Pine Island Sound

by Mary Clista Dahl

As the small boat leaves the dock under a clear blue sky in December (that alone would make a perfect excursion), this nature lover from the bitter North is ecstatic.  We are vacationing in Florida and deviating from the beach today to explore the less charted waters of Pine Island Sound and the wildlife that thrive there.  We have a local guide, preferring expertise and knowledge in wildlife and navigating the unpredictable shallow waters.

As we glide through the gentle waves, he points out the American White Pelican, the bird with the second largest wingspan (nine feet) in North America.  A flock was clustered in the water, comfortable with our presence, and not taking off to cater to my desire to see this wingspan.  The dolphins were more willing to play, swiftly swimming around us making shadows in the water, creating mutual joy.  Our guide is a treasure trove of information about coastal Florida.  He shares history, botany, and details about the environment.  He explains the Australian Pine invasion when I inquire about the bare tree trunks.  He paints a clear picture in my mind of the Calusa Indians constructing shell mounds on the shores and living off the land.  He describes the shoals and how they were created.  He passionately demonstrates his love for preservation of nature.  And we eagerly listen.

We search for manatees, but they were elusive.  There were instead, birds of all kinds.  Our sharp-eyed guide spied a surprise; an osprey perched high up on a sailboat spreader.  Approaching slowly, cameras ready, we noticed that he is feasting on fresh prey.  He makes no assumptions about our presence.  He shreds his fish with razor sharp talons, going about his instinctive business.  We are the ones that make a big deal of his mealtime, and it fascinates us.  As a bonus, on the dock below is an egret happy to intercept the secondhand scraps.


Cabbage Key was our nature trail stop.  We hike for an hour among the palms and orchids and unfamiliar plants, learning to identify many.  Around a bend is a large tortoise in the center of the sandy trail.  He swings his head back and forth, obviously in control of the situation, directing us around him.  He would’ve come home with me if he hadn’t been too large for my purse.  At the end of the trail we climb a tower that gives us a view for miles of tree canopy and beautiful water.  Space to breathe. Natural space, not the space you struggle to create at home.

The return trip allows for quiet contemplation.  The reflection of the sun changes the color of the water as we move.  It is easy to be conscious of the warm wind blowing through my hair and the fresh, salty air.  It’s a rewarding experience to devote one’s time to the sole purpose of seeking out nature.  There is always something to see and enjoy, and she rarely disappoints.

I notice that my companions seem happily content as well.  And I smile as I think to myself how grateful I am for this outing with them because encounters with nature always seems magnified when shared with the ones that you love.