Tag Archives: manatees

Meeting the manatees

I have a long list of “I’ve always wanted to…”

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And with that marvelous milestone of 3-0 looming, I did what lots of let’s-do-this-oriented bloggy ladies do and came up with some fun activities that I hoped to satisfyingly cross off on my way to the big birthday. Of course, it included one of my longest held dreams: Seeing manatees in the wild.

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My manatee obsession spans 20+ years; it’s become a part of my identity and one of the random facts most people who know me even a little bit will remember. Hence, I’m tagged weekly with articles about the beloved creatures and have been gifted three of these.

So this winter, or as some like to call it – Manatee Season – I was determined to finally make it happen. I booked our family a direct flight between Des Moines and St. Petersburg for a long weekend manatee-centric getaway.We stayed in Crystal River, which is a couple hours north of St. Pete. (Zip up the toll road and do not mistakenly think Hwy 19 will be a “scenic route.” It was a stop-and-go, strip-mall-infested nightmare.)

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Manatees are at home in both fresh and salt water, but in the colder months they like to come inland and hang out in the warmer springs. Two best-known Florida manatee havens are Homosassa Springs/Crystal River and Blue Springs State Park/Orange City. I’ve mostly heard about these magical spots through my membership with the Save the Manatee Club. Even Emmett got to “adopt” a manatee for his first birthday. He and “Squeaky” were both born June 13!

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Our Crystal River manatee adventure included a kayak trip with Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co, Inc., which is a sponsor of the Save the Manatee Club and takes one of the most eco-minded approaches in all manatee tourism. We got a sweet Save the Manatee treat bag, and a private family kayak tour in the chilly Florida morning.

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Our guide is a board member for the club and was extremely knowledgeable, sharing information about the preservation initiatives and conservation challenges of the area. I’ll admit that most people who asked about the trip assumed I was going to be swimming with the manatees and when I saw the sweet creatures gliding below the surface, it took every ounce of willpower not to just jump into the water. But when you see how disruptive the boats full of scuba divers and snorkelers are in the habitat — some don’t even use propeller guards! — it’s easier to hold back and let the manatees be.

kayak

Emmett did, however, jump/fall face first into the bay in the .25 seconds we had our heads turned while taking a break on the beach. Toddler adventures!

We also made two different trips to Homosassa Springs, a wildlife park that is way bigger than I had ever envisioned. You can take a little ferry boat from the main parking lot out to the park, and hear about the trees and wildlife along the way. A beautiful boardwalk features a number of different manatee and fish observation points over the springs, and another “Wildlife Walk” loop takes you through a kind of wildlife rehabilitation zoo.  If I were to do it again, I would have kayaked in the afternoon and gone to Homosassa in the morning. The afternoon was crowded and the manatees had all swum out to deeper waters. We were the first people in the park the second day, and got the practically private manatees-as-far-as-I-can-see fix I was hoping for!

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We didn’t do as much dining out as we typically do on vacation — eating our way through a city. Considering Emmett’s allergies, we enjoyed a few picnics at the King’s Bay park, which the little boy loved, and had a nice dinner out at the Fat Cat Grill, which is fancier than it sounds, but also had high chairs. (Lamb chops, ftw!) Back in St. Pete on Sunday, we went to the Dali Museum and drove down for sunset at Clearwater Beach.

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beach

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It was crazy to think we were on our first full family vacation (one lap child, one in utero), and it’s a memory I’ll always cherish.

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Symphonic Sunday

Joe and I were lucky enough to snag tickets (thanks Sophia!) to Des Moines Symphony 75th Anniversary Season Debut. We got to hear the newly commissioned piece “Symphony In Sculpture,” which was inspired by the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. I thought that was particularly fun, because so often you look into a program booklet and see 19th century Russians with crazy awesome mustaches. But here was something so close, so contemporary, being brought to life on violin strings and through the crash of cymbals.

Plus, I couldn’t believe when I read in the program that the Minnesota composer Steve Heitzeg sometimes uses MANATEE BONES in his work:

At first I was shocked and appalled, but then I figure that the manatees probably perished naturally or from their #1 foe, motor boats, so it was actually rather beautiful. What manatee, in its wildest marine mammal dreams, would imagine participating in a symphony?

The music was paired with video images of the sculptures, which was a neat touch. I think my favorite movement was the one that was inspired by Juno & Ancient Forest because it utilized some interesting percussion. Michael Morain wrote up a much more knowledgeable review, if you’re interested. He also has a great blog post with snippet samples performed by Des Moines Symphony trombonist Casey Maday.

It was Joe’s first symphony and we got to sit next to Karen and Arin, plus eat celebratory 75th anniversary symphony cupcakes afterward!

Going to see the Des Moines Symphony at least once should be on everyone’s bucket list. Adult tickets start at right around $15, and even if you’re in the back row and don’t know your Engelbert Humperdink from Franz Liszt, you can appreciate the beauty of the music. Check out the rest of the landmark season lineup at dmsymphony.org.

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Filed under I love Des Moines, music

Manatee Parade

I need this:

Float print by Jennifer Davis, who just so happens to be from the Midwest. (woo!)

You guys know about my 20+ year manatee obsession, right? I’m not kidding. It’s borderline awkward.  Proof? This is my second ever Facebook profile photo. Someone photoshopped it of me. I was originally holding a lamp I made from a ReadyMade pattern.

There’s so much more where that came from.

Life goal: Do this before I turn 30.

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