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The Sassy Sandpiper: The Beguiling Gulf

Beach | Recreation | TB Reporter

A walk along the Gulf gives the Sassy Sandpiper an hour or so of peace.

By M.R. WILSON, Columnist, Tampa Bay Reporter

Can it really be four years since I’ve been to the beach?

Maybe my memory is just sputtering. If it’s true, I credit Stephen King’s novel Duma Key for coaxing me back to the gulf shores. Last week I finished the epic tale and felt the irresistible tug to get my toes in the sand and see that vast expanse of water that is the Gulf of Mexico. I ventured to St. Pete Beach.

Early morning. Mostly empty of humans. Rows of blue chaises for rent lined up and ready. No hint, thank all that’s holy, of King’s ghost ship, Perse, on the horizon.

Alas, I’m pale as a snowbird. I walked north, carrying my rubber thong shoes and a plastic bread bag. For shells, of course. Dressed in old black shorts and sleeveless top. My bikini days are over, mercifully.

The water is cool and near the shore, the color I love best: gulf green; never been able to capture it in photographs. Not blue, not grayish or brownish. It’s the color of an aquamarine I once purchased in Mount Dora in memory of my brother. A March baby, the aquamarine is his birthstone. Farther out, a bright yellow parasail floats on the breeze. I couldn’t muster the courage to strap in and fly, much to the dismay of my friend Vicki, visiting that year from Kansas City.

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I’d hoped to see sanderlings skittering along, outrunning the incoming surf. Nary a one, nor a great blue heron or snowy egret. Perhaps it was too early. Perhaps they’d make an appearance when the fisher-people did. Nor were coquinas—those miniature rainbow-colored clam relatives—urgently burrowing back into the wet sand upon the waves’ retreat. I wondered if a man tossing a cast net caught any of the tiny, translucent “minnows” pushed relentlessly by the waves. (When I was a kid, any small fish was called a minnow.) It was good to see signs alerting visitors to black skimmer nesting sites. Even better to see the graceful birds darting over the water, dipping suddenly to delicately skim their red beaks over the surface, scooping up snacks.

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I did think about social distancing and other precautionary measures against COVID-19. If other beach combers were so preoccupied, it wasn’t obvious. No one wore a mask. By the time I headed back to the parking lot, many more folks had arrived. Families clustered together, built sand monuments and splashed with their youngsters; sweethearts lurched through the sand holding hands and laughing. Dedicated walkers kept pace and space that seemed natural enough. If there was any evidence of something amiss, it was that people rarely spoke. Maybe I imagined  defensive glances that said, “Just don’t get too close.”

The pink rise of the Don CeSar Hotel, dominating the southern view, reminded me of a more carefree time. It was the landmark back in the late 1950s, when my first beach adventures began.

For an hour or so, all was right with the world.

IN STORY PHOTOS COURTESY OF M.R. WILSON

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