Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Back in the Conch Republic

Big Pine Key, Florida

We spent our first day back in the Keys diving on Looe Key marine sanctuary. The Key is actually a shallow shoal area about five miles out at sea. It was named after the H.M.S. Looe which sank there in 1744. The Looe carried 190 men and 42 cannon. Some of the cannon were salvaged in 1951 at the dawn of sport diving.

When we dove here in the early 1960s the reefs of the Keys were things of almost hallucinogenic beauty, colorful crystalline fairy castles. By the 1980s, the more delicate corals, like the fragile staghorns, were all broken and shattered on the seafloor. The dive sites had begun to resemble bleached bone yards. Today, even the white coral skeletons are disintegrated and only larger masses of tattered brown corals and a few sea fans remain. I won’t come here again. Too many years and too many tourists have reduced the reefs to drab reminders of former glory.

Then again, if you come here to snorkel for the first time from a place, let’s say, like Long Island, you might find the warm water and tropical fish a very good experience. There were four young men from Long Island aboard. They all sounded like Tony Soprano.

I was paired with two older and apparently inexperienced divers. My first clue was a mask and snorkel floating toward the sea floor. I swam down and retrieved it and then led my two dive buddies around the reef for about an hour. Some of the pictures might be interesting after development. Due to limited visibility, it was difficult to keep them both in sight since they tended to swim off in different directions.

In the evening we went to an outdoor Tiki bar with a thatched roof. The moon was peeking though the rain clouds. We had cheeseburgers and margaritas and listened to a pretty good live band.

The Moon glows the same:
it is the drifting cloud forms
make it seem to change
-Matsuo Basho

This is Fantasy Week in Key West, thirty miles to the south. Last night was “pimps and hos” dress-up night. The inhabitants wear costumes of prostitutes and their business managers. Tonight is the really big night with the parade though downtown.

We are staying in our favorite RV park. It’s full of old tacky, brightly painted house trailers that are reminiscent of the Keys of 50 years ago. Some of them are from 50 years ago. A few Key deer wander though the park. They are the size of large dogs: an endangered species. They share the woods with the blue iguanas.

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