Enveloping myself in adventure and anticipation, I canoed down Florida's calm, aqua-green springs in pursuit of my latest love, an endangered and enigmatic creature, most endearing to the aquatic sphere, the manatee. Well, not just any manatee, but the one I christened as Beatrice, the Dancing Queen of the deep.
Finding Beatrice was as eventful as a late-night carnival, with gaggles of garfish acting as particularly inquisitive spectators. At long last, under a canopy of mangroves, in a water theater known only to the initiated few, she emerged in all her manatee majesty – large, bulbulous, gray, and breathtakingly graceful. An arrestingly buoyant ballerina, remarkably feasting on aquatic plants, affectionately titled "sea cows", they have a certain aquatic joie de vivre that takes your breath away.
During her grand entrance, she mustered an entire ensemble of drama; dancing to symphonies only she could hear, making incredibly executed roll-overs and wave jumps that would put even the Olympic gymnasts out of work. All while a mischievous otter – who, incidentally, I've now named Ollie – watched in awe and a twinge of envy.
As days turned into nights and then into days again, my keen observation intensified. Armed with my binoculars and caffeine-laden flask, I witnessed some of the quirkiest dialogues among these river denizens.
One humid afternoon, Beatrice had a tête-à-tête with Ollie, which in my mind went like this – "Why this rollicking life, Bea? Why partake in this ceaseless choreography when floating in serene oblivion is much more comfortable?" To which Beatrice might have chuckled and replied, "Life is a dance Ollie, and we manatees, we're the Fred Astaire of these waters. There's no standing still in my grey, blubbery world."
On the third day, a shy, veiled Loggerhead turtle Tina swam near the perimeter, catching Beats and Ollie's attention. "Read any good sea-grass patches lately, Tina," I imagined Beatrice politely hailing her acquaintance. To which Tina may have shyly replied, "The 'eel-grass-epistle' you recommended last week was delicious. Crunchy plot twist in the middle, hard to digest, but overall, a good read."
During my time in the verdant springs, I also witnessed Beatrice's softer side. I observed her nurturing interaction with her calf, Benjamin. As if passing wisdom, Beatrice would send peculiar, comforting clicks, and chirps, teaching him the courageous undulations of sea-life, such as "How to make a spectacle of meal-time" or "The art of dodging boorish seagulls".
All the while, life bloomed around this gentle giant, effortlessly tying together the strings of aquatic theatre around her. It underscored her remarkable resilience and companionship to the aquatic playing field, against all odds. And with that, the empathetic story of Beatrice, the manatee unfolded. Taking with me an ingrained appreciation of this resilient, fascinating creature, my departure from Beatrice's bubbling ballet was filled with the promise of another visit. Until Beatrice’s next dance, adios amigos!