Riminiscing - Read Different Books

January 3, 2007 Times Edition

Many of us who grew up in the South have lived in the same area for several generations. We almost assume that others share our opinions and values, and would enjoy and benefit from duplicating our lifestyles. These delusions were shattered during World War II. For the first time, many of us with rural backgrounds were forced to mingle with people from totally different environments and lifestyles who "read different books".

Decades ago, I lived for a while on an island in the Pacific. Our accommodations, courtesy of the Navy, consisted of a canvas tent with five cots. A short distance away was a rocky beach with a path cutting through the brush. This trail went by a native hut. One day I noticed a tall steel container behind the dwelling. It appeared to have been salvaged from a sunken ship. Since rainwater collection cauldrons were common, I didn't pay much attention to it until one afternoon I saw a splash erupt from the surface. Inside was a monster sea turtle, staring at me as he munched on table scraps floating about in the water . . . the captive was obviously to be featured at some future feast occasion. Meanwhile, the lack of refrigeration was not a problem. Hopefully, the owner remembered to invite all of his helpers in hauling the giant from the beach. I'll bet that finished product was of gourmet quality. I was disappointed that we had to move on before the banquet.

Appearing to be healthy and happy, with the bounty of the sea awaiting their ancient skills, the question is posed: "Are these a deprived people? Should their culture be destroyed and replaced by our own 'standards'"? Since they have performed rather well for a few thousand years, the answer should be carefully considered. Unfortunately, few isolated native groups remain.

Back on the local scene, we have our own claims regarding the sea: "The most beautiful beaches in the world!" I would agree that Gulf Coast would rank among this class. However, the same fine sand circulates under and through the water, diminishing water clarity. In other words, you can't have it all! Our Gulf waters, which we describe as "clear" with five fathoms of visibility, would not impress a swimmer in the South Pacific. He looks down through his face mask at a coral reef more than 200 feet beneath the surface. We should stake our claim on the beach and change the subject before getting into the water!

The Pacific Reef is not dormant. Sea life of various shapes, sizes, and colors pulses about the coral formations. As you glide far above this activity, it is about as close to the sensation of free flight as an earthbound human can ever experience.

You are jolted back to reality when a mature shark makes his inspection pass along the reef. His size alone commands your attention. He is aware of your presence, but not interested. Like most predators, he is most active at night. You are at the bottom of his dining preference.

The most graceful of all the sea creatures are the Rays. Their body extensions form a perfect set of "wings", which they use as expertly as an underwater hawk. The species range from hand-size to the Manta Ray, which has a wingspan similar to the length of a pickup truck. None are aggressive toward a clumsy alien human; they are simply curious. Except in self-defense, even the sting rays are harmless. However, it must be recognized that this species of the rays interprets being touched in any way as an "attack". Their barb is instantly used. They are such masters of camouflage in sandy areas of the bottom that it is often difficult to spot them until they move.

Back in Jackson County, those experiences in a "strange" environment are beginning to dim. Still, you can't avoid thinking about the wide range of individuals whom you knew and worked with. They considered a landlocked farming area to be a strange and alien world. All good people "reading totally different books". Perhaps the time has come to learn to live and let live on this basis . . .

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