Personal Best: Dispatches from the east

I have been in Florida almost three weeks now and my brain is soft. It must be from the sunshine and the fragrant breezes that blow constantly through the palms that my mind is fried.

We have a whole list of things we want to do and fully intend to do but somehow they don’t get done and one day just travels on to the next. Oh we swim in the pool and sit in the sun and read our books and play our games on our iPads and computers and are thoroughly satisfied doing very little and the time flies as we look at our list of things to do. Life is good as I sit typing this column on the third floor lanai of this condo complex and feel the breezes blow through the waving palm tops about 12 feet from where I am sitting.

Finally we had a breakthrough and got off our butts and booked a Manatee Sightseeing Eco Tour and on Monday we travelled about an hour south of Naples, well into the Everglades to a port on a river that winds through mangrove islands to the sea. Six of us boarded a small comfortable pontoon boat with Captain Dick at the helm, a man in his early 60s, very fit and well-tanned, who lived here year-round and worked a small fishing boat around the Ten Thousand Islands, a backwater of the Everglades. And Captain Dick sure knew his manatees as we weren’t 10 minutes into the trip when he spotted the snout of a manatee emerge from the water to breathe near a dock, and then the light brown outline of the whole mammal became visible. They are enormous creatures sometimes called sea cows, very gentle, cautious but curious and can grow up to 13 feet and weigh 1,300 pounds. Two minutes later near another pylon of a dock we spotted a baby manatee, perhaps three or four feet in length, whose mother was quite close by. Gestation takes one year then after the birth it takes 12 to 18 months to wean the baby, although the calf generally remains with the mom about two years. Manatees only have one calf every three to five years and are small in population numbers and on the endangered species list.

It was a lovely leisurely boat trip up the river and we spotted six or more manatees while observing an osprey nest and pair and two of their young who were learning to fish from overhanging branches. A little rain fell briefly to sweeten the trip and cool us off and before we knew it we were back on the dock, manatee fans and supporters forever.

Taking advantage on this run of energy next day we went to Barefoot Beach, a beautiful fine white sand beach on a peninsula with the Cocohatchee River and mangrove swamps behind it and the Gulf of Mexico in front. This is a conservation area where gopher tortoises hatch their eggs and are very well protected. There are nature programs most days of the week with rangers presenting an array of topics including local birds, shells and manatees. The park is beautifully landscaped, easily accessible with boardwalks for those with mobility issues and even has beach wheelchairs. The ocean at this time of year is warm and we just hung on our noodles letting the waves push us in and out. This is paradise plus.

Pat Black write on seniors' issues for The Morning Star, appearing every other Sunday.

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