Manasota Key


I recently spent a week in Florida on Manasota Key. If I could describe the Key in one word, I would say it was magical. For the next seven days, I lived in a world of white sands, blue-green ocean and endless blue skies.

Manasota Key is located next to the small community of Englewood on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I found this enchanting out-of-the-way place home to a mix of artists, old hippies, fishermen, and anybody who enjoyed living “off the beaten track.”

When my husband and I arrived at our condo, we were informed that it was nesting time for Loggerhead sea turtles, Since our condo faced the beach, we needed to make sure the drapes were drawn by 9 p.m., so that lights wouldn’t shine out onto the beach. I later found out that more sea turtles nest in Manasota Key, then anywhere else on the Gulf Coast.

I was up before the sun every morning and walking on the beach, hoping to see the turtles. I later found out that most of them come up on the beach around midnight, lay their eggs and return to the sea before dawn. I did see large tracks left by the Loggerheads that led up to the little grassy sand dunes.

Although I wasn’t greeted by turtles, my early morning endeavors were rewarded with an abundance of colorful sea shells of all shapes and sizes. These beautiful little treasures seemed to roll right out of the waves into my hands. It paid to get up early, as the beach quickly filled up with other “shell seekers.”

Towards the middle of the week on a early morning walk I saw a group of people standing around something large. As I made my way up the beach, I couldn’t believe my eyes, a giant Loggerhead turtle was in the sand. She had just finished laying her eggs and was covering them over. One of the locals, explained that for some reason, she was late in coming and didn’t quite make it to the shelter of the dunes. I was told that she had probably laid about one hundred eggs.

She was enormous, I couldn’t believe my eyes or my luck. What a gift to behold. The Loggerhead slowly turned around, left her covered up mound of eggs and lumbered back to the surf. Soon she disappeared into the waves.

I didn’t see anymore turtles, but I got to see pelicans, cranes and little birds that hopped about the sand on funny stick-like legs. I watched the early morning sun turn everything rosy pink and and the setting sun disappear into a fiery glow.

I left Manasota Key with a suitcase crammed full of sea shells, memories of sea birds, a giant turtle and a promise to return.

Down the Hall

Her room is the first one on the right. A light above her door blinks, signaling that she needs help. I stop and look down the long gray hall. Rooms of old sick people. I turn into her room.

A tiny woman is sitting up in bed, almost lost in a disarray of blankets and pillows. Her snow white hair is cut short, sticking out at all ends. She finally notices me standing there. “Can you help me get up?” she asks in a small voice.

I help her to the bathroom. She walks hunched over. She can’t be more than five feet tall. When I reach the bathroom door, she firmly tells me that she will take it from there.

I go and ready her chair. I put a blanket over the cold, slippery vinyl. I bring her table with her lotions and hand mirror closer. I see her peeking out the bathroom door and guide her over to the chair. I place a pillow behind her back and wrap a blanket around her shoulders. She smiles up at me. Her ice blue eyes are almost lost in the lines and wrinkles of her face. Her eyes are the color of a northern lake in early dawn. Her eyes twinkle as she thanks me.

“God, how old is she?” I ask myself, as I place her call light next to her. I tell her to press the red button if she needs anything. She asks for the book that she left on the bedside table. We talk awhile about the book and how we both like to read. I turn to go. She opens her book and puts on her glasses.

I return later to change her bed. The book is lying open on her lap, her glasses have slipped down her nose as she naps. All of a sudden she seems so familiar to me. I run my fingers through my own silvery-white hair and think of the book tucked away in my locker. I wish I were somewhere else. I wish I was reading. I quietly go over to her table and pick up her mirror. I see my face so much older now. I look into my own eyes. My eyes use to be blue, now they are more of a hazel and I don’t think they twinkle anymore. I suddenly realize that I do know this woman. I know her as well as I know myself.

Dr. Seuss to the Rescue

Sun streamed through the window, bathing me in a delicious yellow warmth. I closed my eyes for a moment, imagining the sweet promise of spring. It had been such a long, dark winter.

I was out at Flight Coffee Cafe, sitting in one of my favorite seats, finally feeling good after a horrible weepy month of missing my little dog, Gigi. Her passing shattered my heart and left me with such a raw sadness.

After I wrote my last post about the dog’s passing, a fellow blogger sent me a thoughtful comment. Ray Laskowitz is a New Orleans photographer and storyteller, http://www.laskowitzpictures.com. Ray reminded me of what the well loved children’s book author, Dr. Seuss once said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss’s words became my mantra for the next few weeks. Dr. Seuss helped, Ray helped and many friends had comforting words. But what helped the most was writing it all down. Again the power of words have been able to soften sadness.

I bought a beautiful journal to write about my little dog. The pages beckon to me. Every word I scribble is like a warm beam of sunshine. Every sentence and thought fills my heart. Years from now when I find her memory fading, all I have to do is pick up my journal and read how happy she made me feel.

Memory Maker

After my little terrier mix passed away, I went back to the beach where we usually took our walks. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. How could she be pawing at my shoulder, pestering me to get me out of bed to begin our day and then be gone?

I had stayed in bed a little later that morning. I figured since I had to give her medication for an injured disk in her back, we could start out a little later. Gigi always knew when I had a day off. She would only let me sleep so long, before she nudged me out of bed and into the car. We would drive to my favorite coffee shop and then to the best bakery for homemade muffins. We would split the muffin and then go out to the beach for a walk. It was a ritual that we both loved.

Six weeks ago, I notice that she had started walking a little funny. She was off-balance and soon started to sway like a “drunken sailor.” X-rays showed that an injured disk was causing problems with her spinal cord. The vet put her on anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxers. She started to recover immediately with tons more energy. She was soon back to running and jumping. But it didn’t last long. The symptoms came back stronger than the first time. The vet said that sometimes older dogs needed more time to heal. We resumed the treatment with confidence that this time it would work.

Gigi felt better immediately, so I thought a short ten minute walk on soft sand would be alright. It was a beautiful morning and spring had finally arrived. Naturally, we would get the tea and muffin first.

Just as I started to get out of bed, Gigi had a seizure. It was brutal and lasted at least five minutes. My husband and I both had to hold her down. I thought it would kill her. When it stopped she didn’t even know who we were. Her eyes were wide and she was just staring into space. She couldn’t move. We got her to the vet and decided the best thing would be to put her to sleep. It seems that what was going on in her spinal cord had progressed. She would be twelve years old soon and extensive back surgery was out of the question.

As I walked along the beach, retracing our steps, I just couldn’t make sense out this. She was so happy one minute and then gone the next. It just wasn’t fair.

I tried to find answers in the sand, but all I kept seeing was my little dog walking beside me, riding in the car with that look of total bliss, the joy of getting the middle of the muffin where the best berries were and curling up with me in bed with a book and a glass of wine. It was like a movie playing over and over in my mind. Re-runs of all the happy moments throughout the years. I was so lucky to have her in my life. She left me with the best memories.

Dementia


High tide was on its way in as I walked along the beach. I picked up pieces of sea glass, smooth, white, translucent and oddly shaped.

I remembered the old Jewish woman, whom I walked the beach with. Most of our days began with a walk by the shore and just as many ended there too. Together, we would retrace our steps looking for shells and sea glass.

We walked and talked. Words I will always remember, but words she will always forget.

Down the Road

I am not the only one getting older, my little dog is 11 years old and has become senile. Gigi is a sweet girl and for the most part seems content in her new mind set. What is troubling is that now she has become afraid of what she loves most – car rides.

Normally, my little terrier mix can’t wait to jump in the passenger seat beside me. As we drive down the road, she will settle into this almost zen like trance. Now she can’t jump that high, so I have to lift her in and then she starts trembling for about 30 minutes until she calms down. It breaks my heart to see her lose what she used to look forward to.

She has taken to pacing and walking in circles in the house. Fortunately, she seems happy and content doing so. I does drive me crazy and now she is always underfoot. When we go for our beach walks she does the same thing. She will circle around me. The only time she goes in a straight line is to inspect a clump of seaweed. She loves to stick her nose in the smelly pile and when she is done sniffing, she will christian it. She catches up with me and resumes walking around me in a large circle.

I look down at my little old friend and she looks up at me with bright eyes and wags her tail. We are both happy and enjoying each other’s company walking by the ocean.

Tomorrow she will forget how much she loves to ride in the car and she will tremble and be scared. But then she will remember how great the seaweed smells and how good it feels to pee on it.