Observations: Baby manatees don’t care about the price of gas

Published on: March 9, 2011

My wife Michelle enjoying a weekend afternoon on the boat.  With the beautiful weather of late, it is hard to feel anything but good. MITCH TRAPHAGEN PHOTO

My wife Michelle enjoying a weekend afternoon on the boat. With the beautiful weather of late, it is hard to feel anything but good. MITCH TRAPHAGEN PHOTO

Baby manatee snouts. I’m not sure I can imagine anything more cool than seeing baby manatee snouts popping up in the water around my boat. The recent warm weather has encouraged manatees to leave the water warmed by the TECO power plant in Apollo Beach for shallow water places such as my marina at Little Harbor in Ruskin. The manatees, in turn, have drawn tourists who scramble up and down the docks armed with cameras to watch them swim and play in the water. Among the half dozen or so manatees in the marina last weekend were at least two babies. One kept surfacing with a little tiny flipper wrapped around his mom’s rotund body. Another, apparently with an independent streak, kept surfacing alone, a tiny little manatee snout coming up for a few seconds of air before disappearing again.

While living up north years ago, I was an autumn guy. I loved the warm days and cool nights and the color of the changing leaves was, and remains, imprinted in my mind’s eye. But the past days and weeks have changed that. March in Florida is incredible.

While much of the nation is still shivering, I have been enjoying beautiful weather from the cockpit of my boat, watching manatees play all the while luxuriating in the scent of orange blossoms. I’m not sure anything could be more perfect than that.

There has been a definite change in vibe over the past days and weeks. Everywhere it seems people are out enjoying their lives. Recession or no recession, the weather has been so perfect that it is hard not to feel good about life. In fact, to the casual observer, it would be hard to see that there is a recession at all. The area’s restaurants are packed full, and tourists are streaming in unabated.

Sunday morning in the marina was fascinating. It was as if the large condominium tower was a big ship that pulled into port disgorging one group of tourists while welcoming a new group. Early in the morning, a few people made their way out to the beach before returning to pack up for their return trip home. Others gazed longingly from their balconies as spouses zipped up their luggage. Then, after a few hours of relative quiet, new tourists began to appear. They were easy to identify; their eyes wide open, their walk hurried as if on a mission to pack full every possible minute of their vacation. Mostly, though, they were easy to identify by their skin so white that it was almost pink. By next weekend, when the time comes for them to disgorge from the giant condominium-ship, their walk will be slower and more relaxed, and, for some, their skin will be sort of pink and also slightly painful to the touch.

I found the entire process to be exciting and fun to watch. I could sense the peace the disgorging tourists found on their weeklong break from “real-life.”  Of course, I could also sense their sadness that their week had ended. I reveled in the excitement of the new visitors — the palpable thrill when they discover that, indeed, it doesn’t snow in Florida. I watched as visitors, both young and old, stared out across the bay from their balconies, looking in wonder at the sunshine, water, palm trees and the skyline of St. Petersburg. Perhaps some wondered why they chose such a quiet corner of paradise. Certainly most were grateful for it. But next week, they will all pack up with their skin tinted from the Florida sun and their psyches soothed by their leave from bills, deadlines and cold weather. Once back home and back at work, they will think back to the palm trees and the tiki bar at the Sunset Grill and they will smile. In their mind’s eye, a vision of paradise will remain.

The cost of gasoline is rising with no end in sight, and unemployment remains too high. Around the world, there are uprisings, wars and Americans putting their lives on the line simply because we, as a nation, asked them to. I can and do pray for their safety. Beyond that, I can complain and moan about the price of gas and the budget deficit. I can worry about what the latest Middle East uprising means to my life, and me. I can bleat about this politician or that, I can scream and cry until my throat is parched, but none of that will change a thing right now.

On this day, I will watch and delight in the peace and excitement I sense from the tourists. I will luxuriate in the incredible, omnipresent scent of orange blossoms. I will enjoy the sunshine and the palm trees and my heart will laugh with joy every time I see a baby manatee surface for air. Tomorrow I will worry, plan, and try to make a difference. The manatees don’t care about the rising price of gas; they seem to be happy just to be alive. On this day, I feel that way, too.

Take a look behind the story.  Follow Mitch Traphagen on Twitter.