So long, Sanibel

I went for a long run the other day for the usual reason: to clear the mind. In the cool morning air, before the start of foot and bike traffic, a large sleepy snake had curled up on the asphalt to warm in the sun. Annoyed at my approach, it slithered into the underbrush. I thought the snake to be a good omen.

At the 8.3km mark of my long run, with egrets and ibises flickering through the trees on my right, and ospreys wheeling above, I experienced a spell of the runner’s euphoria others describe but I’ve never felt. By the 9km mark, the euphoria had evaporated, but I remained grateful for having seen the snake.

Wings in


Wings out

Two birds I photographed with my Brownie. My son, a tireless joker, calls every bird near or on the water a duck. Neither of these is a duck.

Christmas on Sanibel

This is the first Christmas vacation we’ve spent in the south. It’s disorienting to see people setting up miniature Christmas trees beside their beach towels, and women wearing necklaces of Christmas lights as they sun.

On one of my runs I passed a Santa-and-reindeer diorama. Someone had stuck twelve rickety metal flamingos into the dirt, adorned them with red toques and harnessed them with strings of tinsel to a massive Adirondack chair, painted red. Shuddering in the morning breeze and weighed down with their spangled reins, the poor flamingos had the sturdiness of used twist-ties. Absurdly, I felt sorry for them. The flamingos clearly weren’t up to pulling the fat man and his chair. All I could think about was #MeToo.

As I ran by, an elderly woman taking pictures kept exclaiming, “Lovely…lovely.”

Later that same day, on the beach, a boy of about twelve was wearing a t-shirt illustrated with a fishing rod and the words, “God is the REEL THING.” I was tempted to explain to him that Jesus, not God, is generally regarded as the “Fisher of men” (Matthew 4:19). But he probably would have gone running to his mother, and I’ve now learned how prickly Sanibel Islanders can be.

Further down the beach, Shari was sitting cross-legged and sketching the Sanibel Lighthouse. As my photo shows, the lighthouse lacks the picturesque romance of Maritime and New England lighthouses. Only an engineer could have come up with it: basically, a superstructure of girders supporting an iron cylinder that encloses a spiral staircase. It’s simple and ingenious and, with its reddish glow of rusting metal, actually quite attractive. A few small outbuildings are clustered at the base, with one chimney crowned by an osprey nest.


As I was photographing the lighthouse, four Latino boys kicking a soccer ball stopped to watch Shari sketch. They were clearly not tourists, nor Sanibel Islanders. My guess is they were enjoying a day off from a restaurant kitchen. They stood for some time, looking approvingly over Shari’s shoulder at the sketch and glancing up at the lighthouse.

At this point a woman with two daughters — from their sound and appearance, Dutch tourists — began setting up on the sand. The comelier daughter casually stripped off her t-shirt and rummaged in a straw bag for her bathing suit top. She was well outside the boys’ field of vision, but activated by some invisible signal, four heads swivelled with impressive unison, rotating a hundred-and-eighty degrees. The heads watched impassively until the bathing suit top was secured, then snapped back into position. The boys recommenced kicking the ball down the beach.

The Miami Dolphins quarterback

One day, we took a drive to nearby Matlacha. If I were to give you five guesses, you would still be unable to come up with the correct pronunciation for this island. The locals say “Matt Lashay.” To my ear it sounds like the name of a celebrity hairdresser on the Shopping Channel or the Miami Dolphins quarterback or a televangelist (“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men”).

It took about thirty minutes to get to Matlacha, past sprawling housing developments, followed by malls that service the developments, then tracts of empty land, then more sprawling developments and more malls to service them, and so on. We concluded that staying on Sanibel is more agreeable.

I’ll offer up one final image to cap our vacation: On the day of our leaving, crowds of Sanibel Islander came out to wish us a safe journey. Lining the entire causeway and bridge to the mainland, they beat their drums and blew their conch shells in traditional farewell, as they raised giant palm fronds to create an archway for our departure. I confess to shedding a tear or two.






8 thoughts on “So long, Sanibel”

  1. Welcome back. Glad you had a “moment”.

    The dutch know something about ducks and their environment. Your paradise might do well to invite more of them – the suit wearing kind – in the interest of long term survival. My peop’s fare complexions are good with the palm fronds.


  2. Oh, more than a moment. Many of them. Fair complexioned or not, the comely lass was “out” for only the briefest of spans, much to the disappointment in the gallery.


  3. This wonderful story, Spyro, resonates with me on a number of levels —
    In particular as an “old guy” your description of the young gal on the beach
    reminded me of the last lines of TS Eliot’s “J Alfred Prufrock”,
    “… We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
    By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
    Till human voices wake us, and we drown,”
    Looking forward,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mike, for this unexpected but entirely apt reference. I haven’t read that poem in many years, but I do remember its melancholy irony and humour, which seems to me the correct response to life lived and, ultimately, remembered. I’ll have to go back to re-read the poem now. Thank you very much for this.


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