Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paddle Away Part II

A holiday paddle in the mere wilds of Florida hard against the teeming city of Sarasota. Part I of this paddle posted a few weeks ago.

After the diving cormorants, we kayaked into the mangrove tunnels.

My young cousin, sitting between my nephew and I, her small feet touching the water, was still talking about the cormorants as we glided in.  But she quickly quieted as we all did.  The dark green leaves all around and overhead in muted light encouraged reverence.

The homes, cars, outdoor restaurants, ice cream scoopers, and massive condo buildings looming over the shoreline quickly disappeared.  A paddle made a small splash sound.  We slowly drifted under one low but thick root, and I tilted my head to the side to just clear it.

You can think for a moment you're elsewhere. Especially when you see the small black crabs climbing on the organized tangle of roots. The more you look the more you see. Hundreds of them moving as only crabs can. Creepy. Startling. Awesome.

I half expected a Hobbit to stumble by or to find Sméagol hunting for fish (and that ring) in the shallow stream.

We turned a bend in the watery maze and there stood a blue heron ignoring us. A wisp of a feather high across its head, as if feigning royalty.  Looking into the water, there were fish with tiger-like stripes on their backs hovering here and there -- aptly named tiger sandfish.

We peered deeper into the thick mangrove forest and a couple white ibis came into view -- surprisingly not standing out against the deep green canopy and greenish beige water as much as you might think.
As we emerged into the sunshine on the other side of the forest, I looked back at the natural tunnel we had just exited. It's opaque blackness somehow still beckoned me.

But ahead, hopefully, was one of the biggest draws to this bit of water: manatees.  The sea cow, a docile but heavyset marine mammal that eats mainly vegetation.  They cling to a somewhat precarious existence in the estuary that thousands of humans call their backyard.

We paddled into the canals dominated with large homes, groomed lawns and all the blunt stamps of humanity.  The natural edge, the transition between land and sea, was long gone.

There are signs that ask boaters to slow down through certain stretches because manatees may be present. Not only do manatees face the challenge of finding enough food and swimming in water tainted by runoff but also they are often struck by speeding boats or gashed by a propeller.

It's kind of too bad that there are houses all around but this is the canal with the warmest water and the manatees come here to hang out. A lady with nicotine skin and a raspy voice says she's seen'em today. Nonchalant she says this, as if she owns them. 

Further into the canal, someone ahead of us becomes excited and in our kayak, my nephew sees it first.  A bump in the water and then a snout just breaking the surface ahead.  Then another. We drift closer but still give the animals lots of space. We wait. They can hold their breath for a long time.

There they are, someone nearly shouts.  Soon we're seeing a large manatee longer than our kayaks, probably a mother, with a smaller one, probably the offspring, swimming and floating along. They're making their way back toward more open water and we can glimpse their wide brown bodies off the bow of our kayak.  It's an exciting little gift. 

Then, almost on cue, here comes a boat moving too fast directly toward the manatees.  Its a Riviera  Redneck. He's wearing a t shirt that says exactly that.

We holler at him to slow down as his dingy is headed straight toward the manatees.   He does not seem to see or hear us. His engine is full on and his boat is moving quickly.

A few paddlers including my nephew and I wave paddles in the air and finally he slows down but does not look happy about it. As he moves away and we ride his wake, I hope he does not begrudge the manatees.

Giving them plenty of room, we follow the manatees out into the bigger water.  We lose sight of them quickly but they will stay with us in our mind's eye.

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