Birds and Gators
The sand feels soft and warm beneath my feet as Felicia and I walk north along the beach at Canaveral National Seashore. The cool salt water splashes against our bare legs. We talk for a while, then listen to the call of seagulls and the sound of the surf washing upon the barrier island. A vulture swoops low trying to steal food from picnickers. A gang of terns, looking like hipster beach bums, looks outward toward the ocean.
Late in the afternoon, after walking several miles, we turn around and head back the way we came. The tide is coming in now. A lone white ibis runs in and out with the waves, searching for food.
The next day, we return to the Merritt Island wetlands. Wading birds are in abundance.
The day is hot and preternaturally still, as if in expectation of something. Felicia spots him first. An alligator is partially submerged in the water nearby. We wonder if he’s asleep, then notice an eye opening and closing. He knows that we’re here. Felicia reminds me of what our cousin told us last night— that an alligator can run up to 30 mph in short bursts. Carefully, I move in closer for a photo.
We move on to a bridge where manatees like to gather. There are none present today, but a big brown pelican poses for us on a railing beneath the bridge.
On our last full day in Florida, Felicia goes shopping with her Aunt Shirley while I check out a local wetlands that Shirley recommended.
While looking out over a lake, something moves into my peripheral vision from the right. It turns out that it’s a large alligator swimming slowly along the shore just a few yards away. I’m thrilled to get this close a look and follow him until he disappears into tall weeds. Going back to my original observation point, I’m amazed to find another gator who had just moved into a spot by the shore. This time, I have the presence of mind to grab a photo.
Still another alligator appears swimming toward me. I notice a sign and decide to move on.
Farther on, I run into a serious birder with a tripod and spotting scope. Generously, he helps me identify some of the birds that we’re observing.
Too early the next morning, my cell phone alarm awakens me in the middle of a dream. In my half-asleep torpor, I struggle to remember. It’s foggy for a second or two, but then comes back. In my dream, I’m paddling a kayak for miles and miles through a primordial swamp, with fantastical birds and alligators at every turn. I smile, shake off the sleep, and pack my bag for the flight back to Colorado.