Love at First Sight –
I first became introduced to the West Indian manatee about 7 years ago when visiting friends in Homosassa, FL. Kayaking alone on the Homosassa river, I see the outline of a large creature approaching. I knew what it was and wasn’t afraid but I could have never predicted what would happen next. As the manatee approached, he rose and abruptly exhaled, expelling a plume of mist from his nostrils. At this point, we made eye contact as he begin to “play” with my kayak. He would gently and gracefully push me across the river. Returning to the back of the kayak to rise and look at me again. The whole encounter was probably only a couple of minutes. I had no camera and the event only remains in my memory so maybe like many early sailors I was a little delusional and being lured.
In ancient mythology, “siren” was a term used for monsters or sea nymphs who lured sailors and their ships to treacherous rocks and shipwreck with mesmerizing songs. Throughout history, sailors sometimes thought they were seeing mermaids when they were probably seeing manatees. With a little imagination, manatees have an uncanny resemblance to human form that could only increase after long months at sea. In fact, manatees may have helped to perpetuate the myth of mermaids.
Nonetheless, the spell of the manatee was firmly implanted and I return yearly to spend time with the gentle giant.
Manatee Festival – Crystal River
The manatees have provided so much enjoyment for me over the years that I decide I’d like to help in their conservation and preservation. I signed up to volunteer with Save the Manatee Club. Being open to any assignment, I was appointed to work the information booth at the annual Manatee Festival. I arrive at my appointed time and the booth is a flurry of activity and I immediately feel out of place as I really don’t know what to do.
One of the other volunteers, Trinket, sensing my uneasiness takes me under her wing. Our first task is to inflate a huge manatee. It’s unusually chilly today and I’m excited to have a physical task to get moving around.
With the manatee inflated and secured we begin a calendar selling contest. I take an early lead and I’m proud of my sales skills. However, I fade quickly and finish a distant second in the contest. To my credit, Trinket is a seasoned Manatee Club professional with many years of experience over me…..next year!!!
Despite the cool, the festival attendees are in good spirit and are very receptive to our cause. I am surprised at the number of folks who just drop a dollar or two into the donations jar without picking up one of our donation items: post cards, stickers etc. I feel kind of selfish as I never do that. In fact, I rarely approach such booths at festivals as I’m afraid of being asked to make a donation. I gain a whole new perspective today, I can do better.
Then there are the guys who think they’re funny and ask where are our cookbooks. This happens on more than one occasion and I don’t really get the joke. Trinket takes great umbrage to the reference and is quick to reprimand the offender; then sells them a calendar. Like I said, she’s a pro.
Manatee Festival – Day 2
The festival is a 2 day event and I return the following day as a civilian to take it all in. I return to the Manatee Club booth and inquire about the cookbooks. It’s still not funny and I ended up with a calendar as a result of my vain humor attempt.
I decide to take Murphy, and feel like a proud papa taking my boy out to the fair.
The festival has all the attractions you would expect to see: Arts, crafts, petting zoo, information booths and a food court. I enjoy the coastal flair that many of the artists display. It’s quite different from what I am accustomed to seeing.
Festival food is always one of my favorite attractions. As I expect, there are funnel cakes, turkey legs, corn dogs and other assorted fried delicacies. What is unique about the food today is the coastal connection. The options are overwhelming: alligator chili, crabby mac, crabcake sliders, lobster rolls and shrimp and grits. I opt for some of Dan’s clam Chowdah! And, of course, Ice cream that I ended up sharing.
On the way out of the venue, I notice the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tent. I engage the volunteer in a lively discussion and now feel a certain kinship with her. I look for the donation jar and see none, but I had a couple of dollars ready to go.