Cabbage Top, St. Vincent Island
Coming to Pass, a new memoir by Susan Cerulean -- soon to hit the bookstores -- tells the story of a still-mostly-wild necklace of northern Gulf Coast islands. Chronicling the uniquely beautiful coast as it once was, as it is now, and as it may be as the sea level rises, this timely work serves as both a field guide to a beloved and impermanent Florida landscape and a call for its protection. I am honored to have my photographs scattered amidst the pages like shells along the beach, little gems that help tell the story. Crystal and I shared many Gulf Coast adventures with Sue and Jeff over the past decade, giving me photo-opportunities galore, and Sue the escapades upon which many of her colorful tales are based.
For this post, I've (mostly) quoted directly (with some abridging) from Sue's book, so join in. Come to the Pass with us.
"Cabbage Top is a crescent of sand, thin as the smile of a three-day moon... This floating cathedral of palm trees tethered to St. Vincent Island's furthest flank is a singular orienting feature in Apalachicola Bay... That day on Cabbage Top I understood with my eyes and in my bones what the scientific data so clearly show: the oceans are swelling. Florida, the last landscape on our continent to emerge from salt water, is sifting back into the sea. Our coast will never be the same as it is today, not even tomorrow."
" "Who made the world?" asks Mary Oliver in her poem "The Summer Day." "Who made the swan, and the black bear?" Who made the coast? I have wondered. This particular coast, these saintly islands, these powerful passes, these bounteous life forms? ... A mountain-born river is the answer."
St. Vincent Island
"I dug my hands into the gentle sand, freckled with black. It clung to my fingers, soft grained... The Appalachian Mountains once stood as tall and rugged as the Rockies... Over millions of years, those granite peaks weathered... and sluiced down the river. I held the bodies of mountains in my hands."
"I thought about a time the previous summer when I lay in the surf among a host of those colorful coquinas, trying to sense myself into their experience... The water scoured the sand from beneath my body as the substrate turned momentarily liquid... When the frothy bubbles subsided, I had just a moment to watch the small clams all around me stand on one end and bury themselves. Where there had been hundreds of pastel coquinas, I could see only small dimples in the sand."
"I watched the small turtles toboggan downslope and push with curved front flippers, thin, like wings, against the inches-high terrain. They seemed so frail, but filled with a will to complete their encoded journey to the Gulf."
"How many countless times the island-to-be must have disappeared under high and moon-enhanced tides, and reemerged at low tide, before it could finally believe in its own existence. Everything that would ever live here had to wait for that first beach ridge to emerge. But as soon as the sand did drain and dry and pile above high tide, plants did their part. Large grains of sea oats and sandspur blew in on currents of air or were floated from other beaches and began to dress the dunes. The river supplied sediment, feeding and fattening the island, and then coquinas and ghost crabs, snowy plovers and sea turtles laid their eggs and extended the range of their kind."
St. Vincent Island
"Boneyards are common features on southern coastal islands like St. Vincent. You find them along stretches of beachfront where the sea is chewing back the forested land... As powerfully as these slash pines grounded themselves so many years ago, they could not move with the shift of the sand. They have shed their bark. They have silvered into skeletons."
"My feelings about scalloping are complicated. I love the purposeful hunt for food, and the full-body experience of finning through the amniotic salt water meadows. I love that pursuing scallops takes me floating in this vast natural aquarium... But I do feel that the advantage is all ours... When you harvest scallops, you must harden yourself to the smile formed by their parted shells and the turquoise glitter of their exquisite, motion-detecting eyes."
"The moon had almost dipped behind the island. Waves I couldn't see coming splashed my face and ran down the neck of my jacket. That same surf was hammering the sailboat's keel into the shallow sand bottom. David and I muscled our paddles, digging again and again into the chilly water. We planted the anchor as far out as the line allowed us, and once we clambered back on board, Jeff attached the anchor line to the winch on the mast. David and Jeff reeled in the line, cranking the bow around toward the wind. Crystal, David, and I stood by as Jeff hauled the big sail into the sky."
While these were not moments for photography, and this quote is just a bit of the story which unfolds in the book, here are a few shots from elsewhere that convey the awesome power of the sudden storm and our sense of desolation as those waves slammed against us broadside and we lay helplessly askew on that ominous night... and some shots from the hours before, and our gratitude-filled morning after.
There you have a taste, a small nibble, from Coming To Pass. Parts 2, 3, and 4 are equally compelling. I highly recommend this personal and informative memoir to all who find joy in visiting our coasts and beaches. It is delectable from start to finish. You can keep up with Susan and the book by visiting Susan's website and subscribing to her blog.