With the apotheosis of High Secular Xmas immanent, we headed toward the airport. My long dreaded sojourn in the land of sunlight and palm trees was also immanent, so I was soaking in the last of the gray, cold, soaking wet winter landscape.
Wrought iron, rotting crab apples --
the Turnpike and a fog-shrouded skyline --
would soon give way to a landscape of palm trees and stucco-and-tile gated condo communities, almost indistinguishable from the stucco-and-tile shopping malls and medical buildings surrounding them, a land where everything was seemingly built by the same builder about 30 years ago as if from a child's kit.
I was out of my geographic element. A refugee, dislocated, disconcerted. I was in a world of perpetual Fourth-of-July -- billed caps, spandex athletic wear, jogging shoes -- yet with Christmas wreathes and Christmas lights adding a touch of gleeful and surreal incongruity.
I understand that, for many, this is their brainscape -- perpetually green, warm-breeze-tossed, sunlight-bathed -- with baby herons strolling casually across McDonald's parking lot. Life, for them, is a particular kind of beach, the welcoming kind, the kind that whispers frolic, frolic, frolic rather than issuing a long withdrawing melancholy roar with each retreating wave.
It is true that the beachfront mansions of Naples exude the same greenback opulence as those walling off the ocean north of Boston, and that camerawoman (had she brought her Tamron 90mm macro lens rather than the old and unreliable Nikon D70 kit lens zoom) could have found comfort amidst the swampy southern weeds -- at least until the thought of nameless poisonous snakes and hungry alligators arose.
And it is also true that our fellow animals fare as poorly here as back home, with free, licenseless fishing off the long, bird-sanctuary pier
-- where is the fish sanctuary ? One might well ask, and also ask: why, if the area is a bird sanctuary, are pelicans so regularly and predictable snagged
by fish hooks
that dangling off the pier every few feet there are special pelican-retrieval baskets so the snagged bird can be lifted from the sea and manually extricated from the hook ?
(Insert photos of that grisly process that would have occurred had the aforementioned kit lens not merited the afore-employed adjective "unreliable." It's probably just as well.)
But this was Christmas, the point in the wheel of the year when the locked combat of my ecclesiophilia and my ecclesiophobia is at its most feverish. Christmas Eve at my chorister Paterfamilias' Presbyterian joint was simply weird. Auditorium seating, blinding lights, no kneelers. Sure, there was a "litany" and a "creed" -- both of which seemed to have been written last week by the minister's wife. And, of course, a sermon -- during which the minister (dressed in academic robes) spent an unusual amount of time with his arms upraised. There were fragments of familiarity in the Eucharistic prayer (hearts were lifted up to the Lord on command) but the bread was sweet and leavened and we dunked it, as instructed, into grape juice. And the ghost of John Calvin hovered over everything, reminding us that naughty or nice or even I'm sorry ! held no truck with him: we were damned or saved and we wouldn't know until the final trumpet sounds.
So, the next day, Christmas morning, I dragged Paterfamilias to the nearest Piskie joint, St Monica's. It was dishearteningly stucco and modern appearing, but the sight of a woman in cassock and alb in the parking lot was encouraging. I was looking for asylum -- from gated condo villages, from upscale "multi-use communities", from light-festooned palm tree trunks, from sunlight, swim trunks, collaterally damaged pelicans, from academic-robed pastor dudes stuck in perpetual orans, and, mostly, from myself, stranger in a strange land at no matter what latitude.
As the familiar prayer-book liturgy closed around me, I knew I had found sanctuary, an imperfect one, to be sure, ceiling porous by design to celestial fish-hooks to which even -- especially -- wilderness pelicans are vulnerable. But that's another story. The words were a very, very, very old house, the house to which I belonged at least a little, and they would have to do until I could fly home
the cold, familiar landscapes of my deepest heart.