The Second Course is Observing Abundant
Wildlife in Startling Shapes and Sizes
Marcia McGreevy Lewis
Copyright 2021 by Marcia McGreevy Lewis
A determination to
scout out the best Key lime pie in Florida morphed into a rewarding
quest to observe wildlife I’d never encountered before. This
unexpected experience became a double delight.
You know you’re in the Florida Keys when
drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key West, and the signs say: boats,
boat rentals, boat lifts, boat works, boat trailers, boat storage.
With an average temperature of 77 degrees, heed the signs. Find a
boat, climb aboard and glide across the azure water of this alluring
Our sunshine-swathed drive features lofty
respond to the tropical breeze as their emerald fronds sweep the air
clean. Magenta bougainvillea twines around archways and adorns
trellises, and the water is as turquoise as Crater Lake is sapphire.
Florida’s aqua water is crystal-clear, whether in shades of
grey, green, white or almost black.
My traveling companion and I sniff the
gardenias and admire the lavish yellow blooms of the trumpet tree,
but we have a goal in traveling to the Florida Keys for ten days in
February. It’s to discover the best key lime pie known to man.
What diverts our quest is the discovery of abundant wildlife in
startling shapes and sizes.
Skinks, ghostly-gray tiny
lizards, attempt to
disappear using their protective coloration, but we detect
them gliding along pathways with their upright curly tails
bobbing along behind them. Their appeal is in contrast to the
behemoth iguanas that scurry around the grounds at their adopted
home, the graveyard in Key West. Tarpons (fish which can reach almost
300 pounds) suck small fish that people dangle over the edge
the dock at Robbie’s in Islamorada. Mottled gray manatees
the length of kayaks (though lacking a kayak’s sleek lines)
visit the docks daily.
We expedite our pie sampling mission with
while reassessing our goal. Key lime pie is little bit of heaven,
though. Its primary ingredient is Key limes—both tart and
sweet. Mix them with eggs and sweetened condensed milk, plunk all
this into a crisp, buttery graham cracker crust and top it off with
dense whipped cream. Scrumptious! After much luscious
we crown Kermit's in Key West as the best purveyor of Key lime
pie. Who else could it be when they freeze slices of their
put them on sticks and drench them in dark chocolate? Droves of
customers stroll in and out the door, savoring each bite of this ice
cream bar-like concoction. Now we can rip ourselves away from
pie-sampling to give the wildlife the attention it deserves.
After lunch in sleepy Islamorada where the
Shack’s po’ sandwiches burst with shrimp, we head to Bud
and Mary’s Marina. On the dock regal egrets, which are actually
cottony-white herons, ignore onlookers as the birds search for
entrails from yellowtail snapper that fishermen clean. Panting along
right after the egrets are hefty grey pelicans with whopping, large
feet. They have learned that there’s an easy meal at hand
and don’t mind at all if they bump against our legs while
The shimmering silver tarpons that cluster
dock at Robbie’s Marina can jump four feet. Their mouths suck
up small fish that people dangle from the dock. It’s quite a
sight to see them arch from the water and make loud popping
sounds as they inhale their snacks. Up to 100 fish gather by
docks at all times of day and night.
I have a hard time diverting my attention
colossal creatures, but we wander next to nearby Postcard Marina. I
am enthralled by the gargantuan manatees that frolic at the marina’s
dock near the Tiki Hut Bar. The manatees are right below the
waterline so it is easy to see them maneuvering their submarine
bodies into position to drink the fresh water that the ice machine
Before leaving Islamorada, we walk through
verdant trails at Green Turtle and Lime Tree nature preserves before
traversing the 42 bridges that lead to Key West. Along the drive,
bike trails, beach walks and citrus groves, with boxes at the ready
for picking, dot the terrain.
Key West, with 25,000 people, is the
point in the United States. Five-toed cats engulf us when we visit
Hemingway’s Italianate home. Years ago, Hemingway’s
favorite bar, Sloppy Joe’s, moved to a new location, and
Hemingway, in protest, absconded with one of its urinals. It now sits
in the yard at his house, decorated with tiles, and is a watering
trough for the descendants of his cats.
Now to the aquarium for alligators,
Atlantic shore fish, jellyfish, sharks and sea
turtles. The touch tank there will reopen after
a walk through the magical environment at The Key West
and Nature Conservatory filled with hundreds of beautiful
creatures. The delight is when one lands on an observer. Afterwards
we find a man walking his green sea turtle. Nobody lifts an eyebrow
as they stroll by.
Roosters are underfoot as we enjoy outside
They’ve roamed the island since they arrived aboard ships
from Cuba and the Caribbean islands. Many of these birds
escaped their enclosures when cockfighting became
Now they’re protected and prowl for handouts.
I wouldn’t normally hover at a graveyard,
the iguanas there are worth a dedicated hover. These green/gray
lizards, called “guana gaitors” because of their size,
change colors from morning to night. In the morning their scales are
dark because the temperature is low and the body absorbs sunlight. As
the temperature increases, they become paler to reflect the sun’s
rays and deflect its heat. Males can reach almost 9 pounds. We saw
these mesmerizing creatures lumber across gravestones, plow
under them and fracture the concrete. Broken headstones have left the
plots in disarray.
It astounded us to arrive in the Florida
one objective in mind and then make a turnaround when we discovered
how fascinating the animals are. The Keys are an immersion in
blissful sunshine, dazzling flora, delectable cuisine, lively music
and the most surprise pleasure—meandering among intriguing
to find jumping tarpon - Robbie's Marina in Islamorada
to find manatees - Postcard Marina’s dock near the Tiki Hut
McGreevy Lewis lives in Seattle and is a retired feature writer for a
major Washington newspaper. She was the Director of Communications at
an independent school where she founded the school’s magazine.
Reach her on Facebook, Instagram: marcialewis25, Twitter:
@McGreevyLewis and linkedin: Marcia Lewis
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