Monday, February 11, 2008

Manatee Mania

Manatees congregating in warmer shallow water (photo from Manatees, a Tribute)

Tail Fin Next to My Kayak
Manatee Coming Up for Air with Nostrils Surfacing

A Pair of Docile Manatees (photo from Manatees, a Tribute)

What do they call a group of manatees? School, herd, pod? You'd be surprised how many biologists I asked who didn't know. Even the woman who answered the phone at the Manatee Education Center didn't know, but I liked the way she laughed each time she tried a different noun. You know how you can sometimes tell if you have the right word by sounding it out? That's what she was doing on the phone ...."a school of manatee, a herd of manatee, a pod of manatee." I explained I was curious because I ended up floating on top of several of them in shallow water and I wanted to tell this story in an educated manner. She never figured it out but continued to amuse herself with "flock.....clan....litter."

To move on with the story, I'll explain how I became so intimate with manatees, and I promise it won't sound too educated. You see, I was so delighted to finally find these unobtrusive ancient animals in the tanin-stained water of the Indian River Lagoon here in Florida, that I released my kayak paddle for a couple of minutes in favor of my binoculars and digital camera. The wind did fast work of putting my lame kayak in the center of the school-herd-pod of manatees. I could feel the manatees pushing against the bottom of my kayak. They encircled me, or somehow my kayak drifted into the center of their corral. I could have scratched their bulging backsides, bedecked with algae and barnacles. I swear their girths were greater than my 32 inch wide kayak. The school-herd-pod was so concentrated that there was not enough free water to set my paddle and sweep myself out of the way.

I held my breath knowing I could soon be taking a well-deserved swim. I wasn't too worried because I knew they wouldn't bite me; they don't have any teeth except molars and they are herbivores. That means vegetarian, thank you. Manatees are tame and trusting: not territorial. They don't even fight over mates, so what are they going to do with me? (Squish me and make muck?)
Manatees can stay underwater about 20 minutes but they usually come to the surface for air more often than that. I was surrounded by so many, that every few seconds I would hear a woosh of exhaled air and if I could turn my torso limberly in the right direction, I could see the nostrils flare on the tip of a surfaced bulbous snout within a paddle's length from me. Then the manatee would submerge, the lungs nurished and the nostrils closing, enabling feeding underwater.
They held me in suspense tottering on their backsides, while they sized up my underside. Would my blimpy 8 foot Hobie kayak resemble them enough in the dark water to adopt me until they slowly move laterally with their front flippers to a new grazing ground? Not a chance. Once one of these 1/2 ton marine mammals determined I wasn't part of the school-herd-pod, they all decided to take leave. This parting was not in their normal serene style of locomotion, but a grand, turbulent exit. I rocked in a sea of white water, waves pouring over the sides of my kayak as their paddle shaped tails lifted and propelled them away from my kayak.

These ancient, vanishing, mermaid-like animals gave me what a I deserved, a wet body and soggy pride, but they did not dump me. I think my Hobie is shaped too much like them; a roly-poly bouyant-neutral vessel that just settled calmly upright. Thank you again.

So is it a school, a herd or a pod of manatees that mania-teased me and my kayak? If I tell you that their distant cousins are elephants, would that help? Need another hint? Try sounding it out loud: "Cheryl, the nerd, drifted into a ______of manatees."

Monday, February 4, 2008

How to Pick Up a Friend

Garage-Sale Kayak in Florida

Garage-Sale Friend Phyliss in Kayak

I went for a bike ride one warm Florida morning several weeks ago. I wasn't shopping for anything in particular when I stopped at a garage sale. There was lots of stuff on the driveway but I noticed the blue kayak almost immediately. In trying to make kayaking more accessible for women through Water's Edge Adventures, I started to negotiate with the owner. I noticed a car pull up and a woman jumped out. She darted straight for the kayak exclaiming that she has been looking for one for months. I had this guilty feeling about buying the kayak when I already had 3 at home. She mistakenly asked me if I would take a certain amout for it, assuming I was the owner. I told her I wasn't the owner but I had already asked to buy it at that price and the owner refused. When she stated that she didn't want to go any higher, I was relieved. I said "Great, I will buy the kayak and you can use it until March when I head back to Ohio." Well, she liked that idea and we exchanged phone numbers in the driveway. Since then we have gone kayaking together and have become buddies.

My garage-sale kayak doesn't clutter Phyliss's garage any longer as she has since bought 2 new kayaks, one of which she loaned me for its maiden voyage when I had some friends visiting. Isn't this a nice exchange of trust? I have since learned that Phyliss, a mom with 2 young children, sports a long history of surfing. Her boards are stored next to her shiny new kayaks in her garage and she has offered to teach me how to surf!

I did pretty dang well that day garage-saling, wouldn't you agree? An ol' surfer with a big heart and vivacious spirit is a pretty unique find. You never know what you might pick up at a garage sale!