daybreak, the cove

IMG_59712 a.m. Orlando, Florida.

Is it late night or early morning, that I find myself wandering through the labyrinthine passageways of the Sun Spree Inn of Orlando., I turn down one hallway, then the next, two more rights bring me full circle, back to the courtyard, desperate to find my lodging. Around the moonlit pool, through a different entranceway, I learn the language of the Inn. I double back and trip through a corridor. Directions are hard enough to follow during the light of day. Excitement has led to sleep deprivation. And leaving a state where spring drags her heals to traverse a state of perpetual summer has worn thin the fabric of my already fragile sense of reality.

I find my room and drop into the bed and off to sleep.

I dream I am at the Explorer’s Club. I am smoking a pipe and picking at scorpion and cream-cheese stuffed endive hors d’oeurves. A fire rages in the stone fireplace and I recline casually in a wing back chair, sharing my tales and travels, my hard won pearls of wisdom and unusual adventures… all that I learned from the dolphins at Discovery Cove.

The discoveries have already been made, I readily admit, but none of them by me.

I have heard of this magical place with birds and marmosets, where stingrays flirt and dolphins share their stories with their human brethren. A winding river with sublime waterfalls and tropical forests. And the food. I’m told the food, lovingly prepared by locals, is memorable, satisfying, clean. The palm-shade beaches and the loving sun kiss all who enter.

I am in Florida for only a day and have much to see. The cove. A date in downtown Orlando with the puppet-master, and a wedding celebration at a sister cove aptly named “Paradise.”

Some days I look in the mirror and wonder whose life I’m living.

***

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***

Despite my late night, I awaken at 7 a.m. With sleep in my eyes, I prepare for my day’s first adventure.

I am giddy like a child. The dolphins await.

I am undeterred by the topiary dolphins at the entranceway and the smiling greeters in pith helmets. Blinded by my conviction that the dolphins will lead me on a life-changing adventure, I barrel through the gates and grab my gear.

I force down half a coffee that tastes of bitter water and choke down half a banana, for I will need my strength. A seasoned trainer meets me at the pavilion. My fellow adventurers, mostly the young, are beside themselves with wonder.

For a moment, I think I can hear my grey hair growing.

Our group sets out to the shallow lagoon, where the dolphin, Kayle, greets us.

A little girl smiles at me as my heart settles into stark reality. We pet the dolphin. Pose for a picture. Kiss the dolphin. Pose for a picture. Ogle the dolphin. Pose for a picture. There will be no swimming with dolphins today. Unless you consider swimming standing in the water, smiling at a dolphin.

No mind, though. I learn all that there is to know about dolphins in the twenty minutes we spend in the lagoon. Afterwards, I peruse the photos. There’s one in which I look as if I think Kayle will eat me, and I am tempted to purchase a hard copy as evidence to my trials. However, I am frightened off by a man who wishes to pursue the sale in a most unsavory way.

I collect myself and wander to the Great Reef, where one can snorkel amongst schools of fish and friendly stingrays. The reef is warm, tropical, and active with fellow adventurers. I don my mask and submerge my face in the water. Once the water clears from kicking on small feet. I am able to see the coral.

It is fake.

I am snorkeling in a swimming pool.

My undertaking is far from over. I venture first to the aviary, where one can view two beautiful peacocks sitting in a tree, a pea hen, and two toucans who preen each other in their luxury quarters while humans tempt them with bird seed, and then to the fabled winding river, where, surely, I’ll be able to find some solace and peace in nature.

Imagine my dismay when I discover that all rivers, lagoons, and reefs in this strange land of Florida are artificial! The winding river, is, in essence, also an elaborate swimming pool, the waterfalls, high pressure hoses attached to spreaders. I move slowly along the watery path, sometimes walking, sometimes swimming; I laugh at cruel fate and curse my vivid imagination. It’s all a ruse.

As I console myself over a plate of french fries from the commissary, I see the reflection of my true-self winking at me. I am a child, despite my advanced years. A child who doesn’t fake things. Like ketchup.

When asked about my experience, I tell the truth. My good intentions mis-led me and I imagined real forests, a movement in conservation of land and animal. Music, noise, animal sounds were piped in at every interval, so that no one would ever have to suffer the gift of silence.

I pray that the young ones, and their caretakers, will have the opportunity to explore what was alluded to at the cove – out there, far away from the safety of life-guards and pith-helmeted overseers who keep their audience from learning anything about themselves.

“Orlando’s in central Florida,” Mark points out after listening to my tale. “You have to drive to the beach. For a long time.”

“It would’ve been nice if someone told that before I went,” is all I can muster.

When I am old and fully grey, sitting by the fire at the explorer’s club, telling my stories, I will be sure to recount the day spent at Discovery Cove, where I discovered that magic and make-believe are two very different things.

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