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Vacationing in Florida

05/21/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(Host) Weather and beach life come to the fore as commentator Ruth Page remembers her April vacation in Sarasota, Florida.

(Page) The Pages went to Florida April 2 on a visit. Vermont was chilly that day. On April 16 we returned. It had been 80 degrees when we left Sarasota; it was 87 degrees when we got home to Burlington. A week later in Burlington, the thermometer fell into the high 20s and low 30's, and on April 22 it snowed almost all afternoon. Local meteorologists have my sympathy.

Florida didn't seem much changed by our warming earth. The jacaranda trees in purple bloom and the gold trees with their sun-yellow flowers graced the streets, and the hardy palm trees outside our condo windows had grown enthusiastically in the five years we'd been away. I always get a kick out of palms, with their straight, peeling trunks topped by exuberant bursts of huge green leaves as if they just couldn't hold it in any longer.

I took long walks in early morning, on Siesta Key's Gulf beach. At 6:30 a.m. there were few walkers, so the pelicans and sandpipers could enjoy their quiet world of sea and sand. I never tire of watching pelicans. When one dives for a fish, his in-brain computer must work perfectly: he must strike not at the spot where he first glimpses the fish, but where it'll be when he hits the water. Rarely does one miss.

One day I came upon a huge sea turtle, perhaps a leatherback or loggerhead. Some people had carried it to a plastic lounge and left it. Several of us looked at it sadly, wondering what had killed it. It looked undamaged. Had this magnificent creature ingested plastic, or died of pollution in the Gulf? I'll never know, but the sight was tragic.

It's fun to watch the sandpipers; they stay so strictly at the water's edge, they're in constant motion. Their matchstick legs skitter along, following each receding wave out a few inches, and rushing back in ahead of it when it again laps the shore. This year I saw something I'd never seen before, in all my years of walking beaches: a white sandpiper. Albino? I just don't know.

In early morning, the seagulls mostly stood quietly on the sand in serried rows, all facing the same way, like soldiers. The largest gathering comprised at least a hundred birds, looking so much as if they were waiting for the teacher to arrive, I was tempted to face them and say, "I guess you all wonder why I've called this meeting," - but with a couple of grand-daddies watching, I resisted. I don't know gull species, but admired this group, wondering how feathers could provide so precise a line between the sleek black heads and the gray body-feathers, and the equally sharp line where the black tail feathers begin. They looked like painted birds.

This is Ruth Page, recalling a recent trip into a very different part of earth's environment.
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