I went to Florida. It was an artist’s expedition. A field trip. I went with my dear friend Whitney, who is also an excellent travel planner, to Little Talbot Island and Blue Spring and Rainbow Spring, all state parks. Florida has excellent state parks.
We walked through forests of live oak hammocks and sabal palms. We swam in the boil of a De Leon Spring, where every day 19 million gallons of water rise up from the womb of the limestone earth, warm and heavy. We watched awestruck from our canoe on the St. John’s River as swallow-tailed kites scissored their way through the ribbon of breeze above us, their long black-forked feathers ruddering through the wind, the blue sky mirrored in the still waters beneath them.
We canoed down the Rainbow River (or actually, Whitney guided the boat downstream while I sketched the turtles and fish swimming through the garden of aquatic plants in the crystalline water beneath us). The river was bathed in light and hues of turquoise, and we could see our shadows on the bed of the sandy river smiling back at us.
I stood amidst all this beauty with my one pencil and my little red sketchbook and I let myself be filled with stories: the Sandhill Cranes on their nest; the manatees’ sweet exhale; the anhinga drying his wings in the blooming maple with its red-budded branches hung with moss. I took all these stories into myself and transcribed them into the small, square pages of my sketchbook, notes for a greater re-telling.
After a week we parted ways, and I drove to the Blackwater River, in the northwestern corner of Florida. I opened up my sketchbook, and my box of pastels, and set to work.
At some point, walking along the white sand beaches that cradle the Blackwater River, sketchbook in hand, I realized I was living my dream. It almost startled me, that realization, like the slap of a fish on the black water’s surface, ripples dancing with light. And I walked even taller, the sand warming my bare feet, the sun browning my skin.