My dad was a piano player in Key West when I was a small boy. During the day, we fished. That’s how the Keys got into my blood, through the snapper, grunt and grouper. They were wild and beautiful and pulled hard on your line. They fascinated me.
When I got older, and we lived in Miami, fish fascinated me still. My dad and I often visited the Keys on his day off to fish from the bridges and canal banks and sometimes even a boat. The water was clear. We saw sharks and sea turtles. I wondered about them, got books out of the library, studied marine life.
Eventually, as I got older, I became curious about the birds I was seeing. The Keys have cool birds, too. I took notice of the bushes and the trees where the birds liked to perch. I learned from my library reading that the tropical Keys boasted plants found nowhere else on the continent. Insects, too. People, too – people who had carved out a life despite the heat and the humidity and the strange plants and the mosquitoes and the occasional hurricane.
As a journalist, I wrote about them. For half a century.
So I hope you won’t mind some advice. Take advantage of your visit to the Keys. Enjoy a stiff drink, or even two, on Duval Street in Key West by all means. Party like there’s no tomorrow.
But when you wake up, even if your head is pounding, explore. Drive your car up and down the Keys. Eat Key lime pie at the little diner. Read some Hemingway at the Formica table. Look for the tiny Key deer at Big Pine. Check out every history museum. Notice the birds. You might see a mangrove cuckoo.
If you get a chance, rent a mask and snorkel and go swimming.
Look at the fish. That’s how it started for me.
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