Realizing this weekend would be one of the last free weekends I would have between now and Christmas, I decided to take a quick trip to the beach to visit friends & spend some time writing.

As I sit here on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, I’m witnessing nature’s celebration of another beautiful sunrise. Seagulls are effortlessly riding the wind with the slow, broad strokes of their wings. Pelicans are diving from incredible heights to pluck unsuspecting creatures from the water.

Joyful sounds abound from a nearby pier as a father & child catch their first fish. Then there’s the patient, calculated shuffle of the elderly man who has walked this path many times before, and the quick suspicious movements of a squirrel discovering the remaining spoils from last night’s picnic.

The dull roar of city life across the bay is drowned out by the chirps and calls of the birds overhead and the seemingly painful croaks of the majestic heron chased from her resting spot by a playful young retriever, who, in turn, is being chased by his owner.

The smell is of freshly cut grass with a hint of salt, the feel is the nearly-forgotten chill of Fall.

One wave after another crashes into the shore in glorious fashion; each a final kamikaze-like exertion of energy after traveling across the vast expanse. Sitting on this bench, wondering how I got here, I came across a post in my journal dated January 6th, 2005.

I haven’t yet told you the full story about what happened to my sailboat. For now, suffices to say that it didn’t make it through Hurrican Ivan, the storm that demolished the Alabama Gulf Coast in 2004. Five months after the storm, I returned to Bear Point Marina and wrote this entry in my logbook.

1/6/2005, 20:25

It was less than a year ago that I called this place home. It’s weird how long ago that seems. Being here tonight, however, brings back memories as if they’d happened only days ago. So much has changed, yet, so little is different.

The marina still aches of the wrath of Hurricane Ivan. Nearly half of it has been rebuilt and is newer than ever, but continue a few feet further down the dock and you’ll find half-submerged boats and naked pilings. It’s uncertain how long it will be before the dock is fully healed.

The docks aren’t what make up this marina, however, and the personality of this maritime family hasn’t suffered a bit.

Take a short stroll by the boats and it’s almost certain that one of the residents will stop you to chat. True to form, I had not been in town for longer than 15 minutes before a small celebration took place at the end of B Dock. It’s always amazing to me…you can go 4 months without seeing or hearing from these folks and it’s like you never left. I guess that’s part of the definition of family.

I now sit aboard JASDIP, a beautiful US Yacht 42, and stare across the harbor. The night is extremely calm and fog has rolled in as thick as I’ve ever seen. I have to strain to see the slip my boat was docked at only a few months ago. With the fog in, it’s easy to pretend that the marina is perfect–whole. It’s easy to ignore the entire length of D & E docks that are gone. Ripped away by the storm.

The restaurant is closed. In fact, they say that it may never reopen. Sitting here it’s hard not to look at the deserted building and see it all lit up with people hanging around waiting for a table. I would give anything right now to hear the all-to-familiar “Last call…Smith, party of 5….”

Most of the employees…my friends…have now scattered. Some to Mobile, others to Pensacola, and many to their respective colleges. I remember how perfect this place was. Perfect for all of its shortcomings…and it will never again be exactly as I remember it.

I walked into Snapper’s tonight. It was really jumping; they’ve started having a shuffleboard tournament on Thursday nights. Jody & Julie were there…they attacked me as soon as I walked in…my eyes had barely adjusted to the darkness. I recognized a few faces, Mr. Arnell was on his usual stool, but as much as that place had stayed the same, it was different. The bartender was a new lady I’d never seen before. Nobody was playing pool. Nobody was drinking Yuengling or ordering a round of lemon-drops. Billy was still cooking, but Kat wasn’t there to take my order.

It was like I was watching the remake of a movie I once starred in. It just wasn’t the same.

I love this place, and I always will. But as much for what it was as for what it is.

Re-reading this entry, I can’t help but think of a conversation I had earlier this week about how much timing plays into our lives, experiences & relationships. I could buy another boat, move back to Orange Beach, sail to Key West, and do everything else exactly the same as I did that summer. But the experience would be completely different. Not better, not worse. Just different.

Today I’m experiencing things I couldn’t have experienced, getting opportunities that I couldn’t have taken advantage of and meeting people I couldn’t have appreciated years, months, or even weeks ago.

The view from this bench has been nearly the same for years but I can never again experience it exactly the way I did today. Not yesterday, not tomorrow.

Because even if the view hasn’t changed, I have.