Fiddler Crabs, Night Herons, and Sharks, Oh My!

We decided to celebrate Labor Day this year with a trip to the coast for some kayaking. I made my best efforts to prep things the night before: blueberries were packed, cucumbers were sliced, and bread was laid out to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the fly in the AM. Despite these good intentions, we still got a late start. I don’t think it’s possible for us to leave the house before 9 am no matter how hard we try! After a quick breakfast of ham and scrambled eggs, we were out the door. Well, almost… We still had to load up the kayaks, life jackets, paddles, and pack the dry bag. I’ll make a mental note to do all of this beforehand next time, too. Luckily, I recently decided to stow our every-day essentials in a drawer next to the door for easy access. It’s so much more convenient to open the drawer, grab the sunscreen, insect repellent, and first aid kit and head out the door with whatever bag meets our needs that day.

Once we had everything and everyone packed up, strapped down, and buckled in, we were off! We were going to Emerson Point Preserve, but we would only have a few hours because storms were scheduled to roll in at around 2 PM. That would give us just enough time for a quick paddle out, picnic lunch, and a paddle back without cutting it too close to low tide and the storm.

We arrived at our destination full of excitement and energy after the drive there. First things first, we were trying out our new two person Intex Explorer K2 Inflatable Kayak. This would be K and M’s ride for the day. Both of them have been doing very well practicing in the creek behind our house, so we decided it was a good time for them to earn their sea legs (or arms?)! As always, they were tethered to us with a rope the entire time with slack of only about 10 feet, so they were always close by. D inflated the kayak while I slathered the kids in sunscreen and outfitted them with their life jackets.

The Intex kayak is actually really neat! It’s was lightweight enough for M and K to carry it to the canoe launch by themselves, which was approximately 50 feet away. The seats are inflatable and seemed far more comfortable than the hard plastic seats we are all used to! The whole thing was inflated within about 15 minutes, and it was so easy to assemble. The only things D had to put together were the seats (and when I say put together, I mean press them on top of the Velcro strips that hold them in place), and the skeg, which clipped onto the bottom. It was even sturdy enough to hold up to the kids slipping against the oysters several times. That was impressive!

After a few minutes marveling at the fiddler crabs surrounding the canoe launch, we finished loading up the kayaks and shoved off! The launch was nestled right in the middle of a mangrove tunnel, which gradually opened up to briefly reveal blue skies with puffy

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Can you find all of the crabs? There are at least 9!

clouds before narrowing again as we entered another mangrove tunnel. The waterway paralleled the hiking trail that we had been walking a few days before, giving us a nice sense of direction as we paddled along. K and M took some time to get used to paddling in the tunnels, and after warning them that they need to steer clear of the sharp oysters poor M was stricken with a fear that they would leap from their shells and attack him! We did our best to calm his fears, and eventually he came to understand that they would only hurt him if he brushed against them. All of the kids were happy to point out fiddler crabs that climbed on the mangrove branches all around and above us. They were everywhere! It’s a little terrifying how much they resemble massive spiders out of the corner of your eye, though…

As we rounded a bend, we saw a bridge in front of us, and paddling under the bridge dumped us right out into the bay! We hung a right and found ourselves paddling against a fairly powerful current, but our destination was within sight! There was a small dock (one of the observation decks reachable via the hiking trails) with stairs on one side where we would climb up to enjoy a dry picnic lunch. D and I paddled with all our might, feeling like one of those birds caught in a powerful wind. You know, the ones that are flapping their wings but just not getting anywhere. We must have been making some progress though, because eventually we inched up alongside the dock. What a workout! We slipped the kayaks up against the shore where they could not drift away, and the kids all got out to splash around in the shallow water while D and I got lunch ready.

Like I mentioned earlier, we had prepared a feast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, blueberries, cucumbers, applesauce and pretzels for lunch. Maybe it’s the crunch, maybe it’s the cool sensation you get when eating them, but whatever it is we can’t get enough cucumbers on trips like this! They are just so refreshing! Fun fact: this was the first time M had ever img_7421in his life eaten a sandwich. As I was making the PB&J’s, he had requested to just bring bread for him. I had told him that was fine, but in my groove (when you are making six sandwiches, you do get in a groove!) I just made all six sandwiches and forgot to leave one deconstructed. Oops! I didn’t realize my mistake until we pulled out the sandwich bag to eat them. Too late now, it was either eat a sandwich or don’t eat a sandwich, and he opted for the sandwich. Good choice! We used our life jackets as seat cushions and enjoyed the sunshine, salty air, and ocean breeze as we stuffed our faces to fuel up for the trip back.

As D and I started re-packing our garbage and cleaning up, the kids explored the shallow water alongside the dock. K and Rh even found a few water bottles and bottle caps that img_7429-1we packed out. Once everything was ready to go, we noticed storm clouds forming in the distance and hurried to get everyone back in the kayaks so that we could get to shore before the rain started. It was still far off in the distance, but you know how quickly those storms can develop around here! Life jackets on, paddles in hand, and we were off!

The current was pushing us along the shore this time, which proved to be more of a curse than a blessing! D and I were both tired from paddling against the current for so long. It was a welcome break to let the water do most of the work for us, but we must have been going faster than we thought. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, if we both somehow mysteriously lost all sense of time and space or if we just were not looking at the shore closely enough, but somehow we missed the inlet to the mangrove tunnels. We had been paddling for several minutes longer than felt right. I mentioned it to D, and he said it seemed like we had gone to far, too. Our eyes scanned the shoreline. Up ahead we could see a small cove with another dock poking out from the shore. We paddled towards it as a light shower began to trickle down from the scattered clouds above.

The raindrops felt cool as they fell on our heads, and we all welcomed the relief from the heat as we turned around and paddled back up the way we came in search of the inlet. Just as quickly as the rain had started, it stopped again. My eyes scanned the shore relentlessly, while occasionally darting up to the dark clouds looming in the distance. My mind was racing with possibilities – what would happen if we got stuck out in Terra Ceia Bay in the middle of a storm? There was a sandy spot on the shore, we could paddle up there to secure our kayaks and take shelter in the mangroves. What did I have in the dry bag? A few towels, the first aid kit, a few emergency blankets, a flashlight, a back up battery and charger for my cell phone… We still had a few snacks and water left. What if we got swept out to sea? We could use the rope to tether the kayaks together and D and I could hold all of the kids between us as tights as we could…

My thoughts of doom were interrupted when suddenly something splashed right next to us. I jumped and my heart skipped a beat as I realized that it was a shark. There was a shark literally right next to our kayak! It was small, maybe three feet long, and you could tell it was even more afraid of us than we were of it. It darted towards the back of our boat. Amid the shallow water in a completely jaws-esque display, it’s dorsal fin jutted out of the water as it headed towards M and K’s kayak. I was in awe! I had never in my life seen a shark in the wild before. The shark skimmed next to M’s paddle and made a sudden turn, taking off with a series of rapid thrusts of it’s tail, never to be seen again.

It all happened so fast that M and K didn’t even get to see it! D and I both did though, and for some odd reason that sighting gave me a new sense of security. I guess it jolted me back to my senses, in a way. We were fine, the clouds were still off in the distance, and—did I mention how cool it was that we just saw a shark?! I had no idea that it would be such an exciting occurrence, and yet there I was completely dumbfounded and amazed at what we had just witnessed. I’m not even a shark person, but that was just so incredible! After taking a moment to contain my excitement, and exclaim to D “we saw a shark! Oh my gosh we saw a shark!” several times, my eyes went back to scanning the shore, but in a much less panicked way than before. Just moments later we found the inlet to the mangrove tunnels hidden in a cove and paddled in as another gentle shower began to fall from the sky.

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We skimmed our way through the mangrove tunnels, marveling again at the crabs as they scuttled along the prop roots. They weren’t the only creatures here this time, though. As we entered the tunnel we saw a white ibis, and nearing the end we went right

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Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

by an immature Yellow-Crowned Night Heron. It looked uneasy as we slipped past, but it didn’t fly away. It was within just feet of us as we drifted past. The children all got to see this one, and it was amazing how close we were able to get to it.

As our trip came to a close, we drifted lazily up to the canoe launch once again. Ry enthusiastically requested that we go hiking again today, but we unfortunately had to shut that idea down. The kids were all wearing water shoes, while D and I had our scuba booties on. We didn’t have the proper hiking shoes or the energy to take a hike today! Besides, it was raining on and off and we needed to get home before the big storm rolled in! The inflatable kayak was relatively easy to deflate and pack up, but unfortunately there was no rinse station, and we would have to spray it down when we arrived home. The kids all took off their shoes, got strapped into their car seats, and drank some water while D and I loaded the larger kayak onto the roof of the truck.

After speeding home, we played some relaxing spa music and the children colored together before D fired up the grill for some brats in the lanai. What a welcomed meal after such an eventful day! I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a long weekend home with our family. We are so lucky to live in this beautiful state where so many activities are within our reach — so as always I want to encourage everyone to get outside and start exploring. Take a chance and go for it – you might discover a whole new side of yourself that you never knew existed, or you might see a shark and suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of calm. Who knows what will affect you in an amazing way? Until next time, happy trails everyone!

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