ST. PETERSBURG — It's easy to get discouraged these days. The economy is in shambles, unemployment is high, and there is even a new movie out that says civilization as we know it will end on Dec. 21, 2012. Makes you want to crawl under a rock and hide. Not this guy. When I look around, I see many things to be thankful for.
Not one, but two oceans: Some people call the Gulf of Mexico a "lake" or "pond," but just wait until the next cold front rolls in and we have some sweet, chest-high waves to ride on a longboard. When the gulf is flat, just hop in the car and head to Cocoa Beach on the east coast to surf your kayak, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or the wave-riding vehicle of your choice. Be glad you don't live in Kansas.
Inshore/offshore: We are pretty lucky to live in the Tampa Bay area. When you can't head offshore to catch grouper, amberjack, wahoo or kingfish, you can always find some sheltered patch of water in the bay or Intracoastal Waterway to chase trout, redfish and snook. Oh yeah, did I mention that we have thousands of lakes and hundreds of rivers where we can also fish for freshwater species such as largemouth bass and panfish?
State parks: I've been trying for 20 years to see all that Florida has to offer, and I've hardly made a dent. Our state has the best park system in the country. You can backpack, fish, kayak, canoe, camp, mountain bike, even ride horses on our vast public lands. But many Floridians don't use these great public spaces. So no more dithering; get out there and have some fun.
Sharks and alligators: Some people don't like these critters, but I am happy to have them around because they keep me on my toes. There is nothing as humbling as knowing that despite your job, social status or size of your bank account you are still part of the food chain.
Sunrise on the water: I've seen the sun rise over the water hundreds of times in the past 20 years, and every time I do, I still get a thrill. To see the sun rise, that means I am out fishing, sailing, camping or paddling, not sitting inside reading the newspaper or in my warm, cozy bed catching a few extra winks. No, catching a sunrise means you're living large. The best part: It's free.
Manatees and dolphins: It's easy to take these mammals for granted, but just watch the way a tourist or child's face lights up the first time they see one up close. My heart still races every time I come across one of these creatures when I am out paddling, surfing or swimming in the ocean. There is plenty of room for all of us.
Paddle sports: Twenty years ago, few people had ever seen a sea kayak. Today, they are all over the place. But now you can add outrigger canoes and SUPs to the list of awesome paddlecraft. Get out, stay in shape and be one with nature. You'll be glad you did.
Beach walks: Not everybody is an adrenaline junkie. Some folks like a little slower pace. And there are times when a wannabe action hero like me needs to take it easy. A buddy recovering from back surgery recently convinced me that the occasional beach walk would do this boy some good. He was right.
Tampa Bay Watch: You can whine and moan about the environment all you want, or you can get out and do something about it. This Tierra Verde-based organization is short on talk and big on action. Habitat restoration is the key to many of our environmental problems. So get out there and help the Bay Watch crews build some oyster domes or plant some salt marsh grass. Your grandkids will thank you.
You: The very fact that you are reading this column means you love, respect and hope to preserve the great outdoors. Without folks like you, Tampa Bay would be nothing but condos, hotel rooms and strip malls. Keep up the good fight.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8808.