I paddled with a manatee and got so close I cried.
Jeff and I took the kayak out this morning heading east from the Canoe Outpost, our new home in Little Haiti. We’ve been here for only a few days, but the change in my outlook and day-to-day life has improved 10 fold. Surrounded by nature, encircled by palms and native trees, the Outpost is right on the Little River, a canal that runs from Lake Okeechobee in the Everglades to the bay.
I’ve been laughing and smiling in amazement at the transition I’ve witnessed in myself. It’s as if a window has been opened to let the light and breeze inside my heart. Where our warehouse was dark and windowless, our new apartment is bright, sunny and full of windows. Where our warehouse was loud from the CrossFit neighbor’s terrible music and weights, the Outpost is quiet. We have more privacy. Tropical-sounding birds chirp, occasionally mascovy ducks walk into the yard, and Max and Sparks, the neighbor’s Australian Shepherds, wander over for a belly rub every now and then.
Instead of being surrounded by development, malls, strip malls and the busy highway demeanor of U.S. 1, the outpost is surrounded by mixed residential and urban business spaces. Whereas weekend warriors and folks out to exercise were out on bikes in Pinecrest, people walking to work, to school, to the grocery fill the streets in Little Haiti.
But the dance comes in the balance. Each place has its downfalls, its dangers, as well as its benefits and perks. I don’t regret the year we spent in the warehouse and on the bus, as it showed me how to live with a lot fewer amenities, like a shower (the hose), kitchen sink (the spigot), oven or stovetop (toaster oven and hot plate). In a twist of fate, the hot water at the new house is being fixed as I write.
Just as I left behind challenges, I will face new ones. I’ll have new neighbors who I might have to accommodate. The traffic is different; getting to friends and places south of downtown may prove challenging. Biking here is different. I will have to orient myself to an entirely different neighborhood and part of town. But we’re closer to different friends, some of our favorite restaurants, and—how could I forget!—the BEACH. Already, in three days, it feels like home.
We paddled east. Jeff pointed out the bridge that was I-95 and at first I didn’t believe him. Could I really be here, in a kayak, floating on the most tranquil canal with so many different birds, iguanas falling from the trees, fish swimming in the murky depths, right under the busiest interstate in Miami-Dade?
As part of our landlord and friend’s mission, each canoe-r or kayaker picks up trash while paddling. This morning Jeff and I had collected three plastic bottles, a beer bottle, two bags, some Styrofoam and a child’s toy before he spotted it.
When we turned around to paddle home, there he was! We spotted a manatee, likely two, but one we followed all the way home. We steered toward the circular ripples its tail left behind, pausing to see where he came up. The first time he surfaced I cried.
There among the murky floating seaweed, dotted with human trash, there under I-95, between two dramatically different neighborhoods, I was filled with divine splendor watching this peaceful creature float downstream with us. It was a game, a balance of watching and paddling and waiting, to see where he would come up next. Was he following us? Was this real? Right here, in an urban neighborhood, in Miami, I was paddling with a manatee?
The dance of watching and following a manatee is just like the dance and play of seeing and revealing our own true nature. Through these glimpses of real beauty and truth, we realize that we ARE the divine, the absolute spirit. Not separate but one in the same, connected to all beings and creation.
I’ll never forget my first paddle with the manatees. For this area, it’s not necessarily a unique or uncommon occurrence. But to me, it represents so much more, about this transition and balance as I move through life.