Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Monday, the sun broke through clouds and a light breeze riffled the palm trees and the water as we strolled along one of Fort Myers’ many canals, this one at Manatee Park. Armed with polarized sunglasses, we scanned the waters and immediately saw little snouts peeking up for a moment or two, then dipping back down. The manatees, we learned, prefer water warmer than 60 degrees, so they clustered together in a cove by the canal. We leaned on the waist high cyclone fence at the observation points to see those noses breaking water, and a glimpse of enormous bellies (they can eat up to 15% their body weight each day), before the manatee sinks to the depths. The manatees can stay underwater up to 20 minutes, but normally they surface about every 2-3 minutes, or every 30 seconds, if they’re very active.

What a mystery of life! These slow-moving manatees have simple needs, eating, resting, and traveling, with a lifespan almost human, 60 years. A park volunteer told us the manatees had nail-covered flippers, vestiges of toes somewhat shaped like those of elephants. Something led these plant-eating air-breathing creatures to stay in the water, those long eons ago, marked only by evolution and the rising and setting sun. Scientists estimate about 3,000 of these creatures remain, the survival of their species threatened by diminished habitat, litter, and speeding boats, though local governments have passed laws that protect the manatee and encourage research.

We followed the wandering paths through Manatee Park to see Red Mangrove trees, King Palms, and the shorter Cabbage Palm with its fibrous trunk, comprised entirely of long strings of golden vegetable fiber. We encountered only one large and very plastic alligator.

Tomorrow we’ll hike through the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and Wednesday, we fish on the open sea, with projected weather at 75 degrees. I still struggle with access to Internet, but found a coffee shop a few miles away from our condo, and each morning, the writing goes well. Make it a good week!

PS The mystery bird was a Domestic Muscovy duck, but it still looked like a turkey with a red head, thus qualifying it as a tur-duck at least.

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