Experiencing South Florida’s soul

Contributing Writer

Because I bird a lot, I walk a lot, and in so doing I experience the landscape of South Florida at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. While birding I’m sometimes struck by the effect of light on birds, beaches, wetlands and mangroves. Sometimes a scene touches me deeply. It is then, metaphorically, that I experience the soul of the landscape.

If you want to experience South Florida’s soul in and around LBK, start in the early morning. Walk out to the beach and you’ll see a pale gray sky with a break of barely yellow light. Below it, look at the silhouette of a dove on a bare branch of a sea grape bush. As you approach hear the sound of its wings snap in the air like an unfurling canvas sail.

Follow the tide line, which is strewn with weed and shells as far as the eye can see. Smile with a child’s pleasure at the feeling of salty grit on your fingers, which won’t go away after you’ve picked up several shell fragments. Walk in shallow water, which barely covers tidal sand ridges that massage your feet. Listen to the soothing din of the waves. They’re always there and too often unheard. Watch a flock of gulls and terns fly low overhead, down the beach to a spot where others are standing. They are there almost every day. Why? Only they know and they aren’t telling.

Take a bus trip, which crosses the Longboat Pass Bridge with fog so thick that a lone laughing gull seems to be floating on the mist of eternity. That’s a prelude to crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, where at eye level there’s a cloud that stretches for miles in all directions.

Wispy and made of vapor, it floats by slowly showing its majesty. The sight of it awes.

Another morning, fog has cleared and the sky is filled with pebbly clouds. An osprey flaps, flaps, flaps, then glides. In low light the raptor looks black and white, not chocolate brown and white. It’s alien looking. Another osprey is coming toward this one like a train running on an opposite track.

Minutes later an osprey is low and close, not too far above the water. Looking into the sky above it is like looking into eternity. For what seems like long seconds

I look at the bird’s full-feathered body. Beneath those feathers is a living, sentient being that sees differently than humans. If it’s aware of me, it is only as an insignificant distraction from hunting. But it couldn’t be aware of how much I admire its beauty, mystery and the excitement it brings. Too soon the osprey is gone taking the magic that it brought.


Now there’s only the far off sound of earth-moving equipment and the din of waves. Pale light brightens the horizon as a ring-billed gull lets out a mournful gull cry. What does it mean? Minutes later everything seems clearer than clear. The beach rarely looks or feels this beautiful. It touches my soul. I wish that I could capture the moment and save it forever. The next best thing is looking around and feeling it. I save it that way.

In the late afternoon on the sand near the water there are no three-toed footprints, small feathers or guano stains, telltale proof that birds have been here. The tide has left the surface smooth. The only footprints are mine.

I’m suddenly self-conscious. It’s odd imagining myself walking here looking around. There’s more in footprints than just sand.

On another late afternoon the sun lays a golden carpet across the Gulf of Mexico. Small waves roll to shore where three-dozen sanderlings scurry at water’s edge. Royal terns and sandwich terns are here. A ring-billed gull is swimming in the water bathed in the sun’s fiery reflection.

Abruptly most of the remaining birds fly off toward the setting sun. How do they know when it’s time to go? The sanderlings fly into the path of the sun’s red ball, turn north low over the water, do an about face and fly south. Walking down the beach, there are two dozen other birds clumped up on the sand at the water’s edge. They apparently have a different “go home” time. At this

time of day the beach is like an airport with the sun serving as a computer screen that lists departure times that only the birds can read.

In Durante Park’s backwaters are several white footbridges, allowing one to peek into waterways where birds might be. I cross them gingerly, not wanting sudden creaking to frighten off any birds. It’s a perfectly sublime moment as the day is winding down. Palm trees are soaking up the last rays of the setting sun, storing them for the approaching cold night. Wispy strands of Spanish moss hang from a tree’s branches. The gauzy appearance of the moss on the tree makes it look like a lady whose clothes are tattered but not her spirit. She’s going out dancing for the evening and will return at dawn. I’ve never been here in early morning and wonder what the park’s soul looks and feels like then. I’m sure that there are many South Florida moments here waiting to be experienced.

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