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Get out and enjoy Florida's natural gifts

Is it just me, or has this been an especially confusing holiday season?

Thursday was Thanksgiving. It also was Hanukkah. Which meant it was also Thanksgivukkah. The blue and silver menorah cards I'd bought late last year (on sale! ) for my Jewish friends suddenly seemed all wrong.

Speaking of sales, this transformation of "Black Friday'' into "Black Days and Days and Days of Deals'' baffles me entirely.

We're in the market for a new Christmas tree (artificial — you don't want to see what happens to us allergy sufferers around real trees), which seems the ideal Black Whatever Day purchase.

Last Sunday, we sat down with the newspaper, parsed the ads and hatched a plan.

But then we realized it was that rarest of Florida days — cool and overcast but with no rain in the forecast. The tree, we decided, could wait.

We wheeled onto a new-to-us stretch of bicycle trail near the Twin Brooks golf course in Gulfport, and cruised south on a gorgeous, smooth, wide ribbon of concrete that took us on boardwalks over a mangrove forest and through Clam Bayou. Admiring the birds, leaping mullet and "do not feed or molest alligators'' sign, we had to remind ourselves that we were still in Florida's most densely populated county.

Because of a construction project temporarily blocking the trail at 54th Avenue S, we had to pick our way along 31st Street S to pick up the Skyway Trail across from the Magnuson Hotel. Thanks to good sidewalks and crosswalks, it wasn't at all harrowing — and well worth the effort.

Climbing the Dick Misener Bridge, the whizzing traffic on the right is a little unnerving, though you are shielded by a stout concrete wall topped by chain link fencing.

The view over Tampa Bay on the left more than compensates, and there's plenty of room to stop to admire a view that's breathtaking — literally so, if you're not accustomed to riding uphill.

A few more miles down the trail, after stopping to enjoy dozens of swirling and swooping kite surfers, we came to the North Skyway Fishing Pier. Riding well away from casting anglers, we saw folks of all ages haul in their Sunday dinner. Birdwatchers, take note: Even on a bike, you can get close enough to seabirds hoping for a dropped fish to notice the color of their legs.

Signs warned against cutting fishing lines that snagged birds, an instruction that puzzled us at first. But then, at the end of the pier, we saw a fishing line whip around a circling pelican, trapping its wing. In moments, the man controlling the line carefully reeled in the bird, his friend got the line removed entirely — and this is the key part — the men let the bird go so quickly, it didn't have time to take out its wrath on them. Quite the wildlife education.

This may be my favorite time of year to be a Floridian. Hurricane season is over, the spring break frenzy is months away, and so we get our gorgeous beaches, trails and woodlands (mostly) all to ourselves.

We never did get around to buying that fake tree, but we did get something more lasting — a wonderful experience of home. I hope you, too, can find a few hours in this hectic season to give yourself a similar gift.

Get out and enjoy Florida's natural gifts

11/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 3:42pm]
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