The birds in Florida are amazing. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Kayaking in Florida

After kayaking for years in Maine, for some reason it took me a while to realize that I could also kayak in Florida. First of all, I am a “snowbird”—not a native of Florida—and I am learning more about Florida every year. Secondly, at the beginning of my time in Florida, I didn’t know anyone who was doing kayaking, and no one seemed to talk about it.

However, one day I drove by an outfitter place with kayaks for rent. That was when the light bulb went off in my brain. Now this was something for me, and I soon looked into renting kayaks. My husband and I went out for the first time on a nearby river that eventually led to the Gulf Coast. For part of a day, we meandered under overhanging tropical trees in the everglades and took a couple of breaks on sandy beaches. The only bad experience was that after getting comfortable on a beach, the fire ants discovered us. We took to our kayaks and were more careful the next time. The greatest memory was the manatees swimming under and around our kayaks. They are gentle giants, slow-moving creatures, and fun to watch.

I have found other areas to rent kayaks, at state parks with scenic waterways. Often a local guide will take a group for a few hours to encourage environmental habitat protection and to learn about the everglades. The giant Cyprus trees are a sight to see, but many areas full of these trees were cut for lumber and furniture, and the human population has overtaken many wilderness areas.

It's fun to see alligators in Florida--at a distance! Photo by Madelyn Given.

It’s fun to see alligators in Florida–at a distance! Photo by Madelyn Given.

There are splashes as turtles or fish jump in the water. There are alligators of all sizes: we are very cautious and carefully keep our distance.

The tropics are alive with the sounds and colorful movements of many different birds. There are spoonbills, ibis, flamingos, stilts, storks, egrets, and many birds in Florida that never make it to Maine, but the blue heron is a familiar sight in both places. One spring when I returned from Florida, there was still ice on the lakes and ponds in Maine. Our blue heron (we like to think it is the same one) had arrived, poor thing. But each day, the sun was higher in the sky, and along the shore, there was more and more water. That heron made it through that spring. In Florida, the blue heron are much more common, and just as elegant with their long legs.

Usually weather conditions are not as drastic in Florida, but I check the weather forecast before going for an outing, and while kayaking, I keep an eye on the wind and general weather conditions. I feel more comfortable staying along the shoreline when sea kayaking. There are often dolphins that come quite close to shore, as well as sand sharks and rays.

Each part of the day is different and beautiful. Sunrise is a special time of the day. Nature seems to all wake up at this time and share the happiness of a new day in a lively joyous way. In the evening on the Gulf Coast, the scene is magnificent as you paddle into the sunset. A sailboat may go by, with the silhouette of the boat making a perfect picture against the sky. Darkness follows in just a few minutes, and then it is time to head home.

(posted January 12, 2015)