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Let’s pandemic kayak in Tampa Bay, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
Stephanie Hayes | A trip through Weedon Island Preserve is part annoying, all memorable.

As holiday vacations coincide with the pandemic, you might ask yourself, “Self, how can I have fun with the family in a safe way?”

Of course, “fun” and “safe” have become relative concepts, such as “time,” “space” and “too much gin.” Nonetheless, my family attempted “safe fun” over Thanksgiving week, in the form of kayaking.

Paddling the mangroves of Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg had been on my Tampa Bay bucket list since we got kayaks. Do you have kayaks? When considering the purchase, did you say, “We’ll use them every weekend?” Was that 187 weekends ago?

You see, getting back to nature isn’t a simple thing. Camping, for example, requires loading the entire contents of one’s home into a car, then reestablishing a new homestead in which you sleep on the ground.

In a cruel twist, we camped last New Year’s. If I had known 2020 entertainment would be so limited, I would have insisted on an all-night Vegas pancake buffet. I would have crammed indoors with as many strangers as possible. I would have done karaoke on a bus of bachelorettes, windows closed. Can you feel the beauty?

Mangroves it is! We awoke for Weedon, then remembered tying the kayaks into the truck with a maze of cords takes 12 hours. The following day, after locating bug spray and sunscreen and life jackets and towels and snacks and hats and sunglasses and moisture-wicking shorts and hideous Velcro sandals, we went.

Just us and the great outdoors!

Except, everyone had the same idea. Traffic on the water came to a sudden stop as tourists tried to photograph the mangrove entrance, as if there weren’t many more miles of the same thing ahead.

Related: Weedon Island inspires Florida professor to compose classical album

The tunnels were stunning — vibrant leaves, twisted roots, tiny crabs scattering. The branches formed shady arches, with loops that clotheslined me as I tried to pop the adjustable paddle in half, only making it wider and more deadly.

Ahead, I witnessed a couple going through divorce proceedings. Coordinated activities in tight spaces really bring out the best in all, as I’m sure you’d agree. They turned off to picnic with family. The father asked one of the children, crucially: “DO YOU HAVE TO GO NUMBER ONE OR NUMBER TWO?”

Ah, the seabirds!

Regarding photos, it has to be done. How else will you lie to friends? How else will you make them think your life is serene and together, when in actuality you have deteriorated knee cartilage having “safe fun”?

I wrangled my phone from a water-safe box and tried to photograph my family in the next boat. Every time, my husband had the same idea. We got photos of each other taking pictures of each other. I thrust the phone into the box, which proceeded to fog. Wondering if you are eligible for an upgrade is very relaxing.

The traffic did clear up, which is good — is it possible for a virus to travel through mangroves? I will call Dr. Fauci. We had calm waters for lounging, watched fish jump, enjoyed the spoils of a part of the world we are blessed to call home. It was so quiet…

“It’s so quiet here,” came from a neighboring boat cluster.

“WHAT’S THAT, THERESA?”

“I SAID IT’S SO QUIET HERE.”

We spotted a dolphin feasting on something. This dolphin was living out my Vegas pancake fantasy, okay? It leapt closer and closer to our kayaks. I have never been so close to a dolphin.

This, of course, is what we will remember. Not the inconveniences or the blisters or the guys vaping something apple-cinnamon on the launch. We will remember the fleeting moments of grace and beauty, the time we had together and the miraculous reminder of existence.

Now, we will need four weeks off to drain those boats.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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