Stormy weather. In the late 1990s while I was living in Keith's house I started dating the woman I would marry in 2000. I had been planning a trip to Florida to visit family. She was able to get off work. The time we chose to visit turned out to be stormy in more ways than one. We flew into Orlando, where Peggy and Leo picked us up. We stayed with them in Satellite Beach for a few days. It was already feeling stormy. A hurricane was kicking up. They drove us up to Riverhaven. That was the time we had to canoe in from the end of the driveway because of the flooding.
Tree farm. We rented a car and headed over to Marianna to visit Tim. We had planned to stay with him a few days before catching a flight back. But Tim had a heart attack while we were visiting Peggy and Leo. He got transported to the regional medical center in Dothan. We drove to Marianna and put our stuff in his trailer, then drove up to Dothan to visit him in the hospital. He was in and out of consciousness and intubated, unable to speak. We drove up every day we had and sat by his bed, driving back to the trailer he lived in on his tree farm at night. We ran out of days. Both of us had to get back to work. We couldn't stay long enough to see him through the bypass he was scheduled for.
Last visit. On that last bedside visit, I held his hand and told him I was going to leave. He clutched my hand hard when I said that, pulling me toward him. It was the strongest response he made during our visits. That was our goodbye. The day after we got back I got the news that he died on the operating table. The surgery dislodged a clot which caused a heart attack. There was nothing that could be done. The bypass had to go ahead, however risky, because he was barely clinging to life.
Funerals. I couldn't travel back for his funeral, and I didn't want to. I missed both of my parents' funerals and those of all my siblings. Funerals and memorial services are stupid. I don't give a damn what happens at mine. Please feel free to skip it if there is one. I won't care, I'll be dead! That's why they're stupid: the guest of honor never makes it. For me, grieving is a very private affair. A funeral is the last place I would want to be at that time. Years later I held my own private memorial service for Tim. So much for the end.
Captive nature. When I was young I had a real love-hate relationship with Tim. On the love side he taught me cool things, took me camping on the river, and brought home wonderful little critters for my aquarium, terrarium and moss garden. I was in love with nature from the day I was born. I came in with my love of nature. I found out about captive nature right after we moved to Marianna. Mom would take me shopping with her. Day care and babysitters were rare treats for her. Checking out at the Kresge's five and dime with her one day I saw plastic bags of comets on the shiny check out chute. Goldfish, not sky candy. They were all the way down by the rail paper bags were under. We still called paper bags pokes. Well, they did and I picked it up. All my life I adopted the speech patterns of those around me. I tend to ridicule it because I like to ridicule myself, calling it being a chameleon faker. But it's a feature, not a bug. It's a gift. I don't like to stand out, and being able to talk like a local is a good way to not. Stand out. My wheedling prevailed this time and we took one home, even though that meant going back into the store for a bowl some gravel and fish food. I want to say it was TetraMin® but I can't be sure. We filled the bowl with rainwater so we wouldn't have to wait for the chlorine to outgas like they said to. Mom was smart. Dad caught Mom rainwater for rinsing her hair. The rain bucket was almost empty so my gravel got decorated with the grit that's on roof shingles. We floated the bag on top like they said to equalize the temperatures then released my little comet. Nobody told us how fast they grew. I eventually put Comet back into the rain bucket and let the birds fish him out so I wouldn't have to do the dirty deed myself.
Captive nature 2. I was undeterred. Captive nature was now my thing. I soon had an outdoor aquarium and moss garden right by the spigot and a terrarium in the Florida room, which we called the breezeway. Old timers called it a dogtrot. We brought Midnite with us to Marianna. But when she died my parents never got another dog until Robi, the Rhodesian ridgeback they got when we moved out to Ridgeways. That's where the old upright piano ended up, poor thing. The breezeway, not Ridgeways. Tim brought me tiny flatfish and catfish and giant bullfrog tadpoles for my aquarium and a dozen mosses and lichens. I learned the old fashioned word Thallophyte around this time with the help of my dad the ecologist. He gave me a handbook on the taxonomy of the kingdom Plantae. I treasured that book. I can still feel that texture, its waterproof green cloth binding. Tim once brought me a siren, but it was too big for my little tank. For my terrarium he brought small frogs toads and newts. The newts didn't last very long but he would replace them. I tried enclosing my terrarium. I wanted to create my own rainstorm. But a ten-gallon tank just wasn't biosphere critical mass.
On the hate side he bullied me mercilessly. He was a guard on the Marianna High School football team. He made me do blocking drills and play keep away with him even though he was twice my size and ten times my strength. One night when my parents were out he and a couple of football buddies ganged up on me. They told me I was no damn good and I'd end up a street bum. I can still hear them chanting street bum, street bum, street bum at me. He excoriated me for my friendship with Mrs. Fern, my second grade teacher. The summer after second grade I bicycled across town to her house, a big trip for me. She had a goldfish pond. She gave me some sprigs of elodea for my outdoor aquarium. What kind of a sissy visits his teacher when he should be out playing ball with his buddies? But my buddies and I didn't play team sports.
Love wins. But there was one time he did something truly reprehensible to me. I seem to have blocked out the memory of what that was, which makes sense in context. I ratted him out, which I'd never done before, and Dad gave him a whipping. I had never felt that bad about anything in my life before; I was heartbroken. So I guess the love was stronger.
Spring Creek. Blue Springs is a few miles east of Marianna. Here it is on the map.
Blue Springs and five smaller springs give rise to Merritts Mill Pond. Blue Springs is at the northeast end of Merritts Mill Pond. The pond ends at Highway 90. Spring Creek is the spring run carrying the water from the springs on down to the Chipola River, a couple more miles. The two twisty miles of Spring Creek are a cherished childhood memory. The water in Spring Creek was crystal clear. The main channel of Merritts Mill Pond carried the water directly and it didn't mix with the tannic water of the cypress swamps lining the pond. The mill pond passage warmed the water so it was more delightfully cool than chilly. I went there with Tim many times. He coaxed me out into the current, which could indeed sweep me away as I feared, but I'd just beach on a gravel bar in a few yards. Tim kept me clear of the deep spots and eddies where people did get stuck and drown at times. They were probably drunk. In the shallow areas he taught to how to snorkel and fan for shark's teeth and arrowheads. Using the current I'd wave my hand over an area of sand or fine gravel, sending the fines downstream and uncovering what lay beneath. He found gorgeous points and fossils in Spring Creek. I was no match for him as a collector. I recall one ghostly point in his collection. It was clear carnelian chalcedony with darker river varnish on the outside. A stunning nomadic work of art. His collection was a true cabinet of curiosities. It even included a few lovely fakes, like a chert eagle eight inches across, carefully knapped by some modern flintsmith. A Vermillion uncle once fooled me with a fake. We were on a trip out West when I was about seven. The uncle lived in Prescott. He, my dad and I went out hunting artifacts in barren volcanic hills. I was getting frustrated; there was nothing but chunks of lava. The uncle suggested I look over there, and gestured. So I looked over there, and on top of a lava chunk was a tiny brown arrowhead. He said it was a bird point, or maybe ceremonial. I was entranced. It joined my special treasures, and at some point in the 1960s I made my arrowhead into a tie tack. It wasn't until I was writing this up that I realized two things. It was a modern fake and he planted it there for me to find. It was a lovely gesture, and I got years of pleasure from it. I don't feel at all cheated now. Sometimes a good fake is just the ticket.
Hammock. Tim once took me camping on Spring Creek. It was my first real camping trip, spending the night way out in the woods and not in someone's back yard. We boated in via Spring Creek. We put in near Highway 90 and boated all the way down Spring Creek to the Chipola. It was a gorgeous summer evening, the first time I'd been on the creek that late in the day. Our campsite was the junction of Spring Creek and the Chipola River. It wasn't a good campsite. It had that washed-over feel frequently flooded land gets, like everything's been washed away and it's all wrung out. But it was the junction. That was significant to Tim. I didn't care. I was out in the woods at night at last. I was thankful for my jungle hammock, which I hadn't liked before because it was hot. The netting blocked the breeze. But the mosquitoes were ferocious. Jungle hammock was the right call.