One day last year, daddy and me took off on the bikes and headed south and west for Ocala. I don't know why, he said he wanted to go look in on Pa-paw's old place. It rained a half-dozen times, hard quick storms blown deep inland from the Atlantic, roaring across whatever one calls those great saw-grass plains. I'd opted out on the windshield for the 883 and at sixty the rain stung my lips most so I'd draw them back into my mouth for protection. It was June maybe, with the hot wind we'd dry again under an hour.
One day I'll go back, alone with my camera, to stop and record each cornered and relic fruit stand under dark canopies of moss covered pines, each hoary road-house, each derelict gas station with roof angles jetting off for no practical architectural reason. Elemental Florida, the true one that I remember. Instead Daddy and me ran over the beige shell-embedded road through Ocala and headed out 40 to Silver Springs. I followed him over the great bridge of the Intracoastal into the Silver River state park through that hard country where a man named Bill Tester, who would later mentor me, crawled into this swamp-world before breaking out to New York for the first of two times, learned his craft and went insane.
When I was little, the bridge over the Intracoastal always seemed to be a mountain to me, the last of a long extinct line passing through there. Daddy running the FXR up it that day seemed to be going straight into the sky. It was under that bridge that my Pa-paw and me once flung a bottle into the waterway. I had written a letter with my name and a little about myself and sealed it up with wax, I was maybe nine years old. It passed, somehow, through the broad waist of Florida, through swamps un-numbered and perils over years, eventually making it out to the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream.
It passed north and into the Pamlico and then later the Albemarle sound of North Carolina, where it was discovered, about an hour's drive south from where we would years later settle in Virginia, by two fishermen. A reporter from a newspaper called us back in Tennessee and asked me questions about it. Four years might have passed since I first threw it in.
Daddy never could find an article about it, nor the name of the reporter or the newspaper. There's no telling where this bottle with my name scrawled in it might be now. I have tried before to chart it's course through the state of Florida, many times daydreamed how it might've meandered, got hung up under mangrove roots, then broke free. I don't reckon it ever sank.
I cannot form a clear image how it finally met with the Atlantic, or how exactly it might've bobbed in the eternal deep-blue of the Stream, or for how long. I wonder why it chose Carolina to come back, this small thing with a part of myself sealed away in it. Why not journey forever, lost, mad and alone like Ulysses?