Tarpon Bay sits on the back side of Sanibel, at the eastern end of the big wildlife refuge, with just one tiny, putative opening onto the Pine Island Sound. That's what you see from a kayak, anyway. The mangroves that ring the Bay are so think, at high tide they make an emerald wall that merges with the water, and the barrier island is impregnable. Existentially indifferent to our peripeteia. That appearance of solidity, however, isn't the whole truth. The atom is like that, people have told me. The little building block of all this..."matter," I suppose, is what we are supposed to call it...is somehow ninety-nine percent nothing, an illusion of substance based on motion and electrical charges, instead. When you come close to the emerald wall, gliding silently, paddle held-up in a reverent hush, the little eddy from your last stroke barely visible now, a slight dimple in the surface some ten feet behind the kayak, and perhaps a drop falling silently off the very tip of the paddle blade, you see that there are breaks. The emerald wall causes optical illusions, befuddling already sun-squeezed eyes, where there are certain passages, backward bending at first, that lead into the forest.
Some years ago, I found a channel, obscured from the Bay. You have to lay your paddle flat against the length of the kayak, and use your hands to pull-through a few mangrove branches that are slowly, but inexorably, stepping down into the water. The mangroves yield as you pass in. A ten foot width of light and blue sky swim parallel to your course, above the channel, and looking to left and right you see now not the emerald wall, but instead miles of forking branches and trunks in the airspace underneath the canopy. About fifty meters on, the creek opens into a circular space, maybe five kayaks in diameter.
A few months ago, my husband and I were there. The tidal flow was in fevered run back to the Bay, and thence to the Gulf. We got out to stand in the ankle-deep water, as clear and swift as any mountain river that plunges over granite steps, and rushes in corrugated agitation over the shallows of rounded rock. The water ran like a trout river, but in the mangroves there is no upstream or downstream, the force of the flow isn't contained, isn't channelled, can't be comprehended by your eyes that way. It's fully directional; from one side of you, to the other. And, it emerges from under and through the mangroves, shaking their roots and branches, and transmitting that vibration up into the emerald, and goes out through the other side of the lake-like clearing. That motion is underneath you, pushing on your legs, making current turbulence around the place where you stand, but there isn't a visual paradigm for interpreting the teleology of all those millions of gallons of moving water. You can't see a source or a destination. There is only fast running water, and the enormity of its volume is riveting. Our kayak was pushed away, pinned against the trees at the Bay side of the lake-circle. Minnow swarms came and went, no possibility of fighting the tide, in glinting bursts like someone had dumped a can of craft sparkles at your feet in the shower. Intellectually, I always knew that the mangroves aren't exactly growing on the land, or in the sea. But for the first time I really felt that. Understood it. The mangroves are some kind of missing link in geology, an intermediate form between the solid and liquid parts that jostle for space on our globe. And being there, you can see some kind of critical phase transition, be at the cliff effect of change. I will always love that place.