I like to watch mullet. When I was a boy I sometimes saw what seemed to be 1-acre schools jumping out of the water when something big and hungry, perhaps a tarpon or a snook, swam hungrily beneath them. I'm talking about an explosion of mullet, thousands of terrified mullet, leaping in unison for their lives.
When I watch mullet now I also look for blue crabs, which scuttle over the rocks waving their pinchers like pugnacious prizefighters, and I am especially thrilled when I see a leopard ray flapping over the bottom like something prehistoric. I feel as if I am a witness to the first day of creation.
We Homo sapiens are so full of it. We often think the world began on the day we were born. In the arc of history, we're gnats on an elephant's behind.
Humans first tiptoed into Florida about 12,000 years ago. When the Spaniards first arrived on our coast they encountered the Tocobagas, the native people who had dwelled along the shores of what we now call Tampa Bay for about seven centuries.
They were probably something like us except with more tattoos. They fought and bled and loved and danced and occasionally must have felt superior to the Tocobagas living on the opposite side of the bay. They must have watched mullet and blue crabs and sheepshead and the occasional leopard ray.
Stand on the shore of Tampa Bay and you are astride their bones.
Jeff Klinkenberg writes about Real Florida for the Times.