very special parts of our vacation were spending time walking at Myrtle Beach after a big storm and finding incredible shells, and walking on our favorite wildlife boardwalk in south Florida and watching birds and alligators and turtles.

After a few days in south Florida, I was struck that while waiting in line at the restaurant or milling around at the pool, the interactions between people were short and typically rude. Most people even resist making eye contact with strangers. While South Carolina has a long tradition of “southern hospitality” and friendliness to strangers, Myrtle Beach has become so large, so cosmopolitan, and so transient that many characteristics of southern culture are beginning to disappear there.

As soon as we were out in the fresh air surrounded by wildlife, everyone seemed to relax and open up to each other. On the beach, people smile at you and exchange pleasantries, even if they walk past you without acknowledgment at other times.

And at the wildlife walk, conversations start when someone spots a beautiful or unusual bird...

proud bird with reflection

…especially nesting birds...

nesting birds

and the amazing anhingas drying their wings.


Folks continue to interact in a slow and relaxed way as they slowly circle the boardwalk together, pausing to snap photographs or look through binoculars. Sometimes someone spots a teacher bird with her students:

school of birds

Or turtles lounging in the sun on the remnants of a tree…


turtle with reflections

…or even their brothers and sisters confidently hanging out with a little alligator:

turtles with alligators

Or perhaps a bird in the process of catching and preparing his dinner, a long and shining snake:

bird with snake

Everyone gathers in very quiet amazement, whispering intimately at times to complete strangers to keep things peaceful and to welcome the animals. Even the sounds of beeping cameras sometimes seem like an interruption to the quiet communion between humans and other animals, and between humans and other humans.

People point out iguanas--and the vivid green parrots who have found their way to the park.

iguana 3

Folks on their way out will tell excited children on their way in where to find the big alligator.

big alligator

And a crowd of laughing (but also terrified) children calls a small crowd to visit the smaller alligator who had crawled on land right to the edge of the wooden fence.

alligator eye

Brave fathers bent with their cameras close enough to pet her:

some dad with camera and alligator

And more cautious fathers bend nearby with binoculars:

our dad with binoculars and alligator

Later in the evening we discovered that David’s cousins had been at the park about half an hour after we saw this alligator. By then she had backed away from the fence. Our cousins saw three incredibly tiny babies at the waterline with her! We had been so transfixed (and frightened!) by how close she was that we did not realize what treasure she was protecting.

The boardwalk is always full of new sights—every day and every hour. Today will be our last walk there before we have to pack our bags and begin our long drive home in our overly-full little red car. I’m looking forward to sleeping on my own hard mattress, to eating our usual diet, to imagining our new year together at home. Nevertheless, this has been a warm and wonderful communion with family and the world.

self portrait
Self Portrait

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