In a Maze of Mangroves
I crawled in to a space inside the mangroves. Ensconced there, I sat on the sand, above low tide. Mangrove roots, and the mud they walked in, were one being. I could not tell if the tree roots went up or down. The spot was a quiet place to inhale the greenness. One could just be an silent animal, sitting within this short forest canopy.
An ibis flew overhead. Raccoon tracks trickled along the salty, muddy shoreline a few feet below me. A mockingbird landed, staring, from a perch on a mangrove branch nearby. Mangrove crabs scuttled past.
This mangrove forest biome bordered a canal, one of a canal grid along this section of Florida's western shore. The sound of motorcycle engines came from a highway at one end of the forest, the roar dampened by the density of the trees. These red mangroves, one of 100 species called mangroves, protect the coast from erosion and storm surge. Their roots are home to many living creatures: insects and spiders, reptiles, mammals, fish and birds. They are a source of blue carbon, carbon dioxide taken out of the atmosphere by coastal ocean ecosystems. Here in Port Charlotte's estuary, red mangroves are abundant. Dotting their roots, red berries of Brazilian pepper tree punctuated the greenery. I sat, relaxed in deep shade, exploring how pictures of the berries might look.
Bits of plastic and fishing line strands had washed up on shore from being tossed into the canal. While we may talk about pleasure boats, does their pleasure mean throwing trash into the common waters? We humans do so quickly, without a backward glance, and then we motor on. Possibly I am as guilty; I took photographs, but only packed out my own lunch wrappers, being too lazy to pack out any other trash. A question came to me; was it morally repugnant to photograph a wild area that was home to many species, now surrounded by plastic, without cleaning any of it up?
Having no answer to that, I wiped the mud off the lens shade, climbed onto my one speed bike, and peddled back to our floating home, its roots also at home in the water.
In Florida Bay, sixty miles south of Miami, we anchor in six foot teal water depths. Off to port, there is a familiar tail clefting and swooshing the water's surface: a dolphin is pushing sand around on the bottom with its bottlenose, perhaps hunting a stone crab. A waning full moon dots the sky.
Rowing ashore against the current in our dinghy Dog Paddle: a kingfisher percusses out from the mangrove forest, an osprey call pierces out across the water from its nest atop a gumbo limbo tree. Two white ibis nibble by red mangroves along the shore. We walk down the dock to the historic home and hurricane shelter; the latter has walls a foot thick. The home itself was built by a Miami chemist. Its walls are made of coral reef material.
Except for the osprey, the soundscape is quiet this Sunday morning. No rangers are working this morning on Lignumvitae Key, the highest land in the Florida Keys. We pay the park fee and walk a flat, mangrove-surrounded trail. This brings us close to banana spiders and their webs, which span the path we stroll. We pause, rest, and stroll back to the dock, and rowing home, black cormorants launch off a section of the closed dock and below them are hundreds of fish, hovering in a slight current. Portuguese man-o-war drift over shallows near the shore, where six ladyfish are motionless under the mangroves. On this calm, bright morning in the Florida Keys, we row back, stow the oars and greet a patiently waiting dog. The soundscape is broken by laughter.