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Sunday, 13 June 2010

When the Universe Says Hello

These summer days of no rain my wife and me and some friends have been taking advantage of the beaches in Saint Petersburg, Florida, before the black tar death reaches us. Despite the fact that our beaches are as beautiful as ever, tourism is down by 25%.

Every trip to the beach is unique. One day you notice a type of shell washed up in profusion that you had not seen before. On another day puffs of seaweed loll on the shore, and on inspection one is delighted to find tiny octopi clinging to them. Sometimes schools of rays dally in the shallows, other times one is lucky enough to catch sight of a roseate spoonbill. The color of the sky and water is never the same, constantly changing. Two weeks ago it was a bright aqua, last week more emerald. To be on the Gulf beach when a storm rolls in is a spectacle not to be missed. It's astonishing, really. You might think the experience is always the same: sun, sand, sea. But no matter how many hundreds of times you go, it feels unique.

And last week something happened that has never happened to us before, and may never happen again. My back was to the horizon, I was having a pleasant conversation with my wife and a friend in four and a half feet of water when my wife heard a little pfff sound. A manatee had surfaced just inches away from my back. Another manatee was just behind it. And for the next twenty minutes, with the shy one just behind, that manatee floated around the three of us, occasionally drifting forward to gently nudge one of us with his whiskered face.

Now, I know that it's the nature of these creatures to be the incarnation of gentleness, just as the nature of a tiger would be to have us for lunch. Even so, it was impossible not to feel blessed by this experience - that in the immensity of the Gulf this creature came right up to us, for no other reason, perhaps, than simple curiosity. It was like the universe itself had just decided to say hello.