Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach, FL
10 September 2016
Her yellow eyes were “like coals set in butter.”
Jet black-skinned with a heavy Creole accent, she kept “a huge glass urn of black raven or crow feathers” in her hut out there in the 1950s East Texas Piney Woods.
The appearance of the conjure woman, Ma Tante, in Cynthia Bond’s intense novel Ruby, charges up a book that holds you in its rough hands.
With leeriness we feel Ma Tante as she tries to slap the haints out of little Ruby, while outside in an on-off Texas rain the jealous lesbian girl Maggie beats the shit out of little boy Ephraim, a couple hours after the two girls had come upon him while he’s fishing at Marion Lake.
Hidden in the woods. With his rusty Radio Flyer wagon carrying his lunch. Pole and bent nail and “bit of fatback from (his sister) Celia’s slop jar” that everybody called feeding, not fishing.
Maggie took his pole. She made a hook out of Ruby’s bobby pin, dug up an earthworm, caught the first ever catfish “and popped his head on a smooth stone”, then “flicked out her jackknife and split him down the center and ripped out his insides.”
Cooked him in a fire right there by the lake.
Crows don’t have yellow eyes they are usually ink black at least in the adults. But their cousin grackles do. And I guess I do.
* * *
I missed the boat. I get how this saying can have double meanings. Was pretty disappointed. This morning I was supposed to go out on a dive boat with my dive group DIVERSe Orlando to see the big goliath groupers who migrate up through Jupiter, Florida this time of year.
Yep another year winding down… Fall is coming.
Last week at the North Miami gym I ran into my past “situation”. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken since May. I almost left before he could notice me. I joked, “I took the wedding cake back.” He smiled wide before he could help himself. I got out of there quick.
By the time I called to register for the Goliath Grouper dive, the boat was full no exceptions. Damn.
I accepted the lesson.
But still pouted a little.
Never seen one of those goliath groupers. They’re pretty rare, and I imagine the biggest ones can open their mouths and swallow you whole.
But they’re like big friendly dogs. Kind of. So I hear.
Instead I took myself up to freedive the Blue Heron Bridge again in Riviera Beach.
I’m not homeless but I love hanging out under the bridge. This bridge connects the barrier island to the mainland. Lots of sea life under that Bridge.
One thing: You sure have to get in the water during the slack time before and after high tide, otherwise –
I found out.
The full-on high tide current is so strong it’s like fighting a hard windstorm on land. I got to the first set of concrete pillars.
I had to hold on just to keep the current from pushing me away.
I have a vivid imagination and as I hung on suspended horizontally I felt like one of those old black-and-white cartoon characters holding onto the edge of a building, feet and legs out sideways in mid-air as a tornado blows, or somebody is yelling their lungs out at you.
Still I squeezed out 12 freedives.
A couple times I did something I was admonished never to do without specialized training.
Don’t go into any structure.
I tucked my head and torso partway into a gap between two pillars – just to look closer at the schools of fish.
It was just a little ways.
But one pulse of the current pushed me up a few feet. I bumped my head and caught a small abrasion on my stomach as a reminder. That’s how you get stuck or entangled and drowned.
I turned around, scooped up a clear glass bottle and some plastic straws on the bottom and powered back against the current to where I’d entered.
A young mullet was quivering on his side on the tawny-green bottom, flashing silver and white and really standing out, a hook through his back attached to a steel leader and line. He had a few open lacerations maybe bites or something from a passing cuda or some other fish who said, um nah.
Got out of the water to wait for the next high tide.
The Sun rotated across the afternoon sky.
I dozed off in my car, sweated, absorbed the heat and the bright yellow sunlight and the green of the tropical trees and grass and varying blues of water luxuriously, got out, walked, thought, waited.
The next high tide was due right before 4p.
The second set of dives 38 of them, in and around those concrete structures.
That bridge you drive over? Check out what it looks like underwater, anchored into the Earth by giant concrete pillars, barren above and encrusted with barnacles, algae, sea plants, and sponges below.
Still recovering from recent damage to my lungs
Frustrated at my diminished lung capacity.
Determined to practice and increase my time.
That CO2 burn inside your chest is urgent as you run out of air.
Air is remarkable.
I’ll write about air – just air – someday.
Yesterday down in Broward County not far from my apartment a 14-foot beaked whale beached himself and stayed alive for 20 minutes on the sand then died.
He looked like a dark-skinned XL dolphin just with warthog teeth sticking out from either side of his lower jaw.
People don’t know much about beaked whales. They’re rarely seen.
One thing people do know. Beaked whales are the world kings of freediving. They can hold their breath and freedive deeper and longer than any other oxygen-breathing mammal known.
They’ve now been tracked down to nearly 10,000 feet (!), and can hold their breath for at least 138 minutes ((2 hours 18 minutes) (!!)
Since depth pressure is so intense underwater, some marine mammals have rib cages that can fold down to reduce the collapse of air-filled spaces like in their lungs.
Why do whales beach themselves?
Why not just die out in the ocean? Why come onto land?
And that far out in the ocean, how do they know which way is land, or how do they choose which land to go to when they’ve never been to land, and at what point do they make that clear determination of suicide and lock in their navigation coordinates with a laser-sharp sense of purpose?
It’s known that whales beach themselves when they get sick, or are injured by the noise of oil drilling seismic testing or navy sonar booms.
But again, why land?
Why swim all those miles, maybe hundreds of miles, to get onto land?
Only to expire in a matter of minutes on land. They breathe air. Is it because, a long, long time ago, eons ago, they used to live on land, and had hands and feet?
As they arrive into the shallows, what are those last few moments?
Are they scared? Or nervous?
Do they have second thoughts – is that last moment like jumping off a bridge for one of us?
Or are they single-mindedly overcome with adrenaline and determination.
It takes some turbo to power their bodies onto shore.
My first whale sighting is one of the rarest whales, and he was dead.
He had cross-hatch markings and keloid scars on his lower flank as if from an industrial fishing net.
At the Bridge during late afternoon high tide I dived and dived, working on my lungs, my lungs burning, determined to get back up to breaking a minute in my dynamic apnea – holding my breath while actively diving.
Ultimately I want to be able to hold my breath for at least 3 and a half or even 4 minutes diving diving in the ocean.
When I got my Freediver Level I Certification I could do 3 minutes static in the pool and 1:10 dynamic in the open ocean.
Today I finally hit 1:05… burning. Getting better.
It’s hard to describe this panic-inducing burn inside your chest that you work to control.
Imagine being down 100 feet and losing the ability to hold your breath any longer as you kick back up. And you give in, give up, and flood.
A fishing pier parallels the Blue Heron Bridge for a few hundred yards and dead ends in the water before the boat channel.
Between the bridge and the pier I hung out in the no current slack, catching my breath, looking forward to more dives, even as my GoPro camera battery died out.
Late afternoon shadows were growing longer.
A persistent fish crow was cawing. Fish crows don’t “caw caw,” or are as loud and high-pitched as American crows, the kind most people know. Single calls of aaww, or nuuuuh. More low-grade agitated constant. Nasal.
Their voices do not feel bad. They kind of fill your skin and body’s background after a while. Until they get up close and go too long and you pay attention.
I think they love to hear themselves squawk.
“How a Fish Crow sounds up in the palm fronds on a hot South Florida morning.”
This crow up on the bridge kept making noise.
At the end of the pier, years of snarled up fishing line and hooks and lures caught in the concrete forces. Will be there for a long time.
Before Texas, when I was little living in the rural Midwest and didn’t know better I set a leghold trap on top a wooden fence post, I guess thinking I’d catch a raccoon or possum. Even when your ass ethnic trash and don’t fit anywhere or talk to nobody you do some things that are custom and culture “out in the country”.
The next afternoon I came back to find a crow hanging upside down, his foot almost severed from the steel jaws.
He’d probably been hanging upside down all night long and all day. He kept his head upright and looked at me.
I did not know what to do.
I shot him in the head with a pellet gun and his brains oozed out like hamburger meat.
From above a white plastic bag blew into the water.
I swam over and grabbed it.
I looked up. Fishing rods were sticking over the railing but no faces.
Monofilament lines streamed into the water around me.
A face appeared and looked down. Black dude, late 20s, big black t-shirt with big white letters like we used to wear in 90s NYC. Shit goes out and comes back.
What’s it like to have a human face emerge in the water down there where you are fishing, where you see nothing but water, and look up at you and talk to you?
Ay. Your plastic bag blew in the water.
It wasn’t me.
It came from your corner.
Man when sea turtles swallow that shit it clogs their guts. They can’t take a shit or nothing. It takes a long time and they rupture and die from the inside.
He just looked down at me, then looked at his line.
I swam off, kind of feeling like there was still too much work to do.
My mind, which never stays still (except underwater), then thought of all the killings – that people do to each other.
Near shore under the eastern end of the bridge, as I walked out of the water two young boys kneeling on one of the bridge’s concrete feet asked if I could bring up a fish they saw.
We just want to see hm.
The late day sunlight. Their wet caramel skin firing with their youth’s furnace.
Naah Im gonna leave him there but you can take this beer can.
I handed them a beer can that was floating nearby.
Now take that to the trash and go back to your mama before you fall in.
Because a fish will swallow it and choke?
Yeah, I said, giving in to the generalization. The basic point mattered.
Y’all can learn to dive too you know, I said.
Back at my car in the parking lot, I loaded up my rinsed-off gear.
The fish crow was overhead – on the light pole now.
Really running his mouth, low grade, agitated, repetitive, persistent. I looked up.
I went to take a piss in the modular bathroom at the north end of the park.
A white guy was taking cell phone pics of many live large lobsters he had caught while diving.
He had them lined up on the sidewalk. Their legs and antennaes waved.
They didn’t want to stay in line. Spiny lobsters, you know, the kind you see in Florida and the Caribbean. They don’t have claws.
Then grabbing each one, for some reason he snapped off their arms at the first joint I could hear them crack then ripped their bodies in half, twisting them into two pieces alive where our waists would be and threw their top halves into the water.
He kept the tails. What was that moment exactly like, that pressured squeeze and twist then ripped in half alive at the waist, your head and chest and last conscious thoughts spiraling out into the water and sinking down to the bottom and oblivion?
A thick black woman old school for sure sitting in a nice car was fussing at her husband or boyfriend and his friend. Her car stereo was blasting an old school song and artist who I had to look up later. Betty Wright sang it.
I don’t even like instant coffee
So instant love definitely will not do, honey
I mean, common sense oughtta tell you
That when you’re already down on the ground
You can’t pick up nothin’ but dirt