“I’m looking for something specific,” she said entering the shop through the french doors that connect our boutique to the one next door. As a shopkeeper this is very good or very bad news. “Do you have those t-shirts that say something like ‘No salt, no sharks, no worries’?”
“Actually, that’s exactly what they say and yes we do have have them,” I said. “It comes in three colors–black, white, or tan.” When she paid for the shirt she went on to tell me that this shirt is a gift for her daughter in Florida. She was going there soon and was so excited to swim with the manatees. Swim with manatees? She told me how in winter the ocean gets too cold for the manatees so they swim into the rivers to rest and stay warm.
As I wrapped the shirt in tissue (very badly, I might add. Is there like a class in tissue-wrapping for retail personell?) and attempted to bag it presentably my curiosity got the best of me. “How exactly do they live in the rivers when they are used to salt water?” I asked. She didn’t know but apparently it’s what they do. I had to know more. And with that a little obsession with sea cows was born.
An hour or so later it was after 1 o’clock at my post in the boutique and I hadn’t had lunch yet. The sun was out though so I was barely noticing. Winter sun in west Michigan is rare and fleeting and changes your life for those few hours or minutes. So in from the sun comes, Raina, the server from Nonla, the restaurant next door. Apparently one of their customers forgot about their double order of parmesan truffle fries–fresh and hot with that magical mystery dipping sauce. The diners were already leaving when it arrived so they said, “Just send them to the girls next door.” I whisked them away to the back room and tried them. Mmmm, love at first bite. It was very hard not to eat every last one and eat my cold lunch from home instead.
What’s feeding this sea cow obsession? Is it a way to escape the stinging wind and biting cold reality of the upper midwest right now? In part, yes. I’m jealous of their vacation. Just think of all those manatees hanging out together–mingling and munching and loafing around–in warm spring fed-rivers. Its like a gentle convention of 2,000-pound aquatic vegetarian aesthetically-challenged teddy bears. I mean, what’s not to love?
I gleefully brought up the topic of manatees at dinner that night. My daughters, ages 7 and 9, were unphased*. Apparently, I’m the last to know about these manatee migrations. “I love manatees,” said the younger one, “they look like potatoes.” Very true. Potatoes . . . truffle fries. . .
So it’s two days later. And I’m still dreaming of those lumpy bumpy Florida mammals swimming so slowly, drifting in the sun together. And apparently I’m still thinking about those fries too. It’s the place I go in my head to escape the news of the Trump Administration: one more rich, white, unqualified advisor with conflicts of interest being confirmed, talk of building walls and defying Geneva Conventions to ban refugees, of offending leaders of our ally nations and Congress calling back to patch things up, reports of extreme nationalism by Cabinet master-minds that looks a lot like white supremacy.
(Now use your best soothing radio voice:) Manatees…..resting ….in the warm springs….of the Crystal River…beneath palm trees….swaying in the breeze……
Can we board flights and go down there now? Maybe next January I’ll get to go. With the recent crippling of the EPA one shouldn’t wait long. The manatee refuge and protected areas might very well be turned into a Trump resort before the end of this administration.
Until I am able to meet the manatees I will draw strength from these strong, steady creatures. I’ll remember that at a rate of less than five miles per hour they swim hundreds of miles each year. I’ll remember that they slog through mud sometimes, relying on the sounds of one another to navigate. I’ll remember that in increasing numbers they are knocked out or injured by boats but they keep on keepin’ on. Often they are found with propellor scars as they are hard to see from boats above them. Though they are endangered, their numbers are holding steady. I will remember that while they spend most of their time alone, when they gather together in the winter they play and touch and enjoy the company of each other. I’ll remember that when the time is right they venture back out into the wild dark sea–salty, vast and strange.
*One of the best things about childhood that a child never appreciates is that by law at no cost to them they get to learn amazing things all the time. I’m a wee bit jealous that they get to fill their heads with fascinating facts while we adults run around all day with our heads filled with passwords, schedules, shopping lists, work strategies, budgets, to-do lists and political banter, so much banter all while checking our phones 150 times per day. “Did you know,” said the elder child at dinner the other night, “that luna moths don’t have mouths. They only live for two weeks in their butterfly phase before they die and during that time they don’t eat anything. So they don’t have mouths.” I love this stuff. Will third grade take me back?