Friday, September 11, 2020

Tasting The Salt Life Part 1: Buddy Finds The Motherlode


 It's been a long time since I've seen this place, and surprisingly it fit right on me like an old pair of shoes. I could look in just about any direction and recall things that had happened there during my life and realized this is why people go back to familiar vacation spots. My children grew up coming here and parts of what I see when I look around is them at various ages, feeling free in the southwest version of a redneck Riviera. It's Pine Island, a ironic and at the same time generic name for this place of net fishermen and Palm tree plantations. Only four hours from home, but without a good boat, there is not much to do. After our kids grew up and a boat seemed like too much work to maintain, Pam and I came many times with a kayak and stayed for a few days on Charlotte harbor, but this trip was with my son and daughter in law and their really nice fishing boat. 

The very first odd change I've noticed in the old province of Bokeelia, was that there were some people actually wearing masks. Since we were are still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might assume that everybody was taking every precaution available to prevent the spread of the disease, but that meant you'd never been to a place like this. I fully expected everyone to act as if all of that virus stuff was happening on TV only, but people were being careful. That made a lot of sense after I thought it over, since Pine Island has a few residents, and the majority of folks here are travelers and who know what germs they brought with them?

The second odd change was the gentrifying of the fishing houses on the canals in Bokeelia. These homes look like old houses from the 1950's, just big enough to live in, with maybe a carport and a crushed shell driveway and a couple of pilings in the canal to tie up one's net boat. These net boats usually looked like something made locally with plywood, about 20 feet long with an outboard motor mounted in the center of the boat and the steering in front. They were rough boats, painted with housepaint and a large brush, and looking like nothing much to go out in the harbor with, except that the motors were surprising large and presumption was that the purpose of those motors was to outrun the law. The net fishermen that lived in these homes were not known for being nice upstanding members of the community. More like hard living, hard drinking men that would shoot you if they caught you messing with their traps or running your net near where they wanted to fish. The fishing died out, or the fishermen died out, I'm not sure which, but property values rose, and soon those little houses were worth more than a life of net fishing. In this trip, we were staying in one of those old houses, that looked just like it did back in the day, but for a fresh coat of paint. The yard was a minefield of sticker plants, and I'm not talking about the ordinary stickers that might make a 3 year old cry. I'm talking about sharp brown bayonets that would have an army soldier calling out for a medic. Once you went inside the house, everything changed. It was a total remodel, top grade stainless steel everything, beautiful furniture, roomy showers, giant flatscreen TVs in each room with WIFI and premium channels. If ever there was a sleeper house, this was it.

In Bokeelia, and most everywhere, what you are paying for, is where you are on the water, and our house was at most, 2 minutes from Charlotte Harbor..and this trip, the surprises started within those first 2 minutes on the water. I could stand in the backyard of the house (and I'm using the term 'backyard' as loosely as possible) and see the opening in Jug Creek. Halfway to that spot was the place we always referred to as the Icehouse, a throwback to the days of the net fishermen and the place they would drop off their catch and load up with blocks of ice for the coolers. Nowadays, it was a good place to get gas for the boat, ice for the cooler and perhaps a candy bar for those with a sweet tooth or a 6-pack of beer for those otherwise inclined. 

As we idled out to the harbor in my son's nothing-but-business flats boat and were passing the icehouse, we ran into an old friend. Buddy, the dolphin was working the area. It had been years, and it appeared he had found the world's best way to get free food, people in boats coming in from their fishing trips. You're probably wondering how we knew this was Buddy, and not just some random dolphin. I would reply that I spend a lot of time in the water and see a lot of dolphins..I have never seen one like this guy. The first time we ran into him it was way out in the harbor by the Boca Grande pass, and it seemed like he hung around one of the markers, or at least that was how we would find him. He'd wait until we were catching some fish and then suddenly appear at the side of the boat saying 'I'd gladly pay you Tuesday for a fish today!'

Now, all these years later, he has found a much more lucrative way to get fish. There are kids on the dock at the icehouse with fish, but Buddy still takes a few moments to show off for Leslie and Pam, swimming up to our boat and rolling around. I've never seen him do anything acrobatic, but if there is one particular feeling that emanates from Buddy is that he is the friendliest, and laziest dolphin in this town. He was swimming alongside our boat like he was half asleep and managed to stay just far enough away so that Leslie couldn't pat him on the head. I told Leslie to look at his teeth and to think about what would happen if Buddy's eyesight wasn't that great.

It was incredible. One of the most lasting memories of one of our previous trips was seeing this dolphin that must have escaped from Seaworld, and now we met him again before we even left Jug Creek. I thought that we had reached the peak of experiences...but I was wrong, even if I only counted that one day....


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