Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Northbound (It Ends)

The official cookie of our vacation.

I finally got a chance to cast my surf-rod at Matanzas Inlet, near Crescent Beach. Aside from hooking and losing a couple bluefish in an angry surf, the fishing wasn’t stellar. But, as the sun set on our final day in Florida, I was strangely satisfied.

I rared back and fired my weighted spoon towards the breakers. The noise of the crashing waves easily overwhelmed the sound of the lure hitting the water. A huge flock of skimmers flew overhead, bouncing back and forth from the entrance of the inlet. Betsy wandered the beach nearby, collecting shells and stuffing them in my tackle bag.

Tomorrow, we’d head back home to responsibility, cold weather (reports from home actually mentioned snow on the ground in Tennessee) and bills. Our cats would be there too, along with our own bed and our own couch and TV, softening the burden of resuming normalcy.

I reeled the spoon through the wash of the waves onto the shell-laden shore, flipped it up into my left hand, then cut the line with a pair of rusted needle-nosed pliers which had been resting in my back pocket. The spoon went into my tackle bag, and I zipped it up. That was that.

Casting to bluefish at the Matanzas Inlet.

The sun set beyond the dunes and sea oats. Betsy and I walked slowly through the sand and shells back to our parked car. Darkness settled upon us as we washed our feet at the picnic pavilion, then we packed up the fishing gear and drove up A1A to downtown St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country.

We wandered the cobblestone streets, past old Spanish churches and dozens of tourist-driven establishments. There was a big crowd out that night, and most of the restaurants offered substantial wait times. Instead of standing around with a lighted pager, we landed at the Taberna Del Gallo, a tiny 200-year-old tavern in the Spanish Quarter section of “old town.” The place was lit only by torches and our bar keep was a surly pirate who made sangria instead of swallowing swords. It was cool. Betsy and I played “Shut the Box,” then bought a version of the game to take home.

Officially, our last dinner in Florida was from the drive-thru at a Krystal’s next to the interstate. It was terrible, but we didn’t really care. We stayed the night in Jacksonville, and slept as a line of thunderstorms rattled the hotel and dumped torrential rain on the city. In the morning, the storms were gone, but the wind was blowing in a cold front.

The impressively monstrous Dame Point bridge in Jacksonville.

Nine hours later, we arrived home. We were tired. Maybe close to broke. But in a weird way, complete. On the way home, we had tried our best to recall what we had done over the past 10 days, then laughed when we couldn’t agree on what happened on what day. It had been a wonderful trip – one we definitely felt blessed to have enjoyed, and one we would remember and reflect upon for the rest of our days.

Betsy and I sat side-by-side on our couch, guarded closely by our three cats who had patiently waited for our return and who now didn’t want us to leave their sight. The TV was on, but the sound was muted. I leaned back and put my arm around Betsy and pulled her closer.

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