Monday, January 29, 2018

The serpent and the seashore

Dunedin,FL – “Snake!”, cried Fawn, as we approached the entry gate of Honeymoon Island State Park last Friday, a short drive from the RV park. From the back seat of the car, Val and I lurched forward to catch a glimpse, but could see nothing. “It’s a great big snake!”, she repeated, and we looked all the harder, but all we saw was the asphalt road leading up to the kiosk ahead.

John was able to make a U-turn just before we joined the lineup of cars, and head back toward the spot where Fawn had called out. Finally, we saw it: a magnificent, undulating diamond-back rattlesnake, slowly slithering from the warm asphalt toward the grass. We were spellbound! I quickly passed my phone to Val to snap a photo, but by the time he did so, the grass and the snake melded into one medley of greens, browns and tans, rendering the creature almost invisible.

This was not our first visit to Honeymoon Island; on previous visits, we had stopped in at the visitor centre to see displays about the plant and animal life in this seaside state park. We had also read about rattlesnakes, and seen warning signs along the pathways – but who really believes those things? It’s just the management avoiding liability, right?

Well, our sighting triggered a whole new level of respect for warning signs. The rattler was a good four or five feet long, and wore a clear diamond-shaped pattern along its length, culminating in the scalloped grey rattle that, prior to that moment, I’d only seen in cowboy westerns. And its complete disappearance, as soon as it hit the grass, underscored how easy it would be for an inattentive hiker to step on one by mistake.

Following that exciting encounter, we headed through the entry gate and on to the beach for an afternoon stroll. The flags at the pavilion cracked in the stiff wind, and we had to grab our hats a couple of times before they flew off, so it wasn’t exactly tempting to strip down and jump into the waves – although there were some folks who had waded in. But it was lovely to see the water, and to hunt for pretty shells among the heaps washed up by the tide. Seagulls screamed at us and sandpipers and plovers skittered across the hardened sand, looking for little sea creatures to munch on.

The island got its name back in the 1940s when, in a move to draw more visitors to the area, organizers set up tiny cottages for newlyweds. A contest, across the whole US, offered as its prize a free week-long honeymoon for selected lucky winners – and they came to discover the same unspoiled beach that we enjoyed all these years later, thanks to the protection offered by the state park system.

It was great to have a warm enough day, after many cool ones, for our visit. Today (Sunday) as I write this, a steady downpour is giving our little cottage a lakefront location: the massive puddle in the street out front. I look forward to the day I can wear some of the hot-weather stuff I packed! Not yet!

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