Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Old State Road 939

Sugarloaf Boulevard cuts dead due south from the Sugarloaf Lodge on Highway One. The road slices through a nice suburban subdivision of expansive homes and flourishing lawn covered tropical grdens, all worthy of an essay of their own. At the end of the Boulevard the paved road takes a turn to the right (west) and heads off down a seris of invirgorating turns to dead end into a pathway that follows the old road, now overgrown, to the first trestle bridge, now collapsed, a road that used to parallel the beach out to Boca Chica. A left turn at the southern end of the boulevard brings one to a gate:I walked the Loop Road itself just recently, but this essay follows the old state road all the way up to the broken bridge that used to connect with the road that comes down from Highway One near Mangrove Mama's restaurant which I wrote about a while back (November 9th, 2007, "Paved Road Ends"). I was going to cycle the old state road but it was a lovely afternoon and I chose to ride the Bonneville instead, leaving me on foot for my explorations.Sugarloaf Key is low and watery and in these parts water is everywhere, as is mud which turns to water in the rainy season.Unfortunately while the mud is wet and transitioning into water it gives off a particular smell that I can best describe as "rich barnyard." I grew up around farm animals and this particular type of methane gas smells to me nothing quite like anything so much as a pig's byre. A pig that has been eating table scraps and plant material in addition to it's commercial feed. Just like the ones I grew up around in Italy. It is a fact of life around the salt ponds of the Keys, just another romantic image of the Keys I have now shattered, for which I apologise.There is evidence at the beginning of the old state road where it branches out beyond the Loop Road, that it was once paved, and lumps of asphalt appear from time to time along the gravel roadway. Judging by the squared off edges of this body of water I imagine this was once a gravel pit or quarry of some sort for the innumerable new roads built around the islands:I hadn't tramped very far before the road turned into a track and pretty soon became a narrow pathway through the encroaching shrubbery:And then to my delight I found myself walking through amature mangrove forest. It was surprisingly cool in the shade, with a light southeast breeze blowing through the trees and across the salt water they were growing out of, it felt like outdoor air conditioning:And I saw a bird, though being the pathetic ornithologist I am, I have no idea what it was:After the mangroves the ground seemed to get a little higher and drier, which doesn't mean much in these islands, but enough to change the composition of the bushes:And it was along here that the silence got to em a bit. I kept hearing this rustling sound alongside the trail as I strode along. There were no sounds at all aside from the "crunch-swish" of my sneakers as I walked. But then I would hear rustling in the bushes, but as soon as I stopped the rustling stopped and I started to think that either I was a character in a cartoon strip being pursued by Wiley Coyote, or I was imagining things. I'd walk a bit and stop and the rustling would follow and stop. This went on for longer than I care to remember until one time I stopped suddenly and heard a loud clang from the bushes nearby. Then I figured it out- land crabs. One klutz must have fallen off his perch on an old discarded can and the mystery was solved.It took me about half an hour but finally I reached my destination: the cut in the road that I had only previously seen from the north side of the creek:The road on the other side was the one I rode on my Bonneville in my essay "Paved Road Ends" November 9th 2007. The creek looked as lovely as Miranda has described it to me, memories of a youthful conch. And from this shore I had a better view of it than I had from the north shore, looking off to the east......and to the west:Without getting my feet, and a good deal more of myself, wet in the fast running salt water "creek" I had to turn back and return the way I had come.So I did, but not before resting for a moment on a heavy wooden bench that was sitting in the roadway. It was long and heavy and made of wood and I have no idea how anyone got it there, nor why. But it did occur to me, since I was seen wearing pink crocs at Fort Jefferson, that my wardrobe has made me a bit self conscious. Here are my usual walking shoes:Whcih are I think normal enough, though no doubt Allen Madding will have lots to say about riding a motorcyle wearing shorts and sneakers. The path home was of course the same as the one out but it looked a little different with the sun in my eyes:The sun shining through the trees gave me cause to meditate on the meaning of the word "dappled" as I walked. My brother in law Bob McGahey, lives near Asheville in North Carolina and the fire department in Burnsville wanted to give all rural roads a name to make it easier to find them in the event of an emergency, a sentiment I can sympathise with, right enough. He grumped about it for a while but then he and my wife's sister Geeta, came up with a name for their lane and he wanted to call it "Dappled Dharma Way" which I thought was charming. In the end they had to settle on "Dharma Way" and every time I see something that looks dappled by the sun I think of this road in Celo Community:Even though I am on this path in Sugarloaf Key, a place where people like to walk, enough that they clear a way from time to time apparently as witnessed by the limb removed:And so back to the Loop Road all paved and empty in the middle of this wilderness.Though I should add it wasn't always so. A reader Keith Krensberger sent me these pictures from an automobile rally on Loop Road from 1974, and delightful period pieces they are too:I look forward to hearing more about it at dinner next week.