My dear old friend Betsy, with whom I have been friends for 65 years, asked me to go with her to Key West. Hummm, I said "I think you won't like Key West". I know Betsy. Well, she said, suggest something else. So I said, "How about Sanibel Island?"
I spent every spring vacation at Sanibel Island from the time I was about 8 years old to my Junior year in College. It was a fantastic place, filled with wonderful things to do, as I was obsessed with shells even before my grandmother took me to this wondrous place. I have been back to the Island, several times since 1958, just to drive through and try out the "Ding" Darling wildlife refuge with my mother and husband but not to stay. This time I suggested that we try to stay at the Island Inn which was where my grandmother had us stay every year. Our original plan was to spend two nights there and go further south to the Everglades south of Naples for the rest of the week, but once there that plan was hastily scrapped in favor of our daily runs through the Ding Darling Refuge, and the lazy hours spent on the beach watching pelicans and terns dive bomb the water.
So much...dolphins, pelicans, herons, an aligator, a racoon, tangled mangrove trees with their eery roots, Queenie's Ice Cream, The Shell Museum, beautiful skies and gorgeous sunsets. It was hypnotic sitting on our balcony watching the palm fronds waving in the breeze. Nothing much more to do than that...that was enough.
Because of Sanibel's unique position in the Gulf of Mexico, and the currents and prevailing winds shells get stirred up from the deep ocean and flung up on the beaches in huge piles, sometimes. Shelling on Sanibel is a hobby for some, an obsession for others, and a casual pastime for most visitors. The photo above is so typical of the high tide line with the daily spewing forth from the ocean depths. Very, very lucky people can find the rarities, a Junonia, or perfect Scotch Bonnet or Murex with all her spines intact.
For awhile during the day it looked like we might have clear atmosphere to see the "green flash" but as the sun went down clouds appeared and prevented us from seeing that rare occurrence, which I have seen several times. It was not to be this time either, but the sunsets were amazing.
I was slowly being restored to some kind of sanity by watching all this hypnotic activity...sandpipers running frantically along the edge of the surf, never to be knocked down, and the surf sounds, making me feel drugged with relaxation.
On the north side of Sanibel there is a totally different habitat than the southern beach side. Most of it is mangrove swamp and it is here that many people have made efforts to conserve these wild lands. Sanibel has seen progress, no doubt about that, from the late 1940s when I first arrived there to find only one small paved road, and a ferry to get there. Now there is a bridge and shops and food places and shell shops and T-Shirt places, but it is tackful and no building can be higher than 3 stories, so you have modest development along the beaches and no development for most of the Island's interior and mangrove edges. It is amazing, and wonderful, not pretentious like some places, and there is obviously money there, lots of it, but they do things like require you to be off the beaches after 9:00pm and you are not allowed to have even a flash light on the beach at night because it will disorient the sea turtles who nest there. No wild beach parties here!
The mangrove trees put tangled roots down into the water.
On the bay side is the entrance to The J.R. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. We bought a pass that allowed us lifetime access to all the Federal protected lands. This is bird watching at its easiest....from the front seat of your car! You drive about 4 miles through this swamp, scanning right and left to see whatever is out feeding, preening, or roosting. It is a mecca for photographers, and birders, and especially birders who, like me, are not hikers! We made daily runs through the sanctuary in the early morning and again in the late afternoon. The photo above is of a flock of Roseate Spoonbills. In my early days of Sanibel, spoonbills were so rare a sighting of one of them would bring applause in the dining room of Island Inn at dinner, as well as finding a Junonia or catching a rare fish. It was that kind of place!
"Ding" Darling was a political cartoonist and he was syndicated all over the nation's newspapers, having a huge following and his ability to visually poke at the politicians and get things done in Washington was legendary. He was a friend to both Roosevelt presidents, and was for a time involved in setting up federal programs for conservation. He love to come to Sanibel and after his death this sanctuary was set up to honor him.
We could not have asked for better accommodations. We had a continental breakfast at the Inn, and we had a kitchen with refrigerator, stove, and microwave in our rooms. It was quite nice to shop in the two Island supermarkets for our lunches and dinners, and we discovered the locally made Queenie's Ice Cream which was so addictive we had to have a pint each night.
I'm slowly trying to get back into my regular life, which is very difficult to do! It has been so long since I spent 5 days doing nothing I can not remember when it was. Vacations should always be this way!