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Might have been rough

by Randall Beaird
map_florida_keys_r1_c1

I’d always wanted to take a vacation to the Florida Keys. This past summer it happened. After taking a week long cruise on the SS Norway out of Miami I hopped a bus to Key Largo. Famous for its fabulous scuba diving and sunsets, I eased into a dive resort for a few days.

Close to where the dive boats were strapped tight lay a roped off swimming area. Eager to test the water I checked the shoreline.  My first several trips in were without a tank; I just paddled around learning who the new fish were.

grunts

grunts

There were mangrove snapper, grunts and a sprinkling of lonely barracudas. The grunts looked like fancy piggy perch, or dressed up croakers. Visibility may have been only fifteen feet, but when you grow up on the banks of the muddy Brazos river, fifteen feet is a dream.

 

Mangrove Snapper

Mangrove Snapper

I was paying particular attention to the snapper, even stalking them. I just bought a spear gun, and though I couldn’t use it in Key Largo, I was taking notes for further south.

I learned that the grunts are caught frequently with rod and reel and make worthy table fare, but it was taboo to spear them (they have pretty blue and yellow stripes.)

I noticed quite a bit of litter from 8 feet at the pier out to about 20 feet deep. I told the dive operator that for a free tank of air I’d gather trash. Diving is like flying–who cares if you’re picking up a little trash.

horseshoe crab

horseshoe crab

Of the more interesting observations, the huge tarpon skeleton pasted on the sandy bottom, the bizarre looking horseshoe crab and the eerie barracudas. They were always alone, always staring me down, looking dangerous.

barracuda

barracuda

One day I figured out where the JOHN PENNEKAMP CORAL REEF STATE PARK was and took a hike. It was a healthy twenty minute sweat, especially when I walked by some trees. Mosquitoes lay in wait; I slipped into the standard helicopter polka, until I bought some repellant.

Once at the park, it was swimming in an aquarium.  My old spot, the Freeport jetty and my trusty flounder hole were shades of gray; I was swimming with the pretty dogs now.

lobster

lobster

Then, some waving tentacles caught my eye ten feet below. After swooping down for a look I was surpised to find a whole family of lobsters.  Seeing them reminded me of the upcoming two day season in Key West. For now, it was just a show.

When the sun goes down in the Florida Keys people gather and stare. There’s something about a fiery ball sinking into a watery grave. I think they’re thinking….the day is over, it might have been rough, but this sure is pretty.

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