During my vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida, I was taken aback to see all of the efforts being made there to safeguard both the environment and marine life. From beautiful beaches to wildlife rescues to acres upon acres of natural preserves, the effects of the city's Resilience and Coastal Protection initiative can be sensed around every turn. Streets were free of rubbish, waterways were beautiful and unsullied, and even the buildings were well kept despite their age.
Years ago, I recall vowing never to return to Panama City, Florida. While it shares the coastline with St. Petersburg, the place was a dump. While I was of the age of the party crowds the city was attracting, I just couldn't get over the feeling of nastiness. It was in the air as well as the water. Had my wife and I not chosen to honeymoon in Destin, Florida, I might have sworn off Florida's beaches altogether. Never had I seen ocean water so clear. I mean, you could wade neck deep and still see your toes. This, of course, meant that you could also see barracuda circling near your feet!
Back to St. Petersburg, my budding sunburn allowed me to spend a few hours alone while my wife and kids were at the beach. During this time, I followed a shaded trail near our condo that led to a nearby neighborhood of homes whose backyards were cut short by a canal off of Tampa Bay. There were houses big and small on either side, each with a small private dock for boats and jet skis. This, apparently, was a common trade off for covered and pull-in garages. The scene reminded me of the pictures I'd seen of Venice despite there being no real resemblance whatsoever. But it was so nice and peaceful.
Because the homes in this neighborhood were so close together, I could only admire them from a small bridge. There simply were no public walkways by the water in this quaint community. As I was about to turn from admiring the view back toward our condo, a man named Bob began to make small talk with me from his outdoor lounger. To calm our gently raised voices given a bit of distance between us, Bob motioned for me to join him. So, I did.
Like me, Bob was from Tennessee. Now a widower in his seventies, he gave me the scoop on his life there. Before owning his little water house, it belonged to a relative who he visited from time to time. It was during these visits that he met his future wife who lived right across the canal. He said they were so close that they would toss messages in bottles back and forth to each other. Because his visits became more and more frequent in order to see her, Bob's cousin suggested that he buy the place. And so he did just six months before he and his love across the way became married.
When I asked Bob what kept him there amidst the heat and humidity, he began to name all of the aspects that I had mentioned earlier—the cleanliness and sense of community rallying behind keeping their little beach town beautiful. I agreed wholeheartedly that my visit somewhat restored my faith in beach trips to Florida. It was still too hot for me though, I assured him with a smile. Before we parted, Bob urged me not to leave without visiting some of the preserves like the famous Sunken Gardens (pictured above), which we did the morning after the fireworks on July 4th. Here's a little clip from our balcony during the Independence Day celebration.
After an enjoyable few days in St. Pete, the approaching Hurricane Elsa cut our trip short. Bad weather was brewing and we knew it would have kept us indoors for the duration of our stay. Hopefully, Bob was able to weather the storm ok. I'll check in on him when we return in October. So, was I going somewhere in particular with my story? Not really, except to point out how a collective effort to care for our earth can be felt and appreciated by passers by. It is because of this, and because of happy people like Bob, that I will be going back again.