During the long drives where there was nothing to break the monotony of the view of beautiful tree lined roads, I would slip into a zen-like state — alert and aware, in the ever-present moment, just letting thoughts drift into and out of my head as they wished.
One of the thoughts that popped to the surface of my mind fully formed is that this journey is not about what I am looking for, but what is looking for me. I let the thought slip back into the murk, but now I realize how true it is. The most satisfying moments of this journey so far have not been the things I specifically set out to see, but those that found their way to me. Things beside mosquitoes and whatever chomped on my ear, that is.
I have sipped grand marnier while looking at the stars with one person who found his way to me, and nibbled popcorn by a bonfire with another. I simply stood, so fully in the moment that I didn’t even think to take a photo when a crane, like a stooped old man with hands clasped behind his back, walked down the street, picked his way across the yard to me, and then meandered back down the road.
But the most awesome of all that came looking for me was the weedy sea dragon.
We went to the Florida Aquarium in downtown Tampa, which was interesting (especially the coral reef modeled after the reef off Dry Tortuga) but not particularly astonishing until we found ourselves in a darkened alcove away from the hordes of unsilent children. There, in an aquarium by themselves, flowing in the water like creatures from a fairytale, accompanied by dreamy music, were the weedy sea dragons. We stared, mesmerized, for at least a quarter of an hour, as these fantastic creatures slowly danced their stately waltz.
It seemed impossible these dragons were real. Though they are of the seahorse family, they are quite large — at least eight inches long — and look more like a leafy plant moved by water currents than an animal moving under its own power. Such alien beauty!
Sometimes on this trip I have lamented the sameness of things. After a while, a house, no matter how historic or ornate, seems like just another house. A tree, no matter how different from its fellows, seems like just another tree. A body of water is always water.
But nothing was like this leafy sea dragon. And somehow this being from Australia found me, touched me (metaphorically speaking), and let me go.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)