My mom and my daughter saw one the second day we arrived. I was sad to miss it. The last time I saw a manatee was when I was under the ruling authority of my dear mom and dad. Oh, the memories of life with Mark and Jacque, or as I often referred to them as, Rambo and G.I. Jacque...
Growing up in the household of Rambo and G.I. Jacque, my siblings and I never knew what exciting and dangerous idea they might come up with next. Let’s vacation on a boat with no shower, bath, or modern day plumbing for an entire summer, kids! Let’s go hiking through the mountains of Whistler and ignore the Danger, Beware of Bears signs! Let’s swim with the dolphins! (That was when I was seven, and thank you very much, it freaked me the heck out.) We learned how to buddy breathe under water sharing a scuba tank before we took diving lessons, learned how to water-ski in the
I remember when they told us we were going to go swimming with the manatees at
Rambo and G.I. Jacque paddled us out into the middle of
A few minutes passed, and Rambo and Coleen popped out of the water about 20 feet away, talking excitedly about the manatees they were swimming with. I heard them warning each other to take bigger breathes because the manatees were playing with them and rolling around under water. They needed to be sure to hold their breathes longer so they didn’t drown while playing with the gentle sea cows. I could tell by the look on Sam’s face that he wasn’t excited about what Rambo and Coleen were saying either. I shouted over to Mom and said something to her about us swimming back to the canoe, but she encouraged us to go under the water some more and look for a manatee. She was excited because one had come up to the canoe when she put her toes in, and she was so thrilled she got to touch one. How cute. I dove under water, more than anything, to at least say that I tried to find one up close before I got back into the boat. At the very least, I could tell G.I. Jacque and Rambo that I had tried.
The water was not very clear that day, and the visibility was just a couple of feet in front of us. Sam was close by as I went under the water. That’s when I saw the manatee. It wasn’t a few feet away or even a murky figure in the distance…The enormous sea cow was nose to nose with yours truly. That’s right. Hello, Mr. Manatee.
For the first time in eight or so years of my life, I felt my heart all but jump out of my chest. Total panic and fear shot through skinny little Sarah. Goodbye, Mr. Manatee! I swam back to the canoe so fast it felt like a rocket had launched me across the river. I threw myself back into the canoe and recalled a little Sam landing like an anchor into the canoe right behind me. Panting, gasping for air like I never had in my whole life, I took in the expression on Mom’s face. She burst out laughing, of course, and said that she had never seen someone get into a canoe without even tipping it at all. I remember feeling the relief that I had made it back to the canoe before one of the sea cows had started rolling around under water with me and that I hadn’t drowned while they played with me. I also recall feeling quite certain that my parents weren’t quite like other parents and that maybe, just maybe, I was going to have to start looking out for my own personal safety.
Who knows what scared me that day about the gentle herbivore sea cow. It didn’t do anything aggressive. It just looked at me, nose to nose. Maybe it was it’s 1200 pounds to my 50. Maybe it was the idea of getting trapped under water while rolling and playing with the manatee. Whatever it was, to this day, I can remember that panic and the moment where I swam across the water without touching it with perfect clarity. I will never forget it.
Last week, when Mom and Audrey told me they had seen a manatee in the harbor, I recalled my childhood encounter and silently wished I had seen the manatee with them. In comparison to some of the creatures on this island, the manatee is suddenly up there on the animals-I’d-like-to-see-list. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Will I see a manatee in the harbor before a
Today, as I jogged along the harbor, I saw a man filming something in the water. I saw a splash and figured it was a fish jumping. I jogged past, but then something told me to turn around. I jogged back and immediately noticed the ripples in the water off of the dock. I heard myself gasp, and a smile spread across my face. Feasting on the seaweed before my eyes along the dockside of the harbor, there were six manatees! Not one, but six! They were relatively small manatees, so they couldn’t have been very old, but it was so amazing. The largest one was further out in the water, but the smaller ones were right in front of me…a couple of feet away from me. I immediately started snapping some photos and videos with my phone. I’ve read that manatees spend 6-8 hours a day feeding, so I guess that’s why they hardly surfaced to let me see their faces, but I caught a few glances. My videos aren’t great, but you’ll get an idea of what I saw.
As I sat on the dock, in awe of the magnificent sea cow this morning, my heart filled with joy, and I couldn’t stop smiling. As I thought about how blessed I am, I remembered my last swim with the manatee and how quickly I got back into that canoe. I laughed at the memory and suddenly found myself having a bit more respect for how Rambo and G.I. Jacque brought us up. They took us on adventure after adventure, and we had experiences most kids don’t get to have. Maybe they weren’t really trying to kill us. Maybe they were just trying to expose us to as much excitement and beauty in this scary, scary world as possible. We got to swim with manatees. They are on the endangered species list. That was pretty cool. If nothing else, they always gave us good stories to tell…
Now that I’m living on this wildlife refuge surrounded by water, I guess I have the opportunity to torture my own children. Or at the very least, try and get them to appreciate the beauty that is surrounding them wherever they go. And we will start with the gentle cow of the sea, the
Enjoy the short video clip. The little manatees are actually kind of cute, and believe me, there was a time in my life when manatees scared the heck out of me. Imagine being face to face with this as a kid…
Enjoy your weekend, my friends! J
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