Capt. Gary Henderson, Florida

August 16th, 2004

By Captain Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

I read, and I must admit with a certain amount of jealousy, as Stouff writes about his ancestors, the Sheti'imasha; their rich and colorful history, their customs and beliefs and legends; principles to live by. Wonderment to me. The point? Roger left his heritage behind for a while. Even though he left, he returned to find his familiar surroundings mostly as he had left them. His place, where his ancestors had laid a strong foundation of pride, was still there; places where kindred spirits still linger to guide him through life's purposes. He, once again, found himself at his spirit's sacred grounds; where ties of tradition and all good things haunt.

As I've mentioned before, I'm a Florida native. I'm proud of this, I'm just not sure if I have a "sacred place." Older Florida natives know what this means, since the Florida we grew up in has changed drastically, disappearing in the last thirty or forty years. I've always been told change is good; in some venues, perhaps.

My father's ancestors came from Ireland's southeastern coast, maybe that's why I'm so attracted to saltwater, salt really is in my genes. My mother's ancestors hailed from England, but I'm pretty sure, not from royalty. At least I don't think they were, since I've never inherited anything of value, like jewels and crowns and stuff. My son in law is half Native American. His people are Mohawk. I'm not too sure he knows that much about his ancestors, but if it were me, I sure would. I feel sadness for him; I think he's missing out on a lot of personal and historical richness. If he does understand this, he has sacred grounds; a place to go and find his ancestors' spirits; his heritage.

I would have to say, I'm my own ancestor. I have no personal ties to Ireland or England. I've never been to either of the two countries. One day, perhaps, I'll travel to Ireland. It looks to be a beautiful place. When I run into someone with an Irish brogue, I do feel a certain kinship with them. But I feel more of a kinship with other Florida natives. We are a rare breed; only thirty something percent born in Florida, last I heard.

I'm not misanthropic; to the contrary, I generally like most everyone I meet. However, when thousands of carpetbaggers invaded central Florida in the mid fifties, searching out that perfect place to build the "house of the mouse," it changed my Florida immensely, and unfortunately, forever. These people and the new landscape I don't care for.

My sacred ground was lost when the plastic mouse and duck moved to central Florida. Dad even said things would never be the same. I didn't understand what he was implying then; I do now. I have my memories of what it was like growing up here, way back then. That just doesn't seem good enough. Unlike Roger, I have nowhere to return and find attending spirits waiting for me. My roots have been snatched away from where they were supposed to be, then hauled away by blank faces and metal monsters with giant, rubber tires. They had no history of this place that now exists only in my memories.

That old song Joni Mitchell sang in 1970...

"Don't it always seem to go; that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

I began to visualize what Joni was singing about. Central Florida had been my paradise; my place for returning; a place that should have been left alone and undisturbed. But what was wasn't anymore; my heritage was now buried beneath tons of asphalt and concrete and high buildings. Ever-present strangers now tread over it, not seeing footprints my dad left for me to come home to. I had no bond there anymore. No sounds of ancient callings, only traffic and blaring horns and scurrying people waiting to pay their money for shells and tee-shirts and souvenirs.

Not finding what I was looking for where I once had roots, I looked elsewhere. I planned a trip to the west coast of Florida where I spent two of my formidable years; number four and five. A place of simplicity; it too was gone. Where quartz-sand beaches belonged to whoever wished to leave footprints, were now marked with "Guests Only" signs. Footprints left by Florida natives were to be no more, unless they were "Guests Only."

The Old Days

I looked from a distance trying to catch a glimpse of something familiar, a sign of things from the past. Nothing. No more old bridges, where wooden catwalks were added. Catwalks from where families gathered at night to fish for trout and snook and red fish. Gone now and replaced with concrete and ribs of steel, bearing more signs to keep us from them. "No Fishing From Bridge," the sign growls. "Go away, find somewhere else. I'm busy!" the sign implies. I drove over the bridge and stared down into the emerald water, hoping to see a friendly spirit; nothing but fancy, expensive sailing boats occupied by ghostly, white-bodied tourists that stayed where "Guest Only" signs forbade me to leave footprints.


I left from there knowing I wouldn't return.

With a feeling of peace in my soul, I rest on the shores of the Indian River. I had chosen my place. Here, one day, my ashes will be spread after the Master decides to touch my shoulder and tell me my time is up. Here, my spirit will walk among fishers and birds, and I will know red fish by their first names. Here, I will sit and smile into waters I call home. Here, I will become an attending spirit, waiting to visit with old friends. Here, my children's children will say they feel my presence as they wade and fish in places I have shown them.

I will give them their place; a place where they can return; a place free of monsters with rubber tires, and free of signs that growl.

There have been no others before me. No others waiting for me there, now.

I am my own ancestor.

See y'all next week. ~ Capt. Gary

About Gary:

Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area. After moving a little closer to the coast, his interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."

He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the waters will ever be present.

Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater patterns in the early '90's and has participated as a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting and tying instructor and stained glass artist, creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.

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