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Posts tagged: Gulf of Mexico

Travel: Tasting the Best of Apalachicola, Florida

   I pushed away my plate and picked up my purse to leave The Fisherman’s Wife and move on, but at the last minute I pulled out my phone and took a photo of the only bite left on my plate. One crescent of cornbread was all that remained of a meal of fried shrimp, cheese grits, coleslaw and hushpuppies.

    I took the photo because I’d already made one call to my husband telling him I’d found a place he might want to visit and he might never want to leave and I knew the hushpuppy—the Southern staple of seasoned cornmeal batter, fried crisp and brown—would strike its mark. But I also took it because I’d been trying to think of the best way to describe the unique personality of the north coast of a state that is probably best known for the broad beaches, busy theme parks and bustling cities on the lower half of the peninsula. Looking down at my empty plate, I found my answer. In a lot of ways, the food—the seafood—is the key.
    
    It’s impossible to spend any time in that part of Florida and not be offered a fresh Apalachicola oyster, pulled out of the bay that morning, shucked and served on a saltine cracker and dressed with horseradish and hot sauce. Afternoons become “Oyster Hour” when local restaurants serve up more fresh oysters with laughter, gossip and plenty of cold beer. Dinner might be Grouper or a basket of grilled oysters or fat Gulf shrimp, butterflied, battered and fried or simply boiled and seasoned and then served ready to peel and eat. Life centers around the bounty and it is served up fresh and simply prepared.

    The cluster of small communities in Franklin County, Florida, the largest of which is Apalachicola, or Apalach, as the locals call the small picturesque waterfront town, has shown a unique ability to reinvent itself to fit the times. At various points in its history the county was home to one of the busiest ports on the Gulf of Mexico. It was the site of a thriving sponge market and later an important Southern timber hub. Times and industry have changed but the one constant has been and still is the rich variety of seafood harvested locally by people who are deeply rooted in the community. People like the fisherman married to the fisherman’s wife who’d served up fresh-caught shrimp for my lunch.

    While there, I met people who’ve lived in the county for generations and others who moved to the area to get away from the larger and busier world. I met a few first-time visitors like myself. But I quickly discovered we all have something in common. We love the slow pace of life. We love the natural beauty of the coastline and rivers and estuaries, and all the wildlife that come with them. And we really, really, love the food.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com



  

Travel: Morning on St. George Island, Florida

I woke up early, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, slipped into a sweater and walked out into the cool morning, closing the door behind me.

Following the short path to the beach, I stepped onto the soft, damp, sand and began to walk the curving edge of St. George Island, the small, uncrowded, barrier island off the coast of North Florida. The sun was just peeking over the horizon. I could see someone far ahead throwing a stick for the dog at his side, but other than that I didn’t see another soul. Looking the other way I could believe I had the island to myself.
    
The tide had come and gone before the sun rose and the tideline was littered with what the water had left behind. The compacted sand at the water’s edge was carpeted with a layer of shells, or the bits and pieces of what had once been seashells before they were tumbled and broken by the surf.

As I walked, my head down, my eyes on the sand in front of me, I occasionally stopped and picked up something that caught my eye. The sound of the waves cancelled out any other sound and my mind wandered as I strolled.

When I got back to the beach house, while the coffee brewed, I emptied my pockets onto the counter in the kitchen and examined what I’d brought back with me. I’d liked one for the soft band of pale pink that ran across the widest part, another for the curious curves and and chambers that were exposed. Looking closely at the shell fragments I’d picked up, I realized that each had been chosen, not because it had been part of a more beautiful whole, but because even in its brokenness it was still something unique and exquisite and worth a second look, Worth slipping into a pocket. We put such emphasis on perfection, but time and time again nature reminds us that beauty is more than the surface of any object. True beauty is in the bones and the scars and the brokenness that remains after stronger forces work against us.
    
I put the handful of shells into a plastic bag and slipped it into my suitcase. Years from now, when I run across them in a drawer or on a shelf on the patio, I may have forgotten where I originally found them, like so many of the sticks and stones I’ve gathered and brought home with me. The soft morning on an quiet island just beginning to warm under the morning sun will have slipped from my memory, but I am willing to bet that as I hold the broken shells in my hand I will turn them this way and that, looking closer at the soft colors and the delicate shapes, and I will find them beautiful again.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

National Nightmare

     When my children were small they came to me crying when they were afraid. Sometimes they were convinced that monsters were hiding under their beds until I chased away each shadowy creature.


    In those days it was in my power to banish the scary things. When the wind blew and tornado sirens wailed, sending us scurrying down into the basement to wait out the worst, I could soothe them. I could reassure them that storms always pass. That by morning the sun would be out and life would return to normal. If I was afraid or secretly worried that our house would be swept away by a killer wind, I kept it to myself.


    When they opened their eyes to a safe and familiar landscape, whatever terrifying thing that had invaded their dreams would retreat and fade. The night’s fear would be forgotten.


    To a child, even the most well-adjusted child, the world with all its hazards and mysteries, can be a frightening place. Fire burns. Water drowns. Dogs bite. Monsters lurk. Lightning strikes.
    As parents, we calm those fears. We soothe and caress. We hold them close and talk away the bogey man.


    Lately, trying to ease my own anxiety about the terrible scenario going on in the Gulf of Mexico as millions of barrels of oil boil unchecked into a sea already taxed by our carelessness, I talk to my children about what is happening. They’re adults now. They’ve learned there are no monsters under the bed. They remember the sugar-white beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. They played in the surf as children.


    Now, each is baffled by the negligence, the arrogance and audacity of those who built a weapon of destruction with no plan for protecting the innocent. Like me, they are frustrated by the slow response and shaken by the scope of the disaster.


     This terrible thing, we think without having to say it aloud, is not a figment like the imaginary creatures under the bed. This is the stuff of real nightmares. An endless, gushing cloud of darkness that is slowly rising to the surface of the sea. A smothering film that stretches oily fingers onto the shore, staining everything it touches, poisoning innocent wildlife and killing the beaches while arrogant, blowhard, executives dance around the truth.


    And behind that truth is the knowledge that we have abused our dominion. We allowed a wound in the earth.  A hole opened with no practical way to close it. We looked the other way while entities like British Petroleum focused on greed and fed our endless need for oil.    (As someone who drives for a living, I am not blind to the irony of what I am writing. We talk about that, too.)


    I'm consumed by the feeling that this will be our legacy.


    Like any parent, I have a tendency to look back on the days when my children were small with a certain soft-focus. But there are times, especially in this crisis, that I am glad that my son and daughters are old enough to be able to decide for themselves what is good or bad.


    If they were coming to me as children, frightened by what is going on, I would be hard-pressed to find the words of comfort.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com.

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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