Sunday, January 6, 2013

Miami and the Keys

Honeymoon part II. First time I've been to Florida. First time I've gone away for Christmas. Flew to West Palm Beach, drove to Ft. Lauderdale, then Miami Beach, then the Keys, then the same in reverse. It was hot and sunny everyday. We swam, tanned, ate and drank too much, played countless rounds of Ticket to Ride (Nordic edition!), read, snorkelled (or tried), and drove. Not much else.

An unassuming but perfectly cozy little inn in Ft. Lauderdale, Canadian owned. At night we swam in that pool in the sweet, warm air, with Bing Crosby Christmas carols wafting over us, and it was strange and lovely. An unexpectedly successful blend of tropical bliss and holiday sentimentality.

In North Miami Beach we stayed in a tiny but cute Art Deco studio with this pathway to the beach just outside the door. The water was perfect, albeit a tad calm for my taste, and I had plenty of glorious swims. Every vacation should have at least one day where you stay on the beach til dinnertime, baking and soaking, baking and soaking.

I'd never heard that Ft. Lauderdale and Miami were so Venetian. But the canals (and I wish I had taken some decent pictures of them) were so numerous that land seemed almost an afterthought. Every waterway was lined with outrageously decadent mansions and over-sized boats, almost grotesque in their palatial dimensions. Truly obscene wealth in stunningly copious quantities. Impressive, beautiful to the eye, and disturbing.

Art Deco infinito! Well, for all I know, these buildings are MiMo - didn't quite figure out the difference. I have to say I quite like Art Deco. Slick! All bright colours and soft lines, like a crisp white linen suit on a hot day. Interesting features that draw your up eyeward. Nothing too extraneous. I could live in a city like this, if I had to live in a city. And not just because of the architecture and the proximity to endless beaches, but because of the multiculturalism as well. We stayed in a neighborhood where you could walk around the block looking for dinner and have your pick of Cuban, Mexican, Argentinian, Peruvian - you name it. People speaking Spanish everywhere, making me itch to start learning that language again.

Down in the Keys now - water everywhere. Shallow water - less than 6 ft in most places. We looked at a map with nautical soundings, and were pretty astonished to see that you could practically walk from one key to the next, sometimes in water only up to your knees. The houseboat we stayed in was moored way out in the Bay, so we imagined that we'd be cannoning off the sides. Nope - the water around it was 4 ft. deep. Really pretty though.

We spent two days on that boat, making only one quick trip in the skiff to pick up beer. We watched pelicans. We read, we wrote, we played games, and we just sat and looked at the water. It was so nice to be away from land, from people, from cars and shops. Always the sound of the water lapping and the wind, and the continuous gentle rocking motion.

We drove down to Key West, had lunch and wandered around. It has a reputation for being quirky, for being a place for misfits and creative types. I could see that might be true of the locals, but the place was too packed with tourists off the cruise ships to tell. I loved the beautiful old homes amidst the tropical greenery and the bright, humming energy of it. But a couple hours was plenty. We peeked at Hemingway's House through the tall fence and long line-up of people waiting to pay for a tour (were surprised to see that the ol' guy must've made some decent cash from his books) and then headed back to the Upper Keys.

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at a campsite on Long Key. The water (again, super shallow) was just right there. There was something bittersweet about sitting in sunshine on a beach on Christmas. On the one hand, I was sick of Christmas. (All the inflatable snowmen on lawns under palm trees, the peppermint mochas, pedestrians in Santa hats - in Florida it was even more off-putting than usual. At home, Christmas mostly seems to be about brightening up a dark and dreary time of year. All that 'comfort and joy' stuff, the images of cozying up round a fire with chestnuts roasting - it's feels so absurdly out of place in a land of bathing suits and sunscreen.) On the other hand, I was nostalgic and homesick, missing family and traditions. I like the idea of forgetting about Christmas, getting away, doing something different. So I was surprised to find myself wishing I was home on the 24th and 25th and playing out the same rituals that I've taken part in all my life.

And yet... the sunsets were so beautiful.

A Christmas Eve walk through a mangrove swamp. A gorgeous bird almost hidden against the mangrove roots. And our first real run-in with no-see-ums.

Christmas morning canoeing around a lovely big mangrove lagoon. Surprisingly, we didn't see much wildlife on this trip, but I accredit that to the fact that we didn't have a boat, time to explore, or time to visit the Everglades. If I returned to the Keys, it would have to be with a boat. I think it would be a boating paradise out there. From shore, it's hard to do any swimming or snorkelling - it's too shallow and the bottom is often really spongey and marshy. To me, that's torturous - all that beautiful water, and no good swimming? Yeesh. Couldn't complain about the climate, though. Perfect weather, every day, hot and always a cool breeze off the water. 

As always, it was so good to travel to a new place. I think it's so important to do that - to change up the lenses through which I see my life and the world. It was really great to give myself a shake at Christmas, and see what came up for me. And it was great to have time to just observe and think. Lots of ideas for the New Year.

the Yukon

This was our honeymoon. We flew into Whitehorse, rented a car, and drove up to Dawson and the Tombstones, dipping into Alaska along the way and then looping back down to Whitehorse. It was the very end of August. We camped here and there along the way and stayed in the occasional motel. Warm days, cold nights, very few bugs. We were in Whitehorse once before on a tour for a play, long before we were together, and that was in 40 below winter-time. I thought it was so beautiful then. The dry crystalline snow, the huge shaggy ravens - all seen through frozen eyelashes. And Jay has a special love for the Yukon, having spent a few years living here. So it was just the right place to go. It's a place of astounding beauty and vastness - it's hard to grasp, even in person.

First night camping. Sky beginning to clear.

Early morning lake - very cold. Joyfully rush in, submerge, race back out.

Empty roads. Nothing but trees, mountains, lichen, unseen animals.

At 6 random times a day, Jay's alarm would go off, and he would stop whatever he was doing and draw. This often happened when we were driving. I would get out of the car and take pictures or just stand and look. So silent, everywhere. So much bush. So much sky. Nothing but a road to represent a human presence. Where else could you find yourself so deep in an untouched world? Mountains never thought about, lakes never looked upon - all part of a big something, like ocean or air, too big to try to wrap our minds around. Too big to divide up, to be bothered with. For 8 months of the year it's covered in snow and saves itself from being popular, from attracting people and business. Saves itself from change. It exists for itself only - that's how it feels when you're there, witnessing briefly what usually goes unwitnessed. You feel very small, very humble. Because at home all the nature we have is familiar and seems owned by us and maybe even dependent on us. And up there, you realize what a joke that is.

A vast expanse that was eaten up by fire years ago. You can drive a long time and see only this kind of terrain. Wiped out forests starting up again. Charred and spindly trunks waiting patiently to be overtaken by new growth.

The 'top-of-the-world' highway just past the border crossing back into Canada. I don't remember which of the above pictures were from Alaska. As we drove through a few tiny towns (Chicken, Alaska included) we passed lots of hunters hauling out caribou. Some were butchering them up at the side of the road. Some passed us in trucks adorned with gory racks of antlers. I hope they were planning to live off that meat. It was hard to see - and didn't fit my sense of this place being larger and more powerful than man. As though trees should be reaching out, dragging hunters back into the dark woods for vengeance.

Silent up here except for the whipping wind. It really does feel like the top of the world, with everything spread out below and before you. We spent a long time running up and down the slopes. Then Jay drew and I looked at lichen.

Now in Dawson. Old and weather-beaten. I can't imagine the winters here - they must drag the buildings into the ground. The town has this feeling to it of history that hasn't been paved over or encased in quaint museums. There are boardwalks out of necessity, not for cuteness. There are still goldminers. The city gives a prize every year to the best woodpile. People stick together to get through the winters and you can feel that here - the sense of community that doesn't exist in big, busy cities. Lots of beautifully cared-for homes. And lots of old houses still standing, in defiance of reason.

There is a certain romance to these crooked and falling-down buildings. Maybe a bear in the living room, a few marmots in the basement. Roots of trees patiently creeping into the walls, under floorboard, slowly taking over. Or maybe just a person living there, liking it that way.

Another hour or two North of Dawson is the Tombstone National Park. Full of roaming grizzlies, though we never saw any. It was cold up here. Autumn was in full-stride, just a couple days into September.

We came home, clothes full of wood smoke and dirt. Jay cried, as he always does when he leaves the Yukon. I want to come back too. Maybe even try living up here for a while one day.