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Myakka River trip, Day 1

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After a grueling surgery last night, I left in the late evening to head west to the Fort Myers area. I found a cheap hotel close to Sanibel and had originally planned to head to the island for sunrise. After a very long work-day and some rainy driving, I decided I would sleep in instead – this is supposed to be a relaxing vacation after all. The fluffy pillows felt perfect and I got all of my stuff charged up and ready for the camping weekend.

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Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

I wish I could have taken some pictures driving into the island today. The water was blue and calm and the sky is clear. It looked like perfect weather to be out in the water. I have been looking forward to this part of the trip since there will be a lot of nostalgia. I have many fond memories of summer family vacations on Sanibel Island. I had grand plans of doing probably 3 days worth of things in a few hours – I quickly reigned things in to a more realistic plan. I started the day at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge since this would be the coolest time of the day for a walrun and my best chance to see the most wildlife. The people at the visitor center were very sweet and informative and gave me advice for a good wal-run path through the park.

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I got about a half mile in when I got a sad call about one of my patients. This was a tough one and it tipped my weekend into a cloud of sadness that was hard to shake off. With my energy instantly zapped, I turned the walrun into a walk and took my time to watch for nesting birds and any other interesting critters.

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It feels like it was yesterday

I went from Ding Darling to the Blind Pass Condos that we used to stay in when we vacationed here years ago. I actually got a little choked up walking around the pool area and tennis courts. I could hear my siblings playing Marco Polo in the pool and could feel the sun on my shoulders and the weight of the tennis racquet in my hand from my many games playing with Dad. I can’t believe how long ago that was and how all of the feelings from that time felt so immediately present. I miss those summers with my family – I miss my family. This whole island gives me those feelings – bike rides and swimming and Hungry Heron brunches. Cooking shrimp and eating melon and drinking ice cold apple juice. Watching movies at night and riding the waves all day in the sun.

And visits to Jerry’s for groceries, window-shopping souvenirs, and hoping to pet the parrots.

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C.R.O.W.

I also stopped at CROW wildlife center today. This was another nostalgic visit – I realized that it had been 20 years since I had worked a summer there! Man, how time has flown. On one hand, it feels like last summer that I was there. On the other hand, the entire place looks so different! They have really been able to expand things nicely with a new hospital, updated enclosures, and a beautiful visitor center.

I used to start those days near 5a for a run – I can still feel the muggy (but not too hot) air and smell the trees on the path along Sanibel-Captiva Road. That was the summer I started to do some yoga in the mornings (before it was cool to do – I got mocked by one of the new volunteers for “new age non-sense”) before a shower and heading to the clinic for assignments. I would work all day scrubbing cages, prepping food, reporting animal behavior, and doing laundry.

Some of my favorite patients:

An anhinga with a chest wound who was a menace in the hospital. She would climb her outdoor enclosures, trapped herself in the space between the wire walls, and in the clinic would run rampant and try to peck the eyes out from her caretakers. She missed mine by millimeters when I was reaching to disentangle her from the under-sink plumbing – I can see her beak coming at my eye like it was yesterday!

Silly otters that would play all day long in their pool and slide and act like general clowns.

An armadillo recovering from serious road rash – he LOVED slurping up earthworms like spaghetti!

All of the gopher tortoises. My favorite chore was sitting in the sun outside and chasing tortoises during sun therapy and grazing time. This is when I learned that they love hibiscus petals, they are non-stop with each moving in their own specific direction, and you can lose a half-paralyzed tortoise when you are chasing ten others in ten other directions.

I learned how adorable opossums are and how gross raccoons are.

I also learned what a job it is to feed a packed hospital full of baby birds. I would cycle endlessly from the tiny babies to the bigger babies just getting fluffy, to the babies that can stand to beg, and then the outdoor babies that are nearly foraging on their own. Constant moving from one nest to the next to the next to the next…

And what fun it can be to feed pelicans – it’s like shooting baskets!

And that all of the white herons are named “George” and that the Georges are jerks like like to knock the buckets of fish over to steal as much as possible before the hapless volunteer comes back to find the mess and missing fish.

I learned how to handle raptors, that a Cormorant bite is painful even through welder’s gloves, to wear eye protection with pointy-beak birds, that you should check the washer for huge rat snakes before doing your laundry, that the coke cans and spoons are not accidentally left for the crows but left intentionally as shiny toys, how to fold towels properly for efficient stacking (in THIRDS, not half half half!), how to cook eggs just right (not too hard or too runny) for the birds, that raccoons love to eat watermelon through little holes in the rind, that you have to feed a baby skunk gently to not get sprayed, not to get the barred owl with emphysema too excited or you’d end up with an owl balloon for hours, and how nice it can be to have a steady work schedule, to be moving and working hard in the sun all day, to have no chief responsibility, and to have steady sleep schedule. I ate vegan, did yoga each day, ran 4-5 days a week, and slept regularly. Even though I was working hard and going through a very emotionally challenging time (a crumbling engagement), I finished the summer feeling refreshed, leaner, and excited to start my first year of veterinary school. And I’m pretty sure I have not experienced life like that again. My life now is about as close as I have come so far.

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Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum

I then headed to the Shell Museum which I have never been to before. This had an impressive collection from all over the world. One of my favorite items on display were these sailor’s valentines – the detailed use of these tiny shells is incredible! I am usually looking for the larger specimens, but now I have a new respect for the millions of tiny shells blanketing the beach. They also had an arts and crafts area where I made Jeff a cute shell creature 🙂

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Myakka River State Park

I left the shell museum to head to my campsite at Myakka River State Park. I pulled in to chat with the cheerful staff at the ranger station. The park is full of beauty from the shady entrance, the wildflowers around the ranger station, the canopy drive, and the vistas into a brilliantly yellow field of wildflowers lined with photographers.

When I got to my site, I was pleasantly surprised to find a water spigot and electrical outlets. No need to charge my batteries in my car and no need to walk across the park to get water for the camp fire – luxury!

I got my camp organized and headed out on my bike to explore a little bit. The park is incredibly beautiful! In my first hour of being at the park, I saw herons, a bald eagle and other raptors, small birds of all sorts, raccoons, a fox squirrel (I was like, “what the heck was that?!” – looked like a squirrel but not a squirrel), wild hogs, deer, and lots of gators. I also met several very friendly people who are all excited to be staying in this beautiful park.

Wild hogs
Big gator noses in the water

By the end of my adventuring, I decided that I might not do much outside of this park. There is so much to do, that I could easily spend the entire weekend in here without being bored. After a nice hot shower (did I mention luxurious?), I had a tasty dinner of coconut turmeric rice with smoked white meat turkey hot dogs wrapped in Pillsbury Hawaiian crescent roll dough cooked over the fire. A filling meal for 600 calories.

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