Over the holidays in December, when my Christmas shopping list seems to mysteriously grow, rather than shrink, this Island Runaway starts to feel like she is in a never-ending race. Presents to wrap, stocking stuffers to buy, places to be...the whole point of the holidays themselves seems to get lost. And it's not only during December that life gets so frantic. Once you get to be a "grown up," the to-do list just never seems to disappear. Except...if you're like us, getting off the mainland and out on the water somehow erases those stresses, even if just temporarily.
Today, after deciding NOT to brave the mall and buy another nearly last minute gift, I was reminded of our recent island getaway to Key Largo in the Florida Keys. The weather had not been perfect. (In fact, it had rained part of the weekend). But on our last morning there, the sun came out and the sky glowed a bright, crisp blue. Instead of heading for the pool, I said to Zickie, "Why don't we rent kayaks?" With a little nudging and prodding, I persuaded him and our daughter to get out on Florida Bay.
Florida Bay is a body of water that covers approximately 850 square miles. It lies between the Everglades (to the north) and the Florida Keys (to the south). People come here to catch mackerel and snapper, often with experienced fishing guides. Or to look for manatees and dolphins. Although the bay contains seawater from the Gulf of Mexico, it also receives freshwater from the Everglades (also known as "the River of Grass.") This estuary has always struck me as one of those in-between places, a bit hard to define, and more than a little mysterious.
It was windy that morning, so I, in my single Ocean Kayak, and Zickie and our daughter in the double, stayed close to shore. The water was so clear and still you could see clear to the bottom. We didn't spot many fish, only a few minnows. We didn't see any especially unusual birds, maybe a seagull, and a pelican far in the distance. Mangroves jutted into the water in places. The sun reflected off the bay as if it were a mirror.
I got a good rhythm going with my paddle, and even our sometimes-reluctant 10 year old joined in the spirit of things. We didn't talk a lot, just looked around at the brilliant dome of sky and the wide expanse of water. Hardly anyone else was out, only a motor boat too far from us to even kick up much wake for us to cross. In spots the bay became so shallow it would not have reached above my knee.
Despite the calm appearance of the water surface, the wind and the sea currents meant we all needed to keep up a steady stroke with the paddles, or risk getting pushed out into the middle of the bay. Before long, I'd forgotten about the list of things that awaited me back at home. Our 10 year forgot to complain about the aggravation of her life jacket. Zickie's face lit up as he paused to pose for a photo.
Over that weekend in Key Largo, we ate at various restaurants, shopped at stores, tried rum drinks (Zickie and I did, I mean, not our little one), and met some interesting people, but the most memorable part of our island getaway? A kayak trip when nothing much happened...
As Christmas and the New Year approach, I wanted to post a few photographs of a peaceful scene when island nature really shone brightest. Sometimes even an hour or two in an "in between place," connected to natural beauty, not doing anything flashy, complicated, or expensive, can remind us of what's good about the world. And put us in the mood to be more giving.
Whether you get to an island, already live on one, or reside deep in the interior of a continent, I hope that you get to have a special moment of serenity this holiday season. Maybe looking at the stars in silence? Or watching a soft pink sunset? Even crunching through some fresh, white snow...