My time as a student at New College was marked, year in, year out, by a close association with the bay front. Each year I was drawn to the water, like a selkie seeking out her skin. Each year gave me a new tale to tell.
When New College was new to me, it wasn’t truly new. You see, I had been forewarned of its wonders and perils, I had friends already in attendance, and like any first year, I took none of these warnings to heart. And so, I went to none of my orientation events. Instead I mooned crushfully about with a boy who dropped out the very next year (attrition is high at my little school amid the palm trees). But I did discover the wonders of the C Store.
It no longer exists, this staple of New College existence. My second year was its last, and it was replaced by a deli. But while it was there, it sold some of the strangest and best things I had found in sunny little Sarasota. There were vegan treats and organic fruit, waffles every morning, but best of all were the sorbets. In either half of a pineapple or half of a coconut there were these fabulous tropical fruit sorbets, with only one problem: what to do with the remaining half of a fruit when you were finished with the frozen dessert? Most would throw them away without even thinking. I had a different notion.
I had not attended any of my orientation events, so I decided to make one of my own, to orient myself with the ins and outs of the bay. A grand greeting, perhaps. A pineapple halved long-ways looks rather like a boat. And so I gathered up dear friends and new acquaintances and we gathered up forgotten things– things that wouldn’t be missed, things that people don’t think about. Our orientation event was the construction of a faery boat, to sail unmanned like all faery boats out into Sarasota Bay.
The masts were small twigs, and we found leaves decayed down to lace for the sails. I took a small quartz crystal from my collection of stones, and created a cushion for it out of Spanish moss. Strands of palm fronds lashed the pieces all together. Finally, we brought the small craft to the pier, a squarish blocky protrusion of concrete that jutted not far out into the water, red roses in our hands. Roses from the bay front are the most lovely in the world– not because they are particularly nice specimens, nor because they are exceedingly well-cared-for, but because they are on the bay, and their scent mixes with the smells of pine needles and brine salt and the decay of sea-things at low tide. It was low tide.
I walked down the steps to the water’s edge, boat in one hand, rose in the other, and set the pineapple ship on the waves. I tugged the petals from the flower, bid my friends do likewise, and we scattered them over the vessel and the rippling swells.
I sat a long time at the water’s edge, perhaps expecting the boat to float off into the bay. I should have known better. In its frailty and elegance it had a sense of the absurd, bobbing against the pier, coming closer in and butting against the sea wall. The sun set. The tide came in. All of us had long left it there, going off to pursue other things in the last day before classes started.
Perhaps it was dragged under the pier as the tide went out again. Perhaps it was lifted from the water by another student later that night. Maybe, perhaps, our orientation event was watched by the bay spirits, the seafolk and mermaids or other creatures unfamiliar to me, and perhaps after our leaving they stole the toy boat for their own use, perplexed as always by the humans, their odd pomp and foolish disappointment when the solemnity of an event is broken by the laws of physics. I think they must have laughed. It was a strange hello to a place that strangely came to haunt my heart.