Sanibel Island, a shell Mecca and bird lovers’ sanctuary; this little known island near Fort Meyers stunned me with its natural beauty. My week there helped me to appreciate my family and my place in this world.
Upon our arrival, my family pulled up to Waterside Inn: a row of cottages painted in festive colors and named after fruits (http://www.watersideinn.net). The cottages lined a path that ended directly on the beach. After vowing to paint a picture of one of the charming cottages, I rushed to sink my feet into the soft white sand. Be warned, before entering the beaches, use bug spray or a local concoction named cactus juice; the island has mosquito-like pests called “no-seeums” commonly found in Florida. However, bug-bites aside, my excursion was rewarded with a beautiful sunset.
One of the highlights of Sanibel is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge has a 3-mile paved path that leads pedestrians, bikers and cars through untouched mangroves. Over two hundred types of migratory birds flock to these wetlands, and the most brilliant of these is the roseate spoonbill which provides amazing photographic opportunities. The trail also contains an alligator viewing post, and my family and I spotted two baby alligators at the end of the loop. The wildlife was incredible!
Sanibel is also home to a large dolphin population. While sightings from the beach are enthralling, the only way to fully experience the dolphins is to ride the Sanibel Thriller, which provides a highly entertaining ride (http://www.sanibelthriller.com/index.html).
The island’s crescent shape scoops up shells from the Gulf of Mexico, making the island world famous for shells. The best shelling experience we had was at Turner beach where recent dredging had unlodged thousands of beautiful shells. The farther we walked along the shore, the more exceptional the shells became. We literally filled bags with conchs, whelks, tulips, and even some rare junonia shells.
The time I spent shelling with my mother and swimming in the surf with my dad was priceless. One night, my dad and I took a swim and saw the bioluminescence in the water glow when we moved. We laughed and called it pixie dust, floated on our backs, and let the waves carry us as we gazed at the moon. It was deeply peaceful. That is what I found to be most captivating about the island; in the middle of everyday activities it bestowed an overwhelming calm and reminded me that the future cannot be ”fixed“ by worrying. Collecting shells with my mother was fulfilling. Biking through the pristine mangroves turned into a mysterious and spiritual journey. Even while I painted a picture of our cottage, I felt like some great scribe, preserving a vital secret for posterity. Once, I woke before sunrise and simply walked along the beach. I was able to witness the world as it slowly stirred to life and the sun broke through the horizon. I felt like it was the beginning of the earth.
This trip came just before I entered my junior year; I was filled with questions about what I should do and anxiously awaited my sixteenth birthday. On the day of my birthday, my mother handed me a large heavy package, and I eagerly ripped through the paper. I discovered a beautiful frame, decorated with the prettiest shells from our trip, and mounted inside it was my painting of the cottage. It was as if my mother was calmly reassuring me that while my life may be rapidly changing, I can always return to that summer and remember the peace I felt.
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