(Editor’s note: I added a significant piece from 1980 to this story at the very bottom, on 8-25-15. Hope you enjoy it.)
If you want to really see Ambergris Caye through fresh eyes, try walking around with a four-year-old.
Recently, my grandson, Brody, and I took a walk up to Ak’Bol, the yoga resort, a 15-minute stroll along the shore. With Brody the walk stretches to an hour-plus. We play a game called “Does it float or sink?” for which the rules are quite simple: Every few feet we stop to inspect a palm tree frond, a small coconut, a piece of plastic flotsam or jetsam, a toy race car missing three wheels, a shell, or whatever.
Brody then asks, “Will this float?’
“Let’s see,” I say. “Toss it in.”
He uncorks a hard right, as hard as a four-year-old can uncork, attempting to clear the sargassum. Then we watch for a moment.
Sink? Or Float?
Next up. “Will this float?”
And so it goes.
And it is just wonderful.
In the earliest days of his visit, Brody was fascinated with the tiny shells that make up our “beach” in spots. He found beauty in the tiniest objects and could barely contain his excitement with each new discovery, more beautiful than the last. He would sit on his haunches and inspect every square inch of sand, oblivious to all but the tiniest of objects.
And he is right. Those tiniest of shells are beautiful if you take the time to stop, sit down and really look closely.
I thought I walked this island with mindfulness but I had no idea, until Brody came to visit.
My old friend Bud Murphy once told me the secret to enjoying beauty in the vast desert of eastern California. “Get off the highway. Get out of your car. Get down on your hands and knees,” said Bud. There is where you will find an intricate ecosystem of minuscule plants and animals, often thriving in the narrow shadows cast by a cactus or overhanging rock.
Bud was basically urging me to walk mindfully through the desert, slowly, with eyes senses and intellect wide open.
Brody, my little ginger-haired Zen master, knows this intuitively.
To a four-year-old in an environment that is so foreign to his Lake Tahoe life everything is quite amazing. We would lie on our bellies on the dock and look at fish, all kinds of fish, crabs, stingrays and even birds — the cormorants, frigates, pelicans, terns, egrets and ospreys which harvest from these waters.
Every time he saw Manuel, or security guard, Brody would say, “You are the guy who showed us the giant crabs!” — which he did indeed to on their first night here. Three weeks later Manuel was still identified as the guy who showed Brody the giant crabs.
Then there was Costillo, a kind man and complete stranger who helped Brody catch his first fish from a dock with a hand-held line.
On a snorkeling trip to Mexico Rocks, Brody’s attention was captured most of the day by the sardines swimming around in the bait box. On a trip south to the Ambergris Sausage Factory, Brody got to see his first crocodile, lazily skimming over the pond across the street.
He spent one afternoon with a girl his own age collecting snails off the sea rocks and setting up elaborate feeding stations for lizards. Another afternoon was spent line fishing off a dock with two slightly older Belizean boys. One Thursday night was spent building sand castles and running with other kids on a beach in downtown San Pedro while adults clamored for a near-dead chicken to poop on a grid board filled with numbers. The kids definitely had a better time of it.
Ah, the lizards. Or “wizards” in Brody-speak. Another weapon of mass-distraction. Green ones, gray ones, big and small, he would pursue them all. No greater moment came than when a large green lizard pooped on the deck, right before our eyes.
On the day before Brody and his parents flew back home, I carried him up the beach on my shoulders. It suddenly dawned on me that the next time we see each other, Brody will be too big to lift on my shoulders or I will be too old, or maybe both. I pray that he keeps that wide-eyed curiosity for all things great and small, living and inert — no matter how much he grows up.
I’m glad I still have his little collection of shells (and left-behind toy vehicles) because a tragic iPod incident forced me to delete all my photos of his visit, except for the ones posted to Facebook. (No they had not been uploaded to iCloud for some reason).
The memories of slow walks with Brody are sweet and vivid, unlike my recollection of my iPod pass code …..
I am grateful that this little child taught me how to view my world through his eyes.
Facebook’s “Memories” feature handed me quite a surprised yesterday. The image below was published to Facebook a few years ago, partially so that I wouldn’t lose the “original” in the move to Belize. When it showed up yesterday I had a circle of life moment.
I wrote this poem in 1980 about Brody’s father, Brendan, when he was about the same age. We lived in Charlestown, Rhode Island then and the nearby beach was Brendan’s kingdom.
Like father, like son.