Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life On The Margins

Niles Channel under blusterous skies, gray clouds scudding overhead, the air thick air almost muggy even though it's only April. A mixed day for a dog walk.

Cheyenne took to the bushes at the edge of Highway One, enjoying their shade as the sun played hide and seek with the clouds.

The Overseas Highway is never far away in these islands and large SUVs and trucks slid into view at the top of the embankment above our heads busy rushing hither and yon to important land bound appointments.

I found a rather nice bicycle parked at the water's edge, apparently the land transportation of some waterborne resident nearby. It happens in the Keys that convenient dinghy landings seem to sprout spontaneously there where boats anchor off the shore for any length of time.

A commercial fishing boat like this could be a residence but it's unlikely as accommodations would be Spartan in the extreme and the boat would be light an bouncy in any kind of mildly rough seas. More lily the owner of the bike resides on the snug sailboat anchored nearby.

Cheyenne found the dinghy landing ad wallowed in salt water while my attention was diverted. She rose from the muck almost guiltily as I approached, which guilt must have been in my imagination as I have never berated her for cooling in off in mud, salt water or other filth in the heat of the summer.

We might seem to be far from civilization but the bicycle was still securely locked to the mangrove. Here's the thing: a lot of people fantasize about dropping out but not many manage it. Civilization is seductive. Speaking as one whose life seems t have consisted largely in dropping out this bicycle encounter triggered a lot of memories which in turn set me thinking.

Living on a boat at anchor is a dream, especially for those waking by alarm clock to a snowscape outside then kitchen window and facing a drive to a cubicle tom pay the rent to live in the box to wake to an alarm clock to look out the window. That's the routine, we've all done it. The alternative might be a very long bride on a motorcycle (done that), or a mountain climb (forget that!) or a long sailboat trip (did that) or some other fantasy of escape. Hell, somedays at work we envy the hobos riding the rails with a backpack and zero responsibilities.

The are two things about dropping out, boredom is a peril. Living on a boat, answerable to no one, free of routines and obligations requires a high dose of introspection, and those that fail to introspect with sufficient vigor frequently find themselves seeking answers in the bottom of a bottle. The other side of the coin is that escape from the common trajectory also puts the fugitive outside the common experience. Introspection yields insight but the knowledge gained cannot be shared because the neighbors living their routines share no common language with the fugitive. You think this trim, fashionably attired cycling enthusiast dude has anything in common with the live aboard cyclist? Maybe he does but how do they communicate and find out?

The guy who has the million dollar waterfront view and paid a million bucks for it has very little patience typically for the shoeless dude on a boat who enjoys the same view and paid a few hundred dollars for a decent anchor and chain to hold him there. That the boating life requires extreme simplicity and self reliance (the sort of true life, hard core self reliance pitched by presidential candidates of the right wing stripe) makes no mind for the dude with the massive mortgage.

Somehow the Florida Keys still manage to accommodate those living on the margins of society, at anchor or on land, and that bum pedaling slowly with crap hanging off his bike and skin like sun baked parchment may just be the master and commander of his own fate, anchored out and wanting nothing more from his neighbors than a place to land his dinghy and a post office to pick up his pension check.

I'm glad I did it because as I motorcycle over the Nile Channel bridge and look down on the heaving masts and the absolute freedom of true self reliance I don't miss it anymore. And that knowledge, in my routine and my job and my restricted circle of friends, is true freedom. Better not to envy or despise those on their own journeys on the margins of society, and in the Florida Keys you meet those people on land and at sea.

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