Posted by: floridanature | May 8, 2009

An Afternoon Stroll: Treasure Is Anywhere You Want it to Be

It was so hot by 2 pm today that, out in my backyard,  the leaves on the nightshade—a hearty native with flowers like tiny white chandeliers—were beginning to curl.  The vine of the miniature gourd, usually stout and robust, wasn’t doing too well, either. Elsewhere in the enfenced semi-tame wilderness, things looked okay, if a bit quiet. The only thing moving were the anoles, the dark exotic bruisers from some Antillean island beating up on the smaller green natives, Lilliputian lives waged and lost on the twig of a magnolia.


I’d finished up a writing project, so I was anxious to get out and stretch my legs despite the heat. I put on my sunglasses and headed out, by foot, for downtown.  It’s a nice stroll, 1.8 miles one-way, atop sidewalks and mostly under the canopies of large trees for most of the way.  One of the reasons I wanted to live in Sanford was so I could do stuff like this, because when I was a boy growing up, that’s what I would also do—walk to town. There, I’d meet up with friends, maybe take in an afternoon matinee, especially if a good horror movie was playing. If not, we’d hang out at the drug store, drink cherry cokes, wait to see if any pretty girls might be around.  Here in Sanford, the historic downtown bears an uncanny resemblance to the little downtown of my own, so am figuring nostalgia still plays big in figuring out lots to do with my life.


The walk in today was a good one, and here in east central Florida in late Spring, the air was full of the smell of blossoms and newly cut grass. After a few blocks, I started to glisten, even with a light breeze blowing up Park Avenue from the river. I also begin to open my senses more fully to the experience, figuring the intellect had already done enough damage for the day. Homes were all across the board, from nice Victorians to the Craftsman models of  the 1930’s, to a few cottages from the last half century or so, not unlike my own. Most were well kept, neat little gardens here and there growing a mix of natives and exotics, shampoo gingers hanging with lush rouge -faced blooms and the crepe-like flowers of the turks cap—sometimes called “sleeping hibiscus” because it never quite opens—appearing and disappearing as I went. 

There were white picket fences and gardens with brick walkways and, next to one time-stuck residence, a vintage Texaco gas pump, the kind with the rounded glass light imprinted with the classic Texaco star logo. Passed  two parks, one for kids with neat wooden boxes and stilts and ladders and labyrinthic stuff, a design architects once took from actual drawings children had made of what they would like a  playground  to look like, if they were in charge. And now, at least in this park, they are.

At First Street, which is what the main street is called, I walk a few blocks under awnings for the shade. As I do, I can’t help remember once walking down another sunny street with treasure hunter Mel Fisher in Key West on one hot summer afternoon. Mel  was a pistol, a true American original, finally discovering the long-lost galleon Atocha, long after everyone else had given up. “Let’s walk on the shady side of the street”,   Mel suggested, and I agreed, even though it was only a couple blocks to his favorite bar. 

The late Mel Fisher, with Atocha treasure







The late Mel Fisher, with Atocha treasure


I had been diving earlier that week with some archaeologists off of Islamorada, and wanted to ask Mel about the way his treasure divers might sometimes destroy the providence of a shipwreck. Mel, always a good sport, a lover of good rum and pretty women, was up for the banter, and the afternoon would forever enrich my memory, taking my quest for a magazine story as far as I could take it, as usual. And why write about treasure and the reality of its history if you hadn’t seen it, underwater, hadn’t walked on the shady side of the street in Key West with Mel Fisher, hadn’t seen the look of wistfulness in the eyes of the young women divers who had just found a handful of emeralds, buried all these centuries, embedded in the calcium of the coral.

And so, I left the shady awnings of Sanford, crossed over where the old clock marked the edge of Magnolia Square, and went into Maya Books and Music, Mayaa cool store owned by my friend Yvette, who is sitting barefoot on the floor, pricing a bunch of books a customer just brought in for trade. Yvette, astonishing literate, is the antidote to every soul-sucking corporate bookstore ever invented. She diligently handles every book that comes in, reading the ones she likes the best, and then puts them into niches categorized by type—art, maritime history, women’s, nature, children’s, and so on. Some books, with nicks and bruises, go into a box marked “free”. Others simply offer themselves to you, little treasures in the stacks; when a customer asks for a title, Yvette doesn’t check the inventory on a computer; instead, she scrolls through her mind, and provides an answer, just like real people used to do in real towns, not so terribly long ago.

 YvetteYvette knows the book selling biz, knows the modern realities of the new McBook world that cuisinarts the integrity of knowledge and homogenizes culture. Still, she keeps on keeping on, every bit as courageous and optimistic and Quixotic as the treasure salvers of the Keys. I sit in a comfy chair covered with a Mexican shawl of some sort,  gratefully inhaling the bottle of water I’ve been offered. Yvette, who sometimes uses a worldly edge to hide a warm heart, tells of growing up as a book worm—and when being made to play outside, took her favorite books with her and read them up in the protective crook of a tree.

 Refreshed, I say goodbye, and head back up the street for home, walking a carefully chosen path that takes me past old memories and new scents, always eager for the little moments which, unexpectedly,  reveal more than I could have ever imagined.  It’s later now, but still a scorcher, and whenever I get a chance, I slip into the shade just like Mel would do, smiling now at the lavish spendor of the human senses, wondering what the next few steps will bring.



  1. Maya Books is definitely a treasure. The new location rocks and Yvette’s love for books is apparent by her knowledge of authors, titles and her ability to make recommendations.

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